The Meaul Circuit at Carsphairn

Meaul is a 2,280ft Donald in Dumfries & Galloway, sitting at the north side of the wonderful Rhinns of Kells ridge (the sprawling range that includes the wonderful Corbett Corserine).

I’ve made quite a habit of ticking off some of the smaller hills in Dumfries & Galloway and have had a great time doing so. Mullwharchar, Millfore, Lamachan Hill and Criffel have been fantastic days out and some (especially Mullwharchar and Lamachan Hill) have been more enjoyable than their bigger Corbett cousins!

If you’ve driven on the A713, which connects Ayrshire to Dumfries & Galloway, you will have seen the beautiful Rhinns of Kells ridge with Corserine towering over everything around it. However, at the north end of the ridge there is a large, imposing lump that seems to guard the south side of Loch Doon. This is Meaul and, along with two other Donald’s of Cairnsgarroch and Coran of Portmark, it makes for a fantastic circuit-walk in the hills. It also takes in the 19th century Woodhead Lead Mine which at one point was home to 300 people and included a little village, with a school and library. The ruins are still visible and makes this walk one for those with an interest in history.

So on a bright day, with Messi in tow, I headed for the pretty little village of Carsphairn to start a walk that would include a historic village, three hills and beautiful views.

Starting Out

I parked at the long, narrow carpark on the A713, at the little bridge over the Water of Deugh which is just a short drive from the village of Carsphairn (it’s the same parking spot for doing Cairnsmore of Carsphairn). It was a lovely sunny day and it wasn’t long before I was booted up and heading out. I’d like to include a wee warning here that the parking area is on a bend where many cars can be doing 60mph (or more!) so be careful when crossing the road here and be EVEN MORE careful after the walk when attempting to drive up and out of the low-sunk parking place!

The start of the walk is immediately over the bridge from the parking area and is marked by a little sign which says ‘Holm of Daltallochan’. From this point on, the walk is desolate and I didn’t see another human being all day (which is blissful!). It was just me, Messi and the wildlife.

The Woodhead Trail Sign

Cows and sheep were in the fields surrounding us as we strolled along the quiet, single-track road. Before crossing a little humpback bridge, be sure to read the fascinating ‘Woodhead Trail’ sign. It shows a walking route for a gentle, 3 mile circular walk through the fields and back to Carsphairn without touching the hills that would make a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll.

It also mentions the Woodhead Lead Mines, telling the story of the over 300 inhabitants who lived and worked there. It’s quite atmospheric.

The Ruined Village

The track soon arrives at the small Garryhorn Farm with a few gates to navigate (they were all tied shut when I was doing the walk, requiring quite a bit of climbing so be warned) and once through it, the track resumes.

It wasn’t long before Meaul came into view but what struck me more was the slow reveal of the ruined village. It takes a lot to distract my attention from hills but the little ruined village, in this secluded part of Dumfries & Galloway did just that.

It’s remote, beautiful and very quiet. The Garryhorn Burn flows through it. It’s a remarkable place and hard to imagine over 300 people living there.

All that’s left is some stonework and the local sheep who now call the area home. In some cases you can see the frames of homes, in others its just foundations and for others all that is visible is a chimney.

The sheep were pottering about the ruins. Amusingly, a large group had surrounded the chimney stack and were leaning against it. Apparently a very comfortable shade-giver on such a sunny day.

Approaching the Ruined Village With Meaul in the Distance
The Ruined Chimney

“The Woodhead Lead Mines operated from 1839 to 1873 and at the height of production in 1858 included 50 dwellings housing a population of over 300, larger than the whole of Carsphairn parish today.”

– Woodhead Trail Sign
The Little Tree Circle With Meaul Behind

Standing in the ruined village, with sheep strolling around me, I wasn’t just hit by the beautiful scenery that surrounded me. I couldn’t help but wonder how few people were even aware of this bit of Dumfries & Galloway history.

I was standing in what had once been a busy mining village and now all that was left were the ruins and some old photographs on the Carsphairn website. Meaul was the reason I was there, the peak that dominated the skyline and many people won’t have heard of it either, preferring Merrick and Corserine to tick off some famous Corbetts.

It really is a fascinating little pocket of Dumfries and Galloway and one that is deserving of the cliche term of ‘hidden gem’.

If you’d like to learn more about the mine and the village, HERE is an article by J. Sassoon on the Carsphairn website that will teach you more.

Knocktower and Coran of Portmark

At the western side of the village, a small track points into woodland. I veered from the track, instead follwing a path that heads towards the hill ‘Knocktower’. Thankfully, on this 3-summit day, bagging Knocktower wasn’t necessary and instead I followed the path around the ‘waist’ of Knocktower before it begins to climb to the first target of the day: the summit of Coran of Portmark.

Meaul, Bow and Cairnsgarroch

The views were beautiful and it was a fantastic day to be on the hills, with a warm sun and a gentle breeze. The views along the ridge were fantastic and we were both enjoying following the little path which was climbing gently up to Coran of Portmark. Before we knew it, we were on the 2,044ft summit.

To our side was the sprawling Loch Doon and to our other was Meaul. There was no sign of a human and it was blissful.

The Summit of Coran of Portmark
Looking Along Loch Doon From the Ridge

Between Coran of Portmark and Meaul there is some gentle ‘up and down’ but the path is always clear and frankly, the effort is aboslutely worth it because in between them is the wonderfully named hill ‘Bow’.

You can tell people you’ve been on ‘Bow’. Now, I’m not sure if this is pronounced ‘Bow’ (like a bow and arrow) or, as I much prefer, ‘Bow’ (like the noise a dog makes). Now, this is my blog and until someone tells me different that’s how I’m pronouncing it.

My Bow-Wow on the Summit of Bow (I promise I’ll stop)

Amusingly, and somewhat typically, as we departed Bow the clouds thickened and our lovely sunny day became a bit cloudy and overcast. I didn’t mind though as the flat ridge was such a lovely place to be, with easy walking and views all around.

I was looking forward to seeing Corserine and discovering what Meaul’s cairn would be like.

The final ascent was relatively easy, with a little lochan just at the foot of the final push to Meaul, which Messi took full advantage of. I stood in silence, with the breeze keeping me cool as he trotted off to splash in the water. Upon his return, we made the final push to the summit and we were well rewarded.

Looking to Corserine From Meaul

The summit is marked with a large trig cairn and really is in a lovely spot. Corserine towers above, further along the ridge. Loch Doon was sparkling far below and we had views for miles in all directions, especially northwards towards Ayrshire and to the east. Cairnsmore of Carsphairn marks the skyline to the north and more immediately, Cairnsgarroch was sitting, the last target of the day.

The Summit of Meaul With Cairnsgarroch Beyond

I was having a great time and was still feeling fresh on what had been a very enjoyable circuit. Meaul was the half-way point and now we just had to descend to the final summit of the day, the 2,162ft Cairnsgarroch.

A little track leaves the summt of Meaul and gently descends before climbing again to the summit of Cairnsgarroch. This is the last uphill section of the day and the 3rd Donald of the circuit. Cairnsgarroch offers lovely views of the the entire ridge, both northwards to Coran of Portmark and southwards to Corserine.

Now at this point I should highlight that Cairnsgarroch is only 120ft smaller than Meaul, and is about 100ft higher than Coran of Portmark. I suggest doing this circuit anti-clockwise, the way I have done it. Some people do this circuit clockwise and I’m sure that must make this circuit much more difficult. Why? Because Cairnsgarroch is where the track ends.

The Summit of Cairnsgarroch

Once we departed the summit of Cairnsgarroch the little track dissolved in the heather and the descent back to the ruined village became rather steep, through thick heather. Avoiding boulders and plotting a safe route was my main focus and it only got worse.

Once we reached the bottom of Cairnsgarroch and were in the valley there was still no path and two large issues developed. Firstly, we would need to ford the Garryhorn Burn and there is no bridge to do so. Now, I was aware of this and the burn wasn’t in spate so I was relatively confident of finding some rocks to cross over. The second issue was far more important: tussocks.

The going became very, very tough. Thick climbs of grass dotted with invisible holes made progress slow, warm and tedious. I tripped more than once and uttered a swear word or two for good measure also. Messi, meanwhile, looked like a spring bunny, bounding his way through the thick grass and reeds as we slowly proceeded towards the burn.

There was only one highlight of this whole experience: the butterflies.

A Scotch Argus Butterfly

I’d noticed on the descent of Cairnsgarroch that some lovely little butterflys were fluttering about. They were black, with reddish orange colouring around the edges of their wings. I was loving them and they were very, very pretty. They’d land and their wings would look black and orange. Then, when in flight, they’d look black and red.

Now, I’m no butterfly enthusiast so I had to Google them when I got home and they are a ‘Scotch Argus’ (Erebia Aethiops). Apparently they like pinewoods and mountains and are spread throughout Europe. Incredibly, they can apparently live at altitudes of up to 8,000ft!

The Walk Home

Mercifully, we finally arrived at the edge of the burn. It was the hardest part of the day and I stopped for a drink while Messi dove into the burn to cool down. What followed was a walk along the burn to try and find some stones to hop across and it took a wee bit longer than I’d anticipated but we eventually made it over. Another two gates jumped and we were back on the track in the ruined village.

Looking to Cairnsgarroch From Garryhorn Burn

I took one last little look at the ruins before heading back along the track and before I knew it I’d passed through the farm and was back at the car.

Despite the difficulty at the end, it had been a fantastic day in the hills. I’d bagged 3 Donalds, learned all about a fascinating part of Dumfries & Galloway history, and had even seen some very pretty butterflies!

Meaul is not a well-known hill in the south of Scotland. There are 7 wonderful Corbetts to bag and I appreciate that it won’t be a priority-walk for many hikers. Having said this, I really can’t recommend it enough. I truly love walking on the Rhinns of Kells ridge (Corserine is one of my favourite Corbetts) and Meaul is a real highlight: it offers wonderful views of the surrounding peaks and the beautiful countryside.

The ruined village and quiet, people-free element of this walk are just the icing on the cake.

If you’re looking for a walk that’s a little bit different in Dumfries & Galloway, I highly recommend you consider Meaul.

Route Information

Route Length: 11 miles

Area Postcode: DG7 3TH

Parking: FREE

Leave a Comment