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Bargrennan to Sanquhar in 2 days

Bargrennan to Sanquhar in 2 days

Postby Charles Wallis » Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:02 pm

Route description: Southern Upland Way

Date walked: 17/09/2019

Time taken: 2 days

Distance: 81 km

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Having walked the eastern section from Beattock some 30 years ago I was determined to complete some of the harder parts of the western section. I took an evening train to Girvan where I stayed the night in a hotel. I was relying on an advertised bus at about 9am to Glen Trool. It was with some trepidation that, as the only passenger, I waited at the harbour bus stop. What if the bus never turned up? Well it did turn up and bang on time, and I was the only passenger as it took me through beautiful South Ayrshire scenery and over the border to Galloway. I got off at Bargrennan, where the road crosses the River Cree.

I was using the original official guide book The Southern Upland Way, written by Ken Andrew in 1984 for the then Countryside Commission for Scotland, now called SNH. I encountered an immediate problem, in that the route has changed since then. A lichen covered signpost directs you over a stile just east of the bridge. In my book and map the route went fairly directly over a hill through forestry. Due to forestry clearance work the route now follows due south by the River Cree and then takes a dog leg towards Glen Trool.
River Cree near Clachaneasy
The path was fairly indistinct and did not look well used. I suspect only long distance SUW walkers use this section, with car based day walkers setting off from Glen Trool Village instead. A couple of times I wondered whether I was on the right route at all, though thistle signs gave reassurance from time to time, though not always when you wanted it. The route then follows througn lovely atlantic oak woods weaving its way east.
Oak Woods in Glen Trool

After crossing the Water of Minnoch the path then improves and then runs along its tributary, the Water of Trool with dark mysterious peaty waters quietly flowing beside you. Suddenly a massive C130 Hercules aircraft flies over just above the tree tops, and then just as quickly, its gone!
It seemed like a long time, but eventually the route reaches a metal bridge over the river near the Glen Trool road. Here the path quality dramatically improves as it picks up day walkers in the park area. You go past a campsite at Caldons. Watch the signage carefully here, it can be confusing. The route is spectacular as it begins to climb up above the side of the glen with Loch Trool itself eventually coming into view. This is the first of three major lochs you pass in the way to Dalry.
Loch Trool

The path runs through planted forestry with ever changing views of the loch below. Reaching the end of the loch you can look back with the Buchan Burn and Gairland Burn tumbling down from Merrick to your right.
Looking back to Loch Trool

From here the going is fast but hard on your feet as its all forestry tracks. Climbing to the watershed beneath Lamachan Hill you enter River Dee catchment and then loch number two, Loch Dee as the path sweeps round near to White Laggan bothy. With accomodation booked in Dalry there was no time to linger here.
Loch Dee with Craiglee and the Rhinns of Kells behind

The next section is seriously tedious with mile after mile along forest roads. Crossing the Blackwater of Dee is a significant waypoint but its while before you reach loch number three, Clatteringshaws. This gives superb views to the south.
Clatteringshaws Loch

The route swings away north past a vehicle drop off point if you want to shorten the section. The forest roads come to an end and you are climbing over a ridge on boggy ground surrounded by trees. Breaking out of the trees the way heads over the ridge between Sheild Rig and Drumbuie Hill, but undulates rather than going straight over. Route finding here could be challenging here in mist. Finally you descend towards Garroch Burn and you feel you are getting somwhere, though there is a while to go yet.
Garroch Glen

