|Outline Map →||Route file →|
Date: 31 Mar 2007
Start / Finish: Newton Stewart. Large free riverside car park in the town.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 32: Galloway Forest Park.
|Day 1||Larg Hill & Lamachan Hill||10.6 miles / 3000 feet (17.1km / 914m)|
|Day 2||Curleywee, Millfore & Craignarget||10.8 miles / 2790 feet (17.4km / 850m)|
|Day 3||Millfore Hill & Cairnsmore of Fleet||11.2 miles / 1760 feet (18.1km / 536m)|
Our first visit to Galloway, a fine circuit of the Minnigaff Hills and Cairnsmore of Fleet from Newton Stewart. It gives a good introductory flavour of the curious dichotomy to be found here between hard rugged terrain and very easy walking.
Galloway Forest Park is a vast rugged wilderness and herein lies the main problem: designing circular routes with good starting points. They are almost nonexistent and public transport hardly touches the area. This circuit in the south of the region is possible only at the expense of a rather long approach and exit.
Crossing the footbridge over the river Cree, we followed the riverside walk and lane through Minnigaff and forked L along the lane to Cruive-end bridge. The Drannandow Farm access track provides an easy climb with improving views to establish a good foothold in the hills at the 300m contour, where it disappears into the forest at 414726. At this point we followed the forest edge and crossed Black Burn, which provided our water higher up near its source, and the Minnigaff hills came into view. A damp tractor track crosses the minor rise of Sheuchanower to the Nick of Sheuchan, and a stiff pull of 1000 feet via Sheuchan Craig gains the first major summit Larg Hill.
The distant views were very hazy but there was a grand prospect of the circuit of hills ahead. The walk to the higher top of Lamachan Hill is an easy stroll on grass on a thin path that crosses Nick of the Brushy, an incised groove at the saddle between the hills. An easy walk NE is the minor rocky top of Bennanbrack, which was a great location for our first pitch on a grassy area amid the rocky outcrops with Curleywee dominating the view ahead.
A cold clear moonlit night left a thick frost on the tent and the early sunlight illuminated Lamachan Scar with an orange light. A faint trod descends the ridge of Bennanbrack and asserts itself lower down to become a good path on the left side, with great views down the scars into the valley while Curleywee looms large ahead. A steep but straightforward ascent gains the cairn with superb views all around. Descending via a small pool to the SE end of the summit area, we made our way down a steep grassy rake on the R to a flattish area still well above Loup of Laggan and surveyed the terrain below: there was no favourable line to be seen and we descended the rough heathery slopes to the wet tussocky head of White Laggan Burn.
Heading ESE from Loup of Laggan towards Millfore, the landscape is a lot more confusing than the map suggests, but there is an intermittent faint path on the R of a tiny stream that makes progress quite rapid, so rapid that we looked back and saw Black Loch far below us, a small lake we had meant to visit!. We also missed the much larger White Lochan of Drigmorn at first, which was hiding just yards to the N behind small rocky knolls, but it was a gorgeous sight as we climbed over and saw the shimmering deep blue in the sun. The path descends a little to the head of Black Laggan Burn and slants up the damp slopes curving around to Millfore, another superb viewpoint.
Our onward route was totally pathless, but heading E and dropping steeply to the head of a stream, we saw the forest track far below which was our target. Following the stream down the rough slopes, the descent was easier than expected except for a very short stretch between the fence and the track which was tussocks, bog and heather. Looking back at Millfore, an ascent looks quite formidable!. The track made progress swift, climbing over the open shoulder of Poultrybuie Hill and dropping to Black Loch, which has a tall slender brick-coloured conical structure built on its shore - what's that?. The track leads around the loch and out to the A712 passing The Types, an imposing craggy little hill that is part of the deer reserve.
We had studied the options for the ascent to the Cairnsmore range and decided on a traverse. Walking NE on the verge of the quiet A712, a forest track departs opposite Brockloch car park and climbs gently SW to cross Palnure Burn where we collected water. The trees below this first section have been felled and there are good views across the valley to the heather cloaked Craignell. The ascent to Craignarget starts at 519714 through a firebreak (shown on the latest mapping but not the old Outdoor Leisure map), which is rather wet and tussocky but we expected the going to improve higher up. It didn't. The dense bleached tussocks mixed with scrubby heather were unrelenting all the way to the top and beyond, which made it a laborious climb. The summit is an area of rocks that protrude very little above the surroundings, and despite the rough and fairly boggy terrain it is a wildly beautiful area. After searching for some time we found a fairly flat dry footprint for the tent that made a surprisingly comfortable pitch.
Another clear night and dawn as we resumed the tussocky tramp up the final ascent to the cairn on Millfore Hill, and only on the uppermost slope did the terrain finally relent to firm easy walking. The slightly lower cairned top of Craignelder is a short walk to the SW. Below to the SE is a broad expanse of rough looking terrain where a distinct path appears through the extensive patchwork of rock slabs and heather that surrounds the Coo Lochans, an attractive area with wild goats that watched us warily from a distance.
Where the path approaches Cairnsmore, we left it and climbed to the ridge at the broad grassy top of Meikle Mulltaggart, crowned by a tiny pool and a minimalist cairn of just two small stones. The character had now changed to easy short soft grass as we made the final climb to the extensive summit plateau of Cairnsmore of Fleet, with a trig point, square windshelter and a substantial stone memorial to the airmen who met an untimely end here.
Our ascent from the NE was clearly little trodden, but the obviously popular route SW is a well worn track that gives a very easy descent to a ladder stile with a notice about footpath restoration work in progress. We followed this track down through the forest to a crossing track and turned R to follow more easy tracks via Cairnsmore Burn, which yielded excellent water, and around to the lane just N of the Old Bridge of Palnure. From the bridge the old military road climbs gently westwards and drops to the A75, where a cycle track runs parallel to the main road and emerges at the New Galloway road that leads directly to the river Cree and the riverside walk to the car park.