Friday, 20 June 2008

18 June Muirkirk to Sanquhar

‘Though the way be long, let your heart be strong,’
Harry Lauder

Nine thirty at Kaimes car park and Davie arrived dead on time. The other three had arrived bare two minutes earlier. The morning was overcast but the forecast was for sunshine and showers and our weather man said this was accurate so we looked forward to a long but pleasant walk. The intention was to walk the seventeen miles of the old turnpike road from Muirkirk to Sanquhar. A little before twenty to ten we started walking.
As was to be expected, the Sanquhar road was taken. Paul noticed the remains of Springhill for the first time and was informed of its history though we tried hard not to get Jimmy started on his history lessons. This is one of his ‘roads’. Rex had to turn back after a few hundred yards to look for a fallen lens cap. A hint of the way the day was to progress came then for the rest walked on and Rex found himself well off the pace. This was to be a fast walk for we had to keep to train schedules. However Rex was back in the company before we reached McAdam’s Cairn.
We walked on briskly to the Sanquhar bridge. This was where Jimmy dropped off the pace. It was not because it was a particularly fast pace but because Jimmy was taking pictures for his ‘roads’. There was a wind blowing but the day wasn’t especially cold and the climb to the head of the pass fairly warmed us up. The road was once maintained as a shooter’s road up to the pass but this hasn’t been done for many years now and it is becoming torn up by the use of quad bikes. Near the fence was a morass of peat where these bikes have ripped away the road surface and the surrounding moss. At least the peat was dry today and didn’t impede our progress. We waited for Jimmy at the gate at the top of the pass. Three miles gone. Now came the wet bit.
According to he who knows these things, the old road rises and falls barely four metres in the next two kilometres and it crosses an area of sphaggy bog. The road has been closed as such for nearly two hundred years and, though it hasn’t yet obscured the line, the moss is attempting to reclaim it. Plenty of scope for wet feet then. But the weather has been good to us over the last six weeks and today the moss was comparatively dry. Only the occasional soggy bit had to be negotiated and this was done easily enough with only one foot sinking too deep. This dry ‘wet section’ brought us to the Range Cleuch where coffee was taken. Four and a half miles gone.
Davie set the agenda for today for he was the one with the train timetable. And it would seem that halts were to be brief for, even as Jimmy was in mid swallow, the rucksacks were shouldered and we were for the off again. ‘Off’ meant folowing the road behind the sheep buchts of Glenmuirshaw. Here again the quad bike damage was noted for what was once a smooth grass track was, in parts, peaty quagmire. Still, it was dry today and we were across it in no time. Davie suggested a detour round the Deil’s Back Door but we thought this might be tongue in cheek and his suggestion was ignored. We stuck to the old turnpike, striding out on the grass road round the flank of Pepper Hill towards the trees of Penbreck forest. Here we crossed the March Burn and entered Dumfriesshire. Six miles gone.
We thought the wet bit was behind us but we didn’t reckon on vehicle damage churning the forest floor into peaty glaur. And the trees have begun to close the gap of the old road shutting out any drying sunshine. The muck was wet, cloying and deep. Paul sunk his stick to a depth of two feet and didn’t reach bottom. So to avoid it we took to the trees. Others must have had the same problem for a rudimentary path is being formed through the trees and we held to this until the muck was passed. Then we found the forest road and a signpost saying ‘Sanquhar seven miles’.
Davie recalled the time he came this way and got lost. Rex wondered how anybody could get lost for all you had to do was follow the forest road. Some miles later we came to a fork in the road. The well surfaced road with the lorry tracks veered left. An older, poorly surfaced road left it on the right. It would be easy to follow the more used road. Ours was the road less travelled. Rex could see how it might be easy to get lost. But there was now a signpost saying ‘Sanquhar seven miles’. Eh?
The rain came and we waterproofed. Even Jimmy. But it lasted no length of time at all and that was the last we were to see of it for the day. We cleared the forest and came down to Black Gannoch conventicle site which Davie pointed out. We de-waterproofed. Then downward still to Fingland where we found tarmac and a sign said ‘Sanquhar six miles’ Eleven miles gone and lunch was taken. Like our previous halt this was briefer than of late and we were on the road again. Upward now, still on tarmac. Jimmy pointed out to Paul where the path to St Connel’s Kirk left the road. Then it was upward yet to the shoulder of Todholes Hill. Thirteen miles gone
We could see Sanquhar lying below us for the last four miles but it never seemed to get any closer. The way was downward and the tarmac was heating the feet. Davie had to stop to treat blisters. Paul felt toes squashed against boot fronts. Jimmy felt knees aching and Rex had overheated feet. Did we complain? Not much. Fifteen miles gone and Sanquhar stayed in the distance. Aches and pains spread to other places as the tarmac took its toll. Sanquhar stayed in the distance. Sixteen miles gone. Sanquhar came a little closer. We were for the 15:25 train We crossed the railway as the 14:15 train passed under us. Sanquhar was reached at 14:40. Seventeen miles in a little over five hours. Not bad for old blokes.
We had intended to take a pint in the Crown but feet and joints said, ‘find the nearest pub’. This was the Nithsdale Hotel.
A good day and we feel confident that the aches and pains will fade away in time.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

