Plans for a Howgills holiday went nips-up last week – the trip is postponed, rather than cancelled – and so, Plan B was implemented, or, at least, some of Plan B.
Plan B consisted mainly of the bagging of two hills in the Borders – Fanna Hill and Black Knowe, neither of which, I strongly suspect, will mean anything much to blogreaders except those owning a pair of well- worn boots and living in Hawick. The plan also consisted of camping in relative but fairly noisy luxury on an actual campsite in a bigger tent than usual and with a much wider selection than normal of food and booze. And with Bruno the superdawg.
And so, Thursday morning, following some serious shopping at Sainsbury’s in Durham, and a long drive through Kielder, me and the canine found ourselves embarking from the knipemobile at an obscure cattle grid on the B6357 somewhere between Newcastleton and Hawick. It was immediately apparent that our proposed “easy bag” was to be tougher than expected because, since my map had been drawn, somebody had planted a new forest on my route, with all the consequent digging of drains and exclusion of anything likely to scoff the abundant vegetation. It was also pretty sweaty, summer having finally decided to arrive. So we blundered and tripped and dripped our way upwards through the ditches and tussocks until finally in-line with our first target – just over the fence and a bit further through tough conditions to somewhere in the region of the spot height on Lamblair Hill – 498metres and categorised as “Probably Not a TuMP, Although Vaguely Possible” You have to be really desperate to tick one of these.
We progressed over easier ground to a minor top at around 500 metres and then easily North to the bagging of Fanna Hill, 514 metres and HuMP – That is to say, a proper tick, like.
One thing about forestry is that they’ve built huge roads everywhere, capable of taking lorries loaded up with enormous piles of sticks and so it was, that shortly after I’d given Bruno the job of retracing our steps back to the cattle grid – a job which he could perform in any weather, day or night and step-for-step without hesitation, I pulled him off-course to join one such road. This didn’t appear on my map, so it was a bit of a gamble, but it did lead , as I suspected, to the house at Saughtree Grain and thus to the B6357 not all that far from where I’d parked.
Later, much later, and still lathered from the exercise and the unusual heat, we checked in at the Honey Cottage campsite near Tushielaw in Ettrick. Thursday night was cold and quiet. I used the cheapo tent I’d been given for review a couple of years ago and which I’d broken one of the poles at Tarfside whilst trying to stick it up in a hurricane. The pole is still broken. It doesn’t seem to matter. Hopefully, whenever I use this tent, it won’t get windy…. It’s very spacious , though and me and the dawg could spread out. Bruno is specially fond of spreading out.
On Friday, we took a short drive up the Ettrick valley to Nether Phawhope where shepherds were training their dogs to do sheepdog trialling. Very interesting to watch, but the sun was beating down and we had Things To Do, so, instead of marvelling at the skills on show, we heaved our ancient carcases up the steep hill to bag our first tick of the day – Lochy Law. Lochy Law is a fine and grassy mound categorised as “Probably Not Quite a Donald Dewey” at just 518 metres and yes, I can sense your eyes glazing over already. Onwards, we marched – up onto the equally fine and grassy HuMP Black Knowe at 549 metres. A cracking viewpoint for long stretches of the outrageously beautiful Ettrick valley. Its outrageously beautiful at the moment anyway, and , like most other places in Scotland, it would seem that The Authorities are intent on buggering this outrageous beauty up by bulldozing roads everywhere and planting commercial forestry – miles and miles of the stuff. Get rid of the sheep and lets have some Christmas trees which we can shred up later and set fire to just outside Doncaster for electricity (presumably)
We sat by a cairn for a bit and I allowed Bruno to watch me eating a choccy bar and a banana.
Just down the hill a bit was another round and grassy in the same category as Lochy Law – one Phawhope Hill 508 metres and this was a quick and easy, if ever-so-pointless bag.
Things got a bit rough for a bit as we traversed the forest edge and then down through a steep and soggy ride and back up the similarly steep and rough bit through clear-felled brash to the opposing ridge. Things were getting hot. I noticed that Bruno’s puppy-ish enthusiasm had worn off at this point and he was dragging behind quite a bit. We struggled on up to the ridge and followed it over ground which was now much easier to the top of Phawhope Kipps, at 590 metres and in the same hill-category as the previous Phawhope. This one, though has a nicely defined top and a glorious view. Bruno conked out at this point and fell asleep, sighing with a little growl, that the walk was now over and, he could relax and the Pieman would be along soon with a tin of doggybeefychunks and some kibble. And that this would be followed by hours and hours of dreamysnoozytimes on a comfy cushion with pictures of bones on it…. to the sound of the Pieman opening yet another tin of warm beer…. But this was just a dream. A Kip on the Kipps…? All too soon, and in the time it takes to scoff a cheese butty and an eccles cake, the lead was being pulled and we were on our way again.
The going was yet easier than before, but the heat was starting to become uncomfortable. The contours were still arranged in an uphill fashion and we plodded and dragged our way up to 654 metres where the fence changes direction and then to the cairn on top of Ettrick Pen at 692 metres. I’d been up here once before –according to my log, it was on 12 June 1991. It was raining and there was no view. Today, resting on soft turf in hot sunshine with just a hint of a warm breeze, the view was just fine. We lazed for a bit more than half an hour. Bruno fell into a deep sleep, complete with doggy dream involving twitching and little barks. The last couple of miles had seemed hard for the dog. I felt myself changing the plans for tomorrow, specially if it was going to be hot again.
We returned via Over Phawhope bothy and along the Southern Upland Way, which is a long and hot road-walk back to Nether Phawhope (is it me, or are they a bit short of place names around here…?). Bruno trotted along behind all the way back. At least he was keeping up
Another cold, but noisier night followed. The campsite now had a few more tents , but it wasn’t crowded. It seems that this was the weekend for Dads and their kids to go camping. Some of the Dads seemed over-protective and were keen to prevent any damage being done to their boys – who would have preferred, I think, to go a bit wild and gain a few scabs and bruises. This was where my grandkids had fallen into the beck several times within twenty minutes a coupe of years ago. Bruno snoozed his way through the mayhem. I anaesthetised myself quite a bit and decided on an easy walk for the next day.
Saturday was blue and clear and shimmering with heat. Me and the Dawg, on advice from a resident caravanist with a Jack Russel, followed the easy path through the huge re-wilded forest area which runs along the East side of the Ettrick marshes nature reserve for two or three miles to Deephope. This is lush and green and well-shaded. Its also very beautiful and free from stock, Bruno could be free to run about at will –which he did. The return was on the quiet public road through the Dale back to the start – I think we were passed by no more than three cars. Bruno was flagging a bit on this too and so, we spent the afternoon snoozing in whatever shade I could arrange, having a cooling paddle in the river and drinking tea until it was time to move on to more interesting beverages.
I’ll have to try to make some new assessment of Bruno’s hillwalking abilities. He is twelve, so, maybe you’d expect some resilience to start to go, and, he’s had a long gap between proper walks whilst I’ve been doing the TGO and so on. And it was quite hot… So, we’ll see…. I doubt if he’d want to retire from the hillwalking at this point. I have a little plan, though…. (things are always better when you have a plan)