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Central Galloway Hills / 3 days / 23 miles (37km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 16 Apr 2008
Start / Finish: Glentrool Holiday Park. Secure car parking for £2.50 per day.
Maps: Explorer 318: Galloway Forest Park North.

Day 1Glen Trool & Loch Valley6.8 miles / 1310 feet (11km / 400m)
Day 2Craig Neldricken, Craignairny & Craignaw5.3 miles / 1910 feet (8.5km / 582m)
Day 3Craiglee & Southern Upland Way10.7 miles / 1120 feet (17.2km / 340m)

A circuit of the lochs and southern tops of the rugged Dungeon Hill range, approaching via Glen Trool and returning on the Southern Upland Way (SUW).

This was a short walk designed as a reconnaisance trip to help with a planned longer circuit of Eastern Galloway, and also as a first field trial for my new Terra Nova Laser Competition tent. The last minute post-lunch decision saw me hurriedly packing and steaming north to Galloway to gain high ground for a pitch, mindful of the cold easterly weather stream that may or may not extend this far west but could give dramatic skies for pictures.

Day 1 - Glen Trool & Loch Valley

I walked up the road past Glentrool village and noticed that the road to Stroan Bridge could be avoided by a woodland path that has been constructed on the south side. This is unsigned and I can't remember noticing it last time we were here a year ago, but it is a pleasant alternative to the tarmac. From the visitor centre by the waterfalls I set out on the 3-mile hike along the glen road to Bruces Stone, but I immediately saw another alternative footpath on the north side: unfortunately this only goes a short way before giving out and emerging onto the tarmac. The advantage was speed, and I made excellent progress in the sunshine to the road end and the famous inscribed stone where the view of the surrounding hills was very clear.

A track descends to Buchan Bridge and across the river to the signed path for Gairland Burn. The views open out as height is gained and there was just a dusting of snow left on the highest tops of the Minnigaff range.

View from the Gairland Burn
View from the Gairland Burn (15 Apr 2008__17:30:55)

The path deteriorates higher up the valley and becomes very wet in a few places, but better ground is soon reached alongside the rushing burn near the outflow and Loch Valley quickly comes into view, a splendid sight but I noticed a lot of menacing grey cloud approaching. I climbed a short way to the top of a small rise and took a photo, and found a reasonably flat area in the rough scrubby grass to pitch the LaserComp.

While experimenting with the tensioning and securing the daft fiddly rain cover, I noticed it was considerably darker and the wind had suddenly increased, then the first few spots fell: time for evasive action. I opened the door, dived in with my pack and battened down. Within a minute or two the hail and sleet were drumming on the tent while I unpacked and made a hot drink. It lasted about an hour and was gone, leaving a lovely evening light from the sinking sun on the hills beyond the loch.

Turbulent weather approaching over Loch Valley from tent pitch
Turbulent weather approaching over Loch Valley from tent pitch (15 Apr 2008__18:14:18)
Pitch above Loch Valley
Pitch above Loch Valley (15 Apr 2008__19:33:49)
Evening light on Loch Valley after the sleet and hail
Evening light on Loch Valley after the sleet and hail (15 Apr 2008__19:58:24)

Day 2 - Craig Neldricken, Craignairny & Craignaw

It was a cold night and there was a frost on the tent at dawn, but nevertheless the hills were disappointingly misted out. I continued upwards above the cascades and little falls of Mid Burn to Loch Neldricken, looking gloomy under the misty skies today but some faint blue patches were beginning to appear overhead. I picked my way along the shore to Murder Hole, passing a few tiny green flags planted in the rough tussocky grass presumably to indicate the course of some outdoor event but not very conspicuous, and decided to head northwards alongside an inflow stream below Ewe Rig where there was surprisingly a faint path.

The objective here was to visit Loch Arron that we missed on the last trip, and I left the line of the path to climb eastwards to locate the loch that nestles in a wet area of peat hags and rough grass. It doesn't have the scenic impact of some of the other lochs and pools in this area but is a wild and secluded expanse of water with a striking feature: the 'sands' of the southern shoreline appear jet black while the eastern shore is the creamy white typical of Loch Enoch higher up.

The jet black southern shore of Loch Arron
The jet black southern shore of Loch Arron (16 Apr 2008__09:01:17)
The creamy white sands of Loch Arron eastern shore
The creamy white sands of Loch Arron eastern shore (16 Apr 2008__09:27:34)

Rounding the eastern shore I spied a rib of granite that would give an easy line to the top of Craig Neldricken, and when I reached the top the mist was definitely thinning. There was a view over the intricate outline of a grey Loch Enoch and the Awful Hand range beyond, sporting the last remains of their snow caps. A straightforward descent to a bealach and short sharp climb gains the bouldery summit of Craignairny, a striking pointed peak when viewed from the south.

