Tuesday, 30 September 2008

24 September Ardrossan to Portincross and Irvine Burns Club

The gathering:
We gathered at Johnny's place in Irvine and partook of his usual hospitality. Thanks again,J. The day was to be in two parts for we were booked, at Davie and Jimmy's request, to visit Irvine Burns club at two-thirty. This we knew. But we gathered at Johnny's with different opinions of what the morning should be. Some thought we were for a walk in Eglington, some that we were for the coast at Ardrossan; some came armed with a peece and expected to dine alfresco, some though that we were to have lunch in the Turf Inn so came peeceless. Great debate ensued during coffee with even greater changes of mind and nothing was really decided on. Where is Robert when we need him? Eventually Ian made the decision. Ardrossan it was to be.
We were joined this morning by Allan Sim. What he thought of our organisation he kept to himself. But we have been organised for the last thirty-odd years so we deserve a little disorder now. And we are quite happy in our muddle.
The Walk:
So, Ardrossan it was, then. And we would walk as far as Portincross or as near to here as an hour would take us for we had an appointment to keep and a two-hour walk might be sufficient for the morning. Davie led the way. On to the beach, he led us. Unlike last week, this beach was firm sand for the tide was on the ebb, leaving us with easy walking. Though the sun tried to break through and the air was reasonable dry and clear, views were restricted from this low down. But, for the third time in four weeks, we saw .... the sea. The birders looked for birds. Oystercatcher, curlew, redshank, dunlin and various gulls were spotted. Even seals were seen today, grey seals according to he who knows these things.
We came to Seamill and took to a path through the rough grasses behind the houses. A man, turning over a part of it with a spade, offered us a job but we politely declined for it was obvious to us that he was enjoying himself too much to take the work away from him. We left him to it. Then Seamill golf course was found. While the birders were content of find stonechat, the golfers tried to spot golfers but they were distant and difficult to identify. Johnny, who is neither birder nor golfer, tried to spot stray golf balls and succeeded. He picked it up for Rex. By now, our hour was up and we sat beside the path by the golf course for coffee.
The sea continued to dominate the view but the headland of Portincross was just in front of us and Arran showed across the water. It was still covered in cloud but this was lifting. Even Paddy's Milestane showed on the horizon and Jimmy was able to identify the ranges of the Galloway hills. It was a very pleasant coffee stop.
The walk back was by the same route. Golfers were spotted. This time they were much closer, close enough to see their colourful plumage, hear their communication calls and witness their bonding display. 'Ripper!' exclaimed Rex as one of the golfers displayed a particularly good move. (Remember Rex is an Aussie and uses a different language from the rest of us.) The golfers froze and looked in our direction but our presence didn't upset them unduly and they carried on with their ritual each taking his turn to display. Since there were no females present, we think they must have been competing for supremacy of the flock. We watched them until they moved away out of sight. Then we moved on.*
After a mile or so, we could see two men and a dog some two hundred metres in front of us. They looked very much like Rex and Davie with Holly. Funnily enough, when we got back to the cars Davie said when he looked back there were five old fellows following about two hundred metres behind.
This was a good couple of hours walking but, if we see the sea much more this year, some of us will be seasick.
The lunch:
We returned to Johnny's where some got toffed-up for the afternoon. The rest remained as scruff. The pub lunch lobby won the day (they had to or they would starve) and we retired to the Turf Inn for a bite. No luck here though, for, contrary to the sign on the wall and Johnny's belief, the Turf didn't have food. So we went to the Ship Inn at the harbour where we enjoyed a hearty lunch. We might have enjoyed another pint but the purse holder refused to pay the prices asked. He promises to make it up to us another day.
The Burns Club:
Ian and Graham showed us round Irvine Burns Club in the afternoon. Their knowledge and enthusiasm for their subject generated an interest even amongst the non-Burnsians. Paintings were admired, original manuscripts were examined and Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions of the poet's works were handled. The library is extensive and some would have remained there for days if we had let them. As it was, a very quick couple of hours passed, a couple of hours enjoyed by all of us. Our thanks to Ian and Graham. And our thanks to Johnny for arranging the visit.
* We think Jimmy has been watching birds for far too long. It's beginning to affect his writing.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

17 September Ayrshire Coast Part 2 - Ballantrae to Lendalfoot

'Then I knew I was lost indeed. For by the flickering light of a dying fire of driftwood I could see that I was again in the cave of Sawny Bean, with the same narrow hams a-swing on the roof, the tubs of salt meat festering under the eaves, and the wild savage crew dancing about me'
from: The Grey Man
SR Crocket

