As some of you may recall, I visited the area a couple of months ago. That trip ended in retreat, due to high winds. I stated I’d return at the time, and for once I kept to my word. The weather was too good to miss and it’s been altogether too long since I camped up high.
Despite the glorious weather, it was breezy enough to have me wondering about a sheltered pitch, but I thought I’d have faith in the Trailstar’s wind shedding abilities and go for it. The days are long again, if necessary, an evening retreat off the summits would not pose a problem.
Climbing the steep path up from the car park, I was stuck by how few people were out. I never saw anyone until I reached the loch. Kids in bathing costumes and fisherman in inflatable armchairs on the loch. Families paddling by the shore. I had to leave this place. At least the were having fun. I dropped down to the shore to refill my platy bottles and dunked my feel to cool off. Minnows swam in the shallow water whilst I critically assessed the water I was scooping up. It looked a bit cryptosporidium-y for my liking. I was churning up the delicate plant life which grew on the sub surface rock. I hoped I’m fine some better tasting stuff higher up. Onwards.
I skipped over the bog which had made my previous trip such a delight, the week of sunshine had dried it up, the peat cracked in places. Walking on this stuff was lovely and spongy. The wind hadn’t let up and at times I wondered if I was going to lose my sun hat – potentially fatal for a baldy bastard like me. Like any true Scotsman, I burn easily and was walking in long sleeves and trousers despite the heat, my bandana trapped under my hat to cover my neck. SPF 30 everywhere else. Coupled with a giant dSLR strapped to my chest and ill fitting sunglasses, I looked like a right plank. A family coming the opposite way looked bemused by my costume, I can’t blame them.
This walk starts steep, levels off around the loch and then gets steeper again toward the summit of Lochcraig Head. Progress was slow, despite my poles, despite my light pack, despite my plimsoles. Drink some weird tasting water, stay hydrated. To be honest, it was a great excuse to look at the scenery, there was a haze as is normal on warm days, but the views were outstanding. Fewer people had ventured beyond the loch. A couple and their dog were posing for a timed photo by the summit cairn. ‘Yes, this is dog‘ I thought to myself, smiling.
In the saddle, past the summit I heard a spring gurgling. Fresh water! My hopes were dashed by a giant turd, sitting proudly atop it’s verdant throne. Crestfallen and a bit pissed off that some mammal would shit on prime Scottish spring water, on one of the warmest days of the year, I scanned around in hope spotting another outflow. Further over, there was another, jobby free spring. I inspected it closely, definitely jobby free. I filled my bottles from as near the source as possible, warily eyeing the sheep on yonder hillside. I washed the wind dried sweat from my face and neck, and took a good long drink before shouldering my pack and walking up the other side of the saddle. The last of the day’s ascent.
Higher up, the hills were reminiscent of the Ochils. Rounded, rolling, possibly a little bit ‘boring’. The dry stane wall I’d been handrailing since the loch split left and right. I followed it up the broad ridge to Molls Cleuch Dod. This walking was too easy. Unlike the tussocky Ochils, the grass underfoot was more like a close mown lawn.
A couple appeared a short distance away, they followed me for a bit, until they realised I was just wandering off to get a better photo of the hills opposite, once they realised I wasn’t going anywhere with purpose, they must have resorted to checking their map, as they disappeared back over a ridge.
I found a small depression on the lee of the summit and pitched up. The wind was still pretty blowy, but warm enough. I was surprised at just how much of it the Trailstar deflected. I’d not made any particular attempt to pitch low, but under the nylon there was no breeze at all, which was less than desirable. I escaped the stifling Trailstar with my Kindle and sat on a rock in the sun to read.
I watched as the shadows grew longer across the landscape and waited for sunset. I poured a whisky and congratulated myself on my excellent choice of campsite. Not even the multitude of surrounding windmills [I stopped counting at 105!] could put a damper on my spirits. Sure, they diminished the landscape, and I cursed the greedy bastard who put them there, but their visual intrusion was mostly masked by the fading light.
The sun dropped over the horizon and it occurred to me that I don’t do this nearly enough. The joys of solitude. A grand vista. Time and space to think, or not. To sit still and stare at the sky. No barking dogs, no traffic noise. Perfect.
In the harsh light of morning, the windmills had nowhere to hide. Glaring brightly in the sunlight, they made me wonder about what the new landowner of Talla/Gameshope had in mind, following the JMT’s unsuccessful bid to purchase the estate. Hopefully not more fucking turbines.
I had slept really well. A flatish pitch always helps, but I still need to add some grip to my sleeping mat, my feet were sticking out of the door by morning. There was zero condensation, it was set to be another scorcher and the wind had died. I stuffed everything into my pack and set off for White Coombe. A flat retracing of yesterday’s steps, until the steep drop over the other side toward the loch. The route guides had warned the grass could be slippy, but not today after the recent dry spell. Despite the steepness, the descent was a joy on more dry and spongy peat.
I passed a particularly stupid sounding goat and made for the Tail burn and the knee busting descent on the rocky trail back to the car. The early start meant I was finished by 1030 and as is customary, I spent the afternoon in the garden with a beer and barbecue, squeezing every last drop of joy out of the weekend before facing the grim reality of another week at work the following morning. Roll on the weekend.