Southern Upland Way 2015

I spent last weekend planning my long distance path for 2015! It was significantly easier than the planning I’ve had to in recent years, simply because I’m returning to the Southern Upland Way. It and I have unfinished business and I’ve been itching to get back there and finish it off.

History

In 2013 I had to cut the walk short due to injury; managing about 130 of the 212 mile length. The bits I walked were generally excellent; the quiet hills, empty paths, friendly people and reasonable weather all made the experience quite memorable and I can’t wait to get back and start again. Yes, that’s right, I’m not just going back to finish it off, I actually want to start from the beginning again and do it all.

I’m going to start a couple of weeks later than last time, in early May; which should hopefully mean slightly better weather. On a path like Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, or the West Highland Way, starting at that time of the year would probably mean walking at the head of a caterpillar of people every day, but the Southern Upland Way will almost certainly be empty again, which suits me just fine! I saw absolutely no-one on the hills last time; not a soul in eight days.

Similarly, if I’d tried to book accommodation at this time of the year for a Coast to Coast in May, I’d be taking the slim pickings of what was left; on the Southern Upland Way I got my first choice in every village. Some experiences from last time led to a change in selection of accommodation in one or two places. I remember freezing half to death in two particular B&Bs, so they’ve been swapped out and I’ve taken a slightly different approach to another section which forced a change there.

Beehive Bothy at Laggangarn

Beehive Bothy at Laggangarn

Route

On all the long distance paths I’ve walked to date, I’ve shunned any sort of motorised transport on the route – no lifts to pubs in the evening, no ringing the B&B for a collection off the path – an approach that has been driven by the purist in me. I’ve abandoned all my principles in this instance though!

There are two consecutive 25 mile days in the early part of the walk, both of which have quite a lot of up and down in them. Last time I split the second day by walking 2 miles off route to a remote B&B, dropping over a 1000 feet in the process. The next day the weather was pretty bad so I shunned the 1000 feet climb back to the path, favouring a lower level path instead. I need to fill that gap.

I found a hotel in Dalry that offers a free collection and drop-off service for walkers who stay with them for two nights and break the two days into three. I now have three manageable days in the place of back-to-back marathons. A nice by-product is a reduced pack weight for the middle day!

Forestry walking, often a mixture of bog and fallen trees

Forestry walking, often a mixture of bog and fallen trees

Transport

In previous years I’ve managed to get a lift to the start and from the end of a walk. This year I’ve decided to try and use the train at both ends. I often enjoy a train journey at the start of a day walk, using two stations to create a linear walk. The train journey seems to add a special something to the experience; perhaps it’s a lingering shadow of the romance of trains? I’m hoping this change will enhance the feeling of adventure at the start and end.

Using public transport isn’t an ‘easy option’ by any means, not does it save me any money. It would still be easier and probably cheaper to get a lift my son or my wife; so this is more about enhancing the enjoyment of the holiday than it is about practicalities.

The nearest train station to the start point in Portpatrick is Stranrear, which also happens to be the end point of Day One. I will get a lift to our closest mainline station at Crewe, which should mean I arrive in Stranrear about 6 or 7 hours later, with either one or two changes, depending on the route. Providing I book far enough in advance the ticket looks to be about £25 – or £125 if I don’t book in time.

I’ve booked two nights in a B&B in Stranrear, using a regular bus service the next morning to get me to Portpatrick, then walk back to the B&B on Day One.

At the end of the path in Cockburnspath (Co’burnspath) I need to get a bus to Berwick and then two or possibly three trains back to Crewe. My initial enquiries suggested this ticket was going to be well over £100 – but once I split the route down into its component parts and bought separate tickets for each leg, I found I could do it for about £40.

And finally…

So I’m pretty much good to go – other than the business of shedding the weight I gathered last year when I was severely limited in the walking I could do. I may follow this up with a couple more detailed route selection posts. I’m planning on changing one day radically!

lonewalker

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

You may also like...

18 Responses

  1. Trina says:

    Hi ….just been reading your blog . My husband will be starting the Southern Upland Way on the 3rd May . He is walking & camping along the route , so you might see him along the way .

    • lonewalker says:

      I hope so Trina, I saw no-one at all on my last trip along the route, for 8 days.

      What’s his name? I’ll be sure to keep an eye open for him.

      • Trina says:

        Hi Thank you for getting back so quickly….his name is Ian Whittaker, this is his second big walk …..done the Coast to Coast in 2010 and has been wanting to do this walk since then…..
        I signed him the first time to raise money for Rethink Mental illness and he is doing the same again. He is trying to lighten his pack this time …..bought a lighter tent….

  2. Canuk Walker says:

    Good to hear you are going back and starting over! I should May will be ideal. You will recall that Ben and I started our SUW several weeks ahead of your start, when there was still snow on the hills in the west. Your picture of Beehive Bothy, reminded me of a comfortable (dry) night spent under its roof as the winds whipped up and the rain pelted down outside. An underrated walk, but a grand, isolated one.

