Another summit that’s been a long time waiting. Perhaps it’s sacrilege but I think the names of the hills in and around The Borders are much more evocative than the Gaelic names of the hills further North. There’s an awful lot of repetition, just how many Meall Odhars or Ben Mores do you need. But things like Blackhope Scar and Gathersnow Hill just seem more, well I don’t know what but they seem more something to me !
Now Gathersnow Hill is normally done as a round with its big brother Coulter Fell. Part of the reason is that you climb up Coulter, then down the ridge to Holm Nick and your nearly half way up Gathersnow Hill. I had the delight of doing Coulter this summer on a fairly foul July day with Mrs. FMF and she was all for doing Gathersnow then. But sadly by the time we’d have got up, setup and had some “tomfoolery” (that’s what Mrs. FMF calls SOTA) at the summit we’d have been too late getting home as the kids needed collecting etc. The other problem with Gathersnow is that it’s a bit of way from anywhere you can legally park, I think it’s 3.5 miles. So getting to it is a bit of a march.
There is an excellent track along the Kingledores valley and you can cycle to the base of the hill. Sarah (Mrs. FMF) and me were going to cycle in one Summer afternoon but we didn’t seem to have any Summer this year so in the end we decided to walk in last Sunday. The weather was not bad but it was just miserable. Torrential rain overnight followed by the cloudbase being about 450, with some light rain and dreiky showers. Still it wasn’t cold which is a plus for mid November.
We were going to park at The Crook Inn NT110264 and walk back along the dismantled railway to Kingledores Farm and then pick up the track but driving past I spotted a huge layby at NT108280. Space for 10 cars and it’s right by the entrance to the farm. That saved about 0.8mile walk from the pub carpark. You have to walk through the farmyard and buildings. There’s quite a posh house which had a few bob’s worth of smart cars outside. Now whilst the freedom to roam is much greater up here than down in G and GW, I still don’t like taking liberties. Anyway we bumped into a farming chap and asked about walking up the track. He had no problem at all and was concerned that it was very mucky on the floor on the sheep pens we had to walk through. He also asked us to take extra care because he had cows calving in the first field and they are super protective right now. I’ve walked through fields of cows and calves before and normally they just wander away, this time the mothers stood their ground looking quite menacing. We gave them all a wide enough berth to keep all parties happy.
So we followed the track for about 2.5 miles to Hopehead. This is an abandoned farm house now used as a shooting lodge. A little further on are the ruins of another house and the track climbs steeply for 100m or so from here. At the top near NT076254 a fence runs up the hillside. This was where we left the track. My route was to climb up diagonally up to the col, NT065259, between Comb Hill and Gathersnow Hill rather than go along the track to the bottom of Gathersnow and then go up. I’d already worked out the bearing from the ruin to the col and so up we went. We split my Leki poles one each and walked up the fence. It’s steep after the gentle track but we just kept plodding. Sarah said that even a single pole was a big help. I’d never tried walking with a single pole and I think I prefer it to having two. I’ll try just using one next time I’m out.
Into the mist we went. I’ve been out nearly every weekend for the last 60 weeks so I didn’t find this hard going. Sarah does a fraction of the exercise I do and so this was a little harder for her. No matter how hard I tried to go slow, I kept leaving her behind and as we were in thick mist I did stop more frequently than I would have it conditions were good. There’s fence along the summit ridge so she knew if we got separated to go up the wire and turn left. Anyway, after a good plod we hit the fence right at the col. My previous attempts to follow a compass bearing have been disasters, but I really tried to keep my mind on the task and it paid off this time. I was quite pleased to be able to correlate the contours on the map with the ground and knew the when I should expect to meet the fence. I did feel a little smug I’d done this navigation right.
From the col it’s a gentle climb up to the summit and about 750m to walk. That took no time at all. The ground is reasonably short grass and heather. Unfortunately, following a bearing in the mist meant we walked through whatever and we did go through some knee length and very wet heather at one point. In good visibility you can pick the best ground. The ridge is not too wet, even after all the rain there were no huge boggy areas.
And suddenly there’s a tiny pile of stones. Bit of an anti-climax. Anyway up went the gear, no wind so it was easy peasy. On went the new FMF-SSB, the Super-Sota-Beacon, to announce my arrival whilst I had a comfort break and a cup of coffee. The power display was wrong. It took me a moment to realise I had pushed up the fishing rod, attached the dipole legs and connected the feeder. But I hadn’t stretched the legs out! D’Oh! With that done normal service was resumed. When I stopped the beacon there was Richard G4ERP waiting. Conditions seemed OK, everyone worked on 60m was the right strength but there were only a few people about. Still a solar flare or something the day before had upset the ionosphere a bit. Most of the regulars were worked. Only partial was with GM3AKF who was 59+ when he called me and then conditions just dropped. He was only in Huntly, nr. Aberdeen so a little close by and it was about 2pm by then. 60m starts to lose short skip early now Winter is here. So now 2 way with him.
We packed up and decided to walk down Gathersnow as it’s less steep than Glenwhappen Rig, the hill we had come up. I set another bearing and down we went. OK so I knew we were being drawn off the bearing by the slope. It’s so hard to trust that needle when your legs keep taking the easy route. I wasn’t surprised to come to the top of the stream at NT059250 when I’d been aiming a bit to the West of it. From there I did trust my compass and we dropped out of the mist and could see the path down in the valley. It was easy then, down to the path. Removed some of the layers we’d worn on the top and followed the path back to the car avoiding mothers and their young who were still muching away.
Anquet said 2hrs 6mins without stopping to the summit. It took 2hrs 30mins including comfort breaks, avoiding cows, adjusting clothes and having breathers on the steep bits. Even though RF conditions weren’t brilliant and there was zero view all day, I really enjoyed myself. I’d been thinking about this walk for a long time, since Christmas 2006 in fact and now that was another crossed off the list. Shame about the mist but I had Sarah for company and we laughed and joked the whole time. As Sarah did the lunches there were chocolate biscuits and sweets and all the things I’m not meant to eat. Still I did enough exercise to allow me a humbug and a KitKat! I did a blood glucose test on returning home and there was no evidence of dietry sin. Result!
Total distance walked: 8.8miles, ascent 544m/1784ft, distance driven 67miles
A few pictures now on the Flickr group, me, Sarah looking like Nanook of the North and as much of the hill as we could see.