Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Scoops Reports 2011 - March 5 Merrick

Wigtownshire Ramblers March 5 Merrick  

Saturday produced a drizzly morning with mist hanging around the tops of the hills when fifteen ramblers gathered to climb the Merrick.  Leaving the cars by Bruce’s Stone, an inscribed boulder overlooking Loch Trool, commemorating Bruce’s victory over the English here in 1314, the company followed the tourist path up the side of the Buchan Burn. Cath, Frances, Brian,  Jim, Ken, Debbie, Sue, Marilyn and Jim, Jack, Allan Topping, his son Neil, Peter, Jim and the new male walker from Portpatrick who had joined us on the Portpatrick to Stranraer walk. 

The burn displayed its usual picturesque bubbly character, bouncing and swirling over rocks and gurgling through pools, a pretty accompaniment to the dreary weather, and rough path. Once gaining the trees the path improved and a pleasant walk to Culsharg Bothy ensued, though now the mist approached and visibility was reduced.

A stop was made at the bothy, once a shepherd’s cottage, to examine a carved boulder which was rescued from the nearby burn and incorporated into a rock pillar in 1983, after being damaged by storms some years earlier. The carving, which was made around 1870, is difficult to make out.  Logging has cleared the area above Culsharg and is still an ongoing operation, with the forestry machines in much evidence.  Here the climb up the steep path, between the remaining trees, began in earnest.

Once above the trees the mist closed in, so that although the new path was clear, a delightful change from the boggy expanse that had to be crossed only a few years ago, there were no views of the hills to be had.  As the ramblers walked blindly on it was t herefore a surprise to reach the top of Benyellary seemingly quickly, perhaps because the heights yet to be climbed on this stage of the walk could not be seen, and thus not demoralising those who were finding the gradient taxing. 

After lunch by the cairn it was a straightforward walk across the Neive of the Spit, with a bitter cold air penetrating the fingers, and onto the top of the hill where the air became much warmer. Quite a few walkers were met along the way, with the top cairn shelter already occupied.  (Before long we were setting off again, glad to be walking and hoping to regain the warmth we had reached on the way up but I put a hand warmer in my right glove and I saw Allan giving his son one too.  Life savers!  It did not seem to take as long to get to the top of the Merrick but I think this was because we were all chatting away and as the mist was so thick we could not see what could have been the top and which never was!  At one time Jim and I were walking together and I looked back to see no-one behind us although there should have been four people and could see no-one in front of us either.  Jim carried on walking and I waited for the others to emerge through the mist.  The walkers ahead of us stopped to wait for the rest to catch up and then moved on, eventually reaching the top of the Merrick where we met three people who had passed us earlier, sitting in the stone circle having their lunch.  Despite our making it obvious that we wanted a photo of all of us there they did not move out of the way to make this easier for us.) 
Unfortunately the spectacular views to be seen from the summit were missing, but the effort of gaining the top, 843 metres high, was declared to be worthwhile, especially by the three ramblers for whom this was the first time.

Leaving the Ordinance Survey triangulation point, which displayed a flush bracket to the delight of the collector, the Black Gairy on the north face of the hill was viewed. Here there was a thick cornice of snow glimmering through the mist. This is a favourite place for the ice climbers of Galloway to practice their sport.

The top of the Merrick is hundreds of acres of rough grass, and for a place of such high rainfall, it was very dry, with just one large patch of snow still lying. The flat top and the path down to Culsharg were uneventfully followed, with the mist still enclosing the ramblers almost until the forest road was reached once more.

The view became much clearer as we passed through the gate and even better as we came to the newly planted area, of trees and bushes and we got really warm as we went down through the forested area.  Brian suggested that we leave the wide, worn path and walk down between the trees, over the densely pine covered ground and it was much softer on our knees and hips! 

A welcome stop for refreshments was taken at Culsharg with some views of the lower hills, though the mist remained on the tops.  It was here that many of the walkers, such as McBain, who first described exploring these hills at the end of the nineteenth century, had comfortable lodgings with the shepherd, his wife and sister. It now seems rather a lot of people to fit into this small cottage.  
We realized that we were not going to get back to the cars in time to get to NS for tea and cakes so l took plenty of time going down this last section of the walk as it is such a joy to photograph! 
Only a comparatively short walk from here remained, back down beside the Buchan Burn, to regain the cars. Despite the mist and drizzle the ramblers had once more had a enjoyable walk in congenial company.

The surrounding hills were still displaying their ‘autumnal’ colour – winter is so often the most photogenic time of the year, especially in the Galloway Hills.

We were back at the cars about 4.30pm.  Cath, Jim, Marilyn, Ken, Jim, Debbie, Sue and I went to the House o’ the Hill for tea and coffee and sat near a wood burner which was throwing out so much heat that we had to strip off more clothing and our cheeks burned!

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