What a beauty! This hill really has lots going for it, one of the UK’s biggest waterfalls, a tranquil loch, wild goats, peregrine falcons, a splendid ridge, a hanging valley, an almost perfect example of a glacial valley and majestic views. Oh, and tourists, lots of tourists.
The Grey Mare’s Tail is a very impressive waterfall and as such it does get lots of tourists. The NTS car parks at MT186145 (note plural) hold about 35 cars at a squeeze and they were almost full when we arrived. Parking is £2 all day but both machines were out of action so you may get a cheap day! Most of the tourists (in trainers, flip-flops and the usual grockle-gear) only bother walking up to the waterfall vantage point or possibly the loch and after that the rest of the walk is quiet.
Climb up the path, this is almost a set of rock stairs. It’s steep right from the beginning and I mean steep. The view as you climb so quickly is really impressive and there’s a herd of wild goats that live on this side of the Tail Burn. You also get to see the waterfall, which is some sight, especially as it has been raining a lot. The path soon eases off and is quite gentle from the top of the waterfall to Loch Skene. The loch just suddenely appears and with the sun and blue sky was yet another visual treat.
There are 2 traditional routes onto the ridge proper, right around the loch an onto Lochcraig Rig thence Lochraig Head or left and up the steeper ridge that leads to Firthybrig Head. The path quality becomes poor from now on. NTS maintain an excellent path only to the loch. It’s also well worth noting that there are no bridges across the Tail Burn as it flows from the loch to the waterfall. Crossing the burn requires skill as it was deep and fast when we were there. It’s much easier after a long dry spell. (Long dry spell? Scotland? I don’t think so!) The skill was absent on the return trip, more on that later. We hopped over the burn and made our way to the left ridge. The ground is very boggy here. In fact everywhere but the NTS path and the summit of White Coomb is boggy. It will test your boots to keep your feet dry.
The path up is another steep zig zag. In places it’s boggy and in others quite stoney. I’d guess that on a wet day the path will become a stream. It’s a fair pull to the easier ground. We stopped for lunch near NT166162 and enjoyed the almost vertical view down to the loch. After lunch, the rest of the walk is quite easy. We topped out the ridge and headed just North of West. You can see a drystane dyke running up the side of Lochcraig Rig and this runs across the the top of the ridge almost to the summit of White Coomb and then down back to the burn. This is your navigation aid in poor weather. We kept climbing till we hit the dyke, turned left and followed it all the way to White Coomb were we turned left from the dyke and followed the almost new fence 100m to the summit. There’s a cairn with a moat at the summit but no trig. Sarah felt cheated without a trig. I pointed to the clearly visible one on Hart Fell, 3.5 miles away and said we could do the ridge to there but she declined! The entire top path along the ridge was wet, often with 4 cms of water on the ATV tracks. Squelch!
We were late setting off, the roads were busy and this was the biggest climb Sarah had done so we were 80 minutes late on air. Now after all the walking I’ve done since December I thought I was getting fit but I was overtaken by a pregnant woman who beat me to the summit so more training is needed! Conditions on 5MHz seemed quite good as the previous few days have been dire and 10 were worked in quick succession. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon. I got work Myke G6DDQ for the first time who was out with Steve M0SGB testing antennas. John GW4BVE acted as coordinator as I tried to contact Christine GM4YMM. Strangely she was S8 on the meter but she couldn’t hear me. We tried on 2m for some time and Robin GM7PKT/P on CS-008 popped up for a S2S saying he could hear us both but sadly I couldn’t here Christine. Not surprising as the path is blocked by lots of hills. The most likely culprits being the Pentlands at Christine’s end which rise at least 250m higher than her at about 5 miles range. We were running very late or I’d have spent the 20+mins it takes to get on 80m. Unfortunately no contact, sorry.
The return path is to follow the drystane dyke. In fact some people do the ridge backwards by coming up straight to White Coombe and then to the ridge. Masochists, it’s far too steep that way. The path is very boggy from the number of walkers and the peaty ground. There’s only one dodgy bit. Through the section marked Rough Craigs on the OS map you have to do a bit of scrambling. It wasn’t difficult and I needed to use a hand about 3 times. However, I don’t think I’d have gone up that way looking back! The path climbs up over Upper Tarnberry and the leads North East back to the Tail Burn. You have to cross the burn again and it’s not so easy here. It took us 10mins to find a suitable spot and still I wasn’t too successful here. But I only had 20minutes to walk with wet feet and trousers!
The view at the summit was great. I’ve finally been able to recognise Gathersnow Hill SS-070 which I still need to do. It’s awkward to get to and normally you do it with Culter Fell SS-049. Tinto stood out as a big red peak, well it’s not called Tinto for nothing, so did Culter Fell. Also you get a great view of Andrew Whinney Hill SS-083 which starts at the car park. But you don’t climb it from there as it’s almost a 500m climb at 75% slope! For a view back to White Coomb from Andrew Whinney see http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/177737
Total walk 6miles, total ascent 690m, total driven distance 127miles.