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Eastern Glenkens 3 days / 31 miles (49 km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 25 Sep 2010
Start: Green Well of Scotland (on the A713, NX 557944);
Finish: St. John′s Town of Dalry.
Maps: Explorers 320: Castle Douglas, Loch Ken and New Galloway & 328: Sanquhar & New Cumnock.

Bus information:- Traveline Scotland Journey Planner

Day 1Cairnsmore of Carsphairn & Clennoch6.4miles / 2587 feet (10.3km / 788m)
Day 2Windy Standard, Meikledodd Hill & Benbrack12.9miles / 2771 feet (20.8km / 844m)
Day 3Manquhill Hill & Culmark Hill11.0miles / 970 feet (17.7km / 295m)
Clennoch bothy

A linear 3-day backpack of the eastern Glenkens range of hills in the Southern Uplands, starting from the Green Well of Scotland north of Carsphairn village and ending at St. John′s Town of Dalry.

The route follows the Water of Deugh to the foot of Willieanna to ascend via Dunool and Black Shoulder to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, crossing the remote northern glen via Clennoch bothy to Windy Standard. It then traverses the high ground via the hills of Alhang and Alwhat to Meikledodd Hill and descends to pick up the Southern Upland Way (SUW) at Polskeoch bothy, leading easily to Dalry via Benbrack and Manquhill Hill.

The forecast predicted two days of clear conditions driven by a keen northerly airstream followed by a lacklustre third day, ideal for this route where the high hills dominate first and the easy lower SUW walking forms the return leg. It was spot-on: the clarity required to bring out the best of these little frequented hills - the spacious distant views - was superb. The first night was a very early taste of a winter camp too: a thick crunching frost and platelets of ice sliding from the flysheet.

We parked in Dalry and took the 520 bus to Green Well of Scotland, an easy journey of 18 minutes on the A713. The former Clachan Inn was still proudly displaying its legend "Home of Southern Upland Way.com" above the bleak metal shutters and "For Sale" sign.

Day 1 - Cairnsmore of Carsphairn & Clennoch

We alighted from the bus at Green Well of Scotland directly opposite the farm track, a popular access point for Corbetteers intent on bagging Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. The good track leads out along the attractive Water of Deugh, with the switchback of hills ahead forming the approach to Cairnsmore and a preliminary view of the Galloway hills behind.

The first hump is Willieanna and we left the track to slant upwards into the Nick of Disgee to meet the ridge at the foot of Dunool. Here the ascent began in earnest as the views opened out, particularly back to the Rhinns of Kells across the valley.

The Water of Deugh & the Carsphairn hills
The Water of Deugh & the Carsphairn hills (25 Sep 2010__10:04:53)
The Water of Deugh & Galloway hills
The Water of Deugh & Galloway hills (25 Sep 2010__10:16:19)
The Galloway hills from Dunool
The Galloway hills from Dunool (25 Sep 2010__11:43:10)
Cairnsmore of Carsphairn from Dunool
Cairnsmore of Carsphairn from Dunool (25 Sep 2010__11:53:33)

Ascending past Black Shoulder, a line of new ugly fenceposts appeared but the splendid views more than made up for the intrusion, at least for today. From the trig point and cairn, the Isle of Arran mountains stood out sharply and the distant outlines of the northern Lake District fells were added to the display, along with many hills in the northern and eastern segments that we cannot as yet identify reliably.

The Galloway hills from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
The Galloway hills from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (25 Sep 2010__13:24:51)
Isle of Arran mountains from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
Isle of Arran mountains from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (25 Sep 2010__13:25:37)
View from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
View from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (25 Sep 2010__13:26:15)

We descended the north ridge as far as Currie Rig and veered NE aiming for the right of the rocky outcrops of Craighorn. Only in the lower reaches did an intermittent path appear but it vanished in the rather wet environs of Bow Burn.

Clennoch bothy had been clearly visible for some time and the terrain down here had seemed straightforward from above, given our experience in these wild places, but it isn't. The presence of the bothy and the obvious human activity in planting and protecting areas of new tree saplings all suggested that reasonable beaten lines should exist, but there is no trace of any. The terrain is pretty awful throughout and after a considerable time we arrived with relief at the bothy.

On the flanks of the hills surrounding Clennoch Burn there are open bulldozed tracks not shown on the latest (2009) 1:25,000 OS mapping. Although they are scars on the hills they do facilitate the ascent if you choose to use them: we followed the main track as it slanted upwards around the slopes of Dugland, enjoying a grand view back over Clennoch Bothy to Cairnsmore and Beninner. At its highest point near Fox Yird we left it to gain the remaining height over easy slopes, aiming for the dip between Dugland and Trostan Hill where the wind farm track approaches the fence. We called it a day here and sought out a pitch in the lee of the wind.

