Hart Fell Ridges Horseshoe near Moffat

Route: Hart Fell ridges horseshoe, near Moffat

Corbetts: Hart Fell
Donalds: Hart Fell, Swatte Fell, Under Saddle Yoke

Date walked: 18/01/2024

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 14.91km

Ascent: 1014m

Title Image

WH1.Hart Fell Route Map OS A4.jpg
Hart Fell Route Map OS A4 As recorded OS Mapping App, iPhone 11 on 18th January 2024

With the plethora of walks local to my new home (from April 2021), in Langholm, Southern Uplands of Scotland, it has taken me a couple of years to get around to straying just an hours car journey further north, to make a serious exploration of the hills around Moffat. Nevertheless, I started making some trips up, during autumn 2023, using the excellent resource of Walkhighlands to provide ideas. I had started with some gentle options for the benefit of Leila, my wife, who doesn’t like anything too hard core nowadays. So together with Henry, our beloved 7 year old Golden Retriever; we had explored the Grey Mares Tails walks, Craigieburn Wood and Gallows Hill… but then tantalising glimpses of Hart Fell, augmented by the astonishing splendour revealed in the Walkhighlands image of the Saddle Yokes as viewed from Black Craig (view-point passed on the way up Hart Fell) led me to read about the horseshoe walk on-line… and I’d decided firstly that I wanted to do it; secondly that I had to do it in winter, when it could be even more beautiful – and not least since Henry loves a good romp in the snow (well, we both do actually…). Lashed by the horizontal rains that most often are reality during winters on the Langholm fells, as well as Scottish Hills generally, we set about awaiting our opportunity…

A short snowy spell came and went in December 2023 – then another opportunity arose, with a minus 10° cold snap mid-January 2024 plus light sprinkling of snow. But there was a need to get on with it since this big freeze had Storms Isha and Jocelyn snapping on its heels, setting up towards blowing and raining all the snow away and thawing out the hard frozen ground. Thursday 18th January seemed like a golden as well as only opportunity to make this trip, before the warm wet pandemonium of the two storms swept in, causing devastation and even tragedy up and down the country.

A Langholm local, Andrew, together with his turbo charged 3 year old Sprocker Spaniel Jess, was up for joining us. Jess is what I’d call a 1:3 ratio spaniel, which means she covers 3 miles over the ground to every one mile walked. She is also enthusiastically in love with Henry (who peaked at about 1:1.5 in his prime but at the age of 7 is edging towards 1:1 now) – and although Jess is his girlfriend, he can find her a bit too much at times…
Dogs after an hour of passion in car boot: Jess taking off like a guided missile; Henry a little more sedate…

With the deadline of a Burns Supper to attend back in Langholm, as well as the very short hours of daylight mid-January, we agreed on a very early start and I duly collected Andrew & Jess at 6.30 in the hard frozen darkness of minus 11°C according to the thermometer at home. Henry endured Jess’s amorous attentions for an hour in the car boot before we arrived at our destination, gratifyingly also hard frozen, at the little parking area at Blackshope Cottage, 6 miles along the A708, on far side of Moffat.
Setting off in civil twilight, 8am at Blackshope Cottage

We set off by the dimly golden illumination of civil twilight, at around 8am. Following WH instructions we took the bridge over Blackhope Burn before leaving the road, turning right through a gate and crossing happily rock hard sheep pastures, heading for the formidable steep slopes adjoining the deep cleft of Hang Gill. With slopes of frozen turf at some 40-45° plus ice patches and a light dusting of snow – and an increasingly impressive drop into Hang Gill looming immediately to left of the zig-zags of the path, such as it was – we donned crampons/microspikes at an early stage - to good effect. As we expected, equipped merely with good toenails and 4WD the two dogs were completely fine, especially Jess, who was already running 1:3 rings around poor Henry – who had the added inconvenience of collecting ice-balls in his woolly coat, from an early stage, poor brute
Suitably be-spiked Andrew takes first steps at the start of the steep section

In same place looking upwards, with Hang Gill on left. Henry clearing ice-balls from his mane…

