Four nights in Galloway

FRIDAY 3 MAY 2024

Over the past two summers I have had a family holiday at a cottage in South west Scotland. Each time, I have cycled there, and stopped overnight on the way at Loch Dee where I have gradually been ticking-off a few SOTA summits. The last time I was in Galloway, I stood atop Craiglee (GM/SS-15) and looked northwards across the wild heart of Galloway, and promised myself I would be back for a dedicated long walk.

So on Friday 4rd May I found myself heading back to Loch Dee. The journey started by rail to Dumfries, arriving at 1810hrs, from where a booked taxi took me to Clatteringshaws Loch. I’d had trouble finding a taxi firm with availability to take me on the 1 hour journey, so was jolly glad I had booked in advance to be met off the train.

The taxi journey sped by, as we followed a route I had cycled many times, passing Crocketford, St Johns Town of Dalry and eventually arriving at Clatteringshaws at just after 1900hrs. The journey cost me £55 which I thought was very reasonable. There is no other true public transport to this location, the closest options being a bus that passes through Dalry occasionally, but which would have meant a stop in a hotel at Dumfries or Castle Douglas.

As the taxi pulled away, and with he lack of exit options via public transport, I was now committed. I had a very loose plan for the next few days, that focused on covering some of the ground I had viewed last summer from the summit of Craiglee. I had also noted a fell running round called "The Galloway ring of fire" which followed north along the Range of the Awful Hand and then south along the Rhinns of Kells. This route had given me an idea to start off at Craiglee, and eventually join the Awful Hand range and the “Ring of Fire Route” at Merrick, before heading north to Loch Doon, and then back south along the Rhinns of Kells, a route that would take me around 80km or more. However, I was fairly flexible and my main ambition was explore some of the wild country that I had not trodden before.

I followed the track around the Western edge of Clatteringshaws. This is metaled road until it meets a line of electricity Pylons after a few miles, where it turns to typical forest track of stone chippings.

The weather was very mixed - occasional heavy downpours with interludes of clear sky. I was munching on some provisions bought from Marks and Spencer in Carlisle, and on my back were four generous days worth of food.

This was a pleasant evening walk, and during my first rest stop on a fallen log I was pleased to note that there were very few midges. As I sat, I watched to see if any insects would be landing on my Ronhill leggings. the night before I had sprayed the leggings with permethrin, a chemical that in addition to being uses as a scabies treatment is effective as an insecticide. I was also protected by plenty of Smidge repellent. I was pleased to see both doing their job, nothing seemed interested in my leggings. I reserve use of permethrin for Sottish walks, where I am more likely to be hacking through thick tussocks over long distances.

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Loch Dee and Craiglee on Friday evening - if only the weather could have held like this!

Rounding the last corner I could see White Laggan bothy in the distance, and I tried to pick out any sign of life in the gathering dusk. I could have stopped in the bothy overnight, but I enjoy the feel of sleeping in a tent so pitched at my usual spot on the east bank of the Laggan burn, this was to be my fourth night camping on this spot.

After a scout around the camp spot to look for anything interesting (a tree had fallen down since last time but there was not much else that had changed since I was last here) I took a quick wash in the burn and settled in for the night. I was using a Hilleberg Akto tent, that has done me good service over the past 20 years or so. The Hilleberg os a 4-season tent which always gives a me a sense of security when travelling in back country routes.

This is a lovely location to camp, with velvety grass (about the only patch oof velvet green grass in Galloway), owls hooting in the woods, a stream gurgling alongside and all around the wild hills of Galloway. The location also has the bothy available nearby as a an option to retreat to should the need arise.

SATURDAY 4 MAY 2024

I awoke the next morning to a dense fog, the edge of Loch Dee, around 300m away, was not visible. The tent fly was sopping wet. I got outside the tent for a look around, and although damp and foggy it was a warm morning.

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Saturday Morning – usual camp spot

I had slept in until quite late and it was around 0900hrs by the time I had packed away and was on the move. I picked up my trekking poles and inspected a field repair I had made the night before. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles have lasted well for the past 5 years, and I recently replaced the tips with original Black Diamond tips. However, while walking along the track the previous night I found a hairline axial crack on the end of one segment, that was causing it to keep collapsing. A liberal use of superglue from my repair kit had fixed it in position permanently. Superglue is a great item to carry, a good option for sealing large cuts to oneself also.

I headed along the forest rack, following the Southern Upland Way for a couple of km until reaching the start of the route up Craiglee, that now features a brand new signpost (but no mention of Craiglee on the signpost).

