Southern Upland Way Days 5 and 6: Loch Dee to St John’s Town of Dalry (and a day off)

Published 26 January 2012

Cartoon of a walker stood at a window looking at the rain saying "Do I have to leave this bothy?"

The next morning I woke and looked out of White Laggan Bothy’s windows, and I didn’t like what I saw at all.

A few days earlier I’d read in the paper that a severe weather front was about to hit Britain and potentially stay for the next two months. It would bring strong winds, heavy rains and perhaps even flooding.

But after four days of walking where the worst weather had been the odd drop of rain falling on me, I’d forgotten all about that doom-laden forecast. Now as I looked outside to see it absolutely chucking it down, with rain so heavy I could barely see a few metres beyond the bothy, for some reason it popped back into my mind. I was about to get wet.

Pick Up Point

Find me a walker who actually likes hiking in the rain and I’ll be astounded. Even with the best waterproofs you’ll still get damp inside from sweat whilst water always manages to seep into boots somehow. And if, like me, you wear glasses, well you’re really screwed.

I like walking in the rain almost as much as I like walking on endless forest roads. But when all’s said and done, at least forests can be easy going in the rain, especially if you’ve got a good forest road with excellent drainage meaning you can just plod on knowing that you won’t be missing much in the line of views.

Thank goodness then that the first part of the journey to St John’s Town of Dalry was all through forests, along excellent tracks. Head down, I could put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best.

I’d had a vague hope that the weather would clear, but the hills surrounding Loch Dee were covered in clouds that clung to them so tightly that it was hard to imagine them ever disappearing, and the rain was still pouring down with gusto. As I left the loch behind and headed along the various forest roads that the Southern Upland Way was following, it showed little sign of easing.

Near the barely visible Clatteringshaws Loch I headed into the trees to see if I could escape the wet for a brief rest, but even with all the tree cover it was almost as soggy there as it was outside.

Clatteringshaws brought the section of the days walk I’d been dreading. The map showed that it would be here that I’d be taken off the endless-but-easy plod of the gravel road and on to a grassy track which would no doubt be a veritable quagmire in the rain. And sure enough, it was. Even the bits studded with rocks were a difficult traverse as I slipped around on the wet stone. Several times my foot went down into a deep pile of muddy slop, water seeping into my boots.

Another Ulteria

Then, with a blast of “Ultreia”, I was out on moorland, squelching and sliding around. Any hopes of finding the nearby kist were soon abandoned as the driving rain hit my glasses; I could hardly make out the path yet alone find the location of a hidden treasure.

It was a struggle but eventually I crossed the moorland and hit another isolated tarmac road which I now had to follow for several miles. Still, at least it would be easy going and I picked up speed once more.

Cars would pass me by, but no one thought I might want a lift. Had they offered I would have accepted without hesitation. This was no day to be outside, and certainly not one to leave sweet tarmacadam, but soon I had to in order to do the last moorland push that would take me to my destination. Thanks to a sizeable and hither-to unnoticed overlap between two sections of my map, I realised was actually far closer than I thought. Just one bit of moorland would get me there and it was just such a shame that to get to it, I had to cross a field so muddy that it made my earlier experiences look like mere park puddles.

Yet with the end almost in sight, I suddenly began to lose the ability to carry on. I’d been going non-stop at pretty high speeds for over five hours. I was sodden, weary and so near but feeling like it was so far. I desperately wanted to stop, to be at the end of this mad folly, and thankfully as I struggled slowly up the last hill, Dalry came into view. I heaved a sigh of relief and wearily headed down to the village.

The Clachan Inn, St Johns Town of Dalry

I had no idea if I’d be able to find a B&B with a room in St John’s Town of Dalry; the official accommodation guide listed a few places but whether they’d have any vacancies was another question. But after all the rain, spending the night in a tent was just not on my radar. When it’s dry and nice, life under canvas can be mighty fine, but when it’s wet and miserable, nothing in the world beats a nice dry hotel room with a good bed. Except one that also has a hot bath.

I decided to stop at the first place I saw that had room, regardless of price. And so it was that when the Clachan Inn offered me a room for forty quid I didn’t hesitate at checking in.

After throwing my wet clothes all over the floor, and lying in a hot bath with a cup of tea, I headed into the bar for some food and drink. A group of three soaked motorcyclists turned up and tried to haggle over room prices before eventually conceding defeat against the landlady’s steadfast refusal to lower her prices.

“Is breakfast good then?”

“It’s excellent.”

“We’ll take it if you throw in that fish,” was the reply as the lead biker pointed to a large, long dead fish mounted in a frame on the wall.

“We can let you look at it all night.”

“It’ll do”.

I headed to the bar for another pint and asked to put it on my room bill.

“What room is it?” asked the barmaid.

“Room five,” I said looking at the large, oversized wooden token dangling from my key.

“Ah, it says room five but it’s actually room four,” interjected the landlady. “We don’t have a room five.”

I smiled and knew I’d picked the right place to stay,

Cartoon of someone running for a bus saying "Dumfries please!" then holding a flag and saying "God save the King!"

I awoke the next morning with no walking to do. After checking in to the pub the day before, I’d checked the weather forecast on my phone. It was the first time I’d had a mobile signal for days but the news was not great. The next day would be seriously heavy rain, and it looked like it would be wet for the next ten days.

As I’d lay in the bath, I’d struggled to work out what to do. The forecast had put me in a dismal mood and I was sorely tempted to give the whole thing up as a bad job, which was a horrible thought given how little of the Southern Upland Way I’d walked. In the end I opted for slightly less drastic action and booked myself in to the pub for another night and sit out what was hopefully the worst of the weather by having a rest day.

And with that was decided, all that was left was the question of what to do with my unexpected spare time. And so it was that I spent my sixth day on the route wandering around the museums and galleries of nearby Dumfries; admiring the Robbie Burns museum, and watching some people play the bagpipes and ride horses whilst crying “God save the King!”.

It rained a bit too, but as I journeyed back to Dalry that evening, someone at least was optimistic about the weather.

“I don’t know why but I keep thinking this bad weather is going to clear,” said my taxi driver who had picked me up after a complicated series of events had meant I’d missed my bus connection.

As we drove past lochs and hills, I nodded and hoped she’d prove to be right.

Next time, the weather improves a little (thank goodness) as I head off to another bothy and meet fellow Southern Upland Way walkers on the actual path for the first time!

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