Southern Upland(s my) way part 2: The Galloway Traverse
by malky_c » Mon Jul 21, 2014 12:42 am
Corbetts included on this walk: Merrick, Shalloch on Minnoch
Grahams included on this walk: Cairnsmore of Fleet, Craignaw, Lamachan Hill, Millfore, Mullwharchar
Donalds included on this walk: Cairnsmore of Fleet, Craignaw, Kirriereoch Hill, Lamachan Hill, Merrick, Millfore, Mullwharchar, Shalloch on Minnoch, Tarfessock
Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Craiglee (Galloway)
Date walked: 16/07/2014
Time taken: 26 hours
Distance: 77 km
Ascent: 4040m5 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Grahams: Cairnsmore of Fleet, Millfore, Lamachan Hill, Craignaw, Mullwharchar.
Sub 2000ft Marilyns: Craiglee.
Time taken: 26 hours over 3 days
Link to part 1
I said (slightly disparagingly) in the first part that I found it hard to justify visiting the Southern Uplands from Inverness, with so many great places closer to home. While that does apply to most of the Borders hills, Galloway is a different kettle of fish entirely. I knew that as I'd managed a couple of walks there in the past - back when my in-laws still lived down in Ayrshire. The centre of the Galloway hills - around Merrick and Craignaw - is worth the effort of visiting from afar as it is stunning (and also very, very rough).
I had taken the bus into Dumfries. First stop was for some breakfast - a couple of manky sausage rolls earlier not really cutting it. I couldn't see any particularly promising looking cafes, so ended up eating a breakfast sub in Subway. After 4 nights of savoury rice, miserable pasta and sauce and endless sausage rolls, it tasted like heaven . Then it was straight next door into Costa for a bit of cake and some coffee. Having got slightly damp during the morning walkout from Kettleton, I enjoyed drying out and sitting on a big leather couch and reading. Sadly, these things had to end, and after 40 minutes, I went hunting for a shop to stock up on food.
It would help if I'd done my research first - all I wanted was a Co-op, Tesco Metro or similar, but I couldn't find one. It was probably just around the one corner I didn't look. Running out of time, I ended up in the most poorly stocked corner shop I have ever found, and left with just one pasta meal and some slabs of value chocolate. I found a Spar further along the river front which was slightly better, but it was still slim pickings. In the end I just had to grab a few vaguely suitable items or risk missing my bus. Luckily I still had food over from the first part of the walk - the final day or so would just have to be a miserable diet of mixed nuts and penguin bars!
Wednesday, 16th July - Palnure to White Laggan: 10 hours, 1895m ascent, 31km. Claggy and close, but clearing up in late afternoon.
While the rain in Dumfries had stopped, it lashed down the entire bus journey to Palnure - not just poured, but came down in sheets and started ponding on the roads. Despite nearly quitting this second part a couple of nights back, I had started thinking about it much more positively. This was not helping!
Off the bus at 10:45am, and the rain wasn't that heavy really, but I took the first minor road up the Bargaly Glen to avoid having to walk next to the massive puddles on the A75, with their drenching potential. This was not the road which led to the normal Cairnsmore of Fleet start point, so I improvised on some forestry tracks, joining the normal route at about 200m. Any ideas of taking a more southerly route via Knocktim and the Knee of Cairnsmore were consigned to the dustbin.
Some deer action in the Bargaly Glen:
Within 30 minutes of starting, I noticed it wasn't actually raining at all, although the cloud continued to sit almost at sea level. Higher up the Cairnsmore path, there was plenty of evidence of the morning's rainfall. Probably a good thing I couldn't have started earlier.
Path also serves as handy drainage channel/burn:
I had a break on the summit inside the shelter cairn. Despite the lack of visibility, the conditions were actually pretty reasonable. I was glad of the good path to the summit, as things were going to get a whole lot rougher over the next couple of days. In fact I having read comments by Norman Grieve and Dreamer, I knew that the final descent to the road north of the Cairnsmore was going to be one of the roughest parts of the trip.
