Wild camp in the Southern Uplands

Last month I was once again in the fortunate position to have a window of opportunity to take myself off for a night or two. With all the burgeoning responsibilities associated with home, family and work it’s a far cry from my 20s when I had practically no commitments and could take myself off at the drop of a hat. Looking back I really didn’t capitalise on that freedom but it’s a truism that youth is wasted on the young. It was however in my 20s that I first discovered a magical loch in the Southern uplands for which I developed a lifelong affinity so it wasn’t entirely misspent! Myself and Phil were on the first ‘annual fishing holiday’, a tradition that lasted from 1997 until 2019, and had spent the week fishing various put and takes around the lowlands of Scotland. We had saved a special mission for the end of the week, a place that Phil’s dad had recommended. It’s a mile long loch framed by rolling yet rugged hills with a good head of wild brown trout. The views you will encounter are pure postcard porn, especially the ones that hit you square on as you first glimpse the loch.

There is a car park at the base of the valley as this is an extremely popular destination for daytrippers who galivant up the steep path past the spectacular waterfall, take a few snaps of the loch, maybe have a picnic then head back down again satisfied they’ve had a good stiff walk. To be fair, they have – it’s a short but fierce pull up to water’s edge! However as an angler you are duty bound to explore further. Back in 97 the weather was cold, wet and dour with low cloud so we saw very little of the surrounding hills but it still felt like an adventure as we explored the Eastern shoreline with our outrageously overkill 8 weight reservoir rods. On the way back down (after having caught one fish between us) I suggested next time we bring a tent and sleep up there. As ideas go, this one was up there with the best and started a lifelong love affair with wild camping.

The start of the walk

25 years later, ready to set off up the hill, 45lbs of gear on my back I waved goodbye to the taxi driver and began the walk up to the loch for what must be the 15th time. The taxi driver was confident I could have left my car in the car park overnight with the doors unlocked and nothing would have been touched but I’m from Leeds, a wretched hive of villainy and scum where nothing is safe so decided to leave the motor in ‘Ram Town’ and drop £20 on a taxi. The steep pull up with a heavy pack is a good yardstick for measuring your fitness and ascertaining what shit state your body may or may not be in. I didn’t feel too bad this time round but it’s clear I’m not getting any younger.

As always, turn the corner and POW! right in the kisser! One of the finest views in Scotland. I took a few photos then made my away along the Western shore to the far end where I intended to camp. When I got there another angler was already working the Northern shore so I stopped to chat. He had obviously spent many years exploring the wilds of Scotland, both hillwalking and fishing – indeed he was a compleatist – and had fished many of the places I have, including Assynt. In fact, he recognised me from this very blog! It’s genuinely heart-warming to know people enjoy reading of my exploits.

We parted company and I got down to priorities by banging down some Lucozade and a pasty then making a brew. One of many over the weekend. I then finally tackled up but had marginal optimism as there was barely a cloud in the sky, bright sunshine and a stiff, swirly breeze with no signs of moving fish. I persevered for an hour or so without success then decided to get the tent up whilst there were no midges.

If I start captioning pics like this with ‘room with a view’ or something equally cliched put a bullet in the back of my head when I’m not looking

Once everything was set up for the night I returned to the water and fished for another hour but had just 1 offer and nothing to the net. I don’t think I’ve blanked on this loch since 1997! Back in the day this would have bothered me muchly but now, here, I couldn’t really give two hoots. Instead I concentrated on making my evening meal of Supernoodles and a 3 in 1 instant cappuccino before breaking out the Kindle and a couple of mini red wine’s I’d squirrelled away in my pack.

The weather next morning was more like what one should expect at 500m above sea level in the Scottish hills with drizzle, low cloud and fog, followed by rain

I did some more fishing but again nothing to the net. As I began packing away my shit a conversation I had the day before with the other angler was bouncing around in my head. We’d been looking at my map and he pointed out that the walk back to ‘Ram Town’ over the hills is well worth doing, albeit not this time round as I was carrying a 45lb pack. “Well now there’s a challenge” I thought to myself. Seeing as I had originally planned to be taking part in a mountain marathon over this weekend but had bailed through lack of fitness caused by injury and, well, just getting fucking old I figured I had to do something a bit more self-flagellating. And, it would save me the £20 return taxi fare! The idea excited me more than just plodding back down the hill, it was something new, yeah bollocks to it I’m going to do it.

Behind this beautiful loch is a steep hill that tops out at just over 760 metres and getting up it with a big pack is a drain but as always the view down to the loch was well worth it.

Same hill, 2004. Yes I used to have blonde highlights. Now I carefully highlight most of my hair grey.

It was then a case of working my way along the tops with some middlin ups and downs in between. On the map they didn’t look too bad but on the ground, it was hard bloody work in the pissing rain, with a backbreaking pack (did I already mention that?) and relentless tussocks. When I think of the Southern Uplands I see rolling green hills, they must be easy, skipping along the grassy tops but no no fucking no it’s tussock or bog all the bastard way. My particular favourite was ‘Rotten Bottom’ which kept reminding me of the Dead Marshes in LOTR as I dragged my self through it, half expecting to see the faces of long deceased bobble hatted ramblers looming out of the peat stained mire.

Heading down to Rotten Bottom

Eventually I reached the last hill and from then onwards it was downhill all the way which, as well all know, is actually worse than ascending when you get older.

Looking over to the M74 I think

And again, no even terrain! I’m moaning, but of course I still thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, even the final 3 miles of tarmac back into Ram Town. The walk would definitely be a whole lot easier going with just a daypack though. I did contemplate getting a B&B back in Ram Town so that I could indulge in the local curry house and sink a few pints in some quiet corner of a pub with a book but everywhere was full up and it would have been an unnecessary extravagance so I drove home to enjoy some family time instead.

So here we have a post on a fishing blog with no pictures of fish which is not ideal so I will leave you with one I did manage to get. It is one of the UK’s rarest fish. I knew these were in said loch, but haven’t seen one there since 2004. Sadly, this specimen was deceased but it does at least prove they are still breeding in the loch!

2 thoughts on “Wild camp in the Southern Uplands

  1. Bob Carson

    Well done bob. (Knew you could do it!!) It’s a bit of a slog but epic days like that live longest in the memory

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