Galloway Ring of fire, 30 peaks.... all 3 ranges
by AWC88 » Tue Jun 25, 2019 4:33 pm
Corbetts included on this walk: Corserine, Merrick, Shalloch on Minnoch
Grahams included on this walk: Lamachan Hill, Millfore
Donalds included on this walk: Cairnsgarroch, Carlin's Cairn, Coran of Portmark, Corserine, Curleywee, Kirriereoch Hill, Lamachan Hill, Larg Hill, Meaul, Meikle Millyea, Merrick, Milldown, Millfore, Shalloch on Minnoch, Tarfessock
Date walked: 25/06/2019
Time taken: 20 hours
Distance: 76 km
Ascent: 4300m7 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).
I decided just a month or so beforehand by looking at my annual leave, the time of year for daylight hours, the type of challenge it was and the area where the challenge would be made it perfect to try. The galloway forest ring of fire, a circular peak bagging route of 30 peaks, around 44 miles with 14,000ft +/- on it and to complete within 24hrs would give me something to get my teeth stuck into. I’ve always loved the Galloway Forest and rant about it a lot, it’s a major unappreciated part of the country and often overlooked for the much more popular locations such as up north in scotland or down south in the lake district etc. It keeps the galloway forest quiet and adds to its remote and wild nature though which I should be thankful for, it’s the best. The 30 peaks on the challenge, 3 are corbett height (above 2,500ft) 21 are donalds (above 2,000ft) and the rest are below 2,000ft but all above 1,500ft. What this route lacks on the perceived big hills making many overlook them particularly your average munro bagger, it more than makes up for with its often pathless, overgrown, boggy, treacherous terrain….its a real beast and not for the faint hearted. I’ve not been running a lot recently compared to my norm, due to lingering injuries that I don’t know if il ever properly get over, its breaking my heart more often that not these days the old running. Although since the start of the year ive been doing alot of hill walking, my fitness is good for the hills just now and ive had a few big days out, muscle memory for the hills definitely returning. I knew this challenge was achievable if everything went right on the day and my head stayed strong for the inevitable tough times. I couldn’t wait to get started. I should note that this is a relative local area for me, i live in ayrshire and most of the route is in dumfries and galloway with some areas in north sections in ayrshire, the starting point of the route is an hour away and from my flat on a good day i get an awesome view of the ‘awful hand range’ the last ridge line id be on during this challenge and with 3 out of 4 of the biggest peaks on it of shalloch on minnoch (highest in ayrshire), Kirriereoch and the mighty Merrick.
Tuesday the 18th on June 2019 was the day, I had a couple of dates to play with but this looked potentially the best weather wise. I had been up the corserine on the monday which is the 13th peak on the route to stash 4.5L of fluids and munchies to replenish my supplies on the trip and the weather was brutal…could it be such a big turn around today? I woke up at 0820 which was my long lie, must be a mixure of fecked up routein through shift work and getting old but I’m rarely in bed these days on days off after 0700. I had everything packed into my chest rig and drybags the night before and ready to go so it made for a chilled morning, I aimed to be starting sometime around 1100-1200. I had my porridge and watched some stuff on youtube, Rocky 4 training footage, you better believe it!! I pictured shouting DRAGO!!!! At the top of the merrick sometime the next day. I was in good spirits, I was about to tackle something big, the sun was shining, I felt jovial and I felt the excitement, something similar to the run up to my first west highland way race i would say, i’ve missed this dearly. The drive to bruce’s stone at the base of the merrick takes me around an hour from my flat, i was ready to go around 0930.
I arrived at bruce’s stone car park around 1040, the sun was shining with a nice breeze which was more than welcome to keep the midge at bay, perfect!! The midge are legendary in the galloway forest usually and in particular around this area so close to the mighty loch trool. I was ready to go, a few cars in the car park most presumably there to climb the merrick, the highest peak in the area and southern uplands in general, it is a relatively popular peak. It keeps most off the other peaks around the area, just what i was after today. Just before I started at bruce stone i managed to get a couple who were about to start the merrick to take a quick snap of me for the collection, for a good before and after photo! I had my GPX file uploaded, I hit the start button at 1055 and locked it so it couldn’t be touched again until I made it back to bruce’s stone the following day and set off.
