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Paul’s mate Gary was coming up from Kent to go walking with us and therefore we decided to make this walk a little special. With the knowledge that Paul and Gary both worked for Tibbett & Britten we were guaranteed not only free company petrol but also two insured drivers who could take it in turn to share the duties behind the wheel. The result was that we took up Mark’s suggestion and set off for a virtually unknown range of hills in Galloway, South Western Scotland. At ten o’clock we rolled into the car park at the terminus of the Glen Trool road. The mere fact that we’d been on the go for a good four and a half hours ensured that upon arrival we didn’t hang around too much. I always think that arriving at and exploring somewhere entirely new is a great privilege. That’s just the way I felt as we stumbled out of the car and took in the remote looking surroundings of this hitherto unknown corner of Scotland.
We had read a little about the walk and decided that the fourteen or so miles were quite within our capabilities and so set ourselves a little extra detour to ensure we had quite a stretching itinerary. Even during the early plod up by the Garland Burn it was clear to see that this would become a wilderness walk quite different from our usual Lakeland yomps. This fact was emphasised when up above Buchan Hill we caught sight of a Golden eagle soaring overhead. On the route to Loch Valley we had the benefit of a path of some description, however when this large island studded loch was reached all sign of mankind seemed to disappear. This didn’t affect our spirits. Quite to the contrary we were all in a cracking mood, taking the mick out of one and other, nervously laughing and joking about our walk/ordeal that lay ahead. One satisfying moment came when Mark decided that he wanted to obtain a photo of the reflection in the loch. To maximise the effect Mark decided to get as low as possible by lying down over the water on a couple of rocks. Well, it was too good an opportunity to miss and I had to give him a good prod with my walking pole. The result was that this pushed him into the water and wet his knackers. Oh what fun.
Heading eastwards along the shore of this loch we followed a sheep track of sorts. Although rising no more than a few feet from the loch level this track constantly undulated and due to the permanent hassle of having to negotiate the heather roots it proved to be damn hard work. For some reason it was at this point that I chose to spend some time on my own. With the others out of sight in front I honestly couldn’t remember ever being in such a remote spot. There was no sound, no wind and definitely no sign of man. All in all quite a rare but pleasing event. A mile or so beyond this loch we came to the rugged lump of rock known as Craignaw and it was hereabouts that we first caught a glimpse of the wild goats that inhabit these hills. They seemed to occupy the skyline of the hill and at no time were we able to get within a stones throw of them. This seemed a little unusual given the fact that very few people ever venture into these hills. We would make progress up the pathless flanks of the hills and they would always be seen at the same distance and always looking over their shoulders at us. It was as though they were guarding something.
On the descent from Craignaw there is a rather unusual natural sight, “The Devils Bowling Green”. This great lump of relatively even rock has gained this nickname due to the number of smaller roundish boulders that are scattered around in its surface. I don’t know what caused this effect, however it is hard to believe that it isn’t man made. That being said this place is so far from anywhere I can’t think who on earth would or could do such a thing? We were now just about as far from the car as the walk would take us and it was at this point that Paul and Gary decided to take a short cut and head off towards the shores of Loch Enoch. Arrangements were made to meet up later and the remaining three of us took off in the direction of Dungeon Hill. We really were in a remote spot, hemmed in on all sides by fascinatingly named places or features. Craignairney, The Wolf Slock, Nick of the Dungeon, Murder Hole, The Sluice of Loch Enoch, etc. What a feel this place had. The route to the summit of Dungeon Hill could either be a slog up a steep grassy slope or a much steeper scramble. Well, you’ve guessed it. Stu and I set off on some ambitious routes whilst Mark having his sensible head on took a more realistic approach. We really did pit ourselves against the rocks and it wasn’t that much of surprise when having dithered over an awkward move for a while that I finally gave in and headed off towards the summit. Perhaps this wasn’t the best location to try and prove my scrambling ability.
From the summit of Dungeon Hill we could clearly see our route ahead and the corner of Loch Enoch where we were to meet up with the others. Surely we could be there in half an hour or so. In reality we had no chance whatsoever of being able to manage this. This terrain was some of the most arduous any of us had ever come across. Not only did it constantly undulate, have no paths and take us through knee-deep peat but also, the sight of various chunks of aluminium aircraft fuselage liberally scattered everywhere deemed many a detour. There were pieces of aircraft scattered all over. Some large and all of it embedded to some degree in the glue like peat. No doubt on impact much or it had been scattered about, swallowed up by the peat and subsequently reappeared when the rain had eroded the peat. This was another event that made this walk seem rather eerie. Eventually we made our way across this assault coarse to the sandy shores of the loch and Paul and Gary. Apparently they had had just as troublesome trip across this wilderness as the rest of us.
Rather unusually as it was very late on in the day we were now facing the biggest climb of the day, the one thousand foot slog up to the summit of Merrick. Unfortunately for the first time in the day whilst nearing the summit we entered the clouds and lost visibility. As we had been going a long, long time we had to keep making progress in order to get back to the car before the onset of darkness and also to give ourselves a chance of being able to get back home in a reasonable time. The initial descent from the summit took us to the rather unusually named “Neive of the Spit” or to give it its other name “Scars of Benyallary” and thankfully a great view down the ridge and across towards the wilderness that we had spent the long day in. This was a great way to finish off this walk, simply ambling downhill and taking in the untouched loch strewn emptiness of the Galloway Forrest.
Back at the car we all celebrated finishing a truly memorable walk. What we really needed was a pint to wash down our eagerly awaited bar snack. Well, we found a pub. More like a shack at the side of the Glen Trool road. It had the feeling of a temporary building, but on closer inspection it was clear to see that it had been there many a year. No doubt untouched by modernisation and thankfully it still offered good old-fashioned service. The end of this day came five hours later when we arrived at home sometime after midnight. What a day and what a cracking good idea. Well-done Mark.