Expedition from the Backdoor Diary 3: Southern Upland Way 18 – 19th April 2017


Tuesday 18th April a.m.

Gained the Southern Upland Way at Melrose and continued on towards Galashiels yesterday. Stopped at 4pm and set up ‘Beauty Spot’ bivi, in woods on top of steep hill. Another public location, where my camp has been remarked upon and stared at and a magnet for dogs.

Had a good night – comfort – but wakeful after midnight worrying about whether if I continue to take the Southern Upland Way it will take too long. Also worrying about the John Muir’s way on the canals and how I’ll cope. Man I met yesterday said I’ll have to take my chances for a bivi on the canals (backpacker himself, but mainly bike touring I think).

Frost this a.m. And red sky! Beautiful day so far. Have decided to throw away things rather than go into Galashiels to post them home: some pemmican (have allowed for a portion/day since that’s what I seem to get through, but chucking some feels like Shackleton killing the dogs), bandage, lead shot from survival kit (fishing weights), handcream, sunblock, deodorant, extra charging cable mistakenly brought, four heavy weight A4 size plastic bags, instant coffee (which I found disgusting when I tried. Wanted to make dandelion coffee but takes an age to get roots up and dry them). The bundle feels reasonably heavy, so might gain by getting rid.


Lots of passers-by last night. Red setter wouldn’t go back to annoyed owner – liked the smell of pemmy too much.

mid morning

This morning woke at 5.30am, left about 7 to have breakfast in sunlight. Finally set off at 7.30. Galashiels – dumped stuff in bin. Find myself counting miles and hours – not so good always under pressure of time. On hard terrain doing about 2.5m per hour. Thought I saw a dog on opposite hillside following along behind a tractor. Turned out to be a calf being led back to its mother. Good mix of livestock around here.

Thoroughly enjoyed first bit of Southern Upland Way section, but at meeting river Tweed hip hurt v. Badly and clunking/scraping bones. Decided that foolish to push my my legs over the hills all day when I have no rest days planned. Decided to walk along the river (exceptional) to Inverleithen. Washed my ‘smalls’ in river to dry in sun on my pack.

Walked initially with two local men: Stuart (a keen walker, who used to work for the gas company and laid the gas pipes along the route. He showed us the markers), his friend (didn’t catch his name) who is having chemotherapy at the moment and is being helped to develop his hillwalking skills/motivation by Stuart.

Sunny day and at times very hot, interspersed with cold wind and cloud. Wouldn’t want it any hotter. Thought I heard some kind of industrial plant in the valley – turned out to be a sit-on lawn mower!

Got into a good pattern now with Kit and food. Hazelnuts and prunes for breakfast (not very tasty, prunes not very sweet and nuts very hard – STOPS ME SCOFFING!) and spoonful of sauerkraut (the salt is like a boost in the morning – like taking coffee), sauerkraut and pemmy for lunch, heated and partially rehydrated pemmy for dinner, sip of whisky at bed.


People I’m meeting are very calm(ing) and pleasant/straightforward. I’m very partial to the accent.


When I reached Peel my hip was much better, so I decided to regain the hills (big additional mileage). By the time I got to Elibank and Traquair forest, was absolutely wasted. Rain threatened so took track down into forest to try and work out what to do next. Religious about staying dry at the end of the day. Must stop and take stock. Must have done over 20m today. Now 5pm.


Feeling a bit hopeless tonight so I’m having to do some more writing and taking a swig of whisky. I’m in forestry woods – proper – feeling a bit scary really on account of the strange, tall deadness of it. The green stuff is all very high up. I’ve found a fallen tree stump to string my basha across that gives me a spot of level ground (a pit where the roots were dragged up. Otherwise VERY steep hillside. It’s an earth pit essentially – ‘Dugout Bivi’. Feels weird. There’s wood sorrel growing on the sides to soften the earthiness.


In truth I feel a bit tearful. It’s been a long slog today and I’ve been torn about route choices. Silly really. It’s whether to go over the esoteric routes of Hamish Brown, or use the Drovers road over the hills, or stick to paths in the valleys. Indecision today led to both. Trouble with the first option is spending the whole day route-finding and stuffing my chances of getting to Inverie, trouble with second is (possibly) knackering terrain, but the third will probably sap my morale. I’ll have to let myself stew on it tonight.

Walking here to my bivi met a man with a dog. BAD. He was really hostile, staring me down when I nodded a greeting. Made me feel vulnerable. That’s probably why the woods feel scary tonight. It’s why I’ve climbed onto such a steep slope looking down on the track. Makes me worry about later on the walk.


Lots of midges here but not biting. Soil is sandy so not making kit dirty – just as well in a pit in the ground.

Wednesday 19th April. am.

Church bells softly peeling this morning woke me gently – first at 3 and then at 5. Good rest. Not so cold in the night. Tongue feels VERY dry and a bit swollen. Mouth open all night perhaps because nose blocked. Combed hair this morning and looked at self. Much wind burn. Now have a hydrocolloid plaster on each ankle where the boots rub. The pack is a bit awkward too because I need it above my hips to be comfortable and the straps keep slipping loose. Tied knots in them, but means I have to keep untying them to get the pack back on, then tie them again. Taking my pills for the day in one fell swoop in the morning rather than splitting between morning and night so I don’t forget to take them.


Took the forest tracks out this morning. MTB (bike) runs all over the hillside. Each route description was ‘extreme’, with ‘mandatory air’ – decided after thinking about it not to take any of these down in case of (unlikely) cyclist at 7.30am. Wondered where the ‘nursery’ routes were. All routes had boards with emergency info. and escape routes indicated. Eventually found ‘Matador’ – an ascent and descent route, so figured okay. Reached Inverliethen. Decided that after such a long day yesterday and no chance of any rest days I’d take dismantled railway route to Peebles. Was expecting it to be nice and ramshackle alongside the Tweed, but Tarmac all the way, signage, and not much view of the river. Traffic sound from ‘A’ road quite loud. Still – direct route so thankful for that. Route goes through Cardona Village, which turned out to be through a housing estate rather than the village. Strange estate. Houses all looked quite solid done in stone (clad probably) to come across as traditional, but unmistakably new. Pristine place. Lines of blue-topped bins along the street. Immaculate. Only one piece of litter – a till receipt. Posh but not very edifying. Looked like made of building blocks. When got back to the railway looked as though could have just skirted the golf course. Obviously unwanted on the links.


Stopped at 4.30, now 7.30. Bivi is underneath fir tree in a little dip, so couldn’t light a fire there and had to find alternative site to cook. All finished now. Put mish-mash in pot, a la ‘pong’ of Rum Doodle. Tasted good enough.


Peebles quite picturesque (apart from caravan/holiday park on way out on Drovers road). Did a bit more washing in stream (especially hands which are black from soot that’s been worked into them with the pemmy grease).

First poo since weekend – a relief! Body getting into gear now.

Met many people whilst having lunch on riverside bench in Peebles. Dogs continue to gravitate. Looked like rain and v.cold wind so put on appropriate gear, but dissipated suddenly to clear warm skies. Did the same thing again later. Now on the Drover’s Road towards The big smoke (outskirts of Edinburgh).



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