As the first frost of winter set in this month, the window in which a successful climb to the highest Corbett summit in the Galloway Hills narrowed. We donned multiple thermal layers and packed our bags with hot broth ready for the challenging ascent up The Merrick.
The highest mountain in the Southern Uplands, The Merrick is classed as a Corbett (843m) and is part of the Range of the Awful Hand, a sub-range of the Galloway Hills. This spectacular peak is visible from Penninghame Estate and tempts hill walkers and climbers from far and wide. Whilst a challenging climb, the reward of the awe-inspiring view at top is motivation enough to push you onwards.
We set off on our Galloway Hills adventure early in the morning, having keenly observed the weather reports of a clear sky and optimistic sun the previous day. Still dark, we made our way to the Glentrool Visitor Centre, a hub for outdoor enthusiasts seeking an array of walks, hikes and mountain bike trails. Part of the 7stanes project by the Forestry and Land Scotland, Glentrool boasts some of the most naturally remarkable routes in the region. Enjoy a leisurely 2km walk on a crisp winters afternoon or spend your day marvelling at the beautiful landscape of Loch Trool on the circular 9.2km walk.
When you enter the main car park for the Glentrool Visitor Centre, follow the signposts for Bruce’s Stone. This will take you along a single-track road, with ample passing places, to the car parks at the beginning of the Merrick climb. However, it is worth taking a 5-minute detour to view Bruce’s Stone and yet another magnificent sprawling view across Loch Trool.
Bruce’s Stone, erected in 1929 on the 600th anniversary of Bruce’s death, commemorates the Battle of Glen Trool, a minor engagement in the First War of Scottish Independence. Set atop the north side of Loch Trool, the old fable goes this is where King Bruce directed the ambush of King Edward I’s army in 1307.
Fresh from our Scottish history lesson, we approached the starting point of the Merrick walk. At first a narrow climb over rocky and steep terrain, the trail plateaus alongside the Buchan Burn and from here you can view the Culsharg Bothy.
The Culsharg is the perfect spot to gather your energies and replenish before the strenuous uphill route continues. Bothies are usually left open for the weary traveller to gain some shelter and rest before onward trekking through the Galloway Hills. Most of these were however closed off during the Covid 19 lockdowns, keep this in mind if you are venturing a walk during any future lockdowns.
The next stage of the walk is undoubtedly the most challenging section. A steep climb over rocky ground that curves round and up into the mountain zone of the walk. The ascent to the peak of the Merrick’s neighbouring mountain, Benyellary (719m), is arguably the most testing of this journey. A consistent upward climb via a well-maintained path takes you up and above the smaller hills surrounding the Range of The Awful Hand. The views from here are impressive, encompassing the Buchan and Loch Valley, but stopping here would be an injustice of the climb!
Onwards you climb, again via a very clear path towards the summit of the Merrick, by which now you can see the marker peaking out along the Corbett’s skyline. As a slight relief after the demanding rise to Benyellary, the route plateaus again as your turn the corner of the two adjoining peaks. Beware if the wind is especially strong on any given day, the updraft from the stark drop on the East side can knock you off your feet.
As you climb, look to the Northwest. On a particularly clear day as we had, you can clearly see the Aisla Craig off the shores of Girvan. To the right of this you may be able to view Goatfell on the Isle of Arran.
At last, 3 hours into our excursion, we reached the coveted pinnacle. The view is all encompassing. Absolutely breath-taking. The opportunity for picture taking is limited due to the freezing windchill whipping at our gloveless hands, but a view no picture could do justice, nevertheless.
Due to the weather conditions at the top, our accomplishment was short-lived, we hastily began our descent through the snow-covered ground as the sun shone a welcome warmth upon us.
The trek downwards can be as strenuous as the climb upwards, good hiking boots and walking poles are an essential I would recommend for this route. We can provide walking poles for use at Penninghame Estate, as well as a guide to navigate this beautiful and remarkable walk. And what better way to rejuvenate yourself after a winter hike than warming yourself in a cosy cottage and recounting the glorious scenes of the Galloway Hills accompanied by a warming meal with friends.
Visit us at www.Penninghame.com to book your Galloway experience. And if you are in the mood for a guided invigorating ramble, please request this via your confirmation email, our staff will be more than happy to organise a route and transportation for you.