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Blackcraig Hill, close to New Cumnock, is 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. With no obvious footpath to follow, some navigation skills are required, particularly in poor visibility. The route described below is a straightforward gentle ascent on mostly grassy ground with a few craggy sections to look out for.
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.
Route: Start at the bridge across the Afton Water towards Blackcraig Farm. Before reaching the farmhouse look out for a footbridge (in the form of a wrought iron sheet) across the burn on your right. Cross and then go through the gate onto the field. There is a very faint path leading left from here uphill to a second gate. Out on the open hillside there is not much in the way of a path. We followed the burn upstream a short distance and then veered off diagonally uphill and to the right. If you do this you will come to a fence at one point below a short craggy section: follow the fence along the edge of the hill until it starts to drop away to the right. At this point you should start heading uphill once again until you reach a cairn. In order to reach the summit trig point you need to cross the fence at the stile. Return via the same route if you can, although this is easier said than done due to the lack of footpath.
WALK REPORT: 6th November 2016
This hill!!! It had been haunting me for months! A suggestion from a friend as one of my Trail Magazine 7 Summits Challenge hills, 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 back in July when one beautiful sunny 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 saw the wrought iron sheet 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!). When we left the safety of the fence-line we were for the first time making our own way up and ironic as it may seem the sun started to make things difficult in terms of visibility. Only just starting to creep up from behind the summit, it was shining directly into our eyes. I was so grateful for the warmth it brought to the minus-something air, but at the same time I needed it to move out my way 😮
We found the cairn without any trouble and from there the stile across the barbed wire fence to the trig. It’s the first time I have seen a cairn and trig point so far apart! Actually there are 4 or 5 cairns within close proximity to each other, I guess they act as good guides in poor visibility. The wind was vicious up here and bitter cold. We hung around long enough to soak up the stunning views and take the obligatory summit selfies before breaking into a jog all the way back down to the car for lunch.
There is definitely something to be said for getting up before sunrise, climbing a hill and being back home for midday. Just magic!