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Off into the wilds

I turned off the forest track, and braced myself for a tough time. I last did this route in August 2023 setting out for the summit in the early evening after a long cycle ride from Cumbria to get to Loch Dee. It was nice to start out fresh, and wearing walking boots instead of the fell running shoes I had last time. The ground here is not at all well suited to fell running shoes, with knee deep mud. The downside today was the weight of my pack!

The thick mist made it more difficult to pick the optimum route through the mud on the lower slopes, but I eventually reached the first few slabs of bedrock at about the 350m contour which mark the start of easier going. From this point onwards the climb is thoroughly enjoyable, with slabs of bedrock to walk over, interspersed with heather and grass. At about the 450 m contour the route starts to follow a grassy terrace on the west side of the summit, with a granite cliff on the right. The cliff eventually reveals a route tot he summit, which I climbed to emerge on the granite outcrop.

It was now very damp, with rain showers coming in from the south. I took out my Yaesu VX6 to put a call out on 2m, and the volume knob fell off. Closer inspection revealed that the spindle on the potentiometer had sheared, and there was no way to refit the knob. The radio was now stuck on full volume.

A call on 2m at 1145 BST yielded a couple of contacts, MM7DCD and 2M0NZB (confusingly close to my own call) on GM/SS-129 followed. Further calls came from G4OIG, EI9KY, EI6IF and GI0AZA and. I then moved across to HF. Rather than faff about with guying the telescopic pole I took a look a look at the trig point, hoping the central hole would be open and allow me to slip the pole inisd. The cap was in-place, so instead of inserting the pole I just attached the end of the FHHW to a metal ring on the trig point and climbed back down the outcrop.

The EFHW is about 20m long, and the trig point was at the limit of the visibility in the fog, showing just how poor things were. I connected the antenna to my Venus SW3B, powered by a USB battery bank, and then called CQ on 40m CW.

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Grassy terrace on Craiglee

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Summit of Criaglee

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HR on Craiglee

The RBNhole picked up my GM/SS-XXX alert and the first chaser asked for my reference, so the system seemed to work well. I didn’t expect much from 40m as the solar weather had been very stormy; sure enough I only made two contacts, but its always fun to do CW on a backpacking trip.

I was glad to start packing away the kit, as it was now getting quite wet on the summit. I set a compass bearing for about 20 degrees, aiming for the Col between Craiglee and Snibe Hill.

Although visibility was very poor there was no chance of getting seriously lost since there were plenty of navigation features to catch myself on. A forestry plantation to the east would stop me straying too far right and a fence junction on the col marked the spot I needed to reach.

The route down to the col was thick tussocks, and required a couple of detours around crags. As I reached the col the ground became boggy. I crossed the burn running along the col (Cornarroch Strand) and a brief clearing of the mist revealed the craggy south nose of The Snibe, called Point of the Snibe. This might have made an interesting route in clement weather, but instead I skirted around the western side of the Point.

Despite tracking the direction of the slope, to chose the location of ascent, I overshot and hit my navigation catch feature, of a small burn running south down the slope. I turned north at the burn, climbing up the rough slope. The going here felt very tough, with thick tussocks, and boggy terraces,. Near the top of the climb, the hillside became craggy. All of this was difficult to pick a route through in the 20m visibility.

The summit of Snibe hill was a confused jumble of pools, crags and heather. Dow Loch allowed me to gain some surety of my position as I turned my bearing slightly west of north to make for the summit of Craignaw (GM/SS-096), climbing another 100m. The broken, craggy ground making it difficult o hold a course.

The summit eventually came into view, and I quickly prepared my VX6 for a quick 2m activation. I was pleased to quickly get the four contacts to qualify (GM0VEK, MM3OJE, M0MKU and G6CRV), and didn’t hang about as the weather was very wet.

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Craignaw

I was now heading for Loch Enoch, where I planned to camp. So I took a generally north westerly course, to descend a spur of ground heading towards the lock. However, a direct exit from the summit in that direction was not possible, and it took a while to find a good route onto the spur.

The general topology here is quite confusing, with multiple joining cols and hanging valleys, but I eventually made it across to a delipidated fence line that joins Loch Enoch and Locjk Neldricken. I followed the fence line north a short distance, before reachig the bank of Lock Enoch.

Despite standing around 100m from the loch, it was only the map that told me it was there, visiblity was so poor. My boots were sinking into the ground at this location, so I picked my way anticlockwise around the loch, hoping a suitable spot would emerge where I could put the tent.

I am very conscious in these situations of making the mistake of trying to find a “too perfect spot”, leading to a never-ending walk. However, I was already very, very tired, and as soon as I found somewhere that I could just about pitch the tent, I opted to stop.

I was on a ledge on the side of Craignary, around 30m in elevation above the Loch, the ground all around was tussocks of grass and pools of water. My chosen spot was very squelchy also. As a quick test to see whether camping here was wise, I dug a hole with my heal. I was pleased to find that the hole did not immediately fill with water, and so judged it a fine camping spot.

The tent was pitched quickly, and I had my dinner cooked very rapidly (curry fruit rice), with he stove sited on a convenient flat rock. Somewhere 100 m to the west, and a few 10s of meters below was the Loch, but the only evidence of its presence was the sound of some waterfowl and the occasional splashing of water.

The air felt unseasonably warm, but very damp. I was mentally tired after a whole day spent navigating in the mist, with a growing feeling of claustrophobia from only being able to see a few 10s of meters around myself.

After dinner I retired to the inner sanctuary of my tent, it was still fairly early so I watched some films on my 'phone before heading off to sleep.

On waking the following morning I was pleased to see that the fog had lifted sufficiently to have a view of the Loch. Loch Enoch is sited at a elevation of 500m and has a couple of small islands in addition to yellow beaches formed from granite.

All around me was peaceful and quiet; despite being a bank holiday weekend I had seen nobody since leaving the taxi on Friday evening.

SUNDAY 5 MAY 2024

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Morning view of Lock Enoch with my tent pitched nicely (click for panorama image)

After taking a morning wash, using water from a nearby stream, I packed away the tent and restarted my walk along the eastern edge of the Loch. Crossing Pulskaig Burn I left Dumfries & Galloway and entered South Ayrshire, and began a climb up the flanks of Mullwarchar (GM/SS-073)

Mullwarchar has an interesting history, having at one time in the 1980s been a potential site for the UK’s Geological Disposal Facility for nuclear waste.

As I crossed the 550m contour I entered the mist again, and lost sight of the Loch. The ascent was trouble-free, although the going continued to be difficult over the rough tussocky ground.

The summit of Mullwarchar was unremarkable in the mist, although is a wonderfully remote location. The Dungeon Hill range runs north-south; too the west lies the range of the Awful Hand (including Merrick), and to the East the Rhinns of Kells. None of this was visible today.

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Mullwarchar

I called on on 2m using my VX6 with stuck volume control, and was pleased to rapidly make the required four contacts to qualify the hill, although a lifeboat station in Southport couldn’t hear me despite their signal being loud and clear. I then packed away and headed back down the hill towards Merrick.

I thoroughly enjoyed the next segment of the walk, crossing across some wild country, fording the outflow from Loch Enoch and then navigating onto Redstone Rig to start the ascent of Merrick.

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Crossing outflow of Loch Enoch

I took a short break, and since I had a 'phone signal I refreshed my weather forecast. the BBC forecast waws suggesting thunder and lightning in a coupe of hours, although this did not feature on the met office forecast. I significantly quickened my pace, as I did not want to miss out on the opportunity of activating Merrick.

Merrick (GM/SS-028) reaches an elevation of 843m, making it the highest mountain in southern Scotland. The line of view between Merrick and Snowdon, at 144miles is said to be the the longest line of sight in the British Isles.

As I approached the summit, the tussocks of Galloway gave way to velvet green grass, and eventually the first path I had seen for almost two days of walking.

At the summit trig point I called CQ on 2m, and made a good number of calls. I reeled through the calls quite rapidly, due to the threatened thunder storms on the BBC website. After finishing the activation spotted the first person I had seen since Friday night, and we had a brief chat.

With a second person around, at least my odds of being struck by lightning had now been halved! A thorough examination of the Met Office forecast, along with a lightning tracker app suggested there was no possibility of lighting. I opted to continue along the narrow ridge to Kirriereoch hill (GM/SS-287). This was something of a leap of faith at first as the visibility was down to around 10m, meaning that a compass bearing and walk into the mist was required to find the narrow ridge.

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Merrick

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The ridge off Merrick

I was delighted to find a good path over the ridge, and whilst taking care on the potentially slippery turf I felt this route entirely safe. The descent soon came to an end, signifying the start of the climb up to Kirriereoch. The hill has only 150.2m of prominence, so the pair of Kirriereoch and Merrick are very easily completed together,

At the summit of Kirriereoch I was back in South Ayrshire, and called CQ on 2m too rapidly achieve the required contacts.

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Summit is there somewhere

My original plan for this walk was to head further north along the Awful hand range, to bag Shalloch on Minnoch (GMN/SS-042), and to retain my northerly course to Loch Doon before turning south along the Rhinns of Kells, returning to Clatteringhsaws.

The slow going over rough terrain and in misty conditions meant that I was already half way through my rations, and more than half way through my energy levels. I didn’t feel I would have the time or food to complete the full circle and so re-adjusted my intentions.

Aside from time/food I was also starting to tire of walking in the mist. Heading across to Shalloch would have meant staying on the ridge, and spending the nigh in the mist. So I decided to start heading West, following the wall along the spine of Kirriereoch.

My intention was to walk across to Craigernreoch, and then finish the walk on Tuesday at A village called Barr, which features a daily bus service to Girvan.

As I headed down Kirriereoch, I felt I was back in The Lakes; the grassy hill reminded my of the north end of the High Street range.

At the 600m contour I started scouting around for water sources as i would have loved to camp on the springy turf. A mossy pool of water was a potential option, but decided to keep moving in search of better water. At the 500m contour, I left the wall and headed north towards the Cross Burn. A bright green patch of ground, visible in the distance on the north bank of the Burn looked promising, but I wasn’t sure if it would turn out to be marsh.

I dropped my pack at the 450m contour and wrapped it in my yellow fluorescent bothy bag before setting of to scout around the hillside for a camping spot. I eventually found a patch of green grass next to small stream at about the 450m contour, and opted to stop there for the night, and leave the river crossing to the morning. I new this might be a bad idea if it rained in the night, putting the river into spate, but I was expecting the banks of the river to give poor options for camping.

The tent was setup quickly, and I was soon cooking my diner, comprised of Thai Green Curry and chicken Super noodles. It was a pleasant evening, and I was glad I ad dropped out of the mist to gain a view across the Carrick and Glentrool Forests.

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Camping on a nice green patch

I sat outside the tent eating my dinner, delighted that the midges were still not yet hatched. The mist rolled across the hill side, and the odd spell of light rain dampened the evening. After a restful evening I retired to my sleeping bag, listening to the rain falling on the flysheet.

MONDAY 6 MAY 2024

The following morning was more of the same - damp and misty. I headed down to the burn which was easily crossed near the eastern end of a spur of foresty. Now on the north bank of the burn, I followed a game trail westwards, hoping to find a fire-break that would take me to a track I could see marked on my map.

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The burn - easy to cross at this location

The bright green patch of ground I had spied the night before turned out to be perfect patch of grass. A kilometer further down stream I sighted a ruin on the south bank of the burn. I had also noted this feature on my map the night before, but expected it to be reed clogged, tick infested nightmare. Instead, the ruin featured a lawn of sheep-nibbled grass that would be perfect for camping.

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The prefect camping spot, next to a ruin

OI continued along the river bank until meeting the fence line and turning westwards for a short distance, before a final 200m north along a firebreak to meet the forest track.

A pleasant walk along forest track followed - the track here included a number of spots suitable for camping, and a couple of pleasant streams.

I headed around to the farmstead of Tarfessock before there track swung around towards the river. On the bank of the river I realized I had made an error. Although the forest track neatly arrives at both banks of the river, there is no bridge connecting them. The concrete footings of a bridge suggest one once stood here, but long-since lost. Its not the first time I have been caught out in this way, without paying attention to bridges on maps. I suspect though, I would have taken the gamble of being able to cross the river, even if I had noticed the absence of a bridge on the map.

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there must have been a bridge here at one time?

The river is broad and deep in places, but was surprisingly easy to ford at a wide section, and my error was recovered, bringing me to the tarmac road. I turned north along the road, soon reaching the memorial at Rowntree Bridge where I stopped for lunch.

The memorial features a brass relief map of the Galloway Hills, which provide some interest to trace out my route. The memorial is for David Bell, a cyclist who wrote about his adventures in the Ayrshire Post from the 1930’s until his death in 1965. After lunch I headed a couple of km along the Girvan bound road to cross cattle grid a then start up the hillside towards Craigenreoch (GM/.SS-135).

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Bells Memorial

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Lunch stop

The route to the summit was further than expected and includes a couple of km across a grassy plateau. The activation area is broad in extent, so the grassy walk could be avoided; however it was worthwhile since the trig point was suited to supporting a mast through its central hole.

I setup my EFHW and gave a call on 40m CW at 1515BST , to hear G0FVH quickly respond, followed by a S2S with LA1KHA/P on LA/TM-049. The 40m band was still suffering from the solar storm so I moved too 20m where conditions seemed better, OH3GZ called, follow by F6OYu and a total of six other stations.

