The Galloway Hills are part of the Southern Uplands of Scotland, and form the northern boundary of western Galloway. They lie within the bounds of Galloway Forest Park, an area of some 300 square miles (800 km2) of largely uninhabited wild land, managed by the Forestry Commission. The unusual place names reflect a mixture of the Old Norse and Scottish Gaelic languages and hint at the range of influences which have acted on society within the area over the centuries.
The location of Galloway is described as follows, "Galloway is contained by sea to the west (North Channel) and south (Solway Firth), the "Galloway Hills" to the north, and the River Nith to the east". So if we were to say "The hills of Galloway" we would be including all the hills within this area; but as the first sentence implies the "Galloway Hills"  is usually taken to mean a collection of ranges which lie mainly south of Loch Doon and which are not constrained by political boundaries. The boundary between Dumfries and Galloway Region and Ayrshire runs west to east over Kirriereoch hill, drops south of Mullwharchar to the shores of Loch Enoch, before heading northwards up the east shore of Loch Doon, and so runs more or less through what might well be considered the heart of the Galloway hills - around Loch Enoch.
The northern limit of this hill area is around the small towns of Dalmellington and Straiton, both in Ayrshire. The B741 runs on an east/west line between these two towns on its way to the town of Girvan on the Firth of Clyde. So the B741 could therefore be taken as the northern limit of the Galloway hills area. From Straiton a minor road (no name on the Ordnance Survey map) runs south by Stinchar Bridge  through the north west corner of these hills to meet another minor road which runs from Glentrool village northwards towards Girvan and Maybole. This latter road forms the western boundary of the Galloway hills. It follows the valley of Water of Minnoch  and for most of its length it passes through the extensive forestry plantations which lie to the west of the Galloway hills.
The A713 (Castle Douglas to Ayr road) forms the eastern boundary of these hills. As it heads south from Dalmellington it passes through the valley which separates the Galloway hills from the Carsphairn and Scaur Hills hills to the east. This valley is known as the Glenkens. There is an extensive hydro electric scheme (commissioned 1935/36) with several dams and power stations that runs down through the Glenkens to end at Tongland Power Station  near Kirkcudbright. The A713 passes through Carsphairn village on the Water of Deuch and St John's Town of Dalry on Water of Ken. It also passes close to New Galloway at Kenbridge, at the northern end of Loch Ken. From New Galloway you can take the A712 through the hills to Newton Stewart. This road passes Clatteringshaws Reservoir, the Queen's Way, Dunkitterick Cottage (the birthplace of Alexander Murray), a deer range, a wild goat park and Murray's Monument.
For most users of these hills, "the Galloway hills" would mean the ranges which lie north of a line running eastwards along the north shores of Loch Trool, Loch Dee and Clatteringshaws Reservoir. This for them would be the notional true heartland of the Galloway hills. The Southern Upland Way and the National Cycle Network Route Number Seven travel along this line. A slightly looser use of the phrase Galloway hills would certainly include the ranges which lie to the south of that line.
As you approach Clatteringshaws Reservoir on the A712 heading for Newton Stewart you have a hill called Cairnsmore of Dee or Black Craig of Dee (493 metres) to the south of you. This is not a particularly high hill but it offers excellent views from the top over Clatteringshaws into the heart of the Galloway hills. Likewise to the south as you pass Murray's Monument there is an outlying range of hills around Cairnsmore of Fleet (711 metres). The top of Cairnsmore of Fleet is over 2 kilometres in length running almost north-south and it has tops at either end. To the south of this again is a group of small coastal hills around Cairnharrow just to the west of Gatehouse of Fleet. Immediately beyond that is the A75 Euroroute running close to the shore of the Solway Firth.
Besides the two Cairnsmore hills just mentioned there is a third "Cairnsmore" acting as a prominent sentinel around the borders of the Galloway hills. This is Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (797 metres) which lies some 5 kilometres to the north east of Carsphairn village and is the prominent hill to the east of you as you walk the Rhinns of Kells. It belongs in its own range, the Carsphairn hills.