Beninner & Cairnsmore from Dugland track
Beninner & Cairnsmore from Dugland track (25 Sep 2010__16:11:31)

Day 2 - Windy Standard, Meikledodd Hill & Benbrack

The tent was bathed in silvery moonlight overnight and the flysheet was semi-stiff with thick frost under the clear skies. The white vegetation quickly greened up as the sun got to work and we enjoyed a grand promenade around Trostan Hill with the early sunshine on Cairnsmore and Beninner. Following the wind farm track around to the northern side of Windy Standard, an obvious quad-bike track can be seen ascending directly SE to the trig point. The views were superbly clear again and a little cloud inversion could be seen in a distant valley towards Galloway.

Early light on Beninner & Cairnsmore from Trostan Hill
Early light on Beninner & Cairnsmore from Trostan Hill (26 Sep 2010__08:12:01)
View from Windy Standard
View from Windy Standard (26 Sep 2010__09:04:37)
View and small inversion from Windy Standard
View and small inversion from Windy Standard (26 Sep 2010__09:06:08)
Cairnsmore hills from Windy Standard
Cairnsmore hills from Windy Standard (26 Sep 2010__09:13:16)

We descended southwards to the nearest turbine to rejoin the main track for a short way and left it to follow the fence running NE. Here we turned right to begin the undulating crossing of the heartland hills. The first bealach at 486m is extremely wet but is easily circumvented by a short detour SW to an easy crossing point, the only really boggy spot encountered.

The traverse of Alhang and Alwhat gave more superbly clear vistas, including a view of Afton reservoir below and the seemingly endless hills of the Southern Uplands to the east.

Shoulder of Mullbane and Moorbrock Hill from Alhang
Shoulder of Mullbane and Moorbrock Hill from Alhang (26 Sep 2010__11:12:41)
Afton reservoir and Blacklorg Hill from Alhang
Afton reservoir and Blacklorg Hill from Alhang (26 Sep 2010__11:28:28)
Ewe Hill & Lorg Hill from Alwhat
Ewe Hill & Lorg Hill from Alwhat (26 Sep 2010__11:36:40)
Afton reservoir from Alwhat
Afton reservoir from Alwhat (26 Sep 2010__12:02:58)

The small intermediate hummock between Alwhat and Meikledodd Hill is conveniently bypassed by a vague quad-bike track with a couple of marker posts to indicate the driest line across the wet ground. Blacklorg Hill dominates the skyline northwards and Meikledodd Hill affords a great retrospective view.

Blacklorg Hill from Alwhat
Blacklorg Hill from Alwhat (26 Sep 2010__12:25:50)
View from Meikledodd Hill
View from Meikledodd Hill (26 Sep 2010__13:23:23)

The SW ridge runs over the minor rise of Lorg Hill to a steep knee-wobbling descent by the forest edge to join the contouring Lorg path through the trees to Polskeoch bothy on the SUW.

Easy walking now on the SUW, crossing Fortypenny Burn and winding aloft on a forestry track to rejoin the burn higher up and giving a view back to Lorg Hill. The SUW is now signposted off the track directly uphill at NS 691013, cutting off a small loop from the line shown on the 2009 mapping. The way becomes a good path meandering through the forest to pass Allan′s Monument and emerge on the western boundary for an open undulating traverse over Black Hill and Cairn Hill to Benbrack, the highest point on this side of the route and site of one of the four Striding Arches of red sandstone.

Lorg Hill descent from the SUW track
Lorg Hill descent from the SUW track (26 Sep 2010__15:36:21)
Late shafts of sun from Cairn Hill
Late shafts of sun from Cairn Hill (26 Sep 2010__17:32:38)

The autumnal nights were drawing in quickly and we hastened our descent of the SW slopes to seek out a pitch before the light faded, finding a rough but reasonable patch just as the sun was setting.

Day 3 - Manquhill Hill & Culmark Hill

True to prediction the surrounding hills were capped with grey mist at dawn and the sky was dull and overcast, but at this level it was clear and brightening up somewhat as we set off to ascend Manquhill Hill. The air was still surprisingly clear below the mist mantle and we could glimpse very distant hills near the horizon.

The remaining section of the SUW via Culmark Hill to Dalry is unremarkable but pleasant walking, mainly rough grazing pasture with pleasing local views. If we had a hill accolade called ′grandiosity of name per metre of prominence′, the prize might be awarded to the Old Hill of Mackilston, a low mound in a broad open pasture just off the minor road beyond Butterhole Bridge.

Pools by the SUW
Pools by the SUW (27 Sep 2010__08:34:55)
View back to Benbrack from the SUW
View back to Benbrack from the SUW (27 Sep 2010__08:53:49)
Culmark Moss from the bridge
Culmark Moss from the bridge (27 Sep 2010__11:00:32)