11 June Muirsheil Revisited

‘Blows the wind today, and the sun and the rain are flying, -
Blows the wind on the moor today and now,’
RL Stevenson

We gathered at the Irvine Ooter’s place this morning to see how his recuperation is progressing. It is pleasing to note that he has flung away his crutches and is standing tall, running to the door even. He will be with us again by the end of the summer. His coffee and warm, fresh scones were very much appreciated by the group, as they always are. And it was good to see Peter for a while as well. This visit to Johnny and the promise to return in the afternoon to drink his beer meant that today’s walk was necessarily shorter and more local than of late and Muirsheil was chosen.
The same route was to be taken as the last outing here (7/5/2008). Only the personnel and the weather were changed. Neither Paul or Rex were with us the last time and the weather today was cooler and brighter with the air much clearer. The forecast was for squally showers but did we care? Well, perhaps.
A few spots of rain hit us as we prepared to leave the cars at Muirsheil Visitor Centre. It wasn’t heavy rain and it didn’t last long but it was enough to make the timorous wear the waterproofs. Much to Jimmy’s approval Paul wore a fetching new cap bedecked with saltires and the word ‘Scotland’ emblazoned on it. Rex wore an old cap for his favourite one is still on Arran. And thus protected against the weather we set off long the road to the old barytes mine.
Holly was on her best behaviour today. Sheep and lambs grazed on the moor and alongside the road. Holly was more interested in her stick than the sheep. Davie was complimented on the way he has trained her and he made the most of this for compliments are few in the Ooters.
The sun came out and the wind blew white clouds across the sky. The day was turning pleasant though Davie persisted with the waterproofs just in case. And, as we climbed with the road, the eastern landscape opened out to reveal towns on the valley side. A debate ensued as to their identity. ‘Bridge of Earn’, Jimmy said until it was pointed out that this was actually in Stirlingshire and the place we could see might be Bridge of Weir. Or Kilmacolm. Or Kilbarchan. And Glasgow showed up in the distance. Or was it Paisley? If only somebody had a map……….. Debate continued as we walked in to the barytes mine and the road climbed higher. Elevenses (twelveses actually) were taken at the mine. Davie took off his waterproofs.
After coffee Davie led us into the quarry where only he had ventured the last time. Jimmy was still protecting a sair knee and was dubious about the climb out of the quarry. It hurt. But it did bring us to the same path that we took the last time along the quarry side. We climbed with it. Jimmy remembered the gully from the last time and took to the left hand side. Davie went right. Those who should know better followed Davie and ended up climbing down into the gulley and clambering up the other side.
Once back on the track and climbing, the landscape really opened out and we could see what we couldn’t on the last visit. Ben Lomond was the obvious peak in the north. Rex suggested Ben More was the twin peak to the left. Jimmy was doubtful. And, as we climbed more of the southern highlands came into view. We stopped frequently to examine the increasing panorama. Rain showers, driven on the fresh wind, scudded across the country obscuring what lay beyond for a few minutes then revealing it afresh as they sped on to be followed by the sun. We hoped we could avoid these showers and stay in the sun.
The path ran out and we took to the heather. Though it was slightly taller than it was on the last visit, it was still short and the going was easier than it might have been. Rex had thought that we were just walking on the road and had worn trainers and he had to skip the shpaggy bits, still wet despite the dryness of the month. The rest plunged through. A stunted fir tree could be seen on the horizon and we made for this. It was on the top of the hill. Slake was just to our right about half a mile away and looked inviting but it was felt that if we went there we would not have time to visit Johnny so the original plan was kept to.
Across the hill we went with Davie and Rex leading and Jimmy and Paul coming on behind. Behind us now Ben Lomond was revealed behind the rain. And now Ben More could be seen to its right. The hill that we thought might be Ben More was probably Cruach Ardrain to the north of Loch Lomond. And, to the south, the Galloway hills formed the horizon. Jimmy thought that the high ground immediately south might be Blacksidend but couldn’t be sure. If only somebody had a map!
There was only the briefest of halts on the next top for a few spots of rain were felt and a descent was made towards the small reservoir we saw below us as we approached the hill. The rain appeared to get heavier and the sky behind us got greyer. Davie clambered back into waterproofs. By this time Jimmy was making his way away to the left while the rest bore right following Davie again. (You would think they would know by now.) Came a ‘Coooooooo-eee’ from Jimmy* who by this time was out of sight on the left. The rest followed the call and found Jimmy sitting beside the reservoir. The rain went and afternoon coffee was taken while Holly did her thing in the water.
We followed the path from the dam to find the barytes road again and took this back to the centre.
A a shorter but perfectly good day Though a day of sun and showers, we managed to avoid most of the showers.
Refreshment was taken back at Johnny’s place in Irvine.
* Is he turning Aussie?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