    • lonewalker says:

      Tim – I won’t let it get the better of me and also enjoyed the stretch that I did, so no good reason not to start again really! There’s been a big dump of snow along the border region last night and today. I hope it clears well before I go this year, it was all a bit brown and drab when I was walking in late April, so hopefully the extra couple of weeks will allow a bit more green to grow through and the fells to dry out a bit. On the upside, my knee is feeling pretty good at the moment, it’s had a couple of small hill tests and about 150 miles of pavement pounding on local paths in the evening!

  3. PilgrimChris says:

    Good luck Stuart. Maybe a path for me to consider. Will read your post hike blog post with interest 🙂

  4. Paul Byrne says:

    Good luck with it this time Stuart I recall following your progress two years ago.

  5. JohnBoy says:

    It’s great to hear some enthusiasm about the Southern Upland Way. It’s popped on and off my annual to-do list over the years, often pushed down the list after reading the odd negative comment about the route. But the solitude and the look has always appealed, and when I pass through on the way to the northern flesh pots my mind is always drawn to the remote look of the uplands. Like you, the rolling nature of the fells is what attracts me to them. I will follow your walk with interest…and hopefully in person before too long.

    • lonewalker says:

      I think some of my enthusiasm is ‘rose-tinted hindsight’ as I remember cursing the path, the planners and the mud on more than one occasion when I walked part of it in 2013. However, the overwhelming feeling of space, solitude and time to myself override any momentary concerns over wet feet or blocked paths – I can’t wait to get back to it. I’ve bookmarked your blog too, so once you do walk it I’ll be able to read your account 🙂

  6. We finished the walk last year. You may find part of this of interest.
    http://where2walk.co.uk/long-distance-walks/southern-upland-way/update-southern-upland-way/
    You can save brass and time by getting a bus from Carlisle to Stranraer
    You can split the walk into sections, but of course you have to travel more. See link. We did Part Patrick to Bargrennan, Bargrennan to Sanquar, Sanquar to Moffat, Moffat to Melrose. I had done the rest decades ago! The splits were forced by other commitments, but it can be done about a week at a time
    The forest around beehive bothy is being cleared this year but the path will be kept open.
    No need for wet feet, a good pair of boots, trecking poles and paramo gaiters which can be worn comfortably with shorts kept our feet dry.

    We had quite a lot of fallen forest blockages but I complained and got them cleared plus a commitment to getting them cleared promptly on future.

    Really great walk and could be much more popular but still be very quiet. Some really nice places to stay and a surprising amount of real ale to be had

    • lonewalker says:

      Thanks for the information Raymond.
      By strange coincidence I was on bradfordwalking.org the other day, while researching Mickle Fell access and routes 🙂

  7. Just had a good read – you certainly give the impression of wet and mud! I did have my route all mapped out with wild camps & mobile b&b stops (still got it somewhere!) but you’re right about it being awkward at times. Luckily, hubby was willing to do lots of driving to meet me at various weird spots in the middle of nowhere! It certainly wasn’t easy to just go village to village. Wondering about doing it with more backpacking nights if I do give it a proper go now.

  8. stuarts67 says:

    Stuart, good to hear you’re heading back after a bit of a lay-off. This is quite a tough route, but of course you’ll know that from last time! I have this walk sort of ‘semi-planned’ for myself in the autumn. I’ll look forward to reading your account in due course!

    • lonewalker says:

      Good to be walking again – even if it’s just pounding the pavement in the evening at the moment until I get some fitness back 🙂 Two people walking the path in the same year will probably be as busy as it gets! I’ve never walked anywhere else in the country and not seen anyone, even from a distance, on a walk, never mind for eight straight days!

      • stuarts67 says:

        Don’t knock it! 🙂 Actually, how refreshing to have such solitude on what is an official long-distance path. I’ve walked the West Highland Way four times (all off-season, the first in 2004), and each occasion has seen a marked increase in the number of other walkers. Now call me anti-social if you like, but to me there’s nothing worse than sharing the path with the masses – all going in the same direction. Anyway, as said, I’ll look forward to hearing about how you get on. Cheers for now.

        • lonewalker says:

          If that’s the definition of anti-social, then count me in! Probably won’t be going back to the WHW or C2C for that reason – it’s great meeting people on the trail, but not hundreds, not all walking in a line, my idea of hell 🙂

  9. I’ll be very interested in how you get on. A few years ago I went up to start it (I was planning on doing it in sections as I was still working at that point) but ended up being a bit poorly and never really got anywhere with it! Since then, it’s kind of disappeared off my radar but it’s still somewhere in the background in my brain and thoughts do surface every now and then…
    I had originally planned to do it in the same way as I did the Pennine Way – part wild camping and part ‘mobile b&b-ing’ with hubby in the motorhome.

    • lonewalker says:

      Chrissie – the first 8 days of my last trip are in my Long Walks pages (http://lonewalker.net/my-long-distance-walks/southern-upland-way-2013/). I loved the solitude and the scenery was pretty good – my sort of scenery really – rolling open fells, which appeals to me more than jagged peaks. The path was still drying out from several weeks under snow and some recent rain, so it was muddy in places and that got a bit depressing at times, but still can’t wait to get back.
      The path doesn’t lend itself easily to section hiking, there are few public transport options other than the start, end and a couple of railway stations in the middle. The problem with the roads is they mostly run north to south and the path runs west to east, so a 15 mile walk often translates to a 100 mile drive! No buses between the villages you need.

Leave a Reply