The Merrick and the Big Cat of Dalrigh!

8 12 2011

Oct 2008

On the way up to Arran a couple of Octobers ago, Richard and I decided to stop in Dumfries & Galloway as we’d decided to do the Corbett of Merrick as a warm-up.


Different Hills but Typical Dumfries & Galloway Hillscape (East of Carsphairn)

The morning was extremely frosty and I found driving up the minor road of Glen Trool got increasingly scary, especially the final uphill to the carpark near Bruce’s Stone where we booted up and skated across the carpark to the start of the path. Luckily walking on the path was fine and after about half a mile it headed pleasantly through the forest to Culsharg Bothy where we had a quick break in the sunshine sat outside the pleasant cottage. Some folks feel this bothy is haunted and someone has actually recorded what sounds like someone talking (I can’t hear it personally)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRN5nVl3dsA

From there the path climbs steeply up alongside the burn, out of the forest, and then at the top of the corrie, turns north-east and follows a wall to the summit of Benyellary. At this point the extensive views open out along the ridge to Merrick – a good track along a gentle ridge with views either side – just my sort of thing!


Loch Enoch from ridge to Merrick

The climb up to Merrick was exceedingly easy… While we lingered at the summit cairn I looked at the onward view to Kirriereoch Hill and further hills beyond and admitted to being tempted to continue. Richard however had no interest – he’d done the highest hill in Dumfries & Galloway and was going back. I had a peep over the edge of the escarpment down the steep narrow ridge of ‘Little Spear’. It was thoroughly iced up and looked tricky. Just at that moment, we heard an approaching engine. It was a quad bike with not one, but 4 😮 shepherds sat on it, one even in front of the handlebars. They shot off over the edge without any hesitation and disappeared down said icy narrow ridge. We were both totally gobsmacked.

I watched them get safely down to the col where they dismounted and proceeded to clamber about after sheep on the steep, loose, rocky slopes above ‘Howe of the Cauldron’. One of them even started a rock avalanche. By now I had picked my way down the steep ice to the same col and continued past them. As I looked back, I noticed Richard was still watching my progress.

After descending to, and crossing another short col it was an easy, steady, short climb up to Kirriereoch. I noticed at the summit that Richard had by now left Merrick.


Merrick from Kirriereoch

I looked all around at the extensive mountain landscape and wondered how much more I could get away with doing bearing in mind I didn’t have many hours before it dropped dark and quite a long walk back. I descended towards Mulwharchar and really wanted to go up it and back over the ‘Range of the Awful Hand’- a name I always thought enticing.


Mulwharchar Across Loch Enoch

This would have involved a very rough, and no doubt pathless, crossing of Dungeon Hill/Craignairy, Craig Neldricken and Buchan Hill back to the carpark. After a bit of agonising, I sadly decided I really didn’t have the time left so just headed for the very lovely Loch Enoch.


Loch Enoch


Loch Enoch Islands

From there I just followed the burn down the defile between the hills, at one point scaring a herd of red deer hinds into jumping the wire fence – one getting caught up briefly and making me feel guilty. Then the path left the burn to go into the forest. The forest was misty with an air-frost and the grass completely white and crunchy with the freezing dampness. I soon ended up walking beside the burn again after its confluence with another one. The path eventually ascends the hillside again to come out on the original route above Culsharg but I decided I’d best stay on the river bank as it was shorter and it was getting pretty dark.

By the time I got back to the car Richard was quite ratty as he was by now frozen – he was sat inside the car but it was extremely frozen up. I said I’d been as quick as I could. I told him he was allowed to start the engine though even if he doesn’t drive!

In the evening, we were staying at a nice little place called St. John’s Town of Dalrigh. It had lovely quiet country lanes and after the evening meal I went on my usual late-night walk around them.

I’d walked a couple of miles and found a nice connecting lane past a loch and through some woodland. I was walking through the woodland in complete darkness when, on passing some bushes, I heard a long, low growling/snarling sound. At first I thought I must be imagining things but no, there it was again… It most definitely wasn’t a dog, and to my mind sounded more like a ‘big cat’. I know there are supposedly quite a few big cat sightings in England and Scotland and have to admit to being pretty worried.

I looked around and found a nice big piece of log, and decided the only thing I could do if it pounced was to wedge that between its jaws and hope that sufficed. I kept looking round as I walked to see if there were any large, dark shapes following me but it was too dark to see anything. I was sure that at any moment, two huge paws would thud into my back, I’d be floored and eaten alive. It was the only time I’ve ever questioned my late-night forays into the countryside but I was questioning them now.

I made it back to the pub where I must have looked a bit shaken as my parents, who also happened to be staying in the same village and had dined with us, asked me what was wrong. I told them about my ‘encounter’. My Dad decided to quiz the barmaid and she promptly agreed it would be a big cat, thought there were some in the area, and promptly told all the locals. She also arranged a taxi home – she normally walked!

The next day I decided to go back to look in the bushes to see if there was any sign of anything. When I got to the place Richard wouldn’t get out of the car – he wasn’t worried, he just couldn’t be bothered, so I got out and went back to the bush. I was astounded to hear the snarling noise again! I couldn’t believe it – it surely shouldn’t still be there? Periodically hearing the growling I went into the woods to investigate as I couldn’t see anything in the bush. The noise was then coming from behind me but I still couldn’t see anything. I then saw a nice roe deer in a nearby field and decided to watch that for a bit and ignore the growling, but I did notice the growling noise seemed to coincide with times when the breeze got up a bit.

