Southern Upland Way Day 10: Wanlockhead to Brattleburn Bothy

Published 9 February 2012

Cartoon of Lowther Hill, highest point on the Southern Upland Way

I was feeling pretty chipper as I left Wanlockhead and began the steep ascent of Lowther Hill which, at 725m above sea level, was the highest point on the Southern Upland Way. It was hard going and as I walked I disrupted several families of black grouse who flew off into the heather with a loud and noisy squawk.

For an hour or so I headed uphill, occasionally crossing or walking on the tarmacked road that went up to the various transmitters that made use of the hill’s height. Amongst them was the distinctive spherical building that looked like a golf ball and which housed an air traffic control station; the white dome regularly becoming invisible in the grey cloud that hugged the hill. Down in the valley there was, at least, some hope. The lower lying clouds were beginning to part; the sun was trying its best to shine.

It was twenty miles to the village of Beattock which stood a short distance from the town of Moffatt. I was making excellent progress as I stepped over the fence at the top of Lowther Hill that marked the boundary of Dumfries and Galloway with its neighbour, South Lanarkshire. The latter’s section of the Southern Upland Way is not particularly large, lasting only ten miles or so, and is so small that the council actually contracts out the maintenance and running of this section to its neighbour.

Although it was all downhill from now, that didn’t mean the end of the slopes and the Southern Upland Way bounced along the ridge path that connected Cold Moss, Cobb Head and Lamb Hill. Cobb Head in particular was a gruellingly slow climb, so steep that it felt near vertical. It wasn’t helped by a tell-tale brass plaque containing that a certain familiar word which informed me that there was another kist in the area. This saw me checking out every bit of dry stone wall and clump of grass for hidden treasure. My diligence paid off. At the top of the hill, hidden in a pile of rubble was what I was looking for. I leant down and scooped a coin from a kist that was rather appropriately shaped like a treasure chest.

Wind Farm in the distance


Reaching the not-particularly bustling A702 marked a change in the day’s walking. The hills were out and it was time to enter an area of recently planted forest and along sheep grazed moorland. And it was time to celebrate as I realised I was stood at the half way point. 106 miles down, 106 to go.

The track was good and a welcome improvement on the soggy grass, moss and peat I’d been walking on earlier in the day. It was a delight to walk down a peaceful road with the only company being several birds hovering above, noisily trying to distract me from the young in their nests. Then, as I turned a corner, the influence of man on the landscape returned in a very prominent way as I approached the grass lined dam at Daer Reservoir. Opened in 1956, an average of 5,600 million gallons of water lay behind its thick walls, enabling it to supply half of Lanarkshire’s water every day. The Southern Upland Way even gets to cross to the other side of the reservoir by following the ¾km length of the dam.

Having crossed it I stopped on a handy rock and watched the reservoir as, well, it did pretty much nothing… it just sat there, happily storing water whilst a flock of seagulls flew and fought overhead. Despite the presence of a white van in the nearby car park, and the huge building that was the water treatment works, the reservoir seemed content to sit in near silence.

Daer Reservoir and Dam

It was time though to head uphill again as the path led up Sweetshaw Brae and then to Hoods Hill, neither of which seemed to offer any real reward for the effort put in to climbing them besides a better view of the reservoir. It was time to bounce up and down along bumpy hills again and I was forced to walk alongside a forest boundary for what felt like ages before the Southern Upland Way was finally allowed to head in to the trees.

Based on my map I’d assumed this forest section would be on a good and solid track but instead it was another heavily waterlogged and grassy section which soaked my boots and saw my trousers get far too wet. If that wasn’t enough, it began to rain.

Believing it to be only a shower and thus be over quickly, I opted not to put my waterproof trousers on but soon it became clear this rain wasn’t going to stop any time soon. Even with the bad conditions of the path I’d been making good progress but now I was soaked to the bone once more, and when I spotted a sign pointing to Brattleburn Bothy I quickly headed off on the side path with the view that the shelter would mean I could at least change my trousers and sort my map out.

Brattleburn Bothy

No sooner had I got to the old stone bothy, the rain began to come down even heavier. I’d planned to camp at Moffat but this was no weather to be pitching up. Besides, now I was actually under a roof, the thought of heading out and carrying on for another seven or eight miles and then having to find somewhere to stay seemed less and less appealing. Even if there was an Indian restaurant in the town.

It was a nice bothy. With two rooms on the ground floor and an upstairs loft too, it could house a fair few people if it needed to. It also had a stove and a good wood supply and I lit the fire and began to warm up. According to the bothy visitor book, it had been five days since the last person had admitted to staying there, and no one else turned up that evening. I had the place to myself.

As the stove warmed the building, I settled in to one of the bothy’s rickety looking armchairs and made the most of the quiet. The rain was still falling, but when you have a fire and a good book, well what more do you need?

Next time, on Day 11, the Southern Upland Way arrives in Moffat and there’s a decison to be made. Curry or more walking?

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