The mountains have been calling me a lot over the last few months. They didn’t shout loud enough for me to hear them though…
I planned to visit the Scottish mountain called The Merrick in January, but it was February before I had a free weekend and the weather was hopefully more favourable.
The Merrick is the highest mountain in southern Scotland sitting high at 2,766 feet. It lives in Glentrool, Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.
It’s not a Munro (Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet) but is grouped together with many other mountains in Scotland between 2,500 and 3,000 feet. These mountains are known as Corbetts.
It was Saturday and we got up bright and early to get packed for our expedition. The weather forecast predicted that it would be foggy and cloudy on top of the mountain, with possible snow. It was going to be cold and I had never hiked in snow before. We didn’t have crampons either. I was wondering how far we’d both get… if at all.
We still went ahead anyway as this would be a good training hike for our Arran Coastal Way walk in June. We also recently purchased new cameras and I was excited to test out my new Lumix 100!
We layered up with warm clothes and packed what we needed for the day. It took us an hour and a half to drive there. As we drove through the coastal town of Girvan I’d forgotten how lovely it was with impressive views to the island Ailsa Craig. The volcanic plug looked so prominent from Girvan’s coastline.
I spied a fish and chip shop that we once visited when my children were little. The Marine Fish Restaurant. Mmm, it was calling me too. Maybe on the way back I thought.
As we approached the visitor centre at Glentrool I started thinking about the last time we came here. We climbed the Merrick in 2010 but didn’t walk the normal tourist route. Instead we walked around the lochs and climbed up the back of the mountain. There was no obvious path back then and it was a tougher boggy hike. We’d hoped to see the Grey Man of the Merrick rock formation but we didn’t find it.
I remember Alan was injured and struggled to keep walking. When we reached the top it was so windy that we couldn’t even sit and rest for a while. Nine hours it took us to finish. I have a few photos of that hike, I’ll attach them to the end of my post. I always vowed I’d come back and walk the regular route known as the Merrick Trail.
I quickly used the facilities in the lovely Glentrool Visitor Centre before continuing our journey further into the Galloway forest park. I was hoping we could go back there for a hot drink and food but it would have been closed by the time we got back
The mountains had a light dusting of snow on top.
After a short drive we arrived at the free car park near Bruce’s Stone and the Merrick Trail.
It was so cold and windy. Alan was sorting out his gear at the car so I wandered off on my own towards Bruce’s Stone.
Lots of Scottish history here. Bruce’s stone is a cairn that was built in 1929 to remember a battle in 1307 which opened the campaign for independence. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, and his 300 men defeated an English army of 1500 heavy cavalry by luring them to the steep banks of Loch Trool.
Memorial battlefields certainly have a haunting feel about them when you try to visualise what it might have looked like. Sadness kicks in thinking of the lives on both sides that were lost.
There’s also a 5.5 mile circular trail round Loch Trool that looks nice to walk. Ideal if you don’t feel like climbing mountains.
I could hardly feel my fingers when I was taking photos, they were so numb. I quickly put my gloves back on for some warmth and skipped back to the car park.
The Merrick trail
The full trail to the top of the Merrick and back is around 8.25 miles.
The path was quite good to start but then it became rocky, icy and muddy in places. We walked alongside the pretty Buchan burn that flows into Loch Trool.
This was a view I loved. Snowy mountains, drystone wall, rushing water from the burn, loch, trees, rocks, holly bush … it had everything in one picture.
Then we met the kissing gate. A small v-shaped enclosure that allows one person at a time to go through. Push the gate, it touches (kisses) the enclosure at one side, step in, then push it back to get out the opposite side. I couldn’t go through the kissing gate without a kiss, so I stole one! 😘
I could hear the whooshing sounds of the waterfalls falling fast and plentiful. Even if we didn’t get to the top of the Merrick I wasn’t going to be too disappointed as I was already feeling that magical feeling of the outdoors.
We followed the sign for the rocky high path.
The trail was showing me drystone walls everywhere, my favourite! I could see snow-capped mountains all around me. This was the view towards the southern uplands. A whole new place to explore one day.
Looking north, Ben Yellary is sitting to the left with the Merrick sitting behind on the right. We would need to climb Ben Yellary before reaching the Merrick. It was looking cloudy, snowy and cold up there.
We met a couple with their dog walking back and stopped to ask how far they’d walked. They told us it was too icy and windy on the mountain so they turned back. Onwards and upwards we continued though. I was determined to go as far as I could.
Many of the trees I remember from 2010 were felled, possibly by the Forestry Commission. It looked wild and messy in places. I always wonder why some straggly trees are left standing.
