Peebles Donalds mk. ii: The Moorfoots

Grahams: Blackhope Scar, Windlestraw Law
Donalds: Blackhope Scar, Bowbeat Hill, Dundreich, Whitehope Law, Windlestraw Law

Date walked: 13/08/2019

Time taken: 13 hours

Distance: 41.5km

Ascent: 1832m

With a weekend (for me) finally arising which promised reasonable weather, the remaining Peebles Donalds were on the cards, mostly due to the fact that Iain, now living on and off in Walkerburn, was down for the weekend too. With a much less celebratory tone than our last Peebles walk, I headed down at 6:15am from Greenock to Walkerburn, a journey of exactly two hours; this trip being notable as my first time having driven to a hill, a fact which most of the folk I know (and maybe even some on here) will be happy to hear - I have been banging on about getting a car for almost 3 years now. It was quite fun driving on the motorway proper for the first time, although its busyness at even 6:45am was a bit startling and there were parts of the road that I've never even noticed before despite countless X74 bus journeys. I arrived on time, picked Iain up, quickly stopped at the Co-op for lunch (chocolate) and parked on a grassy embankment just north of the Whitehope bridge.

DAY 1: Hopes and Fears

- 24.4km
- 977m
- 7.5hrs

our_route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

We walked past the bright orange tower of Leithen Lodge before continuing along the flat forestry track opposite various farm steadings. Sheep were all over the road, as they had been on the drive along too. Upon reaching Hunters Knowe, I realised we probably should have followed the e-on sign up to Bowbeat Hill Windfarm - stubbornly, and much to the detest of Iain's soon-to-be-wet feet, we followed a very faint grassy track skirting Leithen Water into the forestry. Fortunately, it was relatively trodden already and we didn't get lost, soon spotting the actual track and heading back up to it.

Chorthippus parallelus (I think):
1 -Chorthippus parallelus.jpg

It was then a very gradual climb - almost unnoticeable - through the quite active forest, passing by a couple of workers and two active forwarders just before the decrepit sight of Craighope. I found an image of it online only 13 years ago looking particularly better-for-wear, but it was even more photogenic now.

2 - Craighope.jpg

The tracks became a little steeper after that for a good while but soon descended again as we passed the fork at Hog Knowes. After that it was a steep climb to the turning circle where the track steeply bends. My map had lied to me saying a small track branched off to the left, but it didn't exist.

Final forest descent:
3 - End of descent in forest.jpg

Lycopodium clavatum (I think) on the way up - I had never seen it with strobili before:
4 - Lycopodium clavatum.jpg

Not to worry, there was a decent clearing in the forest down to a now much smaller Leithen Water, and after a brave jump by us both, a very tidy, but immensely steep forest to ascend.

Watching clouds form under the trees:
5 - Forest mist at the top.jpg

This didn't last long and we were soon munching the blaeberries of the moorland on our way up to what we thought was Dundreich. Only at the top could we see that we were in fact at Brown Dod. We took our break there anyway.

Drumelzier Donalds, Cademuir Hill, Broughton Heights and Tinto from Brown Dod:
6 - Drumelzier Donalds and Tinto.jpg

Dundreich from Brown Dod:
7 - dundreich from brown dod.jpg

It was a very short walk up to Dundreich where the views to Edinburgh and East Lothian opened up. There was a group of Kestrels spinning about near the top too.

Edinburgh and the Lomond Hills:
8 - edinburgh and the lomond hills.jpg

I chose to omit Jeffries Corse (an ex-DT) but I think had I been on my own I'd have made the short detour over. We joked that what looked like a person at the top was Jeffrie's corpse.

Jeffrie's corpse:
9 - jeffries corse.jpg

Bowbeat seemed a long way off and the first of the proper bog began quite quickly on our way over. Iain's feet were now entirely submerged which freed him up in a way. I, wearing wellies, tried to keep myself firmly atop the tussocks. After crossing a few segments of ground of mattress-like stability, we eventually reached the haven of the wind farm track, where someone was likely working indoors. Our pace rapidly sped up and we had another break out of the wind at one of the turbines.

Bowbeat Hill with huge gouge:
10 - bowbeat with gouge.jpg

After an extremely steep track up Bowbeat, we scrambled up the steep gouge, bolting a hare, right to the top of the Donald. I'd assumed the summit area was going to be more expansive, or at least less-obvious, than it actually was. There I finally found cloudberries - I had been wanting to see them for years as I had never seen them ripe enough to eat. They tasted exactly like jam (which I don't actually like) but I couldn't pass up trying one. Felt very odd to have cowberries, cloudberries, blaeberries and crowberries all in the same place.

12 - cloudberry.jpg

Way over to Blackhope Scar:
11 - way to blackhope scar.jpg

Blackhope Scar looked pretty rough and sprawling so we continued without much faffing. How the sun had been out all day was totally eluding me. We followed the windfarm track to its terminus then made the short descent of the rig to begin the proper ascent. I went straight through a mossy puddle up to my knee which took a good couple of hours to dry off. The ascent ended up being not that bad and we didn't even take a break at the top, opting instead to focus more on how to get to Whitehope Law. The Garvald Punks (what a name!) looked pretty terrifying but we didn't have much choice unless we wanted a big detour or tons of reascent.

