2nd August 2023: Longformacus to Cockburnspath – 18.5 miles

Once again my watch told a different story to my head when it came to my sleep. I thought it had been OK, I’d used my earplugs to protect me from the noise of the bar downstairs and from one particular door that seemed to get slammed every couple of minutes – and I didn’t stir until about 3.30. My watch summarised my sleep as ‘poor’, again due to insufficient REM sleep. Not sure what I can do about that though.

Breakfast was OK, plenty of it and well cooked, but the cutlery wasn’t especially clean and none of the glasses were clean enough for me to risk having orange juice. Tea was provided in a pot only large enough for 1 medium sized cup, so I had to ask for that to be refilled twice, which was annoying. The staff are all lovely though, I can’t fault them on that score!

With a 7am breakfast and an 8am taxi, it was the earliest start of the week and of course I could easily have turned over and stayed snoozing until at least 8am, so I had to steel myself this morning. I was all done and ready to go, by 7.45. My boots and socks had managed to dry on the radiator, but these boots have been the worst piece of kit on this walk, and one of the worst selections I’ve made in years. I had no doubt my toes would be swimming within the hour.

I was pleased to look out of my bedroom window at 7.45 and see Eric waiting for me outside the hotel. I grabbed my stuff and went down to meet him. He whisked me back to Longformacus, chatting pleasantly on the way and wishing me well as he dropped me off at the bridge.

Yesterday’s weather forecast was for 10% probability of rain every hour, and in the end it chucked it down all day. Today of course the forecast was for 90% chance of rain every hour and it actually didn’t start raining properly until about lunch time. I started out in baselayer, shirt and coat. It wasn’t raining yet, but it was cold and very misty with lots of moisture in the air, and I figured I’d only have to stop in a few minutes to add it, so I may as well set out in it.

The first mile or so was along the road, which did at least help me get into the stride of the day. A few fields followed and then a short stretch of open moorland. The mist was covering any sort of view beyond 100 yards or so and I know I passed the wind farm at Black Hill, but I neither heard nor saw the turbines thanks to the murk, and probably the lack of wind. A few more fields followed, and a brief interesting passage through Lodge Wood, where I had to negotiate my first proper tree across the path of this walk. The wood was filled with huge mushrooms, most of which had great chunks torn out of them, so I guess they must be edible. I decided I wasn’t that hungry!

I crossed a tarmac lane at Whitchester Lodge (which sounds very English) and entered into more interesting scenery. A steep switch back track brought me up from the road and out above a lovely unnamed clough (or cleugh – pronounced cloo – as they are called locally) and a little further along I dropped into and back out of Robber’s Cleugh. This is a wonderful, wooded, steep-sided ravine, and I imagine it got its name from the days of the reivers. It’s the perfect place to hideout, or even hide a herd of stolen cattle. Outside Moffat there’s a notorious reivers site called the Devil’s Beef Tub. A beef tub is a place where stolen cattle were gathered before being herded back north. The Devil was the head of one of the band of reivers who used it, a Johnson I think, who had no qualms about murdering anyone sent to retrieve the cattle on behalf of their rightful owners.

I negotiated Robber’s Cleugh without any difficulties, other than wet feet and wet legs from brushing through the undergrowth. The next couple of miles were also excellent, following a good forest track through Roughside Wood, where I’m sure the hanging mist and mizzle only added the atmosphere. It was quiet as a tomb in the wood, the only sound being the crunch (and squelch) of my boots on the gravel track. I stopped for a break on some stacked logs, breathing in the heady scent of fresh-felled pine and enjoying the fact that it still hadn’t started raining!

The track dropped down to meet Whiteadder Water and I passed an abandoned, but still running, farmer’s quad bike. I assumed he was off in the field beside the river, feeding his flock, I didn’t think he’d be too impressed if I knicked his vehicle, which I was very tempted to do!

Abbey St. Bathans has a very small, and yet very tidy village green. More remenicent of an English village, it has a freshly painted telephone box cum defibrillator station a lovely bench, which I didn’t need and a hand-drawn map of the village. More importantly, it has an absolutely awesome footbridge over the river – not on the scale of the Melrose bridge, but beautifully over-engineered. It was also a bit slippery, so I took it easy as I crossed.

After a wander through some muddy woods, I gained some height, climbing back into the mist and reached the imposing cairn near Whiteburn. It’s set in its own enclosure, perhaps to protect it from the sheep, with a large set of metal stiles to give walkers’ access. The weather vane on the top has, amongst other things, a Land Rover and a set of Olympic rings on it, which I thought was a bit odd.

