MY experience of the hills of the south has generally been one that would severely test the most optimistic of souls.
So heading for the Galloway high tops with a forecast of thunderstorms and lightning may have seemed like asking for trouble. What could possibly go right?
Well, surprisingly, just about everything. I had been planning a couple of big rounds and had committed to two nights' stay based on an earlier promise of better conditions.
After seeing the more up-to-date rain predictions, however, I decided to play it smart. I would break the biggest day into two shorter outings, taking advantage, hopefully, of promised weather windows.
The hills on the south side of Glen Trool provide a long, tough day, but I reckoned I could take out the outlying Millfore with a fast ascent on the car journey down, then the other more compact threesome starting early next day.
I travelled down for three hours in misty, murky conditions, hardly a view in sight. But just as I arrived at the Black Loch, the skies cleared, the sun came out and suddenly all was sweetness and light.
An hour and a half later and I was at the summit of Millfore, basking in an evening glow, a light breeze providing a natural fan, the yellow swathes of bog asphodel waving lazily in perfect harmony.
The only down side was that I wouldn't now be visiting the White Lochan of Drigmorn. This remote body of water was used for curling in the 19th Century. There is also a stone shelter on its northern shore said to have been built by soldiers stationed at Newton Stewart during the Crimean War.
My base for the night was the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown. Its claim to fame is that it was used for filming scenes for The Wicker Man, the 1973 cult classic that featured Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and, of course, Britt Ekland as the landlord's daughter. Ah Britt, what teenage boy could forget that scene?
The hotel is festooned with memorabilia. There's even a Wickerman beer. The one snag was that there was no food available. Ach well, when your day job involves catching and then burning virgins in giant straw effigies, I suppose it's only natural you may overlook the supermarket run.
I survived the night, no sight or sound of Britt writhing around naked in an adjoining room, although seeing she's now 76 that was probably a good thing for both of us.
I set off walking just after 6am, hoping to stay ahead of the rain said to be arriving around noon. I could cope with an hour of wetness on the way out. The early morning light over the loch lit Bruce's Stone to a glowing beacon, the initial track walk beside the water filled with birdsong, butterflies and rushing burns. Even the head-high bracken looked benign, water droplets refracting from the fronds.
There had to be a negative, and it came in the shape of the initial ascent, a steep climb through dense vegetation up the side of a series of waterfalls. There was a path of sorts, but it had been reclaimed by the ankle-hugging grasses, tussocks and deep heather and the aforementioned bracken was not so pretty now. Still, it had to be better than the suggested ascent of the opposite bank. I must admit that I would pay to watch anyone try to get up there.
Once out of the jungle, my soaking feet and legs led me to the Nick of the Lochans and over to Larg Hill and then up to Lamachan Hill, the high point of the day. From there I followed the ups and downs of a rollercoaster in miniature along to the shapely Curleywee. En route I had passed over a few more Nicks – Nick of the Bushy, Nick of Corners Gale and Nick of Curleywee. They certainly like their Nicks around these parts.
The view over to Millfore confirmed I had been right to tackle it the evening before; it looked a long way over more rough ground and the clouds were starting to gather.
What goes up must come down, however, and the descent from Curleywee, while short-lived, was over some of the worst terrain I have ever experienced. Hidden crags, deep holes, mini cornices of heather and other vegetation that seemed to be reaching out to snare passing prey – this was the Galloway hills in a 45-minute nutshell.
The hills are fine, but they are better suited to winter and early spring, not high summer when the greenery is at its height. I loved the ridge, but getting on to it and off it again would make me think twice about ever revisiting.
The predicted rain failed to come to anything, and the views stayed with me all the way back to the start. For once my master plan had worked; two days that had looked ominous gave me perfect views without a soaking.
Even taking my boots off to reveal a sock full of blood from ripped toes couldn't diminish my mood. The Galloway hills had taken their pound of flesh once again, but it was well worth it.