Southern Uplands - Stragglers and Shepherds

Sub 2000s: Calkin Rig, Greatmoor Hill

Date walked: 11/05/2017

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 17km

Ascent: 692m

Map: OS 1:50,000 no. 79.
Attendees: Me, Big Dog, Small Dog.
Time taken: 4 hrs.

View northeast from Greatmoor Hill summit cairn
Imagefullsizeoutput_3926 by NDM, on Flickr

May this year and a downturn in a spell of good weather was due. I had a half day to spare and returned to the Southern Uplands to pick off a couple of outlying smaller hills that had eluded me on previous trips.

Albeit some months after the event, thought I’d throw in my tuppence worth with a trip report. Calkin Rig hasn’t featured here before and Greatmoor Hill’s not been written up for some time.

The following are short out and back routes. Both make use of use of farm access and ATV tracks. Walking time was identical for each. Driving time between their respective start/finish points was 45 minutes.

Greatmoor Hill
Distance: 8k. Ascent: 352m. Time: 2hr.

In contrast to other accounts, I opted to approach Greatmoor Hill from the southeast. Useful parking can be found on the signed farm track to Sundhope which leaves the B6399 Hawick to Newcastleton road at GR516985. A radio mast and a green hut are sited a short distance along the track. Directly opposite is a recessed area (GR513985) suitable for one or two vehicles.

Hitching the dogs to their leads, I set off west-northwest along the track. It bisects the corner of a plantation, passes through two gates and then descends gently alongside the Sundhope Burn. Greatmoor Hill was already visible to the northwest, an impressive wedge rising from the moor.

Radio mast at start point
Imagefullsizeoutput_3948 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Sundhope approach track. Greatmoor Hill in background
Imagefullsizeoutput_3914 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

I arrived at Sundhope to find a shepherd wrestling a sheep into a crate. He was a squat, swarthy man with hands like shovels. We chatted for a while. It was lambing time and he clearly had much to do. I told him where I’d parked (no issues there) and my intended route. He nodded, pointed to an ATV track on the west side of the burn and spoke –almost reluctantly- of it going close to the summit.

It was a slightly awkward conversation. To begin with, his tone was cautious. Several downward glances and his recommendation of an ‘interesting’ return route (and one that’d have taken me miles out of my way) told me he was uncomfortable about the dogs.

On the other hand, numerous sheep and lambs were passing as we spoke. A working Collie circled in the background. My pair are used to farm livestock so there were no issues. The shepherd relaxed a little.

Later I realised his concerns were subtler than I first thought. Talking about a recent task with his flock, he finished: ‘I was out last night. I know where are all my pieces are.’ He motioned with his hands as if he were putting cups on a table.

We parted on good terms. He seemed content with assurances that I’d keep the dogs on their leads, return by the route I went up and give any livestock a wide berth.

I crossed the burn by a footbridge directly to the west of the cottage and picked up the ATV track. It snaked its way northwest over Sundhope Flow. In wet weather, I’d imagine this would be a soggy plod. But today the ground was firm. Save for the occasional splotch of sphagnum moss, it felt like walking on carpet.

Across Sundhope Flow
Imagefullsizeoutput_3942 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

The words of the shepherd still sounded in my head: ‘I know where all my pieces are.’ He’d said it like he’d left an unfinished chess game on a table. I’d seldom given much thought to the disposition of sheep. I’d certainly not considered them nomads. If anything, drifters I suppose. The shepherd’s comments pointed to static animals. Whatever the case, he was a decent bloke and hadn’t been prohibitive about access.

I was mulling this over when I suddenly realised the track I was on wasn’t the one I’d anticipated. My old OS map showed only one track leaving Sundhope. This ran north directly from the rear of the farm towards Sundhope Rig, off to the east of my position. This was the route I’d intended to take. However I hadn’t even noticed it at the farm. Nor -scanning the moors- could I see it now.

Not that I had any complaints. The shepherd’s recommendation made for quick progress. 25 minutes after leaving Sundhope, I was on Greatmoor’s southwest ridge. Here I left the track to investigate an object I’d noticed high on the hill’s southern slopes. From a distance, I’d thought it was a piece of farm machinery. But closer up it looked more like a lectern or sheet music stand. Metallic in construction, it looked to have been there for some time. Its base was supported by several large stones.

I’ve seen a similar object once the hills previously; perhaps 10-12 years ago in the Highlands. I’d no idea, then or now, what their purpose is. Maybe somebody reading this will know?

The 'Lectern'
Imagefullsizeoutput_3944 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

It was then a short walk to Greatmoor’s trig point and summit cairn. The two are separated by a fence. We’d left the sheep grazing area long behind so I let the dogs off their leads for a few minutes. The trig point has a waist-high wind shelter. In a mild breeze though, it was pleasant enough sitting against the cairn.