4 June Arran - The Western Hills

We left home in the middle of the night, at least that’s what it felt like to the scribe. The cause of this semi-nocturnal stirring was an appointment with the seven o’clock ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick for we were for Arran today. Not only were we for the island, the four of us, but we were for the hills on the far side of it so an early start was felt necessary. It was Davie’s walk and this was his feeling. So by car, boat and bus, we found ourselves at Thunderguy at nine o’clock in the morning. The morning was clear and sunny and it looked set to stay that way for the day though the Met Office hinted at rain in the afternoon.
Rex had already spotted the black guillemot at Brodick harbour and red deer had been seen from the bus near Sannox but more spectacular sights were to be seen as we climbed the hill. We climbed almost immediately for the track came up through the houses of the clachan and continued to a high style on a deer fence above there. The open hill was found on the other side of the fence but the path was well constructed and the walking was easy. It was Davie who spotted the bird hawking over the heather and Jimmy, the only one with binoculars today, identified it as a merlin. He was also to identify the bigger bird seen further up the hill, the one being mobbed by a raven only a quarter of its size. It was a golden eagle, one bird from the six pairs on the island. Senses were now alert for other sightings of the island wildlife.
Then the path steepened and attention was turned to the climb. But we stopped occasionally to ease the effort and to look at the view over Kilbrennan Sound to Kintyre and beyond. The Paps of Jura showed faintly in the distance and, higher still, Rex pointed out Ghia lying low in the water beyond Knapdale. Eventually the slope eased and we found ourselves at Corrie Fhionn Lochan. It was now ten o’clock but elevenses were taken on a granite sand beach for body clocks told us it was now around mid-day. As we sat looking into the face of the corrie Davie pointed out the high level route we would take along its lip.
The slope onto this lip was steep, steeper than anything we had encountered so far today, and took us up through stunted heather, granite boulders and weird weather sculpted granite outcrops to a high pass and into the wind. The view opened out for us then. It was not significantly better in the west for the haze still hung in that direction, but in the east it was spectacular for we looked directly into the high, rugged eastern peaks and ridges that make Arran famous. The higher we climbed the more spectacular the view became as more and more peaks came into view. And we did climb, steeply yet, on to the lip of the Corrie Fhionn to look down on its lochan. Davie was persuaded to pose for the photo shoot (he didn’t take too much persuasion) and cameras clicked while Paul and Jimmy debated whether the lochan was glacial or volcanic in origin. The conclusion is pending. Then we continued the climb to top out on a sward of short heather and mountain grasses on the summit of Meall Donn.
Early lunch was taken on Meall Donn, not so much for the sake of eating but to take in the view of the high peaks beyond Loch Tanna. The horizon was formed by Goat Fell and its ridge, Stachach, running on to North Goat Fell. The nearer line consisted of the granite tors of An Casteil, the jagged peak of Cir Mhor, the ridge of A’Chir, the higher Ben Tarsuin and the end-stop of Ben Nuis. With all of this above the defile of Glen Iorsa and Loch Tanna lying beneath us, a magnificent backdrop to our peece stop was had. It was a long, lingering lunch that was taken this day for there was a reluctance to move on.