We thought we had missed the bus. The intention was to drive to Lendalfoot, take the bus to Ballantrae and walk the Ayrshire Coastal Path back to the cars. But we thought we had missed the bus. The timetable (don't you just hate that word?) said the bus was to leave Lendalfoot at 10:22. We were held up by road works but still managed to arrive at the bus stop at 10:22. We waited. For fifteen minutes, we waited. We thought we had missed the bus but, fifteen minutes late, it arrived.
The bus dropped us at The King's Arms in Ballantrae. This is where we finished the last part of the walk so it was the appropriate place to start the second. If the walk of a fortnight ago was to be the example for the Ayrshire Coastal Path, we looked forward to a super walk again today. It wasn't to be a long walk - six and a half miles, said Rex's book - but Ian, who knows well this part of the coast, promised some interesting bits. But first, we had the village to clear.
As we walked down towards the beach, we came across a gang of grass-cutters standing round a lorry-load of lawn-mowers. Community service boys by the look of them, overseen by a man of our own age. Rex copped an earful when he asked if they were having another busy day. 'How come you fellows never pass us when we're working?' was the gist of what was said but perhaps these weren't the exact words. And why he should question Rex's parentage is beyond us.
Jimmy was beginning to do likewise when Rex led us onto the beach. 'I don't do soft sand' was his comment. But he was assured that it was okay for the beach wasn't soft sand, it was soft shingle. Yes, it was soft shingle and it stretched on before us meaning tough going for a while. The birders took their mind of the going by spotting. Wheatear, Sparrowhawk, Ringed plover etc. caught their attention. And the rest? Burn crossing and looking for firmer footing was their relief.
We cleared the shingle eventually by coming on to the old road, that section of the road that was abandoned when the new one over Benann was made. This should provide us with more stable footing now. Our ire was raised when we came to a locked gate across the road. Was this not a public road? As such was it no a 'Right of Way'? Is it not illegal to obstruct a right of way? We were indignant and climbed the gate anyway. Nobody was going to obstruct our passage! What we hadn't noticed was that the farmer who had barred the way was using the old road as a dump for farmyard manure. We waded through an inch or so of slurry while trying to avoid the bulk of the pile. We watched our feet carefully. But Ian was off the road and heading up a grass path. He was for Snibs cave and we followed.
Snibs, according to the memorial that Rex and Davie read, was a banker in Dundee. For some reason known only to him, he gave up banking, gave up society and came to live in this cave. He lived here for many years before his death at the tail end of last century. The cave is dry, even in this wet summer it is dry, and might have given Snibs a comfortable shelter. Not comfortable enough for us softies, though and we were soon back on the road. Back on the road and avoiding the glaur again.
There came another locked gate. and we climbed it thinking the way would be better on the other side. But we were wrong. The road was still mucky with animal droppings as the road is now used as part of the surrounding fields and sheep and cattle grazed here. There was another locked gate. And another. And another. Kissing gates beside these, obviously made as part of the long distance pathway, had been chained and nailed shut. Our indignation was raised again. And this was our progress towards the top of the hill and the main road.
Hunger called. Ian said we were only ten minutes from Sawney Bean’s cave and suggested were eat there. We agreed and left the main road on an overgrown grass pad heading towards the sea. This took us to the top of a cove ringed by craggy cliffs and steep grassy slopes. It looked as though there was no way down to the shingle below but our path became more distinct here and dropped us down a steep, and in some places slippery, grass slope to the beach. The sea lapped gently on the gravely beach and splashed against rocks at our end. It was among these rock that lay the entrance to Sawney Bean’s cave. We sat on outcrops in the shingle and ate.
Everybody in the group had heard the legend of Sawney Bean and his cave but none but Ian had been here. So, after lunch we went in search of the cave. It was easy to find, especially when Ian showed us where it was. Ian and Jimmy went first, clambering up the slippery rock to the cave entrance and entering the darkness. No hams hung from the roof, no fires burned under cooking pots and no voices other than ours could be heard. But it was easy to see how stories of such caves could be believed. The two were joined after a few minutes by Davie and the trio made an exploration into the cavern for around thirty metres until it narrowed. Speleology is not to any of our liking and they ventured no further. The entrance chamber was enough.
Rex fancied seeing the cave after Jimmy and Davie came back and told him about it. Ian returned with him. But Johnny and Paul preferred to stay on the shingle rather than risk the slippery rock to the entrance. Four of us sat on the beach and waited for the other two to return.
The climb from the beach back to the road was somehow easier than the descent. Now poor Holly's freedom had to be curtailed for we were now to follow the main road and busy road it is. We stayed on the grass verge on the descent of Benann, at least as far as the caravan park entrance, with the traffic speeding past. Not the best of walking conditions now. An old railway or something like it lay some twenty metres seaward and we thought that this would make a better walkway. Perhaps as the walk is established, it will be taken along this and through the caravan park. But, at the moment, we had to keep to the main road watching out for potholes in the grass. We found a pavement at the caravan park and this provided easier walking. It was kept to for the rest of the walk.
Seals lay on the rocks near the Varag memorial lay-by, grey seals according to the naturalists, and we watched them as we walked to the lay-by car park. Paul and Davie examined the Russian writing on the Varag monument and Davie gave Paul a lesson on Cyrillic script. Ian lingered by the shore talking to a woman about the seals. Jimmy called for an official photo round the monument but was largely ignored. And Johnny and Rex ambled on to the cars.
This was a curate’s egg of a walk - good in parts. The parts that were good were extremely interesting but the parts that weren’t so good will need a lot of work done if this is to become an official long distance walk.
The Fish inn in Girvan provided our fluid replacement therapy today. It will be the last time it does. The place was cheerless and what was left of the ale was tainted. We won’t be back.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