As mentioned above the heartland of the Galloway hills lies to the north of Loch Trool and many excellent walks into that particularly wild remote territory start from the extensive car park by Bruce's Stone. There are three ridges which run northwards from the Loch Trool/Loch Dee/Clatteringshaws area - The Awful Hand on the west, The Rhinns of Kells to the east, and the Dungeon hills in between.
Taking the Awful Hand from north to south we have the following tops Shalloch on Minnoch (768 metres), Tarfessock (697 metres), Kirriereoch (786), Merrick (843 metres) and Benyellary (719 metres). Merrick is the highest hill in the south of Scotland though at less than three thousand feet it is not a Munro. These five hills have ridges running off them to the west making the "Awful Hand", Benyellary being the thumb. This hand is best seen from near Waterhead on Minnoch as you head south from Stinchar Bridge towards Glentrool village. The Awful Hand ridge is 9 kilometres in length as the crow flies; from the top of Shalloch on Minnoch to the top of Benyellary. This sounds like not very much but there are some stiff climbs along the route especially around Kirriereoch and the Merrick. Also you have some 3 kilometres walk in to the two terminal tops from any road.
Taking the Rhinns of Kells from north to south we start on Black Craig (528 metres) on the east bank of Loch Doon, followed by Coran of Portmark (623 metres), Meaul (695 metres), Carlin's Cairn (807), Corserine (814 metres), Millfire (716 metres), Milldown (738 metres) Meikle Millyea (746 metres), Little Millyea (578 metres) and Darrou (479). Darrou lies about half way between Loch Dee and Clatteringshaws. The Rhinns of Kells is 15.5 kilometres as the crow flies from Black Craig to Darrou and the ridge has a double curve on it making it somewhat longer than that. It tends to be a gently undulating ridge along its length making for relatively easy walking.
Taking the Dungeon hills from north to south we have Craigmawhannal (357 metres) just south of the south end of Loch Doon, followed by, Hoodens hill (568 metres), Mullwharchar (692 metres), Dungeon hill (610 metres). Craignairny (595 metres), Craignaw (645 metres), Snibe hill (533 metres) and Craiglee (531 metres). Craiglee is to an extent an outlier from the main ridge lying as it does at the eastern end of the Rig of the Jarkness which runs east to west. Craiglee is just north of Loch Dee. The Dungeons, as they are often called, are 11 kilometres from the top of Craigmawhannal to the top of Craiglee as the crow flies. None of these hills get to the same heights as some hills on the other two ridges. However, apart from Mullwharchar they are much more rocky and rugged and are therefore popular with the rock climber and those who like a bit of scrambling when they walk in the hills. A planning application was made in January 1978 to Kyle and Carrick District Council by the UKAEA to test drill on Mullwharchar for the purpose of dumping nuclear waste. On 24 October 1978, the Council rejected the application after considerable local protest.
There is relatively low ground between the Dungeons ridge and the other two ridges on either side of it and this lower ground passes through the whole hill area from north to south forming two corridors through the hills.
However, the surface of the highest loch in the corridor to the west of the Dungeons, Loch Enoch, is actually around 490 metres above sea level. With Loch Trool being about 70 metres above sea level you can see that this corridor rises significantly as it passes (over a distance of some 5 kilometres) between the hills on either side.
The surface of Dry Loch of the Dungeon the highest loch to the east of the Dungeons is around 330 metres above sea level and most of the Silver Flowe immediately to the south of it lies fairly level at about the 270 metres mark all the way back south to Loch Dee (around 225 metres above sea level). The explanation for this is that the Silver Flowe is a floating or blanket bog and is consequently flat in nature.
There are two burns which feed into the eastern end of Loch Trool on its northern shore, the Buchan Burn (the more westerly) and the Gairland Burn.
These two burns are separated by a short ridge, (3 kilometres long), which runs north from Buchan Hill just north of Loch Trool to Craig Neldricken immediately south of Loch Enoch - the Buchan Ridge.
It is quite possible to use the Buchan Burn route to get to Loch Enoch and you will pass the Grey Man of the Merrick (see picture above), on your left as you near Loch Enoch (OS ref. NX427842). The more popular route however, because of the scenic interest, is to take the Gairland Burn and head north past Loch Valley, Loch Neldricken and Loch Arron before you get to Loch Enoch. This is often called the "Loch's Route onto The Merrick" - though you still have a 350-metre climb up Redstone Rig from Loch Enoch to the Merrick.
