The Carsphairn Hills are part of the Southern Uplands, and spread across the north of Kirkcudbrightshire and the southern edge of Ayrshire between the Water of Deugh and the Glenkins to the west (beyond which lie the Galloway Hills) and the dale of the Water of Ken in the east, beyond which are the Scaur Hills.
- Map: 55°13’1"N, 4°1’1"W
By comparison with the Galloway Hills and Lowther Hills, these hills are much less frequented or known about except by local folk, for whom the hills have a special place in the folk memories of the communities. There are also many more communities immediately around these hills than around either the Lowthers or the Galloway hills and what to call this hill area would be challenged strongly by these local communities who would each wish to claim the hills for their own. Being much more readily accessible and in general considerably less challenging than the neighbouring ranges these hills are much more lived in and used on a daily basis by the local communities. They are exploited on an altogether more casual basis, by communities which strongly identify with them.
Blacklorg Hill on the county boundary lies roughly in the centre of the Carsphairn Hills, with the Afton Reservoir just to the west of it. The main rivers watering the Carsphairn Hills and the Scaur Hills radiate out from their springs in this central area.
Water of Ken
Water of Ken rises just to the southeast of the watershed at Polskeoch; half a mile from the headwaters of Scaur Water, on the other side of the watershed. The Ken heads in a generally southern direction, its valley marking the separation of the Scaur Hills to the east from the Carsphairn Hills in the west. The Ken joins the Water of Deugh a mile and a half north of Kendoon power station (which is the second in a series of such power stations running all the way down through the Glenkens from Drumjohn near Loch Doon, to Tongland near Kirkcudbright. This series of power stations is called Galloway hydro-electric power scheme. The next two power stations are at Carsfad Loch and Earlstoun Loch with Water of Ken running through them to the fourth power station at Glenlee (less than a mile southwest of St John's Town of Dalry) and onward as far as Parton village on Loch Ken, where it is subsumed into the River Dee. The southern end of Loch Ken is shown with the alternative title of River Dee on the Ordnance Survey maps.
River Dee itself starts from Loch Dee as Black Water of Dee. It runs through Clatteringshaws Loch where in the 1930s a dam was placed on it to form another reservoir for the Galloway hydro-electric power scheme. From Loch Ken the River Dee flows south past Threave Castle (which is on an island in the river) and into Kirkcudbright Bay and thence into the Solway Firth.
The Afton Water rises south of the Afton Reservoir. It flows north through the reservoir and then through New Cumnock before being subsumed into the River Nith just north of New Cumnock where Cumnock Castle once stood.
Water of Deugh
This water rises to the west of Afton Reservoir. It joins Carsphairn Lane just west of Carsphairn village and is subsumed into Water of Ken north of Kendoon. As part of the Galloway hydro-electric power scheme, when rainfall is plentiful, water is diverted into Loch Doon from the Water of Deugh (pronounced Dyooch) via a tunnel system. When water is required for power generation, water from Loch Doon is then released at Drumjohn to feed Kendoon power station.
Access to the Carsphairn Hills
At the western end of these hills, near Dalmellington, there is an extensive area of forest called Carsphairn Forest which does not make for the most interesting walking territory. For the outdoor enthusiast there is however, a 23 kilometre cycle route through this forest (with some 250 metres of climbing). For the alternative live music enthusiast there are "Twin Music Festivals" held bi-annually at Knockengorroch (NX555972 a "World Ceilidh" and a "Doonhame Hairth". Buses are run directly to the festivals from Glasgow and Edinburgh and the festivals take place four miles into the hills off the already remote A713.
The highest hills rise to the east of Carsphairn Forest.
Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
- Main article: Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
At 2,615 feet, Cairnsmore of Carsphairn is the highest of the Carsphairn Hills. The most commonly used route onto this hill is to park in the lay-by across the road from Green Well of Scotland where the Water of Deuch runs under the A713 (OS Ref NX557944), and from there follow the twisting undulating ridge over Willieana (over 1,380 feet) Dunool (1,775 feet) and Black Shoulder (2,257 feet). This leads to the col between Cairnsmore to the northwest and Beninner (2,329 feet) to the southeast along the summit ridge. Both tops are worth visiting for the views they offer. In general walkers tend to go back the way they came but it is possible to return by the Benlock Burn.
Water of Ken routes
Just where the B729 road crosses the Water of Ken (NX633918) a minor road heads north up the valley of the Water of Ken. There are three useful places to park along this road to go into the Carsphairn hills - Moorbrock house, Nether Holm of Dalquhairn and Lorg.
- To get to Moorbrock house head north for a mile off the Water of Ken minor road from Craigengillan. Park just south of Moorbrock House (NX629965). From here it is possible to go over Moorbrock Hill (2,133 feet) and then southwest to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn and Beninner in an interesting day's walk, passing a memorial to the crew of a crashed Spitfire (23 May 1942) in the hollow before climbing Cairnsmore (NX603993). Head east from Beninner back to Moorbrock House.
