It’s been almost a year since I’ve been able to get away to log more of the Quality Mountain Days I need to eventually get on a Mountain Leader course. This time, I went to the Galloway Hills over the Bank Holiday weekend, and I didn’t go alone. I’m going to write each day up separately, as I took quite a few photos!
Before we set off, and while I was still at home, I planned the route for the first day and had a rough idea of what we would do on the second. I used a paper map (Galloway Forest Park North, OS Explorer Map 318) and the OS Maps app (I’m a premium subscriber). Hannah, my wife, came with me.
I find that the OS Maps app underestimates the distance and time it actually takes to do walks I plan. In the event, we walked 20km and it took 6.5 hours.
I downloaded a PDF (see here) of the Mountain Weather Service forecast for the Galloway Hills. It said it that the cloud base would be low, but summits should be clear by midday.
We set off at 08:39 so we expected to walk through the mist until we reached the summit.
The route towards Merrick was well-signposted, with the only challenge being poor visibility. The wind was very light.
There were some tricky bits, as you can see below! However, it was mostly a straightforward ascent.
In Scotland, it’s always difficult to know how much of the ‘forest’ area shown on a map will actually be wooded. It’s a managed forest, so sometimes there’s no trees at all, just stumps!
The climb through the trees was steep in places, so I ensured I kept encouraging Hannah. She was fine, despite having a bit of a dodgy knee (which is stopping her from running at the moment). She kept up find.
It wasn’t difficult to keep on the track, but I nevertheless kept checking that I knew where we were.
The first peak we ascended on the way to Merrick was Benyallery (719m). There is a cairn at the top, and Hannah took my photo.
The Mountain Weather Service forecast said that there could be some wind, and so I was a little concerned about going across the ridge from Benyallery towards Merrick. In the event, everything was fine.
Visibility as we got closer to Merrick decreased to about 50 metres.
We made it to the top of Merrick (843m) and had lunch, using the trig point as shelter. I made sure we both kept warm as soon as we sat down.
As we started the descent from the top of Merrick, we began to pass more people. The temperature dropped, and we took our off-path route towards Bennan.
Had the cloud base not been so low, it would be have been obvious which way to go. However, with poor visibility, we needed to make sure we found the best way.
A new, high deer-proof fence had been erected by the Forestry Commission since the OS Map was published. We found a way to cross via the largest stile I’ve ever seen.
The track up to Bennan (556m) was an easy walk. Once we reached the top, the cloud base lifted very quickly. Within minutes, we could see the top of the peaks we’d just climbed!
From there, we headed down the track. I’d planned for us to deviate from it once we got round and down to an altitude of about 270m.
It’s always difficult to know in advance what you’re actually going to discover when you see a black solid line on an OS map. It means a boundary, but fence or wall? In this case, I’d planned to use it as a ‘rail’ to help us down, instead of continuing on the track. That would have added another 5km to our journey.
It wasn’t a good decision. This was Hannah’s first mountain day, so when I went ahead to have a look, I should have turned back and stuck to the track. In the event, she coped really well, but it was a pretty treacherous route down: sheer drops, boggy ground, and felled trees.
In the end, we made it. I’m not sure what I’d have done had she or I had hurt ourselves, however. I certainly learned a lesson there. We made it back to the car park.
By the time we got back to the car, my smartwatch told me the route had been 19.97km. So, like any sensible person, I walked around a bit so that it reached a nice round 20km!
Things I learned:
- Plan the last part of the route as well as the first bit.
- Go at the speed and ability of the least experienced member of your group.
- Have a backup plan.