Dumfries & Galloway Walks
Merrick & Loch Enoch
Date: 3rd Aug 2015
Distance: 10.6 miles
Ascent: 2500 feet
Time: 6 hours 40 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: NX414802
My first ever walk in the Galloway Hills, an ascent of Merrick from the head of Glen Trool before a rough but scenic return via Lochs Enoch, Neldricken and Valley.
Route Summary: Bruce's Stone - Culsharg - Bennan - Benyellary - Neive of the Spit - Merrick - Redstone Rig - Loch Enoch - Loch Neldricken - Loch Valley - Gairland Burn - Bruce's Stone
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: This was a long anticipated first walk in the Galloway Hills, an area that I'd first become interested in back in around 2009/10 but had not had the opportunity to visit before now when I booked a week's holiday for the family based in Castle Douglas.
Conscious of the fact that I'd probably only get chance for one decent length walk whilst on holiday it was quite difficult to choose which one to do. In the end I narrowed it down to three; Merrick from Glen Trool, the Rhinns of Kells or the Cairnsmore of Fleet. In the end I chose this walk, partly because Merrick is the highest point in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, but also because I really wanted to visit Loch Enoch in the wild heart of the Galloway highlands.
The route I chose was largely taken from Paddy Dillon's 'Walking The Galloway Hills' with an added diversion to visit the top of Bennan. The starting point for the walk was the road end in Glen Trool at the Bruce's Stone parking area. Well actually I had to park a bit further down the road as the limited parking at Bruce's Stone was all taken when I arrived about midday.
The first few miles of the walk were notable for how wet the path was (a taster of things to come) and for the sound of waterfalls in Buchan Burn most of which were not visible from the path due to bracken. As the path climbed a bit higher a brief moment alongside the burn provided a nice interlude. About this point I also started to notice clumps of yellow flowers which I later found out were bog asphodel.
The path eventually climbed away from the burn to reach the dubious shelter of Culsharg bothy which now seems to be missing its door and windows. Above Culsharg a steeper path carried me up through the plantations above Whiteland Burn. At the top of the plantation a plaque on the ground announced the transition from the forest zone to the montane zone. As I climbed higher the views began to open out behind me and the Minigaff hills appeared above Buchan Hill. Small patches also began to break through the cloud.
Upon reaching a fence I left the path heading for Merrick to follow the fence south-west as I made a detour for the top of Bennan. Bennan proved to be an interesting little top with plenty of rock, a couple of small lochans and a radio mast on the summit. Just alongside the mast and hut a well built cairn proved to be a fine viewing point across the miles of forest surrounding Glen Trool. The summit of Bennan itself was unmarked.
From the top of Bennan I followed the access road from the mast a short way before crossing over a deer fence via a large wooden step stile to eventually rejoin the path heading for Merrick over the grassy slopes of Benyellary. The moment I reached the large cairn marking the summit of Benyellary was a memorable on with Merrick suddenly appearing ahead and views over the Galloway hills really opening up.
From Benyellary a clear path led me across the brilliantly named Neive of the Spit for an easily graded climb to the top of Merrick. My arrival at the highest point in the southern Scotland was greeted by bright patches of sunshine and some quite stunning views. Merrick is credited with having one of the longest sightlines of any hill in Britain. Whilst conditions restricted the really long distance views I didn't care as I was totally absorbed by the hills, forests and lochs of Galloway.
Rather than retrace my steps, which is apparently fairly common for walkers to do on Merrick, I instead opted for Dillon's pathless route of descent from Merrick via Redstone Rig. The following mile or so of walking, though wet and slippery, was quite simply stunning with ever improving views of Loch Enoch and the granite tops of Mullwharcher, Dungeon Hill and Craignaw. It was at this point that I fell in love with the Galloway Hills.
The Galloway Hills have a reputation for being particularly rough and boggy and after enjoying the magnificent descent down Redstone Rig to Loch Enoch I was about to find out just how tough conditions could be underfoot. For the next four miles or so I followed a thin 'path' which was as wet as anything I've walked before. I say walked but in truth I slipped, slid, sloshed and stumbled my way first to Loch Neldricken and then Loch Valley. Initial hopes that the path would improve upon reaching Gairland Burn were soon dashed. As tough as all this was I couldn't help but enjoy the feeling of being in a real wilderness.
The highlight of the latter stages of the walk was when the Gairland Burn path met the wall running along the southern flanks of Buchan Hill. At this point I walked through a hole in the wall on to grassy knoll which featured a superb full length view of Loch Trool. Also impressive were the views south of the Minigaff Hills including Mulldonoch, Lamachan Hill and Curlywee. Returning to the wall and path proper I then had a steeper descent through thick bracken to reach the forest track and the Southern Upland Way. Turning right I followed this back to the car, first making one last detour, this time to visit Bruce's Stone.
For a first time experience of the Galloway Hills this delivered everything I hoped for and more. The descent of Redstone Rig to Loch Enoch will, I hope, live long in the memory. Having said that it is not necessarily a walk I would recommend to everyone, particularly the return from Loch Enoch, but this can be avoided by retracing steps from Merrick. For lovers of wild and remote hills this walk is a must.