Thursday, 20 October 2016

Shalloch on Minnoch and Merrick

Start of the walk looking to Kirriereoch Hill and Merrick (in cloud)
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Ascent:       1189 metres
Distance:    22 kilometres
Time;          6 hours 25 minutes

c   Shalloch on Minnoch     775m    1hr  56mins
d   Tarfessock                     697m    2hrs 27mins
d   Kirriereoch Hill             786m     3hrs 25mins
c   Merrick                         843m     4hrs   5mins

c = corbett, d= donald

The Met Office forecast for individual hills has proved itself time and again this year. I had hoped to go to Glencoe but there was hill mist forecast. I searched around and discovered the best forecast to be in Galloway so decided to climb Shalloch on Minnoch, a shy hill north of Glentrool. If I was feeling up to it I could walk to Merrick along the range of hills known as the 'Awful Hand' comprised of four hills (the knuckles) and four fingers (the west ridges). I had climbed Merrick three or four times in the past when preparing for or competing in mountain marathons, usually in atrocious weather. It would be good to climb it in more clement and relaxed conditions.

Leaving home at 8:30am I made good time through Glasgow and Ayrshire to Galloway and parked at Kirriereoch by 11am. The bigger hills were still capped in cloud but the blue skies of Ayrshire were spreading south. The walk from Kirriereoch was along the good forestry tracks penetrating into the depths of the conifer plantations that have a forbidding stranglehold on the beautiful Galloway landscapes. I headed up the Pillow burn until reaching a clearing in the forest with a feint path that gave me access to the open hillside of Tarfessock. A 250 metre climb brought me to the ridge line and I made a rising traverse through long grass towards the Nick of Carclach. From here it is a sharp 120 metre climb to the summit of Shalloch on Minnoch. The summit is a barely visible pile of stones 300 metres east of the far more obvious and well positioned trig point and shelter. I headed here for some lunch and to enjoy the views out to sea. Ailsa Craig was an obvious focus behind an assembly of wind turbines that are so ubiquitous in this part of the world.

Just before I left I was joined by an elderly couple from Kilmarnock who had recently taken up hill walking and were clearly impressed by the wild beauty and solitude; so much so that they displayed all the innocence and exuberance of youth. I returned to the Nick of Carclach and made the easy ascent to Tarfessock. The views across to Corserine and the Rhinns of Kells recalled a glorious morning that I had spent on these hills early this summer. To the north Loch Doon and the smaller Lochs glistened in the afternoon sunshine. The walk across from Tarfessock to Kirriereoch Hill is a fine undulating and twisting ridge interspersed with several tiny lochans of clear water. The climb up to Kirriereoch Hill is less enticing - a steep climb up scree and mosses on the north face of the hill. The summit is a grand rounded dome with a wall crossing it and several possible high points. I found a boulder to rest myself and finish my food whilst looking across to Merrick and the ridge that leads to it and goes under the splendid name of Little Spear. The descent and climb were quicker than anticipated and as I arrived at the summit of Merrick the sun was eclipsed in dark clouds with shafts of sunlight creating some wonderful views.

I started the descent enjoying the gentle slopes heading west to Ailsa Craig but lower down the ground conditions became tougher with no discernible path. I skirted to the north of the main ridge that leads up to Kirriemore Hill, a mere 40 metres of climbing to reach its summit. It was a grave mistake, the ground was waterlogged and feathered in long grasses. I headed for the fence at the edge of the conifer plantation ahead hoping that I could find a way to the forestry track. Alas the trees had been felled and the ground was an impossible barrier of old tree roots, dead branches, tussocks of grass perched on a bog with remnants of old wire fencing. I headed down to the burn in the hope of finding easier ground but even there it took over 30 minutes to cover a kilometre along the boggy banks of the Kirshinnock burn. It was hemmed in by a fence and the route involved fighting through more bogs, trees, boulders and mantraps. The relief when I reached  the forestry track was palpable and the remaining 3 kilometre walk out was one of pure luxury.

I had forgotten how unforgiving the ground conditions are in this part of the world. The slopes to the west of the Awful Hand have been ravaged by man with distressed plantations, abandoned grazings and fences and consequent bogs. The hills themselves are fine once you reach them but access to and from them is an exercise in purgatory. I was back at Kirriereoch just before 6pm and after a quick change managed to drive over the unclassified single track road to Crosshill before nightfall. The journey home took two and a half hours, no longer than to the corbetts that I have left to climb near Fort William. Despite the punishing descent the outing in the Galloway hills had been an enjoyable walk on hills that are remote and neglected compared to many parts of the Scottish Highlands.

Kirriereoch Hill and Merrick from Kirriereoch Loch
Descending Shalloch towards Tarfessock and Kirriereoch
Loch Macaterick and Loch Doon
Lochan between Tarfessock and Kirriereoch Hill

Little Spear and Merrick from Kirriereoch
Loch Enoch below Merrick
Summit of Merrick looking east
Little Spear and Merrick
Kirreoch Hill from the descent of Merrick
Looking up the Kirshinnock burn to Merrick


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