The first 2.5 miles was downhill then a wee bit gentle climbing, taking me down to level with loch trool and then over the other side of it onto the southern upland way (SUW), let’s not get started on the heart ache sob story of the SUW for me. This first section was all on easy land rover track and i had a good walking pace going, i was pacing to be below 30:00min/mile average for the whole route. My thinking was if it was more than 44 miles that it was billed to be, say 48 miles, 30:00min/miles would give me 24hrs for 48 miles a safe strategy i thought. At the sharp dramatic turn off the SUW my average pace was 16min miles for the first 2.5 miles, absolute piece of cake this eh? Well…this sharp turn off it upto the first sub 2’000ft peak of Mulldonoch and the first of the minnigaf range went into, well no path…decomposing felled forest, overgrown bogs, burns to negotiate through and steep steep terrain, it was a beast…got the feet saturated early on and they would then stay that way all day. I was determined to get this climb done, I knew the area after this climb and it was decent underfoot again when i would reach it. I decided the gpx file on this hellacious terrain climb was taking me a long way round so decided to direct line it a little more and make a beeline for the top, it took me to a rock face of about 10-15 feet. When I arrived at it i noticed the rock was soaking, water was running over it from over the top, i could see a decent but steep climbing route up it though so decided it was still doable. There was a little gap I had to squeeze into which i couldn’t manage due to having my 4.5L fluid and copious amounts of food and gear filled race pack on, i took it off and threw it up onto the ledge above my head that I would be climbing onto, along with my dry bags and walking poles. Once i got up here it wasn’t quite as steep to the summit but it was just as bad underfoot, it was high energy stuff to be trekking through thats for sure, and this route had plenty more of it to come i was certain of. When I got to the summit of Mulldonoch i was relieved, gave it a quick touch but didnt stop and pressed on. Looked at my watch and average pace was now just shy of 32:00min/miles, it just shows the damage this terrain can do to progress. As i knew it would the terrain got a lot kinder with semi overgrown grass but a very faint hint of path which was for the most part drier underfoot conditions, I made good progress here firstly down and then back up to peak 2 in Larg hill. On the way upto Larg hill about 200ft from its summit i noticed 2 elderly woman just off the path, when i got to them i stopped and spoke as they ate some lunch, they were very friendly and surprised to see me. One of the woman stated they had been up the merrick on sunday and hadn’t seen a soul so she was very surprised to see me up these far lesser trodden peaks, i said similar it was a pleasant surprise to see people up here. She then told me her husband was away out in front as he was doing a few more on the minnigaf range and (I promise) she asked me what I was up to (I wasn’t going to mention it myself, and keep it humble). I told them my plans for the full 3 ranges in the minnigafs, rhinns of kells and the awful hand for a sub 24hr round and 30 peaks, they seemed more excited than me at the prospect and wished me lucky and gave me some great encouragement. If I was going to meet anyone on the hills today i’m glad they were like this (spoiler alert I didn’t meet anyone else the rest of the time). They offered me a jellybaby which I declined as I was already grazing away early on and I set off backup to touch larg hill. After touching it i made my way back down the same way id came then back up towards peak 3 Lammachan Hill, passing these women again as i did i stopped again very briefly and they asked me if I was getting sponsors for this venture, i said regrettably not and wished them farewell and a nice day. Strange to think these would be the last people I would see until i was home the next day! On the way up lammachan hill i couldn’t help but look over at peak 4 Curlywee, its a wee gem and probably my favourite on the route. Not only has it got an off the charts cool name for a hill, but a steep and rocky little guy with bags of character. I also had a great view over to the corserine and the rhinns of kells behind it and could see the merrick, the whole route was in view from the right areas all day, it was amazing to see where i’d be ending up later on down the line. Giving Lamachan a quick nudge i was onto curelywee, in great spirits and watching the average pace drop down into around 27 minute miles. Summiting curleywee my little love affair with it continued, a wee belter. Last time i had been up here in january with big Scott Robinson we were upto our thighs in snow making it a proper challenge to get up, making it feel like everest at its modest 2,150ft height! Next up some uncharted territory for me down the other side of curleywee which id never been before. It was very steep, uneven, overgrown and wet, I carefully made my way down at a steady pace the base of the valley for the climb back up to peak 5 in Red Gairy Top. This climb was wet underfoot and pathless but it wasn’t as steep a climb as i’d delt with so I made decent progress up here, on the way up looking back now and again to get a glimpse of curleywee from a different again, a wee cracker! In fact curlywee, lammachan and larg hill looked great from this angle. When i got onto red gairy it was windy but i stopped to refill my front water bottles with the spare stuff in the main compartment in my bag and took a big swig out my 1L of tailwind i had made up. I grabbed a few packets of crisps out the bag and a couple of snickers to replace what id been eating from front pockets earlier and made my way onto peak 6 Millfore. It was only about 10 minutes from Red Gairy Top to millfore and although wet underfoot fast progress. The descent from millfore however onto the SUW again at dee bridge crossing was a few miles of torture terrain. uneven to walk on, overgrown, saturated, hellacious, i was having to balance well from falling on a few occasions. Bagging quickly peak 7 on my way in Cainnarroch, My feet were feeling the effects of the saturated ground and I could tell they would be painful for the rest of the day with blisters but hey-ho if that’s all i need to worry about i’ll take that. This perilous descent seemed to take an eternity, I was glad to get off it climbing over a steep embankment and back onto even ground again albeit for only 0.25 of a mile or so across dee bridge on the SUW and climb up onto the rhinns of kells. I used the time on Dee bridge again to replenish water and stocks quickly, my average pace here was just over 25:00 min/miles so I was happy with that, although it was a long climb up onto Millyea at the start of the rhinns of kells and i knew the 2 peaks before it were extra remote so would likely give me some hellish terrain to negotiate again. Anyway for now all is good, the minnigafs have been conquered, don’t take the mini in the name lightly, underestimate these modest height hills at your peril.
After Dee bridge the GPX track takes you straight off the SUW sharpily again, much like in the first few miles of the route. This time though never mind onto no path…it was just straight into a dense forest. I decided to go with it, but there was no chance I was getting through, in amongst standing trees were a load of fellen trees, if i did eventually get through it would take me ages….no chance. I instead looked for a way round and after 0.25mile or so i found a pretty clear line making up the slope to peak 8 in Darrou by a bulldozer which had cleared lots of tree evidently. This path although covered in old branched, tree roots and steep actually made for decent progress and il be honest it was good to get off sodden uneven ground for the time being. Yes for the time being is correct as after a few 100 feet it was back onto pathless, sodden, overgrown, perilous (are you seeing a trend) terrain again. It was slow progress to sub 2’000ft darrou then onto peak 9 in the donald Little Millyea. After Little Millyea it was onto Peak 10 in Millyea (big millyea maybe?) I wasn’t in the mood for fun and games I was hating these relentless underfoot conditions from Dee bridge, Infact from curleywee at Peak 4 its been 95% hellish underfoot. I noticed my average pace sliding up to around 29:00 minute mile, i was worried at this point about the sub 24hrs for the first time, not even half way in distance yet and not far from that fatal 30:00 in my head. I did however know from experience that the rhinns of kells were not going to be near as bad underfoot and i could claw some time back off the average for sure if i was walking up hill strongly. The climb to Millyea was steep, following along side a wall, it was wet but i got there with some digging deep, to its peak at about 