Southern Upland Way 2015 – Planning

I’d walked about a mile or so out of Beattock, heading for the Ettrick Hills and as I reached an old cattle feeder standing rusting beside the track, I knew I wouldn’t finish the Southern Upland Way. I paused for a few minutes and wrestled with my conscience; I didn’t want to stop, but I also knew that my foot wouldn’t take me to the end and if I was going to stop this would be the best place to do it. It was the weekend, I could walk back down into Moffat, right beside the A74 and find a cosy tea shop to sit and wait out the three hours or so it would take for my son to pick me up.

I knew I had to go back and finish it though, right from the moment I stopped beside that cattle feeder. I thought I may even be able to go back later in the year and take off where I finished. It would only take 5 or 6 days if I pushed it. But circumstances caught up with me, a couple of weeks later I was made redundant; the remaining weeks of the summer were spent looking for a new job and when I found one there was the reluctance to take time off before I established myself.

The following year I made the decision to concentrate on weekend adventures instead of a long distance walk but even that plan went tits up when my knee exploded on a walk up to Fountains Fell. The rest of the year was spent with my feet up, waiting for an operation. That brought home the stark realisation that I wasn’t getting any younger and with bits of my body failing left, right and centre, my long distance walking days may be drawing to a close, so I better get a wriggle on a do the ones I wanted while I still could!

The result is that 2015 sees my return to the Southern Upland Way and being a bit of a traditionalist I thought I’d better start from the beginning again. I also decided, quite early on, that there were things I wanted to change this time round; lessons learned and all that.

Views to die for on Craig Airie Fell

Views to die for on Craig Airie Fell

Public Transport

I’ve already discussed the idea of using public transport to get to and from the walk and provided I can get advance tickets cheap enough then that is still the plan. I’m currently waiting for the advance tickets to come on sale for the outward journey on 2nd May. They aren’t released until about 12 weeks ahead of time and thetrainline.com lets you set up an email alert to warn you when they become available.

It looks like I should be able to get a standard fare for about £24, but I may upgrade the Crewe to Glasgow leg to First Class for an additional £25 – probably worth it for the 3 hour journey. Let’s face it, the worst thing about public transport is the public!

Crewe to Stranraer appears to be a one change journey, via Glasgow, but the journey home from Cockburnspath is a little more complex. I have to catch a bus to Berwick first of all, then it’s a train to York, another to Manchester and a final one into Crewe. There are other options via Newcastle, but that’s still 2 changes I think. Buying advance tickets means I have to plan the journey carefully. Too little time between trains at a change and I could miss my connection. As advance tickets are bought for a specific journey on a specific train that would result in buying a replacement ticket at full price. Leaving ample time between changes adds to the travel time of course and I will have walked 19 miles before the bus and train journeys begin, so getting home quickly is important. It’s a fine line to tread, making this journey tricky.

Trig point on Hill of Ochiltree

Trig point on Hill of Ochiltree

Accommodation

I’m changing some of the accommodation I used last time. I didn’t like a couple of places and although I tend to be an advocate of ‘better the devil you know’ I wasn’t prepared to put up with them again if I had a choice. I’d rather spend a few extra quid and find somewhere else.

The B&B in New Luce was OK, but I remember feeling cold all evening and absolutely freezing in the morning while eating breakfast, so this time I’ve picked the Kenmuir Arms Hotel in the village, which should also reduce the distance I have to walk to dinner.

In Dalry I’m using the Lochinvar Hotel, instead of the Clachan Inn; not because the latter was bad, it wasn’t, it was OK, but the Lochinvar offers a pick-up service that allows me to break two 25+ mile days into three more manageable sections. I wouldn’t normally use this type of service on a long distance path, but it means I can avoid another less than brilliant B&B that I used in Nether Holm.

I stayed on a working farm in Sanquhar and again, although it was OK, it wasn’t great, so I’ve spent a few extra quid to stay in the Nithsdale Hotel in town; another short walk to dinner.

There seems to be only one B&B in Wanlockhead and I remember dithering all evening under a blanket trying to get warm in that place, plus I had a dreadful experience in the Wanlockhead Inn, so I won’t soon be returning there. Both these factors have led me to abandon Wanlockhead as a stop on this year’s walk and I’ll be heading to Leadhills instead. They have a hotel there – the highest in Scotland (which I can add to the night I spent in the highest Inn in England at Tan Hill) and the route changes I need to make to get there mean I can visit some different hills.

Looking back into Wanlockhead

Looking back into Wanlockhead

Route

The other changes revolve around the route selection, which I’m modifying either because I’m using different accommodation, or because I want to pick a slightly different path.

Last time, leaving Bargrennan, I was delayed by about two hours, so I took a short-cut, which will be rectified this time. The longer route also means I can search for the third Kist. (A Kist is a cache of Waymerks – or coins – specially minted for the SUW, forming a 200 mile treasure hunt).

The biggest change to the route is when I leave Leadhills. Rather than return to the traditional route over Lowther Hill and Comb Head, I’m going to use Green Lowther (which has a trig point) and Horsegrain Dod, returning to the road via Potrenick Burn, hopefully avoiding the horrible boggy bit I found at Overfingland last time.

