Yellowcraigs beach in East Lothian must have set a Guinness World Record last summer. One night saw 180 tents camped on the beach, according to a couple of rangers we chatted to on our second day here. Thankfully, last weekend, it was much, much more peaceful.
Dave, Young Johnston and I shared the sights and sounds of this coastline with just a couple of others groups and although I’ve been here before, I’ve never brought the canvas.
Arriving at about 7pm on the Friday, we were pitched by half past and had the fire going and the salmon and burgers cooking. Although I had forgotten the tomato sauce, which my two companions were most unhappy about.
The fire created some beautiful shapes and shadows. Whatever was in the shadows watched us head to bed at about 11pm.
Sunrise the next morning was pretty lovely.
Breakfast, some hot chocolate and some paddling set us up for the return to the car.
According to a couple of rangers we chatted to, one night last summer saw 180 tents pitched on the beach. Don’t fancy that.
The name of the rural house to my right as I drove over the line separating the Scottish Borders from Dumfries and Galloway which made me giggle. On a par with “Cauldhame”, another building moniker I’ve seen on a walk which would surely make you re-think whether it was the best place to live your life.
The heat of the early morning sun was creating the only mists for miles as frost melted and the blue skies stretched over the southern hills. Only a few weeks earlier I’d stepped over the border between the two local authorities at Ettrick Head in the opposite direction as I walked some of the Southern Upland Way with Mr Clyde. Today I was out with Neil in the same area, even walking some of the same route, but with a different plan.
We met at the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre, and after a wander around the grounds of the centre decided what to do with our vehicles and headed to Moffat in Neil’s car.
We were walking along the road leaving Moffat almost as quickly as we had driven in, such was our wish to be out in the open countryside. Once again following the Southern Upland Way path I walked with Mr C recently along the river and up the track, it’s always interesting to see a path on different days and in different weathers. There’s also the chance to see something you might have missed first time around. For me it was realisation that I had been calling the main SUW route over Croft Head the “high level route”, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort, it is the main SUW route. Today’s route would continue along the lower level “poor weather route”. Language is important and I kicked myself a little for my sloppiness.
So at Damsel Shoulder, we kept to the forest track and along the poor weather route (also known as the Romans and Reivers Route) and continued walking through the plantations, a wooded feature that would become the norm over the next two days. As well as the abandoned shielings, definitely an under-rated art form as well as practical in their own right.
Neil had mentioned Garrogill in passing as being the toughest part of the day but I don’t think either of us had realised how tough until we saw it. Almost 200m of ascent in less than a km of walking. Even with the plantations the view down the valley was beautiful.
From the top of Garrogil it was a steady drop in ascent down to the bothy, initially on a trail and then later on a forest road.
The wood and extra food/water we were carrying were starting to take it’s toll on our backs and shoulders and we were pretty excited to catch site of the Dryfehead bothy roof as we closed in.
The bothy is in a lovely spot, surrounded by the Dryfe Water and Rue Gill (making me wonder why I’d carried as much water with me….) and consists of three rooms, two with fires.
Already inside we met Morten (who we found out was the MO) and Jack (who made the fab new table you can see in the picture below) and they were just finishing a weekends labouring in the right hand room. A cuppa and a whole pack of jammy dodgers restored our energy after the walk in and as Morten and Jack set off, we made up our bed spaces for the evening in the left hand room.
We were joined later by Michael and Morag, and later still by Leah and Keir, who’d walked the same route as us but were heading back the same way to Moffat the next day, while we would be heading towards Eskdalemuir. As darkness fell, Neil became fire chief and the bothy heated up really quickly. We had our tea and as the whisky was removed from our bags the atmosphere became as warm as the the now roaring fire as we all chatted about walking, whisky, primary teaching, Labour Party leaders, Gaelic and a whole lot more besides.
As you’ll see below, I took no pictures of day 2. A combination of weather, recurring plantation views and maybe some icky belly from a little too much Highland Park meant the camera stayed hidden in the depths of my jacket pocket. It’s not like we didn’t reach our final destination in Eskdalemuir, with us vanishing into a bothy black hole, but Dryfehead was a great end to day one, and quite honestly I could have stayed on for a good few days as it is a fab bothy in a lovely location. After breakfast we said goodbye to our new chums and headed for that final destination.
The walk to Eskdalemuir and the Samye Ling Monastery was a breezier affair than the day before and our waterproofs kept us protected from the elements. The number of spruce trees we saw clearly explained the “timber” road we had seen the day before on the way to Moffat. The area is full of forest plantations and the trees and their cheering arms followed us all the way home.
We threw around a lot of Gaelic words around the fire on Sunday night. The best one that I think would describe this trip would be “sgoinneil”, which interestingly includes Neil’s name in it, but also means brilliant or fantastic.
According to the LearnGaelic dictionary, Garbhlach apparently means rugged country. And this was where I was heading for a bluebird weekend with some of the boys, a roam around the rough corrie and the wider expanse of Glen Feshie, one of my favourite glens.
Coming from different parts of the country, we all converged on the car park at Achlean on Saturday morning. Our bags bursting with wood and coal, we planned a wander into the glen as far as Ruigh Aiteachain bothy. From there we dropped our stuff, set up camp and backtracked to the corrie, which we’d seen from a distance on the way past.
Coire Garbhlach starts out as a wide, rocky mess, the remnants of winter storms gone by (e.g. Storm Desmond). The Allt Garbhlach quickly narrows as it heads east but it’s clarity is obvious from its confluence with the River Feshie.
The going was quite hard, rock hopping and river riding towards the first big twist in the corrie. We could see some simple tracks uphill from the floor so we tramped towards the first of these tracks.
Onward towards the corrie head wall, we came across a really cool waterfall , un-named on the map, but definitely worthy of a title.
By now, time was getting on and we had a couple of choices. Either head back the way we came through the tight and rocky corrie, or we head out of the corrie (through Fionnar Choire) and walk around the top of the cliffs.
Deciding on the latter, we followed the fast flowing burn up out of Coire Garbhlach and then climbed up the steep side of Fionnar Choire onto the plateau.
The views in all directions make the sweat and tears of the climb, as well as the time pressures become momentarily forgotten about.
The snow was hard going in places but fine in others.
The walk around the rim of Coire Garbhlach was a fantastic end to a glorious day. We’d expected to be down and off the hill long before tea time, but this unexpected lateness (or poor prep!) gave us the finest mountain sunset I’ve seen in a long time.
Darkness fell and we reached the top of the road down towards Glen Feshie just in time. The walk down was quiet as we were all shattered from our days efforts. But the glow of the sunset reflected the glow in our minds from the amazing day we had just experienced.
Back at camp, our bellies were filled and beds were calling.
The next morning we heading back to our vehicles in the glorious sunshine.
After a tough week at work and the world political situation moving into some kind of parallel universe, a day in the outdoors was a necessity. And after first planning a walk along the River Tweed, I spoke to Mr Clyde who was continuing his mission to stride along the Southern Upland Way from East to West. His latest weekend jaunt from Beattock to St Marys Loch sounded fun, his company and the chance to visit Over Phawhope bothy won in the battle of the potential outdoor adventures.
It was dull but dry when I parked up on the side of the road near Capplegill at about 9.15am. just as I was finishing my packing, a taxi pulled up and in I got to find Mr C and Emma the taxi driver discussing the possibility of Emma picking us up from the bothy later or even dropping off a takeaway. (Both ideas were ridiculous of course, unless she had a helicopter.)
We reached Beattock and Emma dropped us with our gear and a reminder that not all taxi drivers are grumpy.
Early on we saw evidence of the recent storm damage with a number of trees down, some of them big old timbers. This one was the first of many scars we saw on the landscape on our journey today.
The hills were covered in plantations and areas of storm damage.
Looking back towards our beginning in Beattock.
We rose steadily above the trees onto Gateside Rig and followed the ridge along towards Croft Head, the highest and windiest point of the day.
More storm scarring.
From Croft Head the views looking north east were fab. We stopped for lunch looking over the biggest scar of the day, Craigmichen Scar, eating boiled eggs, biscuits and wondering how this mark had been created in the ground below us.
After lunch, we continued down the hill towards the scar, with more storm damage to be seen to our right.
The zig zag path made the downhill much less of a chore and the scar looked even more impressive as we reached the floor of the glen.
The sheiling you can see to the right in the picture above was one of many we saw today, although this one was in the most interesting, and the most remote spot. You can see the path down from the peak in the photo below.
We continued plodding east and Mr C found the latest of his SUW treasures, a wind soldier near a bridge.
Onward and upward we climbed to Ettrick Head and as we reached this watershed, we did indeed see the rivers, which until that point had all been heading west, start heading east. We left Dumfries and Galloway and crossed into the Scottish Borders , my home region and into the Ettrick valley, the valley my grandparents had lived in.
We dropped height (passing another scar, Red Scar) and so our pace increased as we got closer to and finally reached Over Phawhope bothy. Mr C was pleased at this point as here was his end point for the day (I still had to get back to the van) so we got the stove out and had a cuppa and some biscuits.
After chatting with the landowner, it was clear he feels this bothy has a few issues with locals causing bother. So sad to hear. Another type of scarring perhaps. But we must have made an impression as just after leaving to head back to the van the same landowner stopped and offered me a lift! Very kind of him.
I politely declined and headed up over the moors and down again past Bodesbeck Law. The views of Hart Fell and the Black Hope valley as I dropped lower out of the wind were impressive. Before long I was back at the van and happy with my days walking. 21km and I was ready for tea.
Gutted my first fish today. A gorgeous rainbow trout. Removing the innards was actually quite easy, apart from the bit at the front which is seemingly welded to the inside of the head and took a bit of tugging. But in the end even Young Johnston liked it so it must have been tasty.
I feel I can legitimately call myself a fishmonger now. I’ve always thought that you need to get a better idea of how our food is produced. Today I took a step along that road.