10 September Durisdeer 4 - That'll be Steygail there then!

Facts are cheils that winna ding!

Robert wasn't to blame this week. It was Jimmy who suggested Durisdeer and the wee hills to the north of the Well Path so if anybody is to blame it is him. There was a gap between two weather systems that, if we were lucky, would give us a reasonable day and the sun shone when we left the cars. Our weatherman said the rain wouldn't arrive before two so we expected a dry walk for we were to be down off the hill by that time according to he who knows these things. And underfoot conditions shouldn't be too bad either for these were dry sandstone based hills.
We took the Well Path as we had done before, Robert setting the pace into the valley and Paul and Johnny going with him. This group were so busy convers talki yapping that they passed the gate in the dyke that gave access to the Roman fort. They had to be shouted back for the newcomers to the area wanted to visit the fort and Jimmy said this was the best access for a track would take us directly there. We all went this way.
Yes, there was a track but on the bottom of the valley, this was less of a track and more series of puddles. At one point, it was under mucky brown water for around twenty metres. The sensible took to the grass on the high side. Johnny, confident in his gaiters, ploughed through the flood. This might have been successful had the track not dipped into a rut. Johnny was up to the knees with cold, mucky water oozing up into his gaiters and down the top of his boots. Wet feet for Johnny, I'm afraid. A hundred metres further on there could have been wet feet for others as well for there was a real burn to negotiate before we could tackle the climb to the fort. Jimmy said the hills were dry but said nothing of the valleys.
The fort was gained with most feet dry, though, and we stood for a while as the first timers examined what was left of it. 'An overnight marching fortlet', said the expert, 'on the road between the major forts of Dalswinton and Lanark. Probably capable of holding a century'. All that remains now is a playing-card shaped ditch and earth rampart with traces of the road beside it. Imagination populated the fortlet with Roman auxiliaries and the hills around with tartan clad Celts tending their flocks. Today, the fort was populated by Ooters and the hills by sheep and cattle. However, tempus fugit and we had to move on.
We took to the hill immediately behind the fort, Penbane it is called, for it was suggested that this wouldn't be nearly as steep as the climb from the head of the Well Path and at first the climb was easy on short-cropped grass through a herd of cows and a small flock of sheep. Somebody let Rex get to the front. Bad move! There were many calls from behind for 'view stops' for Rex can set a fair pace on the upslope and today was no exception. These calls became more frequent when the short-cropped grasses gave way to the courser hill stuff and the slope steepened. It was every man for himself on this steep section. Then Jimmy found the sheep track and the rest followed. The pace was slowed as he took the lead and the group was together again although strung in Indian file along the narrow path. This led us round the side of the hill, across the face of a steep slope to the pass under Well Hill. Coffee was called and we sat down, took coffee and looked at the hill in front of us and let the sun disappear behind some high cloud.
The morning fog was clearing from the high Lowthers just to the north of us. Davie set about naming the tops - Lowther Hill with its 'golf ball', Auchenlone or East Mount Lowther, Steygail..... 'Steygail my a**e!', exclaimed Jimmy, 'That's Steygail there!'. But Davie was sure of his facts. So was Jimmy. Davie was adamant. So was Jimmy. The wager was laid and the map was to be consulted in the pub.
The debate continued as we climbed Well Hill and continued when we stopped on the top. Now the surrounding hills were free of fog and the view was extensive to the north, east and south and we could see Steygail or not according to who you listened to. However, the Lowthers apart, we could look across to Tinto and the Culter Hills, south over Durisdeer Hill to Scaw’d Law and down Nithsdale to Criffel. Davie was disappointed that we couldn't see the Daer Reservoir for Roger Law was in the way but the view was good anyway.
We came off Well Hill in roughly the same direction we had climbed it, only slightly further north, quad tracks taking us this way. Rex and Jimmy set the pace on this downward section. They could see in front the way the quad tracks would take us down into a wee gorge so opted to stay high on a sheep path beside a fence. Davie followed the quad tracks. The others followed Davie. They changed their minds when they saw the way the tracks were going and crossed the deep grasses to follow the sensible pair. The hill began to rise again and Jimmy made back towards the quad tracks. The rest followed Jimmy. The quad tracks ran out and Jimmy took to the long grasses. The others followed. ‘A path would be a fine thing’, shouted Robert from the rear as he struggled though the tussocks. Jimmy and Rex took pity on him and found a new set of tracks that took us to the top of Black Hill ‘The first tracks were taking us towards Steygail’, said Jimmy. ‘That’s no’ Steygail!’, retorted an exasperated Davie, ‘That’s Steygail there!’
Hunger called on Black Hill so we dropped of the top into the lea of the hill for the peece. We could see both versions of Steygail now for the view was now in the westward. Still the Lowthers dominated but now we could look up Nithsdale to Corsencon and the Glen Afton hills, westward to the Galloways and Cairnsmore of Fleet and southwards to Criffel.
Peece finished we came back to the summit of Black Hill for our route lay down the south ridge of this. It was downwards all the way from this top and Robert set the pace, breaking into a run at one point. He is faster on the down-slope than on the up and set a cracking pace which some failed to keep up. However, the slope wasn’t long and the speedy waited at the bottom for the slow. We returned to Durisdeer as a group.
The Durisdeer Marbles had to be visited for we had newcomers to the area with us today. The story of the jewelled ring and brooch was told to the newcomers and the damage to the marble pointed out. The craftsmanship of the Italian sculptor was admired by the artist in our company and was appreciated by the others. All agreed they are worth seeing.
Then we retired to the pub, the Crown in Sanquhar, for the result of the great Steygail debate. Davie produced the map. Jimmy opened it and immediately conceded. His ‘Steygail’ was in fact Pettylung. Davie is correct but is he one to gloat? You bet he is and no doubt Jimmy will suffer. And suffer. And suffer. However, a pint is forthcoming, Davie.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

