Down in the Southern Uplands, the border hills between Scotland and England, lies long beautiful Moffat Dale. Rising from forests and farmland to wild moorland this valley runs between steep-sided rolling grass and heather hills. To the north three deep side valleys cut into the slopes. I had previously visited two of these valleys – that of the lovely Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall and the hanging valley of the Tail Burn and Loch Skeen and that of Carrifran, home to a new wild forest. The third valley, Black Hope, was unknown other than from glimpses from the heights above until last week when I wandered its length and spent two nights camping near its head.
After the long journey down from the Cairngorms I set off up Black Hope at dusk. A brisk wind blew and the tops were covered in cloud. An old track runs up the valley; a track that is slowly fading back into the landscape, especially in its upper reaches, beyond a section washed away by a flooding burn. By the time I reached the end of the track it was dark, with the pale slash of the burn the only distinct feature. I followed a rough path a short distance then found a reasonable camp site on a shelf above the burn. Soon I was out of the wind and warm in the tent with hot soup in my mug and supper cooking on the stove.
The night was warm for mid-October with a low of only 10ºC. I left the tent doors open at first but the gusty wind and then a shower of rain woke me so I zipped myself in. There were no stars or even the silhouette of the hills to watch anyway. Dawn came with a creeping greyness and a reluctant half-light. I had considered camping high on the hills but the wind and low cloud made this unattractive so I decided on a day trip to the summits and a second night in Black Hope. Leaving the tent I set off up the valley and was soon climbing up beside the stream of Cold Grain, which dropped down the hillside in a series of little falls and cascades. Before I reached the gentler slopes above I was in thick, wet mist with visibility reduced to a few yards. Once I emerged on the slopes of Hart Fell at the head of Black Hope I felt the full force of a strong wind. I followed the fence to the summit and then over Falcon Crag and Swatte Fell. Heavy rain began to fall and the ground was soft and sodden. Two figures suddenly appeared in front of me out of the cloud. Hoods up, heads down, they mumbled a greeting as they passed and then vanished in the mist. A third walker a little later was the only other person I met. Given the weather I was surprised to see anyone else at all.
Tempted by the thought of hot drinks in Moffat, which was only five or six miles away, I changed my plans again and instead of descending into the Black Hope valley and back to camp I went down into Moffat Dale where my car was waiting to transport me to the luxury of a café. A few hours later back at the head of Black Hope I had to struggle back into wet waterproofs and head back up to my camp. I considered simply packing it up and heading out but decided to stay in case the weather improved. It didn’t. It worsened. The second night was one of heavy rain and a much stronger gusty wind that shook the tent and woke me several times. The dawn was again grey but the clouds had lifted above the tops and for the first time I could see the upper edge of the valley and the series of crags and stream gullies on its sides. Black Hope is a splendid valley. I’d like to see it in better conditions.