…is worth one in the bush! Or how I learned to love Goretex lined boots!
The WX forecast was for “scorchio” sunshine all over parts of Scotland which would make up for the snow flurries we’d been having. If it was going to be nice then I was going to do a decent amount of walking. The WX has been mild but damn awful this winter, lots of wet and/or windy days but no bad snow. I’d had my eyes on 2 summits close to each other for many years but had always put off doing them for one reason or another. However, the new Google Earth 3d rendering and the acquisition of 1:25000 scale mapping meant that all those awkward possible firebreak paths through forests can now be evaluated. Well in principle.
So Messrs. Cauldcleuch Head SS-106 and Greatmoor Hill SS-114 were selected. The normal route is from the South and is classed as “a bit damp underfoot”. One ridge is called Queen’s Mire which is indicative this is a bogfest. But now with super mapping skills I decided I’d do these from the north from the hamlet of Priesthaugh. Google StreetView showed a few places to park, Google Maps 3d view showed obvious routes up and down through firebreaks. The 1:25000 maps showed acceptable contours and the WX forecast suggested sun creme would be needed. What could possibly go wrong…
Up at 6.30am, injected, fed, latest WX checked, no more snow overnight and we’re off by 7.15. I was at the parking spot at 9.15 having chatted with the farmer’s wife who was waiting for a herd of sheep to come down the road. She pointed me at where I was going to park but it’s nice to know the farmer is happy for people to park here. NT466047 in the quarry. The road in from the main road is, in a word, diabolical. Narrow with soft verges or big drops and few passing places. Just at the most ‘exciting’ part of the road, a sharp bend over a blind summit, the targets came in to view. I almost drove off there and then as I saw the amount of snow on them. Brilliant white fresh snow against a blue sky with green forest up the slopes. Hmmm, may be cold and slippy.
The walk in is trivial, follow the path to Priesthaugh Hill where there is a farmhouse. I’m used to seeing shepherd houses now abandoned or derelict but this was immaculate with smoke rising from the chimney. It stands at the base of a significant burn running down the hill where there is micro hydro-generation plant. The building has a few satellite dishes including a two way internet feed. Sorry, I studied the feedhorn as I walked passed. What a wonderful place to live and work, isolated and beautiful but with free electricity and a viable net feed.
The original plan was to cross the burn on the bridge and ascend Cauld Cleuch to the summit. There was no bridge, just a ford with lots of water but only 3in deep, the ascent looked far to steep for the conditions. Rude words were said out loud. Instead I went around the forest via Skelfhill Fell. This adds about 1/2km and 30m extra ascent/descent. Fair enough and off we went.
Hmmm… the reports about wet underfoot became obvious. The moderately steep slopes had a initially a thin covering of snow covering boggy rough grass. But it got worse as I climbed. How can it be wetter higher up? Water runs down and judging by how much water was flowing in the burns, a metric shedload was running off the hills. I stopped and put on some gaiters as the snow got deeper and the ground got softer. The zipper broke one gaiter. More rude words were said but in the end, the velcro fastening kept it closed and my leg moderately dry. I battled on occasionally finding even softer ground, this would be a nightmare without walking poles to check the earth. Anyway at almost the summit I crossed the fence with some difficulty, soft ground, slightly high fence. Over that into an ankle deep bog. Seriously rude words said now. Then I saw the gate. The rude words reached military levels of rudeness!
Of course all the way the wind blew harder and the clouds grew thicker till most of the blue sky was gone and it was cold. Never mind, not much ascent and only 750m walking to go. Sweet Baby Jesus! That was some of the worst ground I’ve crossed. It took an eternity to get to the summit. Every step on now quite deep snow, 4-5in and you don’t know if there’s ground, bog, void, stinkhole, or more snow underneath. Every step needs a probe with the pole. A few times I was thigh deep into something nasty but they only had water in the bottom and amazingly my feet were still dry when I reached the summit. This is the highest place in quite a large area and to celebrate this there is the joining of 3 fences. Nothing, no cairn or post banged in the summit. Why would there be, it’s the most god-forsaken exposed bogland I’ve been on. You need clowns shoes so you don’t sink into the ground. I surveyed the summit and Greatmoor Hill in the distance. My immediate idea was to bale out it was so cold and windy.