It is worth noting that Andrew has been a formidable runner and walker for practically all of his 63 years and he also bounded nimbly up the intimidating gradient, even though it was only his 2nd season in micro-spikes - to which I had introduced him on a hard frozen Skiddaw, the previous winter. With frequent deviations to look for Eagles and Hen Harriers, I’d give Andrew about a 1:1.3 ratio (so a bit less than Jess) – and I was forced to use the excuses of photography, as well as the added weight of crampons (my older vintage micro-spikes had broken…) to justify being last all the way up…
Andrew and dogs far up ahead – I’m slowed down by taking this photograph…

Attempt at an Eagles eye view into the chasm of Hang Gill

Above the steep bit with another view down into Hang Gill

At last, after about an hour, the gradient fell back to something more civilised, as the chasms of Hang Gill fell far below – and as the dawn exploded upon us in golden splendour. We crossed gratifyingly hard frozen bogs and then started tackling glowing gentle slopes leading up to the eagerly anticipated promise of the view point at Black Craig, which is about a mile away from and 100m below the first hill-top of Swatte Fell 728m.
Glorious sunrise looking up towards Black Craig

Glorious sunrise looking back towards the action

Some scenic canine canoodling by light of sunrise

I have to say, Black Craig lived up to its Walkhighlands promise and even Andrew slowed down to take some photos. The views went some way towards compensating him for the lack of giant birds of prey. We duly took turns to pose on the very tip of the view-point, at the edge of the steep slopes plunging 400m into Black Hope Glen, then rising up just as steeply, some 500m to the two Saddle Yokes, connected by a lovely looking ridge – and glowing in the low winter sunlight.

Our reproduction of the viewpoint view, in winter conditions

Perhaps my best winter mountain view of Henry yet…

Andrews fine photo capturing me and the dogs, on the edge

We celebrated the view, as well as our 400m of steep ascent, by stopping for a quarter hour coffee break. Plain water and dog treats were enthusiastically accepted by Henry and Jess, who had also paused for some scenic canoodling on the sunny slopes a couple of hundred meters earlier.
Cairngorm plateau like expanse in vicinity of Swatte Fell summit at 728m

A little further on, at eastern edge of the plateau

Andrews fine panoramic view showing Hart Fell and the Saddle Yokes

The warmth of the low winter sunlight was not matched by the wind we started to encounter as we moved on, up onto the Cairngorm Plateau-like expanse of the summit of Swatte Fell 729m. If it had been minus 10 down in the valley, it could well have been minus 12 or so on the tops – combined with a stiff breeze, I estimated at around 30mph, making a potential wind chill of around minus 24°C. We soon found we had everything on, under wind-proofs and had to be careful around exposing fingers to take photos etc. I noted Henry instinctively sheltering
himself behind frozen tussocks whenever we paused – but Jess just didn’t stop – and her distance covered ratio potentially went up to 1:4-5…
Looking towards final three partially hidden rises to Hart Fell

Our next and main hill-top objective, Hart Fell 808m, started to loom some 2 miles or 3km in the distance. It’s quite a brute and with the mostly flat, hard frozen, landscape around gave an impression of approaching a Southern Uplands Ben Macdui or Breariach, in winter conditions, on the Cairngorm Plateau. I say mostly flat – that is apart from the 3 almost completely hidden stiff ascents, which have to be surmounted (again, not dissimilar to the Cairngorm Plateau, so called…)
OS Mapping screen-shot taken 200m short of Hart Fell summit

It took about 45 mins to reach the trig point at Hart Fell summit along the undulations from Swatte Fell. The overall impression, at midday, was of dazzling whiteness and of huge open spaces disappearing into a very distant horizon in every direction. I’m afraid the perfection of the views were marred by the intrusion of wind-farms – now too many of these things and I don’t see how there have to be more, on-shore… shame on the big corporations (and Government representatives) who use ‘green-washing’ arguments to justify their actions – ditto the issue of Forestry corporations over-doing Sitka Spruce plantations…
Hart Fell trig point at 808m

Arctic looking scene looking SE back the way we came

The view W-NW – you can have too many windfarms…

With the icy breeze it was way too cold to stop for lunch so we carried on for another ¾ hour, round the top end of the horseshoe now, to find a perfect spot, out of the wind and in the sun, on the little col between Hartfell Rig at 739m and the start of the climb up to the Saddle Yokes. Very magnanimously, both dogs, even Jess, stopped for long enough to share our lunch with themselves, as we sat down for half an hour of rest…

At turn around point looking toward next objective

Lunch-stop : )