Taking the west side of Loch Neldricken you will pass a place called in the maps the "Murder Hole" which refers to an incident in Samuel Crockett's novel "The Raiders" - though it is claimed that the real murder hole is near Rowantree Bridge (OS Ref NX354907) on the Water of Minnoch where the bodies of waylaid, murdered travellers were dumped.
If you go east of Loch Neldricken you can gain access to Loch Enoch by the Wolf Slock. Both of these latter named places figure prominently in the Crockett novel. The sharp granite sand on the beaches of Loch Enoch itself was at one time collected and sold for sharpening knives and scythes.
In McBain's book "The Merrick and Neighbouring Hills" there is a description of how McBain tried to find the depth of Loch Enoch by cutting a series of holes on its icy surface and dropping a weighted line into it - quite alone when he did so. He worked out a depth of 105 feet at what he reckoned was the deepest point. McBain was an intrepid hill walker/climber who was much devoted to these hills and his book exudes his love for the wild places. It is an excellent read for anyone interested in walking hills in general but especially these hills.
The Silver Flowe is a National Nature Reserve with a Blanket bog of international importance. It is part of the Merrick Kells Biosphere Reserve and is a Ramsar site  for the quality of its peatlands and wetlands. The Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. The convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem; it takes its name from the Iranian city of Ramsar and came into force in 1975. The reserve is owned by Forest Enterprise but is managed through a lease by Scottish Natural Heritage.
Today Backhill of Bush is open as a bothy, having been renovated after a period of closure due to vandalism. However until around 1950 it was still in use as the home of a shepherd (or "Hird" in local parlance) working a part of the land known as the Dungeon of Buchan and was reckoned to be the loneliest such outpost in Galloway with the Silver Flowe to the west and the Rhinns of Kells to the east.
Soon after this the land was taken over by the Forestry Commission and the sheep grazings became dense forest, but not before the death of a 17-year-old shepherd called Ralph Furlow, an employee of the Department of Agriculture, whose job it was to cross the Rhinns of Kells to tend to the sheep still in the Dungeon area. On 27 January 1954 he was overwhelmed in a snow storm and his death is commemorated by a monument just below Millfire on its east side.
The route Ralph Furlow would have used to cross the Rhinns was that used by the former residents of Back Hill - going over the saddle between Corserine and Millfire (OS. Ref NX516863). In earlier times a funeral party taking a "hird's" wife's dead body over the Rhinns was caught in a snowstorm in this saddle and the body had to be left there for several days.
Heading west from Back Hill for the Loch Enoch area the route taken was up the Nick of the Dungeon, a steep boulder-strewn climb, after you had negotiated your way through the watery pools of the Silver Flowe. Months could pass between seeing anyone else from the outside world. The "hirds" and their families had therefore to be both resourceful and self-reliant to spend their working lives there, and it will always be one of the attractions for those who go into wild country like this that you are forced to take responsibility for yourself; the place asks questions of you that you are obliged to take seriously.
There are the remains of several other former buildings scattered around the Galloway hills area; notably at Glenhead (NX433800) close to the Southern Upland Way for example, and at Culsharg (NX416822) on the "tourist route" from Bruce's Stone to the Merrick. The latter can still be used as something of a shelter in bad weather, though it is far from MBA bothy standard. Buildings still in use are to be found around the periphery of the Galloway hills heartland but apart from forest tracks, there are neither public roads nor buildings in use in the heartland itself.
These hills (which offer excellent views into the heartland of the Galloway hills) lie just south of the east end of Loch Trool and they stretch to the shores of Clatteringshaws Reservoir. Their southern boundary is the A712 New Galloway to Newton Stewart road.
The battle which Bruce's Stone commemorates was actually fought (in 1307) at the south east end of Loch Trool where Muldonnoch (561 metres) falls steeply into it. South east of Muldonnoch is Lamachan Hill (717 metres), and from there you can head south west along a ridge to Large Hill (676 metres) or head east over Bennanbrack (685 metres) to Curleywee (674 metres) where you join a small ridge that runs north/south. North takes you one and a half kilometres over White Hill (606 metres) to Loch Dee. The southern ridge is some three and a half kilometres long gradually dropping in height over its length to Black Benwee (368 metres).
