The Southern Upland Way. A Walk.

May 2018

So what is a runner supposed to do when he’s physically unable to run?

Walk!

I usually think of myself as an ultra runner, but from Christmas to April, I wasn’t even a runner. I had an annoying and painful foot injury. Already entered for the 100 hour running race from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath along the SUW, I had been doing long walks and long cycle rides at home to develop stamina, and gym workouts to develop strength needed for the event. Now it was time to walk the route that I wanted to run in August.

The reasons for this walk were to prepare for the GB Ultras race by enjoying a long training adventure, and to get a feel for the route. I wanted to build a little familiarity with the hills and the bogs; “Know thine enemy,” as they say.

There follows a day by day loose record of the walk, intended to help anyone who is thinking about travelling the Southern Upland Way, by whatever means. After this, I have written notes that may be of use to you, depending on your level of experience and expertise. This was my first foray into back-packing, so inevitably errors abound! If you spot a big mistake, please let me know so I can correct it…thank you. Remember that things change, and do not stake everything on anything; the shop you are relying on may have closed, changed its hours, become a donkey sanctuary, anything could happen.

Friday, late May, 2018

Limping around Glasgow Railway Station carrying a load so heavy that, had I been a donkey, would have prompted an armed RSPCA swoop, I pondered the next couple of weeks. I was on my way to Portpatrick to start my walk across Scotland, but the adventure had not begun well.

It was Friday, late May, and I had decided only a few days earlier that my recce would go ahead. The race would take place in August…so it was time to start preparing for the run across Scotland. But in my haste to make travel arrangements for this recce , I failed to realise that North Berwick was not a second station in Berwick upon Tweed. It is a different town. I booked my tickets and arrived at Berwick upon Tweed Station in good time to catch the train. But with the wrong ticket. The computer said, “No.” to any way in which the money I had already paid could be used towards the cost of a new ticket, so an extra £70 was handed over to the sympathetic young lady on the other side of the counter.

Travel to Portpatrick should not have been be difficult. I had left my car in Cockburnspath, ready for an easy return to civilisation at the end of my walk. Willie and Angela, my delightful hosts in Co’path would look after it well, in the same way they had been so kind to me.

This was the real beginning of my preparation for the race, after an injured foot prevented me from running with any effect from Christmas until April.

Later that day, I stood on the cliffs above Portpatrick, recovering from the steps that mark the beginning of the 214 mile Southern Upland Way. The next stretch along the cliffs is a place that I loved before I had ever heard of the SUW. And so the walk began, a short evening jaunt to get mind and body into back-packer mode.

Portpatrick; The First Climb of the Southern Upland Way

I had only the flimsiest of plans for the journey; start every morning, follow the signposts, stop when tired in the evening.  In between, eat and drink as available, enjoy the walking, admire the views. Oh, and learn the route so as not to get lost in the August race.

The few miles I covered that evening comprised coastal cliffs, small well-surfaced lanes, and a good helping of boggy moorland. There are few suitable places to pitch a tent on the entire route, and it was 10pm. and almost dark, before I found a tiny patch of reasonably flat ground where I could spend the night.

Saturday

The next morning I left the constant hum of Stranraer’s industry, and walked the quiet lanes towards Castle Kennedy, and the beautiful garden for which it is known.

One of the many ruined buildings I saw in Scotland.

Along lanes and tracks, through quiet woodland, over little streams and their bigger brothers, the first few miles of the walk from Portpatrick offer no great challenge; a drag up from the sea at Killandringan lighthouse and a few other modest climbs, a delve into the first bogs of the route, and a few twists, rises and turns to keep focus on direction.

Near New Luce there is a large wind farm, and the track becomes a road, and assumes a very different character. The rough, grassy, lumpy paths give way to industrial sized stone cobbles – angular and sharp – as rural leisure comes face to face with big business. The huge wind turbines whoosh their way along their never-ending journey,  saving the planet whilst simultaneously ruining it. The preposterous scale of these things dwarfs everything around them, each turn of the blades demanding we consider the cost: benefit of such megaliths. It  was also around here that I recall my first walk in the conifer forests, overpowering, darkening the ground and all, within the impenetrable blanket of their foliage. Impressive in their uniformity, but to my mind at least, not a patch on a native deciduous forest. The wildlife seem to agree.

