4th May 2013 – Sanquhar to Wanlockhead: 8.2 miles, 1,973 feet
“All walking is discovery. On foot we take time to see things whole” Hal Borland – American Author & Journalist (1900 – 1978)
Although day seven was the shortest one of the lot, it’s had some of the best walking so far. I’d been expecting more peat bog and a bit of a paddle across the tops to Wanlockhead, but the path was generally excellent; grassy and firm, across rolling grassy lumps, just like walking in the Howgills.
I must have slept soundly for a good while last night at Newark Farm, as I woke with a stiff neck, which usually means I’ve been comatose in one position. I was woken at about 05:00 when the back door to the farm was slammed firmly shut, right beside my bedroom window. It was opened and similarly slammed repeatedly over the next couple of hours. I know it’s a working farm, but I wasn’t working, so didn’t think I needed waking at such an uncivilised hour.
I had a late breakfast with Frances fussing around making sure I had everything I needed and offering a bacon or sausage barm to take with me for lunch. As it’s such a short day, I didn’t think I’d need anything and I was planning on having a big lunch in the Wanlockhead Inn and a light snack in the B&B later.
I was walking by 09:30, setting out in my long sleeved baselayer, Craghopper trousers and soft shell jacket, all the waterproofs in the pack, not needed according to the weather forecast. This did make for a heavier pack than yesterday in the rain; when you’re wearing all your layers the pack almost floats away. It was still wet as well, despite being in front of an electric fire for a few hours last night. In fact everything was a bit damp, except the items in the dry bags, which had pretty much avoided water ingress. My boots, like sodden lumps of leather when I’d arrived yesterday were the best recovery. They’d been stuffed with paper and been in front of the same fire and they were almost dry. I sill used my Sealskins over my liner socks though, just in case. I’m actually surprised how comfortable that combination feels, but as an experiment it seems fairly successful. The Sealskins had only been brought to use in the evening, in the event I had to walk to a pub in wet boots.
It was warm and sunny as I walked back down the road, into Sanquhar to retrieve the path. Turning right up a small lane and onto an uninspiring track (hilariously called Cow’s Wynd) up to a memorial of some kind. It had been dedicated by some local Laird to commemorate 100 years of the Sanquhar Riding of the Marches (whatever that is/was – hey, I’m not Tony Robinson, go and Google it). A hundred scrawny sticks (trees) had been planted up the length of the lane, reaching a wall with a plaque that heaped praise on the aforementioned Laird and mentioned a memorial cairn that I looked for but couldn’t see. Perhaps they’d run out of money planting the sticks and making the plaques naming the good deeds of the Laird and hadn’t been able to actually build the cairn.
The path soon entered a large pasture, with views ahead to the hills I was about to cross. I took a long-cut to avoid a spectacularly boggy section of ground, which had been chewed to bits by quad bikes or possibly mountain bikes. But beyond that it was into the hills proper. I began a long gradual climb, following the marker posts, beside a fence line.
All the hills are incredibly brown around here, I think I mentioned this before, but I find it surprising. By the time I do my annual walk, the hills are generally getting quite green. The farmers are pulling their hair out, as it’s costing them a fortune in feed, especially with all the lambs born now, as there is so little grass on the hills to support the flocks.
I reached a gate across the path and here I made a decision. I had planned to make my own route from this point, heading left to bag a trig point and then going right to bag the tops along a ridge line before dropping into Wanlockhead. This was a slightly shorter day but helped the tick lists. I actually decided to stick to the path instead. The main reason being the sixth Kist of the journey was down in the valley ahead and I would bypass it if I chose my bagging route. I’d become quite enamoured with this treasure hunt on the Way and I didn’t want to miss the search for my fourth coin.
I dropped down a steep path, heading for a heavily logged area below. I could see the Way ahead, climbing out the other side of the valley, passing an old ruined building with an impressive intact chimney stack on it. It snaked away up the hill opposite before disappearing over the top.
