Last Sunday afternoon I escaped alone to the Lowther Hills. I’ve not explored this overlooked but extensive area of hill country in the Southern Uplands of Scotland nearly as much as I’d like. On the occasional days when I don’t have the wee one in tow, I don’t have the car either so I’m restricted to walks more easily accessible by the limited public transport. So despite the grey, overcast afternoon, the usual Scottish damp chill in the air and the cold from which I was recovering, I was excited to be heading for the hills.
To reach my starting point I took a road I’d never been down before, a narrow single track that at one point went under a railway bridge so narrow there was a turning circle before reaching it and a sign urging vehicles to turn back. I braved it in our small hatchback (only after stopping and checking the map, and watching another car turn around) but if I’d been in a modern SUV I probably would have scraped the sides! I parked up at the side of No Through road servicing a reservoir and passed through an extensive farm dwelling that was eerily quiet. As I tramped through saturated fields I was led by a heron, then a hare that I followed away from the fields and up a valley to the moorland edge. The summit of the hill I was aiming for was shrouded in mist as I followed a circuitous route on the track of an ancient Roman road.
I love walking in the Lowther Hills. Most people will never have even heard of them. They are generally low and rounded but offer extensive views across Southern Scotland. The approach to them them feels like entering another world and there is a feeling of remoteness that is difficult to find elsewhere. They have a bleak wildness and beauty that I find alluring but they are overlooked by tourists and hill walkers who drive right through up the M74 en route to the ‘real’ mountains further north. Even on a beautiful summer weekend I’ve had these hills to myself and yet again, on this occasion I didn’t see a soul. The fact that mine were the only (human) tracks in the snow meant that I was the only person to have walked that way since the snow fell the night before, probably a lot longer. It wouldn’t always have been so. This is an area rich in Roman history, and there is evidence of their efforts to seize Scotland in the form of remains of Roman forts and fortlets, ditches and ramparts and Roman roads through the many passes.
As I followed in the Romans’ footsteps and passed over the snowline it became a little slippery underfoot but the presence of tracks in the snow revealed the normally hidden world and lives of myriad animals. Close to the summit the mist cleared, giant wind turbines loomed out of the mist and the Lowthers rewarded me with 360 degree views, distant features highlighted in the late afternoon winter light. I retraced my steps (easy to do in the snowy landscape and as mine were the only footprints!) and drove the half hour home feeling like I was returning from a venture into a secret world.