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Date: 30 Apr 2007
Start / Finish: Glentrool Holiday Park. Secure car parking for £1.50 per day.
Maps: Explorers 318 & 319: Galloway Forest Park North & South.
Start / Finish: Rockcliffe. Large free car park immediately before entering the village (no parking in the village itself).
Maps: Explorer 313: Dumfries & Dalbeattie.
|Day 1||Bennan, Benyellary & Merrick||9.5 miles / 3050 feet (15.3km / 929m)|
|Day 2||Kirriereoch Hill, Tarfessock & Shalloch on Minnoch||6.8 miles / 1890 feet (11.0km / 576m)|
|Day 3||Macaterick, Loch Enoch, Loch Neldricken & Loch Valley||7.3 miles / 1270 feet (11.8km / 387m)|
|Day 4||The Glenhead Lochs & Glen Trool||11.3 miles / 960 feet (18.2km / 292m)|
|Day 5||Rockcliffe to Sandyhills coast path||10 miles (16km)|
An excellent 4-day backpack featuring the Western Galloway hills and lochs. The outward section of the route covers the hills known as the Range of the Awful Hand, which perversely has some of the easiest high-level walking in Galloway. The return section explores the wild and splendid lochs in the heartland of the region and joins the Southern Upland Way (SUW) back to the start point. This was a week of clear sunny weather leading up to the May bank holiday, yet after Merrick the whole area was completely deserted until the final stretch on the SUW in Glen Trool.
We took advantage of the continuing sunny weather on the fifth day to walk the Rockcliffe coast path in southern Galloway, a pleasant day walk to round off a fine week.
A short walk up the road is Glentrool village where a lane forks R to Stroan Bridge and the Visitor Centre. Beyond the bridge a woodland path heads NE to join a forest track which climbs gently all the way to the summit of Bennan. This approach has a largely open aspect and the prominent mast atop Bennan soon comes into view. The hummocky area near the summit has some attractive lochans to explore and the rock slabs made an idyllic spot to relax out of the brisk wind.
Returning to a hairpin bend in the track, we crossed the fence and picked up a thin trod on the L of a wall, which avoids some rough boggy ground and crosses the wall a little further on to join the main path coming up from Glen Trool. This is one of the few well trodden paths in the region, and the first real climb of the day gained the summit of Benyellary with great views in the clear air of the easterly weather stream. The path continues along the Neive of the Spit and across Rig of the Gloon (great names!) to Merrick, the highest point in southern Scotland. The views are extensive to the northern fells of the Lake District, the Isle of Arran and Ireland, while the striking cone of Ailsa Craig protrudes from the sea. Far below there is a view of the series of lochs that we would explore on day 3, including the intricate highly crinkled shape of Loch Enoch.
Descending steeply via the small but striking rise of Little Spear, we searched around the rocky outcrops at the head of Red Glen and found a pitch that was reasonably sheltered from the blustery east wind. A nearby stream head provided excellent water.
The wind was really cold by morning but the sky was still crystal clear as we set off on the ascent of Kirriereoch Hill. The views from the cairn were even better than the previous day. A steep descent northwards brought us to a broad area of rocky knolls and delightful secluded lochans where we spent some time exploring and seeking them out. A short drop to a saddle leaves an easy climb to the sculptured summit cairn of Tarfessock. The ridge continues easily down to Nick of Carclach and on to the 775m summit of Shalloch on Minnoch, marked by a cairn. The trig point is a short stroll westwards across a shallow depression and is 7m lower.
Descending past the crags of The Cargie, the cropped grass turns to wilder slopes. We descended to the R of Carglas Craig which was pretty rough going, in hindsight it may have been better to keep L of it but we can't know for sure. In any event the target was the point where Craigencoof Burn reaches the forest fence. From here a thin trod descends through the heather and tussocky grass alongside the fence and leads faithfully to the forest road. A short walk SE at the forest corner is the track to Tunskeen Bothy: this is a new surfaced track that avoids the old very wet spongy tramp along the forest edge.
The track ends abruptly at the bothy. Macaterick looks close, but the intervening terrain is the roughest on the whole walk: dense bleached tussocks and heather and totally trackless. There is also an intervening low ridge which was not obvious at first as we aimed for a saddle well L of the summit, but we made slow and steady progress to arrive at Tunskeen Lane which was easily crossed on large boulders. The terrain became easier as we climbed to the saddle under the gaze of some wild goats, and after searching the rough ground for a while we found a very good comfortable pitch with a grand view of Loch Macaterick to the North. We had a momentary fright when we disturbed an adult adder basking on the warm granite, the first we have seen.
