Sunday 17 April 2016

Lowther Hills

This was to be something of a shakedown trip with Mike and Lucky before the much longer trip Mike has put together for May.
With train tickets pre booked, we all linked up in Newcastle station. With a change of trains at Carlisle, we arrived at Sanquhar early afternoon. Although not raining there was a mizzly dampness in the air. The original intention had been to follow the Southern Upland Way over towards Cogshead and camp. However, the mizzle was turning to more persistent rain and it seemed wise to stop early. Casting about we found a nice wee spot out of the blustery wind by the Bogs Burn.

It rained on and off for most of the night and was still damp by morning. Our intention had been to go for a higher route. Unfortunately I somewhat scuppered that by having a bad morning. While Mike turned off to nip up a hill he wanted to bag, I shuffled on down to Cogshead. By the time Mike had caught up with me I had taken my emergency meds, drunk plenty of fluids and eaten an energy bar. Another spanner in the works was the Upland Way being diverted due to sheep lambing. This involved a longer route on forestry trails to come around by Duntercleuch. It involved a lot of up and down too.

For whatever reasons, Wanlockhead appeared somewhat underwhelming. There was a visitor centre, loos and a café, (no dogs allowed). We did stop for a cuppa, sitting outside. The pot of tea was less than generous ditto the tiny quantity of milk provided.

Originally we had been intending to camp by the reservoir by Little Stake Cleugh. Following the radar station road up, we could see that the intended  camping area appeared rough and boggy. Rather than lose height and possibly not find a suitable spot, we pushed on upwards to finally find a fairly level ledge by Little Arthur Grain. Mind, it was not as level as we first thought. Easing in to my sleeping bag, I rapidly slid out of the tent door. Some hasty adjustments had to be made.

The following morning it was a case of onward and upwards to the radar station on top of Lowther Hill. Excellent views all round and Mike managed to get a phone signal.

A tricky crossing over a fence and we were in high, deserted grassy uplands. Superb backpacking country, rounded, rolling hills, wide open vistas in all directions.

Our way on led us over Whether Hill and Windy hill. Our eyes though were on Steygail. Mike had suggested it would be short and steep!
From a distance it does not look too bad. However, looks can be deceptive. There was a steep drop down to a cleft in the hills. The ascent upwards was brutal. Slowly, slowly we picked our way back and forth trying to find the easiest line ever upwards. Finally though we made the top much to the relief of hurting thigh muscles. Unfortunately there now was a long steep descent. At first I was going well. Mike is usually faster up and down hills than me and I go at my own pace. The trouble was I was slowing down and knew I was in difficulties. Balance and coordination went through the floor. My legs were refusing to function and I fell twice. My trekking poles came in to their own here as I shuffled downwards Eventually reaching down to were Mike had stopped, I just dropped the rucksack and sank to the ground totally done. Some day I am going to do a write up about backpacking with Parkinson's! Tablets, food, energy bars, fluids and some rest. After a break and a chance to recover, it was a case of pushing onwards. We had stopped at the Enterkin Burn and oddly there was a picnic table beside the track. As we followed the track up the hill, other picnic tables could be seen dotted along the valley below. All soon became clear though. By the track we following were bird rearing pens, several of them up along the hillside. There were also bird feeding and watering troughs complete with a pipeline to supply water. Fortunately all the pens were empty. There is something ugly about hand rearing birds just to have them blasted out of the sky by fee paying, gun toting clientele!
The track ended on the shoulder of the hill. The map had depicted a steepish drop. In reality it was a deep gash in the hillside. The descent was horrendous. Mike  made his way down mainly on his rear. Still feeling a tad wobbly, I zigzagged down very slowly. Underfoot it was a mixture of wet moss and grass, very loose shale and mud. One slip would have meant a drop to the stream way below, there was little chance of being able to arrest a slide. By the time I had emerged at the top of the hill on the other side I was one grumpy old girl. However, Mike, bless him, knew of a camp spot not far ahead by the Authenlone Burn. What a superb spot to camp, utterly idyllic. Mike had certainly come up trumps on this one.

 Friday saw us heading back to Sanquhar. We made our way past Glenim farm, an empty building and all boarded up.
Our way on led us down the valley to Glenim cottage and the Mennock Pass. A farm track led us up Stell Brae and then it was across rough, boggy country to the Glencraigy burn. This involved another steepish drop but a quite doable one. Lunch was had by the burn and some nice camp spots were duly noted. More rough going across country and we eventually joined back up with the Southern Upland Way.  From there it was an easier walk back to Sanquhar.
Sometimes first impressions really tell their own story. With time in hand before we caught our train, we strolled down the town's high street looking for a café. We found none, however, the local folk smiled and said hello. Surprisingly, the local butcher came out of his shop to chat and make a fuss of Lucky. He pointed us in the direction of a dog friendly pub. Here, once more, we  were made welcome. The landlady giving us the freedom and sole use of the lounge bar and told us to make ourselves at home.
An interesting trip with a distance covered roughly in the region of thirty two and a half miles.


  1. My pics of this trip are dark too - I thought it was my new camera, but now I realise that it was just really dark. Nice to get up Steygail, though - it's taken me five years!

  2. Overcast Mike, overcast, not camera! Steygail was quite some achievement.

  3. Looks like a lovely area. Nice and quiet. Somewhere else to go on Brenda's to do list!

  4. It is grand backpacking country Andrew.

  5. We had intended to camp somewhere on our way up to Lowther Hill on the SUW last year, but failed to spot anywhere, which is how we ended up with the radar station for our neighbour that night. By the sounds of your ooops-slipped-out-the-tent pitch, our odd choice of night-stop may have been the best bet!

    Steygail: sounds like someone's giving me an instruction!

  6. Our pitch was not too bad Gayle, hardly enough room for two tent though.
    Maybe Mick has been taking instructions. Will have to try 'come by'???