Ballencleuch Law has been on the to-do list for sometime but it’s a bit of drive so I was going to do it with something else. That was going to be Hods Hill SS-131, but I did that with Steve and Helen (Messrs. AAV & AAU) the other week. Anyway, a proper look at the map showed that Well Hill was right on top of Ballencleuch Law and you could do a nice round of a few tops so that it became a decent walk and a chance to play radio rather than playing radio with a dash between hills!
The A702 Dalveen Pass road is quite busy and narrow and I was concerned there might not be anywhere to park nearby as I didn’t want to have to walk to far along the road. I had a look at the Geograph website and it showed a photo of a mobile phone mast by the patch of forest at NS925084. The track leads onto farmland but I reckoned I could park by the mast and not block anything. As it happens the forest has been cleared felled and I only saw the mast at the last minute. There’s a small area to park at NS925095 though, and best of all, I removed the piece of old fence post which had a nail sticking up. I’d stopped about 2in short of ruining tyre. Hmm, farmers and their junk. The ground looked poor so I took my 80m dipole extensions out of the bag that held them to get to my gaiters at the bottom of the bag. More on that later.
There’s an excellent track that leads to the foot of Well Hill from here. The track goes all the way to Durisdeer which is the other side of the Dalveen Pass. There’s an obvious parking area here, no surprise as Well Hill is a shooting moor. The gates have no provisions for locks, so on a Sunday and out of shooting season you could probably get away with parking here instead of on the road. I followed the track on and shortly before the 3rd gate I saw ATV tracks leading up the ridge, somewhere near NS925076.
So up I went up and soon started passing a line of grouse butts. The bottom one was No. 10 and I counted them off as I climbed. The weather was ominous with the top of Well Hill in the cloud. Back home near Edinburgh the cloud was much higher, but the whole of the Lowther Hills seemed to have its own special low cloud zone. The River Clyde starts in these hills so you wont be surprised to hear they can be a bit wet underfoot and very wet overhead! Near butt No. 5 I had to put all the waterproofs on. Down at the track it wasn’t windy but as I climbed a very strong Northwesterly became apparent. I just kept following ATV tracks where I could and climbing in the clag till I hit the fence that runs over the summit. I guess somewhere near NS915070. I followed this right to the summit when, as if by magic, the cloudbase lifted just enough to be clear.
I had my entire time on the summit out of cloud but Ballencleugh Law and Rodger Law were permanently covered. The wind was strong, probably 25mph with strong gusts. I set up using the convenient fence posts and sat behind the cairn built out of parts of the two drystane dykes. It was very murky so the photos aren’t brilliant but you can see the amazing change in countryside as the Lowther Hills give way to Dumfries and Galloway farmland. Luckily conditions on 5MHz were significantly better than the weather. I had a partial QSO with new-to-me G0AOD, Dave and completed with Robin M5AEF who was near Ipswich and he was running only 1W. I confirmed I was in South Lanarkshire for Don G0NES and then packed up, had an early lunch and headed straight down the county boundary fence to the track for the climb up the other side of the valley towards Ballencleuch Law. This side of Well Hill is steep, you drop about 200m in 500m and I was glad I had some walking poles with me. I was also glad to get out of the wind.
My route to Ballencleuch Law was to be up Durisdeer Hill thence along the tops to Little Scaw’d Law, Scawd Law and turn left and up to Ballencleuch. As I was standing near the hut at NS916059 I heard a lot of commotion and turned to see a pigeon being chased in the air explode with feathers going everywhere. Then I could see the brown wings of a bird of prey whose body seemed bigger than the pigeon. A work colleague insists that the only thing fast enough to chase and catch a pigeon is a Peregrine Falcon. All I know was it was spectacular to see nature at work about 50m away! The bird swept off and dropped down to the ground with the pigeon writhing away in its claws whilst the feathers were still falling out of the sky.
So up yet another ATV track to the summit of Durisdeer Hill were there was more evidence of the bird of prey, several pigeon remains and also a couple of grouse had been caught. Eats well does that falcon! There are ATV tracks by the drystane dyke, which offered a little protection from the wind which was getting stronger all the time. The ground between Durisdeer Hill and Little Scaw’d Law at NS915047 is extremely boggy, again I was glad of the poles to test the ground in many suspect places. A fence runs from the summit of Scaw’d Law to Ballencleuch Law and I took a directish line from Little Scaw’d Law to meet the fence at NS928044. From there it was simply follow the fence to the summit. The clag started about 650m and there’s absolutely nowhere to shelter on this summit.
I setup right by the summit stake using the fence and again conditions were good on 5MHz. This time I was able to complete with Dave G0AOD. I tried to keep operation brief as the wind was howling; my old fishing pole being severely bent by the wind. Mike GW0DSP relayed a request from Mick 2E0HJD to QSY to 80m but I had left them on the rear parcel shelf when I had been fishing for my gaiters. I noticed they were missing when packing up on Well Hill. Sorry Mick. Another good clutch of stations worked I set off back.
I was going to wander up to the trig on Rodger Law as walking on hills without trigs doesn’t seem right, also I was going search for the abandoned radio mast nearby but the weather was too rough. There’s only so much wind and clag you can take on what should be a lovely early Autumn afternoon! So I made my way down to Hirstane Rig. This is an absolute quagmire certainly near the top of Gana Burn. Only to be expected but I was a little concerned I got myself to somewhere I didn’t want to be. The ground firms up as you get away from the burn but certainly a place to avoid if possible. I contoured round to the Kirkstane Grain and then went straight down towards the track. Potrail Water runs next to the track and is big enough to warrant many footbridges. I aimed for the main one near the farm buildings at NS926078. I really should study maps more because I found another boggy area where the ground levels out. Basically anywhere near NS927077 you should avoid! Obvious really looking at all the hills in the area and that fact there’s big burn running near that any flat ground will be very, very wet. From there it was back along the track to the car for an orange and some fresher clothes!
A lot of the walk was over ATV tracks but they are quite overgrown, the rest was heather and tussock grass. Or bog. So whilst I only walked about 7 miles it felt twice as far. I keep thinking I’m getting fit but everytime I do a few miles on rough ground instead of tracks I realise how unfit I am. I’ve got aches in places I didn’t know I had today. The few photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf but it was murky. These hills look great in some photos I’ve seen but everyone I know who has walked them has never seen them, they’ve always been in the clag. Driving home the cloud lifted as I left the area. It was lovely last February when I was up Green Lowther but I don’t have any photos looking towards this area from there. So hopefully the weather will be nicer next time I visit.
Total walked 6.8miles, height ascended 658m/2158ft, distance driven 108miles.
One final point, if you ever get to around here, you have to drive the Dalveen Pass which starts properly from where I parked all the way out to Durisdeer and back. It’s a fantastic road and view. Whilst I was climbing the base of Well Hill all that could be heard were big bikes screaming through the pass with the throttles opened wide. Not exactly tranquil but I could imagine the grins on the riders’ faces and that made up for them spoiling the peace and quiet!