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On Monday 24th February I received a phone call from my son Aaron to join him on a gentle stroll along the banks of the Clyde. I must admit to being less than enthusiastic for two reason: the first being that we had walked a section of the walkway three weeks before and I was less than impressed. That section was Garrion Bridge to Strathclyde Country Park, just outside Motherwell. I’m sure in better weather it would have made a greater impression. The second is that I’m a bikeaholic and I was planning to put in a few miles on what looked to be the only decent day of the week. However, I agreed and dutifully picked Aaron up at 9.30am from his home in Carstairs.

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Our start point was New Lanark, the impressive World Heritage site which is Mill and model housing complex set up by David Dale and Robert Owen in in the 1780’s. The place illustrates the way Owen strove to find a practical , dignified and humane alternative to the soulless drive for profit by his capitalist contemporaries.

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We parked in the car park at the top of the hill and wandered down to New Lanark itself. We went to have  a quick look at the SYHA hostel; unfortunately it wasn’t open. However we did get a look at the row of tenements that have received a large grant for their renovation. We then progressed to the Walkway itself.

Initially we followed a path close to the river which was well in spate. The path soon petered out under a substantial cliff and we could clearly see the path above us. It would have taken climbing skills that I have long lost to reach the path. So it was a case of retracing our steps and climbing the road to the start of our journey. Moral: make sure you have a map with you and don’t rely on memory or a GPS map.

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Once on the Walkway the surface was excellent and dropped rapidly down to a view point we could clearly see from our aborted start. The view back along the river included the impressive mill buildings. From there the path took us through some pleasant woodland showing a carpet of snow drops, a clear indication that spring is on its way and the appalling winter is on its way out. At Castle Bank the path climbs to a quiet back road which we followed for about half a kilometre, past the sewage works to Clydesholme Bridge, where we crossed the river to Kirkfield Bank. After a kilometre of pavement walking we recrossed the river at the footbridge just below Linnville. The bridge passed over a weir that was absolutely spectacular with the river in spate as it was today. Only a few more steps took us to the equally impressive Stonebyres Falls. Unfortunately the amount tree cover conspired to prevent us taking any worth while photographs.

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The path now became extremely muddy, making me regret not taking walking poles with me. The route was well fenced along the steep sided banks of the river, offering us plenty of security on this section of the walk. After a further half kilometre we came to the rather uninspiring power station, that we were expecting to encounter on this section of the walk. The vista now suddenly became more open with pasture to our right and woodland screening our views of the river. However, the view to the right was far more interesting as we spotted a group of hares hiding in the long grass, quite close to the fence. It is incredible how well camouflaged these animals were. We paused to take photographs and were treated to a most entertaining bout of boxing and general lunatic running around, by these beautiful lagomorphs. No wonder the term “Mad as March Hare” has arisen. Apparently the boxing is nothing to do with males trying to attract a female or establish a pecking order, it is the females putting off over sexed males when she is not ready to mate! The females are able to “punch” great lumps of fur out of the males during this ritual. With the amount of chasing and running that was going on it didn’t seem to put the males off. I bitterly regret not putting the camera on the burst mode or I  may have obtained a more comprehensive set of photos of our hares antics.

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After spending at least 15 minutes being entertained by these crazy animals we pushed on through Big Wood to Carfin and the Valley International Park. There is a narrow gauge railway here and what looks like a substantial family attraction. We passed on and crossed the bridge into Crossford for a well earned lunch break. I can recommend the Village Post Office where they will prepare freshly cooked bacon rolls and other items of hot food. Retracing or steps to the walkway I noticed some uninspiring flats near the river. However, what was more noticeable, in view of recent wet weather, was that they were built on stilts with a car park underneath. May be companies building on flood plains should take note of a sensible idea!

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Once on the route the walk was now a pleasant riverside stroll and it was interesting to note the number of properties built close to the river, some with obvious defenses others just taking a chance. It was along this section that we encountered a considerable landslip, fortunately well away from the path. This just shows how wet this winter has been, even here in Scotland.

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At Waygateshaw House the route began to climb through a narrow strip of woodland, on a very muddy path, with a number of trees downed by the winter storms. Continuing through the woodland the way followed the contours, marked by the largest way posts I have ever seen. The local “trolls” had attempted to saw through one, only to give up after just a third the way through. Obviously too much like hard work! However, they had more success pulling the information plaques off the innovative information posts. Typical brainless vandalism!

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After negotiating the muddy woodland paths we dropped down to open area with Rosebank on the opposite side of the river. It was here that we spotted the unusual site of a Cormorant sitting in a tree. The photos we took were either slightly out of focus or too far away but I have included one nevertheless. Pushing on close to the river for a further kilometre and a half the walk was once again very pleasant, climbing slightly into some woodland. It was here that Aaron was very nearly mugged of his Snickers Bar by a very active Springer Spaniel, obviously as hungry as us. His owner walked with us towards Garrion Bridge saying that the area was well flooded during December, confirmed by a bridge washed several metres from the stream it should have crossed. It was marvelous to watch the ground that our new found friend, the spaniel, covered as we walked along. It would be interesting to put a GPS on a dog like this just to see how much ground it would cover in a days walking. One hell of a lot more than us I would guess!

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Finally we arrived at Garrion Bridge ten minutes after the bus back to Lanark. The decision was made to walk through to Rosebank, on the road footpath, to find somewhere to have a pint while we waited the hour and a half for the next bus. The two and a half kilometres finally “did me in”, with the walking total just over 14 miles. Some short walk Aaron, and we still had to walk from Lanark to New Lanark in heavy rain that had threatened all day.

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The final walking total was 15.3 miles.

This is a great days walk and given another couple of weeks of warm dry weather, with spring flowers and new leaves on the trees , it will be spectacular. If you do it look for the “Mad March Hares”, their antics are most entertaining and the Sand Martins which have nesting holes close to the path . Check the bus times before setting out!

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I will leave the scoring of this one to Aaron, but for my mind 8 or 9 out of ten?

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Firstly

A Happy New Year to all my visitors, wherever you hail from!

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The choice of walk this year was a local one – a figure of eight from the small village of Twechar taking in a couple of Roman Forts and the Forth & Clyde Canal.

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There was a blue sky and a bitter wind as we set off to Barhill Fort, a hugely important relic of the Antonine Wall and one of the best preserved sections.

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Close by is an Iron Age Fort giving some stunning views across the Kelvin Valley.  We get a nice aerial display from a buzzard enjoying the strong breeze.

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We followed the line of the wall, the defensive ditch remarkably well preserved, heading towards the large bar and restraunt at Auchinstarry.

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The basin was busy with walkers and boats, although the pub was unfortunately closed.

From there we followed the South side of the Canal bank, heading along a network of paths towards Croy.

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The path was steadily rising and eventually burst out the trees with extensive views east.

Here we turned back towards Twechar, heading up and over Croy Hill, once again following the line of the Antonine Wall and the remarkably well preserved ditch.  It is easy to forget that you are walking in between the urban sprawl of central Scotland, and this section is even slightly reminiscent of Hadrians Wall.

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We passed Auchinstarry again (the pub was still shut) and completed the walk by following the canal back to Twechar and the car.

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Happy New Year all!

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The Water of Leith Walkway is a 12 mile path through the heart of Edinburgh.

Much of it has existed since the early 80’s, but the full route from Balerno to Leith was completed in 2002.

It was a fine autumnal morning, and as we walked to catch a bus to the start I was already regretting not having brought my sunglasses.  There was still a bite to the air, though, and a chill wind that was blowing heartily.

The start of the walk is just outside the High School in Balerno and marked with a metal map of the river embedded in the surface of the walkway.

The sculpture at the start

It’s a little bit of an odd place to start, rather than in the centre of Balerno, but you are immediately walking by the river through some delectable woodland.  The path here is an old railway line that hugs the bank of the river.  This was part of the Caledonian Railway, this particular route running from Slateford to Balerno and eventually closing to goods traffic in 1967.

This is a delightful section of the walk, and it is shared amicably with cyclists and dog walkers galore, the only hint that you may actually be walking through the outskirts of a city.  The surface is good, but not hard.  A blessed relief to know that the next 12 miles wont be exclusively on concrete.

Houses at Currie

There are one or two places where buildings are passed, even a rather large and very new looking estate near the bypass, but the buildings are all very tasteful and not out of place.  There is even an old railway tunnel to walk through!

Once under the bypass the river enters Colinton Dell with its warren of paths.  It is like a secret world here that can only be accessed on foot, and it is well worth the visit!

A weir in Colinton Dell

There are old mills down here as well, and a still functioning mill race adding to the interest of the walk.

All too soon the river bursts from the dell to cross the Slateford Road.  Here there is a nice surprise – the Water of Leith Visitors centre, where you can pop in for a spot of tea or just a wander around the impressive displays.  From here there s a brief interlude as the river meanders through assorted industrial estates, but before long Saughton Park is entered with its rather pretty Wintergardens.

Just beyond this the walkway leaves the river for a while, not by choice, because of the ongoing (say this very quietly in Edinburgh or you will be surrounded by a thousand complaining locals) tramworks meaning a diversion takes you to Murryfield Stadium by way of a couple of residential streets.

Home of Scottish Rugby

There is a great chance to view the home of Scottish Rugby, Murryfield Stadium, and also the impressive Art Deco Ice Rink that sits next door to it.

Entrance to Gallery of Modern Art

The river is now heading towards the centre of the city, but there is still a real “village” feel to the walk, even more so as it passes the gallery of modern art and into Dean Village.  There are more diversions here as well – there is ongoing flood defence work on the river almost all the way into Leith.

Dean bridge sits high above the river carrying the A90 to the city centre just a few hundred yards away.  There is a very Germanic feel to some of the buildings down here though.

The next stop is the very cosmopolitan Stockbridge, and again another diversion because of flood defence work.  This did mean a stop in the pub for a plate of soup and a pint, although at 6.5% I was in danger of tipping into the water on the last stage.

Once again the walkway takes the route of an onld railway, finishing as it started.  There is the option to stay with the river, which we did, but it’s probably not really worth the bother, especially with all the work going on at the moment.

The Shore in Leith

Eventually we emerged at Leith docks and the end of the walk, another sculpture marking the finish of a very enjoyable days walking.

Day Rating 8/10

Charming walk through the City of Edinburgh.  A real surprise as there is never really the impression that the walker is in a City.  Plenty of wildlife, architecture and places to visit along the way.  Well worth taking a day to walk if you have the chance.  recommended

 

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Dumgoyne and Earls Seat (6.5 miles)

The “Lump” that is Dumgoyne

Those that have walked the West Highland Way will be familiar with the distinctive shape of Dumgoyne, the first landmark on the journey North, sitting just behind the Glengoyne Distillery and slightly detached from the Campsie Fells.  The “Campsies” as they are known locally are a range of extinct volcanos that sit just North of Glasgow, Dumgoyne situated on the very Western end of the hills.

On the way up

The Campsies are very non-descript hills.  Peat Hags (sounds like the name of an old Scottish Witch….a “Peat Hag”..hmmm), sphagnum moss and generally (relatively) unexciting scenery abound once you get into the guts of the hills, although there are one or two notable exceptions.

Dumgoyne, and the walk to Earls Seat is just one of these exceptions.  The hill itself, while not particularly big in the grand scheme of things, is an utter pig to walk up.  It is just a large lump of rock, a volcanic plug, and whichever way you go up it leads to a steep, arduous (and thankfully) relatively short climb.  The popular route is frequented so often that it has started to resemble an easy scramble, although there is a slightly more sensible option that eventually contours round the hill, rather than battering straight up a near vertical slope (the last bit is exagerated….slightly).

The top….phew

I may not be selling this very well so far, but bear with me.  Even as you begin to climb the views are superb, opening up to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to the north and tantalising glimpses over Glasgow to the South.  Once at the top (and the spinning stars, purple haze and temporary oxygen deprivation has rescinded) you are treated to a wonderful all round vista.  On a clear day, the mountains of Arran can be seen to the West.  Tinto, at the Northern End of the Southern Uplands stands clear and alone with its distinctive shape, and to the North and East, fine views of Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and a unique perspective of the Southern Highlands of Scotland.

From the other side. Looking towards Glasgow

So unique, that without a map I was struggling to work out which peaks were which.  Needless to say though, the views are superb.  If walking the West Highland Way in good weather, it really is worth while making time to get to the top to give yourself a sneak preview of what is to come.

Dumgoyne in its full glory

The way off the back is just as steep and scrambly as the ascent, and as the hill is distinctly separate from the rest of the Campsies there is no choice other than rapidly descend over 150ft before breathing a (very big) sigh of relief.

Coming down off Dumgoyne there is a clear and well used track heading towards Earls Seat, a Marilyn at less that 2000ft.  The path is easy to follow and gradually rises on to Garloch Hill and turns into a delightful and undulating ridge walk.  The route progresses from “the Garlochs”, over Bell Craig, and up onto the Ballagan Tops before turning South East to rise gently to the trig point that marks Earls Seat.  On the way up, you get a good indication of the bleak and boggy nature of the Campsies.  Away from the ridge the lower ground is covered in, bog cotton, sphagnum moss and peat hags (what there’s more than one witch?).  Large pools of standing water abound and it is wise not to stray too far onto the lower ground, risking getting wet feet at best, and stuck in a bog at worst.

A sneaky view north

Once again though, the views from Earls Seat are well worth the effort, and from here there is a spectacular view over Glasgow.  There is also the added bonus of being able to watch aircraft as they land at Glasgow Airport, the Campsies being directly under the preferred flight path.

On the way up to Earls Seat

We returned by the same route to the car, which was parked in a layby close to the Distillery.

Day Rating 9/10

Steep climb to start, but very enjoyable ridgewalk and fabulous all round views.  A must for anyone living close to Glasgow.  Recommended as an excursion off the West Highland Way.

Loch Lomond on the way back

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Glen Finglas and the Mell

Ben Venue from a distance

An early start this morning in glorious sunshine to head up to the Trossachs for a day walk that turned out to be bang on 17 miles.

The walk is a part linear, part circular – a walk past the Finglas Reservoir, to where the route splits, then a big circle climbing to over 600m, all on farm track.  The walk itself starts near Brig O’ Turk, and while it is tempting to cut a little distance off the route by parking at the dam, it is really worth the extra effort starting just up the road at the “Glen Finglas Car Park”

So it was here I started, in an empty car park – not particularly early, starting to walk just before 9 – in glorious spring sunshine, with perfect light and not a cloud in the sky.   Driving up over Dukes Pass, it was so tempting to stop and take a few snaps – and I regret not doing so now – a couple of magic moments were missed.

The first section of this path is fantastic, and shares a waymarked route with some woodland trust trails – there are plenty of shortish routes that can be walked from here.  Climbing fairly steeply, the path pops out from the trees, rewarding you with panoramic views towards Loch Ard and beyond.  It is easy walking, and there has been a generous allocation of benches along the path for those that want to sit and enjoy the quite fantastic views.  Again, I was tempted, but with rather a long way to go, it was a case of snatch a few photos and press on.

One of the early viewpoints

Once on the hill, the path contours round into the Glen itself, again with plenty of viewpoints and seats – this really is a section of the walk not to be missed.  Eventually it drops down to an access road for a farm (run by the woodland trust I think) that sits on the reservoir, mettled at first, then just a stony farm track.  The walk along the reservoir is very pleasant, and with it being so still, the water made for some great reflections from the surrounding hills and sky.  A number of Canada geese were wandering about on the track here, and started honking loudly as I approached, before flying off in perfect formation over the water (another photo opportunity missed).  Near the head of the reservoir there is a junction, right takes you towards Balqhuidder and is signed “the Mell” and is the route I took as the clouds started encroaching on the perfect sky.

Glen Finglas stretching away behind the reservoir

The glen here was not so interesting, and a little bland, so out came the ipod and on went (a rather eclectic) mix of music – much of which I don’t have a clue how it managed to get onto it!  It does however wander along the lower slopes of Benvane, (the little brother of Ben Ledi), which towers above it to the right.

Looking back over the reservoir before heading up "the Mell"

Once at the head of the glen the track climbs quickly, and looking back you begin to get a reward, the reservoir just peeping out at you in the distance.  Views open up to the North as well, Ben More and the Stob looking like they were getting a bit of a pasting from the vanguard of cloud that seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

Looking right back down the Glen that has just been walked up

Dropping into Glen Finglas itself, after passing a cairn that marked the high point, again was a tad bland, although some grand views began to open up over the reservoir as the track contoured round its upper slopes.

