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The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds


Postby Christo1979 » Sat Aug 29, 2020 2:17 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: 03/08/2020

Distance: 90 km

Ascent: 4300m

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A 3-day adventure in the Galloway Hills

My first Donald, White Coomb, was actually my first hill walk. Back in 2018 I found myself in Moffat for the weekend and did Mid Craig, White Coomb and Carrifran Gans without fully realising whether they were Donalds, tops, or not. Fast forward to 2019 and I found myself looking at the beautiful SMC guide to the Grahams and Donalds, and I had the idea to get back to the Donalds with some focus, and to walk them in memory of my dad, Donald, and in aid of Mesothelioma UK. Weeks and months went by, and though I enjoyed picking-off individual hills, I knew that to stand any chance of climbing all 140 Donalds and Donald tops within the time frame I had set myself, some epic walks were going to be in order.

But there was one epic I wanted to save until last, and that was thanks to Ronald Turnbull and his excellent 'Book of the Bivvy'. Bruce's Crown, The Three Ridges, or my favourite, The Ring of Fire - call it what you will, it's a walk that takes in the Minigaff Hills, Rhinns of Kells, and Range of the Awful Hand. Runners do it in a 24-hour challenge, but as a walker with all my gear on my back, I gave myself 2-3 days. I was planned and ready to go, I had studied maps so obsessively I felt I could walk it without so much as taking a map with me. Some sponsorship came in (thank you to those WH users who supported me, too) and then...

COVID-19 happened.

And so, months behind schedule, I finally set out on the journey to Newton Stewart and got off the bus on a sunny afternoon, ready to walk in to the hills. Being reliant on public transport and timings to and from Glentrool Village not working ideally for me, I decided to walk in from Newton Stewart to the first Donald, Larg Hill, and pick up the route from there. What follows is therefore not so much the exact Ring of Fire, but a slightly modified version to take in the Donalds and Tops and omit one or two unnecessary hills.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

The late afternoon, sunny walk-in was a delight. I followed the minor road from Newton Stewart through Minnigaff, along past Barclye Moor, until I reached the turn-off for Drannandow Farm. From here it was easy walking on the farm track, gradually gaining height as I crossed the Moor of Drannadow, and Larg Hill appeared on the horizon. It was never the plan to get up into the hills on this first evening, but to get as near to Larg Hill as possible, and start in earnest the next morning. The weather looked promising, and eventually I settled in for the evening quite literally on the slopes of Larg.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

Early the next morning I unzipped the tent door to a completely different world. Strong wind, lashing rain, thick mist. Marvellous. Cursing, I forwent brewing anything on the stove, packed everything into dry bags, and started what would be the hardest few days I have ever experienced on the hill. Larg Hill was a quick bag, and then I followed the misty ridge up to Lamachan Hill, where I seriously considered calling it a day already. Then I remembered that it was already just as difficult to give up and head back as it was to carry on, so off to Bennanbrack I went, and struggled my way down to Nick of Curleywee, where I sat huddled in my little bothy bag for a break from the weather. I had so looked forward to Curleywee, but in the end it was nothing short of hell. I made a couple of errors descending via Gaharn, and relocating my way up towards Millfore was difficult. In fact, the stretch between Curleywee and Millfore was just about as much a test of my navigation and energy as anything I have ever endured.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

Actually, I'll take that back - rounding Cairngarroch to drop down to Black Water of Dee, up past the quarry towards Darrou and on to the Rhinns of Kells - THAT was the biggest test yet. If there's a snowless version of a glissade, that is what I found myself doing on the way down from Cairngarroch. It was wet enough to slide my way down the slopes, but bumpy enough to find myself upside down at times, legs pointing up the hill, something akin to an upturned tortoise.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

