Southern Upland Way: Day Four

1st May 2013 – Bargrennan to St. Johns Town of Dalry: 25.4 miles, 3,099 feet

“It is good to collect things, it is better to take walks” Anatole France – French Poet (1844 – 1924)

I didn’t sleep too good last night. The room was comfortable and quiet, but at about 02:30 I woke up with a feeling of dread. I didn’t remember seeing a grille (the sort you pull down to protect the spirits) over the bar that night, and I worried that they would lock the door to the bar area at night. My boots were drying beside the wood burner in there and if I was up and about before everyone else I wouldn’t be able to get to them. This worry kept me awake, off and on, pretty much right up until 06:00 when the alarm went off. I was waiting for it.

I got dressed and went downstairs, calling myself a foolish old worry-wart, only to find the door into the bar securely locked! I was a bit gutted. In a disconsolate mood I ate the breakfast that had been left out for me; Corn Flakes, tea and toast, and went back upstairs to pack my gear away.

I kicked myself for lack of foresight and kicked myself again for being a stupid arse. I should never have let the boots out of my sight.

With everything packed I went back downstairs and waited in the dining room for someone to stir. There is a manager on site, the girl behind the bar had said so last night. I figured I wouldn’t have to wait too long. They’d have to be up making breakfast for the other guests wouldn’t they? I was ready to go at 06:40, a nice early start that would see the day broken by lunch time and enable me to take it easy in the afternoon, when the forecast said it would be warm and sunny.

At 07:20 I was annoyed, both at myself and at the lack of any activity in the place. The phone rang at that point and hope sprang within me! Surely someone would be woken by the ringing phone and have to come and answer it….. but no, nothing. The caller left a message and the hotel returned to silence.

At 07:40 I could feel the anger beginning to rise. David Banner I ain’t, and I’m certainly not Lou Ferrigno but I can see where he gets it from. I went outside and rang the door bell. The awful tones of ‘Green Sleeves’ rang out in the back room. I waited, expectantly, my apologies already on the tip of my tongue, but nothing. Silent as a grave.

At 08:00 I rang their phone number myself, several times, each time hoping someone would hear it and get fed up of listening to a ringing phone. Nothing.

By 08:20 I was considering setting off the fire alarm. I mean FFS, how long were they going to be? By this point I presumed I was the only guest and they have no one else to be up for to prepare breakfast.

At 08:30 I heard someone stir and there were footsteps on a wooden floor. I went outside again and rang the door bell. I was heartily sick of ‘Green Sleeves’ now and was worried it would be with me all day, rolling around in my head. But at least someone heard it. I was waiting in the hall when a half dressed woman appeared through a door, she was dragging a dressing gown around her and she let out a little squeal when she saw me standing there. I suppressed the urge to smile and tried not to show the intense pleasure her surprise had given me, petty I know, but I’m only human 🙂

I explained about the boots and she let me in the bar to collect them. I went outside to boot up and was soon heading up the road, a mere two hours behind schedule.

I don’t walk well to a deadline, I tend to go all Gung-Ho and batter away at the mileage at top speed. I tried to reign myself in, but generally to little avail, my subconscious told me I had two hours to make up and my body just followed the instructions blindly. The path was all hardcore from the start, so that enabled me to set a reasonable pace.

Day four is generally when things start to hurt. It’s normally been a full year since I’ve walked consecutively for three days and the added weight of the pack adds to the strain. Even before I set out today I found that my shoulders were stiff, I have a friction burn under my right armpit, my cheek chafe has begun in earnest, the bottoms of my feet feel a little abused and my left knee is quite sore. On the plus side, the part of my body I’ve been most worried about, my left foot, is actually fine, which is a huge relief.

So with all those minor aches and pains I set out with a 25 mile day ahead of me, the longest one of the walk and not in the best frame of mind.

Avoiding the road using a little path through the woods

Avoiding the road using a little path through the woods

I went north along the road, past Glentrool Holiday village (what appeared to be a caravan site) and along a cycle path beside the road to the Visitor Centre at Stroan Bridge. This was always a possible shortcut for me, and the delay this morning only enforced that decision.

Another cycle path led down the side of the Water of Minnoch to meet up with the Southern Upland Way. I had been worried this would be another soggy horror of a path, but the surface was hardcore, made up of chippings and stones, to support the cycle route that also used this path. This allowed me to make good progress and the distant views, when I could glimpse them thought the thin trees beside the path, were quite inspiring. High hills, covered in cloud, rocky prominences abounded among them too, so the vista had a rugged feel to it.

Lovely winding path through the woods beside Loch Trool

Lovely winding path through the woods beside Loch Trool

I measured today’s progress by three lochs; Loch Trool came first followed a few miles later by Loch Dee and then, nine miles from the end Clatteringshaws Loch.

