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Archive for the ‘Annandale Way – Gem’ Category


Hoddom Castle – Sea  10 Miles

The final day started with a fine mist at the campsite, but thankfully no rain.  The distance was short, and although we were chasing the bus from Dumfries there was no real need to make a very early start.  Setting off from the castle at 9 am we were assured that it was a lovely walk through to Annan. The advice was spot on.  This really was a lovely river walk keeping to the bank all the way.

Hoddom Bridge, the Annan flowing Peacefully Below

Over the distance of the trail we had met surprisingly few people – ok no-one, apart from a few dog walkers in Moffat.  This was no exception, although the path looks well trodden and there are plenty of fisherman huts around.  We passed two guys fishing, the first two people on the path we had seen since leaving Moffat three days earlier.   The wildlife was out too for us.  Lots of ducks, including the ubiquitous Mallard, and plenty of Goosander which seemed to be leading us downstream for a while.

At Meinfoot a fantastic new footbridge has been constructed over the  Mein Water, saving a fairly lengthy detour to the nearest road bridge.  At Brydekirk we crossed the bridge (complete with violently pink Pub on the end of it) to continue along the opposite bank of the river.  You could tell we were reaching habitation now as there were a few more dog walkers passing here and there, giving us funny looks.

Wood Anenome, a lovely little white flower was displaying in little clumps in the more heavily wooded sections of the walk.  With the temperatures climbing a lot over the past week there was a definite feel of everything just about to burst into life.

After passing under the main Dumfries road we recrossed the river (here a blue tit was making its nest inside a hollow metal sign post) and entered Annan, firstly through some very pleasant parkland, then into the town centre itself where, with quite a bit of time in hand we stopped for a refreshment in the Blue Bell Inn.

We took our lives in our hands and crossed the road by the old road bridge and returned to the river.  It was now around three miles to the finish – the sun had come out and we could almost smell that salty sea air (ok I imagined the last bit).

As the way leaves Annan the river widens and there are salt marshes hoaching with wildlife.  The cycle network is followed for a while then the way leads off down a track towards the finish and the Solway Firth.  The finish, for some reason, isn’t at Barnkirk Point, but instead is just over 1km away at Newbiebarns, right in front of a large industrial complex.  Never mind eh!

Heron

Trail Rating 34/40 (85%)

Despite the rather naff finish (it really could have been sited a bit better) this really is a cracking short trial with a lot of good walking and plenty of interest along the way.  If you get the chance for a 4 or 5 day jaunt, do it.  It is also a perfect introduction for those who want to try backpacking for the first time with accessible campsites and plenty of facilities on the way.  Would I do anything differently?  I’m still debating which direction would be better to travel.  As we walked South I became more and more convinced that to walk from Sea to Source might just be a more satisfying way to walk.

Whatever way you walk this – it’s not overly spectacular, you don’t walk round a corner and have your breath taken away – it’s not that kind of walk.  It is (the thesaurus is a great thing) enjoyable, pleasant, agreeable, good, satisfying, gratifying, delightful, marvelous; entertaining, amusing, diverting, lovely and great all in one.  In other words – it’s nice.

Do it.  You wont regret it!

The End

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Lochmaben – Hoddom Castle – 14 miles

A shorter day was on the cards today so we decided to make  a quick getaway.  The rain had come overnight and the temperature had dropped considerably.  It was dry as we packed the tent, the dirty great big black cloud that was hovering nearby threatening to drop its load on us.

Carving from a Beech

Grahams the bakers on the main street provided us with a super breakfast and we were finally on our way at a very leisurely 10 o’clock.  The fine weather of the previous day had deserted us completely and as we passed the war memorial and bowling green a light drizzle started, kept off our backs for a while at least, as the path meandered its way through a nature reserve beside Castle Loch.  There are a series of fantastic carvings through here, all created with a chainsaw.  Most have been fashioned from the stumps of dead and fallen trees, the highlights being the Beech Tree carving from a fallen Beech, and the delightful Woodpecker and Red Squirrel right at the exit of the reserve.

The Way passed through quite an untidy farm before climbing a small ridge, giving some fine all round views.  The drizzle from earlier had stopped now, but the clouds continued to menace as we headed towards Parkend.  Here there was a very nice lady called Helen who runs a craft shop called The WEE BYRE Studio.