The reservoir with Ben Ledi in the background

Once the reservoir was in sight again, it was a very enjoyable tramp to complete the circuit and return along the outward route.  Looking back though presented the sight of a rather large cloud, spewing its contents over Glen Finglas and heading at speed in my general direction.  Out came the waterproofs, away went the camera, only for it to pass quickly and the sun to appear.

Last photo of the day. 10 Minutes later it was raining!?

It was probably inevitable then, that when I gave into the excessive heat of having the cag on – it started raining heavily – all the way back to the car.

Sods Law!

Day Rating 6.5/10

The good bits are great, the not so good bits are meh!  Worth it for the views at the top of the Mell and over the reservoir.  However the first mile or so is worth doing on its own.  The weather made it a good day – just a pity the sun didn’t hold on to the end.  Hey-ho!

Plenty of options for different walks here – Benvane or Ben Ledi are easily accessible, although it is a bit of a walk in.

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Tibbie Sheils and the Southern Upland Way

 

With the weather forecast being pretty reasonable, I decided to return to the Borders and walk a section of the Southern Upland Way (SUW), returning to Tibbie Shiels via a route that would in essence create a giant figure-of-eight loop.

I had managed to extract myself from bed on time and drove the scenic route to the start point, hoping that the cafe at the car park might be open for a nice bacon roll.  No such luck.  The car park was deserted as was the cafe, so getting the gaiters on I made a leisurely start at around 9:30, crossing the stone bridge that crosses the short river that connects the Loch of the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch.

Looking over Loch of the Lowes

Passing the Inn (opened by the wife of a molecatcher after his death, and who the place is named after) I was on the SUW, climbing steadily and quickly along a farm/forestry track.  While not particularly arduous, the track just seemed to rise steadily on for ever.  There was, however, ample compensation with the views opening up behind me.  Naturally I had to stop every so often to turn round and enjoy them!

Looking towards Pikestone Rig and Peniestone Knowe with the Ettrick Horseshoe in the distance.

At a rather out of place metal signpost, the way turned off the track into some forest for a brief moment, before bursting out the trees at a stile.  Suddenly I had a superb view, looking up a glen with the Ettrick Horseshoe in the background, still covered in smattering of snow.  Not having paid much attention to the map, and suddenly losing a lot of height very quickly, I assumed that the way would be following Whitehope Burn along the bottom of the glen.  How wrong I was.  The path quickly climbed out the glen, leaving me breathless and staring around at the astounding views, including a glimpse of Tibbie Sheils Inn nestled in the distance on St Mary’s Loch.  The ridgewalk along Pikestone Rig was wonderful (and superbly waymarked) with a fine view of Broad Law in the distance – one of the highest (I was going to say peak, but most of these hills are just big lumps) hills in the Southern Uplands, and a Corbett to boot.

At this point I had a fine tail wind and was romping along, the way contouring delightfully above the Scabcleuch Burn which it follows down to the Ettrick Water.  It was here I left the SUW turning left as it turned right to head towards Moffat, a mere 16 miles away.  This was now a short road walk along a delightful valley that is more reminiscent of the Dales or the Lakes than Scotland, the commercial forestry the only thing that marks this area out as being in quite a different location.  Lunch was had in the shelter of Ettrick Kirk, keeping me comfortably out the wind before starting to make my way alongside the Kirk Burn along a route that would see me complete a circumnavigation of Craig Hill, which sports some exceedingly large cairns.

Looking over Ettrick Kirk

It is important to note now, that the presence of a path on the map does not necessarily mean there is a path on the ground (even when the path has a nice big signpost telling you that St Mary’s Loch really isn’t that far away!).  I managed to follow a rough quad bike route that was heading in my general direction, before that petered out and I was left to trail blaze my own route into a hefty head wind.  In less than ideal conditions this would have to be a map and compass job and I certainly would not want to attempt this route without either in my possession.  It was tough going as well, with high tussocks, wet ground and a couple of deep burns all having to be negotiated, as well as the wind.  It was with some relief that I reached the SUW again where another metal signpost points to Ettrick Kirk.  No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see a path on the ground – still, all good fun!