It was early evening, and through the trees I spied a small construction ahead. Unmistakable, the Beehive Bothy.  The sole occupant that night, I was lulled to a welcome sleep by the sound of the turbine blades.

The Beehive Bothy, a nice little place to spend a night.

It was here that I read Adam’s comments in the visitor book. He was walking Britain with his friend Martin.  Martin was carrying the bulk of their load. You see, Martin is a donkey, and the pair were engaged in this mammoth adventure together. What a fantastic way to bond with your donkey.

Sunday

No church for me this morning, but I did look Heavenward when I muttered something about the continuing sharp stone road. Admittedly my footwear, Primark’s best lightweight leisure shoes at £12 were not built for such heavy duty, but the road was made for lumber trucks, not humans. Or donkeys. My choice of footwear was simple, they were the only shoes that I was able to walk in… wide toe box, zero/small drop, very flexible and light weight.  They were also fast draining and drying, very useful around these parts.

A reasonable climb comes just after the bothy, it drags on then steepens towards the top. Not an enormous effort, but enough to warm me after the cold of the night. The next few miles were a much easier walk, but then came a tricky little path; uneven, boggy and many rabbit holes. But looking back, the first few miles of today were not difficult, especially after the early climb.

Through the day I was faced with several boggy areas, which meant a  second day of wet feet. Not what the doctor ordered!

Near Knowe

On to a proper road, and through the hamlet of Knowe, then an easily missed left turn at the end of the houses, away from the tarmac and back to nature.

Approaching Glentrool, I headed for the village, off the SUW route, in the hope of finding food. And I was lucky…the very kind lady at Glentrool Campsite provided me with food to cook, and the use of their “bothy”, an immaculate cabin complete with oven. But I paid a price for this diversion; finding the SUW again was quite a lengthy job. I followed the signs which told me it was just 3/4 of a mile away. What felt like two miles later I was lost, but did not want to go back up the slopes I had just come down. I persevered, and was rewarded with a sign pointing the way back on to the Way. To my chagrin, it was a track parallel to the road I was on, and so I did have to retrace my steps. A bit frustrated; I had been on sharp look out for signs, perhaps I missed one.

Near Loch Trool

So by the side of the loch I walked, enjoying the rolling, easy track, and admiring the views and savouring the mid evening air. I camped in a lovely spot near a bench, at the head the loch.

Monday

A good track through the forest brought a nice start to the day, but soon this was replaced by more stoney forest road…ouch!

A good track to begin the day….

I noticed today the random nature of the SUW signposting. In places it was overkill, sign after sign where most were not needed. But then a few miles later there may be just one sign pointing a general direction over a moor, with no other sign in sight to confirm.

Some pretty countryside today, especially approaching St. John’s Town of Dalry.  leaving the tarmac road, there was quite a wet, boggy area, which led on to the climb of  Waterside Hill. This was no mountain, but a nice test for an overloaded human carrying a donkey load of  bags and supplies.

A little bunch of beauty

It was here that I tried out my trekking poles (sounds better than walking sticks, though that’s what they are). They were an immediate hit, providing a little extra power up the slope, but more importantly, much improved stability for tired, quivvering legs trying to support a tired, overloaded body.

 

The secret is here.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              After the descent and on to the road, I learned that the sewage works I passed at the junction was actually something to do with hydro electricity and salmon making their way up river to breed. Most of the detail was lost, but the kind farmer telling me this was also giving me permission to go across his fields to reach Dalry, as I had missed the turn, “By the wee hoose.”                                                                                  He had gone out of his way to help me, in the same way that other people did throughout the walk. A quick drink and a chat in the pub at Dalry was very welcome, and prepared me for another three hours of walking after the rest.                                                                                                             I wore anti blister socks today, in honour of the horrid forest roads. My feet were battered, but they were a mess when I started the walk. I had not been confident that they would last the first day or two, so I was on bonus time now…every day would be a day better than I had dared hope for.
A rare “flat spot” on the SUW

Tuesday

My stop for the night had been just off a small road, at the beginning of a steady climb. Back on to moorland again. The moors seemed either to be heather, with stoney paths, or grass, often with no path. The latter is where you need the extra signpost to point you in the right direction. I made several small navigation notes  today, many on a similar theme.

