Tuesday, 31 March 2009

25 March Ayrshire coast part 4 – Girvan to Maidens

We missed the bus. Peter and Jimmy were late so we missed the bus. We had intended to take this from the finishing point in Maidens to the starting point in Girvan, but we missed it. We had to do a car shuttle from Maidens to Girvan. Considering that there were ten of us today this was not an easy logistical exercise. But then, not a lot is in the Ooters. However we managed and found ourselves ready to start from Girvan around 10:00 (ish).
No shorts today. The fresh north-westerly blowing off the sea kept the temperature low, so low that even Davie refused to wear shorts. (He did carry them as just in case for the sun was shining when he left home and he was ever hopeful. But he never wore them.) And this fresh wind was to be in our faces for the entire walk.
Down the north side of the harbour we came, down to the Rotary Gardens. We came this way despite the way-markers directing us otherwise for some wanted to see the garden. Perhaps it was the wrong time of year but, as public gardens go, this was as good as average. So we didn’t hang around, especially now that we came into the teeth of the wind.

From the gardens, our route took us to the edge of Girvan golf course. The way-markers pointed us down towards the river again but Ian had us closer to the club-house saying that it didn’t matter; it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. And he was right. We came onto the official route beside the river and followed this through the golf course, still on tarmac.
At Girvan Mains farm we left the road before it joined the main A77 and came down a narrow farm track to the sea. Here was another badly planned part of the long distance walk. The track decanted us directly onto the beach, a beach of largish cobbles that slipped and coggled as we walked. Relief from the stones was sought in the grass alongside a field fence and was temporarily found in a narrow pad. But this pad disappeared after a while and the grass was of the course dune type and the walking was hardly any easier here. We returned to the stones. We did this often on this stretch.
A track of sorts was eventually found and many were the sighs of relief for the stones and coarse grasses were taking their toll. This track brought us round a small rise to a series of small ponds at Chapeldonan. Duck flew off these ponds – Scaup, Jimmy called them – and this set the birders off again. Apparently Rock Pipit, Skylark, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Gannet and sundry gulls could be seen today if you were interested enough. And a Goldfinch caused some excitement at one point.
Then we came to our first burn, the first of many, each holding its unique challenge for the hydrophobic amongst us. And for Rex, who chose to walk in trainers today. The water ran deep and many made their way upstream while the brave sought a shallower way near the tide-line and ploughed through. This was to be the case later as well.
With the burn safely crossed and all with dry feet, we made our way past the sewage works still on a beach of cobbles/shingle/soft sand. And the wind was in our faces. It was not the best part of any walk. And the scenery didn’t provide too much in the way of distraction. The wind kept the air clear and the seaward prospect was extensive, as far as Arran and Ailsa Craig. But there is a limit to how much waves running up the beach can keep even the best of us interested. The landward view was uninteresting. Beyond the immediate field ran the bus A77, and beyond this the fields rose more steeply to the skyline barely a mile away. The litter along the shoreline probably held most attraction. And we came to the sewage works. Not the most interesting part of the walk.

