After the Clennoch bothy walk I was keen to find somewhere quiet and out of the way to spend the night in the Bongo. I spotted on the map a car park marked at the far end of the Garroch burn. A lovely twisting wooded valley with a thin strip of tarmac that could only just be counted as being a road. I noticed Southern Upland way markers at intervals along the road, which although on tarmac would still give a fine walk. Suddenly the road proper ended with a farm track heading towards Drumbuie and a rough forestry track continuing on ahead. I decided that my map could not be wrong so bounced my way down the track where a kilometre later there was a parking space for three or four vehicles and a sign asking you to try and not burn the forest down. Again I spent the evening and night completely undisturbed with only a cuckoo and some midges for company. Who would have thought that it was a late May bank holiday?
13.1 miles with 1,165 metres of ascent
The morning dawned bright and sunny and I was keen to get to the car park just over the hill in the middle of the Forrest estate. Although only a couple of miles away as far as the crow flies it was a lengthy journey by road. There was no way that I was going to attempt to walk across what looked like impenetrable conifers instead.
The Forrest Lodge car park was almost heaving with vehicles, well if you can count a total of 6 cars as heaving. A very busy spot in these parts! It often makes me wonder why some hills are packed when at the start of a stunningly wild area there are only a handful of visitors, such as here. It’s not like it is massively off the beaten track. It was a beautifully sunny bank holiday sunday, I had some cracking hills ahead of me and I would probably have them to myself (due to my habit of never ever setting off at the crack of dawn).
You may have noticed from the photo below that the Forrest estate are keen to assert their authority. I spent the whole day being mindful that I should be back by 8.00pm. Is their sign just a ruse to make sure you don’t stay overnight or will they really report you missing if you don’t get back in time? I have to admit that it really spoilt the last hour of my day, but more about that later.
The track into the forest ran straight past the sign and I was soon passing the rather lovely house at Burnhead, which has one of the biggest lawns I think I have seen. I played the usual fantasy house buying for a while (easy to do when you live in an inner city terrace) as I continued up the track. I soon reached a watch tower and considered climbing to the top for a nosey around, however is was rather rickety and I did not fancy a rather long fall. The track continues unmarked on the map which makes things a little confusing, luckily the weather was clear and I could tell I was heading in roughly the right direction.
A narrow path branches off of the track and is marked by a wooden pole, otherwise it would be easy to miss. Although narrow the path is well enough defined to make progress easier through the rough ground. As usual as height was gained the views opened up, it’s always good to climb up and out the creeping green blanket of a forestry plantation.
A bit of huffing and puffing and the ridge just beneath Meikle Lump is reached, the angle eases and the vegetation underfoot becomes much easier. It is a simple case of following the low wall up to the trig point.
As I reached the trig I started to suspect that this was not the highest point of the hill as a cairn a few hundred metres away looked higher. The map does not really show that there is a dip and rise to the the cairn, which when I reached it was definitely higher than the trig point. With northerly winds the air was really clear and the views extensive. Dominating the view was the range of the awful hand which includes the highest hill in southern Scotland, Merrick. However the eye is drawn to the lower Dungeon hills with their extensive cliffs and rocky slabs. An area that I have backpacked in a couple of times before and is definitely a place to savour, almost similar to the Rhinogs in character but with giant tussocks replacing the deep heather. Not a place to be wondering about on a misty day. My eye was then drawn to some dramatically spikey hills on the horizon across an expanse of water. The Isle of Arran appeared surprisingly close. The wind was strong and cold today and a drystone wall provided perfect shelter to sit and have lunch whilst taking everything in.
The descent to the Lochans of Auchniebut was across increasingly boggy ground although even in a pair of inov-8’s I managed to keep my feet fairly dry. It looked like there may be a few good wildcamping spots in the area around the lochans although I did not have the time or energy to explore properly. If you come here to wild camp and it is rubbish don’t blame me! On the ascent of Milldown there was a distant view of Loch Dee and the southern hills of the forest park.
There are a succession of small ascents and descents along the ridge including the minor summits of Milldown and Millfire. I stopped several times as the weather started playing with me. It seemed that one minute it would be clear blue skies, the next they would turn leaden and there would be the odd spit of rain. I alternated between my waterproof and windproof before finally settling on the windproof, I though sod it if I get damp. You can have a different attitude when day walking compared to backpacking where I prefer to stay dry. Luckily the rain never came and it started to clear up again. I passed a family of four who were dressed as if they were about to ascend Everest, full on mountain boots, gaiters, winter jackets and what I assume was dad was buried in a large red woolly balaclava. I almost felt almost naked in ronhills, running shoes and tshirt with a light windproof over it, how irresponsible of me.
Corserine had been dominating the view ahead for most of the day and at 814 metres it is a large bulky hill, its big enough and has a sufficient drop all around to make it a Corbett to boot. From Millfore it’s a long old grassy slog to the summit, easy but a slog no less. The higher you go the lower the vegetation, by the time you reach the summit it is as cropped as a bowling green. A bowling green that is a bit stony.
As I got to the trig point I had a decision to make, Carlins Cairn was calling to me but my legs were feeling decidedly wobbly. I sat down and had a little think. It would be a 100 metre descent followed by a 100 metre ascent followed by a 100 metre descent followed by a 100 metre ascent. When planning a walk it is easy to laugh in the face of contours but they have a strange way of laughing back when facing them in the flesh.
As it turned out I decided to go for it and as usual the downs were easy and the ups were not so easy. The top had a massive cairn and a slightly different view to that of Corserine, an hour later I was standing in the same spot where I had done the umming and aaaring.
A nice easy descent east to the cairn on North Gairy top and then it got steeper and rougher the lower down I got. I had read a guide book on how to get through the forest before leaving home but I found the exact route had slipped my mind. I was sure it involved Loch Harrow but from my vantage point I could see no way to it through the dense conifers. I suddenly became aware of the time. In less than an hour there was the possibility of the police being called if the sign at the car park was to live up to its threats. I decided to have faith in the map and head down Craigbrook and the folk burn where a path is marked, heading into the depths of the forest. Down at the burn and looking up to Corserine it felt like I could be in the Highlands, there was even the odd midge to add to the authenticity.
The route back to the car park almost went smoothly until I lurched straight into a big stinky bog. I had managed all day in running shoes and kept dry feet, now my shortie gaiters were full of smelly stuff. I squelched back to the van with minutes to spare. A fantastic day out among some great hills which I almost had to myself. It’s just a shame that I could not have lingered a little longer and watched the sun set, that is always the bonus of a backpack. It’s just that I had to get back to that damn car park before eight.