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Eastern Galloway Hills / 4 days / 46 miles (74km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 06 May 2008
Start / Finish: St. John's Town of Dalry (known simply as 'Dalry' locally).
Map: Outdoor Leisure 32: Galloway Forest Park.

Day 1Loch Dee & Craiglee16.3 miles / 2940 feet (26.2km / 896m)
Day 2The Dungeon Hills6.8 miles / 2620 feet (11.0km / 798m)
Day 3Loch Doon & the northern Rhinns of Kells10.1 miles / 2150 feet (16.3km / 655m)
Day 4The southern Rhinns of Kells12.8 miles / 2260 feet (20.6km / 688m)
Dow Loch (Craiglee)

Our long awaited circuit of the eastern Galloway region, covering the wild and little trodden heartland encompassed by the rugged Dungeon hills and returning along the smooth switchback ridge of the Rhinns of Kells. Both ranges of hills were completely deserted despite this being a bank holiday week, and we saw only a couple of walkers near the shore of Loch Doon and one small group on the Southern Upland Way (SUW).

We made a circular backpack using Dalry as a base with good car parking, approaching and returning via the SUW. With the aid of suitable transport, a linear route avoiding the repeated SUW section could be made, starting from Glen Trool and walking eastwards to Glenhead to join this route and ending in Dalry.

Day 1 - Loch Dee & Craiglee

The SUW leaves Dalry and crosses a suspension bridge over the Water of Ken to head towards Waterside Hill, a warm climb to get the muscles and joints going after the drive up. From the upper shoulder of the hill the tops of the Millyea group looked a long way off and the Dungeon Hills were beyond those and out of sight. Crossing Garroch Burn on the far side, the way briefly hugs the water edge through a muddy wood on the valley floor assisted by some duckboards. This is not wet enough to be a true wetland but not far off: there are moisture loving plants and grasses here that no doubt contribute to the reputation of this region for midges, although the SUW traverses the real wetland west of Caldons where the midges are of biblical plague proportions by all accounts. No problem today though in early May with a breeze blowing.

The way then takes to the tarmac for 2¼ miles and leaves it for a mixture of open hillside, woodland paths and forest tracks, a long but pleasant enough approach with some open views to the surrounding hills. Eventually Loch Dee comes into view with the first objective Craiglee beyond, the southernmost of the Dungeon Hills.

Loch Dee and Craiglee
Loch Dee and Craiglee (06 May 2008__16:43:50)

The SUW does a loop around the southern end of the Loch and climbs gently to Glenhead. This was our exit point and we picked our way NE across some roughly vegetated terrain towards the line of rocky outcrops that approaches the southern end of the crags of Craiglee. It was getting rather late and the climb was very tiring after the long walk in, but there was a good aerial view of the loch from the south ridge. After searching around the summit area we found a reasonably flat spot in the lumpy terrain for a good pitch.

Loch Dee from ascent of Craiglee
Loch Dee from ascent of Craiglee (06 May 2008__19:01:05)
Pitch on Craiglee
Pitch on Craiglee (06 May 2008__19:53:29)

Day 2 - The Dungeon Hills

After my recent solo trip here we were hoping for good sunny weather for the Dungeon Hills, the highlight of the route, and so it was: the unnamed lake and Dow Loch on Craiglee were a joy to behold in the early sunshine. This was a day for lingering and exploring these and other jewels from every angle whilst enjoying the fine if rather hazy views.

Lake near summit of Craiglee
Lake near summit of Craiglee (07 May 2008__08:13:49)
Dow Loch (Craiglee)
Dow Loch (Craiglee) (07 May 2008__08:31:26)

Walking WNW towards Clints of the Buss, it is easier to traverse the little humps on the ridge than go around them, and we turned to descend steeply to the eastern end of Loch Narroch with Craignaw looking impressive ahead.

The southern end of Craignaw has a complex terrain that could be very confusing in mist, but in clear conditions the direct assault NNE onto the slabs provides easy walking mainly on the granite with its attractive trapped pools. Once aloft we aimed for the first obvious cairned high point in the distance at spot height 554m, but a short way before reaching it we detoured E to locate and explore the other Dow Loch, nestling in a rocky depression below Snibe Hill and looking excellent today.

Granite slab terrain and pool on Craignaw
Granite slab terrain and pool on Craignaw (07 May 2008__11:02:20)
Dow Loch (Craignaw)
Dow Loch (Craignaw) (07 May 2008__11:07:45)

Returning across the broad ridge towards the cairned rise, we proceeded through the prominent U-shaped gap with a huge boulder perched in the middle that I noted on the last trip. Above this is a flat area of bog and granite that typifies the primordial feel of these hills: bog loving plants and grasses, dripping black mosses and standing water, yet easy to walk across on the plentiful exposed rock. A final pull up the slabs gained the rocky summit with its cairn built on the highest boulder.

The Awful Hand and Loch Enoch from Craignaw
The Awful Hand and Loch Enoch from Craignaw (07 May 2008__12:13:01)
Mulwharchar & Dungeon Hill from Craignaw
Mulwharchar & Dungeon Hill from Craignaw (07 May 2008__12:13:22)

The descent route is via a steep grassy breach in the crags to the N, and is conveniently indicated from the summit by the attractive rockbound lakes which were our next objective.

Granite rock pools on Craignaw
Granite rock pools on Craignaw (07 May 2008__12:19:52)

There is a trace of a path down the grassy breach, and near the bottom we slanted down L to a prominent pool and climbed a little to the Devil's Bowling Green, a large flat slabby area sprinkled with small boulders. This is a another splendid walk with the most rugged rocks of Craignaw on view, and the sketchy intermittent path can be traced beyond the Green past more trapped pools and down to the bealach before Craignairny.

There are any number of ways to tackle the ascent of Craignairny which is similar underfoot to Craignaw: we chose the continuation of the path up the L side which later fizzled out amid the boulders, but the climb is pretty easy on any line. The summit gives a superb view of Loch Enoch and the Awful Hand.

Loch Enoch & the Awful Hand range from Craignairny
Loch Enoch & the Awful Hand range from Craignairny (07 May 2008__13:48:16)

Dungeon Hill appears quite distant from here but is much nearer than it looks, and we reached it very quickly across the depression of bog and granite similar to the one on Craignaw. There was a hazy view down to the Lochs of the Dungeon enclosed by the expanse of the Silver Flowe, an ecologically important nature reserve characterised by extensive bog and tussocks of fearsome proportions. The NE ridge crags of Dungeon Hill are well seen from the northern edge.

The NE ridge crags of Dungeon Hill
The NE ridge crags of Dungeon Hill (07 May 2008__14:47:48)

We descended NW and picked our way across the headwaters of Pulskaig Burn to the foot of Mullwharchar, an ascent initially on rough squelchy grass but becoming firmer and much easier as height is gained on its bouldery cone. It beggars belief that this hill at the very heart of the unspoilt Galloway wilderness has been proposed as a nuclear waste disposal site.

The descent northwards is in two stages separated by a flattish area with a vague trace of a path across its left side, followed by the last climb of the day to Hoodens Hill, a grand pitch for the night with hazy views of the surrounding hills in the early evening.

Day 3 - Loch Doon & the northern Rhinns of Kells

The air was considerably clearer at dawn and the early morning conditions were perfect for a delightful walk across the rocky spine of Hoodens Hill, passing more attractive pools and a couple of minor humps. A path appears as the ridge descends steeply at the northern end and there is a good aerial view of Eglin Lane flanked by Macaterick and the Rig of Millmore on the far side with Merrick beyond.

Mullwharchar & Loch Enoch from Hoodens Hill
Mullwharchar & Loch Enoch from Hoodens Hill (08 May 2008__07:34:16)
The Eglin valley & Rig of Millmore from Hoodens Hill
The Eglin valley & Rig of Millmore from Hoodens Hill (08 May 2008__08:20:43)

From the descent we studied the forest below in anticipation of the planned valley crossing via the footbridge at 469902. Much of the forest had been felled and most of the remaining trees looked very sparse from up here, which raised hopes of a trouble free walk but forestry is seldom constant or trustworthy!.

The first part was obvious even from this aerial view and a clear line could be seen: near the bottom of the ridge we left it to enter a firebreak at 458906, a damp grassy track through the felled area that ascends NE to a fence where we turned R alongside it on another grassy track. So far so good.
Where this track starts to descend there should be a firebreak on the R leading directly to the footbridge. We saw the overgrown remains of a track at about the right position and followed it, but it vanished lower down in a mess of broken wood and vegetation. We had to traverse the slope above the dense trees through awful tussocks to find a reasonable way down and we arrived at Gala Lane well to the S, but fortunately it was pretty easy walking back along the banks to reach the footbridge. Here we saw the good firebreak emerging right on cue, so either our overgrown track was the wrong spot and we turned off too early, or the firebreak is impassable higher up. The downloadable route file shows the planned route rather than our actual line (which is anybody's guess!).