I joined a forest track for a few hundred yards, tall stacks of fresh cut timber lined the road and the smell of the logs was really nice.
I left the road at a fingerpost and just happened to spot an ‘Ultreia’ plaque on it, on the opposite face to the way I was walking, which meant it was for westbound walkers and the Kist was behind me. I must have missed the plaque earlier. The two little plaques are typically only a hundred yards or so apart, so I didn’t have too far to backtrack.
Without giving too much away, I found a niche, covered by a stone and inside I found my fourth Waymerk. A copper coin and in good condition, unlike yesterday’s cache where most of the coins were rusty. This one was dry inside and the coins had fared much better. I pocketed my treasure and returned to my trail.
The path up Lowmill Knowe is excellent, it’s well defined, obviously much used (probably by sheep rather than people I guess) and climbs the slope easily. I was completely surrounded by rolling yellow-brown hills, some still with snow clinging to their sides. I felt the wind beginning to build behind me and it was soon tugging at my Tilley (I had to correct autocorrect on that last word, that could have been embarrassing).
As I crested the top of the hill I got my first view of Wanlockhead at the head of the valley below. Lots of white buildings, spread out along quite a long length of road. Mining remains and spoil heaps dominated the view though. The surrounding hills were scarred with the lead mining that went on here for many years in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I wound down a good track into the valley and picked up the tarmac road that runs the length of the valley. It has a number of interesting remains beside it, if you’re into history and shit (which I am).
The wind was now very strong, it was also very cold and the sweat I’d generated coming over the top was beginning to feel really uncomfortable as it was rapidly cooled by the wind. I dawdled as best I could up the valley, but it was getting much to cold to be out and about when I didn’t need to be. I made a bee line for the Wanlockhead Inn. Just as I arrived I found a pair of women with three young boys on bikes. They were all watching a tiny lamb, bleating to its mother. The problem was the lamb was on the wrong side of the fence, the mother on the inside and the lamb on the road side. They were standing, debating what the right thing to do would be. I scrambled up the steep bank to the lamb, picked it up before it saw me and lifted it over the fence back to its mother. I got a round of applause! That was my good deed for May.
I’m writing this while resting in the Wanlockhead Inn before I head over to my B&B, and I’m beginning to wish I’d not come in, I’ve already begun to hate the place. It’s got a TV blaring in the corner, with no one in the room to watch it and a raucous pair of old boys in the bar each trying to out-shout the other. They seem to be taking it in turns to see who can put the worst record on the jukebox. It’s one of those electronic ones with millions of tracks on it. The one who selected ‘The Nolans: I’m in the mood for dancing’ has pushed me beyond my tolerance and I’m out of here. If it was playing gently in the background then perhaps I could live with it, but it’s going full blast. You can see my short video here.
I paid for my cheap-meat burger and double chips (which were nice and plenty of them) and headed over to the Visitor Centre Tea Room for a change of scenery. As I left, the second old boy raised the jukebox ante by playing Shirley Bassey. I ran.
If you don’t want beer, then the Visitor Centre Tea Room is much better than the Inn. It’s quieter, warmer and the walls are covered in history (and there’s no jukebox or TV). I had a pot of tea and spent an enjoyable 30-40 mins killing time by reading the walls.
I arrived at my B&B at about 14:30 only to find a sign on the door saying ‘Back at 2:30′. It wasn’t long before I was let in. The wind was ferocious now and it was absolutely bitter outside. The landlady’s washing must have been riveted to the clothes line, because I doubt mere pegs could have held it in place. I’d already watched her empty washing basket picked up by a gust and deposited in the nearby burn.
I’m only now warming up. I’m sat in the guest lounge in front of an ineffectual electric fire, with a blanket on my knees, watching BBC news. It’s 19:20, so it’s taken me nearly 5 hours to get the point where I’m not actually dithering. In another hour I’ll be in bed probably. I have an early start, breakfast is booked for 06:30 and I hope the wind drops in the night as I have 21 miles and 3500 feet of ascent to do tomorrow.