New route, from Leadhills is shown in blue, traditional route in red

New route, from Leadhills is shown in blue, traditional route in red

Potrenick Burn and the misty hill to come

Potrenick Burn and the misty hill to come

Kit

I have some kit changes I would like to make before I set out, but I think that probably deserves a post of its own in the future, so watch this space.

lonewalker

Fell-walker, trig-pointer, peak-bagger, Wainwright-er & Pennine Way author, with a passion for long paths, malt whisky, fast cars & Man City

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10 Responses

  1. RossH says:

    I remember reading this blog with interest in 2013. Looks like you are starting this path a week before me. I’ll be heading off on the 10th May

    • lonewalker says:

      I’ll try and save some good weather for you Ross!
      I will be posting live again as I walk, so you can listen to me bitching about path conditions / fallen trees etc. 🙂

      • RossH says:

        I’m happy to have a Trailblazer scout ahead, Thanks 🙂

        • Ray Wilkes says:

          RossH (and anyone else) – please report any fallen trees or serious problems to Tom.Whitty AT dumgal.gov.uk after correcting the e-mail address.
          This should get them quickly dealt with

  2. Colin Warner says:

    Hi Stuart, Been so busy recently only just caught up with your adventures. Looks like the knee op went well then . I see you’re travelling to Glasgow on the 2nd of May, well so am I! off on the WHW yet again, but not all this time doing Ben Lomond on third day and then stopping at Kingshouse two nights and doing Buachaille Etive Mor, then off canoeing on the west coast. My daughter and her other half are coming and doing the whole thing bar Buachaille, and going to FW. I’ve just been on two rail sites and there seems to be a problem finding a direct virgin train on that day for some reason. It was there before but now the usual route isn’t showing . Its now saying east coast to Edinburgh then to glasgow? Must be some works on? The virgin terminating in Carlisle? Dont know if you’ve noticed it or not. Was hoping to bump into you on the train haha. All the best on your second go mate

    • lonewalker says:

      Colin

      I noticed the FUBAR with Virgin Trains and I called them to find out what was going on – their customer service line doesn’t know anything, but “guesses” there may be works over the long bank holiday weekend. That’s threw a right spanner in the works and I looked at alternative ways up. I found a cheap ticket going from Manchester Piccadilly to Glasgow, which I guess uses a different line. I got a First Class ticket for about £35, which seemed good value for a 3.5 hour journey.

      I love the idea of breaking the WHW to do side trips. I climbed BEM in 2008 and it nearly killed me – literally! Scariest moment I’ve ever had. I recounted it in the blog somewhere if you want to read the details 🙂 Don’t let it put you off, it was a great walk.

  3. Ray Wilkes says:

    Public Transport
    Consider the No X75 Carlisle Stranraer bus http://www.dumgal.gov.uk/timetables . A Dumfries and Galloway Freedom day ticket will get you to Portpatrick for under £9
    Maybe you could walk from Cockburnspath to Dunbar – a nice coast walk

    Accommodation. Kenmuir Arms Hotel, nice Yorkshire welcome, good food, real ale, lively locals, room basic, – we would stay there again. Closes Monday s and one month in winter
    Bargrennan. House o Hill expensive but really good. Free lifts to Knowe and Caldons
    Dalry – This is excellent http://www.brookfordbandb.co.uk/ Does lifts to pay for
    Wanlockhead. Hopetoun Hotel Leadhills is good. Will give lifts to Wanlockhead but it’s not far off route. To pay for lifts to Daer Reservoir
    St Mary’s Loch – avoid Tibbie Shiels. Stay http://www.stmaryslochbedandbreakfast.co.uk/ one of the best places we have stayed in over 40 years. Not bad value if you book the supper abt £9 and will fill you. Gives lifts to Way as its off route. To pay for lifts

    Pack weight. Use Marks and Sparks coconut anti-perspirant and only take one walking shirt. A Lifa vest will dry overnight if you let it drip over bath shower during eve. Last thing roll in a towel and trample. It will then be dry next day.

    Cows – plenty but we had no bother

    • StuartS67 says:

      Reassuring to hear another walker experiencing trouble-free castle encounters! And I certainly agree about giving Tibbie Shiels a miss – it’s overpriced, and their beds are lousy too – the softest, most uncomfortable mattresses imaginable.

  4. StuartS67 says:

    Stuart – good to see your plans are well laid! Now – here’s an improbable question on the SUW for you. On your last time on the route, did you see (or rather, encounter) much in the way of cattle? I recall watching one of your YouTube clips entitles “Cow Trouble”, and wondered if that was on the SUW. I for one, as a solo walker, am a bit hesitant to pass close to cattle that aren’t on the other side of a fence or dyke.

    • lonewalker says:

      Don’t remember seeing any cattle on the last trip. There were a couple of churned up fields that must have had some in at one point. The cow trouble video was from a trig point trip in North East Scotland I seem to recall.

      I use my pole if they get too close, a whack on the nose and they don’t come near me.

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