The WEE BYRE Studio

THE WEE BYRE STUDIO

The studio is right on a junction the path and as we passed we were wondering exactly what was in the rather pretty cottage that had parking advertised.  As we investigated, a woman (who introduced herself as Helen) came out and asked if we would like to have a look around.  The shop is small, but there are some wonderfully crafted items around – furniture, mirrors, baskets and some lovely framed photograph prints that really are worth a look (I seriously considered purchasing one but I had enough to carry as it was!).

Her hospitality was fantastic and it turns out that she is a great champion of the Annandale Way.  So much so that the she is planning to offer facilities to the intrepid walker.  It’s worth popping in:

  • Tea, Coffee and Biscuits are available when open
  • Camping available by arrangement (the grassy end of the car park makes a lovely place to pitch)
  • Quite a fantastic bathroom and shower facility on offer too! (by arrangement)
For those who may be interested in camping the email is: wee.byre @ virgin.net
(omit spaces between the @ – this is just to put off spammers)
Have a look at
for a wee bit more of an idea.

Road Walking

After leaving the studio there was a very pleasant section following the top of some flood defences, protecting the area from the stream fed from Hightae Mill Loch.  The rabbits were obviously not too bothered about flooding.  Some of the holes you could go potholing in!

This led to the first section of road walking, from the outskirts of Hightae up to the magnificent country house of Rammerscales, complete with one of the best tree houses I have ever seen (this thing would be worth about £250,000 in London).  On this section the Mossburn Animal Centre is passed which is…different.  If you are peckish or in need of a light refreshment there is a small café located in a porta-cabin.

The climb up to Rammerscales is short, and soon we were walking along a stony path through a Forestry Plantation.  Here was the second point that horses had made an adverse impact.  At one point the path turns away from the forest track and onto a grassy ride.  It is wide enough for walker and horse to use one part of the path each.  Instead the horses had managed to churn up a good 80% of the area between trees and fence.  It doesn’t matter to them – they don’t have to walk across the muddy divots created by the hooves.

I’ll get off my soap box now!

This whole section leads out onto moorland and eventually the prominant landmark – Joe Grahams Monument.  He was master of the Hunt for the Dumfries Foxhounds and apparently “showed such fine sport” that the monument was subsequently erected in his memory after his death at 80 years old.

Joe Grahams Monument

The route up to the monument is delightful, and extremely similar in character to sections of the Dales Way, though at times you have to be on your toes with the waymarking.  The rain and mist were down now as we neared the top and what, I imagine, would be a quite spectacular section of the walk when clear, was turned into a damp squib.  The area around the monument seems to have been used to re-enact the battle of the Somme.  Every inch of the field has been churned up badly by the cattle in it, making the ground very difficult to walk over.

From the monument the way is difficult to find as the exit to the field is hidden.  The best route to take is to follow the ridge down to the South East until a wall appears, then turn left, following the line of wall, to find the gate that leads back onto the official trail.

After leaving the monument behind this became a road walk for around 4 miles – apart from a short section along the river Annan, a taster of what was to come (there was a fisherman’s hut here where shelter could be taken).  Just after the two routes rejoined, the way finally made it down to the river permanently.  This area is close to Hoddom Castle and is obviously well walked, through some lovely woodland.  Wild garlic and Butterbur abound round here, with the garlic pungent in the damp air.  As we closed in on Hoddom Castle we had a reminder that even though the weather had been crap – there is always someone worse off than yourself.

I felt sorry for these guts. They looked miserable

Four decidedly pissed off looking horses were attempting to shelter under the one tree.  The look of utter disdain they gave us as we tried to say hello was superb!

Soon we crossed the a footbridge over the river and from there it was only around 200m to our campsite at Hoddom Castle.

This is one of the best sites I have stayed at.  Facilities are superb, bar and restaurant on site and one of the best kept I have seen.  They even had crazy golf and outdoor chequers!  The prices weren’t too bad either.  The pitch for the night was £11.50 for the two of us, a great price compared to some others! The meals in the restaurant are equally well priced!

Day Rating – 8/10

Again another superb day.  For us the weather had been poor which takes the enjoyment away at times, but again there is plenty of variety on the walk from lowland pasture to the Dales Wayesque walk up to Grahams monument.  It loses points on the amount of road walking – just a little too much for my liking and the state of the field (and waymarking) at Grahams monument.  The final river walk section was delightful and set up the next day perfectly, while the campsite is one of the best I have ever stayed at.