- From Moorbrock House it is also possible to go over Moorbrock Hill and head north eastward to Windy Standard (2,290 feet) with its profusion of 36 windmills dating from 1996. From there return by Mid Hill of Glenhead (531 metres) and Dodd Hill (1,627 feet).
- Parking on the Water of Ken minor road near Nether Holm of Dalquhairn (NX663994) climb Dodd Hill following the 14 Stations of the Cross which run up Dodd Hill in the form of crosses - from beside the house at Nether Holm of Dalquhairn. Make for Windy Standard and come back by Alhang (2,106 feet) and Mid Rig. In the col between Alhang and Alwhat (2,060 feet) is the source of Afton Water and from Alwhat there are views down over Afton reservoir to the north with Cannock Hill (1,949 feet) Craigbraneoch Rig and Blackcraig Hill (2,297 feet) to the east of it.
- Parking just south of Lorg (NS667008) head over Lorg Hill, Meikledodd Hill to Blacklorg Hill and Blackcraig Hill, descend over Craigbraneoch Rig (1,890 feet) to the north end of Afton Reservoir and return by the west shore of the reservoir, Alwhat and the Lorg Burn.
From Afton Water
- New Cumnock sits right at the foot of the lower slopes of Hare Hill which lies to the south east of it. So it is possible to set off directly from the town into the hillsHare Hill has a wind farm on top of it which became operational in the year 2000 .
- It is also possible to head south west from town up Connelburn Rig, and Benty Cowan Hill (1,467 feet) to Enoch Hill (1,867 feet) where the source of the River Nith is to be found - on its south west shoulder.
- To get into the heart of the hills more quickly you can drive south up Glen Afton to the parking place just north of the reservoir. A good circular route from here is to head northwest onto Blackcraig Hill then follow the undulating ridge southward over Blacklorg Hill (2,234 feet), and Meikledodd Hill, then south west for Alwhat and Alhang. The River Afton can then be followed down to the reservoir, or, Windy Standard can be visited - though this involves some 490 feet of descent followed by a steep 650-foot climb to Windy Standard. Returning northeast from Windy Standard over Wedder Hill (1,959 feet) gives good views over the reservoir to Craigbraneoch Rig and Blackcraig Hill beyond it.
From Kirkconnel and Sanquhar
Mining communities in general have a strongly egalitarian sense of communal social identity and an equally strong loyalty to their local environment. This is well illustrated by the fact that in 2010 Sanquhar celebrates the centenary of its riding of the marches, which takes place over a 10-day period in August. The Euchan Water, the Kello Water and the Crawick all run into the River Nith in the immediate area around Sanquhar and Kirkconnel and these waters are much used by the local community for walking and for swimming in during the summer.
Carsphairn is the only village between Moniaive and Dalmellington – 15 miles from the former and 10 miles from the latter (over high moorland lightly populated road). It is a parish of 80 square miles with a population of less than 200 set in a bowl between the Rhinns of Kells and the imposing mass of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. Farming was the main use of land here but now a greater part is afforested with only a few farms left. There are 38 houses, a school, a church, a pub, a shop and post office in Carsphairn village. The village also has its own Heritage Centre, although opening hours are seasonal. Even though it sits on the A713 it is a remote, isolated and largely scattered community quite different in character from the small but active towns and villages along the River Nith or the Moniaive, Penpont area.
There are several Devil's Dykes in the British Isles. This name was given to a series of earthworks that were thought to mark a frontier perhaps between the Strathclyde Britons and the English in Galloway, and running from Loch Ryan to near Annan on the Solway and perhaps even from coast to coast in association with the Catrail in Roxburghshire. This notion was put forward by the antiquarian Joseph Train (1779–1852) who had picked up on folk belief concerning a Deil's Dyke. Eventually this concept of a single Deil's Dyke was discounted by antiquarian scholars in favour of separate unrelated earthworks which had been strung together in Train's imagination. However a section of the dyke running from New Cumnock to Burnmouth in the Parish of Durisdeer has continued to interest them.
- Map of Scaur and Carsphairn Hills - walkscotland]
- BBC Scotland's archive of Robert Burns's poetic works.
- BBC Radio Scotland - words to "Flow gently sweet Afton"
- Mountain Biking around Carsphairn forest - website
- Knockengorroch festival website
- Map of route onto Cairnsmore of Carsphairn and Beninner.
- Gazetteer of Scotland - Windy Standard Wind Farm.
- .Hare Hill wind farm page on Gazetteer of Scotland
- Carsphairn page on the Glenkens website
- The Burns Encyclopedia - Joseph Train
- The Deil's Dyke in Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire - A. Graham and R.W. Feachem
- Atkinson, Tom (1982)South West Scotland Luath Press Barr Ayrshire
- MacLeod, Innes (2001) Where the Whaups are Crying (A Dumfries and Galloway Anthology) Birlinn Edinburgh ISBN 1-84158-149-6
- Oram, Richard (2000) The Lordship of Galloway John Donald Edinburgh ISBN 0-85976-541-5
- Temperley, Alan (1979) Tales of Galloway Mainstream Publishing ISBN 1-85158-026-3