The Dungeon of Buchan

(NX 462 848) 450m SE facing, (SMC Lowland Outcrops 2004 page 173)

Photo: Dungeon Hill showing the main crags.

The Dungeon of Buchan is by far the best crag in the Galloway Hills except in one respect - the approach!

The easiest access is from the A712 New Galloway to Newton Stewart road. Immediately west of the Clatteringshaws Loch dam is a single-track road (signed Craignell and Loch Dee). Follow the road north-westwards to where it ends under Craigencallie at a car park next to the forestry gates. Mountain bike up the forest track, taking a right turn over the River Dee after 1.5km, followed by a left turn immediately thereafter and bearing left at the next major junction to the Backhill of Bush Bothy, a good base for this crag. Opposite the bothy, take either of the firebreaks in the forest to the edge of the marsh known as the Silver Flowe. 10.5 km, 2hrs 30mins from Craigencallie (1hr 30mins using a mountain bike to the bothy). Walking from Glen Trool takes 3hrs.

The bird ban mentioned in the 1994 guide has been removed, however as this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, climbers are requested to skirt the Silverflowe pools to the north (drier and same approach time) and not approach the lochs during the nesting season. The many jamming cracks warrant doubling, (or even trebling) up on Friends sizes 2, 2½ and 3, not to mention taping up for the squeamish.


Virtually every route described in the current guide is worth doing and some such as Incy Wincy Spider (E2, 5b), Parcel of Rogues (E3 6a), Colonel's Corner (HVS 5b) and Heir Apparent Direct (E3 5b) are three star classics, albeit obscure ones!

There are three major buttresses. On the south-facing 30m DUNGEON BUTTRESS, notable climbs are Galloway Grooves (VD**), Carrick Corner (VS 4c**), Scot's Wha Hae (HVS 5a**), Incy Wincy Spider (E2 5b***), Parcel of Rogues (E3 6a***) and Bannockburn (E1 5b**).

On the multipitch main crag of COORAN BUTTRESS, the classics are Traitor's Gait (VS 4b, 3c, 4b, 4c**), Heir Apparent (HVS 5a, 5a, 5b**) and its Direct Finish 5b**), The Colonel's Corner (HVS 5b, 4b, 5a***) and Cyclopath (E1 5b, 4c, 4c**).

Photo: Joe Grinbergs on the first ascent of Bannockburn (E1 5b**).

Photo: Stephen Reid making the first ascent of Incy Wincy Spider (E2 5b***). (Joe Grinbergs)

Photo: Dave Wilson belayed by Bill O'Connor on the first ascent of Parcel of Rogues (E3 6a, 5b***).


Traitor's Gait VS** Monkey Puzzle VS**
Snakes & Ladders E1* The Highway Man HVS**
Cooran Buttress Direct VS* Heir Apparent HVS**
Cooran Buttress HS* Heir Apparent Direct E3***
Hell Freezes Over IV The Colonel's Corner HVS***
Bickerdike's Buttress VS* Cyclopath E1**
Castles in the Air HVS* Cooran Chimney E1*
The Colonel's Corner (HVS 5b, 4a, 4c, 5a***). Chris Bonington starting the main groove.

The Colonel's Corner (HVS 5b, 4a, 4c, 5a***). Bill Freeland on the crux on the second ascent.

Bill Freeland on the middle of The Colonel's Corner (HVS).

Bill Freeland on the top of The Colonel's Corner (HVS).

Bill O'Connor and Dave Wilson making the second ascent of Heir Apparent (HVS, 5a, 5a, 5b**).

Stephen Reid making the first ascent of Heir Apparent Direct (E3, 5b***) in 1991.

Jill Reid and Will Hurford on Pitch 2 of Traitor's Gait (VS).

Jill Reid, Mathew Thompson and John Biggar at the stance by the big flake on the first ascent of Cooran Buttress Direct (VS) in 2001.

Jill Reid on Pitch 2 of Monkey Puzzle (VS).

Galloway pioneer Chris King and Suki.

Photo: John Biggar enjoying the exposure on Traitor's Gait (VS 4b, 4a, 4b, 4b/c**).
Doug Scott emerging from the 5b cleft that gives Cooran Chimney (E1 5b, 4b, 4c, 4c*) its name. Photo taken during the first ascent in 1993.

Doug leading the second pitch of Cooran Chimney. Photo taken during the first ascent in 1993.

This clean SILVER SLAB, up and right from Dungeon Buttress, and above the descent ramp from Cooran Buttress, provides some good climbs in the lower grades. The best is the extrordinary Sprauchler's Groove (VS 4b**), but all the climbs on the slab are good. Silver Slab was developed by John and Linda Biggar and friends, around 2002.

John Biggar making the first ascent of The Big Smirr (S 4a*), on the Silver Slab.

Stephen Reid making the second ascent of Sprauchler's Groove (VS 4b**) Click on the photo to see the other Silver Slab routes.

On THE LION'S HEAD, the slabs well to the right of Cooran Buttress, Horns of a Dilemma (HVS 5a, 5b**), Saddle Tramp (E2 5a/b, 5b**) and Aughty Star (E1 5a, 5b, 5b**), with its skin-rasping offwidth Direct Finish (E2 5b*) are well worth seeking out.

Photo: The Lion's Head
Photo: Dave Wilson on the superb initial slab of Saddletramp (E2, 5a, 5a, 5b**).

Photo: Alasdair Gillies at the awkward chockstone of the first pitch on the first ascent of The Lion's Mane (HS 4c, 4a, 4a), "an interesting route on top quality heather with a little rock in places".

Above: Dungeon Hill and the Dungeon of Buchan as seen from the Rhinns of Kells. The Merrick lies directly behind, with Kirriereoch and Tarfessoch to its right. The small white dot in the lower left corner is the Backhill of Bush Bothy.

The first recorded explorer of the Dungeon crags was James McBain in the early part of the last century who scrambled up the open grassy gully just left of the Lion's Head. Half a century later, the first route was recorded on the Dungeon; Cooran Buttress The route was Gordon Waldie's in conception; he had spotted it from the Backhill of Bush, and set up a camp at Loch Neldricken in September 1955 with Jim Simpson, Jean Ractliffe and Mary Shields. Simpson, although new to the sport, was the stronger climber, so he and Jean did the route first, with Waldie and the inexperienced Mary repeating it the following day. Interestingly they graded it V Diff at the time, but by comparison with other routes of that grade today, it fully deserves its Hard Severe. Years later Jim returned and soloed the route, but he and Waldie never really felt the urge to explore the Dungeon further. To them, the Highlands and the Lakes held a stronger pull, and Galloway was reserved for off days in the Autumn.

Waldie's diagram of Cooran Buttress (SMC Journal 1958)

Indeed Waldie's tone when he wrote up the climb in the SMC journal of 1958 was almost apologetic. "The disconsolate climber, enervated by the balmy climate of Galloway and preserving his nails on its lush vegetation, might well consider selling his rope to the Solway boatmen," he began, before admitting that "while tramping the moors in search of good trout fishing" he might just find the chain of granite hills between the Merrick massif and the Rhinns of Kells "worthy of exploration".

Photo: The rather fastidious Gordon Waldie cooking steak and eggs at a camp by the shore of Loch Dungeon on 26th May 1956 after he, Jean Ractliffe, and Arthur Kinnear had completed a moonlight traverse of the Rhinns of Kells.

Jean Ractliffe on the summit of the Dungeon of Buchan after the first ascent of Cooran Buttress, the climb she did with Jim Simpson in 1955. Many thanks to Arthur and Jean Kinnear (nee Ractliffe) for these items.