2,400ft. I got a good view along the ridge line to the highest peak and Peak 13 the Corserine and with a quick jump over the wall to touch the cairn I jumped back over and powered on determinedly. I was walking well on the downs and flats around sub 17 min/mils and on the ups 21-23 min/mile range, this is what was needed, I was feeling more positive. The sun was beating down with a stiff breeze i was enjoying the better underfoot conditions with a faint path, still wet underfoot but avoidable at most parts. I touched peak 11 Milldown and peak 12 Millfire quickly and without issue and made my way up the prolonged semi steep climb to the Corserine which sits around 2,700ft. I was still maintaining 23min/mile pace up this climb and moving well, looking forward to my stock replenishment. I would be giving myself 10 minutes here to decant water into bottles and stock the food up and eat some etc. When i got to the corserine my average pace was back to a much healthier 26:00, which gave me alot more breathing room and I knew the next few peaks would all be covered at a decent pace also. Life was good, this is exactly what i’ve been needing, i was in the great outdoors it was around 2000-2030 and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful night in store also which excited me. I set off down and then back up to peak 14 in Carlin’s Cairn without too much to talk about, its above corbett height but because of the rules does not qualify as one. Onto peak 15 (half way peak) Meaul then an out and back to peak 16 Cairngarroch onto Peak’s 17&18 respectively Bow and Coran of Portmark. From Corserine or infact Millyea these peaks were all ticked off without any real issues, the only slight slowing factor was uphills but even at that i was still able to maintain well under 30:00 for these as underfoot wasn’t too bad for the most part. After Coran of Portmark i was sharply downhill on some new hellish terrain that I hadn’t seen before and back up quickly to bag the sub 2000 peak 19 Knockower, at this stage it was around 2245 with an awesome twight feel in the sky, I seen some red deer running about in this valley and stopped for a moment to admire them and take it in. Then it was over more overgrown, sodden, uneven ground up to peak 20 in blackcraig. Blackcraig is the most northerly peak and at the head of loch doon, some epic views particularly at this time of the evening. Coming off black craig, oh boy it was very very steep, marshy and uveven underfoot ground had me balancing like a ballerina on ice on my way down, around half way down this atrocious descent it got worse believe it or not when I was met with shoulder height bracken for a few 100 meters. In all this chaos and battling, i looked over loch doon and seen a campfire in the distance, the first signs of humans id seen all day since talking to the elderly woman on Larg hill which felt like days ago already. I made it down to flatter land but still perilous underfoot, I climbed a fence which took me through a pretty wide river to get between a 10 foot gap in between two dense forests and made my way through, after 10 minutes or so coming to the land rover track i was aiming for…thank goodness. Getting on this landrover track was bliss and i knew it would carry on for around 5 miles to take me west around the loch to the start of the last range the mighty awful hand. I used these 5 miles to make sure i was eating before the last effort of the final range to take me back across and over to bruce’s stone once more. It was undulating road but good for my pace, unchallenged by it maintaining a good pace. It was after 0030am and with the beautiful night it was and due to being out all day my eyes had adjusted and although dark i got away without using my headtorch at this point. Walking past Loch Riecawr i noticed a light shining behind me, I looked around and it was actually the moon coming over some clouds it was full and very bright. It cast my shadow onto the land rover track and was illuminating the loch, absolutely spectacular, i rightfully took a couple of minutes to admire it and soak up this experience of total peacefulness and silence. I wasn’t far from Sheil Hill according to my GPX which i’d be climbing up to get onto the awful hand ridge, now from my previous experience today i knew that climbing onto these ridges particularly via these sub 2’000ft hills is horrendously tough underfoot. So I prepared appropriately mentally for what would likely be lying ahead.
