Ettrick Hills via Over Phawhope

Grahams: Capel Fell, Croft Head, Culter Fell, Ettrick Pen
Donalds: Bell Craig, Bodesbeck Law, Capel Fell, Croft Head, Culter Fell, Ettrick Pen, Herman Law, Loch Fell, Wind Fell

Date walked: 08/12/2018

Time taken: 29.5 hours

Distance: 37.7km

Ascent: 1958m

With the final university stuff out the way for the year, I had wanted to get a group together to do a big walk which would bag 15 whole hills in Ettrick and inadvertently satisfy my bagging needs, me not having climbed a hill for a month and a half. Unfortunately everyone bar Iain was away home for the year so it was to be just us - his first multi-day hillwalk and bothy experience. We'd decided on the Saturday to start which was to rain but be warmer, rather than the Sunday which was to be sunny but colder. I phoned Paul from Moffat Taxis a few days in advance and after a short delay he picked us up and dropped us off at Birkhill Farm, 20 minutes from Moffat where our bus had arrived, by 10:30.

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I was instantly feeling the steepness on the initial ascent (the first hill is always hardest) but as Herman Law is the third smallest Donald, it was manageable. Iain is also much faster than me on steep terrain so kept me huffing and puffing along. Soon the first summit was in our sights. The views were worth the work.

Trowgrain Middle and the first Mid Rig:
1 - Trowgrain Middle and the first Mid Rig.jpg

Immediately I could see a landscape I'd never seen before; the morning light was spectacular. As we were under a considerable time constraint though, no time was wasted at the top. The walk over to Trowgrain Middle was nice and easy; regardless the ridge had much more height than I had assumed from the map.

Trowgrain Middle wonky cairn:
2 - Trowgrain middle.jpg

Andrewhinney Hill, despite being the highest point on the ridge, was nice and easy too.

Andrewhinney summit cairn:
3 - Summit Andrewhinney.jpg

Views on the other side of the A708 were mesmerising. It was relatively familiar terrain for us as Iain and I have only gone on one big outing together before, coincidentally near Moffat with similar views. Bell Craig had a bit more descent than the others but still nothing to think twice about.

First time seeing Loch Skene:
4 - First time seeing Loch Skene.jpg

Ettrick Pen and Hopetoun Craig from Bell Craig:
5 - Ettrick Pen and Hopetoun Craig from Bell Craig.jpg

At this point it started getting considerably colder, claggier and sleetier, as the Met Office had said. The ATV track we were following was skirting around the north side of Mid Rig #2. I thought this was alright as Nowtrig Head was the Donald Top. Alas I had mixed them up and I missed the summit by ~25m, only discovering my mistake by the second hill. I briefly considered running back but the weather and time were against us. It has became the first Donald Top that I have knowingly not been to the real top of, but I think I'm prepared to count it anyway!

Disorientated on the way up the second Mid Rig:
6 - missing the top somewhere on the second mid rig.jpg

The ridge ahead to Bodesbeck Law looked great, if not a bit arduous with an enormous rucksack on:
7 - Bodesbeck ahead.jpg

Although agony on the lower back, the summit was a nice obvious top for once. The visibility was only around 30m or so at best. We sat behind the summit crag for a brief lunch. I knew the way down was going to be steep and long, and it was, but I did not expect the distance to the next hill, White Shank, to be so far off. It was invisible until we were actually climbing it. Fauldside Hill was a pain and our attempt to cut fence corners didn't really work. I could tell Iain, who is unbelievably uncomplacent, was even starting to crack, as I was too.

White Shank in the clag:
8 - White shank in the clag.jpg

An unmarked but obvious summit, the dry stane dyke was a godsent in the clag as all we had to do was follow it (sort of). Technically I also missed the official top of Smidhope Hill as the miniscule summit cairn was on the other side of the dry stone dyke and I was far too impatient and cold/wet to consider searching about for a mossy bump less than 20cm higher than where I was walking! Its ascent wasn't bad at all but Culter Fell did test us as the last hill of the day.

Near summit of Culter Fell:
9 - Near summit of Capel Fell.jpg

I even managed to miss the single fencepost and 'the official top' of this hill too, as I had confused a summit shot of it with Croft Head, which is almost identical at the very top. I'm pretty sure I walked past it and looked at it. We were down to the SUW in no time at all and kept a brisk pace, dreaming of the bothy through the conifers. Although slightly longer than expected, Over Phawhope finally showed up.

Approaching Over Phawhope:
10 - apporaching over phawhope.jpg

We had it to ourselves for barely 10 minutes before three other guys from Carlisle showed up (Chris, James and James). They had walked in from the end of the road (and didn't have any intention of doing any further walking!) We were glad to have got in when we did as the sofas (which I'd heard had been removed) were bagged by us. All our gear was soaked so we got the stove on immediately and hung our stuff up above. My trousers were steaming more than the fire was smoking. After a good sit about, Iain and I made our three steaks each on top of the stove - cooked to perfection - and the other three spent 40 minutes boiling water for noodles only to find it had evaporated! After some questionable smoking substances and chat, it was me who finally cracked first. They all though I was asleep but the room must have been 25 degrees near the fire, which had been going for at least 7 hours, and I ended up having to take most of my layers off. I highly doubt I'll ever be that warm in a bothy again. If only I'd known and we could have gone on Sunday and kept ourselves dry!


