I have decided to try and do a write up for every new 10+ mile walk I do so that I can build up enough good routes to fill a little booklet of my favourites. Not routes necessarily about Covenanters or poetry, just simply beautiful walks and bike rides in the Nithsdale Hills. Hopefully some of our guests here at Rigg House B&B will do some of these walks during their stay with us, but it is just good to have a record anyway.
It’s probably not the safest advice when it comes to hill walking, but for me the best plans are having no plans. There is nothing better than setting aside an entire day with no particular goals, and just heading out and just seeing where the wind takes you. Of course, arm yourself with a map, decent footwear and a rough idea of what the weather is planning for that day and then just get going. Even if you think you won’t like it; you will, I promise.
This weeks big walk ended up being about 20 miles (more on why I’m not sure of the exact distance later) and took in 5 hills, 2 Covenanter conventicle sites (sorry, I can’t help it; they’re everywhere!) and 0 trig points (more on this later as well). By simply heading towards the patches of blue sky and away from the grey clouds I managed to stay dry for the whole 11 hours I was out and even got in a spot of sunbathing by a beautiful- and very hidden – waterfall.
I set off from the little car park at the top end of the Baker’s Burn path in Kirkland just after 10 am and headed up Little Kirkland Hill, which is really just the shoulder of Kirkland Hill (separated by Churn Burn and Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall). Exactly an hour later I was down on the Fingland Road and after another 10 or 15 minutes I stopped for a drink beside an old sheep pen (the first black dot on the map). I still wasn’t too sure of my plans at this point but I had started walking in the direction of Fingland which would then give me two main options: head to the Ayrshire Hills on my left, or towards Wanlockhead and the Lowther Hills on my right.
I still hadn’t made up my mind as I wandered down that road but it was such a nice feeling. I had told my other half that I had intended on heading left, on the Muirkirk path and heading up Stony Hill and Cairn Table so I knew that if I did decide to change my route then I would need to find a spot with phone signal and let him know my rough plans. Recent events, concerning someone I met in the hills earlier in the year, have proven to me how important it is to give someone at least a bit of an idea of where you are going and when you are planning on returning – more on this matter in a later post, maybe.
By the time I got to Fingland the sun was shining over Blackgannoch, so I headed in that direction and decided to reach my favourite spot to stop for a drink (at the end of the red line at the top of the map). But when I got there I realised that my massive bottle of pink lemonade had jumped out of the side pocket of my rucksack. Doh! It was the only drink I had so I knew I had to retrace my steps, knowing that it would most likely be at the spot by the sheep pen where I’d first stopped. Which it was.
After this minor debacle, I decided to head towards Todholes Hill and check out the mast which we can see from Rigg House. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as seeing the Golf Ball on Lowther Hill, but the sound of the plovers singing all around me was really quite wonderful. The second black dot on the map is where I sat to admire the view for a minute and was the last point I checked my pedometer to see how far I’d gone (5 miles at this point). The third black dot is the moment I realised that I had lost my pedometer. Twenty pounds gone, which was pretty annoying. I did try retracing my steps for a while but it was a pretty futile exercise on the long grass on the top of Bail Hill. And I really didn’t want to spend my entire walk searching for things that I had dropped, so I carried on.
At this point I had the option of heading back on to the road which lead down to Crawick, or continue up over the hills and join the road leading down to Sanquhar. I think it was about 1.30 pm by his point so I decided to continue up to Black Hill. I could see the Golf Ball over in Wanlockhead and I considered seeing if I could walk there and back to Kirkconnel before if was dark but I realised that was a bit daft and most likely not possible. So instead I dipped down to Kiln Burn (so beautiful) and up the steep slope of Black Hill and then down through Carco Farm and onto the Crawfordjohn road.
Just before the cottage of Nethercog I crossed the bridge over Crawick Water and joined up with a forestry track leading up between Tongue Hill and Conrig Hill. I wanted to go up Conrig as it has a trig point but I mistook it for the hill beside it, The Dodd, so after climbing up that one I didn’t really have the time or willpower to scramble up another steep hillside so I’ll save Conrig for another time. The sky was looking quite threatening at this point so I didn’t want to hang about.
At this point I knew I was just round the corner from another location of a 17th century conventicle, and thus also close to the Southern Upland Way. I have wanted to see the ruins of Cogshead cottage for a while now so I was pleased that my random route had lead me there, and it didn’t disappoint. Maybe to most people it just looks like any old ruined building, but once you know the stories connected to this place then it has a whole new sense of atmosphere. Not creepy as such, just full of history; history you can literally touch. I ran my hands across the stone fire place and knew that at one time, Covenanters had sat beside this fire as they took a brief shelter from the King’s troops. 350 year-old history feels so close when you are up in these hills.
My dream would be to sensitively restore Cogshead, rebuilding it to exactly how it would have looked in the 17th century and turning it into a bothy, but one where I could come and sell hot drinks and flapjack to SUW walkers in the summer months. It is a shame that there is no information board at here to tell SUW walkers about the history behind the ruin – that seems like a missed opportunity in terms of the Covenanting Trail. I do worry that at some point, without any care and attention, all these types of old structures will one day crumble into a pile of stones and then a piece of the story is lost and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.
From Cogshead I joined onto the well-marked SUW path, which, after an initial small incline, was downhill all the way to Sanquhar, which sat happily in the ever-nearing distance. It was a lovely easy last stretch on soft terrain which was much welcome after walking on the rough forestry track for the previous few miles. It was close to 9 pm by the time I passed the signpost for Black Loch (another future adventure destination) and the sun was starting to sink as I walked into Sanquhar. My feet were tired and I was hungry, but I was happy to have had a wonderful adventure in the Upper Nithsdale Hills.