Moorbrock Hill & The Clennoch

This walk starts in the historic upper Ken Valley at Craigengillan. This strath was once widely populated in olden times and Iron and Bronze Age and medieval sites can all be seen in the vicinity. On the opposite side of the burn from where cars can be left the ruins of a substantial medieval village of around twenty houses are sited. In the woods to the southwest there are over 100 burial cairns, the last resting place for people from a local Bronze Age tribe.

Heading north from Craigengillan we make for Moorbrock. Sam Mcmillan my late neighbour, shepherded here for a time. This is also where Tammas Murray the herd poet penned many of his rustic rhymes.

In a ditty to Thomas Little the Grocer he pleads

When first ye up this valley drive,
I wish ye’d bring frae Moniaive,
Or ony place for you maist handy,
New clogs a pair for oor wee Sandy,
His only pair are turned ower little,
Or’s feet for them are turned ower meikle
Sae trustin’ ye’ll get a’ in time,
And pay attention to my rhyme,
I shall remain until ye hurry,
Your humble debtor, Tammas Murray.

Moorbrock is much changed since Murray’s time and there is now a large new house. Murray’s old biggin is still used as a secondary dwelling. Our route climbs steeply up the track from here heading northwest. Where the road veers east away from the Poltie Burn we head for the open hillside to the north. This is the hardest part of the walk with over 250 metres of steady climbing over Coransclue and on to the flattish summit of Moorbrock Hill.

The views over the Ken valley and out to Cairnsmore and beyond are marvellous from here. It’s worth giving a bit of a warning that in mist great caution is needed hereabouts. Moorbrock Gairy has considerable cliffs falling away to the east. Take care. Undulating ground to the northwest leads on to the saddle for Alwhat and Keoch Rig. Just east of here is Luke’s Stone. Who Luke was is a mystery to me? Was he a shepherd, a refugee covenanter or just some traveller in these lonely hills?

From here we climb over Alwhat (not marked on the Landranger map &endash; Grid Reference 612 995) the southwest top of Keoch Rig. From there it is a steepish descent to the welcoming bothy. This was once one of the remotest sheep farms in southern Scotland. One shepherd took ill here and an emergency operation was carried out on him at the house. He was then stretchered out on two cart poles with a piece of carpet strung between them. It took fourteen men to carry the man to the waiting ambu-lance at Craigengillan.

A modern forestry road runs past the Clennoch now and rather sadly this detracts from its loneliness. I remem-ber (pre-road) being involved in carrying in the heavy new roof beams for the now bothy way back in the early 1980s. It was a rough and heavy man-haul from Nick of the Sware to the northwest. I’ve never actually stayed overnight at the Clennoch as we camped during those roofing repairs but I hope to rectify that soon!

The late Mrs Murray used to deliver mail here twice a week from Moorbrock &endash; a good hike for any post delivery. Near the bothy is the poignant site of the Blue Peter plane crash. This Spitfire was named after a Derby winning horse and was piloted by a local man. The remnants of the plane lay undisturbed for decades until the Blue Peter television programme took an interest in the site. The Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Group searched long and hard and eventually found the wreckage and this was filmed for the BBC programme.

The return journey is quite straightforward. Just follow the track over the wild watershed between Moorbrock Hill and Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. This brings you back to Moorbrock and eventually Craigengillan where incidentally a family of McFadzeans once stayed. This is a serious hill walk over high and remote countryside. Be well prepared and leave plenty of time for your journey.

The distance is nearly 9miles and the ascent is 2,000 feet, Landranger Sheet: 77.

Dave McFadzean