Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A hill walk to Whitehope Heights via the Annandale Way

Aside from gardening another of my passions is hill walking. Unfortunately over the past two or three years this has been sadly lacking from my life. But now I have more time I plan to do more, starting with easier ones to get my fitness back up. Sunday was forecast to be clear and sunny so the maps were out and some planning done with help from the excellent Scottish Hills website, which has great trip reports and you can keep a record of all the Donalds, Graemes, Corbets and Munroes you have climbed. There are a great bunch of folks on there with lots of useful advice.

Start of the walk, you can park here at the side of the gate
or in the view point car park 500m down the road. We parked here.

I chose this walk as my "back to hill walking walk" as its fairly straightforward and not too strenuous (try telling my legs that now). Because the road climbs up and around the Devil's Beef Tub the height of the walk is not far below the summit although there are a few ups and downs on the way. I've walked part of this walk before, a long time ago, but our goal today is Whitehope Heights, a Donald. David had opted to go flying as the weather was perfect and he needed to get his hours back up. Its been such a busy year at work and with moving house, but not much time left for flying. Since eldest son was at home I asked him if he wanted to come, He's not a huge fan of  hill walking, but like me he loves to get out and explore, though it did mean a much earlier start to his day than normal.

Looking down towards Moffat, covered in fog

As with all southern upland hill walks, it was rough walking over the tussocky hills sides, though popular walks tend to have a rough path. Because this walk is on the Annandale Way it's fairly well used by walkers and by quad biking farmers, so most of the way there were clear paths. There is an interesting noticeboard at the beginning of the walk, showing the route of the Annandale Way. After a quick sharp climb the first hill top is Annandalehead Hill with its trig point. From here you get a clear view down Annandale towards Moffat and the south. That part of the walk meanders along the top of the Devils Beef Tub. If you don't like steep drops, stay away from the edge! It's a long way down and nothing to stop you.

The trig on Annandalehead Hill

This deep hole in the landscape has been linked with many historical figures. This link from the Scotsman gives a good wee round up. From here we had a good view back towards the Lowther hills and one of the many wind farms that litter the landscape. It was a perfect weather day for being in the hills and the blue skies set off the hills perfectly. We stopped for a wee rest at the trig as the first bit was quite steep on our out of practise legs.

Looking back towards the Lowther Hills

Forwards again and though it was November and 3 degrees C when we left the car at 11 am, now we were moving it was comfortably warm. Bracken was having a great time careering over rushes, tussocks and boggy puddles following the latest smell.

Whitehope Heights is the light coloured hill in the centre,
with darker Hart Fell behind

This part of the Annandale Way was created around 2009, providing a scenic walk from Moffat to the Beef tub and back. Well marked out with posts and markers, it is easy to follow even if you aren't a regular hill walker or map reader. As always in these hills the narrow saddles between hills are wet and boggy where the water collects, before spilling over the edge and down the hill. The skill is to find stones, tussocks and the fence to hold your weight whilst impersonating a mountain goat and hoping you don't fall in!

Ben, contemplating the fact you have to go down and then up again!

We crossed a flat, wet area to the cairn that marks the return journey. This makes it easy to recognise which cut you take down to the valley below. I like seeing cairns in the hills: natural monuments, ancient and new. We were groaning at the sight of the steep ziggy zaggy path up Spout Craig ahead. It also was one of those hills with several false summits, just as you thought you were nearly there..... nope there's another stretch to go, and another.

The Annandale Way cairn and Spout Craig behind

A lovely view looking down Annandale

After Spout Craig it was a fairly easy walk upwards to the deer fence just before Whitehope Height summit. Fortunately there is a stile over the fence, albeit a stile built for giants. It was a bit challenging for wee me! There was also a dog gate for Bracken at the side. It was certainly a sturdy piece of engineering and we could see it for a long way before we got to it. After that it was a hop and a skip to the cairn on the summit.

Yes its a long way up Bracken and a long way down

The cairn on Whitehope Heights

Bracken and I at the top, my 44th Donald

Once at the top we had a well earned rest sitting on my survival bag in the lee of the cairn. It was chilly once we stopped with the breeze blowing, so we didn't stop for too long. Food always tastes so much better on a hill top, much needed coffee too, sandwiches and cookies for us and biscuits for Bracken all went down well. Then we were ready for the much easier route down. 

View from our lunch spot on top of Whitehope Heights

Hand over your lunch and no one gets hurt says Bracken

Going back down Spout Craig was so much quicker than up, and once we reached the cairn we turned left and headed down the broad path into the valley. This was an easy walk out: the grass was short and the path not too steep. We were much taken with the amount of tree planting that has been done in this valley. Thousands of native broad leaves and evergreens are poking their heads above tree guards. The slopes of the surrounding hills and right down to the path were thickly planted with Birch, Alder, Rowan, Holly, Juniper and Hazel.

Heading back down the Annandale Way

We followed the path to the bottom of the valley past some plantations of larch and across two sheep fields. From here there is a great view into the Devil's Beef Tub. Corehead House nestles nicely in amongst the trees looking down the valley.

The Devil's Beef Tub

From here we followed the signs along the tarmac track to Ericstane. Whilst walking through the farm yard, hoping Bracken didn't spot all the rabbits, there was a bit of a rain shower, so we sheltered under the corner of a cow shed until it passed. From here it was a bit of a steep climb back out the valley towards the main road, the A701. Fortunately, it being a Sunday it was quiet and easily crossed to the footpath on the other side. We could have walked back up the main road but opted for the safer, quieter route around the back of Ericstane Hill, more "over the top of", rather than "around the back of" though! Our legs were crying no more hills. We did however get some lovely views in the afternoon sun of the surrounding area.

Looking over the valley to the hills we walked from Ericstane Hill

Whitehope Heights and Hart fell in the late afternoon sun

Sun setting over the Galloway Hills from Ericstane Hill

Nearly back at the car, the lone silver dot to the left

For my first walk in a long time I did all right, as did Ben, we were sore and tired but that for me is always offset by being on the hills on a beautiful day, achieving another summit and most importantly getting back safely. Although Ben did slip onto his back at one point and I tripped over fresh air and fell on my length onto my face, we just ended up wet and muddy and laughing. I'd thoroughly reccomend this walk.

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