Backhill of Bush, the Silver Flowe, Nick of the Dungeon, Dungeon Hill, the Devil’s Bowling Green and Craignaw.
The forecast was for rain and low cloud but as I drove towards my low level walk it became clear that the higher summits were cloudless and the sun was beating down. So I reverted to my good weather plan, the Dungeon Hills from Backhill of Bush.
As I drove along the Queen’s way in Galloway there was a rainbow over Clatteringshaws so I presume it had been raining. But now it was sunshine. I took the single track road along the western side of Clatteringshaws Loch that we had walked, in the opposite direction, a couple of years ago. The original plan was to stop at Craigencallie and head up Darnaw. Had the forest track beyond Craigencallie been blocked I would have had no choice, but the gates were open so on I went.
My navigation skills on forest tracks leave something to be desired and I will admit that I had to stop a couple of times to use a GPS to find where I was. Trees all look the same to me and I did go down a wrong turning south, towards Millfore, for quite a while which required a multi-point turn. I realised something was wrong when I saw the bluffs of the Buckdas of Cairnbaber. My heart then sank when I came to a locked gate but that turned out to be the SUW to Loch Dee, a walk for another day. It seemed to take an eternity to get to Backhill of Bush Bothy but approaching it I had wonderful views of the Dungeon Hills and the Rhinns of Kells.
There was a white van on the path past the bothy and I was worried it would be forestry chaps who might tell me to retrace my steps. Later on in the walk I wondered if I might come back to find the car nicked. That would have been a bind since phones don’t work down there. This wasn’t helped by me being unable to see the car once up on the hills. I saw where I thought it should be, but was wrong.
But back to the walk. I set off across a bridge over Downies Burn near the bothy and headed along a poor quality track looking for a way onto the Silver Flowe. I passed some trees and once I got to a tree-free area I headed into the wild. Two minutes later while negotiating large tussocks and reed like grasses taller than me I slipped into a water filled ditch. Both legs went under water, the left as far as the thigh, and my left arm as far as the shoulder.
To say the least, this somewhat sapped my good humour. The terrain was the same as far as I could see. I decided that this was too much, too soon, pulled my self out of the mire and headed back for the car. But as I looked into the trees on my right, it looked as if it would be possible to walk in the forest and so by-pass the horrible wet area.
The forest floor was initially almost firm but deteriorated into muddy areas, and then became blocked by fallen trees. I decided to head for the edge of the trees but was then back in the waterlogged tussocks and reeds. Then I spotted vehicle tracks not far off. These were very waterlogged and muddy, but at least I could see the ground and would be less likely to have another unexpected ducking. And my legs and feet were already wet so the mud didn’t matter so much.
Eventually, I was past the trees and all that stood between me and the Silver Flowe was the Saugh Burn. The Dungeon Hills looked quite close by now. Unfortunately the burn was deep and too wide to jump. I followed the burn for a short while then found a section where the river bed was visible and not very deep. I took a run and managed to land one foot (already wet) in the burn and the next step took me to the far bank. I looked around for a landmark so I could find the same section again on the return leg. There was a concrete post with some rusting barbed wire so I stored that in memory.
The far side of the burn was large tussocks and water-filled hidden holes into which my feet would occasionally slip. I grew to dread the sudden fall of a foot with the accompanying “thunk” sound as my boot entered the water and sank. The thunk was the sound you hear when a large stone is dropped into water but without the splash. Perhaps that’s a plop? I had considered changing socks following the initial dunking but was pleased I hadn’t. In retrospect though I should have taken off the gaiters, which by now were probably holding water in rather than out.
In time though the tussocks gave way to shorter vegetation as I came on to the Silver Flowe proper. There were a great many small flowers and butterflies and although the ground was wet it was safe to walk on. The Silver Flowe has many sections of standing water and I had to find a way around these or accept that I would need to head through the water providing I could see something to stand on. About half way across I came upon a track, possibly an animal track, and followed it to the Dungeon Lochs.
The Long Loch of the Dungeon came into view and later the Round loch. These lochs are joined by a burn (or should that be a Lane?) and I hoped it was not too wide. Otherwise I might have to head north to find a way across on the far side of the Round Loch. I was looking forward to getting onto firmer ground.
As it turned out I found a place to step across the burn without too much difficulty but was back in tussock country. The climb up the Nick of the Dungeon was steeper than it looked. There were more hidden holes to step into, numerous water channels hidden beneath grass and boulders scattered about blocking my way. This section needed care to avoid injury. My boots continued to squelch but my shirt and trousers were now drying out. It took me an hour to climb the mile, and 1100ft, from the Dungeon Lochs to the summit of Dungeon Hill and I don’t know if that is an achievement or a cause for shame.
