Culter Fell is steeped in mystery. Some years ago a Carnethy runner became totally disorientated during the Culter Fell Horseshoe; I was always sceptical of these Culter stories about local magnetic anomalies and petrifying wells that disappear. Yet the same person succumbed again during the circumnavigation of Culter at the weekend. This time, like the Pied Piper, he led a group of younger members astray as well, all to disappear in the quiet mysterious hills of Know Kniffling, Trebetha, Gawky and Scawdman’s.
The weather forecast was wrong from the start, but it was at least an improvement on the previous Saturday at the Carnethy 5 – just cold, wettish and windy. We had hardly accelerated to cruising speed when Mike bust his chain, leaving the rider and Mechanic to freeze during roadside repairs as most of the 17 strong group buggered off up the glen to stave off hypothermia, with Hilary and Jane overtaking us on their alternative pedestrian ascent of Culter Fell.
The bikers regrouped at the Culter dam before continuing on the rough track towards the Holme Nick bealach, one or two already going into “are we nearly there” mode, “there” being variously the halfway, half effort, or half total height point. The rain and headwind was having a damaging psychological impact. The Mechanic made reassuring noises about the cold front passing through, the forthcoming turn downwind and the interesting technical descent from Holm Nick. Someone said it was already an hour longer than he’d ever been on a bike before and we weren’t any kind of halfway.
The leaders going for their Navigator’s badge pressed on to the bealach as the Mechanic boosted flagging moral fibre at the rear. The Navigators were so enthused by the steep climb that to the bealach that they turned right to continue up Glenwhappen Rig heading for the cloud base before a real navigator with a map called them back to what, after all, was the scheduled bealach and highest point of the day. The initial descent towards Glenkirk was trackless, muddy and steep enough to provide various methods of falling off a bike if you were still bold enough to be on it, – bar vaults, cartwheels, lateral slides and most variations except back flips were demonstrated. A peaceful lunch spot out of the wind caused dissent from the Navigators, who were eager to find opportunities to test their skills at navigating by maps they had mentally filed away, but otherwise left at home. So we had lunch instead at a wind blasted sheep fank another 2km down the glen where we could practice hypothermia survival more effectively. Meanwhile the Mechanic and his companion performed perfect somersaults and measured their lengths in the same ditch and swamp hazard only seconds apart from each other. There was a return to rideable terrain at the circular sheep fank and we recovered body heat as we sped down the track to Glenkirk and 3km of welcome smooth tarmac to the start of the pleasant forest climb up Swines Hope.
There’s a great open view at the top of this hill where you emerge from the trees between the hill forts of Knowe Kniffling and Mill Rings. The track sweeps down around the open flank of Trebetha Hill to old KIlbucho House and its impressive new timber lodge. The speed merchants couldn’t resist this fast descent, ignoring cautions from the Mechanic to re-group at the first ambiguous junction. Three ambiguous junctions later the group was fragmented into at least three parts, some of which were not to regroup until the pub at Culter. A range of random route variations followed, involving near full and superfluous circumnavigation around White Hill and other permutations to the direct and trackless muddy passage to Cow Castle Hill and a final swoop down to the pub.
A rinse in the river for bikes and bodies was necessary to make the team presentable for an excellent pub feed at the friendly Mill Inn. The chastened Navigators arrived shortly after at intervals from most points of the compass. These local Culter hills are well worth exploring for their wealth of hill forts and old hamlets.
27km + 715m ascent/ descent + random variations.