1st August 2023: Lauder to Longformacus – 15.0 miles

I thought I slept pretty well last night, but my omniscient watch tells me I didn’t have enough REM. I’m not quite sure what the impact of this will be, but I feel fine, apart from a slight muscle twinge behind my left knee, which wasn’t there when I went to bed last night. I doubt this is related to the lack of REM sleep, however, I just mention it in passing. I have a large room with a double bed, although it has a footboard, so I had to sleep diagonally across it, but I don’t have an en-suite, and no sink either, so I had to go for a nocturnal wander across the landing at 3.30, when I needed a pee. This meant I was pretty much wide awake for a while, and I struggled to fall back off. I must have managed it though, because the next time I looked at my phone, it was 6.50am.

Once I was fully awake, I checked the weather forecast. I’d heard it raining when I went for my pee-dawn (pun intended) walk, and I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of good news. However, it looks like the rain may hold off today. There’s a 10% chance of rain in every hour slot of the day, which given my luck so far this week will mean I get rained on at least once or twice before I reach Longformacus. I need to be there for 3pm, as I’m being collected by taxi and taken to my hotel in Duns, for the evening.

I’ve checked all my kit and it’s all dry, even the boots, which I’d stuffed with newspaper (broadsheet), kindly donated by Margo’s husband and then left on the radiator. Given how wet they were yesterday, this is a minor miracle! I don’t doubt my toes will be swimming within the first mile, thanks to wet grass, but my spirits can be lifted just by not sliding feet into wet socks and wet boots.

I’ve requested an 8am breakfast and I’ll probably try and be out the door for 9am. That will allow me 6 hours to do the 15 miles to my pick up. As it’s not likely to be raining all day (fingers crossed), I should be able to stop a couple of times along the way. There’s nothing in Longformacus as far as I can tell, so I don’t want to be standing around for too long at the end.

Just back from breakfast and it seems like Margo cooks the goldilocks of breakfasts! Good ingredients and plenty of them. In fact, the meal arrived literally sizzling and I’ve never had that before, anywhere! I ended up feeling completely topped up, so much so that I couldn’t finish all the toast.

I left almost bang on 9am, and with a blithe indifference to the coolness of the morning I started out in baselayer and shirt, with the sleeves rolled up! The air was wet, not raining, but full of moisture, very driech and didn’t look much like a 10% day to me! The hills that I could see to the west were covered in cloud, while those to the east looked mostly clear, so that at least was something.

The first Southern Upland Way sign I came across also pointed towards Dunbar, by the Herring Road, which made me smile. The first mile or so was through the grounds (more like the deer park, than the gardens) of Thirlestane Castle and I crossed a bridge and followed a gravel path between fences, out into the wider grounds of the estate. It began to rain. I wasn’t angry, so much as disappointed, I wanted to tell it. It had almost as good as promised that it wouldn’t rain on me today – I mean, a 10% chance is almost no chance at all – you’d be gutted if the doctor told you had a 10% chance of surviving the surgery you were just about to undergo! But, oh no, here it was, defying the odds and bloody raining on me! To be honest, it wasn’t heavy and I pushed on without getting my coat out, as I hoped it would pass. It was very fine rain, and my shirt wasn’t getting soaked through. I did roll the sleeves down though.

I passed through Wanton Walls farm (great name) and watched a tractor driver trying to reverse a long trailer into a barn. He was backing and forwarding so much I didn’t dare pass him, so just stood patiently and watched. I think in the end he got embarrassed at my inspection of his poor efforts, and waved me past. So far, I’d been on mostly firm paths, but at Park Hill I set out across a grassy hillside and my boots immediately started to take on water. I’d lasted exactly 40 minutes with dry feet!

From this point on (about 2 miles outside Lauder) I absolutely loved today’s walk. As I’d predicted, yesterday’s transition day had deposited me on another great section of the path. It didn’t have the breathtaking scenes of day 1, or the heather-clad majesty of day 3, but it was special in its own way. Lots of remote moorland, muted heather, long misty vistas and not another soul for miles around.