But first an easy walk down to Meikle Mulltaggart, aided by a compass bearing. Then out past the Coo Lochans (can't be sure if I saw them; that whole area of plateau was covered in boggy pools) and onto Craignelder. The weather was now teasing me with the occasional partial clearing, or whipping of blue sky overhead, but I was glad of the compass across here. Finally the ground began to get rockier and start looking like the Galloway I knew.
Some erratics on Craignelder:
Rather than bother following the ridge over Craignarget, I took a bearing directly down to the house at Craigdews. It was obviously going to be rough everywhere, so I thought I might as well take the shortest route.
Weather finally clearing on descent to Palnure Burn:
And boy was it rough. The Galloway speciality is long grass, which completely obscures the ground beneath, while looking quite reasonable from a distance. Of course underneath is full of holes, waist high tussocks and boulders. While parts of the west coast like Knoydart and Ardgour have a reputation for being rough, this beats them all hands down! I fancied a break, but decided that the best strategy was to focus on the ground immediately ahead and just keep ploughing. Any length of time spent sitting down and looking at the route in entirety would probably have ended up with me crying
I finally crossed a forestry track (which didn't go where I wanted), then crashed across a load of rotten felled timber and head high bracken on the floodplain. The wade through the swollen Palnure Burn was a doddle after that!
Possibly the worst descent route ever:
On the upside, I hit the A712 right where a track I wanted left on the other side, and the sun was now out. After a break, I had an easy stroll up the forestry track to the point where I needed to leave it again for Millfore. Was this going to be as bad as what I just came down?
No it wasn't. It was definitely still rough, but there were the odd scratchings of a path and it was bearable. The vegetation shortened as I approached the summit, and I was finally getting my first good views of the area. And good they were too . After some of the miserable Borders summits that were so flat the high point could not be determined, this felt like a proper mountain. I could see the Isle of Man, which was nice, as that is also visible from some of the Welsh hills where I grew up.
Looking back to Cairnsmore of Fleet from Millfore:
The Merrick, Loch Dee and the Rhinns of Kell from Millfore:
When I plan these trips, I sometimes wonder how I'm going to fill all of the time I have. however once I get out there, it seems to ebb away at a ridiculous rate. I wanted to reach White Laggan bothy today and finally have a night under a roof, but I was also keen to climb Lamachan Hill first, despite being a slight diversion. This was because it was clear at the moment, and also because I already had a rather tough day planned for tomorrow, and didn't want to make it even harder. It was already 5:30pm.
However Lamachan Hill wasn't the most arresting thing in that direction - it was Curlywee. This was way rockier and more individual than it looked on my map, which made me want to climb it more. However I realized that it would probably not get included as I was getting tired and looking for the shortest route onto Lamachan Hill. Never mind - something to come back for?
Lamachan Hill and Curlywee:
Wigtown Bay with Isle of Man on the horizon:
Cairnsmore of Fleet:
Curlywee and The Merrick:
The rough hills of the Awful Hand: Craignaw and Dungeon Hill, and the Silver Flowe:
I descended via the SW summit - a good viewpoint out west. Below the White Lochan of Dringmorn (complete with ruined bothy), the going was quite rough again, and I was tired when I reached the col below Lamachan Hill. At least being an out-and-back route, I didn't need to take my bag.
White Lochan of Dringmorn:
Loch Dee and the Rhinns of Kells:
Despite traversing Curlywee, Lamachan Hill was rough as well - even the smooth looking bits. The only easy bit was the summit plateau itself. Still, another good hill. I managed to find a traversing path to the north of Bennanbrack on the way back, which was easier going and gave good views into the northern corrie.
Mourne mountains of Northern Ireland seen across the Mull of Galloway – Slieve Donard is the pointiest one?
Mullwharchar and Craignaw from Lamachan Hill:
Curlywee from Lamachan Hill:
Cairnsmore of Fleet:
Isle of Man again:
It took me a little under 2 hours to add in Lamachan Hill, and time was moving on fast again. Not that there was a worry of running out of daylight - more a likelihood of running out of energy! The path down the glen was a slop, and the edge of the forest was always obscured by a mini-spur. Thankfully when it did appear, it was right in front of me.