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Moffat – Lochmaben (18 Miles)

The previous evening had seen an improvement in the weather and a new arrival at the campsite.  A small backpacking tent had appeared near ours and it turned out to be a walker on the Southern Upland Way.  Just to give an idea of how remote the SUW is, this was the first place that he had had any facilities for 5 days.  As I write this I would imagine he still has another 5 days walking to reach the end.  We had a touch too much porridge in the morning, so, although we had a fair distance to go, we invited him across to share since we had the stove going already. (Ulterior  motive here – it would cut down our pack weights a little!).

Looking back towards Moffat at the SUW

Gear and Tent stowed we set off in fine fettle, making for the A701 which the way follows for half a mile or so.  This little stretch out of Moffat is delightful, crossing fields with fine views to the South and East before reaching a gate into a quiet lane.  This is quite an important junction, although there is nothing to indicate it, and it is where the Southern Upland Way and Annandale Way run together for around a mile.  The two paths and the river cross the three generations of the A/M74.  Firstly under the Motorway, then under the old dual carriageway bridge (now the A701), and finally across the river by the original incarnation just before turning right up Crooked Brae, a long and seemingly never-ending hill.

Near the top the routes part.  Ours took us through one of the now familiar Annandale Way gates (the level of funding that has gone into the infrastructure is impressive – this really has been well thought out) and headed down an old drove road to meet some sheep who didn’t know whether to run or follow us.  It really is quite surreal when a whole flock starts to follow you down the track.  It’s only day two – the socks couldn’t smell that badly already?

Baa!

Again the walking here is delightful – the path is easy to follow and the all round views are impressive, especially the size of the humongous Forest of Ae which dominates the hills to the West.

Eventually we reached a road that would run alongside Kinnel Water for a couple of miles, and where the road is unfenced is a potential wild camping spot.  The ground was fairly dry and with the river not far away it made a nice little spot – if you don’t mind waking up with a sheep in the tent that is!

Soon we left the road to enter some more forest, this time on the other side of the river.  The waymarking here again is a little dubious, but fortunately all roads lead to Rome meaning that even if you do guess wrong you should end up in the right place anyway.  The choice is of a higher or lower route – the official route takes the low road (take the finger posts literally) but the views are probably better on the upper route for just a little more effort.

Again the waymarking baffles after entering a field –  follow it literally or you could spend a bit of time wandering around aimlessly looking for the exit – a couple of waymarker posts wouldn’t go amiss occasionally. (For what its worth climb the field then follow the power lines to the gate in the far corner).  This brought us out to the A701 (again) which is busy and fast, although there is a good line of sight along the road at the point at which you cross.

View from the old Drove Road

The walk can be split here , picking up a bus onto St Anns or back to Beattock.  Our plan was to continue onto Lochmaben to a campsite there.  We stopped for a good rest just here, enjoying the good weather that was now accompanying us – most of the time.  The conditions had been very fickle – warm in the sun one minute and freezing when it hid behind a cloud the next.  Occasionally rain clouds would pass overhead or close by, spattering us with rain but nothing too serious – often in the distance there was some poor sod getting it sore, but it wasn’t us today.  That would wait for tomorrow.

Mud

After lunch and a good rest we were in for a shock.  As a signpost approached, the route had been taped off warning “Forestry Operations – Authorised Personnel Only”.  Most of the time I’m inclined to obey these instructions, but this was slightly different.  Having no idea of what route the Way took and the only directional information being the waymarkers (the route is not yet on OS mapping) we had little choice other than to go through.  No diversionary route was provided which at least could have helped.

Fortunately there was none of the usual racket which goes with intensive harvesting so we took the chance and went through.  It was a mess –  in fact a WWI trench would have been in better condition.  The route had practically been destroyed by tracked vehicles (possibly one of these tree eating machines) leaving deep mud everywhere.  To either side, no harvesting had taken place so with our full packs on it was a case of push through the trees and wade through mud.  The worst of it didn’t last too long though and soon we were back on slightly more manageable ground, before eventually sighing relief when we hit the forest track proper.

I really hope that the path through here is reinstated properly before it is reopened.

Enough of the bad stuff.  The walk through the remainder of the forest was very pleasant, and it wasn’t too long before we were out in open country – a very pastoral setting.  One of the attractions of the walk up to this point is the constantly changing landscape – moorland to forest; forest to lowland pasture.  Much is reminiscent of walks much further South.   There are times that you could be on the North Downs Way or the Ridgway – even the Dales Way.  This is probably the most enjoyable section – it’s…nice.  Charming might be a better description.