Some two kilometres east of Loch Dee a ridge of hills runs from just south of Darrou in a south westerly direction and in fact these hills are really a continuation of the line of the Rhinns of Kells. From north to south the hills are Cairngarroch (557 metres) Cairnbaber (569 metres above the Buckdas of Cairnbaber), Millfore (656 metres) and Drigmorn Hill (545 metres).
There is also a small range of hills just to the west of Clatteringshaws Reservoir. On Darnaw (472 metres) the highest of these hills there is monument to those who died here in an air crash on 2 February 1937.
Besides the air crash site just mentioned on Darnaw there are many more crash sites (some with monuments) in the Galloway hills area. There is a monument on Cairnsmore of Fleet which lists 9 aircraft which have crashed there. There is a monument on Craignaw to the pilots of an F-111 which crashed there on 19 December 1979. During World War II, Dumfries and several other places in south west Scotland were heavily involved in the training of pilots etc. for the war effort and many of the crash sites date from this era.
The whole area of hills that we have been discussing on this page falls within Galloway Forest Park, an area of 300 square miles (800 km2) of mixed landscape with three visitors' centres and offering many recreational facilities. On 15 November 2009, the park became the first Dark Sky Park in the United Kingdom.
Like the Western Isles and the Northern Isles, Galloway had a long history under the Lords of Galloway (from the early 12th century until 1234) of being largely independent of the Scottish crown. Going back beyond that there is thought to have been a kingdom of Galloway perhaps going back to the aftermath of the expulsion of the Vikings from Dublin in 902 and the subsequent loss of control by the former Northumbrian masters of Galloway. Galloway was long regarded as a wild and lawless place - somewhat other from the mainstream of Scottish Culture, which was as much as anything to do with its remoteness and inaccessibility. The Galloway hills played an important part in this image especially as at various point in history it was a place of refuge for fugitives who did not fit into, or defied, the power structure of their times There is still a sense of otherness about the place.
Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland on 25 March 1306 little more than a month after he had been involved at Dumfries in the murder of John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, otherwise known as the Red Comyn, (a serious rival for the kingship of Scotland, as his mother was Eleanor Balliol who was the eldest daughter of John I de Balliol) . Another branch of the Comyn family at his time was that of John Comyn Earl of Buchan. His father Alexander had been Sheriff of Wigtown (1263-1266) and a Guardian of Scotland (1286-89), and they held land in the south west of Scotland before being granted the lands in Buchan - which explains why there are place names with Buchan in them in the Galloway hills area like Buchan Hill and Dungeon of Buchan.
Bruce's army lost to Edward I's forces at the Battle of Methven in June 1306 and he became a fugitive hunted not only by the occupying forces of Edward but also by the Comyns and the Balliols. He escaped to Rathlin Island off the Irish coast but by February 1307 he was back in Scotland, in the Galloway hills, with a tiny handful of followers and totally encircled by his enemies - a king hunted like an animal. However, following a successful early raid on the English forces at Raploch Moss near Clatteringshaws, he had his first victory against the English forces at the battle of Glen Trool. Though this was probably more of a minor skirmish in the guerrilla mode of William Wallace, it was important from a propaganda point of view in the recruitment of men to Bruce's cause.
In 1929 on the 600th anniversary of Bruce's death, Bruce's Stone was placed high above the northern shore of Loch Trool from where legend has it that he had commanded the ambush which took place on the Steps of Trool on the other side of the loch. He lived for some 3 months as a fugitive in these hills before he was able to break out of his confinement and go on eventually to the much more significant victory at Bannockburn in 1314 which gave Scotland some relief in the first War of Independence and the near subjugation to the English Crown which had ensued after the death of King Alexander III on 19 March 1286.
Robert the Bruce's brother Edward who was later to become High King of Ireland had long since carried out a successful campaign against the Comyn/Balliol faction in the south west of Scotland before Bannockburn.
