Walk of a Life­time: Mer­rick and Loch Enoch

If you thought the Southern Up­lands were tame, think again. The wilds of Glen Trool will test your met­tle, says Jeremy Ashcroft.

Trail (UK) - - CONTENTS -

T he Southern Up­lands is a rather dis­mis­sive name for the moun­tain range that strad­dles Scot­land’s bor­der with Eng­land. The ti­tle sort of sug­gests mere moors and hillocks, and this view is re­in­forced if all you ever do is scoot past on the A74. The wide-open nature and sheer amount of land­mass the peaks cover skews per­spec­tive and makes the range look tame be­cause they are so spread out. This gen­tler vis­ual pro­file leads you to be­lieve that walk­ing among them would be easy, but noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth! The real facts are hid­den within the in­te­rior; it’s a wilder­ness as wild as it comes in Bri­tain. It hides gran­ite and me­ta­mor­phic crags of se­ri­ously im­pres­sive heights. Its ex­ten­sive flats are lib­er­ally splat­tered by a myr­iad of lochs in all shapes and sizes, sur­rounded by heather and coarse grass wet­lands drained by burns, either rau­cous and fast flow­ing or deep, dark and in­tim­i­dat­ing. This land­scape pat­tern col­ludes to give some of the most chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing walk­ing in Bri­tain, so much so that once you’ve given it a go you’ll be per­fectly ac­cli­ma­tised to take on any moun­tain walk­ing Scot­land has to of­fer.

The fo­cus for many peo­ple who visit the area is Mer­rick, the high­est peak. The stan­dard route to its sum­mit is a fine un­der­tak­ing and you get a su­perb over­view from its sum­mit, but as the path is well trod­den and rel­a­tively easy it re­ally only scratches the sur­face of what’s on of­fer. A fuller ex­pe­ri­ence can be had by first head­ing out into the wild hin­ter­land of the Dun­geon Hills and then skirt­ing around the head of Loch Enoch, via the lonely sum­mit out­post of Mull­whar­char, to finish with a tra­verse over Mer­rick. This route has long been a clas­sic, but not in terms of well-trod­den paths and lots of peo­ple. It’s a clas­sic for its raw land­scape and for the sheer joy you feel when you ven­ture off the beaten track.

NX415803 If you have an in­ter­est in his­tory you should pay a visit to Bruce’s Stone just to the east of the car park; it com­mem­o­rates the de­feat of the English by Robert the Bruce in 1307.

NX418804 From the road, a well-trod­den path leads east down a hair­pin for 400m to a junc­tion. Turn left at this junc­tion and fol­low the path as it climbs east-north-east then north­east across steep hill­side to join Gair­land Burn.

NX434817 At the top of Gair­land Burn, the path eases around the western end of Loch Val­ley. This loch suf­fered badly from acid­i­fi­ca­tion from the 1850s on­wards, how­ever it is now in the process of re­cov­ery.

NX437819 Above Loch Val­ley, the path on the west side of Mid Burn is fol­lowed up to its out­flow at the mouth of Loch Neldricken.

NX438830 Around the western side of Loch Neldricken is Mur­der Hole. No one died here, but it was made fa­mous in The Raiders by S R Crock­ett.

NX442825 Cross the Mid Burn at a twin row of step­ping stones (th­ese can be im­pass­able dur­ing spate con­di­tions) then work your way around the southern shore of Loch Neldricken.

NX452829 A grassy gully sys­tem on the southern (right) end of the Black Gairy crags leads onto the southern shoul­der of Craig­naw. If you come across any metal com­po­nents th­ese are the re­mains of an Amer­i­can F111 fighter that crashed in the vicin­ity in 1979.

NX458833 From Craig­naw head north-north-west along the broad open ridge pass­ing the weird gran­ite slab and boul­ders of the Devil’s Bowl­ing Green to the prom­i­nent cairn-marked col of the Nick of the Dun­geon.

NX453844 A short steep climb north leads to the sub­sidiary top Craig­nairny, and then east­north-east to Dun­geon Hill. The view south-east from the sum­mit is over the re­mark­able fea­ture of the Silver Flowe, a Na­tional Nature Re­serve. This al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble area is re­mote and boggy, so care should be taken if you at­tempt to cross it. NX458851 North-west from Dun­geon Hill, the route crosses a broad open col to tackle the southern flank of Mull­whar­char. This lonely out­rig­ger is a truly wild and un­touched place although, in the mid 1970s, its sta­ble gran­ite ground was looked at by the Atomic En­ergy Author­ity as a pos­si­ble site for an un­der­ground stor­age fa­cil­ity!

NX448855 The mys­te­ri­ous Loch Enoch is nearly 40m deep and is mas­sive for its al­ti­tude, par­tic­u­larly when you con­sider it has only one vis­i­ble feeder burn. It also has the nov­elty value of hav­ing an is­land in it with its own loch – a loch within a loch.

NX435851 The big as­cent of the day is up Red­stone Rig from the western shores of Loch Enoch. As height is gained, the ground un­der­foot tends to re­lent un­til easy close-cropped grass marks the fi­nal ap­proach to Mer­rick’s sum­mit trig point.

NX427855 The des­cent from Mer­rick is a lit­tle vague to start, and lies in a south-east­erly direction, how­ever as height is lost the path be­comes more de­fined un­til, over Benyel­lary, it’s an easy-to-fol­low high­way.

NX415821 The bothy at Cul­sharg is a key land­mark on the last stage of this route. It was re­fur­bished in 2012 and is us­able but there’s no guar­an­tee you’ll have a peace­ful night if you use it as it’s only a short walk from the car park.

TOM BAILEY

Bruce's Stone.

TOM BAILEY

Head­ing for Mer­rick, Mur­der Hole and Craig­naw.

TOM BAILEY

High on the Rig of the Gloon, with Galloway For­est Park be­hind.

Heather and coarse grass sur­round Loch Enoch; gran­ite grit sand on its beaches was used to sharpen knives.

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