Friday, 14 December 2012

Galloway Forest Park.White Laggan.Millfore.

This is one from mid October I've not got around to posting until now. Seeing a good weather window of two days Alex fancied a bothy he'd never been into, White Laggan , in the middle of Galloway forest park.This is the largest area of wild land in Britain south of the Scottish Highlands but you could say the same for the whole of the southern uplands. Having no Munro's this region tends to be much quieter than the highlands nowadays, particularly in the peak summer months.
The view above was taken on the track to the bothy looking towards the Silver flow and Craignaw.
Alex suggested taking the bikes and cycling in from Clatteringshaws Loch so this is what we did.
It was almost dark by the time we arrived and I took this picture of the moon. Quite impressed with a pocket camera just braced against a tree that I managed to get a good zoom of the craters on the moon so clearly but it was huge and vast, an autumnal giant hanging above the forest. This is of course a dark skies park.
White Laggan is a bothy I've been into before a couple of times. Its well situated for the surrounding hills and is basic but has everything you need for a few nights in the wilds. Its also just off the Southern Upland Way making it a handy stopover for backpackers. On the cycle in I soon discovered I didn't have any brakes at all on my mountain bike for some reason but I got by using my feet either side of the pedals as emergency stops which didn't do the soles of my boots any favours on the rough land rover track but kept me from picking up too much speed on the downhill's. Luckily the gradients were not that steep.
In the bothy we met Jordan and Kate, a young couple from Manchester who were exploring the district. This couple we shared the bothy with and one other girl we met on the hill were the only people we spotted in the area over two days. Not bad. Must have been a mad rush towards the area on those two days.

In ancient times this area had a much bigger population when it was even wilder and more remote than it is today. No land rover tracks and few paths ran across it when the tribes of Galloway occupied it and they had a deserved reputation for being even fiercer fighters than the highland clans. I tried to find a good link to this but couldn't find one that gave all the information needed in one article so here's my half remembered version instead.
They demanded and received the dubious right to be first into battle during every war fought and old accounts tell of near naked Galwegians running into battle with a collection of arrows sticking from their torsos yet still actively hacking arms, heads, and legs off the enemy until they eventually succumbed to blood loss. The word berserker comes to mind. The King of Galloway (Fergus if I remember it correctly)  was also reputed to have once chewed the nose off a messenger sent by the King of Norway who demanded that Galloway fall under his control or he would send a thousand long ships to decimate the area. The unlucky emissary, minus his nose, was sent back with the message that it would be just as easy for Galloway to muster a thousand ships then raid Norway. In other words bring it on big man. The King of Norway declined as he quite liked his subjects without teeth marks and missing facial parts. The Romans ,after a few costly skirmishes, simply ringed it off then by passed the region as they pressed further north, deciding it wasn't worth the effort trying to subdue such an unruly population with such an unproductive upland as the prize.
 This long lasting reputation over the centuries may have given rise to the story of Sawney Bean ( which simply translates as Alexander the killer)  and his family who reputedly lived in a cave under Bennane head and supposedly  killed and ate  hundreds of travellers before the males were executed and the women and children burned alive. There is no record that this family ever existed however though several isolated tales of starvation and cannibalism around this region by unfortunate individuals in the distant past are probably nearer the truth .If you were faced with a life or death choice in the middle ages its not inconceivable you would be tempted. But that is more to do with desperation than any wilful act.
There is a legend of a hairy tree  however that was planted in Girvan by Sawney bean's eldest daughter who escaped the fate of her family. Many years later the townspeople discovered who she was and hanged her from her own tree bringing an end to her deception. This tree has not been found either but the legend persists as several attempts have been made locally to find it.
The next morning we set off on foot to climb Millfore. The proper path sets off behind and uphill from the bothy but we  took a mans route straight up through the forest to reach Cairnbaber then the line of crags ,the strangely named Buckdas of Cairnbaber. Alex didn't care for this forest much but it was an adventurous way up the hill with much crawling and thrashing involved. Good fun.
This is an easier section of  the forest where we could walk upright. I like that thrill you get when you are not sure if you are going to find a way through to the other side and the days trip hangs in the balance then you find a little streambed  twisting under the tightly packed trees and crawl up it to freedom, Shawshank Redemption style. Alex prefers to stay upright however and did not savour this section much. He doesn't like getting dirty.
We soon reached the top  of Millfore and looked down on our fellow blogger Jims house. Howdy! :0)
We also met a girl up here who knew a friend of ours and worked in the same office in Inverness as he did. Hi BD. Its a small world in outdoor circles. Three random folk in a vast area and one of them knows one of our friends.
Alex went on to climb Curleywee but as it was a sizable descent then re-ascent up this I only did the first bit, watched him slogging upwards then went down to the bothy to pack up and read my paper in front of the fire. So glad I'm no longer a bagger! Happy days.
When he returned we packed up and cycled out. This is one of Alex cycling out. When I took this photo of him he got a bit narked. 'Why do you always post photos of me walking uphill with the bike?' He wanted to know. 'That gives a bad impression to our readers as if we are not fit and we are just two old tramps shuffling around Scotland. I'm super fit for my age.'
'Its not intentional.' I replied. 'Its just anytime I turn round on a hill you're always walking up it.'
'Don't you dare post that photo of me walking. Take one of me cycling up it instead.'
As requested here's one of Alex cycling up the next hill. I have to point out however as a truthful blogger as soon as this photo was taken it was back to walking power again. Mind you he was knackered from doing that extra hill. He had the satisfaction of beating me on the downhill sections however as I was still without brakes and was concerned about picking up too much velocity.
Which reminds me of a true Gordon Strachan quote when he was asked by a sports reporter if he had time for a quick word after a match in which his players had failed to shine presumably.
'Yeah. Velocity.' He replied, quickly shooting out the door to his car. Now that's style!
On the way back to Glasgow we were treated to a stunning view of the Lowther hills washed with the last rays of the setting sun before we dropped down into Thornhill for a well earned takeaway at the chip shop. Steak pie and chips for me. Sausage supper for Alex I think.
Then back to Glasgow in the dark along the motorway. A fine trip.


