The Ken valley at Smittons Bridge is around 10 miles (20 minutes drive) from Moniaive but the area is especially scenic and historically very rewarding. The effort of the drive to this part of Galloway is amply repaid with fine hill walking, several historic sites and wonderful panoramic views.
The route is longer than our usual rambles but being partly along a way marked pathway and given the long hours of summer daylight at this time of year, this walk shouldn’t prove too arduous an outing for a reasonably fit hiker. Leaving a second car at Cornharrow road-end, to ferry you back to Smittons, will shorten this route by just under 2 miles.
There is ample parking at Smittons Bridge and that is where we start our walk. A brisk and sometimes bouldery climb lands the walker at the ancient Iron Age Fort on top of Stroanfreggan Craig. Two rings of now scattered stones show where the defensive walls of the fort once were. Peaceful now, this fort must have seen bloody past times. The view to the northwest from here is particularly fine with Moorbrock Hill, Beninner and Cairnsmore of Carsphairn drawing the watchers eye.
From Stroanfreggan Craig our path descends to the northeast and joins the Southern Upland Way Scotland’s longest designated footpath. Way marker posts lead onwards and upwards to the gap between Dunnans Crag and Stellhead and the forestry is reached there. The summit of Manquhill Hill is left bare of trees and it is a fine place to linger and take in the views.
The upper Ken Valley is spread out before you to the west and the massive wind turbines on Windy Standard draw the watchers eye further to the northwest. To the south and on eastwards Carroch Hill, Greengair, Cornnharrow and Wether Hill dominate the skyline. Benbrack, the second highest point on the Southern Upland Way, overshadows the vista and blocks the view into Cairnhead to the east.
Continuing over Craigencarse we come onto a track above two small lochans at Habbies Howe. From here those wishing to take in Benbrack can climb on steadily for that summit but our route bends back southwards down the track towards Manquhill. The bothy at Manquhill is sadly no longer an open shelter. I had my stag night at this howff and remember during one winter visit being snowed in there.
The route passes two more lochans and crosses over a bridge with a locked gate. The track then follows the Stroanfreggan burn to Cornharrow and from there it leads back to the Moniaive /Carsphairn road. A pad along this tarred road westwards brings us back Smittons.
Distance: 8 miles approx. Ascent: 1,100 feet