It's been too long since I had done a longer day out with Nick and when he said he had the day off on a sunny Monday (8th Aug) and did I fancy the Herring Road, I jumped. Unfortunately Graham was tapering for the PTL and so didn't come along. PTL in this case doesn't stand for Praise the Lord! but it probably does stand for Pain Tolerance Levels as it is pretty much the worst of the UTMB options. The things some folk do for fun.
Meanwhile Nick and I caught the 10am Perrymans bus to Lauder (arr 11.18+) and headed uphill onto the Southern Upland Way skirting around the Eastern side of the Lammermuirs. The start is very picturesque although pretty much uphill for the first 10 miles to Twinlaw Cairns. I noticed we covered this ground more quickly than usual - I have struggled to get to the cairns in less than 2 hrs but we were up there in around 1hr40.
Twinlaw Cairns on the horizon (6.5 miles away)
Nick got a new running camera for his birthday. It was a good bright day for photos but with a strong wind blowing there was little in the way of wildlife out and about. Happily it was mostly to our backs, or a crosswind. At the points the route turned into the wind it was horrendous, especially on the ascents.
There is a box in the second cairn wrapped in 2 poly bags. I have put messages in the previous books - this was the 7th jotter and we signed in. No bottles of whisky today! Nick spotted the surname of the woman who maintains the boxes and books (4 biros and a pencil, no dog biscuits this time) was Jackson and wondered whether she was related to the Trig point memorial next door to a Peter Jackson. I forgot to ask Nick what he wrote. We had stuff to eat and forged on, leaving the Southern Upland Way which heads past Watch Water towards Longformacus, to travel North to Whiteadder Res. and Crystal Rig.
the brassiere of the Eildons
right turn for SUW, staight on up the hill for the Herring Rd
There is a descent to Trottingshaw then a long climb back into the hills before a descent to Killpallet Burn. I drank gallons from this last time I was through. This time I had carried 2lt so had sufficient for the day. I also glugged a 500ml softflask of energy drink so that I could fill it from the burn, although I was glad I didn't have to resort to drinking it.
Nick had pulled away on the climbs and was definitely in better shape on the day. I have no idea how I'd scraped past him in the last few seconds of the NB Law race the week previous.
Crystal Rig turbines and Whiteadder Reservoir ahead
After going round the edge of Whiteadder Reservoir you do a short section of tarmac before making the choice of Dunbar or North Berwick. The Herring Rd goes to Dunbar and makes for 29miles. (If you choose the longer route to NB you continue another half km coming to a track that crosses the burn and climbs through the Johnscleugh farmyard before heading across Clints Dod and dropping down to Pressmennan. It adds another 6 miles or so to the day.) However since Nick had left his car at Dunbar station that was the end point today.
The Herring Road crosses Crystal Rig windfarm. About 60 turbines dwarf the landscape and have removed the trees that you could previously navigate by. We knew the route goes roughly North and did our best to follow the charmingly old-school signs. On a couple of occasions we lost sight of where the next sign was and had to just hope we were going the right way. Towards the other side of the windfarm the signs stop altogether and we were left with no real idea of where to head (other than North.) I was fairly sure I recognised the route Lucy and I had taken last time I was here 2 years ago but it seemed slightly in the wrong direction and over a field or 2 of tussocky heather. There was quite a lot of very hard going (reduced to walking or slow bushwacking) during this section. (One reason I prefer the longer but easier underfoot route to North Berwick.)
Then we came to this unusual looking crossing at the deer fence. Nick, boldly leading the way, easily climbed the raked side (above) then less easily descended the vertical side without rungs. I went to follow and pulling on the crossbars noticed the raked section was in fact a gate. Oh how we laughed!
the krypton factor crossing reveals it's secret
Now if you knew your way about the windfarm roads you could probably do much of the thing on the gravel dirt trails meandering between turbines which were much preferable to the off road "path" we were following. In places churned mud had dried to a stiff rucked track that reduced travel to a brisk walk. Other places you couldn't see the track for the undergrowth. Quite challenging, 20 miles into the day. We saw a tiny small waymarker a long way in the distance and crossed swamps and burns to get there, glad we didn't have shouldered mountain bikes.
Back on track
Luckily we didn't follow my directional hunch but took a line more North on a path that didn't seem to have markers or much in the way of a well trodden path. One of the windfarm boundary signboards let us know we were in roughly the right place and shortly after, at the brow of a small hill, a turn left allowed us to rejoin a recognisable part of the Herring Road (if indeed we had left it) and we were rewarded with a view down to the coast with NB Law and the Bass Rock set out like jewels in the deep blue sea. As the clouds blanked out and revealed the sun, so the Bass Rock, white guano reflecting the light, lit up and went out like a lighthouse.
I must at some point do a full review of the Hoka pack I am wearing these days. I got it on loan from Eoin to try out and after seeing Graham N wear and recommend it, I was really keen to give it a go. The pockets and compartments aren't arranged as I would ideally have them, which is no big deal, just a preference for where I like to carry a camera (on the left strap so my right hand goes to it); but the main thing, the BIG issue, is that it is extremely comfortable on your back during a long day carrying 2 litres of water and bunch of clothes and other stuff. It is my favourite running sack and way more comfortable than a Salomon one I bought. And at the end of the day, comfort, while being pretty roomy (17 litres), is the most important factor. It is light and fairly well made and my go to sack for everything requiring between 5lts and 17.
At some indistinguishable point Dunbar Common turns into Lothian Edge and we begin the descent towards Halls and then Spott. The photos make it look lovely but underfoot was, in parts, lumpy and testing and you couldn't just take the brakes off and fly. My ankles felt vulnerable and by the time we got to the tarmac I think we were both very pleased to see it.
We were now well into Nick's stomping ground and he led the way to Spott taking a turn off that Lucy and I missed 2 years back. With the first mile of the day up to the bus station and the last, down from Waverley, I only had to rack up 28 to seal the TB deal. So any direct lines were a blessing. Nick though would need 30 to qualify for a TB day out. Also a wm which we found at Spott parish church. We have been here before but only as a secondary war memorial. On a pevious Herring Rd I have already ticked off Lauder wm.
On the outskirts of Dunbar just after crossing the A1 Nick took us through the woods near Hallhill and I wondered were we on a wild goose chase to rack up his last TB mile. He assured me this wasn't the case and sure enough we popped out where the Doon Hill race does, just minutes away from the station. We had both done 29+ so I made myself respectable for the train (using the ebola burn water to wash the worst of the filth off) while Nick did a couple of laps of Hallhill environs to notch up the last mile. It was delightful to watch and not have to run that last bit! Nick tempted fate by inviting me back to his for coffee but the train was due in shortly and the possibility of a last minute f-up was far too easy. I even turned down a lift along to the station, managing to jog the last couple of hundred yards. Somewhere between Dunbar and Edinburgh I lost the enthusiasm for an evening swim at Threipmuir. And opted to swim through a glass of wine instead.
FAB day out!
Nick's blog of the same
Nick's blog of the same