I walked across wet and soggy pastures, past huge sprawling piles of stones, many of which had a Southern Upland Way marker post in them. It was like every stone in the field had been collected into a huge low mound, just to support a single wooden post. A little further south, these would have been used to make the dry stone walls that enclose many small fields, and I could see the equivalent, dry stane dykes, in the distance. I guess the fields here are just so much larger that they don’t need as many walls.

I crossed a stile above the picturesque valley of The Scawart – I could see my path for a mile or two ahead, as it dropped down to the burn in the bottom of the valley and then up the other side. It was here that I figured it wasn’t going to stop raining, my shirt had pretty much soaked through, so I gave up and added my coat. It wasn’t cold, so much as chilly, thanks to a slow but steady wind at my back. Better attired for the weather I dropped down and crossed the very slippery bridge over Blythe Water and scrambled diagonally up the steep bank on the other side, aiming for the conveniently positioned marker post on the skyline.

The last couple of miles had reminded me of some of the western sections of the Southern Upland Way. Quite often you’d basically be following the lines of posts across a desolate moor, with no sign of any sort of path between them. The route is so infrequently walked in places that no path develops between the posts. It was the same here – when the path wasn’t using four wheel drive tracks or quad bike ruts – it was just what I thought of as a marker post relay, with one post passing the baton to the next.

At Scoured Rig, the plantation has been felled, and it looks like a brutal slaying rather than a humane culling of the trees. I met a good four wheel drive track here and was passed by a couple of pickups, courteously slowing down and giving me plenty of room as they went by. They were aiming for the buildings at Braidshawrig, where several other cars were already parked. The path does a big bend here, dropping down to the buildings and then climbing back up The Stell, but I cut the corner, using a thin path through the heather, to follow a line of (what turned out to be abandoned) grouse butts – it saved me losing and gaining about 50 feet of ascent, so I allowed it.

The next few miles reminded me of the eastern Dales around Grassington Moor and Meugher. Wild and remote heather moorland with long views stretching out to distant minor tops, with access provided by rough four wheel drive tracks supporting the shooting fraternity. I was on one of these now, huge puddles creating a nice diversion, forcing me to choose one verge or the other to avoid what sometimes looked like knee deep pools on the track. Through the mist I could make out the huge cairns of Twin Law, but due to the way the track runs, they never seemed to get any closer.

I stopped for a break in the shelter of a small quarry beside the path. It was getting chilly and I decided it was only going to get worse as I got closer to the summit. I perched uncomfortably on a sloping outcrop of wet slate and had a couple of Tunnocks caramel wafers. I was making good time, so I could have stopped longer, but even out of the wind, I was chilling quickly. First of bloody August and it’s nithering!

I was soon approaching the very impressive cairns on Twin Law. It’s not just their size that makes them impressive, it’s also the quality of their construction, the stones seem to present a smooth face and I guess it must have taken hundreds of hours to achieve such an impressive facade. I did have a brief moment of hope that the larger of the two cairns may have an opening into which I could shelter for a while, or maybe even that it was hollow inside like an old Broch. No such luck of course, so I pushed on to pay my respects to the white-painted trig point that sits between the two cairns. It turned out that the other cairn did have a shelter built into it, unfortunately it was pointing in the wrong direction and the wind was blowing straight into it so I decided not to pause there. I found an old ammunition box in the shelter with some sort of journal in it – I couldn’t be bothered unsealing and inspecting it though so I just made my way gingerly across the slippery rocks surrounding the shelter and back onto the track.

There was plenty of heather to enjoy today, albeit very muted because of the mist and mizzle, but it lined the track for much of this upper moorland section. From Twin Law the track drops down gently and meets a wall. On the other side of this the track became grassy and the views down into the valley slowly became clearer as I dropped out of the mist. Ahead I could see my next target, Watch Water Reservoir, a couple of miles distant. I had plenty of time in hand, so I tried to slow down, but even my ‘slow and steady’ pace now seems to be about 3mph and with no breaks to speak of (thanks to the weather) I was going to arrive an hour early at Longformacus.

