Day 6 St Mary’s Loch to Moffat – about 20 miles

The mountain bikers, my breakfast host informed me, had drunk the pub dry and danced in the bar until the early hours. They claimed to be retired cavers who had found a more sedate lifestyle on two wheels. I said I’d stick with two feet and a pair of trekking poles.

The SUW rises steadily on a broad road (photo above) that leads to a path through a short forest section. It emerges onto the grassed hillsides that form the northern flank of the valley of the Ettrick Water. Walking is easy, with views that are pleasant if unspectacular. I met two parties of scouts with their adult leaders, coming to the end of a weekend backpacking trek along the watershed. They seemed to have the bit between their teeth, despite huge rucksacks. Good for them!

Settlements long abandoned

This was yet another warm and sunny day, necessitating frequent sock rotations. Traditional advice is never to take off your boots during the day, but I regularly do so when the weather is hot. I change my socks and dry the damp ones on the back of the rucksack so that a couple of hours later I can put dry socks on. I happen to believe it reduces the risk of blisters, and anyway it feels good.

Scottish Blackface rams beside the Ettrick Water

The long hike along the road to the head of the Ettrick valley was uninspiring but undemanding. I paused at Over Phawhope bothy and filled my water bottle from a stream before the steady rise to a narrow path out of the forests, out of Borders into Dumfries and Galloway, and across the east-west watershed. For the rest of my walk, all streams would be flowing to the Irish Sea.

Over Phawhope bothy – the SUW runs westward just below the tree line on the left of the picture.

Apart from the sea cliffs at each end, the SUW offers scarcely any opportunity for falling off a mountain. The sole exception appears in the first mile west of the watershed, where a narrow path crosses a steep slope that ends in a vertical drop to a stream. In years gone by nobody would have regarded this as a major risk, and I mention it more for reassurance than as a warning. The SUW has fewer “dangers” of this kind than the Pennine Way, the South-West Coast Path, the Cleveland Way and dear old Wainwright’s unbelievably popular Coast to Coast.

The tricky section starts beyond the elegant footbridge.

The zig-zag path in the distance is a big improvement on the original low-level route through the forest, which remains a safe but dull alternative in bad weather. For those needing something to do, there are always cairn-building opportunities.

After such scenic drama the green fields and soft landscape of Annandale soothed my mind. A pleasant riverside path led me to the last section along the road and a comfortable B&B in Moffat, a town which has most things a walker might need.

Approaching Annandale

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