Another one of those “I must do this hill one day” summits. It’s a little distant for only 2 points especially as White Coomb and Hart Fell are nearby and worth 4 points. Better for when there is a Winter Bonus but it’s a long way to go if the roads are bad. You can combine it with Ward Law SS-119 but it’s a trek or you have to return to the car and drive on. Anyway for that and having seen how steep the slopes are from the North meant that this had been pushed down the list. The Southern approach is nice but I fancied a walk along the ridge. Well today it managed to work its way to the top.
The WX forecast was good. The rain would have gone by Sunday and the viewing was meant to be excellent. Only fly in the ointment a strong Northerly wind. So I headed out at 9.00am. Autoroute says 2 hrs via the M74, Moffat and back up the A708 but I know that it’s always less. I was only doing the one hill so an 11.00 am arrival would give me plenty of time to climb, faff about with the radio and amble back without worrying about light. Message to self: check whether the car will be in a valley and well out of the sunlight next time!
I parked near Birkhill Farm at NT201160. This is a layby/farm gate about 150m North of the farm itself. There’s space for 2 cars in the layby without blocking the farmer’s gate. There’s also a single car drive up to the O2 mast between here and the farm. You could sneak on there and hope nobody comes to the cellsite. Finally there’s The Gray Mare’s Tail carpark 1.3 miles back, but the road is narrow and I wouldn’t like to walk it. In fact part of the carriageway has slipped into the Moffat Water and the road is single track for a way!
The cloud cover was about 30% back home but much heavier at Moffat however, it was thinning all the time. The sun was shinning and the colours were breathtaking. I got ready and noticed that even at the car the wind was a tadge cool. My route was easy, follow the country boundary fence up to Herman Law, along to Trowgrain Middle, Mid Rig and Andrewwhinney Hill. Easy peasy. I’d checked the Geograph website photos for the way so I knew how many cairns to count. I wasn’t sure if should wander up past the cellsite but I could see a finger post by Birkhill Farm pointing up hill. Closer inspection showed it said “Public Footpath”. Bona! Across the field and up. Oh yes up. With a capital U. It looks stupidly steep, both in situ and on the map. But strangely it isn’t very hard. It’s steepest at the bottom and slowly the gradient eases off. So by the time you’ve got a nice rhythm you’ve got to the top of Herman Law. Ok so it’s 275m in 1.2km or about 1 in 4. But if a big fatty like me can do it then anyone can.
And that’s about it. All the big climbing done in about 45mins. The view gets better as you climb and as you get to the summit it’s really good. I simply followed the fence to the right. Impossible to get lost. It’s down for a bit and that takes you to a slightly icky bit midway between Herman Law and Trowgrain Middle. Lots of peat tables and it’s a bit soft. You have to weave amongs the boggy bits and peat tables and having been going like a train down the slope I felt like I was wasting time here looking for the driest route. But it probably took no more than 5 mins to clear and then up to Trowgrain Middle with its leaning cairn. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf/1968812123/
It’s a little damp between Mid Rig and Trowgrain Middle but not like the previous and then up to the summit. There are fairly obvious ATV tracks to follow and of course, the sheep alwasy make paths next to a fence. Beware there is a lot of fence detritus in places. Old rusty fence wire cut into 1m lengths and stacked along with old fenceposts. Quite a few old fencepost stumps stick out of the ground to catch the unwary.
At the summit there’s a fence for the antenna and a cairn big enough to act as a windbreak. Did I mention the wind? Oh boy did it blow. And it was cold. Oh Lord was that wind cold. I didn’t feel it on the way up as I was working hard but having sat about for an hour when I moved out of the shelter I was cut to ribbons by the blast. I’d noticed my fingers were cold with my thin gloves on but a few minutes out of the shelter taking some photos left me numb. My left foot had been in the wind and this was the first time I’d ever had cold feet. Took about 30mins of brisk walking to regain sensation all over.
Now that Summer is over, 5MHz is playing again. Conditions were great. No body had any difficulty hearing me. I had a nice S2S with Steve G1INK/p and finsihed off Robin GM7PKT/p. His wind was worse than mine. (fnarr fnarr) Steve had just started when I appeared so I thought I would test my keyer in the field. It worked fine and I left it running for about 5 mins on one channel down from Steve. I expected the world to call me when I finally called CQ but there was nothing. Of course everyone had the hots for Inky! Having worked me, he announced my QSY and the pack starting calling me when I called on my frequency. Nice!
All done, I had my lunch and ventured from the cairn to pack up. Have I mentioned the wind? Or how cold it was? Gordon Bennett! It bit, and bit hard did that wind. I’d left my extra thick super warm hat at home as I had two with me. But wind just whistled through and my ears were burning. Time to pack all 3 hats now! However, brisk walking soon got some heat into my feet and shoulders. It took me a while to realise the temperature had dropped quite a bit whilst I was playing on the top.
The descent is the reverse. I met a cool dude at Mid Rig in a deerstalker. We were both surprised to meet anyone. He said he’d walked the ridge many times in the last years and never met anyone before. He agreed the North approach looks much worse than it really is and I left him to make his way to Andrewhinney. I needed my walking poles for the descent of the steeper bits of Herman Law. But it wasn’t hard at all. On the way down I realised there was lots of time to sunset but I would be in the shade of the hills going down. I hadn’t thought of this when planning the route. Back at the car though it was still in sunlight. The temperature had dropped from 9C to 3C whilst I was away. I didn’t need a display to tell me that, my ears were screaming it!
Was it worth it? Yes. I can recommend this as views are stunning and once the steep bit is done, it’s a nice stroll, Arctic winds excepted. The view over to White Coomb, Loch Skene and The Grey Mare’s Tail are worth the climb alone. Coupled with the other views and some damn fine fun and games on the air this was a great day out. I’m surprised that it has now only been actived by Jack and myself. It’s going right up the list and I think I’ll be up this one again before the Winter Bonus expires next March.
I mentioned I’d picked up some Thinsulate fleecy gloves in ASDA for £2.50. They worked very well. There’s enough air flow through that your hands don’t get too sweaty yet they’re warm enough to allow freezing hands to warm up in no time. I have another pair with a windblock/waterproof layer aswell as Thinsulate and your hands do get very clammy in them. For £2.50 I can’t fault these cheap ones.
Total walked: 4.8miles, total ascent:443m/1453ft, distance driven: 137miles
Pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf and also in the SOTA group.