The Merrick, the highest hill in the borders
is the jewel in the crown of Galloway Forest Park. If you venture
to the summit the elevation of 843 metres gives outstanding
views of the whole area. In the south east Criffel stands before
the distant lakeland mountains and to the west, Ireland and
Goat Fell on Arran can be seen.... on a clear day anyway.
This time it was not the hills that drew
Andy Green and myself but the prospect of a bike route seen
by Andy in a book (sorry, don't know which title.) The idea
was to meet in the carpark of Stockport station. Here Andy would
pile his bike and gear into my car and 3 and a half hours later
we would be pitching our tents in Glen Trool.
So far, so good. I must point out at this
stage that Andy is a young, fit, determined mountain biker.
On the other hand I am nowadays a deskbound, overweight, unfit
editor of BlueDome. The thought of 75 klicks through the area
I knew from 20 years of walking and visits with SARDA,
who use Loch Doon for training terrified me!. More than the
physical aspects of the trip were the technical. Andy is riding
a £1000 piece of bike that weighs about as much as my
wrist watch. I am proudly astride a Concept Leader, bought in
the 1997 Xmas sales for £100 and weighing slightly less
than the Forth Rail Bridge. (I happen to love my bike, it is
heavy, only has 18 gears, but its mine!)
Added to this was my insistence that when
we go for this day out, we go well prepared.
Galloway Forest Park is a beautiful area,
even with the growing number of people heading to explore the
outdoors it is still quite, remote, vast and uninhabited.
Dumfries MR and the local SARDA handlers dread rescues in the
Galloway Forest Park. You can be lost here in the worst way
and it is only the fact that few walkers use the area that results
in the low number of call-outs for the rescue teams. I now work
closely with Mike Parsons, ex MD of Karrimor and he agrees that
the KIMM held
in Galloway was the toughest for years.
My panniers, Yes panniers, had a big first
aid kit, strobe, duvet jacket, two man bivi bag, stove and two
huge tins of rice pudding.
You need an early start. 6.30 to 7.00 should
do the trick. Out of the campsite and turn right on the metalled
road to Bruces Stone, a memorial to a 'wee scrap' when the scots
turned the tide against the English. Past the visitors car park
and on to the unmade farm track for about 1K towards Glen Head
Farm, if you reach the farm you have gone too far. A small track
turns right at 428801, we missed it. Possibly because of the
stunning sunrise or the Red Deer that we had seen breakfasting
on the fellside.
A muddy trudge now ensues, the track is
being chewed by bikes, no apology, it is marked 'no cycling'.
After about half a K the track turns steeply uphill following
Glenhead Burn, try and ride if you can but be warned the ground
is as slippy as Friday night kebab. Being the 'sensible one',
with panniers I soon got off and pushed, one of the best pushes
in the area by my reckoning.
At the point where the forestry road is
found the going is easier, but still climbing. If you have that
premonition that a great view is in prospect then keep going,
you are correct. As you crest at about 250 metres, Loch Dee
and the vista of the Rhinns of Kells and Corserine (814 m) greets
you. Follow the forestry road, the downhill section here is
a taste of things to come. A short climb out of the White Laggen
valley passes a remote fishermans shelter, and who should we
meet, right, a fisherman, complete with fly rod and waders.
Steam was now rising from his waders, we had cycled for 90 minutes,
he had walked for an hour, and it was getting warm. He was the
only other person we spoke to for 11 hours.
As you start another bone crunching descent,
only because the roads are newly remade, mainly of 6 inch square
lumps of rock. (It must have taken the builders ages to sort
out those lumps, just for us.) There is an obvious left turn
to a bridge at 496795. Here we were granted our own low level
flypast by an american airforce Tomcat, impressive or what?
Continue left across the bridge and start the long climb North,
heading along the track for Loch Doon.
was at this point that I came to realise that I am 46 not 26,
time is catching up with me, for now anyway. The track keeps
on climbing through thick forest for about 10K, glimpses of
the hills are welcome and the silence is impresive, Here the
A small cairn by the side of the track was
Andy's clue that we had reach the correct exit point. The forestry
track stops here and you need to go through the plantation to
continue. Although the track is friendly, the forest is not.
It represents an impenitrable maze with everything looking like
everything else, this is where the Harveys map comes into its
own. Our 2 to 3K trip through the forest would have been difficult
with just the OS map.
Leaving the track (481884) brings you into
the forest proper for the first time. The ground is awful, tussock,
boulder and bog, not always in that order. Andy tried to ride,
much to my amusement, as a few yards of pedalling resulted in
an abrupt stop where I had a much needed chance to laugh! We
crossed a stream, Kirreoch Burn, a river by my standards, the
stones are slick and if you track upstream for an easier crossing
you will find man-traps created by the grass overgrowing deep
cracks in the boulders, leg breaking country if ever I saw it.
the forest lanes north/north west until you rejoin the Loch
Doon forestry track system, you should see a bridge about 250
metres south (478902), our route goes North. a steady climb
leads to a long and tempting downhill. I was tempted, we both
flew along until Andy slowed and stopped at a sweeping bend.
I decided that I would show this young upstart how to attack
a good bend. I glanced at Andy's bemused expression as I swept
past. The forestry gate was open, no problemo! Wrong, big problemo!
The sweeeping bend turned rapidly into a
T junction in the track, too rapidly for me anyway! After I
had done a full on, hit the brakes, feet on the pedals and lean
away from death, handbrake turn, I heard Andy's laughter. The
option was make the turn or vanish over a 50 ft drop onto rocks.....I
made the turn. Some people have a strange sense of humour.
From here on the route follows a forest
track with great views of the valley to the point where tarmac
rejoins the track just past the bridge over Carrick Lane, a
river, running to Loch Doon. From this point on the route follows
the 'forest drive' marked on the OS Galloway map. Take the turn
at (416960) onto tarmac. This track leads to a B road, the OS
map has decided not to tell you which B road it is and so have
I. The Stinchar Falls, a stream which
eventually becomes a great salmon river reaching the sea at
Ballantrae, is the turning point for home. A short climb, I
was so tired that I pushed, leads to the high point of the route
at (what does that sign say?). There followed the deep, deep
joy of freewheeling for the best part of 14 miles, at great
In spite of rain, sun, age and a desire
for rest I had a great time on the Merrick circular. The Cree
Bridge Hotel in Newton Stewart provided superb food and ale,
camp cooking was out of the equation. However, the Glen Trool
campsite does provide a great attraction for 'real' campers.
Concrete and boulder fire pits are situated around the site
and we could not resist clearing about two hundred weight of
wood from the forest and setting light to it.