I’VE never been too lucky with outings to the Southern Uplands, the good days in this beautiful part of the country proving few and far between.
Most have involved low cloud and no views or a lot of effort dodging in and around huge swathes of pine forest. The feelgood factor has definitely been conspicuous by its absence.
Not that I have let that put me off. I was in the Lake District attending The Great Outdoors magazine awards in Kendal last week so it made sense to take in a few hills on the way home.
One night we were talking about the wonderful views from the world’s 8,000 metre peaks, and less than 12 hours later I was in zero visibility walking along a featureless ridge that never quite reached 800 metres. Eat your heart out, Alan Hinkes.
Maybe I should have stayed in the Lakes where the sun was shining and the peaks were all standing out against the cloudless sky in clear view. Surely it wouldn’t be much different a few miles up the road?
But the weather in Dumfries and Galloway had voted for independence. As soon as I reached Moffat, the sun did a disappearing act and the further I headed up the deep pass of the A708, the more the low cloud dominated.
It hadn’t been raining, but it was one of those days of total saturation. The road surface was wet, the grass and trees were soaking and everything you touched or walked on squelched. Even the sheep looked more miserable than usual, the moisture giving them a bad fleece day.
The climb to the first top, Herman Law, was steep. Five minutes up and I was enveloped in clinging low mist, half an hour later I was at the top in a land of fog and bog. Nothing to see here, move on. And I did, to a similar non-picture at the next two tops.
Apart from that first push, I hadn’t felt I had ascended at all. It was all about picking out the driest path onward, staying out of the worst of the peat bogs. At points, it was the nearest I had come to walking on water.
Then I reached my main target for the day, the highest point of the walk, Andrewhinney Hill (it is a Graham but also a Donald, the collective name for summits in this part of Scotland which top 2,000 feet). It was just another cairn in the mist, a pile of rocks in a sea of grey. This was getting tedious.
Or, as the legendary Andy Stewart might have sung: Donalds, whaur’s yer view sirs?
But about ten minutes further on, a strange thing happened. As I came over the grassy top of Bell Craig, shafts of light appeared through the clouds and the view ahead opened up. I could now see all the way to the end of the ridge, the summit of Bodesbeck Law, and also across the glen to Loch Skeen. Waves of burnished red grass swaying lazily in a faint breeze added a welcome spot of colour to the scene.
There was still the hop, step and jump around sections of waterlogged terrain but at least there was literally something to look forward to. But while the route onward was now in plain sight, behind me it was still in hiding.
The all-encompassing wave of mist had come so far down the glen and picked its parking spot. It wasn’t going anywhere. the giant, grey curtain had dropped midway, blocking all light from the centre point of the ridge.
It only took two and a half hours to get from end of the walk to the other, so I just turned round and headed back along the same route. The iron-grey curtain was still firmly anchored but I had high hopes it might relent and give me a sight of what I had missed. No such luck.
As I climbed back to Andrewhinney, I climbed back into the gloom. Not only did it fail to lift, it got even thicker and wetter all the way back to the car. Ah well, there’s always next time.