Dungeon Hill required a short section of steep climbing but I was able to use the tussocks as stairs. Once on the hill I was rewarded by great views, a sandwich and a text message from Lynn. The phone must have briefly got connection out there in the middle of nowhere.
The views were very good indeed. Despite the forecast the Dungeon Hills were cloud free, though clouds were settling on Merrick and the Rhinns of Kells which are perhaps 150-200m higher. The ridge of Brishie looked quite sharp and pointed to Loch Doon where some rain was falling. The Silver Flowe was glistening in the sunlight. Craignaw, my next call sat brooding across the Nick of the Dungeon and I wondered now if my planned route down Craignaw, by the Dungeon Burn, might be a little too steep, but gradient would not be the difficulty as it turned out. You can probably see the Dungeon Burn on the photo at the beginning of this post.
The OS map gives the impression that a ridge curves round from Dungeon Hill to Craignaw, but once up there it is clear that it involves quite a lot of ascent and descent. I decided to head directly down toward the cairn in the col between Craignairny and Craignaw’s NW ridge which would spare me some climbing and scrambling.
In retrospect I wonder if the extra climb would have been easier than the terrain I chose. I did though come across another track which allowed me to see where I was walking. It too was waterlogged but my boots could not get any more wet by this time. I have often wondered if there is a name for the apparent tracks that are always waterlogged and sometimes have actual running water. As I tramped along one of these, I realised that there is a name where I come from…a stream. There is a strange cairn in the col. One wonders if it was built like that on purpose or by chance.
Getting from the col to Craignaw was straightforward but tiring, needing a couple of short scrambles and several short steep climbs. The Devil’s Bowling Green was on the way. This is the flattest of many granite terraces and scattered with boulders large and small. There is quite a way still to go from the Devil’s Bowling Green to Craignaw’s summit and the routes up all looked pretty steep. I chose the most likely candidate and headed up. This was the usual tussocks, hidden holes and scattered boulders which with the added gradient meant I made slow work of it.
There are several Lochans on Craignaw, and on another day I might have considered dipping my feet in one of those with well placed rocks to sit on. But my feet were already wet and I couldn’t really be bothered. Then at last, there was the summit cairn ahead of me.
I stopped to recharge myself with water and a banana and took a few photos of the views. I must have been sweating with the heat and exertion because I had finished my two litres of water in just the three hours it had taken to get here. While soaking in the views, the temperature suddenly dropped and I could see the clouds rolling down the slopes of Merrick as well as rain coming in from the north. I decided to curtail my rest stop and get to lower ground before the cloud and rain reached me. It never did.
I had thought the descent of Craignaw, especially the steep section above the bowling green would be difficult but the ground was firm. I crossed the Dungeon Burn then stayed to the north of it. It was only once I got to the Nick of the Dungeon that the ground became dangerous again. Climbing this section had been tiring but I must have chosen a slightly different route down which was especially treacherous and had to be taken slowly testing every step. Yet still my feet plunged into holes. Slow progress but 20 minutes faster than the ascent.
Once back over the Dungeon Lochs I was looking forward to an easy stroll back over the Silver Flowe. I hoped to pick up the track I had found but managed to take a different one that led me into a large area of standing water that took some effort to cross. I did have a target on the far side, a stand of three trees one of which was dead, so once the trees were visible I left the track and made a beeline for them.
Of course I then re-entered tussock land and made my way back to the Saugh Burn. The concrete fence post with barbed wired was there but the burn’s water was now black and deep. No sign of the six inch deep section anymore. There was only one thing for it. And my feet were wet anyway.
After some clambering over fallen branches and watercourses I then found my way back to the sodden vehicle track and followed it back, this time not going into the forest. This took me back to the place I had had my first dunking. I stood looking at the water channel deciding how best to get across but then the ground I was standing on gave way and I was in the water again. At least this time I fell with my arms on dry land so only went in up to my knees.
Five minutes later I was back at the car, stripping off the wet gear and putting on dry clothes. Despite the water mishaps I had managed to do a couple of things that I had had in mind for a while. I had walked on the Silver Flowe and visited the Devil’s Bowling Green. I would have liked to visit the air-crash memorials on Craignaw but will have to leave that for another day since I had scarpered when the clouds looked like closing in.
I had wondered why most routes described to these hills start at Loch Trool even though it is a much longer walk, involves burn crossings and tramping along the muddy Gairland Glen. Now I know.
(PS next day: I have aching muscles as if I’d done a twenty miler. This walk really was hard going).