3rd May 2013 – Nether Holm to Sanquhar: 15.1 miles, 2,002 feet
“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value” George Macauley Trevelyan – British Historian (1876 – 1962)
For once the weather forecast was bloody right. It predicted rain all day and that’s exactly what I got. I heard it start about 06:30 as I was dozing, waiting for the alarm to go off. It was pattering rather than battering so that was something at least. It’s still raining now, without having taken single break, at 19:00 as I write this in my B&B in Sanquhar.
The hostel, as I’d come to think of my building, was chilly and damp. Without the warmth of the fire it was an unpleasant place to wake up in. On the bright side, at least the water tank must be well lined, because there was hot water this morning, which is more than can be said for last night. I had a wash and went across the yard again at 08:00 for my breakfast.
In the first few days of each years long distance path I tend to start the day with a full cooked breakfast, several days in this becomes just Bacon & Eggs and soon after that it’s Egg on Toast and eventually just Tea & Toast. Today I found myself at the Egg on Toast stage, somewhat earlier than usual I think, but as I didn’t have a huge day, I thought I could probably survive on it. Susie did a good job, just like with my evening meal and we had a little chat while I ate, being joined by Peter, her husband this morning.
I packed all my gear, which takes less and less time each day, and I was striding back down the farm track to the road by about 09:30. The weather was still poor, so I picked the lower path. In anticipation of a wet day, I was wearing my waterproof socks over my liner socks, with my carrier bag gaiters in a side pocket, ready to be deployed if they were needed.
I followed a rugged track for the first mile or so, before the Lorg Trail took to the hillside. The path was obviously used by quad bikes and sheep as it was quite well worn, but not as bad as I’d been expecting. The surrounding hills were all covered in mist and it felt like a fine day to be walking high(ish). The valley narrows towards its head and the path heads into a forest. This is where I’d read that it can get very wet and boggy.
I passed through a gate into the forest, entering a firebreak. I was immediately met by a huge fall of trees across what I believed to be the path. It was dense and even without looking too hard I knew I’d never get through them. I had a look at the map and sought an alternative, but nothing seemed obvious. Then I remembered the four cyclists from last night. They’d been heading this way and it stood to reason they must have got through. I investigated around the trees. What I had initially thought was just a planting gap between the rows of trees actually turned out to be the path. It was much narrower that I was expecting, dark and somewhat claustrophobic looking. I started up it and it soon opened out into a path, about 15 feet across, between rows of pines. The gap was narrow enough that very little rain was getting through to the forest floor and I managed to remove my hood for the first time that morning.
The path up through the forest was mostly good. A bit soggy, but not a huge problem, certainly I didn’t need the makeshift gaiters I was packing. Toward the end of the path it got pretty bad though, wide sections of deep, boggy, grass which I managed to skirt around by entering the forest and then rejoining the path later. Only about 150 yards of this though at the end, before it met the forestry road. On the whole this was an excellent short cut, one that’s well worth considering if you’re staying at Nether Holm and don’t fancy the climb back up to the ridge. If you’re a route purist, then this isn’t for you.
My shortcut meets the Southern Upland Way just beside Chalk Memorial Bothy and about 200-300 yards before the buildings at Polskeoch. I joined the forestry track and then the tarmac again at this point. It was still raining and the wind was picking up now, mostly westerly so at my back for the main part, but still an annoyance. I plodded steadily along the road, not wanting to go too fast, both to prevent any damage to my feet, but also to extend my time on the trail and delay my arrival time in Sanquhar. I couldn’t really turn up to the B&B much before 15:30 and I wasn’t sure what the pub situation was like in the town. So there’s no point rushing across the hills only to sit in a bus shelter for an hour.
There’s about 3 miles of tarmac between Polskeoch and the exit point from the road onto the hills at the farm of Polgown. The views down the valley made up for the road surface and I’d pretty much accepted the weather at this point. Very little reason to rile at the weather gods when you’ve got scenery like this to walk through. The higher tops to the right of the valley were still mist shrouded, but the hills ahead were clear, which was the way I was headed. I stopped and studied the map for a while at Polgown, translating the route I could see on the paper, to the contours of the land ahead. I didn’t really need to, I could see several of the marker posts heading out across the moor ahead, leading walkers easily across the landscape.
I found a sheltered spot, out of the wind and popped up my umbrella to keep the rain off while I munched on a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer biscuit, surely Scotland’s second finest export. There was no point walking with the umbrella up today, the wind would have driven the rain against me and I really needed the coat and overtrousers on, on a day like this.
At Cloud Hill, the point of the Ken/Nith watershed, I found the fifth Kist of the walk and the third one that I’ve managed to discover. It was a ceramic bowl, covered with a pottery lid, holding several dozen, mostly rusted, silver coins. I pocketed one, replaced the lid and continued on across the moor. It was squelchey for long stretches and I was already glad I’d used my Sealskins socks inside my boots. There was no way they were going to keep the water out on a day like today.
