The Galloway Rut

Listening for the rut at Meikle Lump above Loch Dungeon, with Corserine in the background

Listening for the rut at Meikle Lump above Loch Dungeon, with Corserine in the background

I am used to thinking of the Chayne as “hill country”, so it is often humbling to head a few miles west to take in some real wilderness. By comparison to the Rhinns of Kells or the Awful Hand, the Chayne is a short stump rising out of the moss. These massive ranges block out the entire western horizon, making vast, rolling silhouettes which seem to challenge the awesome bulk of the Peak District to the south. Heading over to visit a friend at Meikle Millyea yesterday, I was reminded of the sheer brilliance of the Galloway Hills, where red deer, pine martens and goats create an atmosphere reminiscent of the Highlands while still keeping hold of a uniquely “south west” flavour.

Up on the face of the Meikle Lump, grouse rose up from the wiry heather, and a blue hare provoked Scoop by winding through the broken stones just inches ahead of her nose. Nothing can make ground on a mountain hare when it has its native moss beneath it, and the determined labrador soon fell by the wayside as the hare turned and glided up an almost vertical cliff face. There are blackgame on the lower ground, and although we didn’t see them there, it was not hard to imagine that the white, rustling grasses held greyhens crouching with their grown broods. Browning sprigs of myrtle and heather seemed to taunt me every few yards, and I stopped again and again, certain that the jutting plants were really the periscope heads and shoulders of cunning blackcock. Interestingly, we saw a ring ouzel bobbing through the stones as we climbed. Ouzels are officially described as being “extinct as breeding bird” in Galloway, and while I would question the accuracy of this statement, I would imagine that this bird had started its migration from further up North and was merely passing through to the Mediterranean.

Sitting above the Dungeon Loch, my friend and I listened to stags bellowing in the distant forestry as the evening came on and the stars began to come out. A party of four hinds worked their way around the contours of the hill, pausing two hundred yards below us to browse amongst the heather. Out on the scree banks to the north where the eagles sometimes nest, small white spots indicated where the goats were moving. They must have been a mile away, and we crouched on the stones to rest our binoculars as the roaring from the forest grew louder and more clear. Ravens clocked and rolled over the steepest faces, dropping themselves off precipices and catching themselves at the last minute with crackling, bony wings.

It is an odd thing about Galloway’s red dere population that they use the trees so keenly. I am used to seeing red deer in the highlands, where an exposed landscape leaves them little in the way of cover. Now that so much of the Galloway Hills has been planted up with sitka spruce trees, it seems inevitable that the deer should have got used to life in the woods. After all, that is where they started. But it seems odd that they emerge like roe deer in the last whisps of daylight to ghost their massive heads through the midges. We watched a stag as he thrashed the bracken and then looped his neck into a long, ringing bellow which reached our ears several seconds later.

A beautiful three quarter moon danced in the Solway as we walked up over the cairn at Meikle Millyea and began to descend via a long, shattered corrie of granite, moss and running water. We could have been anywhere in Wester Ross or Sutherland as the vast landscape gathered a blanket of gloom around itself, without a single pinprick of electric light as far as the eye could see. Stags roared in the darkness and snipe rose skreiking from the puddles and splashes of the path. The great spread of mountains from Curleywee to the Cairnsmore of Fleet fanned out to the southwest, while the humps of Blackcraig and Carsphairn broke the horizon to the northeast.

It felt as though we had walked all night by the time we returned to the car, but in reality it was only a little after eight o’clock. I know the Galloway Hills quite well, but this was my first time on Meikle Millyea. Because it sits so near to the massive bulk of Corserine, the 749m high mountain often looks small and unremarkable by comparison. Perhaps it is not one of the best known mountains, it certainly has an engaging charm in October amidst roaring stags, bog myrtle and a rising gibbous moon. All this within twelve miles of the Chayne.

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