A heat haze was creeping over our outward route. Otherwise visibility was excellent.

Trig on Greatmoor Hill looking west to Cauldcleuch Head
Imagefullsizeoutput_3946 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Relaxing at the summit cairn
Imagefullsizeoutput_3936 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

After 15 minutes or so, the dogs and I reversed our route. I noted that little clusters of sheep we’d seen on the way up were in almost identical positions on our return. Sundhope was all quiet as we re-crossed the footbridge on route to the car.

Calkin Rig
Distance: 9k. Ascent: 340m. Time: 2hr.

Three-quarters of an hour later and a different proposition. Normally I know something about the hills I climb in advance. I’d never heard of Calkin Rig before coming across it here. Even then, I wasn’t able to source much detail about it.

That information I did get took me to the B709 northwest of the town of Langholm. I found verge parking at the entrance to Old Hopsrig (GR317887). A corrugated iron shed, blackened by age, sat next to the track like a sentry box. Close by, a pheasant strutted backwards and forwards on guard duty.

Start point for Calkin Rig
Imagefullsizeoutput_393a by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Crossing a cattle grid, the dogs and I followed the track south-southwest until the house at Old Hopsrig came into view. Partly hidden by trees, it looked to be a substantial building.

We took a right-hand fork in the track and continued west towards the base of Shaw Hill. Two heavily pitted fields lay ahead, the first occupied by cattle and the second by sheep. Calkin Rig, partly hidden and a ribboned treeline on top, lay off to the south.

Shaw Hill and Calkin Rig from the track
Imagefullsizeoutput_393c by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Westbound track towards base of Shaw Hill
Imagefullsizeoutput_393e by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Further on, my OS map indicated the presence of old settlements either side of the track. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention at the time and can’t recall noticing anything significant.

The track forked again at the abandoned building at Calkin (GR302886). The right fork dropped to run parallel to the Boyken Burn. The left continued straight ahead on a gentle ascent. I took the latter.

Calkin Cottage(s)
Imagefullsizeoutput_3938 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

First though, I spent a few minutes pottering around Calkin. It was an unusual building. It had one external door to the rear (track) side and two to the front (facing the burn). I was unable to decide if it had been one cottage, or two. It was an undeniably picturesque location.

Higher up, the track became steeper and entered an impressive glen. Hemmed in to the south by Shaw Hill, and to the north by The Shin, it reminded me of one of those glacial valleys you’d see in a school geography book. Not long afterwards, I came across an area of landslip. A section of fencing had been left hanging in mid-air, like washing on a line.

Around 3k after I’d left the car, the track flattened out again on the north side of Calkin Rig. At GR294885, approximately 50m before a wooden gate, I took an ATV track which dog-legged left on to the open hillside.

Gate on track
Imagefullsizeoutput_3924 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Dog leg left
Imagefullsizeoutput_392e by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

I tried to follow the ATV track uphill to the south but found it kept appearing and disappearing amidst tussocky grass. The traces I did find were invariably to the left of the obvious fence and treeline. With hindsight, I’d probably have been better simply following the fence.

It was a steady plod until a wooden gate was reached at a right-angled junction of fencing. I turned right, through the gate, into a large firebreak. A faint trod led towards three humps. The summit proved to be the furthest away (GR288876). Someone, presumably another hill bagger, had lain three bits of wood on the ground to mark the location.

Gate to summit area
Imagefullsizeoutput_3940 by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Calkin summit
Imagefullsizeoutput_391c by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

One disadvantage with this hill is that there is little or no view from the summit. (Unless you like conifers of course.) True, the firebreak extends clear through to the west side of the summit. But the only thing I could make out that way was part of a wind turbine on Ewe Hill.

There was a decent view back on the east side of the gate where I could see some of my outward route. And beyond it the slumbering Eskdale hills.

View northeast from near summit gate
Imagefullsizeoutput_391e by Neil Mackay, on Flickr

Had I not had the dogs, a return down Shaw Hill to my outward track east of Calkin would have been an attractive proposition. The cattle I’d seen earlier though had calves. It didn’t seem worth the risk. So I descended the same way I came up, stopping briefly at the Boyken Burn to refill my water bottle. Nearing Old Hopsrig, a stylishly dressed shepherd waved cheerily as he chugged by on an ATV.

And that was it. Good weather, two decent hills, two linear routes, an enlightening encounter with one shepherd, a passing encounter with another, on a day largely dictated by the presence of animals. I’d rather enjoyed it all.

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Location: Edinburgh
Activity: Mountain Walker
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Place: Isle of Lewis

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