Late September in Scotland and barely a cloud in sight for the entire day – the weather was perfect for my 17-mile walk from St John’s Town of Dalry to Polskeoch. My destination was actually a bothy in between Dalry and the town of Sanquhar from where I was coming back home by the end of the weekend.
One thing I had not actually appreciate was that I would be walking uphill for almost 12 miles first before descending towards Polskeoch. Polskeoch, by the way, is not a settlement really; it is the name of one farmhouse near where the bothy is.
I was staying in Dumfries and had to take a very early bus to Castle Douglas and then another one to St John’s Town of Dalry, so I could start at about 8.30am.
The first mile is quite steep as the walker leaves Dalry; then one passes a couple of farms and with Galloway hills now coming into better view as one now walks on the upland again.
Now, the walk took me across a huge area of fields, with cows and sheep grazing lazily, along the edge of a wood. This relatively flat walk offered superb views of the hills near Carsphairn. This view would accompany me for at least the next 90 minutes.
Eventually, the path descends towards a road for just about 15 minutes walk before going back up again. This was already about 5 miles in, so I took a short break to eat and drink. Accompanying me were some rather puzzled-looking sheep – they don’t get to see many people passing by around here, I guess!
A quick ascent up and one is rewarded by the views of same hills that I started seeing 3 miles before, now closer and closer. However, the trail does not lead up them – rather, if you look at the image directly below, it takes you east (to the right in the photo), leaving them behind.
Once I passed Culmark (a single farm with a rather unhappy-sounding dog), I joined a wide dirt road that took me down, past a stream that you see in the photo below, to a more major road (three cars per hour, probably) linking Carsphairn in the west with Moniaive in the east.
Upon reaching the road, a short 5-minute walk to the right (east) takes one to Stroanpatrick (just two farmhouses, it seemed). This begins an almost constant 4.5 mile hike up towards to stunning hill of Benbrack (581 m), which was to prove a real achievement – it was tough and quite exhausting (meaning it was satisfying!)
First, one leaves the Stroanpatrick area passing a number of sheep pastures; as the trail moves upwards the colour of the colours change from deep green to other more dry, yellowish grass. It is worth stopping, turning around and looking at the views behind you!
The path slows down its ascent a little bit now as it enters a wooded area. It was about midday now and it was quite sunny, meaning more water was required. I used the shade provided by the trees to stop for another food and drink break. I was now about 10 miles into that day’s trek.
I had the view below from where I was sitting. The trail was about to move upwards in between the two wooded areas in the photo.
After a mere 5 minutes after my break, I started getting these stunning views all around me!
Finally, Benbrack came into sight. This is where I was going to climb up to after passing the valley down below!
This was a really tough ascent. It probably took just about 20-30 minutes, but it was truly exhausting. The photo below was taken about halfway up as I was taking some breaks hauling myself up there! The views were incredibly – genuinely like something out of a Hollywood film.
And finally, the view from Benbrack’s peak below!
On top is one of the Striding Arches, one of many in the area. If you wish to read more about this art project by Andy Goldsworthy, look at the Arches website at http://stridingarches.com/index.html . Although this can be seen in my photos, there are other arches on other hilltops in the area. It is a beautiful and fascinating structure (and a super-windy place, too!)
I took a break atop Benbrack for a good 20 minutes before heading downhill. The trail takes one north. I have to say I appreciated some walking down and so did my muscles!
Of course, the views don’t stop just because you are descending!
There is a minor ascent on the way, but the majority of the way takes one gently downwards towards the valley where Polskeoch is. About 2.5 miles down from Benbrack, the trail reaches a forest – this seemed like a newly-planted forest. There is some logging in the area, it seems, and this appeared to be an attempt to replant trees.
After about 10-15 minutes walk through the wooded area, the walker is taken back outside to be treated to another set of stunning views of the nearby hills.
The path now joins the Forestry road, wide and comfortable, descending towards the Polskeoch Bothy (aka Chalk Memorial Bothy). If you look close enough in the photo below, the both can be see in the gap between the trees down below.
As bothies go, this one was impressive. It is actually a large cottage, with “a stage” inside for putting your sleeping mat and sleeping bag for sleeping, a fireplace with dry wood available, tables and a number of chairs. No running water, of course, but it is a bothy!
Shortly after my arrival, a young couple (cyclists) stopped by for an hour. I had a nice chat with the lady, who said they had moved to quiet, rural Scotland to escape the city.
They were the first people I saw that day after leaving Dalry at 8.30am. It was now 4pm or so.
The murmur of the stream behind the bothy was the only sound here. I sat outside for as long as I could enjoying the view of the hills from the back of the bothy and the exquisite quiet. It started getting dark around 7pm and I was treated to starry night on this cloudless day.
It felt so natural it was almost unreal. I now have the taste for staying in other bothies. It was an experience to remember.
All images from this trip can be seen in the video below: