My usual lazy Saturday morning was disrupted this week. A 6.15am rise was required to transport me to Wanlockhead in the Scottish Borders to begin a long, long stage of the Southern Upland Way. But because this was a charity walk for CHAS, my moaning was kept to a minimum. Wanlockhead claims to be the highest village in Scotland, and judging from the freezing mist that welcomed me when I left the nice cosy car I realised the this boast was true.
The stage Colin and I did was Wanlockhead to Beattock. The freezing hill fog persisted as we climbed Lowther Hill. This hill has a huge ‘golf ball’ aircraft tracking station on top, and although I walked within feet of this marvel, I detected only a notion of a globe in the gloom. As the mist sprayed my face and dewed my leggings I realised that this fine moisture was beginning to soak through to my skin. I had no alternative but to don waterproof gear.
The terrain was undulating to say the least, as soon as my legs became accustomed to the climb they were asked to descend. A gentle wee stroll across a dam head was followed by a steep trudge along a switchback ridge. Fifteen miles into the walk I felt the beginnings of a blister. Miles later a visitor’s car park sign told me I had only two and a half miles to walk to reach Beattock: it was far from encouraging. This last section was on The Crooked Road and the name says it all! What the sign failed to mention was that the way was peppered by herds of cows lorded over by a massive bull. My blister were forgotten while I manoeuvred past the beast.
After nine and a half hours and twenty plus miles of walking, with over a thousand metres of ascent, I finally peeled off my boots and socks to reveal first degree burns weeping on both ankles. Splendid!
My reward for this endurance was a night B & B in a local hostelry. The Tibbie Shiels Inn is an old coaching Inn originally run by the widow of a Border mole catcher. The Inn sits on the southern edge of St Mary’s Loch, surrounded by rolling heather splashed Border Hills. As I hobbled into the bar and guzzled a pint of the local beer my earlier ordeal began to fade. The menu was uninspiring but I could have eaten a scabby ‘dug’. In the end I gobbled up an unremarkable mixed grill before the kitchen closed at the ridiculously early hour of 8pm. The accommodation was a strange mix of antique chairs and white DIY cabinets. 1960s net curtain screened our view of the car park and although the shower worked, a scorching hot bath would have been preferable to the pitiful hot trickle. But the bed was clean and comfortable. A duvet was forgone in favour of a traditional honeycomb blanket and simple hand made quilt.
The owner, a formidable elderly lady with an impeccable white coiffure, took no nonsense from her clients. The Inn’s quirkiness was spoiled for me by the sadness I felt. This historic coaching Inn treasure has grown old and tired, but I can imagine that such an operation takes time energy and lots of capital to make it work.
Food for free