Many of the adventures reported in “Espresso” involve super-fit athletes in their early 20s, doing such exploits as paragliding off the three highest peaks in the Andes, or paddle boarding up the coast of Kamchatka. This is fascinating to read about, but beyond the reach of many of us. This article is different, in that it concerns a couple of OAPs on a two-day, one night hike in Southern Scotland.
Adrian and I have been friends for more than 60 years, growing up together in Birmingham. I (Tony) have lived in Edinburgh since 1980, whereas Adrian settled in Northampton. We meet up a couple of times a year, for an outdoor trip. One of the first things I did after I retired, was walk the Southern Upland Way (SUW) which cuts across the grain of Scotland for some 214 miles from Portpatrick in the West, to Cockburnspath on the East coast.
As we had a couple of days spare in early February 2022, I thought it would be an idea to give Adrian a taste of the route, by walking from Moffat 11 miles to Over Phawhope bothy, spending the night there, and returning the following day. This extract gives a flavour of the SUW, as it includes farmland, deciduous and plantation woodland, some spectacular scenery and one section where the path is very narrow, with steep drops to the side.
We drove to Moffat, had a cake and coffee in a local café, then hit the trail, snow flurries giving way to more serious conditions as we left the tamer countryside behind, and headed towards Croft Head. There are 13 “kists” along the SUW, some of them easy to find, others less so. Each kist contains a coinlike token, with the badge of a local primary school on one side, and something connected with the route on the other. Just before Ettrick Head, there is a lonely sculpture “Wind Soldier”, made from rocks connected by a bungee, so it sways gently in the breeze. As we passed, we collected our tokens, in this case bearing a child’s drawing of a deer.
It was not far from this point to Over Phawhope bothy, where we were to spend the night. My Alpkit “Brewkit” provided us with a welcome hot drink (MytiMug 650) and sachet meal (Lhfoon), ready in minutes, while Adrian lit a fire in the bothy’s stove. Although my “Brewkit” has never let me down, I have run into trouble when another gas stove became blocked by a tiny grain of sand, which I had no way of clearing in the field. I therefore keep a “Kraku” in my Brukit, it weighs almost nothing, but is a worthwhile backup stove.
Light was provided by my “Bob” lantern, and “Prism” headtorch. As we tend to cool down rapidly after exercise. I put on a fresh merino “Kepler” long sleeve top and heavyweight beanie. The latter particularly appreciated by baldies like me!
As Forest Gump almost said, “Bothys are like a box of chocolates, you never know who you are going to meet”. Just as it was about to become dark, three young men arrived, introducing themselves as Russel, Jamie and Joe. Russel was a local restauranteur, Joe and Jamie his sous-chefs. They produced thirty-day aged steaks, smoked garlic, fresh basil, rosemary, and a professional looking skillet. Russel took charge, and between them they prepared the most delicious tapas I have ever smelled. Luckily for Adrian and I, there was to have been another in their party, who dropped out at the last minute, so there was spare food. Sachet meals are adequate, but bear no comparison to the spread our new best friends cooked up.
After a very convivial evening, we settled for the night. Moffat is an official “Dark Sky Town”, and that was 11 miles behind us. If all we had out of the trip had been the spectacular starry sky, that alone would have made the effort worthwhile. It had been mentioned in the news that the Northern Lights would be visible from parts of Scotland. I was hopeful, and did catch a brief glimpse of green light, but this proved to be Russel playing with his new headtorch.
We were quite tired after getting back to our car the next day, but, after a bridie each, and putting on fresh clothes, Adrian said “That was fantastic – when are we doing it again?”.
If a pair of codgers like us can do it, you too can have an enjoyable adventure, as challenging or not as you please. However, a word of warning, should you venture north of the border. Things Scottish can have a gritty reality. Think Ervine Welsh, not Jane Austen, “Bogside” rather than “Marshbanks”, “Taggart” not “Morse”. So it is with our trails. Sections of the SUW are very remote, particularly in the West, and are seldom walked. You can experience very fierce weather, at any time of the year. Respect the trail, take the right kit, especially, serious boots. If you use bothys, take all your rubbish with you, and clean the place up when you leave.
So, get out there, “Go nice places, do good things”.
- Tony Taylor
If you have been on adventure big or small and want to share your tale with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org