Looking down the White Laggan burn to Loch Dee:
Finally! White Laggan bothy:
First thing I did on arrival was fill up my bladder so I wouldn't have to go outside again, then take off my boots. I barely moved from my seat after that, not even when I got a couple of visitors who had camped by Loch Dee. They were friendly enough, and wanted to see the bothy for themselves as they had seen a video on youtube featuring it. I haven't bothered doing a search, but given the reputation for easy access, vandalism and drunken behaviour the Galloway bothies have, I can imagine the sort of content.
The bothy wasn't desperately untidy, but it did appear that a group had been eating, drinking and playing cards around the table, and just upped and left without tidying anything away. I did a slight cleanup, but with no broom and little space to pack out extra rubbish, I couldn't do as much as I'd have liked.
There appears to be an impressive sunset out there but I don’t have the energy to go and look:
Thursday, 17th July - White Laggan to Shalloch on Minnoch: 9.5 hours, 1845m ascent, 22km. Hot and sunny.
I struggled to sleep during the night, the last 5 nights of camping and walking catching up with me and making my muscles ache (even with a roll-mat that I found in the bothy). Instead, I overslept in the morning, and only woke up when the bothy shrew ran over my shoulder. I then watched it slowly try to chase a beetle around the floor. Beats the Radio 1 breakfast show for morning entertainment!
I left the bothy later than intended (about 10:15am) but as I'd been so shattered the night before, I didn't mind. Also, I'd seen cloud down on the hillside behind at various times when I'd half woken up earlier. That was all gone now, and it looked like it would be a hot summer's day
Leaving the bothy the next morning:
Craiglee was my first destination. Much as I fancied this, I would have been prepared to leave it out if there had been a quicker alternative. But I couldn't see one. After an easy walk round the end of Loch Dee, I decided to get straight on the hill rather than keep following the track. I used the same logic as yesterday: it might be really rough, but then so will the longer way, so I might as well get it over with. It was really rough - almost as bad as my awkward descent yesterday, and having looked at some other reports, it probably would have been easier to stick to the track for a bit longer.
Rhinns of Kells and Loch Dee:
No worries - soon I was on the stumpy SW ridge and the going was better. I could see some strangely shaped erratics that looked like cows high up on the ridge. Then one swished it's tail - they were cows! I don't think I've ever seen cows on the higher parts of such a rocky hill before.
Erratic cows on the ridge:
Good views onward from here - on to Craignaw, which I had been up before, but couldn't see a practical way of avoiding this time. No matter - I remembered it as a summit of character, well worth another visit. Before dropping off the northern side of Craiglee, I had accidentally managed to herd all of the cows together.
Loch Dee and Curlywee:
Mullwharchar and Craignaw:
Managed to line them up for a group shot – cows of Craiglee:
The northern descent of Craiglee wasn't too bad compared to what had come before, and I even picked up traces of a path on the way up Craignaw. Higher up, the walking was easy over granite slabs.
The Merrick and Kirriereoch Hill:
…and again with Loch Enoch and Shalloch on Minnoch:
It was getting hot and I was getting burned. Combined with some sunburn from previous days, 5 days worth of dirt and a lot of nose rubbing, I had managed to break the skin on my nose. I couldn't see it properly, but it looked like I'd headbutted a wall or something. Having stopped for a break on the summit, I was a bit wobbly for the descent.
Deil’s Bowlin' Green:
Dungeon Hill and the Rhinns of Kells:
Despite Dungeon Hill looking rather appealing from this angle, I decided to skip it and head straight for one of the fingers of Loch Enoch. I was going to dump my bag by the loch and do a quick out-and-back to Mullwharchar, a hill I'd considered doing when walking here 10 years back, but ultimately hadn't bothered with. I ended up dumping my bag a little prematurely, so I wrapped my red jacket round it so I'd be able to see it when coming back. I knew it was on a prominent rock, but from above, all you can see is rocks! The hill was less rough than the worst of the area, but it belied its smooth appearance by being much the same as the surrounding ground. The additional view from the summit was looking down Loch Doon.
Loch Doon from Mullwharchar:
Back down at the bag, and I decided to hit Loch Enoch for a dip. It would be a good chance to have a wash, rinse my socks and take a break from the constant pushing onward that I seemed to be doing. I wasn't sure at first whether taking my boots and socks off mid-walk was a good idea, given that parts of my feet were effectively being held together by them. But in the end it felt good, and 45 minutes later I continued on my way, feeling much refreshed.
Golden sands of Loch Enoch:
…with added pollution:
After the initial 100m or so of ascent on the Merrick, you finally clear the granite area and reach lovely cropped grass. Finally the easy walking of the high hills! Views were brilliant - out to Ailsa Craig, over to Arran, back towards where I'd come from. Second time in a row, as my previous visit 10 years back had been on a crisp, clear November day.
Mullwharchar and Lamington hill from The Merrick:
Dungeon Hill and Craignaw:
The Little Spear of Merrick:
Down over the Little Spear:
A great bit of easy walking followed - down over the Little Spear and up onto Kirriereoch Hill. The descent north of Kirriereoch Hill marked the end of this by being really steep and rocky, and the ground beyond was a little rougher, although nothing compared to the Craignaw area. The day continued pleasantly over Tarfessock to the Nick of Carclach, where I dumped my bag again.
Kirshinnoch Burn with Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre in the background:
The Merrick from Kirriereoch Hill:
Tarfessock and Shalloch on Minnoch:
The plan was to nip up Shalloch on Minnoch quickly then descend to Tunskeen bothy from the col. The summit of Shalloch was the more westerly one, but I spotted a couple of figures over by the trig point so wandered over to say hi. It was a couple of girls who had left work early in Glasgow to do a quick evening ascent - they'd picked a great evening for it. They had lugged up a pretty substantial tripod for photos too.
Loch Riecawr and Loch Macaterick:
Back to The Merrick, Kirriereoch Hill and Tarfessock:
As I headed back to my bag, I thought that this was too fine a night to waste in a bothy. Although I had camped high a number of times on this trip, I hadn't really seen much in the way of sunsets. In my plans, I had envisaged summit camping most nights, but the weather hadn't really been up to it or I'd been too tired to care. Although I couldn't b bothered returning to the summit of Shalloch on Minnoch with my bag I decided to pitch on the col if I could find water. A mere 5 minutes into the corrie to the west solved that.
Camping spot at Nick of Carclach:
Although the Shalloch blocked out the best of the sunset, it was great to be able to sit out on the ridge for the evening. A good finale. My new camera had run out of battery by this point so I had to snap some sunset photos on my phone (which had remained off for most of the trip to conserve charge).
Evening light on Kirriereoch Hill and Tarfessock:
…and the Rhinns of Kells:
…and out to sea:
Friday, 18th July - Shalloch on Minnoch to Bellsbank: 6.5 hours, 300m ascent, 24km. Sunny, but clouding over.
I suspected the weather would turn again, and the breeze got up a little overnight, so I was up bright and early for departure. As it turned out the weather was fine again, but I was glad of the early start as I'd hinted to Gill in a couple of texts through the week that I would probably be getting back to Paisley on Friday afternoon.
In my initial plans, this route had two alternative finishes. The one I was going for now in Dalmellington, or alternatively an extra night and a finish in New Cumnock. This would include Cairnsmore of Carsphairn and Windy Standard (which I'd been up before) and Blackcraig Hill (which I hadn't). I'd already discounted the extra night earlier in the week, as Friday was Gill's rota'd day off as a Commonwealth Games volunteer, and If I came back on Saturday I'd barely see her. Having been out on my own all week, I was rather looking forward to seeing her for more than 5 minutes before heading back up to Inverness.
I dropped down to the bothy as I'd planned to do the night before - easy going high up, but getting rougher as I got lower. I had a quick peek in. It was only 6:45am and there was someone in there sleeping. I decided not to disturb them and promptly spent the next 30 seconds scraping the door latch off the wall while trying to close the door again. Sorry, whoever you are!
That was it for the hillwalking really - it was a simple 20-odd km wander along forestry tracks and minor roads back to Dalmellington. It was a sign of how much the walk had taken out of me that every time I stopped for a break, It took me a good 5 minutes of bumbling and shuffling to get back up to a decent pace again. There was some nice scenery on the walk, but there was a definite feeling of leaving the best bits of Galloway behind.
The Merrick and Kirriereoch Hill:
Carrick Lane and a last look back at The Merrick:
Loch Doon was fairly busy with campers (of the Loch Lomond slab of Tennents and a disposable barbeque type), although beyond the fire/barbeque scars, things didn't look too messy. At one point I thought I might include the other Craiglee, but I couldn't be bothered, and anyway the sunny skies were greying over.
Loch Doon and the Rhinns of Kells:
I just plodded on, thinking I couldn't be that far from the north end of the loch - until I spotted it! Oh well, got there eventually, then made my way across a couple of fields and some forestry to Bellsbank, where there was a bus running to Ayr every 20 minutes. Not the most inspiring place to end a walk.
Towards the north end of Loch Doon – thought I was nearly there!
Last look back at the Rhinns of Kells:
Although I was only 15 miles or so out of Ayr, the bus took an hour to get there, giving me the full tour of such forgotten delights as Patna (driven past a couple of times, but never entered). When people talk about what a dump Fort William is, they should consider that it is lucky to be able to provide some alternative employment through tourism. Some of these Ayrshire mining towns have nothing at all now that the heavy industry is gone.
Anyway, straight off the bus and into the screaming baby carriage of the train to Paisley, where I arrived and met Gill at 3pm. It had been quite some trip - enjoyable but hard work at times. All in all the weather had been pretty reasonable despite a couple of soakings. As I was out for a long time, I hadn't paid more than a passing glance to the weather forecast before I left, as I didn't think it would tell me anything I had to know, and wouldn't be accurate for the latter half of the walk anyway.
I was quite surprised at the actual distanced covered and ascent made. There were 3 days with 20+ miles and 2000+ m of ascent (bearing in mind that the first day of this and the last day of part 1 were actually the same day), and the shorter days weren't that short either. It is definitely a plan of mine to try and come up with shorter days and possibly the odd rest day for future backpacking trips.
by rockhopper » Mon Jul 21, 2014 10:05 pm
A very enjoyable read. Have been looking at ways to join up some of the hills down here but nothing as adventurous as this. Bet the dip in Loch Enoch was refreshing - cheers
by meangarry » Wed Jul 23, 2014 3:36 pm
Thanks for the enjoyable inspiring reports.
by inca » Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:02 pm
by orion » Wed Jul 23, 2014 10:30 pm
Coos were on top of Craiglee a few years back also which was a bit of a surprise to me
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- Joined: Jan 28, 2008
- Location: Glasgow
by litljortindan » Thu Jul 24, 2014 3:00 pm
Suspected sunset from bothy window and inadvertent group photo of erratic coos both classics.
I have a Jill rather than a Gill and she moans about me being away for a day never mind a day and a night so I will be showing her the evidence of what a typical guy gets up to on a typical walking trip.
by malky_c » Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:55 pm
meangarry wrote:Some adventure! Reading this has made my mind up, this weekend I will be mostly camping at loch skeen.
Hope you got some decent weather for this. I found flat places for the tent quite hard to come by up there.
litljortindan wrote:Brilliant, epic, legendary. Write a book? Spent part of my early childhood on Forest Estate, east of Rhinns of Kells so really interesting to read about the hills I've never been on but did see occasionally from my push chair.
Interesting stuff. You might be the person to ask about the names of the forestry roads in the area then - they seem pretty obscure to me but I'm guessing they must mean more to you?
by wjshaw2 » Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:00 am
I'm also glad to hear that the underfoot conditions in the Galloway Hills are being appreciated. Top tussocks.