Open Country by Erica Hume Niven

The day I was meant to back-mark my colleague Susan on the Donald hill walk to Cauldcleuch Head I was suffering from asthma – I had to humbly bow out. I think my temper at not going did nothing to alleviate my lack of breath.

Just over a year later I was a passenger in a friend’s car looking at a range of welcoming green humps almost smiling under the late morning sun. I made it into the valley floor of this hill and sat changing into my boots by the gentle ripple of Priesthaugh Burn. My friend’s car boot so neatly organised that I teased him for shame of my own dishevelled car.

The start of the route follows the minor road through Skelfhill where some resident Border collies came up to inspect Jayjay. He pulled his ears back and stuck to me aware that this was their territory; a lady gathered them up and smiled as she returned to the farm buildings.

Not far along the track a finger post points walkers to Fouledge, I smirked at Mark announcing that it did not sound like an inviting place to live. Of course, sitting at the lower slopes of our first hill of the day with an old prostrate rowan just below it, the cottage had a pleasant situation.

A section of rough ground, dotted with patches of hard rush, along the south-eastern flank of Harwood Rig gives way to the surprising steep rise of Skelfhill Pen’s summit cone (532m). Clearly a popular landmark the small summit houses a trig point and an attractive round cairn, broader than it is high.

The moor below looked far below us because of the perspective given from this isolated high land. To the west of the trig point it looks as if you could just fall off; a short stony slope takes one safely down. The broad flat ridge heads south onto another disparagingly named Crummiecleuch Rig.

At Millstone Edge I stopped to look at the group of hills that include Wether Law and the Tudhope hills – a snipe flew up from the vegetation and headed towards their emptiness. From here the ridge turns to the east and then heads north-east getting closer to Cauldcleuch Head (619m).

Along the gentle rise of this great saddle back is Langtae Hill. I assume its name comes from the long toe-shaped spur heading north-east towards our cold summit. Along its western flank is a slope called Footman Hass; curious about the meaning of hass I googled it by definition.

Weirdly, this search threw up a type of avocado, a dependable person (from Hass Cartwright) and the German word for hate or hated place. I thought the latter might be relevant here because, apart from the long languid views, this is a bleak ridge.

However, I brought myself back down to reality by consulting my Scot’s dictionary and discovered the word can mean various things when used topographically – a narrow place or the head of a pass.

To reach our last summit of the day we had to turn south to reach a large flat top only obvious by the junction of fences. It is flanked on the east by Windy Edge and in the south by Muckle Land Knowe. Our descent was along the north ridge heading first for Skelfhill Fell (534m).

To reach this point there was a slope to the col carpeted with wood rush; this provided a cool carpet in a hot day. I loved the creamy crackle of it under my feet and Jayjay lay among the cool leaves.

Before we reached the little fell a man from Wales, who had been hill walking in the Southern Uplands for two weeks, caught up with us. Mark, Darran, Jayjay and me left the hills that day in a small group along the sensuous curve of Holywell Rig.