Date: 20th March 2022.
Weather conditions: As with the day before, bright blue skies throughout, but today there was a fierce wind, strong enough at points to be actively hazardous, and freezing cold. I was very glad I hadn’t left the winter gear at home.
County Top bagged: As the unwieldy title of this page suggests, today’s walk bags two CTs, which are both historic and modern Tops, of different entities in each case.
The first Top to be reached is Merrick, the summit of which lies at NX427855 and has an altitude of 2,766 feet/843m above sea level. This makes it not only the highest point in the historic county of Kirkcudbrightshire, and the modern one of Dumfries and Galloway, but also the highest point in the whole of southern Scotland, beating its nearest rival (Broad Law) by just three metres. Sometimes it is referred to as The Merrick.
The second bag on the day is Kirriereoch Hill, historic Top of Ayrshire. In the opposite manner to Dumfries and Galloway, which is an amalgam of three historic counties, Ayrshire these days is sliced into three parts, so this is the modern Top of South Ayrshire only. The summit cairn of the hill itself (pictured further down the page) is given a height of 786m on the OS map, but as that also indicates, this is not actually the county Top as the border of Ayrshire runs along an old wall (pictured here) that stands a couple of hundred yards north of the summit and is of slightly lower elevation — probably about 2,566 feet/782m. This point lies at roughtly NX420871.
The two summits lie about 1½ miles apart. The hills are part of the marvellously-named Ridge of the Awful Hand. Rankings by altitude are as follows:
- Historic Tops: Merrick is 16th, Kirriereoch Hill is 24th.
- Modern Tops: Merrick 12th, Kirriereoch 19th.
- Full list: Merrick 19th, Kirriereoch 29th.
As well as these the walk also reaches the separate summit of Benyellary (pictured), at 2,359 feet/719m a.s.l.
[ << Craig Airie Fell, Wigtownshire (47) | (50) Culter Fell, Lanarkshire/South Lanarkshire >> ]
Start and end point of walk: The car park in Glen Trool, at NX414803. This cannot be reached by public transport: it took me about 20 minutes to drive there from Newton Stewart. The walk took me 5¾ hours.
Pub at end: Nothing at the terminus, but on the drive out one first passes the café at the Glentrool visitor centre, and then, at Bargrennan, the House o’Hill Hotel. This place looks tiny from the outside but is in fact a spacious and pleasant pub, with good beer and a nice covered patio on which to sup it. Recommended, and I regretted that I did have to drive on so couldn’t have more beers, not to mention dinner.
Distance walked: 12 miles/19.3km approximately.
Feet of ascent: 4,000 feet/1,220m approx. Of all the walks done so far this is the second highest of these figures, behind only the pull up Ben Nevis. The reason is not just the height of the mountains themselves but the fact that one must re-ascend a substantial portion of Merrick after having bagged its neighbour — see the route notes below.
Difficulty: ★★★★. If the walk were only up Merrick, I would award three stars. That climb is definitely uphill, but never particularly steep or difficult, and the paths are clear throughout (if a bit soggy in the early stages).
However, adding on Kirriereoch Hill makes it a considerably tougher expedition, as the paths disappear and the route requires a steep descent off Merrick that you then have to reascend later. There is never any rock to handle but the full walk is definitely a four-star proposition.
Ease of access: ★. Unlike yesterday, reaching the starting point does not engender the feeling that one has become the first driver ever to pioneer this route for cars, and there is at least proper parking available (which was already quite full by the time I arrived at 9am on a Sunday morning). But it’s still a substantial trek, in a particularly out-of-the-way corner of Britain.
Scenic qualities: ★★★★. The approach up the valley, as far as Culsharg bothy, is attractive, but once up through the pine forest there are some substantial swathes of rather dull, grassy moorland, on both mountains. However, the north side of Merrick is more dramatic. And the views are spectacular, and very wide-ranging; I definitely spotted Kintyre behind the island lump of Ailsa Craig, and the hills glimpsed on the far south-eastern horizon must have been Skiddaw and the western Lake District. That’s a range with a diameter of around 120 miles.
The area: About Ayrshire, I can say nothing after this walk, as the route merely touches its border. With two other bits of that county still to visit, though (as East and North Ayrshire now have separate status), I will return.
Kirkcudbrightshire, which surely only Scots could work out is pronounced Kir-KOO-bree-sher, was the middle one of three counties that, along with Wigtownshire and Dumfriesshire, became Dumfries and Galloway in 1974. As I said in my commentary to yesterday’s walk, any preconceptions that the southerly position of this county somehow diminishes its Scottishness should be ditched. We had a very pleasant few days here and I found plenty of things to like about it. It’s off the beaten track but all the better for it.
Map: OS Explorer 318: Galloway Forest Park North covers the walk. While I did not really need it on the day, if there is any risk of cloud or poor visibility I would make sure to bring a copy in some form, as this is very remote countryside and you definitely don’t want to get lost here without a map.
The summary map reflects the fact that I trod the same path in both directions. I might have varied slightly from this duplication when coming back up Merrick, but let’s not split hairs about it.
