Activation report; GM/SS-087 & GM/SS-094

These two hills, Windlestraw Law and Blackhope Scar, are quite close by but doing both together is a fair physical challenge mainly due to the terrain. There are no proper paths on either summit and on Windlestraw Law the ground ranges from thigh deep heather to shin deep bog with all combinations in between. There are some good bits of ground but they are so few and far apart that all you remember is the bog.

Windlestraw Law GM/SS-087

I did this for the first time not long after I started SOTA. Full of Christmas keenness I thought it looked trivial. Hah! By the time I reached the summit I wanted to die! I did intend to do it again a year later to the day now I have a lot more fitness but a really bad cold put play to that. So my return visit was at the end of February. Christmas 2006 everything was nicely frozen but this time the WX was quiet mild although breezy.

There are a few routes to the summit but everything you read says how wet the ground is so I strongly suggest you take the short route if the ground isn’t frozen hard. There’s space to park at Blackhopebyres Farm on the B709 but a sign saying don’t so I parked a bit along the road. There’s a track at NT343439 which takes you part way. Some track is better than no track though really it peters out long before the 1:50000 map suggests. You can see a line across the heather which should be followed. So far the ground had been soft on top and very wet. Somewhere around NT350436 it started raining hard so on with the trousers and jacket. From now on the ground was very soft, ankle deep porridge most of the way. The faint track leads past grouse butts and the track gets worse and worse up to NT357438 when it makes a miraculous improvement. The good track leads up a steeper section until you hit peat hags, some of which are a good 5ft high. After climbing them there is no path but the ground is firm with shin length heather up to the summit a few hundred metres away. At the summit there are many bogpools though.

It was usual practice for me, get to the top, have a few minutes breather, have a drink and set up the dipole. I do this every time and look at the views deciding what is worth photographing. But every time I wait till I’m about to leave before taking the photos by which time I’m too cold or the WX has closed in. Which is what happened this time. Grrr! Anyway, the radio worked well and 20 or so contacts were made. The wind was strong and cold though, much colder than I expected. I packed up and took a few photos but to the South the wx was bad, heavy rain by the looks and the better views were obscured.

I was going to walk to the other summit on the ridge at NT361420 and down Bareback Knowe for a nice circular walk but the impeding poor weather and the awful ground convinced me to go back the way I came, at least I knew where the really bad bits were that way. On the way down it started snowing hard so I ducked into a peat hag till it stopped. Only a few minutes, but in the wind the snow on my face was like sandpaper and so sitting out of the wind was nice. Back down to the car in quite a short time and I made it back before it started raining hard again. It was just about 55mins walking from car to trig.

Distance walked:8kms, total ascent:393m, distance driven: 80miles

Blackhope Scar GM/SS-094

After SS-087 last week time for its neighbour which lies just the other side of the B709 and the ground is similar. Again there are no paths to the summit of this hill. There are two common routes, one from Gladhouse Reservoir and the other via Blackhope Farm. Both involve about 3km of traverse across bog, more bog, peat hags, and thigh deep heather. Seriously hard going ground. A friend at work (completed all Munros twice) said that after coming from Blackhope Farm he would never, ever attempt it again that way it was so bad. There is, however, a long but easier route. With the very wet weather I decided a nice long walk on solid ground was needed minimising the bog potential. I’ve done the route before but it was idyllic in the forest so I decided it was worth repeating.

I parked near NT328423 and walked in along the flat valley road. No pesky dogs this time which was nice. The WX was 50% cloud but the wind was biting cold and the initial walk was straight into it. After 45mins I was at approx NT310442 which is one of the steepest parts of the route and it’s not steep! From there it’s simply a matter of following the road to the wind-farm. This is well established plantation and not much traffic uses these tracks. They’re in excellent condition but have enough soft vegetation in the middle to reduce the pounding your feet take.

The track ends at NT303475 but there is an obvious path running by the fence. But it’s more that there is no heather here than a proper path. The ground is not bad even considering where you are and the rain we’ve had recently. It’s not steep and you reach the flat plateau quickly. Here the track gets fainter and wetter and starts to diverge from the fence. Not too far further you hit some impressive peat hags and the track stops. From NT314481 you’re on your own on very rough ground again with thigh length heather. The nearer to the trig the worse the ground with some big very soft and wet areas. It’s like a maze getting to the trig and quite hard work. This time I was determined to get to the trig as my last time it was foggy and whilst I knew I was well inside the AZ the ground defeated me.

There were two dudes at the trig who wanted to know my route. They agreed it was better than theirs although further. I told them about the wrecked plane nearby but they decided the ground was too rough to approach from here. I decide the same but as I now know where it is I think a separate trip using the MTB to cover the tracks is in order. Anyway, the Gloster Javelin wreckage lies spread in a deep gully at NT295475. The gully is not shown on the 1:50000 but is on the 1:25000. Sadly both crew died after ejecting at very high speed after ensuring the plane would not hit Edinburgh which is only 15miles North of here.

