Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Peebles to Moffat by any means

It was a good plan when Mike (Northern Pieman) first mentioned it, I forget how long ago but possibly before anyone thought this might be the snowiest winter of the millenium.  The plan was to walk over three days from Peebles to Moffat (or it may have been the other way round).  It was a natural line of ridges and hills and we would camp on the tops and return with tales of derring do to recount to our offspring or anyone else within earshot.  But in the event, like other great adventurers such as Scott and Shackleton, it was the snow wot did for us.

I drove up to Scotland in the campervan on Good Friday and spent a warm and cosy night on a campsite devoid of any character at Ecclefechan.  Arriving in Moffat an hour before the pre-arranged meeting time, I sought out the nearest tea-shop and installed myself in the window.  Mike must have arrived just after me, because my text to tell him where I was received an immeadiate reply saying he was on his way.  The other two members of the expedition, Alan Sloman and Phil Lambert (both TGO Challengers and bloggers whose reputations go before them) arrived and having abandoned Alan's car and my campervan in Moffat high street, we set off in the new Knipemobile to Peebles where we abandonded that and headed for a pub with another challenger known as Humphrey, whose reputation may also go before him but I was up to then not aware of it.  We had a pint and then another and then went for some lunch.  So it was about 4'ish when we began the first leg of the walk.  Hmmm.

All went well as we strode out of town and up the first hill.  A couple of walkers overtook us and then passed us in the opposite direction about 10 minutes later muttering something about snow.  Hmmm.

And then we reached the snow line and a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach was soon re-inforced by one below the feet.  We did 4.5 miles the first day before taking the decision around 7pm to make camp on the edge of a wood in an area of least snow.  It was a choice of squishy grassy stuff or heather.  I chose the latter though the placement of the tent pegs was more an act of faith (or art) than function.  Fortunately there was no wind that night and getting up for a pee around 2am, I saw clear skies and the lights of Peebles below me... and a walkers light in the distance.  Hurrah, we've been rescued I thought.  Then I remembered that Phil had camped a hundred yards away.

Camp at end of day 1, looking towards Peebles.

Sunday dawned foggy and it dawned on us that we were not going to make the second day's leg to Megget Stone in these conditions.  Or if we attempted to, this would turn into a 4 day walk, which of the many disadvantages this would have, the shortage of a day's food seemed a compelling reason to come up with what was subsequently referred to as...

Plan B

We'd continue with the original route for another mile or so, then head south for Tibbie Shiels where there was a pub and an easier route along the Southern Uplands Way to Moffat.  There was some suggestion this might leave quite a bit of distance for day 3 but like the early days of the credit crunch, no estimates were made of the extent of the deficit.  Hmmmm.

Summit of Birkscairn Hill (661m)

Plan A stretching out in front.  Plan B off to the left.

So that's what we did.  And the snow got deeper as we climbed and we took it in turns to break the trail, which became increasingly knee wrenching.  Mike probably had the hardest time as the rest of us took bigger steps.  I also found that if I walked about 6 inches to the left of Phil's steps I missed all the deep places he went into into.  He didn't seem to find this information very useful, or chose to ignore it, and the snow got deeper still as we descended, climaxing with Phil's sudden dissappearance into a hole whose depth increased with each telling of the story, so let's just say it was bottomless.  Accommpanied by great merriment from the rest of us (well it's important to be supportive), he somehow managed to extricate himself unharmed in a stylish manner but not quite worthy of a follow up to Touching the Void.

After the deepest snow came a landrover track of more snow and then the Southern Upland Way and St Mary's Loch, where the snow was replaced by some rather obscure art (see picture on Mike's blog) and then Tibbie Shiels, where we were met by Ian Shiel whose family had farmed in the area for 300 years and who is a Challenge vetter and a chap who you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of but who you would be more than glad to have with you in a tight spot on the hills. 

The team on the Southern Uplands Way

St Mary's Loch

We were also met by another Challenger called David Albon, who had planned to walk with us to Moffat and then walk back to Peebles with Mike.  So we spent a thoroughly pleasant evening in the pub with superb food and a nice camp by the loch.  The only downer on the evening was the calculated distance to Moffat which was variously 20 to 25km and a 7am start was agreed, though not with any real enthusiasm.

I think I'd only been asleep an hour when I woke to a rustling of tent fabric which got more frantic and was followed by the patter of raindrops which became more insistant.  I started to worry if I'd put all the pegs in properly and then about what I'd left out under the porch that could blow away if a peg did come out and then about  how we might walk 25km in the storm that was raging outside. So I didn't sleep that much between then and 5:30 when my alarm went off.  I peered out of the tent across to Mike's from where I could see a light.  "Are we going to do this?" I shouted.  "It doesn't look like it", came the reply.  TFFT. There was a bit more conversation but most of it ended up as speech bubbles blown to the far end of the loch. I finally went to sleep.

And with the dawn of a new day, Plan C was born...

Breakfast in the pub, followed by taxi to Peebles where David left us, then Knipemobile back to Moffat, lunch in a different tea-shop and farewells, with a general agreement to have another crack at this later in the year.

We may not have achieved Plan A but it was a thoroughly enjoyable two days and the company was spot on.  Thanks chaps.

The stats:  total distance 15.5 miles, height gain 2,800 ft

Other accounts of this epic adventure with more pics can be found at: