Southern Upland Way 2015 – Day 4
6th May 2015 – Bargrennan to Clatteringshaws Loch: 17.5 mls
A day of better weather than forecast is always something to be thankful for and such was today. Today’s walk, after much deliberation, is brought to you by the teachings of Mr. Miyagi, who spent many hours instructing young Daniel San on the philosophy of “coat on, coat off” (it was edited from the final theatre version). Today I became an exponent of that philosophy and quickly became sick of it.
The House o’ Hill was just about average in terms of accommodation this time round. I remember being much happier with it last time. Perhaps I’ve changed, perhaps their standards have slipped? They have no drying facilities for wet and bedraggled walkers who arrive, most of whom have probably walked at least 20 miles from New Luce. The shower in room 1 (of the 2 rooms they have) was pathetic. A hopeless tepid dribble that took me 30 minutes to thaw out my extremities. The kettle in the room was black inside, literally black, but the water didn’t seem to be affected, it ran clear when I tested it, but it still looked bad. I had a twin room, as a couple had the double next door, which is fair enough, but the twin beds had duvets that were too short for the bed, so my feet were cold in the night unless I bent my legs. Anyway, I don’t want to moan too much, as I get criticised for it. Ok, one more, the final insult was the breakfast. The earliest they do a full breakfast service is 8am, which was too late for me today, so they offer a self-service option. I asked for that. I came down at 7am to find two pieces of bread, two minute pats of butter and a choice of 3 cereals. There were also a pair of flasks, one with a post-it note saying ‘milk’ and one with no label. I began with the Weetabix, pouring the “milk” from the steel flask, only to find it was orange juice! There were only 3 Weetabix though so I needed to eat them and besides there was only one bowl and nowhere to ditch the contents. So I added milk from the other flask and ate them. Weetabix with orange juice is bloody awful! So a shit breakfast topped it off for me.
I slept OK, despite the shortness of the duvet and was aware of rain coming and going through the night. The forecast had said rain all day, heavier in the morning and perhaps easing after 4-ish. So I set out at 8:10, my earliest start of the walk so far, in wet weather gear. Long sleeved baselayer, overtrousers and Paramo jacket. It wasn’t until I was overheating a mile or so later that I realised it wasn’t actually raining. Coat off, softshell on. An hour later it started to spit and it had gone quite dark so I expected a downpour. Softshell off, coat on. The shower passed quickly and although I kept the coat on for a while I was too warm, so with skies brightening it was coat off, softshell on. The weather continued to improve, and I had proper blue skies for a while, then it got dark again and I could actually see the rain coming, racing down the hillside to my right, so it was softshell off, coat on, just in time. That was the heaviest shower of the day and lasted for 30 minutes, but I wasn’t going to be tricked again, I left the coat on. Even when it got sunny and warm, I just opened all the vents and kept it on.
Last time I did the walk, I was delayed from leaving the Hotel, so had chosen the shorter road route rather than the SUW path through the forest, something I now regret. The path here is lovely. It winds through the forest on mostly dry, springy tracks, a great change from the cow pastures of yesterday. The forest is artificial, the trees are regimented, but it’s not your typical factory forest with trees so dense the light doesn’t reach the floor, it was lush, green, mossy and enjoyable.
I’d also missed the Kist along this section last time, so I was keen to put that right. I kept an eye open for the ‘Ultreia’ plaque on the way markers and sure enough soon saw it. The Kist was close by, much easier for people walking West to East to see I think. There were plenty of Waymerks left, but the ceramic lid has been broken and let the rain in, so I had to try and find one that wasn’t rusty. I carried on, the path now running beside the Water of Minnoch, a river with many facets; sometime wide and slow, and then white as it narrowed and crashed over boulders. I really enjoyed this section. The forest soon thinned and I arrived at the large footbridge at Black Steps, which is where I rejoined the Way last time.