The walk  was a mix of heather moor and grass moor, interspersed with forest road crossings and streams. Nothing of any great significance, except the beauty of the countryside.

On the way to Sanquhar

I enjoyed the descent into Sanquhar, remembering how pleased we were to see the town at the end of Day 1 of the November GBU recce. I bought more food and drink, knowing there was only Wanlockhead where something may be available before Beattock.

Along the main street, passing the “Fit Feet” shop, and then on to the undertakers, where left, then bear left, and up the hill. The next few miles were a mix of easy grass walking, and some more difficult parts, semi-dry bog, eventually back in to the forests.

I had rearranged my load today, and it had worked well. Instead of cramming my tent into the rucksack, I strapped it on the top. This gave me much more room in the pack, and also meant that I could pitch the tent without opening the sack. The reverse would be true in the mornings, load the sack before dismantling the tent, keeping all my little treasures dry. Not that any of this had been a problem, I came equipped for wet, cold and windy Scotland, but found warm, dry and sunny Scotland , day after day. I had packed one tee shirt and several waterproofs. I needed the opposite.

The Vango seemed quite happy to be pitched anywhere, thank goodness.

Wednesday

I had spent last night a few miles short of Wanlockhead, and enjoyed the climbs to this former lead mining village. By the time I descended into the village I was ready for lunch. The route takes you to the right hand side of the village , giving you a good view of the long strip of houses by the road, where sheep were happily grazing amongst people going about their business. The tidy grass helped present Wanlockhead as a much more “alive” place than had been the case in November.  I enjoyed a small lunch in the excellent cafe attached to the museum at the top of the village, and had a short rest. I knew what was coming next!

 

Wanlockhead was not as pretty as this in November!

Lowther Hill springs straight out of the village, and is a climb right from the start. It was hard work. Nothing more than drag, push and will yourself to make the next step, knowing there are many more steps to make before the summit, and the giant golf ball. My walking sticks were working overtime, pushing this great load slowly up the hill. I did stop a few times  “just to admire the view”, but really it’s a case of dig in and work hard.

Sunglasses hiding my tears on Lowther Hill.

You cross the the road part way up the hill, and I continued climbing, crossing the road once or twice more. I should have stayed on the road at the last crossing, where you turn right, on to the SUW track. This is on a left hand bend near a fenced off aerial installation. Again, I saw no sign of the turn, but remembered it from November. There is a little brick construction where you can rest just after this turn, but it was already taken by three ladies doing part of the walk together. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on, me with my walk, and them with their cheese sandwiches.

At the top of Lowther Hill, by the giant golf ball, you can see what is waiting for you… more long hills, with some quite steep parts. The going is mostly good, but with some rough parts, and of course some bog.

It was at the top of one of these climbs that I met Richard, a friendly young man who has already built an impressive C.V. of walks and achievements. He was sitting on the ground, surrounded by tech equipment.  I thought he was part of an outside broadcast team for the BBC, but he explained his two banks of solar panels power his camera, watch and everything else he carries. We had some nice chats as we leapfrogged each other over the next few days. He would stop to take photographs, but walk further into darkness than me. I walked all day, but pitched my tent earlier than him. I last saw him on the shore of St. Mary’s Loch, charging his batteries.

One hundred plus miles done, or one hundred plus miles to go?

Eventually the A 702 road is reached, a left turn and an easy walk to the next post, signalling a right turn towards the river. The water looked good, and I rinsed my hands and face, and filled up my water bottles here. (I’m not sure what “bad” water looks like.) This nice, easy stretch across the meadow then becomes a pleasant walk which climbs gradually to a small tarmac road, which in turn takes you on to the reservoir.  Through the gate,  admire the neat grass on the left, and the expanse of water on the right. Keep an eye on the massing seagulls (above), as they swoop menacingly towards your bag of food just peeping out of your backpack.

