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The Moffat Hills / 3 days / 34 miles (55km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 07 Sep 2006
Start / Finish: Moffat. Roadside parking near the eastern end of the town.
Maps: Explorer 330 Moffat & St.Mary's Loch and a small section on Explorer 322 Annandale.

Day 1Capel Fell & Bodesbeck Law12.2 miles / 3340 feet (19.7km / 1018m)
Day 2Andrewhinney Hill, Loch Skeen & White Coomb11.4 miles / 3280 feet (18.4km / 1000m)
Day 3Hart Fell & Black Hope10.8 miles / 1350 feet (17.4km / 411m)

A circuit of the hills around Moffat Dale, including the fine climb by Grey Mare's Tail waterfall and Loch Skeen. This was our first backpack in the Southern Uplands, and away from the waterfall route the paths are not prominent and seem to be little used, we saw only three people here despite the fine and mainly sunny weather.

Day 1 - Capel Fell & Bodesbeck Law

A lane leads S and crosses Moffat Water at Drumcrieff Bridge, where the Southern Upland Way (SUW) comes in and enters a pleasant deciduous woodland. It rejoins Moffat Water for a short stretch and climbs gradually through the trees on forest tracks for some 3 miles, which gives an easy start and makes progress rapid. The scenery improves on an attractive path alongside Wamphray Water towards the steep slopes of Croft Head and the open hillside is reached at Selcoth Burn, flanked by the steep nose of Cat Shoulder and Craigmichen Scar.

Selcoth Burn & Croft Head
Selcoth Burn & Croft Head (07 Sep 2006__12:52:49)
Black Hope from Capel Fell
Black Hope from Capel Fell (07 Sep 2006__14:22:33)

The SUW crosses a new footbridge and climbs towards Ettrick Head: at the highest point we left it and climbed L to reach the end of the ridge at Capel Fell, where the views opened out on an extensive panorama of rolling hills with the Lake District mountains in the distance. The ridge twists and undulates over the minor tops of Smidhope Hill and White Shank and rounds the headwaters of Bodesbeck Burn, which was flowing just a matter of yards from the bealach and yielded very good water. A stiff pull gains the cairn on Bodesbeck Law where there were fine views across to Saddle Yoke and Carrifran Gans, and we made our pitch on the next minor top Nowtrig Head.

Bodesbeck Law
Bodesbeck Law (07 Sep 2006__16:29:27)
Sunset over Saddle Yoke from pitch on Nowtrig Head
Sunset over Saddle Yoke from pitch on Nowtrig Head (07 Sep 2006__19:40:58)

On the flank of Mid Rig nearby, a couple of farmers stopped their quadbikes and started what we think was a short training exercise for a border collie in rounding up sheep using whistles and gentle words of encouragment, unlike one farmer we once observed who after whistling frantically for a minute was heard to shout to the wayward dog "G-eee-rrrr over 'ere yer daft b*gger!". The temperature dropped quickly in the very clear air as the sun set behind the the hills across the valley amid orange tinged clouds.

Day 2 - Andrewhinney Hill, Loch Skeen & White Coomb

The morning was clear as we resumed the ridge walk along the fence, traversing the minor tops of Mid Rig and Bell Craig to the cairn on Andrewhinney Hill. By this time the moisture was rising and mist was closing in on the high tops from the West, but we stayed in the clear for the remaining minor tops to Herman Law, our descent point from the ridge. The fence leads steeply down towards the A708 and we left it to follow a rough narrow ride through the plantation to gain the road. The sun was starting to burn off the mist as we followed the almost deserted road down to the car park at the foot of Grey Mare's Tail.

Loch Skeen & surrounding hills from Bell Craig
Loch Skeen & surrounding hills from Bell Craig (08 Sep 2006__07:33:02)

There is a short tourist path that enters the valley on the W of Tail Burn but is fenced off well before the fall. The main route is a pitched path that climbs on the E side with an overall view of the fall, and a well trodden path continues closely alongside the burn. This is a delightful walk that meanders among heather clad moraines with the hills looming beyond until the loch finally bursts into view, a splendid sight flanked by Lochcraig Head and Mid Craig.

Grey Mare's Tail
Grey Mare's Tail (08 Sep 2006__10:54:38)
White Coomb & Tail Burn
White Coomb & Tail Burn (08 Sep 2006__11:37:19)
Loch Skeen, Mid Craig & Lochcraig Head
Loch Skeen, Mid Craig & Lochcraig Head (08 Sep 2006__11:57:36)
Loch Skeen & Lochcraig Head
Loch Skeen & Lochcraig Head (08 Sep 2006__12:00:35)

A short way along the eastern shore, a thin path ascends R and picks its way through the damp peat and heather to the fence, then undulates through the hummocky ground near a wall avoiding the horrendous bogs, though there are still a couple of short crossings requiring some ingenuity. Eventually we reached easy grass and made the steep climb to Lochraig Head which gave a fine aerial view of the Loch. At the next bealach we collected excellent water at a spring and climbed to Firthybrig Head and a welcome long almost flat section with spacious views. At the minor rise of Firthhope Rig we turned L for the final short walk to the deserted flat top of White Coomb, marked by a cairn. The wind had picked up considerably and we retraced our steps to a flat area of soft grass by a small pool.

Loch Skeen & Lochcraig Head
Loch Skeen & Lochcraig Head (08 Sep 2006__15:25:52)
Summit of White Coomb
Summit of White Coomb (08 Sep 2006__16:20:59)
Pitch on White Coomb
Pitch on White Coomb (08 Sep 2006__16:48:06)

Day 3 - Hart Fell & Black Hope

It was another clear morning but with a stiff cold wind, and the moon was still casting its silvery glow on the tent while Orion was rising in the eastern sky. Returning to Firthhope Rig, the fence marches on and descends to a bealach at Rotten Bottom, and pretty rotten it is really, with extensive peat hags and another bit of standing water bog to be negotiated, although such spots have a certain wild and perverse attraction to us!. Easy dry ground resumes as the fence continues westwards to Hartfell Rig: we found it better to follow the fence rather than straighten the line as there is a bit of a track to follow and the views are extensive to the N over Fruid reservoir, while the cliffs of Black Hope ahead enticed us on. Finally the trig point on the flat top of Hart Fell comes into view.

Early moon over Hart Fell
Early moon over Hart Fell (09 Sep 2006__07:05:26)
Fruid reservoir from Hartfell Rig
Fruid reservoir from Hartfell Rig (09 Sep 2006__10:21:54)
Summit of Hart Fell
Summit of Hart Fell (09 Sep 2006__10:37:45)

On the descent via the colourfully named Hass o' the Red Roads we detoured to the edge of the cliffs for a good view into Black Hope with the prominent twin tops of Saddle Yoke on the far side, which looks like a fine route up for a future trip. The next top Falcon Craig gives an even better view and we lingered here a while in the now warm sunshine enjoying the clear extensive views.

Saddle Yoke
Saddle Yoke (09 Sep 2006__11:15:02)
Saddle Yoke
Saddle Yoke (09 Sep 2006__11:40:20)

The fence SW traverses Swatte Fell and the flat Nuberry Moss, rather tussocky and wet but with a faint tractor track to help a little, but becoming arduous and difficult approaching Greygill Head. Here we descended near the edge of the forest to the good forestry track in the valley. The track gives an easy march to the road head at Archbank which leads directly back to the eastern end of Moffat.