New native trees will be planted I hope for our future generations to enjoy.
After a few photo stops we got back on the trail and I could see the Culsharg bothy in the distance. What a pretty place to live once upon a time.
This must have been someone’s house or farm in a different time. The land around the bothy was sheltered by the mountains and trees.
Inside the bothy was empty apart from a few logs and a makeshift bed. The building had a new roof and windows, so it was a dry place for shelter if needed. I’m sure many walkers/climbers have sought refuge here and stayed the night. I could imagine sitting around a campfire outside, all cosy and quiet telling ghost stories. I wish I knew more about its history.
Drystone walls were everywhere. It looked like they were possibly used to keep sheep.
It must have been so peaceful to live here. Imagine waking up every day to a view like this.
After wandering around the bothy we headed up through the trail and reached a gate that took us into the woodlands.
It was sheltered in the woodlands and I started to feel too warm with my five layers of tops and thermals. Alan was overheating too and he was feeling pain in his knees. I didn’t realise that he was carrying a heavier backpack than normal and all the camera gear adds to the weight.
Walking up through the woods was quite steep and rocky. I moved over into the tree area as the ground was more level. It reminded me of walking through the woods to Urie Loch on the Isle of Arran. I love the feeling of being surrounded by the trees. The wind also makes strange noises swirling around the trees, it’s quite enchanting.
After a steep climb we reached the line where the forest zone crosses the montane zone. Time to cross the line …
As we climbed higher I personally felt like I was in a different world as soon as I stepped over that line. Snow was scattered all around us with the wind blowing a hoolie. Strong gusts would come and go as they please.
The trodden path was very icy in parts. Many other climbers were continuing so I kept trudging against the strong wind. I knew my limits and I wasn’t ready to stop yet.
Alan was a little further behind me so I stopped to wait for a little while. I didn’t realise he was zooming in on me with his camera! He captured this photo of me.
When the clouds cleared I could almost see the ocean shining in the distance.
The snow was becoming deeper the higher I walked with any path that was there being hidden.
Alan was quite a bit behind me now, but I kept going until I reached the impressive drystone wall. Piles of white fresh snow had been wind swept up on to the wall. It was such a pretty picture.
I could just make out the little island Ailsa Craig I mentioned earlier but then the clouds slipped over and it was gone. On a clear day the views would be so amazing here.
The snow was a few feet deep in places and this great wee wall travelled for miles in both directions. It reminded me of the wall in the movie Stardust. Cross over the wall and it will take you to a magical world.
I really wanted to get to the top of Ben Yellary as I could see others getting higher up the mountain.
I was waiting for Alan to catch up. He’d stopped further down the wall. Then I started to get worried as it looked like he was deep in snow and not moving. I quickly trudged back down through the long grass and snow, not really knowing what was under my feet.
He was okay thankfully. “Just sitting down for a rest” he said, while I was panicking that he was hurt or stuck in deep snow. The weight of his backpack was really putting pressure on his knees and calves. He was carrying lighter than we need for Arran Coastal Way … looks like we will need more training and also need to rethink what we carry.
We stayed at the beautiful drystone wall for a little while and I wrote MPC in the snow to show my love and appreciation for My Peak Challenge. MPC has really encouraged me to keep challenging myself no matter what.
This was as far as we would go this day, but we’ll come back.
We walked back down the mountain stopping now and then to take more photos. I noticed that I needed to look down a lot on this hike to watch my footing and where I was walking. Stopping was a must to look at the views around me.
We hiked six miles all in and I loved every minute of it. Even the cold parts. I was happy with what we achieved.
Alan took this photo of a wee robin that was bouncing about the path. Such pretty colours.
Hiking makes me hungry
Yay, we were back! Even though we ate some rolls and cereal bars on our hike I still felt hungry. So we jumped into the car for a heat and enjoyed tinned tuna, then warm naked noodles.
The fish and chip shop in Girvan was still on my mind though. It had been a while since I’d eaten traditional chip shop chips … so we stopped off on the way home to please my craving. I think my body was telling me it really needed the carbohydrates and salt.
Photos from our hike in 2010
These are some old photos we took in 2010 from the different route. They show the views that we should have seen at the top of the Merrick. This is why we need to go back on a sunnier day to capture this beauty. Third time lucky I hope!
Looking back at these photos it would have been really risky trying to reach the Merrick summit in the snow. Look at the drops on either side going up…
This is the summit of Ben Yellary with the Merrick sitting high above it.
I’m still learning to use my new camera. I was mostly still on auto with the photos for this hike. I can’t quite capture the dramatic sky I can see and the colours of the land at the same time. It’s all work in progress for me.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my story and photos!