3 September Le Tour de Bute

There wis me, mysel' an' several mare,
We a' resolved tae hae a tare,
A' spend the day in Rothesay-o.

It was Bob’s fault. He holds up his hands and admits it. The intention of last week was for a cycle on Bute providing the weather was good - Davie hates cycling in rain - with the poor weather alternative of Ness Glen or Ayrshire coast part two. Bob assured us of good weather and we listened to his assurance and went to Rothesay. So all that followed was Bob’s fault.
What wasn’t Bob’s fault was Jimmy’s problem obtaining a car parking ticket in the station at Wemyss Bay. The ticket machines were out of order and Jimmy chased all over the station to find one that worked. There were none. But Frank, who appeared to be mending one, told Jimmy just to go on without. Such was Jimmy’s fluster over trying to find a working machine before the ferry left that he forgot to buy a ferry ticket for his bike. But this wasn’t Bob’s fault. Or was it for he was the last one to use the ticket machine before it jammed.
Jimmy got his breath back on the ferry to Rothesay. It was he, not Robert this time, who brought up the subject of the Victorian toilets near the pier. He and Davie paid a visit to examine the art nouveau tile-work while the rest went in search of a coffee house. The one we had used the last time we were here (23/6/06) was chock-full but Rex found us one on the sea front. Coffee and scones for some, coffee and biscuits for others. And thus caffeinated, we took to the road.
So far we had been on the road for well over two hours and only two hundred metres of cycling done. Now came the serious stuff. We climbed past where Johnny's son was carrrying out an archaeological survey and up past Rothesay Castle. We took a right turn here, all of us together as yet. The road climbed through and out of the town. And it continued to climb. And climb. Granny gears were engaged. Even this didn't help some who were reduced to Shanks's pony long before the summit was reached and we were stretched out all over the hill. But their walking pace wasn't so much slower than those who pedalled manfully and we were together again within a few minutes of the first of us gaining the summit.
We were now on a fairly level stretch overlooking Grennan Loch. There were geese here on our last visit but there was nothing today so we kept going. And the speed was increased as the road began to drop. Robert got carried away with this speed and plunged downward, his legs turning the pedals as he tried to get even more speed. Needless to say he was first to reach the turn-off that we were to take.
This new road climbed again and Robert resumed his usual position in the middle of the pack. The fit trio of Rex, Jimmy and Paul set the pace on the up followed by Robert and Davie. Johnny tried to close the gap but failed and completed the climb in his own pain. Ian struggled likewise and brought up the rear on his own. The fit trio realised then that they were too speedy and pulled up beside an information board overlooking the Saint Ninnian's Bay to Inchmarnock Island. Rex had already mentioned this island and its part in the second world war. The information board verified Rex's story. A flock of noisy geese landed in the field below us. 'Pink-feet', said the naturalist and answered Bob's query about the name. As we stood more and more geese were spotted already grazing the field. The first large flock of the autumn and a sign that winter is on its way. A spot of rain was felt. So we left the geese to themselves and took to wheel again.
The road rose a bit yet and then dropped towards the sea. A mile or so later we stopped again to see if we could spot Johnny's seal rock. We couldn't but neither could we spot Ian. Concern was growing when the bold Ian appeared round a bend having stopped for a call of nature. A few more spots of rain came. We wheeled on. The rain came in earnest now and the fit raced for the shelter of the pub at Kingarth, stringing the group out along the road. It was Robert's fault and he admitted it.
