For some time I have been interested in the hills which can be seen from the area around the Blackhill Transmitter. Having identified the hills to the north I turned my gaze to the south one clear winters morning, and noticed a group of hills with what appeared to be a ‘golf-ball’ on top. A bearing was duly taken and then transposed on to Memory Map computer software. The line ran almost due south and through the Lowther Hills, near Leadhills and Wanlockhead. These hills are adorned with radar and communications installations, part of the National Air Traffic Services.
Co-incidentally I had been asked some time back to lead a walk for Glasgow HF Outdoor Club and had agreed to lead a walk to Lowther Hill and Green Lowther. This however had been missed from the club programme at the time and had been resubmitted and was now on the programme for the 13th March 2011. This was another reason to visit it, and with luck clear weather and a back bearing would prove that it was indeed the same range of hills.
The days before the walk saw the return of the snow, and a planned club walk on the Saturday bit the dust. I watched the forecasts, checked traffic webcams on the M74 and even phoned a local pub for weather information. On Saturday I was finally able to confirm that the walk was on! Having had a Saturday walk cancelled I thought that a few people with itchy feet would have joined me on the Sunday, but it was myself and two others, John and Sandra who assembled in Waterloo Street just before nine that morning. We had transport thanks to Sandra, so it was bags in the boot and off we went. Around an hour later we were getting our boots on at a snug little parking spot (NS 929 094) at Overfingland, on the A702.
The roads had been clear of snow, the skies were clear and a wooden sign marked ‘Southern Upland Way’ pointed uphill. No further invitation was needed, and we set off.
The path rises steeply, shadowing the south edge of the woods, and a fire break appears on your right. It’s worth noting this as it’s part of your return journey. Continue uphill, crossing the stile and on to the open hill. The path now heads south west to Laght Hill, and while not overly heavily trodden is clearly visible, and is aided by helpful marker posts.
To the north west the panorama of the days walk becomes quickly apparent and you see almost all of the days walk laid out before you, with the golf-ball of Lowther Hill and the antenna on Green Lowther particularly prominent.
Coming up the hill I spied a mountain hare, looking somewhat misplaced in its winter white coat, considering the snow was patchy and mostly gone.
John and Sandra were too busy in conversation, and failed to notice the hare as it shot off over the hill.
Conditions were good, both weatherwise and underfoot and we made steady progress uphill, to Comb Head and then Cold Moss. There being no particular pressure to return quickly due to weather or light we found a little niche on Cold Moss and had a tea break. The views to the south were new to me, a change from the comfort of the Highlands where I can look around and pick out familiar places. My tick list seldom visits the south, and that’s a shame because these are enjoyable hills. It’s a crime that they are bearing the brunt of wind developments, and to the east on Wintercleuch Fell I could observe huge cranes hoisting another batch of turbines aloft, soon to be part of the Clyde Windfarm.
With 152 turbines Clyde will overtake Whitelee as Europes biggest windfarm. Looking around there was scarcely any area free of turbines, and even the view of the Solway Firth was broken by the outlines of turbines.
Dropping quickly down from Cold Moss there is then a steep pull up to Lowther Hill. Cross the stile and pass around the south side of the building, before crossing the fence near an old bothy, and onto the road.
We followed the road round the other side and after a quick discussion judged that the actual summit of the hill was on the gravel opposite the entrance to the golf-ball, marked by a manhole cover. Makes a change from a trig point, but a tad more difficult to find when it’s been snowing. I was interested to learn that because of it’s position on the boundary between Clydesdale and Nithsdale, Lowther Hill is the highest point on the 210 mile Southern Upland Way, and was regarded as a a no-mans land, neither one ‘dale’ or the other, and was used to bury people who had committed suicide in times gone by. A nice place to be laid to rest, if difficult to get to.
Lowther Hill and Green Lowther are joined by a maintenance road which runs along the summit ridge. Looking off to the west we noticed snow approaching and a few flakes began to fall, so we turned away from the wind and headed along, stopping first at the intermediate top, unmarked on the 1:50,000 map, but listed as Green Trough, which hosts a single antenna.
The road continues on, rising uphill finally to the trig point and antennae at the summit of Green Lowther, at 732m the highest of the Lowther Hills and a Graham.
I headed off around to the north side of the buildings and scanned the horizon. I set a bearing for Blackhill on the compass, lined it up and peered through the binoculars along the line. Faint, but visible was the transmitter, right where it should be.
There was a great view from here, taking in Glasgow, Tinto Hill and the snowy Pentlands.
After a short break we headed off once more, with one eye on the snow in the west, which rolled in over Leadhills like a white curtain.
We dropped down to Peden Head, no doubt named after the Covenanter, Alexander Peden, who must have certainly covered a fair bit of these hills in search of a safe place to preach, and down the wide shoulder of Riccart Law Rig. With the snow now upon us, if only briefly, we dropped down into Riccart Cleuch and picked up the path which fooled us into thinking we could get back dry shod. A ford at NS 918 100 put paid to that idea. Luckily it wasn’t overly deep and was manageable. The track then curved around the hill round to Overfingland, and just beyond the farm we cut through the fire-break before picking up the Southern Upland Way for the couple of hundred yards to the car.
We stopped off on the way home for a beer at the Crawford Hotel, where the England V Scotland rugby match had attracted a small mixed crowd. Sandra had to ask three times if they had charged the correct price for her tea- £1 for a large pot! You can hardly fill a cup in Glasgow for that price. As England edged into the lead we edged out of the door and left the locals to enjoy the game. As we drove back up the M74 the snow closed in, and the hills disappeared once more. The break in the weather had lasted long enough to give us a glimpse of into this cracking border area. I hope to return, sooner rather than later.