Published 25th July 2019, 15:42

    IT'S often said that nothing is certain except death and taxes, a quote which has its roots in a speech by Benjamin Franklin.

    Of course, that was in 1789, and the Founding Fathers of the USA could hardly have foreseen the rise of massive corporations like Amazon, Facebook or Starbucks and their masterful deflecting of tax liabilities, but the death bit still applies.

    Taxes though? I reckon they could easily be replaced by the certainty that any guarantee of a perfect weather day on the Scottish hills is sheer fantasy. My latest foray into the hills of the Southern Uplands is a case in point.

    Tuesday, forecasts of heatwaves, blue skies, near 90 per cent chance of views from the summits: I headed for Moffat with the naivety of a Boris Johnson cheerleader, convinced that a circuit of the Black Hope tops would be sublime.

    Take plenty of fluid, was the advice. Well, I didn't need to; it was there for most of the day, bucketloads of the stuff, soaking through my lightweight choice of gear.

    When I arrived at the starting point in Moffat Dale, the tops of the hills were buried under a grey quilt and the wind was rocking the car. But it was warm. I gave it half an hour, then figured I may as well get started. Every forecast said it would clear by mid-morning, so I set off more in expectation than hope.

    The first climb to gain the Saddle Yoke ridge was accompanied by some buffeting and lots of long, wet grass. Never mind, the sun will soon be splitting the sky. Higher up, the wind was accompanied by a persistent drizzle, which I tried to ignore. All be gone soon. Then the chill set in, and I put on a jacket. A bit further on, and with my trousers now soaking, I put on waterproofs.

    I saw nothing over the Saddle Yokes, and then the mist got thicker, reducing the visibility to somewhere just above zero. I went wrong for a little while, then realised the error of my way and got back on course.

    That course led me into a blanket bog – the area known as Rotten Bottom wasn't far away but this must have been its evil doppelganger. A couple of slips in the deep tussocks had left me with a bit of a rotten bottom as well.

    At times, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face which was tricky, since my hand was holding the compass but I stuck to the task and eventually found a fence which would lead all the way to the top of Hart Fell, where I was greeted with more greyness. Never mind, it's getting sunny soon.

    With a fenceline to follow, I decided to try to reach the outlying top of Whitehope Heights. I would catch the views from Hart Fell on my return. Except as I descended further into the gloom, the fence split. Suddenly, I discovered I had lost confidence. I knew where I wanted to go but I wasn't entirely sure I knew how to get there. A couple of hours off course is a long way in weather as thick as this. I retreated back to Hart Fell and made my way south down the ridge.

    There were still three other tops to find on the way out, and being the Southern Uplands, this meant dodging either side of the fence to find a couple of rocks in the middle of a field that may or may not be a summit.

    There were more fences, running this way and that way, stretching off into another grey horizon, but all I wanted to do now was run away. On one section I noticed a line of crows, one on each post, about a dozen altogether. I wondered if they were a harbinger of doom, if I looked like a dead man walking, or maybe they were just thought the odds were high that I was going to drop my crisps.

    After finding the last few rocks, I was faced with another triple fence puzzle, but I chose correctly, no unladen swallow velocity questions to trip me up.

    My saturated feet were less than a mile from the road when the day finally changed. As the temperature ramped up and blue skies took over, I sat enjoying a spot of sunshine and a retro view of where I had been for the past five miserable hours.

    There's always a sting in the tail, though, and this came in the form of an abnormally steep final slope coated in chest-high bracken to slip and slide my way down.

    This is prime tick territory, and I felt sure I would be travelling home with a few little unwelcome hitch-hikers, but miraculously, this happily proved to be yet another 'certainty' that failed to materialise.