Jimmy and Rex made the pub first followed by Paul. They managed to avoid the worst of the weather and arrived relatively dry. Robert arrived. Then Davie, dripping wet. Johnny came sometime later dressed in black waterproofs and appearing like a drookit craw, water running off him and forming puddles on the floor. But here was no Ian. Concern again. Robert and Jimmy went to look for him but only got as far as the door for the downpour suppressed there concern somewhat. Ian arrived having covered the last two miles in his own little world of pain. Though he didn't say as much, the look on his face said that he was relieved to sit on a soft chair in the dry of the pub and have lunch.
An hour and a half was taken over lunch, a leisurely lunch for a change, during which we set the world to rights once again. And during lunch the rain went and the sun broke through. The sun was shining as, well fortified by ale and burgers, we set off to cover the final four miles back to Rothesay.
The first mile of these four was uphill. It wasn't particularly steep but it was long and strung us out again. But the top came at a war memorial by the roadside and the advanced group waited again. Johnny was first to spot the rain coming in and took proper precautions. Robert led the chorus of derision for he said that the rain scudding across the sea would soon pass. Johnny wasn't as convinced as the rest and stayed waterproofed. So it was robert's fault when the rain came.
For two miles now the road fell and we looked forward to a super freewheel. Then the rain came. And it was heavy. Robert picked up the pace, it was his fault and he admitted it. Rex and Jimmy went with him and the rest were once again strung out along the road. We had thought of a visit to Mount Stewart but, given the present downpour, the fast three ran on past the entrance. It was Robert's fault - he kept the pace high. So our visit is still to come.
Rothesay was reached in a deluge. Rex and Jimmy were first to arrive having kept the pace high along the seafront and dropped Robert somewhere along here. He arrived next. Then Davie and Paul. Then Johnny. And Ian came in his usual position for the day. All of us, all that is except Johnny who had the foresight to wear waterproofs, were drookit from the knees down as puddle-splash soaked feet and legs.
But it was all Robert's fault. On the way back home on the ferry he admitted it. Since we are not quite sure what he was admitting to, we are blaming him for everything.

Bute Cycle 2 - Le tour de Bute (Alternative version)

We went for a cycle tae Rothesay,
A sociable geth’rin’ tae be,
There wis Robert and Rex and Ian and Paul,
And Johnny and Davie and me.

We raced frae the ferry wi’ fervour,
But got only as faur as the loo,
Whar twa o’ oor lot dismountit,
The Art Nouveau tiles tae view.

So we waited for Davie and Jimmy,
While the arty tiles they viewed,
Then we gethered thegither for comp'ny again,
Afore we took tae the road.
(Sorry aboot this contorted rhyme,
I think I must hae been drunk at the time.)

But first we’d tae fuel wi’ coffee
An’ biscuit or teacake or scone,
For the road, stretchin’ faur oot before us,
We kennt tae be long and rin oan.

Efter the coffee we mounted,
And gallantly took tae the road,
Oan machines o’ a dubious order,
That groaned wi’ an excessive load.

Fower hunner yairds had we covered.
An’ never a thocht o’ a stope,
An’ we a’ stuck thegither like masons,
At least tae the fit o’ the slope.

That brae seemed tae go oan forever,
But it sorted the wheat frae the chaff,
The fit reached the summit nae bother,
The weak felt the pain and got aff.

They walked tae the tap o’ the mountain,
Pushin’ their bikes at their side,
While the fit yins waited up oan the heights,
On a bit lookin’ ow'r tae the Clyde.

