Published 14th June 2018, 18:27

    IT'S no secret that Scotland is a wonderful wee country with disproportionately big views, but every so often I am reminded of the sheer scale of the diversity of our mountain landscape.

    A few miles in any direction provides dramatic change; from soaring jagged peaks, to broody lone sentinels, through huge glens bookended by ridges stretching as far as the eye can see, to the gentle rolling greens, each area has a distinct identity.

    Having spent so much time recently in Lochaber and the North-west Highlands, I felt like a change of scenery and as the weather was best in the south-west I decided to head for the Galloway Forest.

    This land has a natural vocabulary of its own, rigs, nieves and spits peppering the maps. It is a landscape strewn with plane wreckage and memorials, rife with legends and nefarious deeds, of murders, reivers and rogues.

    I managed to find accommodation right at the gates of Glen Trool, a real hidden gem, so much so that the hardest navigation I had over the three days proved to be finding this cottage in the woods.

    The next day was one full of surprises, a round taking in the highest hill in the south, The Merrick, and then continuing the round over the Dungeon of Buchan range.

    It's been 16 years since I last visited The Merrick. My mountain memory bank is normally excellent but I confess to being overdrawn on this occasion – I had little or no recognition of my surroundings or the initial part of the walk.

    Once higher on the hill, some familiarity kicked in, but it still stayed relatively distant. Okay, I had set off the last time in the dark and I suspect it may have been one of my sleepwalking nights. Recollection is dim, but the pictures don't lie - I was there.

    A day of midge hell looked on the cards, but as soon as I started climbing on the well-signed path the little blighters seemed to vanish. 

    I passed Culsharg bothy, sadly, like so many shelters in this part of the country, a target for vandals, windows smashed, graffiti carved on the partly open front door, the detritus of the mindless strewn around.

    I met one walker heading down from the summit, the only one I would see all day. It had taken just over an hour and a half to hit the top - the hard work was still to come.

    The route onwards to Mullwharchar involves outflanking steep faces and heading to the shores of Loch Enoch, which from certain angles looks like a butterfly in flight. This loch, the highest and deepest in this part of the country, has another loch on one of its islands, a natural take on the infinity photo of a man in a mirror.

    Mullwharchar was the next surprise. I had always expected the crossing to be tough going and the climb up its slope rockier and harder, but the recent dry conditions meant a soft but firm approach and a grassy ascent.

    It's chilling to think this was proposed as a nuclear dump site in the 1970s. Thankfully, the environmental protests won the day, and the only glow you get is a warm one from drinking in the wonderful feeling of emptiness.

    The climb to Dungeon Hill is simple and swift, but then came the biggest surprise of the day, Craignaw. This is a magnificent hill, with a route weaving through verdant grasses, up deep gullies and across rock plates spattered with erratics, as though a giant had spilled his bag of marbles.

    Time to head down, and I aimed for the neck of land between two lochs to pick up a path running along the side of Buchan Hill. I had been warned that this path was difficult and boggy and in wet (normal) weather that may be the case, but the biggest danger here was falling between the cracks of the patches of parched earth.

    Soon the bracken took over, chest-high and crowding in to the extent that my feet became detached from view as I descended fast in the heat. From below all one would see would be a floating head moving through a sea of vegetation.

    Next day I satisfied myself with a shorter day on Cairnsmore of Fleet, a beautiful walk of shifting terrains, and the scene of multiple air crashes. The memorial near the summit commemorates more than two dozen air crew lost between 1940 and 1979.

    Here, instead of deer charging along the horizon, there were herds of wild goats sweeping majestically across the slopes (apologies and thanks to Basil Fawlty). Vive le difference.