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The Merrick: What have the Corbetts ever done for us?

The Merrick: What have the Corbetts ever done for us?

Postby old danensian » Wed May 05, 2021 10:33 pm

Corbetts included on this walk: Merrick

Donalds included on this walk: Merrick

Date walked: 21/04/2021

Time taken: 6.5 hours

Distance: 15 km

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Apologies if this is more waffle and words than the minutiae of a well-trodden route, but it’s been a long time and my editing skills might be a tad rusty.

Sunrise illuminating clouds above Glen Trool

“I wager that many of us have a routine or challenge to which we return from time to time.
We may need to reassure ourselves of our ability or hone skills that could be lost without the benefit of practice. We may yearn for the security of a familiar experience, enjoyed with little thought or preparation. On the other hand, sadly, we may need to measure the impact of advancing years on legs and lungs we still perceive as youthful and energetic.

“Mine’s The Merrick. I see it, and it’s neighbours Shalloch on Minnoch and Kirriereoch, every time I leave the village, a rounded threesome slumbering intertwined on the horizon to the south. They were christened “The Awful Hand” in the early 1800s, more for the shape they display when seen on early maps than any threatening prospect they offer from a distance or close acquaintance.

“Since moving to Scotland (nine years ago now) it’s become the hill on which I’ve started my year, the slopes on which I gauge how far my hill-fitness has dropped. Since a limping finish to 2019 coming off Ben Starav in December, it has also been a test of how well my knees might stand up to another year of hill punishment.”

M2 01.JPG
Bruce's Stone - and away we go

I wrote the above paragraphs over fifteen months ago, in the short time between coming off The Merrick itself in January 2020, and life taking over. “Events dear boy, events,” we might all have sighed, just as Harold Macmillan declared when quizzed about what could derail his government in the 1960s.

Fifteen months later, having achieved a perfect garden, and with 6,000 of road and track kilometres claiming the life of two chains, one set of cogs, three bells, a tyre that claimed immortality as its usp, and a physiotherapist’s bill, the same remained true. The sentiment of that early draft remains true. I needed to revisit that challenge.

Benyellary and The Merrick catching the early morning sun

Now, back home once again, in one piece but with the occasional “event” still poking its belligerent nose in, I take a quick glance at my notebook and map. Strangely, the reminder of that walk from a couple of weeks ago could comprise a list of cast and locations for a Monty Python production searching for the Holy Grail.

The Awful Hand, Black Gairy, Rig of Gloon, Culsharg, Neive of the Spit, Nick of the Dungeon, Rig of Jarkness – my scribbles even describe the wrinkles on an elephant’s foot: I’m waiting for it to crush me like a Terry Gilliam foot stamping from the top of the TV screen.

M2 04.JPG
Benyellary above Culsharg

As well as getting legs and lungs used to going uphill again, this was also a jaunt to get some words flowing. I don’t hold with the concept of writer’s block: you don’t hear about teacher’s block, accountant’s block or bus driver’s block. I just need to have some words on paper to work with, so my notebook carries them home for me. Like the camera, it’s an excuse for stopping and staring into space. I wanted to get back into writing about time spent in the outdoors. I’m not one for capturing the abstract or dredging up epic memories from decades ago – although some are bubbling away. During the last year I’ve scribbled about the garden, its visitors, its evolving hues, and its ability to promise something in the months to come. I’ve crafted some short stories, experimented with flash fiction and dabbled with the fiddly new-form Drabbles. But the outdoors fires me up.

The Merrick beckoned and, so the familiarity of a straightforward up-and-down didn’t breed any contempt, I decided to return by way of Buchan Hill: a circular route to give glances into the remoter quarters of the Galloway Hills.

What of the walk itself? You’ll have glimpsed snatches from photographs punctuating the report. As a package, it’s a great snatch of a day out: drive, approach, summit and return all offer something in which to immerse yourself.

During a January cold spell the car’s temperature gauge can plummet as you drive up Glen Trool in an early morning mist. Otherwise, in low early morning spring sunshine, long shadows stretch across the road, trace the line of walls and highlight folds in the land.

At Bruce’s Stone it’s best to sally forth quickly before the New Year chill conquers the in-car warmth. Otherwise, linger in spring and wonder what the view would be like from the slumped lump of Mulldonoch across the glen: best left for another day and another excuse to visit.

Whatever the season, or however thick the mists, there’s no problem bumbling around and stumbling inadvertently the wrong way out of the car park: the route’s well signed and a pleasant trouble-free wander with the day’s objective on the horizon.