Carol said...

Bloody hell, I don't know - you two - you'd only just been let out and you had to lean against a tree to steady yourself! ;-)

I nearly always walk up hills when out on a walk and bike - I just find cycling up them wastes too much effort and isn't really much quicker - I'd rather save my energy for the hill. (And, I suppose after the hill, I'm too knackered anyway ;-) )

One weekend, when I went to D&G on a non-walking weekend, I got to missing the hills so desperately, I insisted I drove me and Richard as near to the foot of Curleywee as we could get and just sat in the car gazing at it!

Great report of a very lovely area :-)

Robert Craig said...

Galloway Forest Park has a real lonely atmosphere about it. Not sure what it is, but to my mind it feels more desolate than the Highlands. Probably the sterile acres of sitka spruce don't help.

The men of Galloway maintained their reputation in the medieaval days. David I in 1138 brought his army into the north of England on a thinly disguised land grab in support of his ally, the desposed English queen Matilda. The forces opposing him were most afraid of the Galwegians, tales of them burning monks, tearing babies out of wombs, etc, not civilised people like David and his feudal followers. David also blamed the Galwegians for his eventual defeat at the Battle of the Standard in Yorkshire, citing their indiscipline as costing him the battle. Quite a reputation the Galwegians had!

The Glebe Blog said...

I had a feeling it was you two up there when I looked. I had to laugh at the no brakes paragraph, brought back memories of descending the Fife hills as a lad.
That's some route you took up Millfore. That Alex must be well into his hill climbing to go on to Curleywee after Millfore although it doesn't look too much once you're up Millfore. I still have Curleywee to climb before I'm past it.
Being an incomer, I only know what I've gleaned over the past six years on Gallovidian history. Nearby Kirroughtree goes back to the fella that followed Fergus and is thought to be from Kirouchtree (Celt. caer-Uchtred, 'fort of Uchtred')He was the second lord of Galloway. There's a McDowell
Lineage Page that is fairly comprehensive.
All I can say about Alex's cycling is that it's no wonder he's leaning on his bike after climbing those two hills. Good on him.
Talking of steak pie and chips, I long for the the ones we got in the Naafi. I've tried them all, and none come close.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol.
Depends if its steep tracks or not. This one was much faster on a bike, particularly one without any brakes :0)

blueskyscotland said...

You're right Robert.
That high central area does have a melancholy quality to it sometimes but its also got some great walking routes.
Thanks for that extra info. That was all new to me.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim.
We just came down to try to nick your womenfolk as we cant get any females to go out walking with us in Glasgow.
Maybe because we take them crawling through pine forests and they never come back after that.
Great Lineage page that filled in a lot of gaps in my scanty knowledge of the area.
The steak pie and chips in Thornhill was very tasty. No fingers, eyes or toes in it though.
You are right! They don't make them like they used to down there :)

Neil said...

Great report Bob. Glad that you enjoyed White Laggan, it seems to be in good condition just now, long may that happy state continue. I believe that the forestry people are installing some seats near to the bothy so that folk can go and sit and watch the stars as part of the dark sky project. Hope that that doesn't popularise the area too much. I haven't really done much in Galloway, it looks a rough but lovely area.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Neil.
The seats are more likely to be used by a drinking crew than stargazers methinks but you never know.
Craignaw,the Merrick, Mullwharchar, the Rhinns and the hartfell areas are all great days worth a visit. Really wild and scenic.

Douglas Wilcox said...

Hi Bob it is a great area and you clearly had a cracking weekend. I first stayed in White Laggan in the early 70's, the weekend after it opened! Been back many times since then though not recently, due to my knees!

Douglas :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Douglas.
You still seem to be getting out a lot having great adventures though which is what its all about.
Best wishes for 2013.

Anonymous said...

I remember White Laggan from the SUW. There were a couple of fairly noisy blokes having a good time which I think pissed the old man off a bit but I was young enough to be entertained by it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mark.
Just a matter of luck who you meet in bothies. I've met some serious swally teams in a few of the border bothies and some highland ones,including a guy who was out on bail for stabbing people. He was fun. Most have been empty though.