Southern Upland Way 2015 – Day 5
7th May 2015 – Clatteringshaws Loch to Stroanpatrick: 15.5 mls
Although the day was perfectly acceptable in terms of weather, it was a bit worse than forecast, so ended up being a let down. The BBC local TV forecast showed a picture of southern Scotland without any cloud cover and little sun icons. The reality was lots of white fluffy stuff in the sky all day, covering the sun quite often and black and grey stuff floating in a couple of times and raining on me. Good job I’d decided to start the day in overtrousers anyway, for the warmth as much as anything. It was “coat on, coat off” again and, like yesterday, I ended up giving in and living in the Paramo with all the vents open and the sleeves rolled up.
Today’s walk is brought to you by Edgar Purnell Hooley, who became a very wealthy man in the first years of the 20th century and the head of a British company that is still going strong today. I spent about 3 hours today cursing the man and the subject of his 1901 patent application. You’ve probably guessed of course that Hooley developed the road surface we commonly call Tarmac, which is short for tarmacadam, or tar-penetration macadam to give it it’s proper name. Before Hooley, road surfaces were typically made from macadam, which is basically a loose hardcore surface that would break up and wash away. The addition of tar to the mix, made all the difference apparently. Several evolutions later and we have the surface we all love to curse – great for motorists of course, but unforgiving, tiring and hateful to most of us hill walkers.
My feet, after two days of forest roads really weren’t happy about the 4 miles of tarmac this morning and the further 3 miles this afternoon. I think I’m getting a blister on the outside of my right little toe, which I remember getting on my last long walk in 2013. That became horrible, so I need to do something about this one tonight I think. On the squelchey, grassy sections between the tarmac bits my feet felt mostly fine. Still abused and sore, but no worse after the long moorland stretches.
I’m in the Lochinvar Hotel for two nights and I would recommend the place to anyone who asks. All the stuff I bitched about at the House o’ Hill is fine here. The shower is awesome, the bed is great, the breakfast is superb, I had a great evening meal, the room is massive, etc. etc. If you’re doing the Southern Upland Way, you need to stay here. Sam, the landlord, has done a great job of bringing the place up to date and his attitude towards guests is fantastic.
I had an excellent breakfast at 7.30, which I couldn’t finish and which sat heavily for the first couple of miles. I got a lift back to the path from Sam’s Dad, who helps out when things get busy and I was walking again by about 8.30. I’d arranged for a 3pm pick up again, but fewer miles to do today, so a more relaxed pace was possible.
Almost immediately upon leaving the road I began to see fresh footprints in the soil and on rocks in the path. I guessed it must be a foresty worker, as there had been a van parked near the pick up point. I followed the prints for a mile or two before I found their owner. I was a bit shocked! It was another Southern Upland Way walker! He’d spent the night at White Laggan Bothy, so he’d already done 6 or 7 miles this morning. He was aiming for the next bothy along, which he reckoned was “about 50k for the day”. I did my mental arithmetic and produced 30 miles, so I did it again, nothing had changed, it was still 30 miles! He was sitting on the little footbridge across Hog Park Strand making a brew and enjoying the early morning sun. We chatted for a while, I think he was Dutch, based on his accent, he had some crazy schedule for the walk and I doubt we’ll see each other again, based on his average daily mileage. I wished him good luck and left him to his breakfast. I saw him behind me on the path for a little while later, but I guess I was going faster, as I didn’t see him again. I found out later, speaking to Ian’s wife via Twitter that he’d been in the Beehive Bothy with Ian on Tuesday night.
Just a few dozen yards beyond his breakfast spot I found the next Ultreia plaque on the SUW way marker and began to keep my eyes open. I’d missed this Kist last time. I’d hunted for about 20 mins, walking back and forwards trying to spot it, to no avail. So this time I’d done some research and if you look at the map the location becomes obvious. I’ll say no more, but the Kist is attributed to a basket weaver and the original basket like structure that used to give the best clue to the location is long gone. I found the cairn that remains and there were still dozens of Waymerks inside. This one is also open to the elements, so I hunted for one that wasn’t as badly rusted as the rest and pocketed it. The location is well defended by a very boggy strip of grass, so I had to cut through the forest to regain the path.
The next section over Shield Rigg, down to the farm at Clenrie is one of my favourite miles of moorland walking anywhere. The views are incredible and the path is rugged and well defined, undulating over the moor, high on the lip of a great bowl.
The joy was short-lived though as the next 4 miles were tarmac and the rain decided to fall, just for 5 minutes, just long enough to convince me it was here to stay, just until I got my coat on, then it stopped.
Fast forward an hour or so and I left the road to climb the splendid little Waterside Hill which last time came at the end of a very long day and was not ‘splendid’ at all, it had been hateful and hurty. The path is grassy and clear and the views are excellent, across the top of Dalry and onto the hills of tomorrow. I spotted a couple of guys painting an electricity pylon, they were scrambling around the thing like monkies, with paint rollers and buckets of paint dangling from their harnesses, rather them than me!
I crossed the bouncy bridge that takes you into Dalry and bought an ice cream in the little shop. I sat on a bench at the top of the village, in the sun, to enjoy it and watched an SNP supporter knocking on doors encouraging people to get out and vote.
On the way down Waterside Hill I’d swapped coat for softshell and sure enough, as I sat eating my ice cream the heavens opened from a blue sky and I was forced to don coat again. When I left the bench there was a dry shape where I’d been sitting.
The afternoon offered even better views of the hills ahead, than had the morning. The weather was fine now, a little cool and breezy, so I stayed in my Paramo and opened the vents when I needed to. In the sun it was lovely, but when I was in shade the wind was chilling and I zipped up.
The view of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn dominated the horizon. It’s a majestic hill, even at less than 800m and I remember it from last time, as I’d convinced myself it was Benbrack and would need climbing. So this time round I was able to look fondly at it, rather than with trepidation and resentment.
I picked out Benbrack later in the afternoon, much lower and with an easier ascent vector. The 8 miles or so I did out of Dalry to Stroanpatrick is mostly lovely moorland, broken only by a couple of miles of Hooley’s dreaded invention. It supports a couple of local farms, and the local postie obviously isn’t used to people walking along the road, because he came round a corner in the road and nearly wiped me out. Good job I’d heard the scream of his protesting engine as he approached, and I stepped off the tarmac onto the boggy verge. He grinned widely and waved cheerfully as he flew past, which I think was more disturbing than the near miss!
As I left the road I watched a huge buzzard rise from the moor a little ahead of me and head off across the grass, gaining height then catching a thermal above the forest and cruising effortlessly higher. I envied him for a minute, until he was mobbed by first one crow, then two, then a whole bunch of them. I lost him as he dived beyond the forest and I continued on.
I saw loads of dead stuff today. I found half a lamb, just the back end beside a wall, a gruesome sight. Later I found a complete sheep skeleton, picked clean by foxes, buzzards and crows, something I’ve never seem before. I’ve seen lots of dead sheep, but never such a complete skeleton, with so little flesh left on it. A little beyond the sheep I found a dead fox, not far from the road down which the postie had been hurtling. I guess it had been hit by something and managed to crawl away only so far before dying. A sobering afternoon all told.
Sam’s Dad, George was waiting at the pick up point, even though I was a few minutes early and we had another enjoyable chat while he drove me back to the Lochinvar Hotel. I’ve had another excellent evening meal and a couple of pints and my eyelids are drooping. I may have to have an early night!