With a sense of happy anticipation, we set off again, towards the acclaimed ridge traversing the two Saddle Yoke hill-tops between Under Saddle Yoke, the higher at 745m and the lower satellite top of Saddle Yoke 735m. There was less of a climb than expected to get up onto the tops – and then the ridge completely met expectations in terms of beauty and views – all around, but also, as Andrew pointed out, to the left (east) down into the depths of Carrifran Glen, scene of the celebrated Carrifran Wildwood Project – all native trees, without any Sitka Spruce…
The two Saddle Yokes

Map screen-shot near top of Under Saddle Yoke 745m

Andrews image of me & Jess ontop of Under Saddle Yoke 745m

Under Saddle Yoke summit again, looking towards our destination

The ridge was pleasantly narrow by Southern Upland standards – all the more attractive – but nevertheless care was required to contend with an increasing wind-strength, bearing testament to the approaching storm systems, now gusting (I estimated) 30-40mph, straight across our path and blowing up pretty (but cold!) swirls of spindrift. So, beautiful views and all, we didn’t linger long on the two hill-tops and soon set off down the delightful continuation of our ridge, pretty much all the way back down to Blackshope, visible now, nearly 600m below.
Ridge between Saddle Yokes

On the lesser summit of Saddle Yoke 735m

Start of final descent towards the valley…

..and a little further on

About two thirds of the way down, and beautifully illuminated by the now golden light of the already fast setting sun, we found another delightful windless spot to sit down for 20 mins and admire the vista. Henry and Jess wolfed the last of the dog treats – and then, utterly shamelessly, expressed immediate and strong interest in the last of ours…
Andrews image of me and Henry at the stop

My image of Andrew and Jess at the stop

Incidentally, the descent was quite steep in places but nowhere near as steep as the initial ascent up beside Hang Gill, on the start of this fantastic walk. Nevertheless, with frozen turf and occasional ice-patches, we continued to appreciate the benefits of microspikes and crampons all the way down to the valley.
Last frozen slopes of the spur descending from Saddle Yoke

Spikes off now and walking last 500m into the sunset

Final look back into Black Hope Glen, the summits of our 3 hills are not quite visible
We came full circle and were back at the car by 3.45pm, well illuminated, by the light of about as good a winter sunset as you get…

As Andrew would say “a cracking day out!” Though sadly the beauty and perfection of the conditions were soon to be blasted and washed away as Storms Isha and Jocelyn made their unwelcome impacts on the country. At home we suffered water in the cellar and a 70ft tree down in our garden – but nothing compared to so many poor folk up and down the country.
Final mapping screen-shot showing entire route – coming out slightly more than Walkhighlands estimate of total distance.

Henry & Jess back in car boot at 3.45pm, ready for the journey home

We look forward to the next cold snap/snow – even with global warming there ought to be at least one more between now and mid-April. Several of the Langholm walks are sensational in very wintry conditions – watch this space - but it may also be good to return to Moffat and try combining this horseshoe walk with White Coom, as at least one of the other Walkhighland users writes about…
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Comments: 7

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User avatar
Location: Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway
Occupation: Retired Doctor
Interests: Summer and winter mountain climbing with my 6 year old Golden Retriever. Photography and movie making.
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Mont Blanc
Place: Cairngorms
Gear: Grivel Microspikes
Member: Alpine Club Summit Post Tarras Valley Nature Reserve
Camera: iPhone 11 and GoPro
Ideal day out: Winter mountaineering or in summer combining a walk with a scramble and/or even a wild swim... with my dog, but humans also welcome when available... recently (20/8/23) completed a 27 mile circuit of 12 local Langholm hill-tops with 5 friends and 3 dogs including my own, Henry, which was a pretty good albeit very tiring day-out!
Ambition: Next winter Highland trip

Munros: 70
Corbetts: 9
Fionas: 8
Donalds: 12
Wainwrights: 84
Hewitts: 79
Sub 2000: 15
Islands: 4
Long Distance routes: Affric Kintail Way   

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Trips: 1
Distance: 14.91 km
Ascent: 1014m
Corbetts: 1
Donalds: 3


Trips: 2
Distance: 73 km
Ascent: 2720m
Sub2000s: 1

Joined: May 27, 2017
Last visited: Jun 18, 2024
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