Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal The Highlands of Galloway
By COLIN B. PHILLIP
AT various times I had heard the Galloway Highlands spoken of as containing
some of the "finest scenery in Scotland." From experience I had learned to
take this sort of statement cum grano, as I scarcely know of any district
where hills do congregate but claims the same distinction. However, 1 had
long wished to form my own opinion in the matter, and being one spring in
Arran, I arranged with a friend to pay a short visit to the district.
Unfortunately, at the last moment, my friend was unable to accompany me, so
I set off alone. After a delectable journey on the Glasgow and South -
Western, changing at Dumfries, I was turned out at Castle Douglas to wait
for four hours till the Caledonian chose to forward me to Newton Stewart.
The time was not altogether thrown away, as I met a farmer at an inn where I
dined who kindly offered to put me up at his house at the head of Loch Trool.
I may here say that this fine district is deplorably deficient in
accommodation in the ordinary sense of the term,—what hotels there are are
good, but few of them are within easy reach of the best scenery, so the
pedestrian has often to trust to the hospitality of the farmers; but there
are large tracts of ground without even shepherds' cottages. Perhaps when
the country becomes better known to tourists and others some hostelries may
arise, like those in the wilder parts of the English Lake country. There are
good hotels at Newton Stewart, Dairy, New Galloway, &c., and a capital
little inn at Carsphairn; while Gatehouse of Fleet is, I have heard, well
provided with accommodation.
Driving from Newton Stewart to a
roadside tavern called House of the Hill, I began walking, but soon found
one of my boots was rubbing an old blister, so that by the time I reached
Loch Trool I was already pretty foot-sore, though only a few miles of road
had been traversed. Depositing my knapsack at Buchan House, the abode of my
kind farmer friend, I set off to "do" the Merrick, 2,764 feet,—the
giant of the district, and indeed of the whole south of Scotland. The way
lay through an upland glen, past some picturesque waterfalls, to a
shepherd's cottage, Calsharg. Here the ridge of Benycllery, 2,360 feet, was
soon struck; by climbing in a westerly direction, this led me without any
trouble to the broad summit of the Merrick. To give an idea how soft and
easy the walking on the upper part of this side of Merrick is, I may mention
that I was able to take off the boot which hurt me, and walk a greater part
of the way to the top in my stockings.
Hitherto I have said nothing
about the scenery. I was surprised to find the whole country so wild and
picturesque; its reputation had not belied it; indeed, it is a wonder to me
how so beautiful a lake as Loch Trool can have escaped general notice. Few
small lakes in Scotland or England can equal it. It has, of course, a local
reputation, but nothing more; and the most of people are as little aware of
its beauty, and, I may add, the grandeur of this part of Scotland, as if it
were situated at Timbuctoo.
To return to the Merrick. It is a
very fine hill, with two deep rocky corries on its north side divided by a
rather narrow ridge called the Spear. These corries are respectively known
as the Fang of the Merrick (W.), and the How of the Caldron (E.). This
summit is the highest point of a long ridge which runs north and south, and
embracing between it and the Kells range to the east the great granite
upburst known as the "Ice Cauldron of Galloway," from the fact that it was
the ice centre of this part of Scotland. It is as wild and rugged a tract of
lochs and glens, and roches moutonnées, and perched blocks, as can well be
imagined. Descending by the eastern ridge I reached Loch Enoch, one of the
larger of the lochs aforesaid, and of most irregular contour, as indeed are
all the tarns of this wild region. Hence I returned over low granite ridges
to the glen I had walked up in the morning, and so to Buchan. Next day the
weather turned bad, and as my heel was troubling me I decided to return to
Arran and work, having seen enough to make me wish to see more.
In July 1888 1 made up my mind to
return and explore this county more thoroughly, also to get some painting
done there. After some trouble, I fixed on the comfortable little inn at
Carsphairn as my headquarters. The country in this neighbourhood differs
from the Loch Trool district, in being less mountainous and more moorland in
character, but not less picturesque in its own line. The village lies on a
plateau about 600 feet above the sea, surrounded on all sides by moorland
hills, and watered by the river Deugh, which rises near Cairnsmore. It is
easily reached from the north by Dalmellington (io miles), or from the south
from Parton station, whence a 'bus runs to Dalry, from which place it is a
beautiful 10 miles' walk or drive up the Ken valley. For pedestrians, its
chief attractions are the Kells range and the Cairnsmore of Carsphairn —one
of the noted three,—
"There's Cairnsmore of Fleet, And Cairnsmore of Dee; But Cairnsmore of
Carsphairn Is the highest of the three."
It is an easy walk up grass
slopes to the top of this hill, and its summit commands a wide view; but as
it lies in a debatable land, between the genuine Galloway Highlands and the
more ordinary green hills of the southern upland, it does not display quite
the same rugged features as the other hills in the district, though there
are some cliffs on the east side, and the scarps of Beniner are very fine.
Its height is 2,612 feet.
A friend and self had a capital
walk over the Kells range. Starting tolerably early we took the old miners'
road, which leads past Garryhorn farm to the pass over to Loch Doon. It
skirts the steep green slope of the Coran of Portmark, and the view looking
back over Carsphairn and the old lead mine is very extensive and
picturesque. From the col we turned southwards over the Bow, 2,000 feet, to
Meaul, 2,280 feet, at the head of the Garryhorn glen, and thence along the
ridge to Carlin's Cairn, 2,650 feet. This hill takes its name from a large
cairn on the top, which appears to be very old, and has a legend attached. I
forget its exact nature. The view from this point, in all directions, but
especially towards Merrick, is the descent to the loch however is quite
easy, if a judicious course is taken.
Another interesting walk, indeed
scenically the most interesting we had in this country, was across the Kells
by the miners' path before mentioned, to the valley of the Gala Lane, near
Starr, at the head of Loch Doon, over the watershed by Dry Loch of the
Dungeon and Round Loch of the Dungeon (these tarns must not be confused with
the larger loch on the east side of the range) to the Nick of the Dungeon,
thence via Lochs Neidricken and Valley, and down the ravine near Buchan Hill
(W.) and Clints of the Buss (E.) to the head of Loch Trool. The walking by
the Gala Lane was very boggy and rough. The granite crags of the Yellow
Tomach Mulwharchar, 2,270 feet, Dungeon Hill, 2,000 feet, and Craignaw,
2,115 feet, are wild, and the desolation of the country impressive.
Nevertheless we were glad when we arrived at the Round Loch of the Dungeon,
and the Nick lay before us on the west. We made a great mistake in trying a
short cut to the Nick, by getting too high in crossing the screes of rough
granite blocks on the Dungeon Hill. We were forced to retrace our steps, and
wasted a lot of time in so doing. The view from the Nick is superb, looking
over the dark craggy middle distance to Lochs Neldricken and Valley, which
lie one above the other, separated only by a granite step down which foams
the connecting stream. They are girdled with shores of sand and rock. The
water of these lochs has a peculiarly dark appearance when seen from a
height. This is owing probably to their depth and the dark surrounding
crags, for the water itself is crystal- clear, as is always the case in
granite districts. The glen which connects Loch Valley with Loch Trool
carries the eye nearly down to the level of that lake, behind which rises
the Lamachan, 2,349 feet, and his satellites. Farther to the west we saw the
lowlands of Wigtown and the sea at Luce Bay.
Going down from the Nick, we
skirted first Loch Neidricken, and after crossing the stream to the west
bank, Loch Valley. The Merrick fills the eye to the west, and the
surrounding solitude is most impressive.
We struck a track which led us down to Loch Trool by
the east side of Buchan Hill. About halfway down, Lamachan towered over us
in front with great grandeur,— in fact I scarcely know of any hill of its
small size, 2,349 feet, which gives one such an idea of height, as seen from
This is due to its form and character, and partly to
the fact that its base lies almost directly beneath you at a depth of
several hundred feet, while its summit rises 1,500 feet or so over your
head. The woodland and stream at Loch Trool Head are very lovely, and we had
a charming walk to Buchan, where my friend the farmer kindly gave us tea. We
found a trap we had ordered waiting for us at Loch Trool Lodge, and drove
thence to Newton Stewart.
I hope I have said enough to show that this little-
known region is well worthy of the attention of the lover of nature, be he a
climber or otherwise. If it does not rise to the full grandeur of the
Highlands, it has no deer forests to hinder one's steps, and the hills, if
not difficult to climb, are nearly always picturesque, and have the
additional charm of being almost unknown.
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