At Twinlaw Wood, I had been expecting to join another four wheel drive track, but it was actually a tarmac lane. I stepped off the lovely moorland path and followed the lane, across a wide wooden bridge, and then onto another four wheel drive track. I’d spotted a hut as I was walking along the lane, it looked like it might be a fishing hut, as it was close to the reservoir. I had a fleeting hope that it was open, but in my heart I knew it wouldn’t be. As I got close to it, I could see it was about 100 yards off the path, down beside a burn. I decided to have a look, and cut across a thistle-strewn meadow to investigate. Sheep scattered as I got close and miracles of miracles I found it open. It wasn’t a bothy, it was more like a shooting hut you’d find in the Dales, but basically a large shed with big windows and a load of benches and tables. The door was warped and wouldn’t shut properly in its frame, which I guess is why it wasn’t locked. I took my coat off and relaxed in the warmth, out of the wind, out of the mizzle. I still had almost an hour in hand, so I sat there in peaceful solitude for about 30 mins. I began to eat the scotch pie I’d bought in Moffat on Friday morning, and carried with me for the best part of 100 miles, never having been eaten. It looked a bit suspect now, a couple of what I thought may be green spots of mould (without my glasses on, it was difficult to be certain), so I decided not to. I didn’t want to spend tomorrow being sick, so I finished off my Tunnocks and a Kit Kat Chunky.

It was raining a bit more steadily as I left and headed out for the last few miles. This was all done on tarmac, initially beside the reservoir, watching some guys fishing, and then along a tarmac road. Not a single car passed me though, and there were woods and then a wonderful burn in full spate to keep my spirits up. On approach to my destination I passed a very modern, very well-equipped children’s playground, that was easily 1/2 a mile from the village. It looked quite bizarre, as if it had been built in expectation of new houses being built around it, but they’d never materialised. I arrived in Longformacus about 14.40 and within 5 minutes, Eric arrived in the taxi! He said he’d expected me to arrive early, given the weather. I dropped thankfully into the front seat, hoping he wouldn’t mind me dripping all over it.

I’ve checked into the White Swan, and I must admit it’s not great. The entrance is seedy and unloved, the stair carpet up to my room is filthy and threadbare. My room is OK at first glance, but a closer inspection shows it’s a bit mucky, only the most cursory cleaning is done here on a daily basis. I tried to have a shower and the water flow is absolutely pathetic, barely more than a trickle, but even worse, the shower head is on a hose from the taps, but the holder for the shower head won’t hold its weight, so the head flops down and the water just flows down the wall. So I thought I’d have a bath, but there’s no plug! In the end I had to sit in the bath and point the pathetic dribble of warm water over me. Of course I’m here for two nights, the worst accommodation of the trip and I’m here again tomorrow night!

I’ve been to the Co-op and got some provisions for tomorrow’s walk. Which, as I will explain, will be my last days walking. Yesterday (was it really only yesterday?) I alluded to the fact that I’ve come up with a plan for the end of the walk. I got the idea while I was half asleep and half awake and I was thinking about the end of the Rob Roy Way, when I had to walk the last two days in one day. The last two days of this walk are about 18 miles in total and I’ve currently got them broken them down into a 13 mile day on Wednesday and a 5 mile day on Thursday. I also have to rely on a taxi to get me from the end of day five to my B&B and back to the start of the walk on day six. The cost of that is £60 and it came to me that 18 miles is no longer than a couple of days I’ve already done, so why not just get it done in one go? I would save the £60 and once I got to my car at the end of the walk, I could drive to my lovely hotel, spend the night there and have a relaxing drive back on Thursday morning. Given the state of the shower, I may not bother. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow night.

Today’s Map

Download file for GPS

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.