M2 02.JPG
Artistic, sculptural or inadvertent public art?

M2 03.JPG
Wrinkles in wood or an elephant's boot?

The path to the cottage at Culsharg can be gloopy in stretches but, with much of the forestry cleared in recent years at least there’s now a view to be enjoyed.

Yes, the track up through the woodland above the cottage can be a slog, steep, occasionally muddy and only frozen in the harshest of Arctic winters. Just get over it and get it done.

Above, the hillside opens up. As the angle of the well-established path eases off, a carved stone informs of your passing from Forest Zone to Montane Zone. However, growth beyond suggests they’ll need to relocate that marker before too long.

In whatever weather, or whichever season, passing through the deer-fence gate feels like a liminal moment before the final push to the skyline wall and then the jumbled summit stones of Benyellary.

Swirling mists obscure the view from Benyellary

M2 05.JPG
The Merrick from Benyellary

Looking back to Benyellary over the Nieve of the Spit

The sweeping wall along the crest of Neive of the Spit traces the approach to The Merrick’s dome, and hopefully the splendid Four Nation view that’s supposedly possible from the trig point at its summit. Spring, summer, autumn or winter it’ll always be different. You may be lucky to get that Four Nation view, or you may have to be satisfied with your own four extremities. In fact, as I type this in May I can see the whole “Awful Hand” blanketed in snow.

Rolling mists over Kirriereoch and Shalloch on Minnoch from The Merrick

M2 06.JPG
An April view from The Merrick

Then, Buchan Hill beckoned, after a zig-zag descent down Redstone Rig towards Loch Enoch. Once on Enoch’s very own Rig, the path twists and undulates but never becomes tiring. There are intriguing glimpses into mysterious bays to the east and the slopes and screes below The Merrick and Benyellary seem to change all the time.

On an earlier visit to Buchan Hill we’d descended in a bee-line towards the car park and down Black Gairy. As my memory of that was more Bleak and Hairy, I opted for a more judicious, if slightly longer route down the gentler south eastern slopes to the Gairland Burn. I think my knees appreciated the choice when I, and they, reached the car.

A wintry Merrick trig - there's a Clyde view out there somewhere

And in retrospect, what did my notebook scribbles remind me of observations and contemplations; what didn’t make it to the final edit?

Sculptural and surreal grey tree stumps – creases like elephant’s skin
Well-plumped cushions of moss at base of every tree - transported to Chelsea - garden designers pay a fortune
Sporadic scattered spread of sapling conifers - frostiness of spring held hillside in pre-winter browns and russets - stare to see haze of spring shoots emerging - rustle of bleached freeze-dried grasses
Woodland birdsong replaced by anxious bleat of lamb - deeper, throaty reassurance of nearby ewe.
Whirling white bristles - trill of skylark – search in vain for hovering speck - cloud shadows – stately progress

M2 07.JPG
Loch Enoch from Redstone Rig

Looking back at these, the Python’s much-parodied rhetorical question lingered: what has this particular Corbett ever done for us, or me in particular?
It’s sparked my year and left me raring to go – the to-do list has been fifteen months in gestation but will take far longer in its delivery, for which there’ll be no help from the nuns at Nonnatus.
Maybe I’ll need another couple of single-top outings before stretching the days and hoping to avoid the midges in some summer summit camps.

M2 08.JPG
Benyellary and The Merrick from Buchan Hill

But importantly, the knees have held up and I guess the words have flowed (“too much” I can hear already!). Familiarity left me with the challenge to discover something new or add a new perspective to the day. It reminded me that it’s not about the detail of the walk, it’s about the angle you take, the perspective you share and what springs to mind, however surreal or bizarre.

M2 09.JPG
Upper reaches of Glen Trool and the Gairland Burn to the east of Buchan Hill

And I guess there’s a writing challenge too – how to get Harold Macmillan, Monty Python, the Chelsea Flower Show and a bunch of East End midwives into a Walkhighlands report.

Clouds hanging over Glen Trool at the end of a January day
User avatar
old danensian
Posts: 430
Munros:282   Corbetts:81
Joined: Jul 6, 2009
Location: Ayrshire

Re: The Merrick: What have the Corbetts ever done for us?

Postby IreneM » Fri May 07, 2021 7:24 am

Have missed your beautifully written reports Nigel.

Hope there are many more to come.
Posts: 192
Munros:282   Corbetts:184
Grahams:12   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:10   Hewitts:1
Wainwrights:1   Islands:12
Joined: Oct 8, 2008
Location: Dunfermline

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