Leaving St John’s Town of Dalry, there is a solid two days hiking to reach Sanquhar, and many may choose to spread this over three days. There are no services or accommodation, so be prepared for one or two nights wild camping.
It’s reasonably easy to get bus connections to St John’s from Castle Douglas (for Dumfries and Stranraer) or Dalmellington (for Ayr). Sanquhar has a railway station with regular services to Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle.
The Southern Upland Way ascends out of St John’s directly into sheep and cattle farmland. There is easy walking on good tracks through Ardoch Farm up towards Barlaes. This is a farm with large cattle herds, some in large enclosed areas and others free roaming. The path skirts around some of these fields next to a small burn which is used by cattle. Depending on where the livestock are it may be easier to take a direct line through the fields rather than follow the route of the path.
Leaving Barlaes there is a short stretch of road walking before climbing Culmark Hill and a delightful drop down into Culmark Farm and Moss. Now starts the long ascent of Manquhill Hill and then Benbrack, where you have the reward of a stunning Striding Arch.
Keeping height for a couple of miles the Southern Upland Way drops down to the forest near Troston Hill which is currently being harvested. Forest paths lead to Allan’s Cairn – a somewhat bizarre tomb – and then over Wether Hill and down to the head of the glen at Polskeoch. Fallen trees have made parts of the forest paths unpassable and they can be avoided by using the newer forestry tracks.
Polskeoch is sheep country; it reminds me of some of the valleys in North Wales. It’s a really pretty glen with the landscape divided by drystone walls. You follow the quiet public road for several mile to Polgown where the final climb of Cloud Hill will reward you with your first view of Sanquhar. There is a kist on this ascent so keep your eyes peeled.
The descent into Sanquhar is fun and fast going. After about an hour you will approaching the farms at Ulzieside and then it is a few minutes of walking along the public roads in Sanquhar.
Sanquhar has shops, cafes and accommodation. There are regular bus and rail links to Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle.
Wild camping on this part of the Southern Upland Way is straightforward. I pitched at the top of Benbrack which was breezy but the views were superb – this is a good option if you considering making the journey over two days. If you were to split into three days then just Barlaes at Butterhole Bridge is a lovely spot for the first night, and I think you could enjoy a night near the sheepfold just above Polskeoch for the second. You could camp on Culmark Hill without difficulty, but the ground on Manquhill Hill looks like it is permanently boggy and probably ought to be avoided.