The path is diverted around the buildings at Whiteburn for some reason, but still takes you past one of their barns, where I had a brief chat with a friendly chap and his little lad. He guessed I was walking the Southern Upland Way and wished me luck for the rest of the day. For some reason, I think I just had my head down now, focused on finishing the walk, I missed a short diversion I’d planned, to bag a nearby trig point, which pissed me off a mile later when I spotted the error!

The next couple of miles were a bit tedious, along long straight farm tracks, mist covering any sort of views much beyond the field boundaries I was walking between. The path has also been diverted around a farm here, to avoid “steading and dogs” and how glad I am. The dogs were fuckin horrendous, one of them launched itself at the fence separating me from him and I almost shit myself when I thought he was going to jump it. Another dog, a German Shepherd I think was actually salivating as it barked ferociously at me – I’ve never considered myself a juicy morsel, but obviously he did. At the next farm along another dog came out to greet me. He was all wagging tail and friendly looking – I don’t do dogs, but I said hello to him and offered my hand for him to sniff. He obviously liked what he smelled because he promptly threw himself at my leg and started humping it. He wasn’t a small dog either and it took all my strength to persuade him to fuck off somewhere else!

I crossed the A1, knowing I only had 5 miles to go now. This was where I’d intended to finish today’s walk and I’m so glad I’d decided to add it to the end of today. I was feeling strong, and very pleased with myself for maintaining a reasonable level of fitness to this point in the year. I’ve normally let things slip by this time, put weight on, reduced the amount of walking – but the mileage I’d managed over the last week has been a great feeling.

Once across the busy road, I walked through a heavily overgrown section where my legs got very wet again, and then onto what I assume is the course of the old main road, now replaced by the new course of the A1. It was strange to see the central white line with its cats eyes, but the two carriage ways almost completely overgrown with bushes and shrubs. There’s a road like this near home, which I use occasionally for local walks, it was the old road into town, replaced by a bypass. They feel like you’re wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape, familiar landmarks decaying and being swallowed by nature. Like the end of Planet of the Apes…. YOU MANIACS, YOU BLEW IT UP!

The fly tipping along the old road was a disgrace, and makes me despair for the human race, almost as much as Taylor! I crossed the railway line and it was then into the forest. This was the best looking bit (on the map), and I’d been looking forward to it. The route seems to zip zag up into the forest along a series of tracks. Initially the road was very harsh, it looked like it had been laid (or relaid) recently to support heavy lorries. The gravel was large and difficult to walk on, but thankfully they’d left a narrow strip down the side of the road for walkers, where the surface was smoother.

I had my final stop, on a tree stump, and then left the main track to join a thinner path into the trees, climbing steadily, into the mist. There were a few more trees down over the path along here, but none were too much trouble. I made a wrong path selection at one point here, the first wrong step on the whole walk. The Southern Upland Way is so well signposted you barely need a map, but I came across a junction in the path, with no marker to show which was the right one. I rather stupidly just chose to keep left, instead of checking the map and of course I should have gone right. I spotted the error when the track rejoined the main logging road, so I backtracked and went right. The whole section through the forest was superb. The mist made it for me, it was very atmospheric walking through the gloomy, silent woods, along what could easily be rarely used paths.

Beyond the forest, I walked through the nature reserve of Pease Dean, which was nice enough, but very damp. There were a lot (and I do mean a lot) of very slippery wooden steps, most covered with chicken wire, to prevent slipping, but it was so worn out as to be almost useless and I went very cautiously through these sections. I’ve not fallen over once on this trip, and being so close to the end I didn’t want to ruin that record now! The highlight of Pease Dean was seeing the sea for the first time in over 10 years… on the Southern Upland Way.

I now realised I had missed both of the kists on this section of the walk. There should have been one a little way out of Longformacus and another on the approach to Cockburnspath, perhaps in the forest somewhere. I had been looking for the plaques on the marker posts and I even know what one of the kists looked like, and I saw no signs of any of them. I was watching both sides of the marker posts for a long way – nothing. I either wasn’t watching closely enough (and I admit at times I can fall into something of a trance when I’m walking), or the plaques have been removed and maybe the kists have become overgrown. It’s a shame, I would have liked to have a full set – but c’est la vie!

A short section of road walking brought me to the coastal path, and the last couple of miles of the Way. It was very windy along this section and I almost lost my hat twice, so I ended up having to carry it. I got a few pictures of the coast, but it was still quite misty and I think they’ll just look bleak! When I got close to the Cove, I couldn’t see an easy way down and the Southern Upland Way doesn’t actually visit the coast, so despite it being advertised as the only official Scottish Coast to Coast path, you’d have to divert off the path to dip your boots at this end of the walk. I couldn’t be arsed looking for the best way down, or face the steep climb back up, so I just headed straight for the end. If the walk planners had wanted this to be a proper C2C walk, they should have finished it in the Cove, rather than in the village. There’s nothing in Cockburnspath other than a village shop, so not sure why that needs to be the end.