EDIT: Conflicting stories about the crash, official line is no ejections.

Usual routine, a quick breather and drink and look about. The views were good to the North, the far mountains, Ben Lawers and friends about 80miles away were clearly visible with a fresh snow covering. It was surprising how near Edinburgh was, the Pentlands looked lovely and to the East, Meikle Says Law GM/SS-148 looked distinctive on the horizon. Radio conditions were poor though. I qualified the hill but many usual stations were struggling with me and activity was low as the skip was very long. Rob G4RQJ was on at the same time from the Lake District but he was inaudible.

Whilst I was on-air the WX closed in rapidly, first with heavy showers to the Southeast and the wind seemed to get colder. With the low activity I decided to close down early and get packed up before the rain hit me. That done, I sat by the trig in the wet weather gear to enjoy some sandwiches. That’s when the snow started. A few big flakes which rapidly turned into tiny flakes driven hard by the wind. Zero visibility in an instant but it wasn’t sticking. It stopped just as quickly and I set off across the awful ground. Of course there were no views anymore so I missed the chance to get some good photos. It was only about 1.5km back to the track and I wanted to get off the exposed ground before it snowed again. I was caught out and again hid in a peat hag till it subsided.

I got back to the track quickly and the WX improved enough to take all the Goretex off. The route back is a long walk through lovely mature forest. OK it’s only Sitka but with the burns that run alongside the path, it’s a pleasant few hours back to the car. I took a high level route out which gets most of the climbing done early and contours around Totto Hill. The return is down through Craig Hope and the walk from NT304468 to NT297452 is one of the most pleasant I’ve done anywhere. You’re in the middle of a forest with no distant views but it’s magic with the noise of the burn by the path and very few signs of man except the track.

So just a long slog back to the car. It started snowing hard when I got back and by the time I had changed boots etc. it was starting to lay. The road back to Edinburgh climbs to about 400m and the snow was very heavy. But just as soon as it started it had stopped. Back home it was a lovely sunny afternoon.

Distance walked:23.5kms, total ascent:867m, distance driven:82miles

That ascent is deceptive, the actual height difference from the car to the summit is about 425m. But the path does a lot of up and down. I was surprised at how easy it was to walk that far. In fact Anquet said 3h20m for the walk in and I did it in 2hr25m. I walked out a fair bit slower as I wanted to enjoy the tranquility.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Your report was very interesting to read for a number of reasons. The terrain, the distance walked, the descriptions, the WX and the Gloster aircraft crash.

You really took on a bit of a killer. What you said about ‘trivial’ reminded me of Pap of Glencoe from the north. I thought that was trivial, until I got there and realised I hadn’t allowed enough time. Finding out afterwards about the path from the south, from an amateur who lived in the village below, didn’t help either.

It would seem that there are many wild mountains in GM that can be readily underestimated, especially some little known 2-pointers. The peat Groughs make it sound like Bleaklow in Derbyshire. It can be spirit-crushing ground when there’s enough of it.

I have the same grid ref. as you for the Bowbeat Hill Javelin. It comes from High Ground wrecks 2 by David Smith but RAF Kinloss give the same ref. I also have the a/c number XA825 from K29 Sqdn, crashed 20-11-60 and described as ‘mainly buried’ and also ‘widely scattered.’ It’s been on my list since 1976 but I never got there; hence my interest when you mentioned it. The fact that it’s in a gully adds to the known info. Also, my Uncle (still living in Gloucestershire) was Gloster’s CTP at around that time. He crashed on landing, because of ‘Foreign Object Defect’ (a split-pin) in the hydraulic braking system. Unlike the Meteor, the type wasn’t a great success and he has a bad leg to prove it!

So, thanks for a good report with plenty of route detail and grid refs, making it much easier for anyone so inclined to follow in your (rather squidgy) footsteps. Well done on these challenging activations.

73, John G4YSS.
(GM4YSS, now and again!)

In reply to MM0FMF:

Another excellent report Andy with loads of visual information to help the imagination. It seems Galloway ground is not the only challenging surface in GM.

73, Gerald

P.S. I was confused and amused momentarily when you referred to an MTB - the mind boggled as I tried to imagine what use a motor torpedo boat would be to you. Surrealism in the extreme!

Hi Andy

For next years activation (!!) I can recommend an approach from Gladhouse Res. It’s probably a bit longer but wasn’t too bad on final approach. Thanks for the summit


In reply to MM0FMF:

Thanks for the report Andy, very evocative. Keep up the good work!

73 de Paul G4MD