Iain looking over Garvald Punks to Middle Hill and Whitehope Law:
13 - over the punks to middle hill and whitehope law.jpg

Indeed the terrain was absolutely horrific - we were being sapped of energy so much that our chat was put on hold for almost half an hour. These were possibly the biggest hags I have come across, some at least 4m deep and 8m wide. We aimed for a mossier section out of the heather and tried to haul ourselves up to the fenceline, which seemed to take forever. There was a very faint path by the time we got there but even being on flat ground felt great. Our pace increased rapidly and we were at the top of Middle Hill in no time, very soon followed by the final hill of the day.

The view down the Leithen Pass was wonderful and the shapely Lee Pen certainly added to it - my car perhaps not so much. We came across a few horses on our descent who were a bit apprehensive of us - first time I have seen horses on the hills.

Iain with horses looking over to Black Law:
14 - iain with horses and black law.jpg

It was a very steep but sunny jog down to Whitehope Farm where there was a peacock, two dogs and a ton of geese. Not long after we made it over the bridge and back to the car, very happy to take the weight off our feet and get some dry footwear on.


DAY 2: I Don't Knowe

- 17.1km
- 855m
- 5.5hrs

our_route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

We had an early bed and tried to lie in but were still up by 9:30am - easily the best sleep I've ever had in a sleeping bag. A visit to the shops and a big breakfast later, after making up a route on OS Maps, we headed up the road to Stoneyhill House, which appeared empty. A very overgrown staircase led us to some rhoddy woodland, a collapsed wall and the beginning of a large fire break lining the rig up Cairn Hill. Iain had been up this way before but not from this point, which was very boggy and muddy, which he had assumed. It was at least too steep to have any water pooling, and there was a great array of fungi.

Toadstool and slime mould becoming fungal-friends:
15 - slime mould on a toadstool.jpg

I was sweating profusely quite immediately as Iain stormed off ahead, as usual. The path became pronounced as it briefly levelled off and some blaeberry and Larch trees almost had us thinking we were in the highlands. It soon became steep again as we made the pull up to Cairn Hill, too obscured by forestry to the south but with an unbelievable view west, north and east. I had completely misunderestimated the shapeliness of the rigs here.

Scawd Law ridge up to Bareback Knowe:
16 - stunning scawd law ridge up to bareback knowe.jpg

Equally-attractive Priesthope Hill rig:
17 - equally attractive priesthope hill ridge.jpg

There was a proper path for the first time which felt great, and had the bonus of a few extra species to see, the best of which was a juvenile lizard that Iain spotted, but also thousands of St. Marks flies and another emperor moth caterpillar.

Aglais io:
18 - aglais io.jpg

We made rapid progress along to the base of Scawd Law, which was a lovely and compact summit. We had a sunbathe and break on its far side.

Before Scawd Law:
19 - up to scawd law.jpg

Although quite steep, the ascent up to Bareback Knowe was made easier by the incoming rain front, which was going to hit us in 10 minutes or so, but took away the endless sun and provided some wind. After reaching the fence junction, it was a very brief stroll in the rain to the first Donald top. We didn't stop for long.

Eildons from Bareback Knowe cairn:
20 - eildons from bareback knowe cairn.jpg

An ATV track took us most of the way to the top of Windlestraw Law but had to be disregarded near the top; the high point was clearly before the trig. I was happy to have finally got to the top of the Moorfoots even if they were a range I had only known for a day and a half. I later found out this was my last southern Scotland Graham, which is much greater a milestone.

Trig from true top:
21 - windlestraw trig from true top.jpg

Down to Seathope glen:
22 - down to seathope glen.jpg

Redscar Cleuch and Little Whitehope Cleuch with Eildons and Great Law in background:
23 - redscar cleuch and little whitehope cleuch with great law and eildons.jpg

The features of Seathope were vast and beautifully smooth, but the descent was harsh on the feet. A pickup was parked at a partridge pen at the bottom - we ended up scaring a ton of them away despite being almost 100m away so had to skirt our way around. Upon reaching the glen floor we took a well-deserved break before continuing on, the sun now fully out and drying us off again. It was a very long walk out of the glen but the scenery had neither of us complaining. We made it through the farm pens, were followed by a pheasant, passed a couple of guys out surveying and, after seeing how out of the way the track was taking us, decided to cut through an empty sheep field into the woodland. Hopping through a couple of gates and over the Gate Hope burn, we made it to the A72. Immediately passing over it in favour of a Tweed-side stroll along a levee back to Walkerburn in the evening sun. I bid Iain goodbye and wished him well for his trip to the Cairngorms and began the drive back home again (only taking a wrong turn twice and costing me at least 25 minutes, but at least the roads were quiet!) Next Donalds trip is in the cards for early September, where I hope to finish them up.

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Location: Greenock
Occupation: Estate Ranger
Activity: Mountain Walker
Camera: d7000 (usually)
Ideal day out: Bit lost & sunny

Munros: 3
Corbetts: 11
Grahams: 23
Donalds: 75
Wainwrights: 15
Hewitts: 10
Sub 2000: 37
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Ascent: 16244m
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