Noo the doon-slope wis taken wi’ gusto,
The big gears soondin’ a whirr,
The pedals were turnin’ like blazes,
An’ Robert’s wee legs were a blur.

But the speed only lasted a wee while,
For the road took an upturn again,
The fit took aff like they’re whippets,
The others succumbed tae the pain.

Rex, Paul and Jimmy (the fit yins)
Were first tae the tap o’ the hill
Where, tae wait for the ithers tae jine them,
They drew up their bikes for a while.

Robert was first yin tae jine them,
Wi' an "A wisnae trying" type pose,
Then Davie came strugglin' upwards,
Wi' the sweat dreepin' aff o' his nose.

For Johnny and Ian it wis torture,
Their legs and their erses on fire,
An' only by cursing the fit folk ,
The pair o' them got ony higher.

We stood by the roadside thegither,
Tae ease the puir buggers o' pain,
Then, wi the pair hauf recovered,
We a' took tae wheel yince again.

The rain came. We a’ charged for shelter,
Which came in the shape o’ a pub,
Said Rex, 'Noo that we're in here,
We micht as weel order some grub'.

An 'oor and a hauf tae oor dinner,
Saw the demise o' the rain,
An' fuelled wi' ale and cheese burgers,
We took tae the road yince again.

Anither brae saw us a' knackered,
Even the fit yins this time,
But still they'd tae wait at the summit,
For the walkers tae feenish the climb.

Johnny dressed up for the wather,
He waterproofed up tae the chin,
In spite o' the sarcastic comments,
For he saw the rain comin' in.

The rain came again in a doonpour,
An' boy wis it comin' doon,
'Stair-rods' disnae describe it,
An' we were three miles frae the toon.

At least the route noo lay doonwards'
It was the best bit o' the run,
But the rain comin' doon in a torrent,
Spiled the maist o' oor fun.

Still, we skelpit through dub and through mire,
The rain comin' doon in a sheet,
Water stotin' up frae the pavement,
Soakin' oor legs an' oor feet.

We came back tae Rothesay fair drookit,
In dribs an' in drabs we came in,
But nae maiter the place we feenished the race,
We were soakit richt through tae the skin.

We relaxed in the heat o' the ferry
As gently it carried us hame,
And, in spite o' the wather an' upslopes,
We resolved tae dae mare o' the same.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