I would dearly like to return to walk the Rhinns of Kells when I can see something. It was pretty easy walking in and of itself, and I had this constant feeling that I was standing on a ridge with stunning views. It's just that I couldn't see any, and it was hard to stand up at times. The rest of this first day involved battling my way up and down the tops, until finally I left the ridge after Coran of Portmark, to go and find somewhere to camp.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

The next day was all about the long walk on the forestry road, where visibility improved at the lower level but the rain kept me in something of a miserable mood. My Terranova bothy bag came in very handy whenever I wanted to eat or have a rest, and eventually I emerged at the break where I needed to head up to Shiel Hill and onto the wonderfully named Ridge of the Awful Hand. This I found exceptionally difficult. There's just something about this rugged terrain in the rain, and the fact that mist lay heavily anywhere above about 400m - was I going around in circles? Eventually, I was able to pinpoint myself at Caerloch Dhu, and I was back in the game, so to speak. I was also very tired, and a little fed up.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

Back to the ridge, and slow progress along towards Tarfessock, where I left the ridge again and off to camp - shelter really is an amazing thing. One thing that had disheartened me so far in this little adventure was that I hadn't seen so much as a glimpse of the rough, almost Jurassic paradise that lies on the valley between these three ridges. In fact, I wouldn't see anything of the lochs below until at the far end of this final ridge the next day.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

The next morning, I eventually regained he Range of the Awful Hand, and initially had a spring in my step as compleation was in sight. The place where I really felt I'd hit rock bottom was the steep pull up Little Spear to (The) Merrick. I deposited myself in the wind shelter on the latter, and even though it was almost wintery cold up there, and I STILL couldn't see much, I had myself a long break. I had just one top left to do.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

It is of course, typical that as I descended from Merrick, the mist occasionally cleared to give me glimpses of the lochs below. I felt really quite emotional when I arrived at the final top of this expedition, and of my complete round of Donalds - Benyellary. Of course it was at this point, and on this popular hill, that I started seeing lots of people, and it is perhaps difficult to explain why you look like a broken man when everyone else is toddling up to Merrick with a spring in their step. I wandered down to a level area away from the summit, had myself a little moment, and reflected on the round of 140 Donalds and Donald Tops.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr

This final walk in the round had been one of the toughest, but my adventures in the Moffat Hills and on the two outlying Donalds near Callander surely came close. Most of the Donalds had been walked in awful weather, and all but one had been done solo and using public transport (the exception was Windy Gyle - but the weather was still awful). Low as these hills may be, they had been a character-building test in every respect, and I now find myself craving a little rock to walk on. We raised some money for a charity close to my heart, and I felt chuffed to be added to the SMC list of compleaters - no. 241, and next in line from WH user Ian G Park, whose own reports of tough walks in Donald country inspired some of my own.

Back to Galloway, and the weather (and suddenly the views) improved as I dropped down over Bennan, and when I arrived at Glentrool visitor centre summer seemed to have returned. I myself returned to Newton Stewart by bus, and started the long journey home.

Dad, this one was for you.

ImageCompleating the Donalds by Christopher Watson, on Flickr
Last edited by Christo1979 on Thu Sep 03, 2020 11:22 am, edited 4 times in total.
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Sgurr » Sat Aug 29, 2020 4:30 pm

Exceptional. Have had enough bad weather in these hills to know that a warm(ish) car and a warm bed at the end of the day are essential for me. Hats off to you for doing so may of them in these conditions. If I recall correctly your Dad's name was Donald and this round is in memory of him. Congratulations.
User avatar
Sgurr
Munro compleatist
 
Posts: 4461
Munros:282   Corbetts:222
Grahams:219   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:569   Hewitts:139
Wainwrights:160   Islands:58
Joined: Nov 15, 2010
Location: Fife

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby rockhopper » Sat Aug 29, 2020 5:22 pm

Congratulations :clap: :clap: An epic way to finish particularly given the conditions - cheers :)
User avatar
rockhopper
 
Posts: 6683
Munros:282   Corbetts:218
Grahams:64   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:9   Hewitts:2
Wainwrights:3   Islands:19
Joined: May 31, 2009
Location: Glasgow

