This was to be the day when I set a new record in terms of distance covered in one day. 35 miles! 2 years ago, I did not think my body is able to withstand anything of the sort. By now, it proved to be tiring, but certainly not impossible.
It required, however, getting out for the actual first light – by which I mean before sunrise. I was walking it in mid October, so the days are shorter and earlier start was certainly required. I started at about 5am.
During the first 20-30 minutes of the walk, I used the fact that the town of Moffat, where I was starting, has street lights. So whilst it was still before the first light, I could see stuff. After about 2 miles, I was out of Moffat and crossed Moffat Water before heading into a small wood. It was now first light, but not under the tree cover, so I had to get through using a flashlight in my phone (sadly, scaring some beavers away, I think). When I left the wood, now in Moffat Dale, the path soon turned into a car-width dirt road and started its ascent up. This ascent from 420ft (128m)to 1,800ft (548m) was slow, but steady for the next 5.5 miles or so. The fact that it was a solid dirt road certainly helped!
This picture was taken as the ascent from Moffat Dale was just starting – gives you an idea of how early this was! Having said that, human eyes see this far brighter than the image would suggest.
5 miles in, I had passed Big Hill and continued moving up. A short distance later, I spotted an isolated house in this stunningly remote location:
This early in the morning, it was misty and cloudy and kind of magical as the morning wind was lazily pushing the cloud down the wooded slopes.
Some of this area was clearly a place of work for loggers, but there was certainly no one here. It was also rather well managed – and it still looked lovely (some of the areas where managed forests are maintained I have seen before can look rather desolate and ugly.
After 6.5 miles into my hike, the trail took me off the loggers road into a small wood along a quiet, serene stream called Wamphray Water.
Soon, I have emerged out of the wood and there, to my amazement, the huge Capel Fell came into view, though still shrouded in mystery!
The trail now goes to the right (if you look at the last photo above). Just a minute’s walk from here, you cross the border between Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders. A rather steep ascent takes you up, but I stopped on the way to sit on a rock, eat my first sustenance meal and admire this view!
The break was only 5 minutes long – it was very windy and in October you get cold rather quickly, so you’d better get moving.
The cloud was slowly lifting , but the next part of the walk had a certain Lord of the Rings quality to it (think the misty, boggy and eerie scenes from The Two Towers in particular!). Look at these pictures:
Past this beautiful – and on the day I was there – mystic crags, one soon reaches the area of Black Burn and Midden Hill, which is a wooded area. One crosses a few fields first. I love the second photo here with the wood covered in cloud, like out of some kind of fantasy film.
I was quite surprised that from here, I was back on a wide road for the next 8 miles! First, the way takes the walker down along Ettrick Water towards Potburn – as you can see in the photos below, the weather was changing rather rapidly!
And then this!
The road took me steadily and gently down the next few miles, past a few farmhouses, to Scabcleuch. It was a lovely, relaxed and gentle walk. Here are the photo highlights – I am sure what these places are called, but they are beautiful!
At Scabcleuch, there was a sign that St Mary’s Loch was about 4 1/2 miles away. St Mary’s Loch has a cafe that just happened to be open on Saturday, and I was planning to have a proper break there for full lunch, so this was to be my longer stop before pressing on towards Innerleithen.
Off the road at Scabcleuch, the trail turns sharply and very steeply north to pass Scabcleuch Hill on one’s left. 5 minutes up and one is rewarded immediately by the gorgeousness of it all:
The path takes you now in between of the two slopes that you see above (gotta love the sheep-dotted hills) towards the area at the foot of the hill in the distance, at the back of the photo.
Stopping to turn around and look back does pay off!
Now the trail turns slightly eastwards near Scabcleuch Moss.
Soon, a sharp descent follows to cross a stream at the bottom. Then the final steep ascent before St Mary’s Loch takes one to Captain’s Road, which takes you all the way to the Loch.
St Mary’s Loch is just stunning, surrounded by wooded hills, its shiny waters reflecting the sunlight in the most romantic of ways. It was difficult not to get mesmerised.
As I mentioned before, I stopped at St Mary’s Loch Cafe for food: soup, burger and salad and some drinks. I arrived slightly later than I would have liked, so only had about 40 minutes for my break rather than anticipated 60 minutes. The cafe windows overlook the lake, and I still had a wonderful view of the lake. I took my boots off, letting me feet breathe.
It is a bikers cafe though and the place was full of Harley motors!
After my break, I put my boots back on and was back on my way for the final 15 miles or so. I had already done about 20 miles.
The next three miles took me on an easy path along the loch in the north-easterly direction. It was sunny and many a time did I stop and admired the views across the water towards the surrounding hills.
Upon reaching the end of the loch, the path turned north to soon cross a more major road and then began climbing up, first past a farm with a rather loud dog barking away at a distance. As the path turned east again towards fully remote areas, I turned back to have the last look at the loch I was now leaving behind down below.
Soon, I was walking surrounded by quiet, peaceful and glorious hills, peppered with sheep now and then, but usually just covered in grass and heath.
The stretch rises about 300ft (about 90 metres), rather gently, before falling down to Douglas Burn where there is a single farmhouse to pass. The walker is surrounded by huge vast space of hills rising gently all around, walking across this grassy, partially farmland, area.
At the farm (called Blackhouse) after crossing Douglas Burn, the path immediately enters a wood; it is a very steep ascent. It was made tougher on the day as the path was quite muddy and its more slippery nature made it more difficult to climb.
It is just 1 mile of an ascent but about 200 metres up so when I saw a conveniently located bench on top (somebody was thoughtful!) I was very grateful!
A quick drink of water and a snack to replenish some of the energy and I was back on my way, now almost all the way down towards Traquair and Innerleithen where my route for the day ended.
I soon emerged from the forest and the open spaces came back into view.
Eventually, the incredible view of the valley where Innerleithen lies with the range of hills behind it came into view – now I was descending quickly towards Traquair, just one mile or so from my final destination, the town of Innerleithen.
The sun was now setting, making the scenes behind me irresistibly beautiful.
The path descends very steeply to the village of Kirkbryde from where it’s about 1 mile to Traquair over a very quiet road. Here, I was quite happy that there was a path next to the road to Innerleithen, only about 20 minutes’ walk. My map did not show it and I was mildly concerned I’d have to walk on the road again, which becomes busier as it’s closer to the larger town of Innerleithen. Luckily, there was a well-maintained walking path from Traquair to Innerleithen.
And finally, after the whopping 35 miles walk, starting in complete dark in Moffat, over moors, hills, farmlands and across burns, I arrived in the beautiful Innerleithen.
It felt rather like an achievement – the longest stretch in a day! And what a beautiful day with views, impressions and breathtaking moments never to forget all day through!
All images from this trip can be seen in the video below: