Happy New Year to everyone!
In a determined effort to walk off the mince pies the DH and I decided on a fairly rigorous (for us) New Year’s Day hill climb. Criffel is one of those hills, practically on the doorstep that you intend to climb and never get round to it. January 1st was a gorgeous, gloriously sunny day here in south west Scotland, we didn’t have anything else which needed to be done so there was no reason not to do it.
At 569m / 1867ft Criffel is by no means the highest of Dumfries and Galloway’s hills, but looks higher because of the way it rises up from the flat coastal around the Solway. It dominates the landscape and is the eighth most prominent hill in southern Scotland.
There’s a car park for walkers at Ardwall Mains, a farm about two miles from New Abbey. Leaving the car park, the route is well signed up a good footpath which climbs up through the trees. It crosses over a forest road continuing upwards, ever upwards with Craigrockall Burn tumbling down on our right.
The view down to Kindar Loch with its islands and crannog, the Solway Firth and across to Cumbria is beautiful but I’m already puffing. Glad to stop for a photo opportunity, it’s then my camera battery dies and we have to rely on the DH’s phone. When I check my watch and discover we’ve only been walking for about twenty minutes I’m worried. The printout of the route describes this part of the climb as ‘gentle’.
The DH has a much greater lung capacity than I have so he’s not bothered.
At the end of the forestry where a gate heralds the finish of the well-constructed path we’ve been slogging up I insist on stopping for some coffee and a few dried apricots to fortify myself for what’s ahead.
As I sip my coffee I watch people coming down the hill. They look like they’re drunk, staggering and zig-zagging all over the place. Once we go through the gate, I understand. We now have to climb up a very muddy path. No, that’s not true; it’s actually endless bog and heather and it’s a real struggle.
I have to take frequent pauses to admire the view over Loch Kindar which is sparkling in the sun and Estuary beyond.
Looking up is not a good idea for the summit remains hidden. ‘Not far now,’ call out people coming back down the slope, looking a lot more cheerful than I do. When I’ve paused for the twentieth time, the DH says it’s okay if I don’t want to carry on. ‘We can do it another day.’ No chance. I’m going to get there because I am not doing this again.
A couple overtakes us – everyone who started after us overtakes us – and the woman says she’s pretty sure it levels off soon. Says she’ll wave to us if she’s right. I give up watching for her wave and eventually they disappear from view.
Finally, we near the huge summit cairn – known as Douglas’s Cairn. Reputedly, one of the Douglases, Earls of Morton, was buried underneath it but it is more likely to be simply a marker cairn.
It’s even squelchier between it and the trig point a short distance away. And it’s bitterly cold. Convinced my feet are wet, I remove a boot to discover my socks are bone dry although my feet are numb.
We have another coffee while we admire the superb views all around: the Solway Firth, river estuaries and the English Lake District, with Skiddaw nodding over at Criffel. It’s too cold to linger and we set off back down. Now, it’s our turn to do the zigzag walk in an attempt to avoid the worst bits of bog.
The DH has had a problem with an ulcer in his ankle and can’t wear his proper walking boots or it opens up again so he is wearing his special walking crocs. These have done sterling service all over the mountains of La Gomera, on long country walks here but Riffle’s mud proved too much. His feet suddenly slid from under him and down he went – not once, not twice but, ‘I’m trying to keep it so single figures,’ he says as he goes down for the ninth time.
Unfortunately, the tenth time he goes down, one of his crocs vanishes into the bog. It disappears without a trace. Until then, I’d been laughing and wishing my camera battery hadn’t died but the thought of having to go to the car, fetch fresh footwear and climb back up, stopped that. Using his walking poles – both by now quite bent – he fished around in the various holes the croc might have gone down. It would be a great place to dispose of a body – though getting it up there would be difficult. I suppose you’d have to commit the murder in situ. By some miracle he found the croc.
Once on the dry path again, his crocs and socks washed in the burn, we made good progress back to the car park. I’m glad I can say I have climbed Criffel but I don’t intend to do it again any time soon. I reckon I walked off both the mince pies and the Christmas pudding!