Just before the Way reaches Lochbrow Moor there is an official alternative route, mainly for dog walkers.  This avoids a dairy farm and again constitutes pretty good planning on the part of the development team.  Once past this, the way runs up a Beech lined farm track.  At the brow of the hill is a fantastic view over the flood plain of the Annan and beyond.  Even the M74 looked nice in the sun!

Time was pressing on and eventually we reached the point at which the Annandale Way splits.  There are two options – the first a lower level route mainly following the river via Lockerbie, and the other, (our choice) a slightly more upland route via Lochmaben.  We rested here for a while, around three miles short of our destination, before setting off again.  The sun was now dropping low in the sky giving the feeling of a late summer evening – wonderful.

Passing through a gate we walked along what looked like a newly created right of way for the path – it ran along the edge of a field in between wall and fence.  I now have begun to think that horse riders are very selfish creatures.  The path, which would have been very pleasant, had been churned up badly by horses hooves, leaving much of it a muddy 6ft wide mess.  Utterly selfish with no regard to other users – this was not the last time we would encounter this.  Inconsiderate….

Anyway, this just left us with a 2 mile or so road walk into Lochmaben, much of it along the B7020.  While a nice walk, more time had to be spent keeping an eye on the fast-moving traffic than the scenery.  The development of an alternative route here wouldn’t go amiss.

To end, the night was spent at the council Campsite in Lochmaben – the Kirk Loch site.  Although small this is a cracking little site, mainly for its location right by the Loch, but also its basic but clean facilities (the showers were superb). Even better there is a pub within spitting distance of the campsite which does very good pub grub.  All in all a great finish to the day.

Beech Lined Track at Lochbrow

Day Rating – 9/10

Another fantastic day, and this still gets a high score despite the forestry problems (not the trails fault) and the long road walk to Lochmaben.  It was a day of fine contrasts and constantly changing scenery which kept the interest level up for the whole day.  One highlight was the constant liquid song of the Skylarks overhead,  a feature of the walk.    Again the campsite was right next to the path, avoiding the necessity of a long detour to find a pitch for the night.  A stunning site with the swallows (house/sand martins?) giving us an aerobatics display over the Loch.

One of the best days trail walking I have experienced!

Kirk Loch Campsite - Lochmaben

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Moffat – Devils Beeftub – Moffat (14 Miles)

Our trail started on Sunday 10th April with a bus journey to Moffat.  The weather had been astounding in Glasgow and that carried on as we left Buchanan Street Bus Station on the X74, an unusually cheery driver entertaining the passengers with his quick wit and banter.

It takes around 40 minutes to get to Moffat on the bus and it dropped us, still in quite astounding spring weather in the towns High Street.

Our home for the next two nights was the superb Camping & Caravanning Club site situated just a few hundred yards from the bottom of the high street at Hammerlands.  The location is lovely, and although it was quite busy, we put the tent up leisurely and enjoyed the evening sun.  A walk around the site at dusk gave us the opportunity to watch a large population of bats flit in and out of the trees.  It almost felt like summer!

The view from Moffat Campsite

The next morning was day 1, and after making breakfast it was a nice change to leave most of the heavy gear and take a light pack for the circumnavigation of “the Beef Tub”.  Unfortunately for us, the summeresque weather of the previous weeks had packed up its bags and headed off back to its usual haunts, leaving the morning dreich and grey.

Right next to the site there is a large Co-op, which also happens to be on the way to the starting point (not to be confused with the official “start”) of the day.  The river Annan flows past the station car park where a large interpretation board gives plenty of information about the walk and the area.  We were on our way up the river – a very pleasant little walk for a mile or so before cutting across a field to an old coaching road.

Now the sky was turning from a grey to a disturbing black colour – the wind was cold and it wasn’t too long before the rain joined it.  A mile or so on down the road is where the loop around the beef tub begins, the preferred route forking to the left at a signpost then rising slowly up towards the A701 Moffat – Edinburgh Road.

On a clear day the views here would be increasingly spectacular.  It wasn’t clear and certainly wasn’t spectacular!  A heavy mist had descended along with the sort of rain that manages to insinuate its way through every piece of clothing it can find.  No view was forthcoming – we couldn’t even see the Beef Tub at this point.  Why didn’t we start yesterday?

If that was bad, it would shortly get a little worse.  As the green lane we were walking along crossed the A701 it climbed steeply up and over Eric Stane, briefly along the line of a Roman Road and past a Roman Watch Tower.  This is where it dawned on us that the path had been very sheltered – it was freezing up here!

On a clear day this would be a phenomenal section of the path, but we didn’t linger, instead re-crossing the road and starting the climb to the top of the Beef Tub Proper.

Suddenly the cloud lifted from the trig point

Something miraculous happened here.  As we climbed the rain stopped and, yes, the sun came out. Happy days!

The trig point sits right at the top of the Beef Tub but our route was to take us across the top of Chalk Rig Edge to the official start/finish.   The views up here are astounding, the ground surprisingly dry apart from one or two exceptions, and eventually we made it to the start a little drier than we had been an hour or so previously.

The start is marked with an impressive cairn, especially built for the Annandale Way.

Half the day gone and we had only just made it to the start!

At the cairn we turned right to start the descent, keeping to the left hand side of the fledgling river on a clear track.  Some of the waymarking has been inventive here including discs attached to a stone on the ground.  This whole area was a hive of activity as we descended.  Planting is going on here apace and at an estimate the size of the forest will be in the region of 3 or 4 Square Kilometers.  These are all native species as well – birch, alder and ash seemed to be in among the saplings that we had a look at.

Eventually we found our way down to the road along the bottom of the glen, the waymarking going from brilliant to non-existent in the space of a few meters and began the tramp back to Moffat.  The sun was out, the daffodils delightful – it was a far cry from the start of our day in the rain and it was easy to enjoy the walking, even if it was on tarmac.  Eventually we made it back to the river walk that we had started on – the water incredibly pure and clear bubbling slowly past.  A fine way to end the first day.

Day Rating 9/10

Although the weather spoiled things a little early on this is a fantastic section of the walk.  In fine weather the views are second to none and more importantly, like most of the walking in the South of Scotland, the footpaths are never crowded.  Some of the waymarking is a little dubious on the descent, but you can’t really go wrong –  there is only one place that you can aim for.  A really enjoyable day.

There is also plenty to see and do in Moffat.  If you have a sweet tooth visit the Moffat Toffee Shop.  This is a traditional sweet shop and you will find some old classics ready just to eke out that nostalgic feeling!

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The Annandale Way

 

The number of Long Distance Paths in Scotland is growing steadily with the West Highland Way being one of the most iconic in Britain.  All others seem to hide from the limelight, preferring to bask in the reflective glory of their older sibling.  Some like the Great Glen Way and the Speyside Way are increasing in popularity, while others remain more difficult logistical challenges than anything else, the Southern Upland Way being a prime example.  Other local paths exist, the River Ayr Way (the first source to sea path in Scotland) and the Cowal Way are less well known, but are striving to increase in popularity.

One of the most recent additions to the network of trails in Scotland is the Annandale Way, opened on the 12th September 2009.  It is a young pup of a trail and fairly short in the grand scheme of things coming in at 55 miles – the only reason I knew of its existence was the chance passing of some fingerposts while driving to Dumfries one day in 2010.  From that day my curiosity was aroused and it was only a matter of time before it would be added to the list of completed trails.

Access to the start and finish of the trail by Public Transport is superb. If starting at Moffat

  • From the North take the X74 Glasgow – Dumfries bus.  This stops in Moffat.
  • From the South take the train to Dumfries then the X74 to Moffat.

If starting in Annan there is a railway station close to the start so:

  • From the North X74 to Dumfries, then take the train (one stop) to Annan
  • From the South, just get the train to Annan

Simple!

Sponsored

Usually the reasons for walking Long Distance Paths are no more complicated than “because it’s there”.  This time, although I had planned to walk this anyway, it became an opportunity to raise money in support of one of my work colleagues.  The wife of Dougie Anderson is suffering from relatively advanced Motor Neurone disease – we were attempting to raise money to help fund the purchase of an electric wheelchair – a vital piece of much-needed equipment.  At the time of writing this we have had a total raised at around the £350 mark.   I would expect this total to raise a little as all donations are brought together and collated.

A huge thank you to all who sponsored us on this venture, and an even bigger thank you to:

This meant we raised £65 on the walk itself.  Again, thank you all.

Camping or B&B?

For us, this was a full camping experience.  There are plenty of official campsites on the route, and they all have the advantage of being right on the path.  I will go into more detail later.

Baggage transfer is available, if doing this B&B, but it is a service provided by the proprietors.

That’s enough background – onto the walk!


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