Walk 95 – Blackcraig Hill, East Ayrshire – 5.4 miles

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Blackcraig Hill is located in the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere close to the East Ayrshire town of New Cumnock. It's the highest peak in the area (700 m / 2296 ft) and on a clear day you will be rewarded with simply stunning views from the top. A gravel track leads you a good way up with the remainder following faint trails through steep and often boggy moorland. Some navigation skills are required to reach the summit cairn and trig point in poor visibility. Total walk distance (to the summit and back) is 5.4 miles.

  Car parking available for 2 cars just off Afton Road before the bridge to Blackcraig Farm (KA18 4PR). Alternatively there is a larger lay-by a little further along Afton Road. No public transport to start point. Closest train station New Cumnock, 5 miles away.

TERRAIN: good gravel track, followed by a fairly steep ascent on a faint moss and heather trail up the hillside. Can be very boggy. One stile.

os-logo Purchase the Ordnance Survey map for the area

This hill!!! It had been haunting me for months! A suggestion from a friend as one of my hills for the Trail Magazine 7 Summits Challenge (2016)… At first I was excited to discover a decent sized hill a stones-throw away from where I lived. Quickly my excitement turned to anxiety as I began researching the route and found out that it was a pathless hill with many different approach options and worst of all it had no formal write up on Walkhighlands which is my bible for the hills. Eek! What would I do? I couldn’t navigate to save myself!

I decided to suss things out for myself when one beautiful sunny July day I took my kids a drive into Glen Afton. I figured if I could at least see where to start the walk and what the hill looked like then maybe it would all make sense. We ended up doing a really nice walk in Glen Afton that day and I fell in love with the area. However my anxieties about how I would reach the top of Blackcraig Hill only got worse when I could not for the life of me find any sign of Blackcraig Farm which was where I had read I was supposed to park in order to safely cross the Afton Water.  Disaster!  What was I going to do?! I had committed to this wee hill and I couldn’t let it defeat me! It was the last one left to do on my 7 Summits List! I figured I would take someone else with me; that would solve all my problems….

Fast forward almost 4 months and it was now a very chilly November morning. I had convinced my husband to get up before the sun to come with me to New Cumnock to climb this hill. On the way there in the car I decided it might be a good idea to drop the bombshell that I actually didn’t know where the start of the walk was and that there was no path to the top.  I should add at this point that my husband is not an experienced hillwalker and so it was starting to look like a case of the blind leading the blind. However…. it was a crisp, sunny, cloud-free morning and I was up for the challenge. I knew that if the cloud stayed high I would be comfortable finding a safe way up and just having someone with me gave me that little boost of confidence I was needing.

I found the parking area very easily, thanks to the photos on this walk review. From there the bridge was obvious. I wasn’t sure at which point we were to come off the road and head into the unknown – some reviews seemed to suggest it was before the farmhouse and some after. I had read enough to know that we had to cross a burn at some point and so when we found a wrought iron sheet crossing the burn before the farmhouse we figured here was as good a place as any. I will admit I was very apprehensive about the safety of that ‘bridge’! I had visions of my foot going right through it and me tumbling into the burn below. Thankfully it held our weight just fine and I was happy to learn that it led to a gate which had a faint path leading away from it uphill to a second gate. So far so good. Who said there was no path!?

I am pretty sure they were merely sheep paths, but we did follow some tracks for quite a long way up. As long as we were heading in the right direction I was happy. The view across to the snow-capped Galloway Hills was spectacular with the low morning sun shining directly on them (it was still only 9am!)

Having published this route report in 2016, a few people contacted me asking why I hadn’t just followed the good track most of the way up the hill to the fence and then followed the fence to the top? This also avoided having to cross the increasingly hazardous wrought iron bridge. Well this sounded very sensible indeed and I made a note on my ‘to re-walk’ list that I should go back and check that option out. It somehow took me 7 years to do so! In that time however, I had become much more proficient at map-reading during my training as a Lowland Walk Leader, so I could easily see the “good track” and the fenceline and what made perfect sense as a much better route option. And so on a bright February morning in 2024 I set off with fellow walk guide Gaby (Skylark Guiding) for an adventure.

As we drove down Glen Afton we could see a decent covering of snow on Blackcraig Hill which neither of us had expected. We found the “good track” no bother, which led us up the side of a lovely stream to the fence. We followed the fence until we saw the first cairn, veered across to the cairn in increasingly chilly winds, then hopped over the fence to the trig point.

The wind was vicious up here and bitter cold, both times. We hung around long enough to soak up the stunning views and take the obligatory summit selfies before heading back down. With Gaby we picked out a pathless descent route on the map which made for a bit of an adventure when we unexpectedly ended up at the wrong side of a forest which wasn’t on the map, surrounded by deer fencing which wasn’t on the map… We climbed the fence, hopped over the Craig Burn, following it downstream over tussocky moorland heather and moss (climbing another deer fence), to eventually reach Cragdarroch Farm and do the last section along the road back to the car. Phew! Hence my recommendation to return via the same route you go up…

The parking area is where the pile of rubble is to the right of this photo. To the left you can see the footbridge which takes you over the Afton Water. A good view of Blackcraig Hill in the background.
Track from the bridge towards Blackcraig Farm
Continuation of the route is via the kissing gate to the right of the photo, and up the gravel track
The track follows Langlee Burn uphill to a fence – very pleasant indeed
Good fence to handrail almost all the way to the summit. There were signs of desire lines on both sides, but we kept the fence on our left most of the way, crossing higher up when we hit some boggy ground.
Cairn close to the summit
Can you spot the trig point WAAAAY off in the distance? If you look in between the two posts which form the stile, the trig is visible right in the centre on the skyline. So far from the cairn which is behind me on this photo. Another thing to note – this was the ONLY way-marker we saw for the entire walk….. what’s the point in that?!
As far as summit trigs go, Blackcraig Hill has a fine specimen!
The view from the top <3

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