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Dumfries & Galloway Walks

Screel & Bengairn

Date: 6th Aug 2015
Distance: 6 miles
Ascent: 1800ft
Time: 3 hours 10 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: NX800547

Walk Summary:
A visit to the tops of Screel and Bengairn, two modest sized hills with big views over the East Stewartry Coast.

Route Summary: A formerly waymarked trail through Screel Plantations to the top of Screel before a fairly rough detour to visit the summit of Bengairn.

Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.

Forestry Commision information board at the top of the parking area
The wide track leading up into Screel Plantation from the parking area
A first glimpse of Screel above the plantations
The faint path through a felled section of the plantation
The path back in amongst the trees of Screel Plantation
Bengairn from the rocky crags of Screel
Purple heather on the summit ridge of Screel
As well as heather the damper sections of the Screel ridge featured clumps of bog asphodel
The summit cairn on Screel looking towards Criffel
A close up of the windfarm out beyond Auchencairn Bay
A zoom shot of Criffel from Screel
Auchencairn Bay beyond the southern top of Screel
Looking back at Screel just as the sun begins to break through the cloud again
The slopes of Bengairn
The view inland towards the distant Galloway Hills
Climbing the pathless slopes of Bengairn
The east past Screel towards Dalbeattie and Criffel
The summit of Bengairn
Enjoying the coastal views from the top of Bengairn
A close up of Castle Douglas from the top of Bengairn
The top of Screel from Bengairn
The forest track, unclear in places, that led me back round the top of Mid Hill to the path below Screel
Evening sushine on the heather
Descending the forest road alongside Screel Plantation

Walk Detail: Having rationed myself to just the one long walk in the Galloway Hills whilst holidaying with my family in Castle Douglas I still hoped to get out for at least one short walk on an evening. Just prior to going on holiday someone had recommended Screel and when I saw how close it was to Castle Douglas it made an obvious one to go for.

Handily there is a small parking area on a minor road just off the A711 between Palnackie and Auchencairn from which to start the walk. Apparently at one time the route, on forest tracks and paths through Screel Plantations, was at one time properly waymarked. As a local runner who I chatted to at the summit of Screel told me these waymarks were removed a while back when someone who had injured themselves on the route had threatened to sue the Forestry Commission. What a sad state of affairs!

Waymarked or not the start of the walk on a broad forest road was easy enough. At the first major junction I spied a thinner path climbing through bracken but instead carried on up the forest road which eventually doubled back sharply to bring me to a bench situated at the top of the thinner path I'd seen earlier. The bench was originally placed at a viewpoint over Auchencairn Bay but now the views are almost completely obscured by bracken and trees.

Immediately behind the bench a thin path left the track again to make for Screel. This section looked nothing like the map as a huge section of the plantation has been cleared. Eventually I did enter the woods proper for a muddy section of walking until suddenly I was below the steep outcrops around the upper slopes of Screel. From here an enjoyable path wound its way up through the rocks to just below the southern top of the hill before continuing on, past purple heather and yellow bog asphodel, to the northern higher top of 344m which is marked by a large cairn.

Although at this point the skies were grey and cloudy the views were very impressive stretching south over Auchencairn Bay across the Solway Firth to the Lake District fells. Further to the west I could also make out the outline of the Isle of Man. Looking east along the coast the eye was drawn to Criffel while inland the Galloway and Carsphairn hills could also be clearly seen.

It was while having a snack at the cairn that two local runners appeared. They were both very friendly and after chatting for a while I asked if it was possible to reach the neighbouring and higher summit of Bengairn which I'd had in mind as an extension to the walk if it was practicable. Having given me very precise instructions the two ran off and so I took a steep path descending west to a saddle with Mid Hill. Annoyingly I discovered I'd left my map by the cairn so I had to climb back up to get it.

Having then returned to the saddle I followed their instructions by initially following the edge of the trees (again the exact extent of the trees was completely different to that displayed on the OS map). I then took a faint track that contoured around Mid Hill, almost in an S shape, before dropping down to a kissing gate in a wall. On the other side of the kissing gate I was on the slopes of Bengairn proper. There was no path so it was a direct climb up through heather to the summit which was marked by a large cairn and a trig point in a dilapidated stone shelter.

If the views from Screel were excellent the panorama from Bengairn was even better and was well worth the rough walking to get there. By this time the cloudy skies had given way to some beautiful evening sunshine and I lingered for a while soaking up the views. Eventually I retraced my steps, first to the kissing gate and then back to the saddle between Screel and Mid Hill. From there I took a thin path south which eventually joined up with the forest road. Another mile along this I came back to the bench and this time I took the 'short cut' path dropping down through bracken to the track again and a final stroll back to the parking area.

Screel in itself can be walked in about 3.5 miles and as an interesting top and viewpoint is one I'd recommend for short walk for anyone in the area. For those willing to add an extra couple of pathless miles of walking then the detour to Bengain is also well worth doing.

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