The Rhinns of Kells

Header: The Rhinns of Kells from the north-east: the hills are from left to right, Meikle Millyea, Carlin's Cairn, and Meaul.

(NX 505 954 - NX 518 829) (SMC Lowland Outcrops 2004, page 186)

The RHINNS OF KELLS make up the parallel ridge of hills lying to the east of the Dungeon Range: separated by the Doon-Dee Valley. There is little potential in the way of rock climbing as the metamorphosed sediment is too friable and broken. However, given good snow cover and sufficient freeze, some good winter sport may be had.

Map courtesy of South-West Images

All these climbs are best approached from the car park at Forrest Lodge (NX553863). 4km of forest road lead to the north side of Loch Dungeon, from where a path leads to a memorial and over the Hawse Burn. The corrie lies about 1km to the south, total walk about 2 hours from the car park, less if using a mountain bike to the memorial. The climbs could also be approached from the bothy at Backhill of Bush in about 1½ hours.

Several grade I open snow gullies (1970s) were climbed in a hard winter in the northeast-facing coire. The rumours mentioned in the guide of a steep metamorphic cliff, possibly CRAIGBROCK, east of North Gairy Top (NX 522 869), are wrong. The crag is in fact CRAIGNELDER GAIRY (NX 512 892). It is easy-angled, broken, wet and loose, but may yet prove a good winter venue!

MILLFIRE (NX 512 839)
The North-East Face of Millfire has two good icefalls of grade III/IV (1996). South of them the broad central gully gives a straighforward grade I.

MILLDOWN (NX 512 839)
Further south, the North-East corrie of Milldown has numerous grade I/II routes (1990s), and more specifically the following. Near the centre of the corrie an old drystane dyke runs up towards the col between Milldown and Millfire. Biggar Gully (II/III), 150m climbs the gully above the dyke in a series of short pitches, including a through route behind a large chockstone near the top. Better Gully (III**), 150m lies 250m to the right (north): it holds more ice and gives a more continuous and interesting climb. To the left of these routes lies:

Boxing Day Buttress
A wide easy gully runs down NE from the summit of Milldown. On the south flank of this there is a steep turfy buttress.

John Biggar on the Rhinns, Boxing Day 2004 (Ian Livingston)

Ian Livingston on the first ascent of Boxing Shorts (John Biggar)

The most obvious feature of this buttress is a very straight gully towards the right hand side, this is the line of Baby Gully 120m I/II**, which gives a really nice climb at the grade after a good freeze, when it is full of ice and frozen moss. First recorded ascent J. Biggar, L. Biggar, 6th March 2005.

Boxing Day Buttress 120m III (4)
The buttress left of Baby Gully. Avoid the steepest section of the lower buttress by turfy grooves on the left (crux) then move slightly back right to climb the obvious vertical groove in the headwall on good turf.
John Biggar, Linda Biggar, 6th March 2005.

Boxing Shorts 100m (II, 3)
Climb a ramp line on the leftside of the buttress to a huge perched boulder. The ramp goes leftwards here (easy) but a better finish goes directly up a wide turfy groove and the short headwall and narrow slot above.
John Biggar, Ian Livingston, 26th December 2004

In addition to the above, the full length of the Rhinns of Kells ridge can provide an excellent day's ski tour - please see the Galloway Climbing Ski Touring page for more details.

Linda Biggar on on the first ascent of Baby Gully (John Biggar)
John Biggar and Linda Biggar skinning up to Corserine after a great run down from Carlin's Cairrn.

This 8m high east-facing metamorphic crag is situated on the north bank of the Polharrow Burn about 3 miles from the junction of the Forest Lodge road with the main road from Carsphairn to Dalry. The rock quality is OK - almost granite-like at the top, and it is quite steep in places. Access from the road across the valley is via some terrible ground and fording the burn where a stepping stone is missing - not really recommended - perhaps a better way can be found. There are five climbs to date, between Severe and VS, others may have been done, and there is the odd thing still to do. The crag was visited by Andrew Fraser and Ian Magill in July 2005 and they climbed four routes, but were certain that three of these plus one other had already been done.

However, Cam Wheeler writes: "Was just looking at the Galloway climbing website and I noticed that Andrew Fraser and Ian Magill have put up some new routes on Craig Micheal. I couldn't help but smile because I have spent many days climbing and bouldering there over the last few years as I live just up the road. I have soloed a few routes previous to Fraser and Magill's visit in July 05'. The site did not specify what routes they climbed but I have attatched a photo of myself on what I believe is the first ascent of a short line on the crag. It takes the main wall pretty much direct above the sapling untill the grassy ledge is reached. From there I traversed left on to the rib which I followed to finish. I have also soloed a few variations on this line, as well as climbing the left-hand rib from the ground up. I would agree that all routes are between S and VS.