I set up the station for 24MHz and started calling. Very slow business. I sent a rubbish self spot but that brought a few more out of the noise. 30mins and I worked 10 stations. I was on a short schedule anyway due to the time for the walk in and out and the ascent time and traverse time. The operation was interrupted by cramp in my foot reducing the time spent on air. I called it quits and packed up. Now the WX had improved a lot in the 10minutes packing away. The black clouds were gone, the wind had dropped and there was some sun. Do I do the next one or not. Well that one is a long drive and walk for 2pts even though it would be a unique. If I didn’t do it now I’d never come back. Not after seeing the ground up close.
I reckoned I would drop to the col where there is a recognised path through the forest down to the track back to the car. It couldn’t be any worse than the ground I’d been on. Could it? There’s a bit of a path visible as the ground changed from heather, sphagnum moss and peat to rough grass. The snow was a lot softer here than at the summit which was taking most of the cold northwesterly wind. It was slippy and got steep as I descended to Windy Swire. Several times I found my self in a “backside over apex” situation. Was the ground worse? Yes and no. At Windy Swire it was very, very wet but you could see the standing water. It wasn’t a surprise with every step. Just a splosh.
There’s an indistinct firebreak here, but the real path down is the east side of the wee lump at Swire Knowe. There’s a fence running down here and it’s quite obvious that you can get out of the trees by following it.
By now the sun was shining, the birds singing, the wind stopped by the trees and I decided to stop being a girl and get up to Greatmoor Hill. Splosh, squelch, slip, squark, schhhhhlurp. Onwards and upwards. By Starcleuch Edge the forest retreats but I couldn’t see the firebreak to get down. Never mind, I know it’s there by a fence and I have the GPS. At last the summit is nearly in reach and to ensure you enjoy this, the almighty in her wisdom has put some proper peat hags in the way. Now you learn quickly on this ground that flat snow is a no-no! Anyway via assorted means including hanging on to fences I finally made the summit. The computer said 1hr10, it took 1hr30 due to the ground.
There’s a wind shelter at the summit but it was no benefit with the wind direction. However, at this point I stopped and looked back at Cauldcleuch Head. With its snow covering and a blue sky it looked good. I enjoyed that view knowing I’d beaten it. I threw up the pole using the trig point to support it and draped the ground plane over the rocks of the shelter. I worked only 8 on 24MHz in 15minutes. I watched a huge snow shower come in and obscure Rubers Law to the north. In the far distance I could see White Coomb SS-030 and Hart Fell SS-037 getting a pasting as another snow shower came over them. Then I saw the big one coming my way. I pulled down the station and packed away. Then I adjusted socks and boots and changed layers for the walk out. I sat in the shelter eating a chocolate bar (naughty but nice) whilst the snow came down. 10mins later I was off the way I came. Well apart from 100m following the wrong fence till I did an about face.
I followed the GPS as it directed me into the trees at Starcleauch Edge and there was the firebreak complete with fence. Now from here the ground got bad! Seriously, it was exceptionally soft and covered in snow. Then it really started snowing. But it was quite magnificent walking through the forest as the break was about 10m wide. I passed the 1st break off to the side which would have done but was narrow and reached the second break in glorious sunshine. I had to delayer further here and I followed out a stream on awful ground but the most glorious forest setting. I wasn’t sure when anyone last walked here. The smells of pine were good but the birdsong was brilliant, definitely spring on the way. At a few times I got concerned that the trees were getting very close to the water which didn’t leave room for me but I had faith and continued onwards. It would be a long way to go back. Eventually, 1.9km later the trees thinned out, the slope leveled off and the track appeared.
I stopped for energy bars and a good drink. The WX was now excellent, wind dropped, not a cloud in the sky and the sun was quite warm. The next 3.5km along the track were trivial. I enjoyed every moment of the walk back to the car. The sights and sounds… yes I was tripping on my endorphins. Shame the WX wasn’t like this on the summits. Such is life and now those two summits are done and crossed off the list. On a frozen day they’d be fine. The problem being the 2 roads you need to travel on to reach either the Northern or Southern starting points are never treated and do have fair amounts of water running across them, not ideal for driving when it’s below 0C. Done and dusted and I’m never coming back!
17 contacts, 2 multipliers, 2 uniques, 1 broken gaiter, many rude words.
Total driven: 165miles, total walked 16.2km, total ascent: 687m.
AE4FZ and SP8RHP worked me on both summits and you should savour those contacts… you may not hear these summits on the air for a long, long time.