I passed under an ugly underpass and then walked up the final little hill into the village. I got a photo of the memorial in the square, and then dug my car key out of my pack. I’d been so very careful to make sure I packed this. Because I’m in the same hotel again tonight, I’ve been able to leave most of my gear there. It would have been a disaster to get here and find I’d left the car key in my room! I changed out of my wet gear and donned the dry stuff I’d left in the car just for this reason. I popped into the shop and bought a drink and headed for Duns in the car.

I’ll probably follow this up with a final thoughts – when I’ve had some. I’m happy to have finished and so proud of the Southern Upland Way – it really is one of the best walks in the UK. Right up there with the Pennine Way and that’s fine praise indeed!

Today’s Map

Download file for GPS

6 thoughts on “Southern Upland Way 2023 – Day 6”

  1. Glad that you finally made it to the North Sea, even if it took 10 years! I’ll be doing that section (starting from Sanquhar) in October, so thanks for a good preview of what I’ll be facing.

  2. Well done, Stuart, on ‘polishing off’ another long-distance trail! I must say, your photos, despite the gloomy conditions at times, make an excellent advert for the SUW. You’ve served as an inspiration, if I’m honest. Having done sections of it, I know it’s a great route – but I now firmly intend to do the whole thing, but probably not in a ‘oner’ (not sure I have the physical capability for two weeks’ continuous walking). I’ll probably split it off at Sanquhar in the spring, then pick it up again in the autumn. (Unfortunately summer is not the season for long walks for me, I get prickly heat 🙁

    It makes me wonder again, just why is this one of the least-walked routes in the UK? Its quality is beyond doubt. Maybe it has a reputation – too much road walking, too much through forests? The one BIG thing going for it, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s so quiet – peace and solitude guaranteed! Contrast that with the West Highland Way – a great route, but far too popular. I did it in autumn 2004 and again in 2012, and in those 8 years the footfall had virtually doubled, according to the stats.

    So where next? I don’t know if you’re open to suggestions, but the Southwest Coast Path is fantastic – although it’d take you 6 – 7 weeks to do the whole thing. But it’s easily split into 100-mile sections. Again, I’ve done sections of it on the North Cornwall coast, and the scenery is just brilliant – I can’t praise it highly enough.

    Anyway, well done again and thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.

    1. Thanks Stuart! I enjoyed the path so much, that once I got home I immediately began looking at ways to walk the western section again! I’m now hoping to walk from Portpatrick to Moffat before the end of the year! I’ve done a total of 20 days along the SUW over the past 10 years and in all that time, I saw no more than 5 people walking the path. It’s a physically challenging walk of course, and in recent years the lack of accommodation has made it logistically challenging too – so I imagine both those factors put many people off. I don’t know if the walk is supported by any holiday companies, so if you’re not specifically looking to walk the SUW, there are many other long trails, that are not as tough, easier to plan and have support services supporting them that will be presented to you before the SUW.

      I have to admit to never having been a fan of coastal paths – I’ve enjoyed the coastal sections of the C2C and the Cleveland Way, but not sure I could manage just coastal walking. When the weather’s bad, it’s awful and I get the impression that the scenery is going to be the same, all the time. Probably completely untrue, but there are plenty of other paths I want to walk before I start looking at coast paths. I want to do the Pennine Way again – from North to South this time – so I’m looking at that for next year. I’m also looking at trying to create my own long distance path in Scotland, one that avoids tarmac, but stops in a town each night, which is not as easy as it sounds.

  3. I have really enjoyed reading about your journey. I will be on the SUW in a few days and it has helped me to plan, particularly for the wet surfaces. No amount of sun will dry the trail out before I go. Your pictures will help me with navigation, I will feel as if I have been there before, even though , from Lauder it will all be new to me. I started the journey in 2019 Portpatrick to Traquir and Traquiar to Lauder in 2020. I hope to finish it this time.

    1. Hi Lena – my wet feet were mainly due to wet grass soaking my boots, not due to particularly boggy conditions. In fact I was surprised, that even after almost a month of constant rain, I wasn’t wading through deep mud in places! There are deep puddles on one or two of the higher level four wheel drive tracks, but they are easily skirted. I loved the path, hope you enjoy it too!

      1. Stuart,
        The answer to all your boot problems are contained in my post in ‘Another Post About Boots’ 25 July 23.

        In the last section section of this walk, you report that you dried your boots on the radiator. Assuming your boots are leather, (sorry if I missed that they are not!), forced drying by heat will crack the leather, and even if they have a supposed waterproof liner they will leak afterwards. I’ve done it!

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