27 August Ayrshire Coast Path Part 1 - Glen App to Ballantrae

The bus driver was extremely helpful, as were the old ladies at the back of the bus. It must have been obvious to them that not only were we strangers in the area but were strangers to using buses and they took pity on us. Between them they dropped us off at the right place in Glen App and pointed us in the right direction. Not that we needed pointing in the right direction for, having arrived at the start of the walk, an information board and Rex’s guidebook told us exactly where to go. This was the start of our exploration of the coastal path and, despite overcast conditions and the threat of rain, we set off to enjoy the walk.
The map pointed us along a byroad. Fifty yards later, and out of sight of the main road, other things were pointed as Rex’s coffee of an hour before found its way into bladders and there was now a row of Ooters facing the shrubbery, watering an already damp landscape. However the road was dry and, at the moment, though the sky lowered, the rain stayed away. A forest-type road slanted up the hill on the north side of Glen App. Rex’s book told us it would take us onto a landscape of purple heather, the haunt of merlin and hen harrier, and give us superb views of Loch Ryan and the Rinns of Galloway. At least it got the colour right for the heather was in full flower today and clothed the hillside on both sides of the track. But there were no birds to be seen, only the occasional grouse could be heard amongst the heather. And, slightly higher still, there was no landscape to be seen either for we were into a fog. And the rain came, not particularly heavy rain but enough to make us hap up.
We walked in a wetting mist over a purple heathland. This would have been a delight in sunnier conditions but today it was damp and dreich. The mist lifted just sufficiently to let us see the sea below and what might have been land beyond. Then it closed in again. Coffee was suggested and, when we found the shelter of some trees beside a wee burn, we sat down for refreshment. So far the walking had been good on an old track.
The midges did the trick and we were off again as quickly as soon as coffee was finished. The track continued. It looked as though we would join tarmac but a marker pointed us along another track, towards the sea. Though this track took us down out if the mist, we wished that we had found tarmac for it was wet and mucky, made so by the feet of livestock, and in some places was flooded ankle-deep with brown water. It was not a pleasant part of the walk today. But it improved as we dropped towards the sea. And so did the weather. So did our frame of mind after the glaur of the previous half mile.
An old house was passed, one without a roof or windows. Johnny was asked for his new saws and router and his expertise so that we could re-build it for as a holiday home for it was in a pleasant position in a wee valley running down to the sea.. He declined. Davie asked the roads expert, ‘Have these roads been here for hunners o’ years’ ‘How the feck do I know’, came the reply, ‘I havenae been here for hunners o’ years’. So much for experts. Such was the level of conversation as we dropped with the road to the sea. As the day and our mood brightened lunch was called in a and taken on the cobble beach of a small cove called Currarie Port.
We ate. We spent some time here. The day was brightening all the time and now we could look out to sea and see the horizon for the first time. Corsewell Point with its lighthouse was now visible and Ireland showed as a faint blue streak on the horizon beyond. Some sat and watched the Irish ferry round the point. Some just sat and absorbed the mood of the quiet cove. Johnny and Holly played fetch-sticks, (It was difficult to say who enjoyed it most.) Jimmy tried to catch the scene with the camera and Rex looked up the next part of the walk in the book.
‘The next part’ took us up the valley of the Currarie Burn that emptied into the sea here. Our side of this was narrow, lying along the living rock between a high crag and the burn itself. But it was negotiated easily enough and we found ourselves on a ‘road’ new-cut out of the rock hillside. It was a rough road yet and Davie protected his dodgy ankle as the loose stones coggled feet this way and that. But it didn’t last long, just sufficiently to lift us well above the sea again. Then the hillside was taken to and we were lifted even further. Rex felt the need to visit the top of this hill, curiously called Donald Bowie, and some followed him. Others followed the fence across the side to find a cliff-top path.
Though the mist and rain were long gone, the cliff top grasses still held their water in large dewy drops. And the grass was long. Trouser bottoms were soaked and, in due course, trainered feet were likewise. But the path did afford us a different perspective now, north-westward this time. The Mull of Kintyre lay on the skyline and Arran showed to the north. Jimmy commented how Holy Isle is often visible when Arran is obscured. Some had never noticed this phenomenon before but promised to look out for it in future. If they remember. But both islands were visible today. And Paddy’s Milestane stood out clear enough for us to see the lighthouse.
But the path degenerated and, at one point, we lost it altogether. Davie and Robert crossed the fence into a field. This was a bad move. A kissing gate was spotted by the others fifty yards down through some bracken. This obviously marked the route so we headed in that direction and left the wayward two to find their own way back over the electric fence that now separated us. After touching the fence to see if it was live, Davie cleared it wihout further ado. Robert, however, in attempting a clearance, touched it with a part of his body he would have preferred not to have touched it with. We think his new, high pitched voice will fade in time.
We lost the path a few times along this part of the route. Some direction posts wouldn’t go amiss here as the fence is no sure guide and there is no path as such. So we found ourselves higher on the hill than we aught to have been. This was no bad thing for the view over Ballantrae to Ailsa was good from this height. But we lost the view when we dropped down to Drumbrochart Farm. An old Morris Oxford, a curious child and a laden apple tree were the only things to note between here and Downan Farm. Alan and Jimmy sampled the apples but they looked too green for the rest of us. (The apples that is, not Alan and Jimmy.)
Tarmac was found and followed to the A77 and Ballantrae where damp walking gear and wet socks were changed for dry.

We didn’t have far to go for refreshment this day. The Kings Arms was just across the road.

Monday, 1 September 2008

20 August Killie to Darvel - The Long Way Round

Davie, Jimmy, Johnny, Peter & Robert

‘With you, dear Jenny, I would pass some hours,
Amongst its shady walks and fragrant bow'rs.’*