Through most of the 17th century the Presbyterian Church in Scotland struggled against the will of the Stewart Kings in their attempts to impose Anglican and even (with James II) Catholic practices in the Scottish Church. The Presbyterian Church claimed that every man was equal in the eyes of God, could read and understand the Bible for himself and therefore needed no hierarchical form of priesthood, especially one which was appointed under the patronage of the most powerful people in the land, to act between them and their God. The covenanters believed that the reformation settlement in England had simply replaced the power of the Pope over the church with the power of the king over it and they would not have their religious freedom laid down for them by the crown.
In some ways their principles were political harbingers on the path towards later principles of democratic forms of government and were seen at the time as dangerous sedition by kings who still believed in the Divine right of kings. The National Covenant was drawn up in 1638 and it is from this that the Covenanters take their name - with reference beyond that to the Covenants of the Bible.The South West of Scotland was a particular hot bed of resistance to the will of the kings in religious matters and over time both sides in this conflict went to extreme ends to have their way.
The full weight of the state was brought against the fanatical religious idealism of the Covenanters; most of whom were ordinary people. Over a protracted period of time they were hunted in the hills of Galloway much as Bruce had been and were prepared to risk summary and brutal execution for their beliefs if caught. Those suffering this fate were seen by their fellows as martyrs for the cause. Like the Bruce they were idealistic fugitives in the Galloway hills fighting for what they believed in and there were several battles between the covenanters and the crown forces in various parts of Scotland.
In their case however their struggles to survive in these hills and practice their beliefs there through conventicles  are counted in years rather than months. Eighty two persons were summarily killed by the troops during the Killing Time (1684-85). Since these are only the ones which were witnessed and recorded the numbers could be much more. "All over the more desolate parts the Covenanters were being massacred by the soldiers and their bodies left to rot on the heather where they fell. No records were kept of such killings; the victims were simply regarded as 'missing' for none of their relatives or friends knew how or where they had died. For many years after the killing times shepherds were continually finding on hills and moors the bleached skeletons of covenanters who had been killed in this way". The matter was not resolved until after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when under William of Orange presbyterianism was finally established as the faith of most Scots and the presbyterian Church of Scotland was accepted by the authorities as the established church although, though even he, a fellow Calvinist, found the more fanatical Presbyterians hard to handle.
In the 18th century the stonemason Robert Paterson devoted his life to going round the country restoring the monuments of the covenanting martyrs and Walter Scott used this real life character as the model for "Old Mortality". The Galloway author S.R.Crockett wrote several covenanting novels set around the Galloway Hills, including The Men of the Moss Hags, and Silver Sand.
The 18th century was the heyday of smuggling along the Solway Coast - sitting as it does only around 20 miles (30 km) from the Isle of Man, the pathway for most contraband goods. The Galloway hills offered a refuge for these far from idealistic lawless rogues and ruffians - somewhere to retreat to in times of trouble and as a safe route for the strings of up to 200 laden horses which carried their goods to Glasgow or Edinburgh. "During the early 18th century Galloway was infested with gypsies,and it was no accident that Sir Walter Scott should have introduced Meg Merrilees and her tribe into his novel 'Guy Mannering' which is set in the Stewartry." Gypsy or "Tinkler" clans were heavily involved in the trafficking side of smuggling - getting the contraband to its market. The most notorious of these gypsy smugglers was Billy Marshall (King of the Gypsies) who is said to have fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 at the age of 18 and died on 28 November 1792 - 120 years old and having married 17 times. He was also one of the leaders of the Levellers (not to be confused with the Levellers in England). The actions of the Galloway Levellers have been described as the "most significant agrarian rebellion" in 18th century Scotland. They knocked down dykes during the night as quickly as enclosing landlords built them during the day. The Galloway author S.R.Crockett uses the Levellers Rebellion as a sub-plot in his novel The Dark o' the Moon'which is set in the Galloway Hills, especially around the Dungeon Range. Crockett wrote several other stories of Galloway smugglers and gypsies 
Another story from west Galloway which helped to give an extra edge to the picture of lawlessness in the area was the legend of the extensive cannibal family of Sawney Bean.
Scotland's National Bard Robert Burns was an excise man in eastern Galloway at the time of his death in 1796.