Eventually getting round to start shiel hill the honeymoon period of land rover track and stunning moonlight watching was over. Starting my ascent again sharply off the path as it has been with every ridge start on this trip, it was into some of the worst terrain yet. Starting with overgrown ground covering uneven fallen trees, and plenty of wetness, it was slow progress and my aching feet weren’t enjoying the sodden,steep, ankle breaking ground. I pressed on with the attitude that let’s get this done as once Sheil hill was over i knew the next 8 out of 9 hills and what was in store for me. At that i hit a christmas tree forest, with no obvious way round it i has no option but to try and find a way through the steep, wet, lumpy terrain now with the added slow down bonus of thick christmas tree branches hitting my full body. I lost a walking stick here which snapped in two, it had been gammy since earlier on from this harsh terrain but finally gave way, Thanks for the help while you did my old friend, weve had some great journeys. It was actually getting thicker and thicker by the step so I stopped for a bit and decided this wasn’t going to do atall. I had my head torch on now for the climb but at 0130am i couldn’t see much around me apart from the limited area my head torch would cover in these tree. I was thinking I might have to wait until the daylight hours until I could see things and start again, but that would very likely destroy the needed sub 24hr time limit for this challenge. I done a bit more thinking and just appreciating everything ive been through so far today, being grateful to be out here doing this, ok moaning about the terrain but really it’s what i live for these days, wild and remote landscapes at this time of the day, does it actually get much better? What an experience…goosebumps. I stubbornly came up with a plan to descend back down a bit and will my way up this hill, i did find a gap in following a steep burn up. not without its challenges of the prerogative for this route in hellacious terrain and fallen down trees to jump over but i made it to sheil hill, it was slow progress messing about in the christmas trees but i was up here now and that’s all that mattered. It took it out of me and i sat on a rock and ate a bit and downed an energy drink, something I never do but fancied a bit of caffeine. I looked back round into the dark sky where id just come up, over across from it probally under 0.5mile as the crow flies cornish hill would be sitting, I couldn’t see it due to the dark but its a litle favourite walking curcuit of mine and will. be known by a few Ayrshire troops. I continued the short journey onto peak 22 Craigmasheenie, the terrain was pathless, overgrown and wet but compared to what id just come through, it felt like a bowling green to me! It was great to be up on this ridge at this time of night with the cracking sky and moonlight illuminated lochs below me, breathtaking! I was looking forward to getting onto shalloch on minnoch as I knew from there it was 8 miles to home and a very familiar 8 miles, i’ve done the merrick to shalloch and minnoch return route a good few times. Before shalloch on minnoch it was the ‘north top’ of it as peak 23, then i started the long ascent to peak 24 in shalloch on minnoch, ayrshires highest and a corbett at around 2,550ft. despite being excited by this prospect i was now moving slowly and stopping a lot more than I had been, promising myself when i get the top i will stop to eat and drink to get energy for the remainder i slowly pressed on. When i did i forgot about this quickly and touched the cairn and hurried along down the steep side of shalloch on minnoch onto Tarfessock peak 25/26 (North and South). It was around 0345 the sky was getting lighter again and it made for some amazing sights, i was moving well again across these two peaks which isn’t the best terrain to walk in but like i said it was all feeling a bit better up here, firstly because I knew the terrain from previous experience and secondly from the carnage i’d already endured in other wicked areas today. After Tarfessock it was towards the impressive looking Kirriereoch Hill, it stands well over corbett height and higher than shalloch on minnoch but due to ground around it is not classed as one. It is quite unique for the area in that it is very rocky and the face of it is very very steep, it’s quite a scramble! I pressed on until the bottom of it and sat on a rock for 5-10 minutes eating and taking in some experiences. 