open country

I met Dad and his friend Stewart at a layby in the charmingly named Elvanfoot, just at junction 14 off the M74. Elvan means very white in Brythonic (al-gwyn), usually referring to a bright stream in place names. While I waited on their arrival, I had the lucky chance to stand and watch a mistle thrush feeding. It pecked about in the field adjacent to me, the ground around a low wooden trough disturbed by sheep’s hooves.

Above the field on the other side of the road, a pair of lapwings were being mobbed by crows. If a lapwing is not giving its usual pee-weep call, it is still easily recognised by its flight pattern. The wing tips have a definite round shape. The flappy beats display the dark above and white below creating a flickering effect. The males give an aerobatic rolling and tumbling display in early spring.

With everyone’s bags and boots in my car, we headed for Wanlockhead, sitting at 1531 feet its claim to fame is that it is the highest village in the UK. The village name comes from Brythonic words “gwyn” meaning white and “llech” meaning flat stone. Llech sounds like ledge which also indicates a flat stone. Head was added later.

Just south of the village is a pleasant ford by the road which is the crossing point for a small group of pens made up of dry-stane dykes. The shallow valley that we were following to reach East Mount Lowther was Whitestone Cleuch. The burn forks three times before the south-west spring leads you up a steep, flaky route to the hill’s smooth ridge.

The short sharp ascent in the shade gave way to a sun-blanched dome. A walk over almost flat ground found us at the summit quickly. Despite the chilly wind this was a day that you do not want to stop looking at the views, 360 degrees of sumptuous landscape. Strips of wavy blues, yellows and greens mixed under the strong sunlight ripple sensually all around. Hill summits are heaven. Here is where the greatest peace is found. Here I can look down on the world. Yet I am a temporal dot on creation.

Many hills are visible. Most prominent, even in the distance, are Sca Fell and Skidaw in the Lake District; Criffel above the Solway Firth and the unmistakable pointed summits of Arran’s main mountain group. If you are unsure of where these hills lie, do not worry. An indicator viewpoint was erected in 1944 by Wanlockhead Youth Club.

The round pillar looks like a bin as you approach. Appropriately it is made out of recycled materials, understandable in war-time. The main part of the structure is a section of large clay pipe. The orientation plaque at the top is circular with an inner circle pointing to the nearest hills and an outer circle showing the direction of the farthest visible points.

East Mount Lowther is also called Auchenlone. The latter is not mentioned in Peter Drummond’s hill name book so I researched it myself. “Achadh” is the Gaelic word for field and “lone” refers to a right of way for driving stock to common ground.

As our body temperature dropped, I waved goodbye to my father and his companion. I was heading to Lowther Hill while they headed downhill. I walked quickly and felt sick as the temperature rose and fell erratically along the col and shoulders. Then JJ and I stood below the weird gigantic golf ball and accompanying futuristic mushrooms of an aircraft tracking station. The latter remind me of the huge fruit and vegetable in Woody Allen’s film The Sleeper.

Reaching a summit decked with this space-like aircraft tracking system is strange. The experience stands in contrast to the aesthetic wallowing of its neighbouring hill. We ran back to the col and practically flew down to the road over the springy surface. The day may have been short but the memory will be long.