Weather scuppers best laid plans for ramblers

The ramblers at the Wood of Cree
The ramblers at the Wood of Cree

Two walks were planned for this week. The first, a 9-mile strenuous walk up the Merrick via the Buchan Burn and The Rig of the Gloon and the second an easy 6-mile stroll around the Wood of Cree and up to Loch Middle. In the event, torrential overnight rain spoiled all our plans.

A recce of the Merrick on the previous day had braved the cloud-enveloped, gale-swept, snow-strewn summit of Galloway’s highest peak. Saturday’s mountain weather forecast indicated lower winds, higher temperatures, clear tops and maybe even some sunshine. A good day in prospect.

However, relentless overnight rain saw flooded fields and high water in the Newton Stewart area, causing the closure of the main road to Bargrennan and therefore, to our proposed starting point in Glen Trool. A brief consideration of alternative routes led us back to Newton Stewart and a revised destination of Cairnsmore of Fleet. Although we could see the hill was still shrouded in cloud, we looked forward to the forecast improvement.

So it was that 11 of us set off up the track around the Cairnsmore estate, dressed for the worst but hoping for better. As we entered and then climbed up through the forest, the overnight rain had rendered the path wet and muddy, but the anticipated sunshine at last broke through. By the time we reached the carved granite memorial seat to Rosemary Pilkington, originator of the forests hereabouts, everyone felt swelteringly overdressed and there was a mass shedding of layers of clothing, including winter long johns for some. A rare sight!

Thus cooled, we set off once more only to find, oh fickle weather, that increasing mist thickened to blot out the sun. Emerging above the tree line, we found ourselves in cloud and consequent soft rain, so the waterproofs were reluctantly dragged from rucksacks and donned again. Clad against the weather, we ascended the path that rises across the open hillside and then zig-zags up the steepest section before finally levelling out as the summit is approached. First looming out of the mist was the giant block of stone that forms the memorial to the lives of airmen lost in plane crashes on Cairnsmore of Fleet. On top of this monument we saw a note left to testify to a recent visit to this site by a relative of one of those commemorated.

From here, the summit cairn was just visible through the mirk, along with the shelter in which we squatted for a welcome lunch stop, out of the wind and therefore less cold than we would otherwise have been. All was well until we prepared to leave, only to find our doughty leader, still suffering from her exertions on The Merrick recce the previous day, was unable to get up without developing excruciating thigh cramps! Eventually she was hauled up to squeals of pain, little encouraged by the observation that her efforts to walk bore a remarkable similarity to Boris Karloff’s rendition of Frankenstein’s monster’s stiff-legged gait.

Taking care not to slip on the rocks, back down the path we went, running with water as it was for much of the way. At last we emerged from under the cloud to gain misty views across the Cree and the Machars all the way to a distant faint outline of the Mull of Galloway beyond Luce Bay. Back through the forest, back down the track past Cairnsmore House and back to the car park.

Meanwhile the second group had encountered flooded roads up the side of the Cree but eventually three cars arrived at the RSPB car park to discover that it was now a lake with ducks splashing happily about. Parking on the soggy verges we awaited the rest of our group in vain and so it was that nine walkers headed up the northern side of the Wood of Cree alongside the roaring waters of the Cordorcan Burn. Progress was very slow as the photographers amongst us had many pauses to take pictures of the spectacular waters in full spate.

We climbed steadily towards the top of the wood where we left the RSPB reserve and headed up the forest road towards Loch Middle. Trudging through mud and jumping over boggy ground we doggedly followed the track until just before Loch Middle we came to a burn which had overflowed its banks and was now roaring down across the track with a deep and scary intensity. With one accord we all reversed our tracks and headed back pausing only for a lunch stop on a conveniently situated bank of flat rocks at the edge of the track.

After lunch we retraced our steps into the reserve. The path was carpeted with leaves, sometimes making it difficult to follow especially as, in places, it had become a burn as the rain waters found the easiest routes downstream. Meandering beside the Pulhowan burn, over wooden bridges barely above the height of the rushing waters, we eventually arrived at the view point above the waterfall. Our photographers were positively swooning with delight at all the spectacular shots they were able to take. Eventually, we dragged them away and back to the car park where we discovered that the flood waters had all ebbed away leaving our cars looking stranded and forlorn beside the road.

Both groups met for tea and scones at The Belted Galloway in Newton Stewart and reflected on a good day’s walking, even if one of them was still rubbing those sore thighs! We later discovered that the four members of the group who had not managed to negotiate the flood on the Wood of Cree road had taken themselves through Barclye and onto the Cree valley Woodlands. They had a pleasant walk but unfortunately missed the tea and scones.

Next week’s walk is a 6 mile Category C walk (leisurely) on Saturday 19th November, from Auchenmalg along the cliff path to Stairhaven and return, starting at 10:00am at the Cock Inn car park (NX 236 518). Meet for car sharing at the Breastworks, Stranraer at 9:30am or at the Riverside, Newton Stewart at 9:15am. If going directly to the start of the walk please inform the walk leader. New walkers and visitors are always welcome after phoning the walk leader on 01776 840636 for further information.