0430 on the hills was magical, the sun has recently rose, some misty clouds on this higher ground now making a red tinged atmosphere, absolutely stunning to just sit there and soak it all in, It’ll stay with me for a while. After this little break I made a deal with myself that I would do this steep ascent of kirriereoch in one sitting and i stuck to those guns up this rocky, scrambly steep face of it. On the top of kirriereoch in the misty red sunrise atmosphere i seen 4 or 5 red cows,then i realised in my tired hazy mind that it’s a bit high and it’s obviously red deer and confirmed it when i got 50 ft or so away. It was amazing and a pleasure to watch them all running off sync off the side of the hill, these morning experiences solidify why it’s the best time of day on the hills. After the small plateau on top of kirriereoch is a sharp and rocky descent before a steady climb followed by a steep climb onto the mighty merrick and last major peak of the round,when climbing up here i was feeling a great sense of achievement. I’d been on top of the merrick loads of times probably somewhere between 30-40 times but this would be the more significant and memorable thats for sure. I started having a little cry to myself in elation, looking at my watch and seeing 18hrs 40minutes since the start meant I could canter down the merrick and be well under the 24hrs, it was a special feeling touching that cairn at the top I was so familiar with and one time that will never be forgotten. Buzzing to be on the descent from the merrick and only having to bag benyellary and bennan hill on the way down which wouldn’t cause any issues as it was on the way anyway i was moving well and happily. 100 feet or so after leaving the summit I noticed horse hoof prints on the muddy path, my initial reaction was that’s a long, steep climb to come up with your horse! Then to my surprise and then quickly my horror, another couple hundred feet down i seen two very big black and white horse standing by themselves in the mist just off the path. When I said to my horror I meant in the fact that they came running over to me, one standing behind me and one standing at my side/front. One had mad blue and black eyes and was acting like a bit of a loose cannon making weird noises and the other one was a bit calmer but still a nut job! Everytime i walked and moved around them, they burst into action and powered down beside me standing in front of me again, I was ******* myself how was i going to shake them. All I could think of to do was put my hand out to them several times each, they both licked my hand in turn a few times each and i think because they realised I didn’t have anything for them they left me in peace to walk on. Everytime I anxiously looked back round at them they were just errily staring at me, just please don’t come back over i thought! I made my way strongly up the last wee climb toward benyellary then the sharp descent down it towards the fence. Normally I would go through the fence on the descent from the merrick but today i had to bag peak 30 of 30 Bennan hill, this didn’t cause any issues except for being a bit of a nuisance. I just basically had to follow the fence line north which got me very wet feet then climb the head height fence over to touch the cairn and back again. Onto the normal descent of the merrick now and making good progress, predicting with a couple miles to go I would likely be finished in around 20hrs 15minutes. My dad had texted me asking how I was doing so i gave him a quick phone and told him I was just coming off the merrick and not long until I was finished, it was a good chat and my voice was breaking into tears a bit but i held it together. I continued down, finished the steeper part of the descent and at the bothy it becomes flatter again then a gradual downhill. I made it back to bruce’s stone for the 47.75 mile journey in 20hrs and 9minutes. I was absolutely ecstatic and joyous by this, id worked hard all day and id been rewarded with a great time particularly for walking the full route. What a journey and adventure it had been and i was feeling so lucky to have experienced it, particularly to experience on my own in some true wilderness it added to the feelings of adventure and sense of achievement for sure. There was no greeting from anyone at the imaginary finish line or medals, just self fulfillment and achievement which is enough for me anyday, so grateful. I had my battle scars with scratched legs, some superficial and some deeper, plenty of chafing around the body and blisters all over feet but it didn’t matter, i didn’t expect to get around it feeling fresh physically but i felt a lot clearer mentally. I jumped in the car and drove home, crying for the first part of my journey in elation, what a feeling to get something like this in again. Once the dust settles and god willing i’ll be keen to do something similar soon. Thanks for reading this blog im aware it’s been a long one! and for all the support, it really means a lot to me.
- Galloway ring of fire route
by arjh » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:07 pm
by iainR » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:17 pm
by iangpark » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:51 pm
by JaneAyr » Thu Jun 27, 2019 6:47 am
Most of my walking is done in the Galloway hills and I love that I can be out all day and not see anyone. I'm used to the pathless wet terrain, tussocks and bogs but I wouldn't be brave enough to tackle some of the terrain you fought your way through!
Well done, great achievement!
by dav2930 » Thu Jun 27, 2019 10:48 pm
by Tinto63 » Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:00 pm
by AWC88 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 12:56 pm
by Coop » Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:11 pm
A lot of pathless wet terrain down there to contend with
Never had a Mexican stand off with a couple of horses before I think I'd have lobbed a cereal bar or something and then bolted sharpish