Then, all was revealed… there was a gust of breeze (if you can have such a thing), a long growling noise… followed by a high-pitched creak/squeak… the bloody noise was a tree creaking! It honestly didn’t sound anything like that, it distinctly sounded like a growl! How embarrassing – and now the population of Dalrigh are living in mortal fear of a growling tree! 😉 I had the mickey taken out of me the rest of the holiday too.

I haven’t any photos of a big cat – have a Dumfries-shire slow worm instead!

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14 responses

17 12 2011
bob

Never seen a slow worm.One creature that has always managed to avoid me.
I,m fairly sure there are a few big cats out there roaming wild.Not much chance of seeing one though and proving it beyond doubt unless someone manages to shoot one.I know a few places where wild boar are supposed to be found in Scotland but seeing them is another matter.

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19 12 2011
mountaincoward

Ah, now I do know someone who’s seen a wild boar – I think it was somewhere like the Corrieyairack Pass. I wouldn’t be keen on seeing those out on the hills either – they can be pretty nasty I think. I was walking in the Lakes once with Richard and we bumped into free-ranging pigs on the hill – we weren’t keen on those either. My uncle used to keep them and I know how bad their bites can be. Luckily they were okay but Richard’s face was a picture (shame I didn’t take a picture of it). Although I’m very used to farm animals, I spent a lot of time looking at the length of their mouths as I passed and thinking how nicely my thigh would fit in there! LOL

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10 12 2011
Scotlands Mountains

Loch Enoch is a beautiful place,isn`t it ?
I had my own big cat experience years ago when bivvying in the woods in Perthshire.Turned out it was a hedgehog rustling in the fallen leaves a few yards away 🙂

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10 12 2011
mountaincoward

This is fast turning into a discussion board on scary (and mistaken) experiences while out in the dark LOL! Keep ’em coming 😉

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9 12 2011
fedupofuserids

Hi, Carol – Not sure how to put a ‘clicky’ url on wordpress (feel free to edit) but heres the link to the Grey Man of Merrick and a site with a lot of info/routes that may be of interest to anybody visiting the area.

Its not as close to Loch Enoch as I thought but not too far from the route you took.

http://www.walkscotland.plus.com/Galloway/pages/awfl_h/merrck2buchnrdg.htm

Simon

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9 12 2011
mountaincoward

It works fine Simon – many thanks for that. It’ll certainly add extra interest to my post and I’ll definitely be going looking for that next time I’m in the area 🙂
Carol.

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9 12 2011
fedupofuserids

It did make for an amusing post Carol in a great area. Did you see the grey man nr Loch Enoch ?

As to the challenge : not in a dark wood – but once when I was caving down some disused mines – we heard a strange unrecognisable hammering noise. After a while we still had not located the sound which grew louder as we explored deeper. As our imagination ran away with us, we convinced ourselves it was the spirits of ‘knockers’. Upon entering the next chamber we discovered it was no more than water dripping on a piece of scaffold pipe resonating and echoing around the workings. But I’m not sure I would tell anyone, oops 🙂

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15 08 2015
mountaincoward

Go on – write it up! 😉

What’s this about a grey man at Loch Enoch? Haven’t heard anything about that…

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8 12 2011
Paul Shorrock

Great post, Carol. A dear friend of mine, now dead, was the head forester for a large estate in South Scotland, and we always said we would do the round of the Merrick Hills – still on my wish list, along with dozens of other projects. So much to do….etc. Ho hum!
Great tale about the cat! I’m with Fedup, though – I would have kept quiet about the tree! 😀

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8 12 2011
fedupofuserids

Not sure I would have admitted to the ‘growling tree’ 😀

Used to camp at the now closed Glen Trool campsite with my parents when I was kid – too young to remember the hills, but at least its an excuse to go back.

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15 08 2015
mountaincoward

Fedup – nah, if I’d kept quiet that the growling was actually a creaking tree, the post would have looked exciting but not been amusing. I don’t mind laughing at myself and saying how stupid I was to think i was being stalked by a big cat. Having said that, I challenge anyone else out at that time of night on a lonely and dark lane through a wood, not to think the worst on hearing that noise. It was quite bloodcurdling for a tree.

Paul, spot on for the explanation of ‘gobsmacked’. I did wonder whether anyone outside of the UK would know what I meant.

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8 12 2011
seekraz

Beautiful hike and fun story…and forgive my American-ness, but what in hell does “gobsmacked” mean? 🙂

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8 12 2011
Paul Shorrock

Perhaps I could help (sorry for butting in, Carol)
‘Gob’ is a British slang word for mouth.
Imagine someone saying ‘Oh My God’, as done in the US, complete with hand coming up to cover the mouth (don’t know why people do that, but they also do the same in the UK)
So you are, in effect, ‘smacking’ or striking your ‘gob’, hence you are ‘gobsmacked’!
In other words, amazed, astonished, etc, etc.
Well, that’s my explanation – any Brits care to challenge that? 😀

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8 12 2011
seekraz

Certainly makes sense…thank you, Paul. 🙂

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