The Southern Upland Way on the return journey

Steps were retraced on the SUW for a Kilometer or so, before striking off to take a slightly more direct route back to the car.  A clear path contoured round Peat Hill, then suddenly there was the Loch of the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch spread out before me.  The path I was on traversed a rather steep slope as I slowly descended to the Loch Side – again not so much a path as a motley collection of sheep tracks which turned into a real strain on the ankles.  It was a great relief to reach the Lochside and follow a slightly better used path that made its way back to the car park.

I hadn’t met  a soul all day, which surprised me a little, as Tibbie Sheils is a popular place and can get busy.  This, however, was a Tuesday in February and I had the hills to myself.  A fantastic days walking which has given me an appetite to have a stab at the SUW.

Loch of the Lowes (foreground), St Mary's Loch (background) and Tibbie Sheils Inn between

Day Rating 9/10

Thoroughly enjoyable.  The SUW along here is a delightful section of path with fantastic all round views.  I was pushed along nicely by the wind for the first half, but really toiled walking into it over rough ground on the way back, which is why it doesn’t get a 10 (for making it hard work!).  This area is spectacular and it always strikes me as strange that it just isn’t as popular as the traditional “walking” areas around the UK.  The Borders really are brilliant!  Go there.

Southern Scotland at its best!

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Ettrick Pen

I decided to do a walk in the Borders for a change – the Ettrick Horseshoe was to be the destination, a fine and airy round that gives fine views all round.  The only problem is it is a swine to get to.

Struggling to evict my carcass from bed this morning I eventually made it out the door before 10am.  All well and good, but I had miscalculated badly.  It took over 2 hours to get to the start point – much of which was over fairly slow country roads.  You know that you are going somewhere remote when a B road is marked as single track on the map!

The SUW and the bothy just visible. Ettrick Pen is out the shot to the left

Eventually I made it to the start point, setting off at 12 o’clock on the dot in fine weather.  The sun was shining and with the snow lying heavily around 50m above it looked like it could be a good day.  Initially the Southern Upland Way was followed for around a mile or so (it crosses Ettrick Head at its lowest point then proceeds to make its way right down the centre of the horseshoe) at which point I turned off to follow a forest track to Ettrick Pen, the highest point on the route and the start of the round.

The best photo of the day - near the summit

It was here I had to make a decision – as I reached the snow line, very conscious of the fact time was marching on – I decided all I would do was a simple circuit onto Ettrick Pen.  While I could have walked half the Horseshoe and returned on the SUW I wasn’t convinced that I could do it while still light, and more importantly, avoid more snow – rain had been forecast for the afternoon and with some menacing looking cloud coming in the day was to be sensibly shortened.

With no clear path to work with I struck off across country, heading towards a couple of cairns marked on the map.  To say it was tough going was an understatement.  Wandering across the tussocks is sapping at the best of times but add deep snow it becomes far more entertaining.  Eventually I made it to the cairns – the horseshoe gradually appearing in all it’s glory as I gained height.

Looking back at my route in

The view here was fine, showing the lower ground free of snow, but with wisps of mist forming in the low areas.  I pressed on up to the pen, following the fence line along a quad bike track – right up to the summit the track had been followed by a fox, the tracks standing out clearly in the snow.  Unfortunately I must have obliterated most of them, as both myself and the fox were following the line of least resistance.

There is a large summit cairn, and fine views East and South West.  The Eildon Hill stand out as a landmark in the distance, marking Melrose and the start of both the St Cuthberts Way and Borders Abbeys Way.

Following the fenceline I to a turn, I started to descend, first following a barely discernible path until it vanished under the snow, then piling through sometimes knee deep in the stuff, until I finally reached the track I had come up on.

The view from the first Cairn - Worth clicking on

Retracing my steps back to the SUW I popped into the bothy here for a nosey and spent a while sitting in one of their rather comfortable chairs reading the log book.  Curiosity satisfied it was only a short walk back to the car.

Day Rating 7/10

Enjoyable little jaunt.  Not as far as I wanted to go, but I always like a bit of a frolic in the snow and the views were great.  My own fault for sleeping in.

On the journey home. Spectacular view on the Tweedsmuir Road!

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