When the thrall of the surroundings was broken and we did move on, the route was downward for a bit but still retained the height of the ridge above the loch. Then began a less steep climb than before through the scattered boulders on the shoulder of Ben Bhreac. When this summit was gained another break was called for this was a day for many and long breaks. (Other members of the Ooters please note.) There was time enough for Jimmy and Paul to name the cloud formations now beginning to gather but their conclusion was that they were harmless cumulus and stratus. Davie and Rex feigned interest. There was also time for Rex and Paul to compare GPS’s and talk technicalities and for Jimmy and Davie to talk birds. There was plenty of time for talking about things this day.
We came off Ben Bhreac in a south-westerly direction heading for Beinn Bharrain. The strength of the breeze on the tops masked the strength of the sun so precautions had been taken to protect exposed skin. It has probably been noted that some of us have more exposed skin than others though all of us are beginning to grow solar panels of varying sizes. Rex was sensible and kept his cap on for most of the outing. He would have kept it on for the whole outing had a gust of the aforementioned breeze not taken a liking to it. Off from his head it was plucked, over the sward it was blown, over the edge of a boulder it dropped to be last seen by Jimmy as it fell into a crevice in an outcrop. Despite a comprehensive search, from top and bottom, the cap remains there and Rex has to go bare-headed. At least his solar panel is not fully developed - yet!
We made the final descent of the day off the south top of Bheinn Bharrain. At first we followed a path of sorts but this petered out after a while and we had to make our own way down through the heather. Davie said we should make for the path on the far side of the burn. This entailed crossing a flattish area of moss. Here we had occasion to be grateful fro the recent dry weather for the sphaggy bog and open peat hags might have been soggy and wet. Today, however, it was dry and crisp and gave a slight crunch underfoot as we crossed it to the burn. The path was found on the other side of the burn just as Davie said, and we followed it down the side of a deep and interesting gorge to the fenced off fields above Pirnmill.
This was Davie’s walk but it would not be a true Davie walk without getting lost. He did not let us down. There came a new-built style over the deer fence but the path appeared to go straight on. We went straight on. We came into a grove of trees. The path degenerated amongst the bracken. We went straight on. The path disappeared altogether. We were lost but we went straight on. We found a bridge and crossed the burn and went straight on. Then came another burn without a bridge. We crossed this and clambered up the far bank. There was a gate at the top which gave access to a field sloping down towards the road. We sloped down with it only to find a field of tatties between us and the road. We finished the walk by coming through a tattie field, finding the road and walking back to the Pirnmill tea-room.

