THE clocks have taken an hour away but in its place comes sunny days and a chance to discover the great outdoors of Galloway.
And what better way than with the Newton Stewart Walking Festival, which is gathering steam ahead of its May launch?
The festival will celebrate its 10th year in 2012 and bookings have been rolling in from all parts of Britain for the week-long event, which runs from 11th to 17th May. Some routes are already fully booked and several others have just a handful of places left.
This year’s festival offers more than 30 walks and other events exploring the hills, coastline and countryside of Galloway. Several walks take place in the Minnigaff hills – the upland range to the north east of Newton Stewart which has provided the snowy backdrop to the town in recent winters.
Despite their proximity to the town, these hills are arguably less well-known and less explored than other peaks in the area, such as Cairnsmore of Fleet near Palnure or the Merrick range north of Glen Trool. However, by laying on transport and experienced leaders Newton Stewart Walking Festival provides the ideal opportunity to explore the Minnigaff summits and the vast swathe of land bounded by the River Cree to the west, Glen Trool to the north and Bargaly Glen to the south.
The varied nature of the Minnigaff Hills, from the armchair-shaped corries and steep cliffs of Larg and Lamachan to the distinctive peak of Curleywee provides a picturesque backdrop to the town of Newton Stewart and the lower Cree valley. Once the walker is up into the hills proper it is quite possible to ‘bag’ a number of peaks in one day and just about any route in the Minnigaffs will include at least a section of spectacular 360 degree views.
Four walks during this year’s festival explore different parts of the Minnigaff Hills, ranging in length and difficulty so that walkers of all abilities have the opportunity to explore them.
The most challenging route, which includes practically all the peaks in the Minnigaff range in one great day in the hills, takes place on Saturday 12th May. Entitled “A Traverse of Newton Stewart’s Hills” (walk number 2-1 in the festival programme), the route covers 14 miles and an ascent of 1,500 metres. It includes numerous summits including Craignaw, Millfore, Drigmorn, Lamachan, Larg and Curlywee.
A slightly easier alternative on the same day is the “Mini Minnigaffs” (walk 2-3). Starting at the Caldons and finishing at Auchenleck, this 9 mile route takes in Mulldonoch, Lamachan and Larg with wonderful views of the lower Cree and features a new descent via Cordorcan Craigs.
On Sunday 13th May a varied walk (number 3-3) from the Wood of Cree via Loch Middle and taking in Larg and Lamachan Hills before descending to Glen Trool offers a mixture of woodland paths, airy hill tops and steep slopes, all in the company of a wildlife expert to add colour.
For those looking for a less strenuous walk in the Minnigaff Hills, an evening walk on Wednesday 16th May (walk number 6-3) starts in the Wood of Cree at Drannandow. Taking in the high point of Garlick Hill before the descent to Glenshalloch, it promises to provide the perfect way to end the day.
The full 2012 Newton Stewart Walking Festival programme is available online at www.newtonstewartwalkfest.com. Brochures can also be picked up at libraries and tourist information Centres across the region or by calling into the Stewart R Cunningham Outdoor Centre in Victoria Street, Newton Stewart. Bookings can be made online at the festival website or by calling 01671 404500.