As the sun rose over the Dungeon Hills the wind had almost died, which raised concern about midges which are notorious hereabouts, but fortunately the season was young and there were no problems. It was an easy climb to Macaterick in the early light, a great little top of granite slabs with a fine view of the surrounding hills. The onward route is the undulating hummocky ridge of Millmore that curves SW towards Merrick, and there is a thin path at first but it fades out further on. We replenished water at a spring near the first bealach and meandered up the ridge to a cairn near Rig of Millmore, admiring the superb yet deserted vistas all around. A trackless but fairly easy crossing brought us to the fence above Loch Twachtan, tucked in below the crags of Little Spear.
Crossing Saugh Burn, where fish were leaping out for flies, we followed the fence SE crossing Cauldron Burn to the slopes surrounding Loch Enoch. This was a truly magical place in the sunshine as we followed the twisting crinkles of its shoreline, with little beaches of contrasting white sand and dark peat against the deep blue water and artistic patterns of rock in the sunlit shallows. There are various thin trods near the shore to assist progress, and at the SW tip of the loch we crossed a fence that comes down to the water edge and a short way beyond we ascended R up a damp ravine to a small saddle.
The ravine then descends gently SW below the Rig of Loch Enoch, rather wet at times, the stream within gathering strength until it drops more steeply to a wall and Loch Neldricken comes into view. There is a distinct line heading SE towards the western shore named Murder Hole, and there is a grand profile of the very rugged Craignaw across the loch. Mid Burn flows out from the southern end and a path appears that follows it down to Loch Valley with a view across the water to Rig of the Jarkness and Craiglee.
Gairland Burn issues from the western end and we followed the well trodden path a short way downstream to a tributary to collect water. Returning to the loch, we crossed the burn and followed a faint path near the shore to the foot of the rough trackless slopes of Rig of the Jarkness, another evocative name. A short climb through the dense tussocks gains the ridge and we made a great pitch with superb views N over Loch Valley to the rugged peaks and S to Lamachan Hill and Curleywee.
The soft orange glow of early sunlight made the views even more heartwarming as we walked along the ridge towards Craiglee, but we descended S towards Long Loch of Glenhead well before Clints of the Buss to avoid the potentially steep heathery crags. The slopes were pretty rough but not difficult, and at the foot there is a vague trod through the shoreline vegetation. The loch was calm and reflected the surrounding ridges like a mirror. Climbing to a low ridge at the eastern end, Round Loch of Glenhead comes into view with the dark slopes of Craiglee above.
A faint tractor track heads SSW between the lochs and makes easy walking for a while but it fades out at the head of the slopes of Glen Trool. We picked our way WSW down the rough slopes towards Long Loch Burn, where we restocked water for the last leg of the walk, and followed it until we spotted a SUW waymark post. The SUW makes an easy and pleasant walk all the way to Bargrennan, leaving a short walk up the lane to the car.
Tide information: Easytide - UKHO Free tidal prediction service
Just below the car park on the road into the village, a private road with a footpath sign to Castle Point marks the start of the coast path. Rough Island lies only a short distance offshore and at low tide it is possible to walk out to it, though a pair of wellies might be a good idea!.
The route is waymarked and follows the undulating line of the cliffs, and there are topographs to assist with the view which extends across the Solway Firth to the northern Lake District. One general comment applies to several sections of this path: it is sometimes very narrow and hemmed in tightly either between dense gorse bushes or between gorse bushes and barbed wire fences, making it a prickly experience and a cause for concern if wearing an expensive waterproof.
At Castle Point the tide was out and we walked along the shore for a while. The rock structures are varied here, perhaps the most unusual was an area that looked rather like limestone pavement but was encrusted with tiny barnacles. All the rocks had excellent grip and it was very easy to rock-hop our way along.
Rejoining the clifftop route past a rocky cove, the path arrives at a monument where it is again possible to get closer to the rocks. There are some seabirds nesting on the cliffs and occasional stack or rock tower but on a much smaller scale than our Fife and NE Coast trips. Most of the nesting birds we saw here were cormorants which gave grand aerobatic displays.
After the hamlet of Portling the tide was higher and the route was confined to the clifftop until Saltpan Rocks at Sandyhills Bay. We could just see a natural arch below but there was no accessible vantage point for a picture, let alone intimate acquaintance. We returned entirely by the clifftop route.