After the HF activation I moved across to 2m FM and spoke really with GM4ZMK and GM3YDN.

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Activation of Craignereoch with EFHW

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HF Gear

After completing the activation I spent some time checking my onward travel plans, and realized there was a problem with my planning of getting a bus from Barr – it only ran on three days per week, and I would have to wait until Wednesday if I wanted to catch the bus. I considered a walk into Girvan, but railway connections are quite poor due to a line obstruction at Ayr, and my route home would have taken me via Glasgow.

So I opted to retrace my steps, and head to Glentrool. I returned along the few km of track and road I had done earlier, and then headed into the forest intending to camp at Loch Moan.

On arrival at the Loch I found a rubbish strewn grassy bank, littered with all sorts of waste including animal waste. What a shame that people can make a mess of somewhere like this. At this point I was wishing I had headed towards Girvan, as it would have produced a more satisfying route to end on the north Ayrshire coast, and my plan of camping at Loch Moan had clearly failed.

I continued walking along the forest tracks past Suie Hill, options for camping were poor. The options for water sources were even poorer, with all the small burns emanating from areas of felled forest, and were a treacle brown colour with an unpleasant scum.

At Butter Burn, the options looked a little better, but the thought of a shower at the Glentrool campsite kept me moving.

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Road walking

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Road Walking

It was after 2100hrs when I arrived at the campsite, and the long road walk combined with back tracking through the forest meant I had been walking steadily for the past 12 miles from the activation zone to Gelntrool without a stop, my feet were getting a bit sore after the road walk.

I pitched my tent in the fading light, and starting cooking in the dark. The midges were out a little tonight, so I retired to the tent to eat after taking a shower. I cannot describe the feeling of at last taking off my boots and getting sat down.

The following morning i caught a regular bus service from Glentrool to Newton Stewart, and then a 2 hour bus ride from Newton Stewart to Dumfries.

I have earmarked the camp spot by the ruin on the banks of the Cross Burn for a later visit, and the starting point of a trek over Shannoch on Minnoch and across tot he Rhinss of Kells. It was a great four nights out camping, and a good test of navigation in the mist.

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Almost There

21 Likes

Epic! That country is as wild as anywhere in the UK. Sorry to hear your knob fell off. :open_mouth:

1 Like

Thats another epic outing Matthew. Any idea of the weight of your full rucksack?

David

I’ve given up weighing it now that I am into SOTA…before radio, I would put some effort into keeping my pack weight down, but since IN now carry all the radio gear (Venus SW3B, Yaeasu VX6, Yaesu FT5D plus loads of batteries), I have stopped worrying.

With four days of food plus radio kit and batteries the pack weight would have been 18 to 20kg at a guess.

2 Likes

Well done Matthew,

A good report of a tough trip.

It is tricky enough when you can see where you are going is that part of the world but in IMC it is even worse. Loch Enoch is truly magical.

I need return visit to Shalloch on Minnoch and Craignereoch they are the only two summits in the Southern Uplands I don’t have a summit photo of my own. I forgot the camara that day.

73 de

Andrew

It may sound trite Andrew but try and do Craigenreoch on a really good day. It deserves good light on the colours out there.

I saw your alerts for the Ring of Fire and wondered what mode of transport you might have taken this time to get to the start of your trip.

Extraordinary trip and a great report Matthew.

Hi Matthew, a great read. Thanks for your report, well done.

Geoff vk3sq

Not just me then! The tireder I am the more time I spend walking round and round looking for that ‘better’ spot.

Great trip, enjoyable report.

Matt

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It was actually 40m CW that I worked you on Matthew… on 2m FM you were well out of range from down here in Middle England. I kept an eye on your progress in the hope that you would put a call out on 40m from Craignaw so that I could bag the Complete, but it wasn’t to be. I checked the weather for where you were and realised you’d be under duress and a 2m FM only activation was therefore appropriate under the circumstances.

The next day I hoped you might have better weather to provide a future Complete on Mullwharchar, but another check revealed more of the same in terms of weather… and so it went on. Your photos show it was worse than the Met and other sites indicated.

Those of us that have been there know that Galloway ground has to be experienced to be believed which is another factor on an outing such as this. I activated Craignaw and Craiglee with Neil 2M0NCM, Merrick with Paul G4MD and Kirriereoch with Andy MM0FMF. All were single day outings in fairly reasonable weather and I was quite tired after each of them. I had the benefit of companionship to keep me going. I would definitely not have liked to have been out there on my own in the conditions that you experienced. Very well done indeed. You get a massive tick in the respect box from me. :grinning:

73, Gerald

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