A newspaper cutting from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard of 28th April 1956 concerning the doings of the newly formed Galloway Mountaineering Club. Jean Ractliffe is top left and Jim Simson bittom left in the photo.

Graham Little on the first ascent of The Highway Man (HVS 5a, 4c, 4a, 4a**) (pitch 3)

Jimmy Dykes seconding pitch 2, 12th April 1968. Note big boots, no harness and minimal rack! (Little Collection)

Diary entries from Graham Little:- detailing (left) the first ascent of The Highwayman (which they originally called Third Time Lucky), and two shorter routes that have not been identified as yet. The page on the right details several more still unidentified routes (click to enlarge the pages).

Over a decade passed before that inveterate explorer of outback Scotland, Graham Little (then living in Girvan), together with Jimmy Dykes, visited the crag in April 1968, and made the first ascent of The Highwayman (HVS), a fact that, being very young, new to the climbing scene, and unaware of the protocol, he didn't record at the time. This superb four-pitch route was done in big boots and with only a couple of sling runners - no mean achievement. Although he vaguely recalls climbing a few other short things around this time, Little only returned later once and that was to solo The Highwayman. The resulting near death experience when a large flake came off in his hands, combined with his impression of the crag as rather vegetated was enough to turn his attention elsewhere, and almost another decade passed before April 1976 when a youthful Andrew Fraser, Donald Gibson and Willie Todd (all teenage school students from Dumfries) forced their way up the vegetated Cooran Gully with the moral assistance of 60 feet of hemp rope (recently liberated from their Scout Hut) and a few pegs. Not being put off by this heathery experience, Fraser returned several times to the crag. An attempt to straighten out Cooran Gully was abandoned due to a rucksack containing the vital rockshoes being dropped from halfway up the route. Then, with Todd, Mike Burgess and Davie Walker, he went back in 1978 to climb Roraima: a series of variations on Waldie's Cooran Buttress, though they were unaware of this at the time. Emboldened by success on this rather overgrown line, Fraser embarked on an ascent of the cleanest sweep of rock he could see; the slabs of The Highwayman, though again the team were unaware of the existence of any route there. However, with their minimal equipment and experience, the rounded cracks proved far too scary, and a traverse right was made onto what later became the line of Heir Apparent, before finally a long traverse back left was made onto Roraima and safety. On another visit, in June 1984, he soloed the superb four pitch Traitor's Gait (MVS) before having a narrow squeak when he fell trying to solo Cooran Buttress in order to work out how it compared with Roraima. Fortunately he managed to grab the heather ledge he landed on - but understandably it rather put him off returning to the Dungeon.

Graham Little on a first ascent somewhere on the Dungeon - possibly on Silver Slab, 8th June 1968 (Little Collection)

Graham Little abseiling off what looks like Dungeon Buttress in March 1970 (note ice!). He made the first ascent of the rib to the right of this photo in June 1968 - this could either be Galloway Grooves (VD) or Battle Axe (HS). (Little Collection)

Just before Fraser's solo of Traitor's Gait, the strong Lakeland team of Jim Fotheringham and Pete Whillance had visted the Dungeon, cycling in, and staying overnight at the Backhill of Bush Bothy. Fotheringham had noticed the crag while perusing maps of the area shortly after he first moved to the Lake District, and had made a solo visit to reconnoitre the possibilities. However it took him some time to find anyone prepared to accompany him to such a remote area. When he finally teamed up with Whillance they only did two days climbing there, repeating and naming Little's The Highwayman, and also adding two excellent major long new routes, Cyclopath (E1) and Saddle Tramp (E2), the latter being the first climb on the Lion's Head. Although there were patently further routes to do, including the obvious line of The Colonel's Corner, Whillance soon moved on to harder things at Creag an Dubh Loch and Creag a' Bhancair, and Fotheringham became more involved in the Greater Ranges.

