Most of the Southern Upland Way from Bargrennan to St John’s of Dalry passes through the Galloway Forest Park. It could just about be done in a long day, although most people will take at least two, more if you plan diversions such as climbing the Merrick. There are no services on this section so you must be self sufficient to St John’s. There are many places to wild camp and a bothy at White Laggan (around halfway).
After crossing the River Cree at Bargrennan the Southern Upland Way follows the eastern bank of the river for a couple of miles down to Bught Hill. This section of the path is elevated at times and several detours due to fallen trees that look as if they have been down for several years.
At Bught Hill the way turns east into the Galloway Forest Park following the Water of Minnoch before tracking the Water of Trool to the picnic area and old campsite at the Caldons. Walking becomes much easier as the paths in the forest are much better maintained with only a few difficult boggy patches. It’s worth taking a moment as you near the woodland at Holm to turn back and see the pretty ruin of the Old Bridge of Minnoch.
We made camp at the Caldons, which used to be a Forestry Commission campsite and now abandoned. There are no facilities, and the commission has somewhat meanly started to replant the woodland pitches, most of which have been uprooted. Apart from a group camping together just before the site there was no one else there.
The next morning we struck camp late and headed up through Glen Trool to Loch Trool. The southern path was closed for forestry work so we were diverted onto the public road up to Bruce’s Stone. This is the starting point for the path up the Merrick if you wanted a diversion.
The Ordnance Survey maps show the Southern Upland Way climbing Glen Trool over Little Trostan, but the waymarked path now follows the cycle route to the pass which is a good forestry track. At the pass you have the first glimpse of Loch Dee and the few miles wandering around it is delightful. There is a bothy at White (or Black Laggan) which is easily accessed from the path.
Leaving Loch Dee the path follows more forestry tracks through largely deforested areas towards Clatteringshaws Loch. This is another pleasant spot and you could easily wild camp here. The way quickly moves on from Clatteringshaws through a forest near Benbrack (the other Benbrack with the arch is not particularly far from here) and then out onto farmland at Shield Rig where we made camp for the night.
The next morning offered an easy descent to Clenrie Farm and then following the public road until Waterside Hill, which is climbed to give the first view of St John’s Town of Dalry A quick drop to the Water of Ken and you are nearly in the town (which is the size of a small village). There was a notice saying that the suspension bridge over the Water of Ken was closed so we had a road diversion, although when we got into the town it looked like it was probably open again.
I had planned to camp at one of several spots just off the road towards Waterside Hill and there are a number of possibilities. Alternatively Newfield Farm in the village offers a free pitch and there are public toilets at the nearby town hall. There is a post office and a pub/hotel at St John’s and this is realistically the first opportunity to resupply since New Luce. There are several buses a day from St John’s to Castle Douglas (for Dumfries or Stranraer) and Dalmellington where you can connect to Ayr.