From this point the views became ever more impressive but the path became harsh and industrial. Gone were the grassy walks, the pine needles and tree roots, all replaced by sharp, large gravel that soon had my feet burning. Apart from those first wonderful 3 or 4 miles, the track for the rest of the day was hardcore of varying stone sizes. Built to handle hundreds of walkers and cyclists and to withstand harsh winters I guess, but sole destroying, depressing and hurty. If I can see any upside to this, it’s that I didn’t have to watch my feet, so was able to lift my eyes to the hills and watch them changing as the day progressed. Initially they were dark, moody and shrouded in mist, or seemingly on fire, with steam rising from them as they warmed up. Later they were dappled in cloud obscured sunlight and then finally, mist burned back, cloud gone, they were resplendent in full sun.
As with last time, if we ignore the industrial grade track, the highlight for me was the section beside Loch Trool. The path rises and falls beside the loch, giving glimpses across it as you move amongst the trees. It really is beautiful and the weather was playing it’s part. The loch’s surface was mirror smooth and the sun was trying to shine through the clouds to provide some reflections for me. I took my time, took loads of photos, that won’t do it justice and gawped.
I’m staying 2 nights in Dalry, using the pick up service that the Lochinver Hotel offers. This breaks two successive 26 mile days into three much more manageable walks of about 17-18 miles each. I’d arranged to be collected at the pick up point beside Clatteringshaws Loch at 3pm. I timed it quiet well, never really concerned about being late and actually having time to spare at the end, taking my time on my battered feet. I hate walking to a schedule, I don’t normally do very well, tending to over-compensate and walk too hard early on. I tried to be more disciplined, telling myself I’d calculated things properly. It seemed to work.
The SUW management committee seem to have forgotten about putting way markers on the path beside Loch Trool, perhaps because it’s so obvious, you’d be an idiot to leave it, as it’s basically forest on either side for the first half and swamp for the last half. However, the route the path takes, doesn’t match the route the OS map shows. So the GPS position in Memory Map kept showing me a long way from the SUW route. It was annoying more than anything. I finally found a finger post at the far end of Loch Trool and sighed internally.
The route between Loch Trool and Loch Dee used to be on a much softer surface, comprised of crushed shells, sand and fine gravel. This has been replaced by an uncompromising hardcore path, suitable for 40-ton logging lorries. It bloody hurt and I grumbled all the way up the hill to the view point at Loch Dee. Half way up I watched the clouds roll over the hills to my right, darkening the skies and clearly dropping rain as they came. I managed to get inside my coat in time, I’d had a couple of practice runs already!
By the time I’d reached the weird metal fingerpost at Loch Dee the weather was warm and sunny. I took a load of photos and found a handy bench to sit down on and eat some of my lunch.
Then it was back on the forest track and more foot abuse. The views of the hills saw me though, and I phoned home when I saw I had a signal. During my phone call (I was still walking) I passed a diversion sign for the SUW. It said the Way was closed due to logging operations and it pointed me up a hill, between a crumbling dry stane dike and some new conifers. As with all diversion signs I’ve ever seen, I ignored it and carried on along the forest track. Unlike most other diversions I’ve ignored, this one actually did have people working on it. No one said anything to me, they weren’t blocking the track and I simply walked straight past them. Just some Health and Safety jobsworth trying to justify his existence.
I’d been dawdling again to this point, trying not to arrive too early for the pick up. I didn’t remember seeing anywhere to sit and wait if I arrived before my lift. I ambled up to the junction at about 14:45 and was grateful to see a car waiting for me. George was a cheerful and companionable driver, the father of Sam who runs the Lochinvar Hotel. We were soon pulling into the car park and I was shown to my room.
The shower was incredible! Hot, powerful and instantly refreshing. I thanked Sam profusely when I went down to the bar a lot later. We chatted for a while as I polished off a couple of pints and ordered a Steak and Ale pie (which was excellent and came with too many chips, I didn’t realise that was even possible!).
My feet are still buzzing a bit, but the beer is helping and I don’t think there’s anything like as much road or forest track walking tomorrow.