In 1990, Stephen Reid (also living near the Lake District) discovered the crag, and, by the end of 1991, he and Joe Grinbergs had made some ten visits to the Dungeon, completely developing Dungeon Buttress, and climbing two major lines on Cooran Buttress, including the obvious plum of The Colonel's Corner (HVS 5b, 4a, 4c, 5a), and also Heir Apparent (HVS 5a, 5a, 4c, 5b) with its bold Direct Finish (E3 5b) (which was top-roped prior to being led). Other good routes from this pair include Carrick Corner (VS 4c), Scots Wha' Hae (HVS 5b) and Incy Wincy Spider (E2 5b), all on Dungeon Buttress. However, after succeeding on the difficult Bannockburn (E1 5b), Grinbergs decided that he'd had enough of the Dungeon in general, and hand jamming in particular, and Reid was left casting around for other partners prepared to combine mountain biking with climbing. With Bill Freeland, he swung leads on the aptly named Free Land (E1 5b, 5a) and with Dave Wilson, the surprisingly amenable Monkey Puzzle (VS 4c, 4c, 4a, 4b) on Cooran Buttress. Two of the hardest routes on the crag, Parcel of Rogues (E3 6a), and English Gold (E3 5c) were also led by Wilson, with Reid and Bill O'Connor following on a twanging rope. Reid returned with Doug Scott in 1993 for Cooran Chimney (E1 5b,4b,4c,4c) (an occasion notable for Scott's bike acquiring a puncture that necessitated him stopping to blow the tyre up every 400 yards on the way back to the car), but then felt that the place was rather worked out. In the following years, the only new route recorded was the obvious remaining unclimbed hanging niche on Dungeon Buttress, Parcel of Rogues Direct (E3 6a) which was put up by Alan Shand and Roger Everett.

Photo: Stephen Reid approaching the 5b crux on the first pitch during the first ascent of The Colonel's Corner, May 1991 (Joe Grinbergs).

However when Reid started work on the new guide in 2001, considerably gaps became obvious, though the first of these had already been filled by Fraser and Ian Magill who had seized the moment on a January day of unusual conditions to snatch a winter ascent of Cooran Buttress with Hell Freezes Over (IV) - this more or less follows the the summer line of Roraima, the grassy fault line up the centre of the buttress. Reid started off by checking the original route of Cooran Buttress (HS 1955) which had been dismissed as worthless in the previous guide. Although heathery in places, it was found to be a fine route and moreover considerable scope for variation was possible, leading to Cooran Buttress Direct (VS 4a, 4c, 4b, 5a, 5b) by Reid, Biggar, Jill Reid and Mathew Thompson.

In 2002 Fraser and Magill instigated exploration of the Lion's Head which up to then only contained one route, Saddletramp. Aslan (VS 4a, 4b, 4c) proved a rather heathery affair, though with an excellent top pitch, and the pair then braved the gathering dusk to make an onsight ascent of the excellent Horns of a Dilemma (HVS 5a, 5b).

Reid meanwhile, with Alasdair Gillies made the first ascent of the aptly named Lion's Mane (HS 4c, 4a, 4a) and then traversed the top of the crag to drop down to the fine hanging edge of Buchan Arete (HVS 5a). They finished the day with the short crackline of Jaw Jaw (HVS 5b) but the offwidth to its right War War (E1 5b) had to wait for Chris King and his Friend 6. (The route names were chosen simply so that Reid could follow Winston Churchill's dictum in saying that"Jaw Jaw is better than War War".) , Castles in the Air (HVS 5a, 5a, 4c, 4b) on Cooran Buttress was climbed shortly afterwards by Reid and Mike "Pike" Cundy on an FRCC meet.

Photo:Dungeon Developers - Andrew Fraser, Jim Simpson and Stephen Reid at the SMC Dinner in 2005 (Andrew Fraser).