There is also an far easier approach than the one suggested on the site. It is easier to park in the layby just south of the power station on the south side of Carsfad Loch (A713). From here simply head due west, following the tree line north of Knocknalling House (10 to 15 mins walk)."

It is hope to provide more detailed information for this crag in due course.

Cam Wheeler soloing a new route at Craig Michael.

Climbing (of a sort) was first described on the Rhinns of Kells by John Dow in an article entitled the Galloway Hills which was published in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal of 1938. Amazingly he appears to eschew the crags of the Dungeon and the Tauchers for the rather dubious delights of Mekle Millyea and Milldown, writing:-

"There is no rock in the whole district worth visiting for that alone. There are many steep slopes, such as the Tauchers of Mullwharchar, the east faces of Dungeon Hill and Craignaw, and the east faces of Millfire and Milldown, but all are much broken. The outcrops, such as those on Shiel Hill, are mainly of granite. They are low and, where steep, unclimbable. Possibly the best scramble is provided by the gully of the Garinner Strand leading from Loch Dungeon to the ridge of the Rhinns of Kells at the Lochans of Auchniebut. This gully lies immediately to the south-east of the obvious easy route of ascent from the west end of Loch Dungeon, but is only worthy of attention in weather sufficiently dry to allow the course of the burn to be closely adhered to. There is one pitch about half-way up where a steep slab on the true right bank of the stream has to be surmounted, and at the top a rock-face on the true left the waterfall gives 25 feet or so of good climbing at an angle of 80 degrees, the holds being small but sound (C.M. Allan). Another interesting route to the same ridge is by the rough shoulder of Millfire which projects north-east into the Hawse Glen. This gives an occasional rock scramble and affords fine views south-east over Loch Dungeon and north to Corserine and the head of the glen."

Later events have certainly proved him wrong(!), but the Rhinns have seen a number of winter ascents as listed below:-

Rhinns of Kells First Ascents

Date Routes Climbers
1970s North Gairy Top Routes Graham Little
1990s Milldown Routes Roy Gibson
1996 Millfire Icefalls Roy Gibson, Tom Black
None of the above routes have had known second ascents, and their exact relationship to the routes listed below is not certain.
11th March 2004 Biggar Gully, Better Gully John Biggar, Linda Biggar (solo)
26th December 2004 Boxing Shorts John Biggar, Ian Livingston
Rainbow over the Rhinns of Kells as seen from the Dungeon of Buchan
Looking north-east from Milldown on the Rhinns of Kells. The hill in the distance is Cairnsmore of Carsphairn.
Looking west. Craignaw (on the left) with Dungeon Hill and the crag of the Dungeon of Buchan lie in the foreground. Mullwarchar (and the Tauchers) is on the far right. The Merrick is the highest peak in the background, flanked on its left by Bennan, and on its right by Kirriereoch, Tarfessock and Shalloch on Minnoch (The Range of the Awful Hand).

This hill lies to the north-east of the Rhinns of Kells and north-east of the village of Carsphairn which is situated on the A713 Castle Douglas to Dalmellington road. It has no climbing itself, but is good ski-touring country. There is, however, limited climbing on the two subsidiary hills to the east, Beninner and Moorbrock. Both hills are best accessed from the south using a minor dead-end road off the walk in to Moorbrock Farm, then aiming for whichever hill you are heading for. If you climb on Moorbrock first, you can then traverse over to Beninner Gairy.

MOORBROCK GAIRY (NX 622 985) East facing Alt:550m
An impressive crag from a distance, but it is apparent that there really isn't much climbing when viewed from closer to. Towards the north end of the crag is a small buttress split by a shallow gully.

Twisting Gully 50m I
Climb the gully from the lowest rocks with a couple of easy steps. The rocks on the right of the gully are quite ice-glazed and give an entertaining variation.
Kenny Livingston, John Biggar, 22nd January 2005

BENNINER GAIRY (NX 608 972) East facing Alt:600m Just left of the ridge which splits the buttress is a wide ramp that rises back rightwards above steep ground. The following route starts from the bottom of this ramp.

Benniner Gairy

New Poons and Panties 100m II (3)
From where the ramp goes off to the right climb directly up ice glazed rocks and shelves for about 30-40m (surprisingly continuous ice): some variation in line is possible. Then cross easier ground to finish up the gullies (if you're lucky they will have neve in them) either side of the short rock ridge under the plateau.
Kenny Livingston, John Biggar, 22nd January 2005
Kenny had new poons, and John had new panties (though he wasn't showing them!)

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