At the end of the reservoir, there is a little left then right, go a few yards further more to the right, and through the gate, then left and up the climb. And it is a climb. Quite steep, this grassy slope seems to go on forever, but the cruelest part comes at the “top” …you have about four false summits before you really do arrive at the top. Dry the tears from your eyes, and admire the view. Then continue over the grassy moors towards and through the forests heading for Beattock.  This was the hardest day of my walk, though it is by no means the end of the climbing. I camped a few miles short of Beattock, tired by the hills, but pleased that I had managed the day with my large load.

My view for the night, after a busy day.

Thursday

I reached Beattock by mid morning, and consumed food and drink at the caravan and camping site at the opposite end of the village. Two litres of milk and an iced lolly later, I walked back through the village and towards the large roundabout, where I turned right on the cycle path. An easy, pleasant path by the river, followed by a hill which was an unsigned “up and over” walk, then through the gate at the bottom and left. Another hidden key was nearly missed a few minutes later, just after a small bridge, where a left turn is kept secret from the inattentive walker.

I sat here and waited awhile. But Julie Andrews and tribe did not appear.

They say things come in threes, and some considerable way up the white forest road – a long, steady climb – there is a right hand hairpin. Again, no sign of a sign to say the SUW is a left turn on this bend. This is not a criticism, merely a warning that you need to be vigilant if like me, you are using the signposts to find your way.

Back on to forest roads, and like the long white track out of Beattock, a reasonable surface.  About seven miles past Beattock I found the Brattleburn Bothy. I met David, an experienced walker from Liverpool, just short of the bothy. On arrival we set about preparing  our evening meals, after David discovered that the man in the hammock had eaten his sausage, accidentally. David and I traded pasta and bread for whisky, and generally put the world to rights. The bothy is good; it was tidy, well equipped and was a nice place to spend a night.

Friday

A pleasant, easy first few miles from the bothy, then a short but steep hill after turning left off the road.  No problems on the way to St. Mary’s Loch.  By the Loch of the Lowes, next door to St. Mary’s, the cafe has been refurbished, it’s smart and clean. I had a good snack and the lady behind the counter kindly filled my bottle with ice-cold water. In the same hot weather I’d enjoyed every day of the walk, this was very welcome.

St. Mary’s Loch

Then pass the sorry sight of the now closed Tibbie Shiels Inn, and on to the bank of the much larger St. Mary’s Loch. This was a good track, well marked and easy walking. At the end of the loch, there was a diversion across a field, and then  a small stream, before crossing the main road and another steep, but fairly short climb.

Nearing Traquair, I enjoyed a lovely grassy path, winding its way between slopes on both sides.

Heather, stone, grass and water, with the compulsory tree.

Out of Traquair, there is quite a climb up to Minch Moor. I found this hard work, and pitched the tent three or four miles across the moor. The windy night was a test for my tent, I’m delighted to say everything stayed in place. The weather changed this evening for a few hours, with drizzle and cold replacing the constant sunshine.

 

Saturday

Beauty in desolation. Welcome to the moor.

Across the moors, up and down the hills, and through the heather, towards the Three Brethren. These stone structures were erected around five hundred years ago, and will probably outlast every modern tower block currently in existence. They don’t build ’em like they used to.

The Three Brethren, and a farm gate.

More heather, more moor, and then the descent to Fairnilee, cross the main road, and then climb again, and the last three miles or so to Galashiels.  No difficulties, and soon descending into the town. On the way down, there is a sign pointing right, up through some woods. Ignore it. More on this problem later.

In Galashiels I visited the largest Tesco I’ve ever seen, I only wanted some water and bread, but it took me half an hour to find my way around, and ride on the travelescalator from ground level up to the “gallery”. Ghastly place, full of recorded announcements and wasted space. Give me a corner shop and the 50% price surcharge every time.