In compensation the walk along Gala Lane was enjoyable and the craggy face of Hoodens Hill was well seen.

Gala Lane & Hoodens Hill
Gala Lane & Hoodens Hill (08 May 2008__10:30:39)

The damp grass becomes a good track that heads round to the S end of Loch Doon where we had a choice: either follow a mapped shore path or continue on the track through the trees. Fording Loch Head Burn and walking to the shore first, we met a couple of walkers who had forsaken the shore and described the going as unpleasant: indeed it seemed vegetated and chaotic with no sign of a path and we returned to the track. This climbs gradually at considerable length and unfortunately the dense trees block any views of the loch. The track surface ends about a mile further on but the line continues on grass to converge with a wall and cross Polrobin Burn, eventually reaching the open hillside at Polmeadow Burn. The final stretch is very wet and muddy in a few places and requires some ingenuity, but we managed to stay dryshod.

A clear tractor track climbs the scruffy lower slopes of Corran of Portmark, following Polmeadow Burn with its little falls, and finally gave a good view of the large expanse of the loch and a welcome cool breeze after the enclosed heat of the forest. The track veers R higher up directly to the ridge fence where there is a viewpoint cairn at 603m on the far side, the summit cairn is further on at 623m. A complete contrast to the Dungeon Hills, the Rhinns of Kells form a smooth grassy ridge of tops curving into the distance, and we made good progress in the now quite strong wind from Corran of Portmark to Bow and on to Meaul with its trig point.

View along the Rhinns of Kells from the summit of Meaul
View along the Rhinns of Kells from the summit of Meaul (08 May 2008__16:08:04)

Descending Meaul to the broad bealach before Carlin's Cairn, the cluster of small lakes lie in a depression and provided an excellent pitch sheltered from the full force of the strong south easterly wind, a relaxing spot to see the sun sinking in a hazy sky over the Dungeon Hills.

Pitch at the tarns near Goat Craigs
Pitch at the tarns near Goat Craigs (08 May 2008__17:20:47)

Day 4 - The southern Rhinns of Kells

The wind was even stronger as we rejoined the ridge from our partly sheltered pitch spot and the sky was overcast giving rather dull views, but the walking was fine as we climbed to the minor N top of Carlin's Cairn and on to the main summit bearing the large cairn of its title. As we took some photos the clouds were gathering ahead.

The N top of Carlin's Cairn
The N top of Carlin's Cairn (09 May 2008__08:02:38)
The Dungeon Hills from Carlin's Cairn
The Dungeon Hills from Carlin's Cairn (09 May 2008__08:04:28)
Corserine from Carlin's Cairn
Corserine from Carlin's Cairn (09 May 2008__08:15:07)

Climbing to Corserine, we took one photo back to Carlin's Cairn and the heavy rain was upon us in an instant, and we rushed to get our waterproofs on and the camera safely packed away. Despite the dark sky and windblown deluge the tops remained clear as we approached the broad flat top of Corserine and we still had a murky view all around. The elongated broad shoulders of this hill lie perpendicular to the line of the main ridge and it feels curious to cross the hill transversely, so to speak - definitely a case for compass bearings in mist on this featureless top.

Looking back to Carlin's Cairn
Looking back to Carlin's Cairn (09 May 2008__08:51:24)

The rain eased off here but continued lightly for the rest of the ridge, but the walking was excellent via the tops of Millfire and Milldown to the Lochans of Auchniebut, an attractive spot that would have invited further exploration in better weather. By this point the strong wind had disappeared entirely and the first midges were in the air, which spurred us on for our last climb to Meikle Millyea with its trig point.

The eastern slopes of Meikle Millyea change the character of the walking again: here it is a lot rougher than the main ridge with heather and tussocky grass mixed with the rock. Following the wall NE, a good path surprisingly appeared on the L side and made easy work of the descent to Meikle Lump where it crosses through the wall just before a boggy area with a herd of wild goats watching us warily.

Wild Goats at Meikle Lump
Wild Goats at Meikle Lump (09 May 2008__11:43:24)

The path turns SE following the heathery ridge and a short way further crosses back to the L side of the wall. Where the wall turns NE we left the path to cross the rough trackless slopes towards the Rig of Clenrie, aiming for the gate in a new fence. From here the going is a lot easier, and we followed the grassy rib of Culleary Rig and later veered R down to the forest edge where Black Burn runs through a stone wall. Easily but carefully climbing over the wall, a short descent alongside the burn brought us to the SUW and we retraced the outward route back to Dalry.