When I finished my first Donald trip, the Lowthers, in August last year, my first (and likely everyone else's) notion was to look at what range I'd be doing next. I had peered over the Carsphairn/Afton Donalds a few times but had thought that they would likely be somewhere last on my compleation list. After having then realised that almost every other Donald group is just about unreachable without a car, this plan was turned wholly upside down. After seeing the report by dunrig following a similar reversed route, I was certain that this trip was in fact going to be a lot of fun. These hills are an interesting variety; hosting the 2 most prominent Donald Tops yet also the lowest Top as well as the (alphabetically) first and last Donalds right beside each other.
I first had planned to go on this trip on the final 2 days of excellent weather we got at around April time, but for undisclosed circumstances, I had to call it off - (this was the first time I hadn't been able to go on a trip I had planned myself and I can tell you now that for the next few hours after my realisation, due to the circumstances, it was arguably the most infuriated I have ever been in my life - I really am an unhappy bugger without my hills!).
Finally however, my girlfriend was willing to drive me down from Ayr to Carsphairn on an opening of decent weather. I had forgotten my hiking boots the night before so was now borrowing her mum's partner's winter walking boots which were fur-lined and 2 and a half sizes too big! (They actually worked excellently, but I digress...)
(My full gallery is available at: http://ianparkphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/carsphairn-to-new-cumnock-via-clennoch.html )
I was dropped off at about 11am just past the Heritage Centre in Carsphairn; little did I know how far away the Cairnsmore path began! I finally reached it and after spotting the photogenic rustic shed to the left, I took out my phone to take a picture and instantly dropped it, smashing the screen - a good start! Almost instantly after however, the path opened up with the Water of Deugh on your left and the undulating humps of Craig of Knockgray, Willieanna, Dunool, Black Shoulder and CofC on your right - who needs photos when you've got a mental image that good? I had expected the Green Well of Scotland to be void of all interest but it was in fact very beautiful - I wish I had hung around a bit longer.
Green Well of Scotland:
The first challenge of the day on the horizon:
The path up winds around the left side of Dunool and then almost instantly vanishes as you approach the Polsue Burn, where I stopped for a drink. I was carrying a good 6/7kg or more, having taken my tent as a backup in the unlikely circumstance that Clennoch was full - at least I'd get a good workout from it! Passing by the deep purple butterwort, Small Heath butterflies and bright white lambs easily made up for the overcast conditions. The path slowly started to get steeper after the burn and I was already beginning to split my route up into segments. I eventually reached the boulder field around 100m short of the summit and decided to curve slightly to the left away from the fence in order to make it a bit easier on my back. The weather had been fine except from one looming cloud which had followed me since I started. It decided to unload a shower of hailstones just as I was half way up the boulders. I wish I had filmed it now as all the hailstones were going back up after hitting the rocks; quite a spectacle despite the right hand side of my face really not enjoying it.
Old Man of Carsphairn?:
I was finally at the top and settled down for about 10 minutes to enjoy a sausage roll and dry the sweat on my back off a bit. I had wondered how the MET office had calculated the summit weather conditions on their website - the pylon beside the trig must have been a weather station. The views were much improved after the evil cloud had emptied it's load.
Over past the Rhinns of Kells to the Awful Hand:
I've never been one to stick around long at summits, despite having a summer's full daylight to walk 8 miles. I was off to the first sole New Donald, Beninner, after barely sitting down - the top was freezing anyway! Beninner was the easiest hill of the trip by quite a long way. 15 minutes later saw me at the cairn with even better views than CofC.
Beninner summit cairn:
I saw someone else who had just summited Moorbrock and was now on their way down - (I'm pretty sure it was Fife Flyer, but I'll wait for a confirmation!) After leaving the cairn, I went to peer over the edge of Beninner Gairy to find a suitable route down. There was a lamb that had unfortunately succumbed to the elements right at the edge and had been picked rather dry, so I moved quickly away and found a route down that seemed viable. This was easily the steepest part of the trip but was over within 20 minutes. I had to be very careful not to lean to one side too much as my backpack would be taking no prisoners on the 200m down. Eventually, however, I reached the Poldores Burn and could re-fill my flask.
Looking up the Poldores Burn:
After refreshing a bit, I fancied an adventure through the strip of forestry to the right of the clearance. This was a bit of a mistake as my pack was so enormous, but it gave me a chance to play about with my camera's ISO and shutter speed. After I was out the other side I paid a visit to the little hide on the path, although I hadn't considered my width with a tent on my back! Being back on a path was a great feeling but I knew it wouldn't last long. The ascent of Moorbrock was not in fact that steep and the top is only a 5 minute walk from the end of the path. I had some doubts about the summit being visible but the cairn was decent enough.
Approaching the Moorbrock top:
What was steep however is the descent round the right hand side of the unnamed hill past Moorbrock. I should really have taken the gentler way past 'Luke's Stone' but opted for cutting round the edge, which took a toll on my feet a bit. I must have scared a Red Grouse out of it's hiding place as I saw one blasting away making it's very identifiable call, which I always seem to find hilarious. The ascent of Keoch Rig took longer than I expected but eventually the ground flattened out as I approached the "top".
Bog Cotton swathes of Keoch Rig:
I sauntered about at the top for a bit, looking for signs of a cairn but I knew I was never going to find one. I thought it best to just carry on down over Hog Hill and onto the forestry path. This actually took a wee while as the grass was very long and the ground was equally as boggy as Keoch. Soon I was back on the path and on my way to Clennoch, which I had briefly spied from Beninner earlier on. You can always tell where it is as it's right beside the only tree on the glen's basin (currently; it has a newly-planted site right beside it now). I passed through the mixed conifers and then went off course over the Clennoch Burn up to the bothy.
Clennoch Bothy door:
I was half hoping the place to be empty so that my first bothy night could be one of contemplation and alone-ness. Indeed it was, so I took some photos and acquainted myself with the room. The bothy beds are fantastic and the place is kept in good nick (thanks to Rab McMurdo, although at the time of writing, it seems he hasn't been able to visit in almost a year). It was only half 3 so I added my story to the bothy book and settled down for a while. I had ages before I had to get to bed so finished off Walden (which I have donated) and ate my dinner. I had forgotten my lighter but there was a fire starting kit there, fortunately. I chose the top bunk, although the spiders had me wary!
Beninner from bothy:
I was hoping for it to be a clear sky night but I gave up at about 11pm as it wasn't looking promising. I ended up doing some pondering and general mental life-management for a good while! I didn't get a brilliant sleep - should have probably borrowed some more of the insulation pads to lie on, but to be honest I didn't expect to have a decent kip anyway.
Last light after I gave up on stargazing:
It was 4:30am and a new day had dawned (barely). I knew I couldn't leave too early as my lift was at about half 1 and I would get there with many hours to spare. I had some breakfast, filled up my flask with some hot tea and eventually left at 7am, after saying my goodbyes to my first bothy night.
I joined the nearby path below Dugland and followed it along until the ground on the left had become more gradual; a bit past 'Fox Yird'. The hike up to the next path was actually very tiring, but I made it up after about 20 minutes. The hum of the turbines was reverberating through the ground, below my feet and, it felt, into my body. Windy Standard Wind Farm used to be Scotland's biggest, back in circa 2002. Following this link -
http://www.esru.strath.ac.uk/EandE/Web_sites/01-02/RE_info/wind1.htm#Windy - will take you on a blast to the past! I used it in a presentation this year for uni.
Clennoch and CofC from Dugland path:
Morning light and shadows looking over to Windy Standard:
I could have taken the simpler and faster route up with the fence onto the path just below the top, but decided I'd work my way around slowly as I was enjoying the morning, wasn't in a rush and my back would need a bit of warming up before I attempt anything too steep. The path made my ascent much easier than expected and I was at the trig in no time, although Windy Standard definitely lived up to the name.
Approaching v. windy trig:
From the top, I could see my entire route for the rest of the day. Everything looked miles away - even my next target Alhang seemed like at least an hour's venture. I followed my way onto the path by the next turbine (P1), in the direction of Alhang and reached the path that follows the fence all the way down to Millaneoch Hill. I wasn't up for taking the fence down so jumped it and descended the flanks of WS to reach the flat area in between Afton Water and the Holm Burn. I advise all to do this as you can see the bonkers glacial features on the west face of Alhang.
Way up Alhang:
I eventually reached the boggy section at the top of the glen and continued up, following the fences to the top. This was the first steep part of the day. It always amazes me how landowners manage to plant these endless lines of fenceposts in the middle of nowhere, while us hillwalkers can barely walk beside them! Eventually the summit cairn made it's way into my sights after crossing a couple of fences. I was at the top 45 minutes after leaving the Windy Standard trig.
Alhang summit cairn:
The next part was the easiest section of the day, back down Alhang and over to Alwhat (who names these hills?). Less than half an hour later, the wooden gate and fenceposts were in my sights. I had a look over at the rusty box mentioned in other reports - turns out it is a fallen wind meter (although strangely well-preserved). I took a 5-minute rest at the top as the cycle of "sweat on way up-jacket on way down" was taking its toll!
Summit of Alwhat:
The slight outlier of Meikledodd Hill looked miles away, but I continued on, following the fence all the way up until nearly at the corner before going right and over the other fence to the top. I recognised the true summit from other reports - a low mossy tussock about 20m or so from the fence.
Top of Meikledodd Hill:
The gentle descent to Blacklorg Hill was very pleasant - a forester truck had left very deep tracks almost all the way to the top allowing for some better traction, but it was sad to see the moorland getting churned up so unnecessarily. Someone had also set up a bird kite on the bog before the ascent.
Not quite the kite I was looking for:
20 minutes later saw me at the top of Blacklorg, and the wind had picked up considerably - the weather wasn't looking too promising but it wasn't quite raining yet. The view over to Blackcraig was nothing short of daunting.
Blackcraig living up to it's name:
The large peat hags and Bog Cotton had already told me that the area inbetween Blacklorg and Blackcraig was going to be the boggiest section by far - there were a good few areas where I could have easily gone knee-deep or worse if I had so wished. Blackcraig was seeming more and more like Everest by the minute. Although the steepness of Blackcraig made for the most difficult ascent of the day, it was all over only 45 minutes after leaving Blacklorg Hill - I would hate to be doing this route from New Cumnock! Once again, as a parting gift from the final hills, just as with the first, I was greeted with hailstones for a good 15 minutes while on the cairn-ridden summit plateau. I got a few pictures of how far I'd come, the trig and New Cumnock and was off.
The trig; what felt like the top of Mount Doom at this point:
At this point, it was too wet to look at the map to see how far away the distant path was, and I had already played with the possibility of descending to the very steep NW side of Blackcraig, but I decided to go for it anyway. Down through the heather and rowan saplings I went, constantly readjusting myself so as to make sure I don't end up like that lamb on Beninner. Crawling through the scree slopes, I spotted a picturesque sheepfold with an Oak tree inside it. Just beside it looked like a crossing over the Afton so I aimed for there.
Way down - Spot the Oak tree I was aiming for:
I made it to the sheepfold and followed it round through the conifer plantation and up to the meandering Afton.
The sweet Afton, 'floweing' gently:
I balanced my way across a few sporadic stone placements to the other side and up into a sheep field. I passed through it and was finally back on a road again for the first time since 11am yesterday. It was almost an hour before I reached the wind farm road from the trig at Blackcraig, and it was now just a case of the 10k walk back into New Cumnock. At first my feet got more painful due to the mysterious hard surface beneath me, but the weather improved for a while and I could enjoy returning back to civilisation.
Last look at Blackcraig:
As I was approaching New Cumnock after a very delightful walk back in, the weather turned against me. Fortunately my wonderful girlfriend was on hand to pick me up after I'd visited the shops to refuel. Ended up enjoying these hills much more than I had previously thought - a great way to spend my first bothy stay. I've never been one to return to hills but these may just be an exception!
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