Leaving Galashiels is simple, but tedious. The route takes you for a nice walk along the River Tweed, after squeezing between the train line and the sewage works (I’m sure this was not a salmon jumping installation).

The River Tweed

Ascend a long flight of wooden steps – no travelescalators here, no signpost either, and on to the cycle track alongside a busy road. Once you get to the river bank it is a pleasant walk, with a decent surface. On reaching the bridge, you cross the Tweed…and go back along the opposite bank. There were a lot of exposed tree routes on this side, so don’t focus too heavily on spotting the fish , ( I didn’t see any.)

Lunch on the go, by the River Tweed

Having retraced more or less to where you started the Tweed-side walk, you bear right, cross a road, and then negotiate a poorly surfaced, boggy little climb. You are now heading for Lauder, about nine miles away. My notes said you climb on to a low ridge, then descend to Lauder. That’s what I did, it was not unpleasant, but quite unremarkable, though I did enjoy the grassy descent in to Lauder.

Beauty around the Tweed Valley

Leaving Lauder, where I restocked food and drink once more, you go through large gates on the left, and across a grass field. The large building on your left is Thirlestane Castle, another example of ancient construction skills; it’s apparently twelfth century.

Filling up in Lauder                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Go through a small wood, then climb on to moorland. Once up there, you are greeted nicely; “Welcome to the Moor” says the sign. But it was written by humans, not the inhabitants of the moor.

You come to a large field, with a neat road heading through, down to a farm house. There are brown cows in the field.  I don’t know what breed of cows they were, I didn’t ask them. I don’t talk to cows, I just eat them. They may have caught a whiff of the cold beef stashed away in my little plastic bag, but for whatever reason they were not friendly towards me. The field is quite large, there was a bovine gauntlet to be walked. My coarse words and suggestions failed to deter them, as they came menacingly close. Others in the field saw what was happening, and they came cantering over to join in the thuggery. I deployed my anti-dog, anti-yob and now anti-cow self-defence system…my walking sticks.

Shouting what I would do to them if they came any nearer, and imitating Bruce Lee wiggling his numchucks around his head, I made as much noise and threatening movement as I could manage. They were egging each other on, taking turns to be more aggressive than their mates. They were beginning to surround me. Thoughts went back to my childhood, my first bike ride, my first goal, my first kiss. But also to my conversation with David at the bothy. He was telling me how a hand gun was good defence against grizzly bears.  If only I’d packed my AK47. By the skin of my teeth, I was holding the status quo, and I was slowly getting closer to the cattle grid. I didn’t actually run the last 10 metres, only in my mind. A fall here might result in roast Malcolm for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner. Dancing across the cattle grid, quite nimbly I thought under the circumstances, I reached safety. That was the only time I was worried  on the entire walk.

So don’t forget your walking sticks. And your gun.

Shaken, I passed the farm house. Should I have a word with  the farmer?  Half a dozen caged dogs all showing me their teeth and looking up more Malcolm recipes suggested to me that a discussion with the person responsible for all this mayhem may not be a peace lover. So I snook by, hoping my sound of my shaking legs knocking together would not be heard. Twenty minutes later, I released the grip on my walking sticks.

A little way further, I camped on the moor. A windy place, but not a cow in sight.

Sunday

A quarter to six, and a brighter morning, in a bovine no-go zone.

As Cockburnspath drew nearer, I had become more daring with my power supply for the technology I was carrying. None of it was as valuable to me as the sheets torn from the old AA Roadbook, but I was now close enough to “home” to try things out. I had made a phone call to wife Wendy, and discovered it would be daughter Loveday’s birthday on Monday. So the last couple of days had been higher mileage, in an effort to fulfill Daddy duties. Today was something of a reward for those efforts, as I calculated that although I could reach Co’path by tonight, it would be a big push for a late arrival. But I could finish comfortably by mid-morning on Monday instead.

I made better progress following the Garmin on my wrist, although I used it mainly to confirm what I thought the signposts were telling me. But the little green line all alone on the blank screen needs some detail…a background map would be useful, if that is possible.