This was the day we welcomed Johnny back for his first outing since breaking his femur in April. And the walking wounded of last week were not fully recovered either. So this was to be a short and easy walk. It suited Peter for he had appointment to keep and was cutting the walk short anyway and it suited the rest as well for we were in the mood for a short walk .
It was raining when we met at Bob’s place in Kilmarnock. Not that it mattered at that time for Bob had prepared a slide show of his Canadian adventure and Peter had pictures from Australia. And Bob made coffee so we didn’t care whether it rained at that time so long as it dried up for us going out. By the time we had been to British Columbia and Alaska, Perth and the west of Australia it was the back of eleven and the rain had dwindled to a steady spit. Still, we waterproofed just in case and set off for a short walk.
Bob led us through the houses on a road that only he among the group had travelled. He was to lead us for the first part of the walk, into the Irvine valley, and Davie was to take over from there. So, through the houses he led us, over the busy A77 by a bridge and into a wee country lane. Too early yet for the brambles which hung in orangey-green clusters in the hedgerows but we now know where to get them. And too early for the scribes growing on stunted trees beside the old Crookedholm school. Our indignation was raised again to see how this substantial Victorian building was being allowed to decay. It had obviously been used as some sort of council department until recent years but was now abandoned and showing signs of wear. We wondered how long it would be before it was demolished and the land sold off to housing developers. Sad.
Peter left us when we reached a path for Crookedholm. A couple of locals blethered at the end of the path and we stopped to blether with them and to remove the waterproofs for the rain had now gone. They pointed Peter in the right direction. He took the path through the wood and we carried on along the road. We were for the Old Loudoun Kirk so stuck to tarmac.
Past Templetonburn we went. Jimmy suggested an association with the name and the Knights Templar. Paul agreed. Then it was past Grougar Row, still on tarmac. And we would have stayed on tarmac but Davie wanted to show us Burnbank Loch so we diverted along a footpath. He promised Jimmy that he would point out a comfortable chair along this path. Johnny thought this was a good thing for Jimmy might not recognise a chair, comfortable or otherwise. Its good to have him back with us. We stopped beside the comfortable chair which overlooked the loch for Davie also said that, in winter, this was a great place for watching wildfowl. Today there were only two swans on the far side of the water. Not much to hang about for so we walked on.
We came back to tarmac and to the ancient Kirkyard of Loudoun Kirk (founded 1415 said our dates expert). Jimmy related the story of Janet Little (1759-1813), ‘The Scottish Milkmaid’, who is buried here and Davie told of Lady Flora Hastings (1806-139) who also lies here. But Robert and Johnny heard none of it, they were off in search of a comfortable seat on which to have lunch. So we all took lunch here, sandwiches eaten between throwing sticks for Holly. This might have been to stop her looking for bones.
Davie led the way after the peece. Waymarkers pointed us down a track towards Galston and this is the way we went. The way marker pointing to the left after a few hundred yards was noticed but it was assumed that Davie knew a better way since he strode on past it. We followed him. We have done this before and with the same sort of result. We came to a barbed-wire fence separating us from the main road. There was no sign of a path. We looked but there was no path. Surely Davie wasn’t lost? Not a bit of it, he just wanted to show us the new Irvine Valley flood defences. And they were well worth the seeing, weren’t they? But there was no path. We climbed the aforementioned barbed wire fence carefully, clambered up the bank, walked along the verge of the busy road and came into Galston.
A quick conference was held to decide our way back to Darvel with Davie offering the options and the walking wounded being given the casting vote. We opted for the high road.
Galston was left by the Sorn Road. A few spots of rain were felt and, by the time we reached the entrance to Burnhouse Brae Wood and the start of the Burn Anne walk, it was getting heavier. We walked up through the wood, the steep slopes catching out the infirm who hobbled their way to the tops. And the rain came seriously. Even in the shelter of the trees it was serious. Waterproofs were donned.
The trees of the ‘Burnawn’ were left, tarmac was regained and we started the climb of the valley side in the rain. Up by Middle Third and Moorend we went, and up towards ‘the mast’. The day wasn’t particularly cold and the climb was steep and heat built up inside waterproofs. It was a sweaty climb. Johnny (he of the broken femur who was having his first outing for a while) upped the pace on this climb. He was to suffer for it later but he upped the pace now. And this was to stay brisk as we climbed by the Galla Hill path-end and on towards the transmitter. Johnny started to flag. A halt was called to divest of the outer garments. ‘Meh beck is sooming’, said Jimmy and the rest said likewise for it had been a long, fast and hot climb and sweat had failed to evaporate in the damp air. A breather was also called, for Johnny‘s benefit.
At the smallholding of Keiland we left tarmac and turned downward into the valley. Then came a Davie diversion. Instead of sticking to the track like sensible folk would do, he turned right on a path. Certainly it was signposted as a part of the Valley network but it was narrow and wet. And, as we came into the trees it turned mucky as well. And slippery. We all slid at sometime along this part. Johnny slid. He cursed for now the fast pace was telling on recovering joints and a jar was the last thing he needed. Jimmy slid. He cursed more silently than Johnny. He had jerked his back and was reduced to a painful, slow progress. The rest waited to give him a rest but he preferred his slow progress and gradually, as the downward slope eased, he recovered. We reached tarmac again and the wounded were recovered sufficiently to make a slightly faster pace but still lagged behind, each sympathising with the other. We waited for them in Darvel and we all returned to Davie’s together. We changed out of sweat-wet clothing and felt more human again.

We retired to take refreshment in the Black Bull where the suffering sat and were waited upon. Such is our concern for our fellow Ooters. We hope the b*****rs are recovered for next week as we cannae keep this show of concern going for too long.
*Janet Little. From 'Epestle to Nell, Wrote from Loudoun Castle'