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Day two of being “unlocked in Dumfries & Galloway” (as Covid 2021 restrictions eased) saw my friend Ben and I walking the Corbett Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. We enjoyed a beautiful location, met few other walkers, enjoyed the chat of a new friend Emmanuelle and the company of my wonderful aunt, Jane, who is about to turn 80.
Rather than starting from the usual suggested point of Green Well (see Walk Highlands), we headed to Craigengillan Bridge, where there was space for a few tightly parked cars at the end of a private track. (This really is a tight squeeze so when we can car share please do.)
Our journey to this location had been hampered somewhat by three lorries carrying vast parts of what we believe were wind turbines. We followed slowly behind for many miles, helpless to go any faster but also rather amused by our tardy progress. Jane had been running late but said she was relieved to see the FionaOutdoors logo on the back of my campervan just two cars ahead of her.
A Corbett, a Donald and a Donald Top
As I have written before – see the A to B hike of Shalloch on Minnoch and the Merrick – Ben is keen to bag Donalds and Donald Tops, as well as Corbetts, when he is in southern Scotland. I don’t mind if we have to do all kinds of odd detours and dog-legs to reach these smaller hills because it simply means we spend more time in the glorious rolling hills of this region.
We had a plan to do a walk a circuit, taking in Beninner at 710m (a Donald Top), then Cairnsmore of Carsphairn at 797m (a Corbett) and Moorbrock Hill at 650m (a Donald). The route is close to 17km and a total elevation of almost 950m.
These were new hills for Ben and I – and also Emmanuelle. I know Emmanuelle through my Facebook group Munroaming and while we have met before (on a plane, of all places), randomly while walking on Dumyat hill near Stirling last year and we have chatted on-line, we had never planned to walk a mountain together.
Emmanuelle has hiked a full round of Munros and is now working her way through the Corbetts. She was great company on our walk, providing a lot of entertaining conversation, as well as good navigational know-how. We worked together to plan a route on the ground, especially when we were walking off the trods (this happens a lot on the Donalds and Corbetts).
Jane decided she would start with us and then set her own pace. At almost 80, she is impressively fit but she confesses she is not as fast these days as she would like to be. She also has three dogs to look after while walking, which can slow her further. She assured us she would find her way and knowing how experienced Jane is in the D&G hills, we allowed her to shoo us on ahead.
This meant that the first hour was a gentler walk on the first section of track while chatting as a four, before us three pushed on to walk three summits, while Jane bagged CofC.
Two Donalds and a Corbett
The route starts on a wide track that climbs gently uphill. We passed through buildings, which is the location of former Moorbrock Farm (we wonder if this is now a self-catering business?) before continuing on a track.
Looking south-west for a wide break in the forest, we hiked downhill for a while, crossed a burn and a fence and then began the steeper ascent of Beninner.
Despite the walk the day before and slightly jaded legs, I hardly noticed the effort of the circular hike to three summits. It felt so amazing to be free of many Covid restrictions and to be in a stunningly beautiful location. The chat was endless and fun, which also took my mind off the steeper ascents.
However, the first climb to Beninner was by far the hardest – and longest. We contoured and ascended north-west and around the northern shoulder of the hill. Many Donald Tops do not have much of a cairn, but Beninner has a big and satisfying pile of stones.
The views were also just rewards for the long slog uphill – and we stopped for a while to have some lunch.
The route to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn seemed much more obvious. In fact, we could see a narrow trod heading north-west, down to a bealach and then ascending a wide shoulder.
The weather suddenly changed and we walked through light snow. Some of the snow even settled on the grass and stones around us. The ascent to CofC was much gentler than before and it seemed like no time before I spotted a large cairn and trig atop the Corbett.
There were also a few people sitting at the summit, enjoying a chat and something to eat. The gathering of around seven people was the most we had seen in one place for two days.
After a couple of photos, we quickly headed onwards because the snow had become heavier and the wind made the summit chilly.
A long descent, again over rough ground, took Ben, Emmanuelle and I east and to a low point of around 440m. From there we assessed our direction to climb to Moorbrock Hill. There is a track almost to the top from the south-west but we decided simply to walk uphill and keep going until we spotted a cairn.
This time there was very little to spot! The top of Moorbrook is marked by only a a few stones. After more photos and a lot more chat about this and that and the wonderful views, we began the descent back to the original track.
Another catch up with my aunt Jane
By this point, Jane had texted me to say she was on Beninner and was heading for the cairn. She said she would return after that. I thought she meant she was going to the cairn on the Donald Top. Instead, she meant she was going to walk to CofC and then return.
By our calculations, we hoped to meet with Jane on our return along the track. We waited a while and surveyed the hill but we couldn’t see her.
We decided that she must have gone ahead of us and we would see her back at the cars. Except when we arrived back she wasn’t there.
I didn’t feel too worried at this point because she is a very experienced hill walker and I imagined she would be along shortly.
Except even after a cup of tea in the campervan and more chat and more sitting around, there was still no sign of my aunt. By now, Ben and Emmanuelle were on their way home – and I was becoming a little anxious.
It was one of those situations where you are sure it will all be fine, but there is a nagging doubt. I decided to put my boots back on, stuff lots of extra layers and food in my rucksack and head back up the hill.
It was 6pm by this point and because Jane had indicated she was going to the closest hill before returning, it felt like she had been out for too long.
Around 25 minutes later I met her. It was a relief, although Jane was a bit confused. She said she had meant she was going to CofC summit and she had texted again later to say she had made the cairn and she was now returning. I had mis-read her first text and did not get the second text until much later that evening.
I explained my concerns and we laughed. Jane further explained that one of her dogs has been a bit of a pest and held her back for a while during her return walk.
The fact that at almost 80, Jane had walked to CofC summit greatly impresses me. If I am as fit and capable at 80, I will be very pleased indeed.
The silver lining to this episode was that I was able to walk back down the hill with my aunt and enjoy a longer chat with her.
We shared a conversation about how much we enjoy the hills of Scotland – and how fantastic it is to be back out in them again after many months of Covid restrictions. Long may it continue.
Corbetts walked: 48