|In the hills between Dalry and Sanquhar|
We’re just back from an eight-day hike along the western section of
Southern Upland Way, a demanding 120 miles through some of the emptiest country
I’ve encountered this side of the northern Scotland Highlands.
|Looking back at Portpatrick|
We began in glorious weather at the delightful little town of
, completing 13-14
miles to pass Stranraer and reach Castle Kennedy the first night. Portpatrick
What I’d never realised about
and Galloway is that these innocently named Uplands
actually rise to around 2,500 feet, so most days we found ourselves with some
stiff climbs and stiffer descents. The area is also very sparsely populated.
There are scattered farmhouses, there are sheep, and there are forest
plantations, and that’s about it. What it means is that accommodation is hard
to find, and some stretches of the route can be as long as 26 miles.
Mercifully, it is possible to make arrangements that reduce the distances to
manageable levels. At Dalry, for example, the manager of the Lochinvar Hotel
arranged to pick us up at a point seven miles before we reached the town, drop
us off at the same place in the morning, then collect us at the end of that day’s
hike, some eight miles beyond.
We were very lucky indeed with the weather. It basically stayed fair throughout. By day three and four the talk was of cataclysmic thunderstorms coming up from the south – but they contrived to show up when we were in bed; and the heatwave that had the newspapers hopping certainly didn’t penetrate the Lowther Hills. When we did have cloud cover we were generally glad of it: it was warm work when the sun was out. Thankfully, there was generally enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay.
|Dumfries & Galloway is a country of big bare hills and secluded valleys - like this, below Cloud Hill, south of Sanquhar|
|...and when you do finally see a town, this being Sanquhar, it can be a long, long descent|
Our toughest day was the last, when we left Britain’s highest village, the old mining settlement of Wanlockhead, and hiked 21 miles to Beattock, more or less the mid-point of the 212-mile route. The day began with three very steep climbs to 2300-odd feet. The descents were precipitous, and the ground underfoot squelchy.
|At times, yes, it was a bit of a trudge.|
With the severest undulations behind us we entered a long stretch of forestry where, for the first time, the way-markers seemed mostly to have disappeared. With some luck, a little floundering and a determined reliance on the compass, we found our way out of the woods and on to our final destination.
|The road down into Beattock - which was our journey's end|
Would I recommend the SUW to other hikers? Yes, but with certain caveats. You need to be prepared for the three or four long days (17-21 miles). You will need to carry plenty of water and food each day. On most stretches you will be reliant on what you have in your pack. On the plus side, all the places where we had B&B offered packed lunches, and, when we asked, were willing to do some laundry and/or drying for a small fee. But then we carried little more in the way of clothing than a change of underwear. The SUW wouldn’t suit everybody – and I suspect that the distances involved mean that it isn’t as well used as was hoped when it was pieced together in 1984. The way-marking is patchy in parts, and we found a number of posts that had rotted at the base and fallen over. But those were minor inconveniences to set aside the delight in walking such empty country, with such expansive views.