Eight minutes past eight. The bright morning soon dulled.

This morning I continued across the moor, on a typical stoney track bordered by heather. Later another climb, this time on tarmac, away from the reservoir and nearing Longformacus. Inevitably, a  climb out of the village, and more open countryside. No great difficulty for the walker finding the route, and the navigator was stood down.

The long and winding track

The next little place was probably my favourite of the whole walk.  Abbey St. Bathans is a delightful spot, especially in the late May sunshine.

On the crossroads, a small grassed area offers a bench and a village notice board. Sitting on the bench were three people, all engrossed in their books, and their writing.  A very peaceful scene. Looking across the road, there were neat stone houses, and a lovely church on the right. I thought I had entered a time warp, back to the 1930s.  No, I don’t remember the 1930s. There was an innocence and peace that disappeared, I think, forever, following the events of ’39 – ’45.  Not a car in sight, the only sounds were of birdsong, a distant tractor, and the occasional hushed mutterings of the seated threesome. Walking by the houses, you cross the small bridge, and then a beautiful stretch alongside the river, full of blooms of all varieties.  This is a place to which I would like to return.

There follows a mix of farm tracks and tarmac roads, and no more big hills, though there are one or two that will sting after around 200 miles, walking or running.

I made camp that evening on a thin sliver of ground, sandwiched between a main road and a train line. It sounds awful, but I  was out of sight, and had a good night of rest. The walk was more or less over so …

…no, it’s not time for Teletubbies yet.

Monday

The last handful of miles, and they were quite enjoyable. Through a forest and up a surprising climb, another drag passing a grotty looking caravan site, and soon out on to the cliffs. I would say ” overlooking the North Sea,” but there was a huge haar, or sea fret as I know it, which was blanking any view beyond a half dozen yards, and which was threatening me with cold and damp. So I walked, almost skipped along the cliffs, listening to the pounding waves  somewhere below but seeing very little. I discovered the next day that the haar had been there a few days, and stretched from Edinburgh to Berwick on Tweed, (and North Berwick?) A few Bank Holiday trips to the coast ruined there.

” I think I left something in Portpatrick….”

There was, almost mischieveously, one last sting in the tail from the Southern Uplands Way. Within about one mile of the finish, the route goes by a few houses on a left hand corner. Immediately after this there is a right turn, the sign for which is almost completely hidden. If you are eager to reach Co’path as soon as possible, don’t miss this turn!

A few hundred yards later, under the main road and you are in the village. Bear left on the road, then fork right to go up to the finish at the memorial.

And rest …   walk/ recce/race/adventure over.

If it’s open, buy a celebratory ice cream from the shop, sit on the step,and think about what you have achieved.

However you travel, and whatever your motive, I hope your journey along the Way will be as enjoyable and worthwhile as mine. It may not have quite been life changing for me, but it was most certainly life enhancing.

A life enhancing, unforgettable journey. Er, what was it again?

 

Notes:

Safety                                                                                                                                          If you end up stuck in a bog, with vultures circling high above, and the locals getting out their Track Kill recipe books, you might wish you had  thought a little more about safety, especially if you are alone. So if you cannot find anyone with a similar mind to yours, do be extra careful. Ensure someone knows where you are and where you are going each day. Have a charged mobile phone, a map and compass, a whistle and a light. Take appropriate clothing (work on the safe side), emergency bag, spare water and food. I think walking sticks help keep you safe, and take a basic first aid kit. I carried a small multi tool, and a few spare straps and and fastenings.                                                                                                                  Primarily, safety is about attitude, not a bag load of gear. So know what you are capable of, and don’t push your limits too far. Always think about what may happen, and what the consequences might be. Make no assumptions about weather, and do go home if the conditions are too bad. It’s the right thing to do.

