The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 14 June 2021

Craignell (NX509751; 477m)

Thursday 10 June
Start: Black Loch Car Park
Distance: 8.5km
Ascent: ~380m

Some twenty months after our last Scottish Marilyn bagging, we are finally back, opting for a small selection in Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) for this trip. The choice was based largely on the weather forecast being good for this week, and the terrain around here looked like it deserved to be done in good weather. I thus spent a few days plotting, planning and poring over various types of map (OS, Google, Google StreetView, and aerial via Where's The Path) until I'd formulated a plan.

A couple of days later and this week's forecast for D&G was deteriorating. I had a bash at coming up with an alternative plan, further east where cloud-free summits were more likely, but ran into issues with suitable places to park Bertie and satisfactory routes (bearing in mind that we wanted to do all of this trip's hills on foot, not using bikes). After an hour or so of looking, I concluded we didn't have time to replan, unless we delayed the trip by a day. So, D&G it was, with fingers crossed that the weather would come good.

The weather didn't come good. Much of our 3-hour drive here this morning was through fog, and the forecast was now saying that there was a high chance of light rain too.

The plan had been to do a circuit of both Craignell and Millfore today, but my enthusiasm for that waned as light rain fell whilst we ate an early lunch. We followed lunch with an extra cup of tea and an extra crossword. Then we finally chivvied ourselves out the door at 1pm with the revised plan of just tackling Craignell today, it being one of the smallest (quite possibly the smallest) on my list for this trip. Not that its small stature (481m) was going to give us better visibility; the cloud was down at 150m!

"Do you want your poles?" I asked Mick as I locked Bertie's door. He replied in the negative, and thus I opted to go without too. This was, in my hindsight-fueled opinion, a mistake, and one that we could have put right with just a 100m or so backtrack when we found ourselves almost immediately needing to ford a (slippery stoned, slippery bottomed) burn.

After the burn was a bash through long-felled forest, clambering over tree-stumps and brash (the map shows the line of a path, but it wasn't evident on the ground), which took us to a long-abandoned track, along which we squelched (eeeh, am I selling this to you? It gets better yet...)

The abandoned track, being reclaimed by nature

A kilometre and a half later we hit an engineered forest track which we had the ease of following for half a kilometre or so, until it ended. I knew that the line I'd plotted from there followed a fire break shown on the 1:25k map, at a point where aerial photos had suggested to me that all the trees to the left had been felled and there was a good line to take us out of the forest. The only fly in the ointment was that the forest track is just in the process of being extended and there was a hulking great excavator operating in between the track end and the place we wanted to reach. 

There was also a good fire break right next to where we were standing dithering over what to do, albeit its entrance was being securely guarded by heaps of felled trees.

We had to camber over the stuff to the left in this snap. What fun! 

What to do? We investigated squeezing past the excavator, but it was too close for comfort and the operator gave no signs of stopping to let us pass. A bit of thrashing back and forth later and we concluded that and surely (surely?) if we could just clamber over the pile of trees blocking the entrance to the nearest fire break, we would soon be out the top of the top of the forest and heading for our summit?

Taking a bearing would have been a good idea as it was only after we'd cambered over and through the trees and proceeded through a landscape of tussocks and bog that I realised we were in the wrong fire break and heading in the wrong direction. At least the going was pretty straightforward, I opined, to which Mick disagreed vehemently until I clarified that I meant in the context of obscure Scottish Marilyns (we were, incidentally, just across the road from the slowest Marilyn I have bagged to date).

After the best part of 2km of bashing through monster tussocks and plunging into bogs*, rather than the 250m if we'd taken the intended route, we made it out of the forest, from where we just had to bash up the open hill to the summit.

Summit selfie

Based on the map, I'm guessing there should be good views from this hill, but they were completely absent today and a stiff wind was blowing at the top. We thus didn't linger but set a bearing and retraced our steps.

Not being able to face the jumbled tree pile of our ascent route, we opted to descend via our intended ascent route, using the sound of the excavator to confirm that we were heading the right way. Now the excavator had moved a little, it wasn't too difficult to give it a wide berth and, with some joy, we finally (and quite thorougly covered in mud from the ground works) made it back to the proper track end, to retrace our steps back to Bertie.

What a brutal reintroduction to Scottish Marilyn bagging, although it would have undoubtedly been easier if we'd made more of an effort to get past the excavator on the outward leg! 

Spot the rather large detour on the outward leg, when we took the wrong fire break.

(*This is, incidentally, the sort of hill where Mick usually opts out of accompanying me, as he only choses to visit Marilyns that look, on the map, to have some merit. He considers that today's outing reinforced that there's a good reason why he's so selective in which hills he does. He doesn't share my perverse enjoyment of conquering bogs, tussocks and obstacles to stand on a patch of ground that's slightly higher than that surrounding it and where few other people would ever chose to go.)

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