I’m not normally one for wanton vandalism but some casual graffiti in Galloway has caught my eye. The victim is a road sign warning of cattle. You know the one. A red triangle around the black silhouette of a cow. Except this one has been modified with a small piece of white tape across its midriff, transforming it from generic cow to unmistakable Belted Galloway.
This made me smile, as the real life belties were in the adjoining field, nonchalantly chewing the cud; seemingly oblivious to the yobbo’s efforts to simply make the sign more accurate.
While the petty vandals of Galloway might have a sense of humour, one product of the region that doesn’t is Corserine. This great hulk of a mountain, one of four Corbetts in the national park, is a bit of a goody-two-shoes. Standing at 814m, it’s little more than a grassy hump in a vast landscape. The sensible kid in a class of scallywags. It does its homework on time and wouldn’t dream of defacing a road sign.
It’s probably for this reason that Corserine, like many of the mountains in Galloway, is likely to be quiet. Walkers can’t resist the draw of the proper Scottish mountains just a few hours to the north. You need to invest in Galloway to get the best from it. It requires patience and graft before you can reap its rewards. But for those with the resolve and necessary skillset, time spent in Galloway offers a unique mountain experience.
For all its dour reputation, Corserine does have a playful side if you approach it from the east. A huge and remote corrie, largely devoid of paths and with plenty of grippy outcrops to scramble on, ultimately leads to the bulbous summit. Here you can marvel at the mind-bogglingly huge landscape laid out before you.
Corserine is the high point on a ridge that stretches from north to south, marking the eastern boundary of the Galloway Forest Park. A desolate plantation houses The Merrick and a number of lochs to the west. East is the Forrest Estate then just miles and miles of southern Scotland. It’s a brilliant day out and a step up in terms of wilderness for those used to walking in busier national parks.
A slow start
After a chilly night in the van in the far north of England, I arrive to a crisp November day in the Forrest Estate. A long private road takes me as far as the walker’s car park. From here I’m on my own two feet.
This is no bad thing. The 5km approach gives ample time to loosen up the legs. And the scenery isn’t bad either. Starting on wide forest tracks, I head towards Loch Harrow, a tranquil stretch of water flanked by trees and cradled by the craggy slopes of Craigbrock. Investing my gaze further into the view, I sketch out parts of my planned descent from North Gairy Top in the shadows. But first I’d need to get on to the mountain.
I had in mind to skirt the eastern shores of the loch before skipping across a burn emanating from the frigid waters. Alas, the stream proves to be more wild water rapid than babbling brook, forcing me to retrace my steps to pick up the main forest track again.
The path climbs through the trees, gently at first but it becomes more of a workout as I head deeper into the forest. The dark floor under the trees is carpeted with mushrooms. The forest feels utterly enchanted and I wouldn’t have looked twice if there were fairies playfully flitting around the trees.
At an obvious bend in the road, I turn on to an unkempt track, signalling I’m about to enter more serious terrain. I pause by Folk Burn to fill my water bottle and let the sounds of the forest wash over me. It may be a managed forest on a commercial estate but I can’t help but feel I’m the only person for miles around. I sense the forest spirits soothing my nature-depleted soul as I breathe in the clear air.
It’s time to leave the arboreal sanctuary and join the open fell. This is Corserine’s flirtatious side. No more miserable lump in a huge expanse of nothingness. The corrie is rough and pathless. Only the subtle bends in stalks of grass offer reassurance that others have passed this way before.
The waters of Folk Burn cut a deep scar into the otherwise featureless topography as my gaze is drawn to the dizzying heights of the cloudy summit plateau. It’s tempting to retreat immediately to the safety of the forest as the mountain hands me the dice and waits for my next move.
Into the wild
I take my first tentative steps into the wild and trace a route up the steepening slopes. My target is a subtle shoulder just before the worst of the steep ground and it’s a case of trusting my feet to find a natural way through the rugged ground. From here, I plan to alter direction and head north to the more prominent shoulder of Craigrine at 709m. Then it’s a more pleasant push for the summit via the obvious north-eastern spur of the mountain.
Reviewing my progress, I see just how far I’ve come to get to this point. The scale of this place is staggering. A patchwork of greens and browns and blues stretches to the horizon and beyond. I can see the fells of the Lake District and endless, vast skies above. It’s breathtaking.
As I stare to the heavens, a small, red aeroplane buzzes into view. My imagination tells me I am Richard Hannay from John Buchan’s ‘The 39 Steps’ – on the run from an unseen enemy. But the plane pays me no attention, leaving me safe to continue my own adventure.
Reaching the summit of Craigrine, an icy wind hits me like a steam train. I furiously dig out more layers and hunker down for the final summit push. On the plateau, I meet a large bank of cloud, which obscures anything of interest. I snatch the odd glance of Carlin’s Cairn, the next summit on the ridge heading north. There’s an occasional glimpse of the huge expanse of hills to the west. I also see my first human of the day. We exchange the briefest of appreciative nods before he seeks refuge from the wind by pressing on towards the Rhinns of Kells.
The cold soon gets the better of me and I continue down the south-east ridge to North Gairy Top. I am engulfed in cloud for a time but the strong winds are on my side and soon clear the fuzz as I lose height.
This part of the walk is fun. A lofty place from which to survey my surroundings and enjoy a spot of lunch. It’s too cold to pause for long. And there’s just the small matter of the tricky descent via North Gairy Top to negotiate.
I inch my way down the steep grassy slope, weaving around small crags and aiming for a fixed point in the depths below. It’s then a case of following the fence north to pick up a break in the trees that will lead me back through the estate to the car. But as is the Galloway style of things, the going is rough and it takes more time and energy than expected to seek the refuge of the enchanted forest.
As the light starts to fade in the late afternoon, I settle into some relaxed walking over the comparatively gentle paths through the forest. I understand that many people simply won’t ‘get’ Galloway. There’s no instant gratification to be had from its lack of spiky ridges and intimidating crags. But put in the effort and you’ll soon realise the sense of ruggedness sometimes offers far greater returns.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Forrest Lodge
Navigation: Strong navigation skills required in this vast and unforgiving landscape.
Terrain: The going is tough over rugged, pathless terrain. Steep, grassy descent from North Gairy Top. Previous experience of this type of terrain essential.
Facilities: St John’s Town of Dairy
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.