Southern Upland Way – Day Zero
27th April 2013 – Travel to, and arrival in Portpatrick
“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see” John Burroughs – American Naturalist (1837 – 1921)
The last few days have been quite testing for some reason. I don’t remember previous long walks starting with such a period of nervous apprehension or anticipation the way this one has. The week has dragged by, not helped, admittedly by the fact that it’s been fairly quiet at work and I’ve not had the usual hustle and bustle associated with a busy week to occupy my mind. I’ve wished the week away and if the truth be told I’ve been a bit of a grumpy bugger round the house. The usual daily chores took on new levels of annoyance and I really don’t know why.
Thursday and Friday were worst, with butterflies building in my stomach and an urge to get to the start of the path and just walk the bloody thing.
I had a report from Tim and Ben, two friends who have just finished the walk, from the train on their way to the airport. They encountered strong winds, icy and snowy sections, bogs and water-logged stretches, but an overall evaluation of a walk well deserving of National Trail status, one they were sure I would enjoy. That made the anticipation even worse.
I was up early this morning, as the wife was on an early shift and I wanted to see her off. An early start to Scotland however, had been kieboshed by my son having to go to the local EE shop to pick up his new phone. An event that even I wouldn’t veto, with my eagerness to be on the road. Shiny new tech is always something that should take precedence. The delay gave me an opportunity to faff over my kit, worry that I didn’t have enough socks, that I’d packed too much tech, that I might miss shoes in the evening – in short, question every decision I’d made in the past few weeks. I had too much time on my hands!
We were eventually on the road for about 10:45. My Copilot satnav told me the roads were clear as far as Carlisle.
As always, the drive north along the M6 was great, especially as the weather was warm and sunny for the most part. You get the glimpses of the Lakes from about J32 onwards and then its the sweeping drive through the splendour of the Howgills, followed quickly by a closer view of the Far Eastern Fells as we passed Shap. High Street was still (or possibly recently) snow-capped with the pointy prominence of Kidsty Pike next to it. A scant few minutes later and we could look across to the right and the Cross Fell range, which actually had more snow than the Lakes. The white pimple of the radar station on the white slopes of Great Dun Fell was easily spotted with the crystal clear visibility we had.
Beyond Preston the traffic thins too, so the driving becomes easier and I could relax into the journey a bit more. The stress and anticipation of the past couple of days seemed to fall away now that I was travelling.
We headed initially for Beattock and the Old Stables Inn where I was dropping off a resupply parcel with the proprietors, rather than have to carry 6 days lunches with me. It also allowed me to split my maps up and also throw in a clean pair of socks. The lack of shops across the middle section of the walk isn’t easily overcome and I’ve been reluctant to rely on the provision of lunches from the accommodation I’ve booked.
We listened to the Man City vs West Ham game on Radio Five, with the AM reception getting steadily worse the further west we headed from the A74M. The result never seemed to be in doubt until the last two or three minutes when they got a late goal back to make it a nervous 2-1 victory to the Blues.
We arrived in Portpatrick about 3:30 and the sun was shining, the sky was almost cloudless and it was warm and wonderful. I had a little faff while I swapped shoes and picked my pack out of the boot, making sure I had everything I needed before I released my son to the journey home. I still have a nagging doubt that I’ve left something at home, but that seems about par for the course for me.
I checked in to the Harbour House Hotel and wound my way up the huge spiral staircase to the upper level, crawled under the lowest sloping ceiling I’ve ever seen, into my room, facing the harbour. What a view it is too!
I dropped all my gear and headed out into the sunshine. I was pretty hungry as Stuart had shunned the offered pub lunch at Beattock in favour of making better time and getting home that little bit earlier. I was fairly confident of finding a chippie on the harbour somewhere and sure enough I spotted a van vendor on the other side of the water. A small but perfectly formed tray of lovely chips was taken down the stepped harbour front and enjoyed in the sunshine, ever wary of circling seagulls.
I mooched across to a rocky headland with an ancient anchor and flagpole on it. It gave a great view back to the sea front and the hotels and shops there. I quickly came to the conclusion that this is the nicest start point of any long distance path I’ve ever done. It knocks Milngavie into a cocked hat, as much as I hate to admit, it beats St. Bees hands down, probably has the edge on Edale (just) and would make Chepstow blush with shame, if it could. Perhaps if the wind were howling and the rain was bucketing down it would feel different, but as it stands at the moment, it’s my new favourite.
I found the start of the path for tomorrow and took a few photos while I had good weather, on the basis that the views in the morning could be significantly worse. There’s a Southern Upland Way notice board beside a kids play area, at the foot of the path that heads up the cliff face. It’s unsurprisingly very similar to the start of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast and I’m looking forward to getting started.
Although the sun is warm, it’s also a little breezy on the front, so I retired to my hotel and sat at a sunny but sheltered table out the front. I’ve got a pretty good WiFi signal here, so I’ll try and upload this with a few photos. They could be the only ones you get for a day or two, as I have no idea what the state of connections will be as I cross the country.