Friday, 11 June 2021

County Tops: Roxburghshire

 A while back I wondered how many historic county tops I still had to visit. There are 33 of them, and it turned out I had done most of them: only Morven (Caithness) and Rona's Hill (Shetland) required anything more than a daytrip, so they seemed a great project as we slowly moved out the levels of lockdown.

Craig Airlie Fell:

Blackhope Scar (Midlothian) was beautiful in unseasonably hot March weather: Innerdouny Hill (Kinross) and Craig Airlie Fell (Wigtownshire) in April and May were more perfunctory, bagged in pishing wet weather. South of the Tay only West Cairn Hill (Roxburghshire) remained, so I set off, confident it would not take long. How wrong I was!

I arrived in glowering weather, the promised rain never quite materialising, but something about the day felt heavy and sluggish. I parked at Sourhope, where a notice described two border terriers that had been stolen. We were about to get a dog ourselves, and I was outraged on their behalf. The spirit of the Border reivers lives on in this quiet backwater, the last human habitation before England.

On the England/Scotland border:

The way from Sourhope up to Auchope Cairn on the Anglo-Scottish border was hard going, boggy terrain and a lack of sleep the previous night slowing me down. I couldn't help thinking of Pennine Way ultra-runners reaching this point and wanting to throw in the towel! I poked my head around the door of the Auchope mountain refuge and recoiled. Was the smell of human waste anything to do with the odd-looking man I had seen earlier in the day wandering around Town Yetholm? The Pennine Way is a tough route, and doesn't attract the dilettante.

Annoyingly I had already almost done West Cairn Hill years ago: it lies high on the shoulder of The Cheviot, which I'd previous walked over from Wooler, visited Cairn Hill half a mile from today's target, and headed back to the car, leaving West Cairn Hill unbagged. But as The Cheviot was so close I decided to revisit, a line of paving stones making the route across the bog easy. This would be very tough terrain without them!

On The Cheviot:

I decided to follow the Pennine Way for a bit along the ridge of the Cheviots, England on one side, Scotland the other, high, boggy country that did not feel welcoming this gloomy day. It was here I saw the only other people of the walk, a couple of Englishmen who asked if The Cheviot was the highest hill in the massif. They were three weeks into a long distance walk across some of the most infamous bogs in Britain and looked fairly discontented. It was not surprising they didn't seem particularly full of bonhomie. 

I headed back down towards Cocklawfoot, surprised at how long the walk had taken me and how much effort it had been. The Cheviots are not terrain to mess with.

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