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Slow going east of Merrick

Slow going east of Merrick


Postby McMole » Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:58 pm

Grahams included on this walk: Craignaw, Mullwharchar

Donalds included on this walk: Craignaw, Dungeon Hill, Mullwharchar

Date walked: 17/08/2017

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 22.7 km

Ascent: 1170m

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My walk duplicated most of Fife Flyer's of a few week's earlier. The main difference is that while he suffered from the heat my day was overcast with very 'moist' conditions underfoot. I'll try to avoid repeating too many of his photographs because, unsurprisingly, some of mine look almost identical to his! And learning from his experience I took more than my usual litre of water, and was glad of it.

MDandC route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

As I walked up the track to Culsharg Bothy just after 9:45am, most of it was acting as a streambed after recent rain. This was to prove a good predictor of what I was to meet on the Mullwharchar to Craignaw circuit. Merrick was in the clouds which was clearing from the lower summits.
P1010732 s.JPG
The Merrick range in cloud from the path to Culsharg Bothy
From the bothy up to the forest track then along it to its end was fine, but the next section through rows of trees separated by bog and mud would, I thought, be the worst of the day. I was wrong. Worse was to come. At least this section was fairly short. I went high where the ground between the rows of trees wasn't as liquid. I should probably have headed down instead to walk beside the stream where the 1:25,000 map shows a path. My route brought me out above the ford across the Gloon Burn marked on that map. In common with all the other burns I was to meet, it was flowing strongly. I managed to cross quite easily and followed the true left bank down until I met what must have been the ford.
P1010739 s.JPG
The Gloon Burn ford
Some branches had been placed across the burn - to use as a handrail perhaps - while lower down water flowed over the top of what could have been the ford. From there a soggy path through the trees led out to a fence with gate and stile to open ground.
P1010740 s.JPG
The path on from the ford
P1010745 s.JPG
Leaving the forest with the col to Loch Enoch one mile ahead
P1010748 s.JPG
The path up to the col - a bit boggy but really good compared with later
A choice of trampled grooves led on with one to the east seeming the better. I kept the burn to my right until after I forded the Kirn Burn then crossed the burn's other branch and headed up to walk beside the fence. I believe Fife Flyer had followed the fence all the way from the forest and that may have been the better route, but I'm not going back to check! Over the col Loch Enoch came into view and, nearing the shore, I cut across to the left and found a path heading round the loch well above water level.
P1010753 s.JPG
Mullwharchar in the distance. Path round Loch Enoch is half-way up slope on left.
P1010755 s.JPG
Path round Loch Enoch
This became indistinct at times (or perhaps I just lost it), but I eventually found myself at Sluice of Loch Enoch.
P1010756 s.JPG
Where I crossed Eglin Lane
Not far from the loch I managed to boulder hop across the outflow (Eglin Lane) without getting my boots any wetter and started up Mullwharchar. The ascent was relatively trouble-free. A slight drizzle encouraged me to pull on my kagool and the cool breeze kept it on for the rest of the day. I reached the top at about 1pm and spent a few minutes wandering across to other points that appeared of equal or higher altitude. Hill-bagging.co.uk locates the summit 35m east of the cairn and 0.4m higher. I returned to the cairn for photography and food while sheltered from the wind.
P1010758 s.JPG
Merrick and Kirriereoch Hill from Mullwharchar with the cloud rising.
P1010759 s.JPG
Dungeon Hill and Craignaw from Mullwharchar with Cairnsmore of Fleet in the far distance
In common with the rest of the walk, when not following a path or track the long grass presented problems - it hid whatever was beneath. That could be bog, mud, a shallow hole, a deep hole, a boulder or even firm flat ground! And I met all of them - frequently. That made me more cautious than usual and discouraged any thoughts of jogging downhill. While following a path or animal track some of the uncertainty was removed, but when it was almost hidden by drooping vegetation plenty remained. Slow progress combined with some extra distance zig-zagging from one possible path to another caused my Naismith predictions of progress to fall behind more than usual. Perhaps those with walking poles to use as probes have an advantage in this terrain.
P1010763 s.JPG
A carpet of green hiding a variety of surprises
P1010762 s.JPG
Loch Enoch
The descent from Mullwharchar to the col below Craignairy was slow and enlivened by a boot skidding as I tried to step over a narrow river of bog onto a boulder. Result - both legs immersed to above the knee.
P1010764 s.JPG
Animal track (the brownish line) heading up Craignairy.
Once past that col I followed an animal track up the lower slopes of Craignairy then contoured round at about 555m to follow easy slopes to the summit of Dungeon Hill in just under one hour from Mullwharchar. Unlike the higher hills to east and west the three I climbed were free of cloud all the time during my walk, so I could choose my route far ahead.
P1010765 s.JPG
Craignaw from the summit of Dungeon Hill
For my descent from Dungeon I aimed to hit the col between Craignairy and Craignaw and somehow I succeeded. I found a series of animal tracks that traversed to the col before Craignairy and continued down to the col and its cairn below Craignaw. While descending I thought I'd heard voices and looking back from the cairn I saw a figure on the skyline not far below Dungeon's summit. I saw nobody else all day, though much later on the track out there were fresh bootprints going in both directions.
P1010767 s.JPG
Dungeon Hill from cairn on col below Craignaw
P1010768 s.JPG
Maximum zoom to figure in previous photo
From the cairn a steady climb around the west side of the shoulder reached a flattish area of slabs with a sprinkling of boulders at 570m followed by the last 75m ascent weaving through the crags to my third summit cairn of the day at about 3:30pm.
P1010769 s.JPG
P1010772 s.JPG
Craignaw summit cairn looking north to Dungeon Hill and Mullwharchar
I had anticipated being on top of Craignaw perhaps one hour earlier allowing for stops on the way. With little climbing left to do Naismith would predict less than ninety minutes back to the car. It didn't work out like that.
P1010774 s.JPG
Loch Neldricken from Black Gairy
On the descent to Loch Neldricken I didn't find any useful paths or tracks to follow and that was slow. I did look round at one point and saw some of the local inhabitants ignoring me.
P1010775 s.JPG
Near the loch I found some paths, but nothing substantial and the one round the edge of the loch frequently dipped a few inches underwater. It took a full ninety minutes just to get to Mid Burn - an hour more than I'd bargained on. There is a good set of stepping stones there for those with long legs or walking poles to give extra stability.
P1010779 s.JPG
Mid Burn stepping stones
I crossed easily enough to the second stone, but had to jump to the third where a skid on landing required immediate leaps over the next two gaps to avoid a slide into the rushing water. The location is clearly marked by the dry stone walls and a cairn beside a tree. I optimistically thought that the worst now had to be over. I had read that the track from there was not of the best, but that far understated its awfulness. The first section past Loch Valley was about what I had come to expect - squidgy but no worse than what I'd already experienced. It really deteriorated when traversing the steep slopes of Buchan Hill. There were a series of grooves at increasing altitudes incised into the hillside. They all varied along their length from fairly firm ground to - as I experienced a couple of times - sudden unannounced knee-deep liquid mud. I thought that things were improving when I saw a wider section of boulder-bottomed path down below. This was soon after where the path on the 1:25,000 map is shown crossing to the west of the Gairland Burn. There was an improvement for a few hundred metres, but the quality was still far below that of the Merrick path leading to Culshark Bothy. Eventually the path turned to the west and ran, with a small stream for company, down beside a wall for a while.
P1010782 s.JPG
Heading downhill beside the wall
It then passed through the wall and entered a mass of head-high bracken and some shrubbery enhanced with the occasional bramble for variety. There must have been enough folk walking it to have kept a narrow path open, but it didn't look well used, and I had to clear brambles that hung across the path out of my way. Eventually three hours after leaving Craignaw summit I reached the road and fifteen minutes later the car.
P1010783 s.JPG
Yes I am still on the path.
P1010787 s.JPG
The gate onto the forest road appears at last!
It had taken me nine hours for the circuit when I'd predicted about six and a half. Most of the excess was on the way back from Craignaw. That leads me to think that Fife Flyer had the right idea by returning back the way he and I had come. I can also understand those who choose to rise high above the mud by returning along Rig of Loch Enoch and Buchan Hill.

In comparison, one week later I walked the Rhinns of Kells from Forest Lodge adding in Carlin's Cairn. That walk was two kilometres shorter with a few tens of metres more ascent, but only took just over two thirds the time. That shows the difference that lack of reasonable paths makes to time, and a warning to allow for it when you tackle this route. I do, of course, recommend it.
McMole
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby iangpark » Thu Aug 31, 2017 1:12 pm

Did the whole Rhinns ridge (Coran - Meikle) a couple of weeks ago. These three have always looked like a doddle in comparison from the map but I think you might have just changed my mind!
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby Sgurr » Thu Aug 31, 2017 2:21 pm

McMole wrote: Perhaps those with walking poles to use as probes have an advantage in this terrain.


No they don't. Stupidly left Dungeon Hill out of previous Graham visits, so went back for it as a Donald in JUne. Husband uses poles and they kept getting caught in roots under something else under mud . I know we are ancient, but there is no way it should have taken us the time it did, which I am not going to divulge. Suffice it to say, that it was Cup a Soup in the room again, since the pubs had stopped serving by the time we got back to civilisation.

We were so alarmed at the idea of leaping from stepping stone to stone with husband's dodgy knee that we went nearly to the outlet of Loch Neldricken where you can sit on a large boulder and then walk on some smaller ones across if you don't mind getting your boots a little under water.

The good news is, that we need never go back unless we want to, and I can think of around 700 hills I would rather repeat, though I did like the summit.
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby Fife Flyer » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:42 pm

Excellent stuff, enjoyed reading that, especially as my escapade is still fresh in my mind :lol:
I can sympathise with you re the conditions, it certainly looks much damper than when I was there.
I had seen previous reports with the river/burn featuring so my route was planned deliberately to avoid that.
You describe the underfoot conditions perfectly and great care needs to be taken as you emphasise.

It sounds like we are being a bit negative, but these hills are a challenging day and really do reward you with fantastic views and solitude.
Had a look at your remaining Donalds, don't leave Cauldcleuch Head as your last one - it is anything but exciting, my WR will probably confirm that :(
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby McMole » Thu Aug 31, 2017 10:07 pm

iangpark wrote:Did the whole Rhinns ridge (Coran - Meikle) a couple of weeks ago. These three have always looked like a doddle in comparison from the map but I think you might have just changed my mind!

Yes I'd wondered at some of the times reported by other walkers - now I know why! I read and enjoyed your report on doing the whole Rhinns ridge. Having seen nothing during my southern Rhinns of Kells walk last Sunday I'm going to be tempted to do it again your way next year, though perhaps without Coran.
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby McMole » Thu Aug 31, 2017 11:17 pm

Sgurr wrote:
McMole wrote: Perhaps those with walking poles to use as probes have an advantage in this terrain.


No they don't. Stupidly left Dungeon Hill out of previous Graham visits, so went back for it as a Donald in JUne. Husband uses poles and they kept getting caught in roots under something else under mud .


I was hoping for someone to agree with me so I could persuade Jaywizz that her poles would give her an advantage over me when she attempts those hills. My long day of 9 hours surprised her. Should I suggest she instead tries an assault from the east using a bike to get up to and past Backhill of Bush? Overall distance is quite a bit more, but since most of it is by bike on forest roads it could be a better route especially with daylight hours reducing faster as the autumn equinox approaches.

don't leave Cauldcleuch Head as your last one - it is anything but exciting, my WR will probably confirm that :(


We had decided on CH as our last Donald some time ago, but it's not quite too late to change our minds. After reading other WH reports on CH - including yours - I was considering doing it from the less popular north rather than your southern route. That would involve forestry which, as we have both discovered, can certainly add something to the experience. :lol:

I hope my report didn't read too negative. As you say there are rewards as well as 'challenges' in tackling those three hills. I was trying to give an honest account of the route and its difficulties so that others would know to allow extra time too complete it, and not rely on Naismith or their speed on easier terrain.
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby PeteR » Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:25 pm

I included Merrick first when I did these three earlier in the year. Adds to the ascent and might be a bit longer, but from a terrain point of view looks to be much easier than that walk out to Mullwarchar :shock:
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Re: Slow going east of Merrick

Postby Sgurr » Fri Sep 01, 2017 9:35 pm

McMole wrote:I was hoping for someone to agree with me so I could persuade Jaywizz that her poles would give her an advantage over me when she attempts those hills. My long day of 9 hours surprised her. Should I suggest she instead tries an assault from the east using a bike to get up to and past Backhill of Bush?


I did some searching on the site and had only read a bit of this one when he encountered vegetation taller than him and fell into a ditch, so I don't know what the answer is. I must say that when I saw a track from the top of Dungeon hill, I wondered if it would have been better. But maybe I was hallucinating. Oh dear, have read a little further. There may be a better way.
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