Next up is to learn how to fillet. #fishmongerlife
The Ferrata Tomaselli is a well known Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, and also possibly one of the hardest. It also gives its name to an award given out at an annual meeting of two outdoor sports clubs for what they call “endeavour”. This yearly award was given out on Saturday night past and I’ll tell you a little more of the context later.
In the meantime, I met Gav at the Old Bridge of Tilt car park on Saturday morning with a vague plan to walk to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy, drop our stuff, continue to the peak of Beinn Dearg, then return to the bothy for some whisky and slumbers. We assumed we’d probably have the bothy to ourselves. Although we did have a back up plan in case of weather etc, with a return to the vans if necessary and a drive to Loch Rannoch for some loch side rest and recuperation.
It was clear on the road north that it was snowy, Ben Vrackie above Pitlochry had on a full white coat, so it was a safe bet the bothy would be snowy, which was quite exciting. With our gear packed, we moved off up the icy tarmac road, an indicator of how wintery the road up to Allt Sheicheachan would be.
We cleared the woods and we walked higher into the open moors. Quite slowly, as the track was quite snowy where the white stuff had drifted across it. Soft and deep in places, hard and flattened in others, but more often the former, making heather jumping a quicker and more energy efficient way of moving forward.
The cold and accompanying breeze meant little time to stop and enjoy our surroundings. I’ve been up to this bothy a few times now, but the landscape had never looked so monochrome, other than the roaming red dot of Gav’s waterproofs.
I can normally get to the bothy in a couple of hours. This journey took us three and a half, weighed down with kit and fire wood as we slipped and stepped our way through the snow.
When the bothy finally appeared, at the last minute as usual as it’s tucked down in a natural, river created gully, our smiles reappeared and we reached the door thankful to have completed our journey. By this stage it was too late to head for Beinn Dearg and the snow higher up looked quite deep so we opened the front door, got our lunch ready and made a hot cuppa.
After eating, we explored the area a little, threw snowballs and tried to find the deepest snow. We met Sam, a walker from Greenock, who had tried to walk up Beinn Dearg but the thigh deep snow had won and sent him back down the hill. I felt pretty happy that we hadn’t tried to do the same.
Sunset was due at 3.30pm and the three of us hunkered down and got the fire going. A hot chocolate and some flames soon warmed our soaking wet feet. Sam had brought wood too so we had fuel aplenty to last the night.
The door opened again and in walked a pretty wet looking chap called Raymond. He had coal, which was great. And he then told us his ten pals (yes 10!) would also be coming with fuel.
Each snow or rain flurry brought another small group of people out of the darkness through the bothy door and each looked more relieved than the last that the fire was on and roaring. More chairs were brought in from the store next door. More wet socks were squeezed onto the drying line above the fire. More wet boots were uniformly placed on the hearth to dry. And more and more whisky was passed around, offered and gladly accepted. The atmosphere was as warm as the fire as it blazed on, the centrepiece of our growing commune.
Another couple, not linked to the big group, arrived around 6pm, bringing the total number of bodies to seventeen. I’ve never been in a bothy with more than a couple of other people, more usually I’ve been on my own. It was amazing that such a large group were so far from civilisation and yet feeling completely at home in this cold and remote glen.
After speaking to a few of the big group, it turned out they were on their yearly outing. Two outdoor groups who travelled Scotland and the world searching for adventure. Each year they gathered in a bothy and celebrated their “endeavours” through the giving of an award, the Tomaselli Salami, named after the Via Ferrata route I mentioned earlier. You can see the trophy below.
Yes it’s an old salami and it’s looking well passed it’s best, but it’s well sealed. And as trophies go, I’ve seen few more entertaining or beloved. Engraved on the trophy each year since 2005 was the name of the recipient and the reason for the award and it was clearly awarded to the individual who had cheated death in the most thrilling way possible.
But this year The Tomaselli Salami was being awarded to Ian, a member of both outdoor groups who had recently died, which had clearly added a somber note to this years gathering. It was remarked on a number of times through the night how tame the evening had been. But Ian was clearly missed. His sons were present and it was lovely to see the different generations supporting each other in what was an emotional trip for all.
As the night wore on, I thought about my own boys. Would they follow me into the outdoors world? How would our relationships change as the years go on? Would they be so well supported after I’m gone? I can be quite unemotional sometimes about family, a reflection of my own family life as a child, but I looked at Ian’s boys and for a few minutes they were Sam and Robbie and I was gone. Trying to pinpoint one particular part of our collective future. It was a sobering few minutes but reminded me how strong my love for them is, despite their joint efforts to make parenthood as difficult and stressful as possible.
Gav and I had a great night. Unexpected but in the best possible ways. We met some lovely people and they were all very gracious in including us in what could normally have been a very private event. I climbed the ladder to our sleeping area around midnight, leaving the revellers to burn the other ten bags of coal they brought and maybe talk about the stories they couldn’t tell with strangers in the room.
We were up early the next day and decided to head out for home before breakfast.
The weather was clearer on the Sunday than the day before and the sunrise looked gorgeous as we headed East. The monochrome was shattered.