This is a two day walk taking in old mine workings at Wanlockhead, the Lowther Hills and the dramatic beauty of the Daer Reservoir before a pleasant wander through the Earschaig Forest to join the Annandale Way into Beattock.
This is the first section since Portpatrick where there is a realistic accommodation option overnight at the Wanlockhead Inn which has wigwams available for around £15 per person. It claims to be the highest inn in Scotland but at around 420m it doesn’t have an alpine feel to it.
Sanquhar is well connected to Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle by rail and bus. Beattock is a couple of miles from Moffat and has an hourly express coach service to Glasgow and Dumfries, an occasional bus to the station at nearby Lockerbie, and several buses a day to Edinburgh.
The section from Sanquhar to Wanlockhead is one of the highlights of the Southern Upland Way. From Sanquhar you pass under the railway and up good tracks towards the farms near Lochburn. A beware of the bull sign at Bogg Farm here meant a lengthy detour which turned out to be completely pointless as the field was empty. From Bogg Farm it’s an easy climb towards Conrig Hill and down into Cogshead.
This part of the way is particularly picturesque. There is a choice of following the track around Well Hill and into the foot of the glen at Wanlockhead, or directly up and over Highmill Knowe. We took the latter and spent the night at the top of Highmill Knowe.
The path down into Meadowfoot and Wanlockhead is stunning. It’s a steep descent into a glen marked by sheep farming and lead mining, with many examples of own mining works and ruins.
Wanlockhead has a visitor centre for the mining museum and a pub (although it doesn’t open until lunchtime). It’s a sleepy village and few people were up at 7am when we were walking through.
Out of the village it’s a steep pull up to Lowther Hill. If you ignore the radar and weather stations on the summit, Lowther Hill strikes you for its remoteness. Apart from one or two windfarms, the only other feature in the wilderness is an occasional post and wire fence. Its an impressive if foreboding landscape.
The next point of interest is the farm at Over Fingland. These few miles are some of the toughest walking yet on the Southern Upland Way. Two hundred metre descent and ascents, unrelenting and steep make the sight of Over Fingland farm a welcome relief. The last few hundred metres is redirected through a boggy field that the farmer has put cattle into, and consequently its a quagmire. Access rights permit an alternative and heading towards Potrenick Burn and descending might be an easier route.
After a short walk along the A702, the path follows the Potrenick Burn in towards the forest at Coom Rig. Much of this has been deforested and an easy track opens out for a couple of miles towards the reservoir at Daer.
It will take a good couple of hours before you leave Daer, and its a stunning setting. Cross over the head of the dam and a steep path gains the ridgeline at Sweetshaw Brae before following it over Hods Hill and into the forest after Beld Knowe.
There are many trees over the path throughout the forest, but there are now well trodden tracks to avoid them and they are unlikely to slow you down. We stopped at the bothy at Brattleburn which is delightful. It’s worth a meal stop even if you are not staying the night.
A couple of hours of gentle walking after Brattleburn will bring you to the edge of the Earshaig forest and a pleasant wander along the Crooked Road into Beattock. You are about a mile away from Moffat at this point; a town offering all services.
There are a variety of camping options. This section is easily covered in two days although a stop at Wanlockhead will mean a long second day. There are the wigwams at the Wanlockhead Hill, although there are many beautiful spots in the glen for wild camping. It would be possible to camp on Lowther Hill but you will need to pay attention to water. There was nothing flowing after Wanlockhead until the Potrenick Burn.
The area around the Potrenick Burn is suitable for camping or you could press on to the Daer Reservoir where there are many options. I spent a night on top of the hill approaching Wanlockhead and the second in the bothy at Brattleburn.