Towards the end of this burst of development (in August 2001), John and Linda Biggar started explorations on Silver Slab, kicking of with The Wee Slanter (S). The following year, Reid and King were willing seconders to John on The Big Smirr (S) and The Scrieve (VS 4c), and also added Snakes and Ladders (E1 5a, 5b, 5a, 5a) to the left edge of Cooran Buttress. Turning their attention to the Lion's Head, the same pair put up the fine Aughty Star (E1 5a, 5b, 5b, 4a), initially with its skin grating E2 offwidth Direct Finish, and returning later to add the gentler, though still puzzling E1 alternative. In October 2002, the Biggars added their best route to Silver Slab: the extraordinary Sprauchler's Groove (VS 4b), which gives a sustained pitch of some of the most awkward VS crack and slab climbing imaginable, protectable only by cunning cam placements. Pembroke Mist (S) was another fine addition by this pair. At the tail end of the year Reid and King braved verglassed rock and freezing fingers to work Bickerdike's Buttress (VS 4c, 4b, 4c, 4c) up the centre of Cooran Buttress. Finally, in 2004, John Biggar and Kenny Livingston just made the new guide with Stairway to Heather, the last of the obvious lines on Silver Slab.

Photo: Stephen Reid and Joe Grinbergs about to bike in to the Dungeon in 1991.
Joe Grinbergs with a typical Dungeon rack (note the cams!)

Stephen Reid in the middle of cleaning operations on a dreich day in the early '90s.

There is an amusing article on the Dungeon of Buchan on the Bowline Club site, and another on the site of the Karabiner Club. There is also an epic ascent of The Colonel's Corner recounted on Scottish Climbs.

Photo: The Dungeon of Buchan catching the evening light as seen from Craignaw in January (hence the white patches). Dungeon Buttress is on the left, Cooran Buttress in the centre and the Lion's Head forms the skyline ridge.


Jailhouse Rock 45m HVS ** 100m right of Cooran Gully, at the top of the crag is a triangular wall, highest at its left side where a prominent crack slopes left up a headwall. The headwall is visible from the top of the Cooran Buttress and the climb is best accessed by traversing the hillside until above it and then abseiling from its top. Start at the lowest point.
1 20m (4c). Climb a boulder, then a tricky bulge above, followed by a delicate toe traverse left into a ledge in the corner. Climb the corner above to cracked bulge.
2 25m (5a). Surmount the bulge then follow cracks to the top. These give sustained and delicate bridging in a great position.
Ian Magill, Andrew Fraser (alt), 11th June 2005

Ian Magill on the first ascent of pitch 1 of Jailhouse Rock (HVS) (Andrew Fraser)

King's Kingle 120m E1 (2009)
This series of eliminate variations on Bikerdike’s Buttress proves a tough proposition for the grade. Start as for Cooran Buttress.
1. 25m 5a Just right of the prominent left-leaning crack of Bikerdike’s Buttress is a crescent shaped scoop. Gain the scoop, exit right and climb cracks in the slab above to belay in the grassy gully.
2. 30m 5b Climb the rib on the left, then step back right into the gully. Go up a step to below jammed blocks then take a leftwards rising crumbly flake line up the wall on the left, making hard sustained moves to gain a shallow niche. Leave this direct and follow easier rock to a heather terrace and a huge leaning block belay.
3. 15m 5b A few metres left of the leaning block are two short steep cracks. Make a hard pull to gain a toehold in the right-hand one and climb it direct to a terrace below the headwall.
4. 50m 4c Cutting through the bulge above, just left of the roof are four cracks. Don blinkers and climb the third from the left until over the bulge, then traverse horizontally right across the lip of the roof (or just a bit higher) to finish up a short groove (the last few moves of Cooran Buttress Direct).
Chris King, Stephen Reid (var), 13th September 2009

I am grateful to the following for the historical information on this page: John Biggar, Peter Checkland, Jim Fotheringham, Andrew Fraser, Jean Kinnear (nee Ractliffe), Graham Little, Ian and Kenny Livingston, Jim Simpson.

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better.

Your order contains no items