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby iangpark » Sat Aug 29, 2020 5:27 pm

Wow Chris what an end to the round that was! I'd seen your tally at 89 for a while and though "oh jeez what's coming" :lol: The 52km I walked with a tent for the Lowthers in those conditions pales to it - 40km longer and you had wind/rain to deal with rather than just the clag! To think it was tougher than your Moffat day is almost inconceivable - those ridges definitely need a return in better weather, although for you that's practically a whole new round. Know all to well the feeling of arriving at a busy summit having come from a much harder direction (as well as having a few 'little moments' too). Either way you're dad would be over the moon with the achievement - absolute best of luck with whatever else you've got planned!
User avatar
iangpark
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 279
Munros:24   Corbetts:15
Grahams:24   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:60   Hewitts:13
Wainwrights:15   Islands:9
Joined: Dec 29, 2015
Location: Greenock

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby kevsbald » Sat Aug 29, 2020 5:58 pm

:clap: Superb effort. Gaun yersel!
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kevsbald
Munro compleatist
 
Posts: 2176
Munros:264   Corbetts:119
Grahams:76   Donalds:51
Sub 2000:13   Hewitts:9
Wainwrights:15   
Joined: Jan 15, 2009
Location: Glasgow

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby weaselmaster » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:30 am

Well done - pity about the weather. These are good hills for having a multi-day adventure in, rugged and remote in places. I recall having fairly similar weather when I did a big circuit there :lol:
User avatar
weaselmaster
Hill Bagger
 
Posts: 1913
Munros:217   Corbetts:44
Grahams:76   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:367   Hewitts:31
Wainwrights:15   Islands:28
Joined: Aug 22, 2012
Location: Greenock

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Christo1979 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 9:37 pm

Sgurr wrote:Exceptional. Have had enough bad weather in these hills to know that a warm(ish) car and a warm bed at the end of the day are essential for me. Hats off to you for doing so may of them in these conditions. If I recall correctly your Dad's name was Donald and this round is in memory of him. Congratulations.


Thank you, and thanks again for your kind donation to the cause. I have a feeling the Galloway Hills are something glorious, and will definitely return at a more leisurely pace in better weather.
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Christo1979 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 9:38 pm

rockhopper wrote:Congratulations :clap: :clap: An epic way to finish particularly given the conditions - cheers :)


Thank you :D
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Christo1979 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 9:40 pm

iangpark wrote:Wow Chris what an end to the round that was! I'd seen your tally at 89 for a while and though "oh jeez what's coming" :lol: The 52km I walked with a tent for the Lowthers in those conditions pales to it - 40km longer and you had wind/rain to deal with rather than just the clag! To think it was tougher than your Moffat day is almost inconceivable - those ridges definitely need a return in better weather, although for you that's practically a whole new round. Know all to well the feeling of arriving at a busy summit having come from a much harder direction (as well as having a few 'little moments' too). Either way you're dad would be over the moon with the achievement - absolute best of luck with whatever else you've got planned!


Thanks so much, and thanks again for your donation. Your reports have been a source of inspiration, and I had myself a little smile when I realised I was the next registered compleatist after you :D
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Christo1979 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 9:40 pm

kevsbald wrote::clap: Superb effort. Gaun yersel!


Thank you :D
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

Re: The Ring of Fire: Compleating the Donalds

Postby Christo1979 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 9:41 pm

weaselmaster wrote:Well done - pity about the weather. These are good hills for having a multi-day adventure in, rugged and remote in places. I recall having fairly similar weather when I did a big circuit there :lol:


Thank you. I read your reports with interest, thanks for reading this one :D
User avatar
Christo1979
Walker
 
Posts: 223
Munros:15   Corbetts:40
Grahams:35   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:101   Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:190   Islands:25
Joined: Oct 21, 2017
Location: Gateshead

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