I had originally come up with a route using forest tracks on the south side of this hill, but having then discovered that everyone approaches from the ruined church to the east, I thought I’d go with the majority. Thus, off I set, in the rain, across a soggy field of long grass and reeds. Crossing the stream at the far side was easy enough, and I’d hit it at a point where I was able to step over the wall/fence combo the other side. Then it was a swathe of deeply waterlogged ground, followed by a bit of lovely cropped grass, before I reached another wall. Over that one I hopped too, whereupon I met bracken and fern. The former was dense, six feet tall, sodden, and getting wetter in the continuing rain.
I fought on for a while before sense got the better of me. I was only a third of the way to the top and was looking at having to fight through wet bracken for another 45 minutes if I continued, whereupon I would have to turn around and battle back down again. Or, I could come back on our way up north next May and do the route before the bracken starts to unfurl for its next season.
Arriving back at Colin I was met with an incredulous “Did you run?”. I’d covered 0.8 of a mile in total, in just over 40 minutes.
Looking at the road atlas, I wasn’t too happy to leave this hill unclimbed, in view of the detour that would be required on any journey north in order to pick it up, so I thought I’d give my originally planned route (taken by no-one else, apparently), via Laggan, a go. That became a non-starter as I thought the track I needed to take looked far too much like someone’s drive, so Mick drove me just around the corner to take a different track instead.
There I was met with locked gates and a sign about the deer park’s opening times and entrance fees. Feeling a little uneasy as to whether the generous Scottish access laws allowed me to hop over these gates and use the track before me, I did hop the gates and made it all of fifty metres before I was met with a ‘forestry operations’ sign accompanied by a ‘no unauthorised persons beyond this point’ notice. Usually I ignore such notices, but combined with the locked gates and deer park signs, I turned back. As Mick was still at the entrance to the track, I had him drive me around the corner for:
Back to the original plan, I figured I’d try the track-which-looked-like-a-private-drive and see what happened. Happily no-one challenged me, I found my track junction before the big house (although not without a little hesitation, as its entrance was a bit overgrown) … and a few minutes later came out on the track through the deer park!
However, I hadn’t jumped any fence, or walked past any signs denying access, so this time I was happy to continue. Or, at least I was until I reached another ‘no unauthorised persons’ sign, beyond which I could see an estate vehicle parked.
I gave up. Again.
Taking the deer park track all the way back to the road (after all, on the route I’d just taken there had been nothing to suggest I shouldn’t), my arrival at the locked gates was timed impeccably to coincide with the arrival of a Jeep, which I took to be one of the vehicles they use to give their tours. Not wanting to hop over the locked gates in front of such a person, I stood and waited for him to open them up, thinking that I could take the opportunity to ask him about access, and maybe cadge a lift to somewhere back up the track.
After a few minutes of waiting, in the rain (the rain hadn’t let up in all of this time) I decided I wasn’t going to wait around for an unknown length of time whilst he finished a phone call, so I hopped over the gate right in front of him after all.
That, I thought, was my attempts on this hill all exhausted and I trudged down the road (in the rain; did I mention the rain?) to find Mick in the local car park (a mile and a quarter covered on this attempt). Thinking I deserved a cup of tea by this time, I sat myself down and discovered a BT wifi hotspot. Making a quick visit to hill-bagging.co.uk to see if I could glean any other information, I found that someone had logged a visit to this hill just ten days ago, and had reported an unmapped track on the northwest side of the hill which gave easy access to within 300m of the summit.
The person who had logged that route only gave two grid references in their description, but they told me everything I needed to know. Thus, in the rain (yep, still raining), I had a triumphant fourth attempt on this hill. And it really was ridiculously easy from the NW side. In fact, the track was such good going that I strode straight past the small break in the trees I needed and had to backtrack. The break didn’t involve any long grass, tussocks, bracken or bog, as these things are wont to do. No, this one was a breeze. Then, reaching the top of the forest it was just about 100m or so through heather to the summit. Needless to say, I was uncommonly happy to be there, even with the rain blowing in my face.
Arriving in the car park to the NW of Criffel, from where there runs a path all the way up to its summit, the sight of horizontal rain must have made Mick regret saying that he’d join me on this one.
He probably regretted it further when the excellent engineered path stopped abruptly at the edge of the forest, whereafter we trudged up the hillside where the erosion of the peaty surface was wide, and running with copious amounts of water. We were also in the cloud by now. And exposed to the wind. I really can’t say it was good conditions to be going up a hill, but as this was my final one in this area, it had to be done.
We fought our way to the cairn and sploshed our way to the trig, before splashing our way back down the horribly-waterlogged hillside. Three and a third miles had been covered, with 500m of ascent and I was glad, as I peeled off my wet layers yet again that I wouldn’t have to put them back on again today!