Loch Trool was lovely, and the path, still also a cycle way, rose and fell beside the lake, with wonderful views. It rained lightly for about 40 mins and I used the umbrella for the first time properly, with no wind it worked really well and I didn’t need to use my waterproof jacket until later, when I lost the sun for a while and it grew quite cold.

Looking out across Loch Trool

Looking out across Loch Trool

I was using the marker posts as guidance today, I’ve come to trust them while navigating over the past three days; they are present at every change in direction and point of decision. But with my head down, following the marker posts I missed the alternative route up the nicer side of Glenhead valley at the end of Loch Trool. I was now following a logging road through old forestry, mostly all logged out a long time ago. The surface was similar to the cycle way and my feet were beginning to feel the strain of several quick miles over stones. For a while the road was made of crushed shells, which was novel, but not particularly any easier on the feet.

At the head of Glenhead I caught my first sight of Loch Dee. I took a short break, finding a spot out of the wind I was now exposed to, having crested the top of the pass. I applied a small Compeed to my left foot, between the two biggest toes, where I could feel a hot spot developing. I had my first lunch and enjoyed the view.

Loch Dee

Loch Dee

The forest track seemed to go on forever, my feet feeling more and more abused as time went on. It was pretty monotonous and I was absurdly pleased to find a wide wooden bridge over a small river to break up the insesent hardcore.

The splendid view across Loch Dee

The splendid view across Loch Dee

The SUW certainly has some great long views

The SUW certainly has some great long views

As I arrived at Clatteringshaws Loch I was passed by a couple of lorries, hauling fresh cut timber, I could smell the sap still on the logs, even over the diesel fumes. They didn’t slow down, as I’ve become used to with logging lorries, but they both waved a thank you for me moving over and giving them plenty of room.

A Bridge! The monotony of the logging road was finally broken by this sight

A Bridge! The monotony of the logging road was finally broken by this sight

The path finally left the logging road! It headed off into a forest but a sign beside the path said forestry work was in operation and the trail was closed at this point and walkers should find an alternative route. No suggested diversion, no helpful map showing options, just route closed, tough luck. It did say that the route should be open by June 2013, but I decided not to wait for that. I also decided I hadn’t seen the sign and bugger them. I was knackered. I wasn’t going to spend time looking for an alternative, and I wasn’t going to add miles to the day walking it either.

I pressed on through the forest, on a soggy path, half expecting to hear chain saws and logging as I progressed. After a mile or so I came to another sign, beside another forestry road. This was the other end of the diversion. I’d seen no one, heard no logging, no felling, nothing. Again, I felt a degree of annoyance at the path, the planners and the logging operators. There would be walkers less confident (arrogant?) than me, who would have spent time looking for a diversion, spent time and energy walking it, all for no reason. I saw a Forestry Commission vehicle a little way up the track and had a good mind to have a moan at the bloke, but it was empty.

At one point, still deep in the forest, I came across a large pine tree across the track. One or two of the smaller branches had been removed by a saw, they were cut cleanly, but the majority were untouched. The tree was a damn nuisance, I struggled to clamber over it, and I have long legs. I again cursed the path and the trail managers. Why only cut a couple of small branches? Why not remove them all, or better still cut the trunk through. It was so big it blocked the whole path.

The SUW also has a lot of trees across the path

The SUW also has a lot of trees across the path

As the path left the forest I found the first ‘Ultreia’ sign of the day; treasure ahead! I searched in vain, in both directions but couldn’t find it. I was a bit gutted. I’d bypassed the third Kist that morning, for the shorter start and now I was drawing a blank on the fourth. I was now only 2 out of 4.

Beyond the forest the path crossed the best scenery of the day. A high open moor called Shield Rigg. It was like a Lakeland walk, perhaps the Northern or Central fells and I really enjoyed that section. At Clenrie the moor ended though and I was back onto tarmac for another 4 miles or so. I was passed by a scruffy old Land Rover, with three (what looked like) kids in the front seats. The driver couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 I guess. The road was very quiet though and they’d been right up onto the hills as I’d seen the Landy from a distance earlier. Lucky lads getting to drive around in the middle of nowhere, at that age too.

By now I was flagging, my feet were sore and I knew if I stopped for a rest I wouldn’t start again. So I pushed on, as you do, because no one is coming to help!

Day four has a bit of a sting in the tail, a nice little hill at the 22 mile mark. It is a nice hill too, all rocky and scenic looking and I cursed it, pointlessly, for being in my way.

The final couple of miles into St John’s Town of Dalry were hard work, but again they were across some nice scenery and I finally arrived at the Clachan Inn at about 16:30.

The final climb before the descent into Dalry

The final climb before the descent into Dalry

I was pleased to find a tub in my en-suite and I filled it as deep as I dared and as hot as a monkey’s bum and lowered myself into it very carefully. I lounged for a while, listening to some music and then went in search of food and drink.

I’ve just had a lovely Steak and Ale pie and I’ve replenished some of the fluids I lost today. I’m now going to pass out for a few hours, so you’ll excuse me if I cut this short for tonight.

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