Terrain                                                                                                                                  Do not expect to have dry feet at the end of the day.  I had very warm, sunny weather, but with so much bog in the early stages my feet were soaked all day. The second half of the route seemed to have less bog than the first. There are  hills along the entire route, but I found the most concentrated collection of difficult hills to be between St. John’s Dalry and Beattock. All of the longer climbs were quite difficult for me, especially in a headwind.                                            Many of the forest paths had a lovely soft surface, but beware  of hidden tree roots. Other paths would suddenly reveal rabbit holes, or random rocks and stones. Many of the forest roads are made with large, sharp stones, making the going tricky and uncomfortable in thin-soled shoes. This is especially true near to the wind farms, and occasionally where heavy forestry work is in progress.            In boggy patches, stones have been placed to help dry passage.

Signing                                                                                                                                This must be a never ending job. There are hundreds of signs in all kinds of situations, and all have been made and placed to help us. Many other walks leave you to find your own way, we must be grateful for the help we are given on the SUW.                                                                                                                                            Covering such a distance, and different political and administrative regions, it is almost inevitable that there are inconsistencies along the way. The signing varies in several ways; some sections have more signs than are needed, others are missing important turns. The white thistle is seen as the symbol to follow, but many of the signs you need to follow do not carry the thistle. More so in the second half of the route, local/regional councils etc. invite you to follow their signs and symbols for the route (fewer/no thistles here). Problems occur when the “other” signs take you off the SUW route, eg. the yellow arrow usually has to be followed, but it may/may not be SUW.                                                                     The yellow caps for signposts are an excellent idea, but further along the route you find signs such as electricity warnings are in the same bright yellow. So don’t tramp across a large field, chasing a yellow sign, without some confidence that it is the right kind of sign.                                                                                                    SUW signs are found in different colours; blue, green, white. Some signs are fallen, others are hidden by tree branches, some were in easy to miss positions. Sometimes a confirmation sign is found after a turn, but after other turns, there is nothing. Some of the SUW information boards announce alternative routes, but these are not always clear to understand or accurate.                                              This is why we all have to help; if you see a fallen sign, spend a few minutes trying to right it (ensure  it points the correct way!). The chances are that one of the signs that has helped you was righted by a walker or runner before you.

Other  Notes                                                                                                                            In the forests, fallen trees sometimes block the route. This must mean an enormous amount of work to clear the way.                                                                      There are many small bridges over very wet patches, which are of great help. Stiles, gates etc. are mostly safe and working well. Some need replacing  due to age, they are weak/broken and potentially dangerous. Others are too narrow for walkers carrying large packs. There are dozens, if not scores of new gates along the route, a fantastic achievement by those who keep the Way passable for us. A new stile or gate is often a good clue that you are on the correct route.

Food and drink                                                                                                                       I took with me enough powered food for one “meal” a day. Things I took included cup a soup, instant pasta, instant noodles, pepperami sticks. All light and small.    For walking, I had glucose tablets, flapjack covered with chocolate, fruit bars, cereal bars, dried apricots. (I carried as much “energy food” as I could.)                En route, I bought milk, water, bread, cheese, ham, cooked chicken, scones, oranges.                                                                                                                                      I found shops open at Portpatrick, Castle Kennedy (petrol station), St. John’s Dalry, Sanquhar, Beattock  (caravan site), Galashiels (massive Tesco), Lauder, Cockburnspath.                                                                                                                        I  “ate out” on three occasions;                                                                                Wanlockhead Museum (tea, tomato soup, bread, ice cream…excellent food, good   value.)                                                                                                                                  Cafe near St. Mary’s Loch (tea, tuna & cucumber sandwiches, crisps… excellent   again, good value.)                                                                                                Glentrool  Camping Site ( I bought a frozen meal, and was invited to use their facilities to cook and eat. How nice was that!)

I used chlorine tablets so I was able to drink water from streams. I only took water when I was higher up in the hills. This was a welcome addition to the water I was able to buy.  Bearing in mind the very warm weather I enjoyed, I was drinking around five litres a day, sometimes six or seven. I also took electrolyte tablets.