We had to take the bus back to Brodick before we could replace fluids. This was done in Mac’s Bar.

This was a superb day, one which ranks among the best two or three of the Early Ooters outings. There is no doubt that, weatherwise, we had the best of the day for, as the ferry pulled away from Brodick pier, the cloud was down over the high tops. The correct decision was made to take the early ferry to the island. Despite the complaints of having to rise in the middle of the night, we will probably do it again.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

28 May, Barony Hill

'Into each life some rain must fall.' - Longfellow

A meagre gathering of three Early Ooters, Rex, Davie and Paul (plus the intrepid Holly, of course) assembled in the main street of Dailly for a repeat of last year's walk.

Well, not quite a repeat since last year the weather was bright and sunny!

Rain had been forecast and it was there to greet the walkers in Dailly upon their arrival. Cloud was hanging over some of the surrounding hills, but the day's objective, Barony Hill, remained mercifully clear of nimbostratus.

It was to be a wet gear walk.

Upon departure the 'excuses' supplied by the absentees were carefully scrutinised. Lindsayton Wood gave us some early respite from the rain, but then we were out in the open, passing the pigsty with satellite TV and walking amongst the mayflower which was blossoming in great profusion.

In one of the fields at Whitehill Farm was a beast with a rear hoof which was two or three times normal size. It was a pathetic sight as it hobbled through the rainswept fields.

What it thought of us is not recorded.

Coffee was taken at the ruins of Machrikill chapel and then a new stile was crossed as we accessed the open moor and began the climb along the ridge to the summit. This part of the walk was very much a "heads down" trudge into the rain.

There was no posing for photographs this time on the top (as he writes, your correspondent is looking at a photograph of 7 suntanned 'professional gentlemen' [© P Kleboe] sporting t-shirts and shorts and gathered around the attractively carved seat at the trig point). Even if someone had actually thought to bring a camera we still wouldn't have posed, such was the filthiness of the weather.

We didn't linger on the top.

The only difficult piece of navigation on the whole walk is from the top of Barony Hill towards the mineworkings and limekilns. Since it was "Paul's walk" he took responsibility for leading the descent. Not wishing to get his map wet, and being unable to see through his rain-covered spectacles he took a rough guess as to the correct direction. He was relieved to find he had got it right. He trusts he did not convey his anxiety and inner turmoil to the other members of the party.

At this point it is worth noting that Paul had considered doing the walk in the opposite direction from last time - just to make it a little more interesting for Rex and Davie. It turned out not to be necessary since neither Rex nor Davie could recall anything from the original walk! Holly, however, appeared to be aware that she had done the walk before.

And now the fruits of a little research:

The extensive workings below Barony Hill formed part of Lannielane Limeworks.

A contemporary writer says of the workings "The sound of underground water suggests that the workings are flooded. In the dark or in poor visibility, this would be a dangerous area for walkers."

Ordnance Survey 1859

One of the parts of the double limekiln is flooded. We chose to have lunch in the other although in all truth it would have made little difference to us such was our sodden nature. The limekiln provided shelter from the rain, but we couldn't help thinking of our last lunch here in the sunshine, sitting on the banks of the Falfarocher burn.

Reluctantly we packed up and returned to the rain. We descended through the glen and into the beautiful Falfarocher Wood before wending our way along the banks of the River Girvan, through long wet grass at times and over the shoogly bridge back into Dailly.

Having frightened the natives by stripping down to our underwear in the main street, we donned our dry clothing and retired to the King's Arms, in the village. In this age of the theme pub, the King's Arms has adopted a very convincing 1950s retro theme. When you've just come in from a long wet walk there's nothing like a welcoming genial host to raise your spirits, and mine host at the King's Arms was nothing like that.........

(I have taken the liberty of following Jimmy's example of providing a literary quotation at the start of this account and I suggest it should become a regular feature!)