Southern Upland Way 2015 – Day 2
4th May 2015 – Stranraer to New Luce: 14.2 mls
Today was fantastic! A breeze marginally stronger than I would have liked was the only thing preventing me from calling this a perfect days walking. Today’s walk is brought to you by the colours Yellow (for the gorse bushes and daffodils) and Blue (for the sky and the lochs I passed).
The sun brought out the naturist in me, so I stripped down to my boots and… oh, no, hang on… the sun brought out the naturalist in me. I was listening to birds, photographing flowers, spotting butterflies, frogs, a lizard, a pheasant, a fledgling crow in the middle of the road and thousands of crawling and buzzing insects. The weather seemed to have everything out and about being busy. It also meant I could dawdle for the day, resting whenever I saw a comfortable stone, or log and generally enjoying being out. It won’t last though, and I over indulged today because I’m not going to be able to for the next couple of days at least. The weather is due to change. But let’s not dwell on what we can’t change.
I had another late breakfast (for me at least) and finally walked away from the B&B about 9:20 into bright sunshine. I opted for my long sleeve MeCo 165 beneath my soft shell and the Craghopper Nosilite trousers, it was just about warm enough, but the breeze kept the temperature low enough to justify the long sleeved baselayer. I had my Tilley firmly planted on top all day to try and prevent and sunburn and to keep the sun out of my eyes.
It was back out of town the way I chose a couple of years ago, using the good path through Big Plantation to rejoin the Southern Upland Way by Culhorn Loch where the path went from good to awful, which is counter intuitive when you consider the Southern Upland Way is actually a National Trail. It’s still a mostly enjoyable section though, through woods, with good views of distant hills through the trees beside the path.
I made my first navigational cockup as I passed beneath the railway by Loch Magillie, I was daydreaming basically, enjoying the sun on my face and the views and I completely missed the SUW signpost pointing me into the woods. I spotted the error simply because I didn’t recall this bit of road walking last time round. So I doubled back, rather than use the road ahead. The woods were lovely, filled with wild garlic and bluebells and the ruins of what look like a bomb shelter and a series of old square buildings.
I had a good signal all morning, so I was sending lots of tweets extolling the virtues of the Way and boring everyone stupid with photos of stuff.
I took my first break beside the White Loch in the grounds of Castle Kennedy. I found a perfectly positioned log, recently felled and probably positioned for just this purpose. I sat in the sun with a great view across the Loch to the distant castle and felt at peace for the first time on the walk. I knew I had loads of time, not too much distance to cover and good weather to do it in. No point in rushing.
Beyond Castle Kennedy the Way takes to the tarmac again for a short distance, but the road was quiet and I soon turned off, past the buildings at Chlenry and up the first hill of the day. I say hill, I gained about 100m all told. I began to see fresh footprints in the mud on the path, big feet, walking boots. I figured it must be Ian. I sent his wife a tweet, telling her I was close, she sent back that Ian was also dawdling and I would catch him soon.
I passed some big boys toys, completely blocking the path, but with room to pass around them. Three huge tractors with some seriously impressive chains and caterpillar tracks on their wheels. Just beyond these were the results of their industry, dozens of recently felled trees, stacked neatly beside the path, the sap still fresh on them, smelling just like the interior of my wife’s car.
The next section is the highlight of Day 2, the wonderful path that runs around the edge of Glenwhan Moor. It’s just a narrow grassy, occasionally rocky path, set between the wall on the left and the felled forest on the right. The forest was felled years ago though, and the new low level growth of heather and other shrubs, interspersed with the skeletons of ancient tree stumps is a real treat. It sound wrong, but it isn’t, trust me.
I spotted Ian ahead. He was carrying his distinctive, huge rucksack and walking slowly, I caught up to him as he was taking a break. The section is great but there’s not many places to sit down. The stumps that remain from the old forest are decaying, certainly not able to take my weight and the ones I checked were riddled with ants. So I perched next to Ian on the dry stane dike. We caught up and chatted. He off loaded one of the dozen or so Mars bars he was carrying, so I did the decent thing and took it, just to help reduce his load. He had some whisky too, but it was a little early, and the day was warming up, I didn’t think getting half-cut would help me.
We parted company again, Ian walking slowly under his load and contemplating camp spots for the night. He was aiming for somewhere close to the road into New Luce, so I should see him again tomorrow.
I found the second Kist of the walk, beside the path, just inside the woods and collected my Waymerk. Ian had missed yesterday’s Kist, despite me giving perfect directions to it. So although I’d given directions to this one too, I left a Waymerk in plain view in the middle of the path, beside the Kist, hoping he’d spot it.
When you leave Glenwhan Moor I’d forgotten how lovely the path is, as it drops down through the forest towards the Devil’s Flesh Barrel (I have no idea what this refers to) and along some fine dappled paths beneath trees and beside the railway line. Crossing the railway and then a river on bridges, the former a proper brick thing, the latter a bouncy swing bridge. The Way then passes through what I have dubbed the ‘Field of Death’ a rather bizarre sign warns anyone entering said field, that “Cows can be dangerous” and people “proceed at your own risk”. Anyone who’s reached this point has very little choice other than to proceed. The field was empty, just like last time. What a bloody anti-climax! I felt like the Monty Python Knights of Camelot as they approach the cave guarded by the vicious beast, only to find its a rabbit. Unlike them I wasn’t disembowled by bovine ninjas.
A short road section, then a climb up a narrow lane brought me to open country again and I got a signal, so found a comfy boulder and rang home. All was well, so I carried on happily, across the barren, but beautiful Kilhern Moss. Ian had said he was hoping to camp around here, so I looked out for likely camp spots for him. Plenty of options up to the ruined buildings at Kilhern, but beyond there the path became a horror of cow trodden mud and shit, all the way down to the road. I tweeted this to Ian’s wife, hoping she could pass the advice on. I remember last time hating this section and nothing has improved. As long as cows share paths with walkers, we are going to be knee deep in mud (or worse) and then in summer when the ground dries, we have to step gingerly across ankle breaking ruts and holes. I hate bloody cattle.
The final road walk was tedious, especially as I know I have to walk it again in the morning. Visiting New Luce is a pain. I walked three sides of a long rectangle, to stay on the Southern Upland Way, and the reward is a backtrack. Ho Hum.
In New Luce I found the shop shut, which was disappointing, especially when I found out later that it’s shut for good. It’s for sale or up for lease, but the village has no shop in the meantime. Fortunately I have enough lunch snacks to see me through tomorrow and Wednesday. It will be water for lunch rather than my preferred Diet Coke, but then you can have everything.
There was no one in at the pub when I knocked on the door, but I sat in the garden and Alison, the landlady, arrived a couple of minutes later. They seem to be shut on Mondays and I’m the only guest, so I could have the pub to myself tonight!