Time Taken                                                                                                                               I usually walked around nine or ten hours each day, after stops. The longest day was over twelve hours of walking, the last Saturday of the recce. This was not necessarily the longest distance. I tried to have breakfast as soon as I awoke, then an efficient striking of camp and away. I was always walking by nine o’clock, six fifteen was my earliest start.                                                                                                  Only on the last Friday and Saturday did I deliberately move briskly, but even on the other days, I always ensured I was walking with some purpose. I am trying to get fit, and did not want the walk to become a stroll. I worked hard on the hills, I had little choice with the weight I was carrying.                                                               Any stops during the day were reasonably brief, apart from the Tesco visit. I deliberately left the route just once, at Glentrool. I regretted doing that, because of the difficulty I had rejoining.                                                                                            I left Portpatrick at 18:15 on Friday 18th May, and arrived in Cockburnspath at 10:00 on Monday 28th May.

Equipment & Clothing                                                                                                       (In addition to map, compass, lights, cup, plate, mug, tin opener, multi tool, first aid kit, survival bag (not sheet), wetwipes, towel, tooth brush & paste and other things.)

Rucksack …   Osprey Exos 48l                                                             Excellent;light,comfortable.

Waist bag …  Lowe Alpine Space Case                                                                Excellent, considering I used it a “front” pack.

Tent …   Vango Zenith 200 .                                                                                                  Great tent, fast pitch and versatile. Biggest problem is strength needed to insert poles in receptors.

Sleeping bag … Gelert Xtreme Light 800     Good bag, but only two season. Scotland in May needs something warmer.

Sleep mat …     Klymit Static V          My first air bed. Quite comfortable, a little narrow. Much better than a foam mat.

Watch …          Garmin Fenix 3 HR            Amazing. But I can only use about 10% of its capability, I will probably only ever be able to use 20%. The rest is needless “bloat” which makes it more difficult for people like me to master the basics.

Battery pack …    Anker 20100          Excellent. If only I could accept that it will charge everything time and time again!

Stove …     Jet Boil Flash                Excellent. Water boiling before I put the coffee in the cup. (Really.)

Hiking poles …     Craghoppers            A first for me, but having used them, I ‘m sure they help to climb hills, balance in tricky situations (eg. bogs, sharp descents) and security ( fending off animals and strange people that come too close.)

Shoes .. .     Primark & Addidas         The Primark shoes would have been fine for the whole walk, but the stoney forest roads were just too sharp and uneven for the thin soles. They dry quickly, have a generous toe box, little drop and are flexible. Perfect for walking with a Morton’s Neuroma.                                                  The Addidas trail shoes protected my feet from the forest roads, and gave pretty good grip when needed.

Socks …    Armaskin Anti blister socks.             Amazing. I began the walk with a foot injury and blisters. A few days before I set off for Scotland, I had to abandon a walk just three miles from the start because the blisters were so painful.I began using these socks when I put the Addidas shoes on. The blisters did not worsen,     and over the next part of the walk they actually healed.                                                 My feet were in much better condition at the end of the walk than at the beginning.

I took a minimal amount of clothing due to space and weight. The days were unexpectedly warm, some hot. The nights were all cold. I wore every piece of clothing I had at night, and I was still cold.

Other Clothing                                                                                                                Pure merino wool long sleeved top, cotton trousers that convert to shorts, merino socks, two pairs of running socks, two pairs boxers, woolly hat, sun hat, fleecy long sleeved rugby jumper, thick cotton tee shirt, scarf, and a thick insulated, waterproof winter cycling jacket. Plus ordinary waterproof & breathable jacket & trousers.                                                                                                I used everything, nothing was surplus. I should have taken an extra top, like a woolly jumper, or another merino base layer, mainly for the night. The only items “laundered” (ie. rinsed in a stream, no soap) during the walk were one pair of boxers and two pairs of socks. This was also the time that I was able to rinse myself with water (no soap).  Huggies wet wipes were very good for a “dry wash” each evening.

Would I do it Again?                                                                                                                 Certainly, but I would reduce the weight I carried, somehow. I would trust the technology more, and I would try not to be so squeamish about paddling through bogs. Even with wet feet I was looking for a dry route through!                                   I would also consider taking my donkey. I think he would enjoy the walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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