I'd set an alarm for 7am but the sun hadn't risen yet so left it for an hour or so. After steak for breakfast, packing and cleaning up we were off by 08:45. The bothy night had been great, especially with the new renovations. Hats off to the MBA as usual. The enormous bulk of Ettrick Pen lay ahead. As always, the hardest summit is the first one; although on this occasion it wouldn't have mattered as the ascent never seemed to get less steep or shorter.

Iain managing to keep morale high:
11 - sweaty ascent of ettrick pen.jpg

After a good half hour of sweating at least, we reached the summit cairn and the highest point of the trip. The wind was colder but with added sun and dry clothes it was mitigated. The views were just as, if not more, impressive as they were from Herman Law the day before.

Bumpy Ettrick hills:
12 - bumpy ettrick hills.jpg

Eildons (on my marilyn to-do list):
13 - Eildons (on my marilyn list).jpg

The remaining Hopetoun Craig, Wind Fell, Loch Fell, West Knowe and Croft Head in the distance:
14 - hopetoun craig with wind fell, loch fell and croft head in distance.jpg

Nether Coomb Craig escaping the cap enshrouding Swatte and Hart Fell:
15 - nether coomb craig escaping the cap on swatte and hart fell (only other big walk with iain).jpg

Hopetoun Craig was a fun little summit and Wind Fell was little work aside from the steep gairy, Little Nick, at its base, where we had lunch.

The often-ignored Maiden Paps; I believe The Cheviot is off the image to the left and Cauldcleuch Head to the right:
16 - rarely visited maiden paps (cauldcleuch head to right, cheviot to left).jpg

Impressive Loch Fell:
17 - loch fell.jpg

The view over to Loch Fell was a tad intimidating but Iain was unphased. A long steep way down was followed by a shorter than expected steep section, followed by a long gradual trod. Definitely got the sweat going again though. Eventually we reached the only trig point of the walk and the nearby summit. West Knowe did have a small hidden dip but it was not anything to worry about. I do remember remarking "I can't be bothered with this" though!

Nothing too strenuous:
18 - easy going over to west knowe.jpg

This was contrasted by what was easily the worst descent I have endured in my Donald escapades so far. I knew the way off West Knowe was going to be bad but it was twice as big as any pictures would have you believe. It was so long that my camera couldn't get it all in shot. Both of us slipped and fell on the way down - myself three times. My left foot had gone into cramp from it being bent in the same direction for so long.

Unbearable descent:
19 - unbearable descent of west knowe.jpg

After reaching the sheepfold, we dumped our rucksacks and took a look over at the Selcoth Burn and the Craigmichen Scar:
20 - capel fell and selcoth burn.jpg

The zigzagging ascent of the final hill, Croft Head, felt just as difficult as the first hill yesterday with a bag on. It seemed to go on forever, but the unbelievable scenery more than made up for it.

The Southern Uplands' two deepest glens right beside each other, with their narrowest ridge, Saddle Yoke, in between:
21 - the southern uplands two biggest glens, with their narrowest ridge in between them.jpg

Capel Fell and Craigmichen Scar:
22 - capel fell and craigmichen scar.jpg

Even the descent was tough on the legs. We picked up our rucksacks and kept going. It felt ridiculous that we hadn't even ascended 2000m and yet it felt like double that. The weight of the rucksacks with firewood etc. must have seriously slowed us down. We joined the alternate SUW path for half an hour, which was a great forest walk, until reaching the proper forestry road.

23 - on the lovely alternate suw path.jpg

It was then the beginning of a very long walk back into Moffat, still made totally invisible by forested hills. To add to this, we had made a wrong turn and ascended much more than we had to, ending up on the path skirting the source of Skelly's Cleuch. I realised our mistake on the phone and turned us around.

There was a great view down into Moffat, where the finish beckoned, and the Lowthers bulged like huge morning rolls on the horizon:
24 - the finish bekons, with the lowthers behind.jpg

Fortunately there was a SUW path that zigzagged steeply down to where we were meant to be. It was also a ton of fun. Something about very narrow, mossy, forested paths appeals to me. Although I cant find it on any maps, we passed over a bridge across the Cornal Burn. This put us back on track to meet the first settlement since the bothy after another long walk on awkward moundy terrain. We followed the SUW round the corner and down to Moffat Water where we disregarded it to go across the bridge; a farmer's field providing a shortcut to the road above. After that it was an easy roadside walk back into Moffat, which went much faster than I'd thought.

Arriving at 15:45, we searched immediately for a chippy, devoured it in the diner, then dove straight into the Star Hotel for a pint, with the bus taking us back to Dumfries an hour after. An arduous walk but with good company and stunning scenery (for the most part!)

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Comments: 4

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User avatar
Location: Inver/Gla/D&G
Occupation: Student
Activity: Wanderer
Camera: d7000/iPhone 6/35mm
Ideal day out: Bit lost & sunny

Munros: 3
Corbetts: 11
Grahams: 20
Donalds: 63
Wainwrights: 1
Sub 2000: 34

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