Southern Upland Way 2015 – Day 3

5th May 2015 – New Luce to Bargrennan: 19.1 mls

Today’s walk is brought to you by the word “puddle” and by the sound your legs make when you walk in overtrousers all day! My pedometer says I did 30k steps today, so that’s 30,000 swishes, many of which were drowned out by the sound of the wind. While I was squelching and splashing along the track I tried to calculate how many puddles I’d walked though, over or around. My best estimate was about 20,000. That’s not quite one per step, because some puddles were so big they needed 2 or 3 steps to negotiate.

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Puddles

As you can tell, today was wet. Which was runner up for word of the day. Everything I stood up in is soaked and drying on radiators in my room in the House o’ Hill Hotel. My 800g Jam rucksack weighs about 2kg, I tipped about a litre of water out of it on arrival. It rained non stop all day, not torrential, but what it lacked in ferocity it made up for with tenacity and sheer “too dumb to quit” doggedness.

I had a good evening in the Kenmuir Arms. Paul and Alison are ex-pats from the Northern Pennines, so we talked about the Pennine Way for a while. I was the only person in the pub, Paul played the genial host and poured the beers and Alison cooked my tea. They told me about the demise of the local shop, just a couple of months after I came through in 2013, the village doesn’t seem to miss it, but I bet the walkers who stop here do. It was a very pleasant evening and I eventually turned in so I could watch some more of what is becoming a gripping TV series, Fortitude.

I slept like a log until about 4am when I heard the rain start and then I was awake again at 6:30 which is my usual wake up time. So I dozed, listened to the pattering of the rain and hoped it didn’t turn into battering.

I had an OK breakfast, too many beans if the truth be told, but good ingredients. It was ready pretty much bang on 8am as I’d ordered it and I was outside walking away in the rain by 8:40. I started in long sleeved baselayer, waterproof overtrousers over no trousers, Paramo jacket and my Tilley, on top of my hood. I never felt the need to add another layer, but there were times when my hands and ears really felt the cold, due mainly to the wind. It wasn’t particularly strong, but it gusted in exposed places and any stronger would have been uncomfortable.

My early start meant I missed meeting Ian this morning. So I hope he had a good day and I left a little message for him in the Beehive Bothy book, which he’s sure to sit in and escape the rain today, even if he doesn’t stay in it.

I banged out the first few miles along the road to Balmurrie as quickly as I could without blowing a gasket, just to get some distance on the day. I had about 20 miles to do and the weather wasn’t really going to let me linger over breaks. I figured the quicker I could get to the hotel and a warm shower, the better. Beyond Balmurrie the tarmac becomes moorland and I really enjoyed squelching across it, looking for the next SUW sign and trying to guess where the best line would be between them. The weather seemed to match the remote moor and as I’ve often found in the past, bad weather and bleak surroundings are a good match. I slipped across to the boundary fence and across it into the forest.

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Into the forest

As usual, the forest path was even wetter and puddle ridden than any previous section, but again, I was enjoying this. There were no fallen trees to clamber over like last time, so that helped. The path is well signed through the forest and I didn’t need the map or GPS to stay on the line. The trees blocked some of the wind too, so this was a quieter walk, with just the swish, swish, swish of my legs and the birds in the trees. I heard woodpeckers again and more cuckoos, but the wildlife bonanza from yesterday wasnt repeated. Guess they’ve all got dry nests or burrows or whatever to hide in. Wish I had.

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Purgatory Burn

Before long I reached the Beehive Bothy at Laggangarn and I ducked inside to check the book after a request from someone on Twitter yesterday.

Only a half dozen entries since March and many of those were just passing through like me. I didn’t want to stop for too long. I was getting cold and didn’t want that to get any worse. I left a brief message for Ian and pushed on. Just beyond the standing stones I met a forest road and followed it for a short way before taking to another narrow, grassy forest path.

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Beehive Bothy

I declined the diversion up and over Craig Airie Fell, I’d been up last time, so didn’t need the trig point or the hill summit. The views wouldn’t be much to shout about and I’d rather use the energy on the flat rather than climbing.

The hardcore forest track soon became tarmac and for the next several miles I was pounding pavement. The rain was incessant and I just put my head down and slogged it out. My feet were beginning to feel a little abused so I slowed the pace a bit and settled into a good 2.5 mph rhythm.

I eventually stopped, beneath some conifers beside the road, hoping to get some shelter from the rain. I didn’t. The rain filtered through the branches above and just ended up being bigger drops, just fewer of them.

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Sheltering beneath the conifers

After a mere 10 mins or so I was off again. Not wanting to get too cold, or to seize up, which I’m prone to do on long days. The road finally finished at Knowe and it was a relief to find another squelchey grassy track across a desolation of felled trees. Navigation was again problematic, with the SUW signs being hidden by tree stumps and vegetation, but I made it to the houses at Glenruther. The road from this point was incredible. The tarmac was so fine and so wet I could see my reflection in the surface.

Leaving the road again was a welcome relief and I crossed Hill of Ochiltree, with its trig point and it’s views down towards Bargrennan. It’s another squelch fest all the way to Garchew, with the last few hundred yards through some of the worst cow pasture I’ve ever had the misfortune to tackle. It’s not much better as you leave Garchew either, the cows have cut up the moor quite badly close to the road, but after a couple of hundred yards it got better and was just squelchy rather than cow manure ridden mud.

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Trig point on Hill of Ochiltree

A final misjudgement of a SUW sign found me on the wrong side of a wall as I dropped down to the buildings at the road. I corrected easily enough without having to backtrack or clamber over it. I don’t remember the road walk to House o’ Hill being quite so long, but my feet were quite sore now, and it felt like a long final 1/2 mile.

I did the 20 (ish) miles in 6.5 hours and tried not to look as shattered as I felt when I walked into the bar to request my room.

I now have every surface of radiator, in both the room and the bathroom, draped in clothes and gear and I borrowed a maiden from the hotel to generate some extra surface area. I doubt most of it will be dry by the morning, the boots are certainly not going to be. The hotel seem to have removed the fire they used to have in the bar area, beside which I left my wet boots last time, and for which I then had to wait a very frustrating 2 hours to reclaim in the morning. That won’t be happening again.

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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1 Response

  1. Canuk Walker says:

    Stuart, Good going! It seems you were right in foreshadowing the fine weather of the past few weeks dissipating as you started on the SUW. Still, as I sit at my desk looking out at the warmth and sunshine here, I would rather be puddling along in the Southern Uplands. Cheers! Tim

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