The Awful Hand range and Loch Enoch
The Awful Hand range and Loch Enoch (16 Apr 2008__10:32:33)

The Dungeon Hills are very rugged granite and endowed with many little sheer cliffs. I picked my way down the pathless Craignairny towards Nick of the Dungeon using sloping ledges of rock or grass and only once arriving at an insurmountable drop which made me retrace my steps a short way and try another line - no problems.

The initial approach to Craignaw is natural enough, I just chose a reasonable line and soon reached the lower plateau which is home to the Devil's Bowling Green, an expanse of granite slab sprinkled with small boulders. There is a pool nearby and just beyond it to the right is a steep gully which is the key to the main ascent through the rugged crags. This arrives at an attractive pool with a wall of boulders as a backdrop. The summit cairn is a short walk further, perched on the bare granite and giving views over the Silver Flowe to the snow dusted Rhinns of Kells.

The Devilís Bowling Green on Craignaw
The Devilís Bowling Green on Craignaw (16 Apr 2008__11:53:34)
Pool and very rugged crags of Craignaw
Pool and very rugged crags of Craignaw (16 Apr 2008__11:55:37)
View back over the lower slopes towards the Awful Hand
View back over the lower slopes towards the Awful Hand (16 Apr 2008__12:08:04)
View from Craignaw
View from Craignaw (16 Apr 2008__12:20:28)

I descended southwards over the expanse of rock slabs to a flattish area adjacent to a small rise and through a U-shaped gap with a huge boulder sitting in it. Pressing on southwards I came to a grassy gully running down to the SW, and I decided to follow it then turn S along the foot of the cliffs to the valley floor near Loch Narroch. Looking back at Craignaw later, I'm sure I could have just continued on the same SSW line on the easier granite without encountering any difficulty.

It had been warm and sunny in the lee of the hill but at the valley floor the cold gusting easterly wind blasted across. A short way from the loch someone has created an easy crossing point in the old barbed fence and I picked a line up the tussocky slope towards Clints of the Buss, where I searched for a flat spot with a bit of shelter afforded by a small rise in the ridge. There was a view of the Minnigaff hills from the pitch and the temperature dropped quickly as the sun sank.

Pitch near Clints of the Buss
Pitch near Clints of the Buss (16 Apr 2008__15:52:58)

Day 3 - Craiglee & Southern Upland Way

It was another cold night with thick frost and a bit of ice on the tent at dawn, but this time things looked better despite the even stronger wind: the highest tops were still mist-capped but Craiglee was already clear and the sun was breaking through. There was a lovely view over Loch Narroch and Loch Valley in the early light.

Loch Narroch and Loch Valley from Clints of the Buss
Loch Narroch and Loch Valley from Clints of the Buss (17 Apr 2008__07:16:48)

Climbing towards Craiglee, Dow Loch suddenly and magically appears, a gorgeous loch in a splendid setting high on the rocky slopes which would tempt anyone to linger on a warmer day, but shell jacket, hat and gloves were the order of the day in the strong cold wind this morning. Further up there is another unnamed but quite large and picturesque pool largely surrounded by rock. From the trig point at Craiglee summit there was a fine view down Glen Trool with the Lochs of Glenhead below.

Dow Loch on Craiglee
Dow Loch on Craiglee (17 Apr 2008__07:29:24)
Dow Loch on Craiglee
Dow Loch on Craiglee (17 Apr 2008__07:34:09)
Pool on Craiglee
Pool on Craiglee (17 Apr 2008__07:42:25)
Summit of Craiglee looking towards the Minnigaff hills
Summit of Craiglee looking towards the Minnigaff hills (17 Apr 2008__07:59:11)
The Lochs of Glenhead from the south ridge of Craiglee
The Lochs of Glenhead from the south ridge of Craiglee (17 Apr 2008__08:23:44)

I descended the S ridge to investigate possible routes from this side. I wondered if a route directly from the SUW near the head of Loch Dee might be feasible but the lower slopes were very steep and/or wet and tussocky, and there appeared to be no way of crossing Dargall Lane here. I made my way along the fence on bad boggy tussocks and soon gave up: I crossed the fence and wall, fording the lane higher up, and very slowly and laboriously crossed the appalling tussocks to join the SUW. Just here is the polished inscribed stone called the Giant Axe Head, one of seven stone 'sculptures' in the 7Stanes trail project.

At the twin bridges over the Water of Trool I crossed over to join a good path back to the waterfalls below the visitor centre and joined the outward route.

7Stanes: the Giant Axe Head on the Southern Upland Way
7Stanes: the Giant Axe Head on the Southern Upland Way (17 Apr 2008__09:56:47)