It was a fine high moor though, with long valleys either side, wonderful views across to other tops and a clear path to follow. I diverted just beyond Cloud Hill to find the trig point on Welltrees Tappin, a long slog across a trackless, tussocky section, beside a wall thankfully. I took shelter in another convenient hollow beneath the trig, sitting to eat my lunch. I got quite cold sitting there, the rain got heavier and the wind increased in strength. Before I was finished, I had to add my soft shell beneath the Paramo, my woolly hat and finally my gloves with my waterproof mits over the top of them. If things got really bad I had two more top layers I could add, but that would mean an uncomfortable night in the B&B with wet evening clothes on! I didn’t need them though as I increased my pace to warm myself up. If I had to I’d find a bus shelter in Sanquhar, but I wasn’t going to keep to my slow and steady pace any longer.
It was downhill all the way to Sanquhar, the path I followed reminded me of a path I’d used from Low Raise in the Eastern Fells, down to Measand Beck, beside Haweswater. It was soft and boggy, heavily used by quad bikes by the look of it and badly eroded in places. As I got close to Sanquhar the Southern Upland Way headed right, away from the quad track and the difference in erosion was noticeable. Almost no visible track at all made by the feet of walkers, whereas I’d been splashing through deeply cut grooves in the peat for the last three or four miles.
Sanquhar is a bit like Tan Hill Inn for south bound Pennine Wayers, you can see it for miles but it never seems to get any closer. I was getting close though, and I used my recently acquired phone signal to open Google and do a local search of services. After 86 emails had finished downloading (83 of which I deleted as spam) I found several pubs on the main street of the town, along with three mini supermarkets.
I played Russian Roulette with the pubs, having no idea which was the best, which would be serving food or which ones had draught ales on tap. I plumped for the Commercial Inn and found a small public bar occupied by three old boys watching the horse racing. I was sodden, dripping water everywhere and unsure of myself. “I’m soaking wet” I said to the barman, I indicated an empty seat and continued “am I okay……” I let the rest of the question hang, hoping he wouldn’t send me out. “Well, you’re definitely soaking” he replied “whether or not you’re okay is something we don’t know yet!” This got a round of laughter from the local boys and I figured I was in the right pub.
I asked if he was doing food still, it was 14:15, he said the kitchen had shut at 14:00 but he’d find me something. He gave me a menu and indicated the left hand side, “you can have anything from that side” he said. I ordered an Egg Mayo sandwich and chips and added a pint of Belhaven Best.
I dripped water on their floor for about 45 minutes and soaked the chair for the next unsuspecting punter to use it, then headed out into the rain. It’s bad enough walking out into pouring rain with dry clothes on, but it’s bloody awful going out with cold, wet gear on. I shivered all the way to the Spar shop down the road, where I bought provisions for tomorrow and for the 20 mile day on Sunday, as there is no shop again tomorrow night, or indeed until Galashiels on Wednesday. I have a supply parcel waiting on Sunday night though.
I arrived at the B&B about 15:20, well outside the town, on a working farm. I rang the bell but got no answer. I knocked on the door, with the same result. I wandered round the back, found a brass bell beside a barn door and rang that for all I was worth. Nothing happened, no apologetic landlady appeared. I stood forlornly in the yard, getting cold. I reasoned I couldn’t get any wetter, so at least things couldn’t get any worse on that account. I wondered what I should do, I was a bit early possibly, so maybe no one was home, or perhaps they were out on the farm somewhere, working. I went round to the front door again and was about to ring the contact number I had, when the door opened.
I was shown to a downstairs bedroom by a young lad, obviously come in from the farm, still in overalls and wellies. He told me his Nan would be along shortly, but she was out just now.
I made myself at home in the room. I spread wet kit over every available surface, switched on an electric fire and put my boots in front of it. I tried to have a shower, but the stupid thing either ran scalding hot or freezing cold. Another day without the satisfaction of a decent shower, it’s little things like that which can make me feel depressed and homesick. Silly I know, but it’s true.
Despite the rain, today was my favourite of the lot. It was a good hill day. I bagged a trig point over a mile off the route, which means I was in a good frame of mind. My legs felt fine all day, and they still do now. I’m feeling strong and I’ve reached that point where I’ve walked myself to the level of fitness I need, and the aches and pains of the first few days are behind me. My feet were sore after the punishing surfaces of the 25 mile day from Bargrennan, but they seem much better. I’m starting to get some marks on the top of my toes which I think are due to the toe box being too tight, but even after loosening them today I have another one this evening. That could have been down to the thicker socks I was using today, but I’m not sure.
All is going well here. I’m really enjoying reading the comments you leave, and although I don’t always manage to reply to them all, I do appreciate you leaving them, so please say hello if you’re able.
Short day tomorrow, but no idea if I have a signal in Wanlockhead, it’s a tiny village, the highest in Scotland or something (I’d Google it to verify if I could be bothered) so could well be another black spot.