I THINK I’ve finally managed to perfect the ingredients for a day out in the Southern Uplands.
First, take a Law, a Pen, a Rig, a Comb, a Fell or any combination thereof. Then add a wee dod of Dodds.
Throw in a generous helping of wire fences - don’t underestimate how much you will need – and a mix of standing and broken posts and a couple of drystane dykes. Blend with oodles of long, wet grass and lashings of gooey bog.
Mix together well and then cover completely with a pall of mist, the greyer and thicker the better, and keep moist with a continuous drizzle.
Remember also to have a compass handy as you won’t be able to see how this is all turning out until the last hour when all is revealed just as you reach the end of the walk. And there you have the recipe for a hill day in the Borders. Well, mine at least.
Eat your heart out, Mary Berry. I can beat your soggy bottom any day, and raise you a pair of soggy feet as well.
Yes, I’m just back from yet another circuit in the landscape which never fails to fail any attempt by yours truly to see its charms. Six big rounds in a row have ended the same way. I have to go back more than ten years to remember a clear day here.
But you know what? I have a feeling I might be woefully disappointed if conditions changed. In clear weather, for instance, you have the depressing sight of wind farms on an industrial scale. At least the mist keeps them all handily out of sight. But, most surprisingly, I have grown to appreciate the strange beauty of this landscape while it remains blanketed in cloud.
This terrain often shoulders a feeling of remoteness which far outweighs its close proximity to main roads or habitations. I can think of many ‘remote’ areas of the Highlands which never provide the aura of isolation you can feel here.
Perhaps it is the similarity of much of the land, perhaps it is the haunting sounds of the bird cries that pierce the grey and seem to carry to infinity. Or perhaps it’s simply that on a weekday it is unusual to bump into anyone else.
My latest expedition was to the hills around the Daer Reservoir. From the moment I turned off the main road, it felt as if I had passed through a portal into another world. Stephen King could have been thinking of this place when he came up with the idea for The Mist – anything could be lurking out here.
The B-road disappeared into the forest, emerging at the glassy waters of the loch, the blanket of cloud almost kissing the surface, moisture thick in the air. The initial path seemed more like a bog, long grass and reeds providing an instant soaking, the lack of footfall noticeably apparent and understandable.
I was trying for a full sweep of the tops, but the lack of features and contours meant I stuck close to the fence until I reached the highest point of the day, Ballencleuch Law, where I could then navigate for certain to the outliers, even though it involved some backtracking.
The summit was three broken posts and a couple of rocks on the fenceline; like so many of the high points here it seems no one can be bothered with ceremony. As I approached, what I had assumed at first to be a cairn turned out to be a figure sitting having lunch. This was David, all the way from Huddersfield. He said his wife had bet him he wouldn’t see another soul on a day like this.
We said goodbye and followed our own fences, and then, as I started to rise to the next bump, the cloud blew away giving a glimpse of what remained. In an instant, the sound changed as well.
No longer could I hear the birds peeping and whistling in isolation as they had when the views were absent. No longer was there the wonder of what lay ahead, or what would loom out of the mist. It had all been uncovered and yet it seemed it had all been lost.