Route: This is a good walk with extensive views, but as noted, extending it beyond Merrick to Kirriereoch Hill adds significantly to the effort required, particularly as there is then no alternative but to return over the summit of Merrick a second time. I would not attempt this extension in poor weather conditions; if the clouds have come down, turn around at Merrick’s summit and go home.
Unfortunately there’s not really another practical way of bagging this second Top. An approach to Kirriereoch along the ridge from the north, starting at a remote car park at Stinchar Bridge, looks possible on the map but there’s no path marked for the majority of the route and so I suspect that walk would be an even tougher one.
Before leaving the car park, pay one’s respects to the Bruce Stone (pictured); a monument to the battle fought in Glen Trool in 1307, which launched Robert the Bruce’s campaign to wrest Scottish independence from England that culminated with victory at Bannockburn.
The first part of the route involves a climb up the valley of the Buchan Burn. This path is clear, but both soggy and stony: the worst conditions underfoot that you have to face all day. Look for a point at which the path bears up to the left, taking you above the stream rather than into its gorge.
It is about 1½ miles along this path to Culsharg. This isolated building is a bothy, where hikers can simply turn up and spend the night — assuming they have brought all necessary amenities, because the accommodation is spartan, put it that way. (But the deckchairs inside did offer a comfortable seating option when I came past on the way back down.)
Past Culsharg the path rises a little further. When it comes out onto a forest road, turn right across the bridge then left up a signposted track that rises through the pine forest. Once you come out of the trees, the path continues to rise up the grassy slopes of, first, Benyellary, and beyond that summit, Merrick itself. This ascent is rather a trudge, to be honest, but the views open up to compensate. I reached the trig point on top of Merrick about two hours after leaving the car.
Kirriereoch Hill is the next eminence to the north, displaying bare, grassy slopes. A source I consulted prior to undertaking this walk (https://www.ayrshirescotland.com/the-merrick-walk.html) suggests that to get from Merrick to Kirriereoch’s summit and back is the work of an hour, but I say — no way: 90 minutes is more realistic. Make sure you descend at the right point, heading almost due north from the summit down a very narrow ridge that takes you over the subsidiary lump of Little Spear, down to the col below (here see the picture further up the page).
The subsequent climb up Kirriereoch is OK, the ground is pathless but thankfully of decent quality, and while the view from the top is not quite as extensive as Merrick’s you get to see the parent fell’s more impressive side. Remember that the cairn on the highest point is not, strictly, the top of Ayrshire, which lies at the highest point of the old wall, a little further on. A pile of stones lying next to the wall on the Ayrshire side is probably someone’s attempt to cairn this CT.
Merrick may well look more impressive from the north but this admiration will be tempered by the knowledge that you have to get back up and over it in order to return to the car. I guess it wasn’t too bad. Having been almost blown off this narrow ridge on the way down due to the fierce wind I stayed a little below the crest on the re-ascent, this caused no problems.
After that, the descent of Merrick is mostly easy, and fairly rapid — I took an hour to get from the summit back to the bothy, where I happily made use of a deckchair for a while. A shame this was not the terminus, as the final stretch back to the car park was just as soggy and stony as on the way up, but there is no avoiding it. Still, it’s a good walk overall and I highly recommend the House o’Hill Hotel on the way home, as a place to toast one’s achievement.
Commentary: Little to add to the positive review of Galloway offered at the end of yesterday’s post. Except for the fact that finding dinner (or, more accurately, a free table for dinner) on a Sunday night in Newton Stewart proved a more epic quest than anticipated, I have no complaints to offer. I’d like to come back at some point, though it’s not going to be the CTs that will get me there, as all three of the Dumfries and Galloway Tops — White Coomb, Merrick and Craig Airie Fell — are now done. But I’m sure I can find a different reason if I try hard enough.
My current count is 197 CTs on the full list, so with Kirriereoch Fell being number 49 I am more-or-less one quarter of the way through this project. It has taken me 2¾ years to reach this point — far quicker than I anticipated when I began. I initially saw these walks as more of a supplement to my Wainwright walks, something that might eventually take over when that double round was complete, but until then, would be a project I advanced only occasionally.
It hasn’t worked out that way though. In fact, it’s the Wainwright round that’s noticeably slowed down. In part this was because of **c*d**n, but even since we have, by the grace of Boris and his Troupe of Comedy Trousers, been permitted to move freely about the land once more, my coverage of Lakeland hasn’t regained pre-2020 levels of frequency. I guess I have just been finding the variety of the CTs more interesting.
Even so, there’s still three times as many to do as I have already done. Kirriereoch Hill was the 11th bagged of the 44 Scottish Tops (historic and modern), so I have been keeping up the required pace in Scotland, but it’s Wales where I am behind, with only three tops done so far. And as with this trip to Galloway, there are some major expeditions to plan. If I gave both the walks this weekend one star in terms of accessibility — and they deserved it, particularly yesterday — maybe I should pre-assign a new rating of zero stars for ones like Ronas Hill, top of Shetland. Getting all the way down to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly isn’t going to be a day trip, either.
But I welcome it all. Although I had no problem heading home — I never do — this has been an excellent weekend away, in a part of the country almost wholly unknown to me beforehand. I spent four days doing a variety of things that give me pleasure. Amen to that.
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