The next section is quite pleasant along a road in a quiet valley. Ther is one more climb over the ridge to Dalry. Leaving the road the way is very boggy next to the Garroch Burn then climbs up a dry path amid bracken to finally get a view of Dalry beyond. Descend down steeply to the road and take a pleasant path by the River Ken before crossing it on a suspension bridge.
Footbridge over the Water of Ken into St John's Town of Dalry
You have now arrived at today's destination St John's Town of Dalry, a very peasant little place. It has a pub/hotel, shop and B&B accomodation. Time for a well earned rest! If you are planning to eat at the pub I suggest you book ahead, as it can be busy and there is nowhere else to eat. This section took me 10 hours.
I was pretty tired after this 25m walk but well aware that the next day was even longer with no option for escape once on the way. After some doubts about whether to proceed with the next and longer section, I felt well rested after a good night's sleep. Ken Andrew said in the guide "Only an extremely fit and experienced walker should attempt this stretch of the walk in a day" and he was right; it just goes on and on! The weather was good and with a spring in my step I headed out of Dalry. The way here runs mostly through farmland and moorland with some boggy sections. Navigation can be tricky if you loose sight of the thistle signs as the path is fairly indistinct in places. The path undulates over the moors crossing several minor roads before heading up Manquhill Hill onto higher ground.
Climbing away from Dalry looking to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn

You meander through yet more forestry before climbing a grassy Benbrack, your highest point of the day at 580m. Here there are spectacular views all around. A large sandstone arch adorns the hilltop, one of Andy Goldsworthy's Striding Arches artworks that decorate several hills in the area
Summit of Benbrack 580m with sandstone arch.

Leaving the highest point Its tempting to think that its all downhill from here but I am afraid its not! The path meanders up and down through more forestry until you reach Allan's Cairn erected in 1857.
Allan's Cairn Monument

The next section is through dense forestry weaving down to the complex watershed between the upper Ken/Dee and Scaur/Nith river systems. The going is fast on the forest tracks, even though it follows a big S bend. Don't be tempted to cut the corner as its very boggy here. You will pass Polskeoch bothy here where you could break the journey. I had accomodation booked in Sanquhar so pressed on. This section was lovely in the late afternoon September sun, warm with no wind, though I was pretty tired with sore feet. A good place to stop and rest, change socks and get ready for the final section.
Heading down from Polskeoch

After Polgown the way leaves the monor road and begins to climb the ridge over to Sanquhar. The path undulates in an irritating way and never seems to get to the ridge. Just below Cloud Hill the way gets tangled in a new forestry plantation. The route is not that clear and the ground has been ploughed up with deep ditches and high piles of spoil. I had to jump over them in the fading light. I emailed the SUW ranger afterwards who said that there are new markers to follow and that the contractors should have left the path unploughed. If they did I could not see it. Eventually you cross a wall and after a boggy section of grazed moorland begin to descend towards Sanquhar. By this time it was beginning to get dark and I could see the lights of the town twinkling in the distance.
Sanquhar finally comes into view

The path is very indistinct here but just keep your eyes peeled for the thistle markers. You cross an historic ditch called the Standard Gutter or De'il's Dyke, whose purpose remains unknown. Dropping down you will pass Ulzieside Farm and onto a road that takes you across the Nith to Sanquhar. I arrived, exhausted at 8pm, in darkness to my accomodation, the Nithsdale Hotel. This section took me 11 hours.
Nithsdale Hotel, Sanquhar

Looking back it was a fantastic walk. Would I recommend doing it in 2 days? Yes if the weather is with you but I don't think I could have managed it in poor weather. I had intended to push on to Beattock the next day but I was too tired and took the much more sensible decision to get the train back to Edinburgh from Sanquhar.
Charles Wallis
Posts: 5
Joined: Oct 16, 2019

Re: Bargrennan to Sanquhar in 2 days

Postby Gordie12 » Thu Oct 17, 2019 5:48 pm

A 30 year gap???

Thanks for this info.

I've been looking to do the SUW for 3 or 4 years now but each year I end up doing something different (Coast to Coast - the Wainwright one, Pennine Way, Offa's Dyke etc etc).

Again, the plan is to do the walk next year so hopefully I can actually get it done this time.
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Re: Bargrennan to Sanquhar in 2 days

Postby Charles Wallis » Thu Oct 17, 2019 9:44 pm

Yes it shows my age! I did the Eastern bit in 1980's. It hasn't changed much and its pretty quiet. I only saw two other long distance walkers in those 2 days. Its a great route, I would recommend it.
Charles Wallis
Posts: 5
Joined: Oct 16, 2019

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