We ploughed on along the beach. Another burn was crossed with the same antics as the last. But, again, all were safely over. On this side of the burn was the works of Alginate Industries with a rough track alongside the boundary fence and, on the windward side of the track, some large boulders as a breakwater. As coffee was being called, we lay in as much shelter from the wind as these boulders provided and had coffee. It was then that Rex found his camera to be missing. It must have jumped from his pocket when he jumped the burn. A great search and rescue mission was called into being to find the missing camera, all but Peter and Jimmy (lazy b******s) joining the fun. They were not amused when, after the return to the burn and ten minutes scrounging around, Rex announced that his camera was in his other pocket. What senior moment?
Post coffee, the trudge was continued, on the same type of terrain as before. And the interest was as before.
Some different interest was provided, though, at Balkenna Cottages. The going had been less than easy so far. Now a way-marker was pointing us into a muddy ploughed field. When we spotted a stretch of tarmac along the seaward of the cottages we were for this. It wasn’t until we had come to the end of the row of cottages that our attention was caught by a woman* knocking on a window. Jimmy and Johnny stopped to pass the time of day only to be told in a rather brusque fashion that this was a private road and we should not be on it, there was a path through the muddy field. She was fed-up with us coming in front of her window. How she could be fed-up with us is beyond us for this was our first time here. However, Jimmy was suitable sympathetic (‘Oh dear’, he said) and Johnny was suitably apologetic and offered to fetch Rex for her. The harridan retired into her own tiny, cocooned world little aware that if she hadn’t come out to accost us, we would have been off her private road much quicker.
We were directed by a way-marker on to a sandy beach, a long sandy beach with a build-up of dunes on the landward. Then there came another one of those blasted burns. This time it was too wide and deep even for the adventurous though Jimmy and Ian made an abortive sortie seaward to find a crossing point. No chance. We climb the dune to find it covered with briar and brambles. There was no option but to retrace our steps to find a way to the bridge we could see from the dune top. This bridge carried us over the burn onto the grounds of the world famous Turnberry golf course.
But plebs like we walkers have no place on such hallowed ground and the way-marker pointed us once again onto the sandy beach. It was a long beach, 2Km long. The sand was just firm enough to take the eight but gave way at each forward step. It was like walking in the snow of Lowther Hill (21 Jan). It was interesting to note the drunken route taken by the forward party as they sought firmer footing. And the wind still blew in our faces. It was a case of heads down into the wind and plough on. This is what we did, for what seemed like miles.
Eventually the sand gave out and the way rose onto the golf course again. This time we were allowed to stay on the holy turf provided we remained on the path. But the path offered the only interesting bit of scenery for the day, the view of Turnberry Lighthouse over a small bay. Our designated path curved round the bay and brought us to the ‘half way hut’ of the course. Here lunch was called and was taken in the lea of the hut.

Now we had only around a mile to go to Maidens. It was the most interesting mile of the walk. The path took us across the course, through a bank of whin in full flower and onto an abandoned runway of the old airfield. We might have followed the old runway but opted to stay with the path. It brought us on to the A719. Somebody – we suspect not the planners of the long distance walk – had the sense to provide a pavement alongside this road and we followed this to Maidens.
This was a shorter walk than of late. Unlike the other sections we have done, which had good and bad parts along them; this was only interesting towards the end. Or, perhaps this is only the scribbler’s opinion.

*This term is used for politeness only. It is not what she was being called later.

Distance 14.2 km

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

18 March, Luss Hills Revisited

‘West: The narrow road impending over Loch Lomond forms a most characteristic entrance to this mountainous tract.’
A tour of Scotland in 1769, Thomas Pennant

Somebody in the car, I’m not sure who, said, ‘It’s about time we had a decent day on the hill’. We all agreed for we have had more than our fair share of claggy days on the hill this year. And it was already proving to be a decent day as we travelled north to Loch Lomond-side for another go at the Luss hills (See 3 May, 2007). When we left the cars at Luss the morning was warming up, so warm in fact that Davie opted for shorts for the first time since winter set in back in October. He would be joined later by Jimmy but, for the moment was the only bare-leg as we set off over the footbridge to find the path for Beinn Dubh.

It was decided by the more sensible amongst us that we should tackle the walk in the reverse of the last time we were here, i.e. go up the shallower slope and come down the steeper. Those who had done the previous walk agreed with alacrity for the previous climb was a stoter, not to be repeated.
We left tarmac after a quarter of a mile or so, climbed a style and came onto the open hill. The going was wet, wetter than we expected after the recent unseasonable weather and it was slippery underfoot. Care had to be exercised to prevent unexpected and wet groundings. We suspect this was why Allan took his time on this upward slope. Either that or he was admiring the view.

View stops were called frequently on the climb. Not that there was much of a view to see for the unseasonable warmth had brought with it an unseasonable haze and anything beyond a couple of miles faded into blue-greyness. Luss lay visible below us but Loch Lomond with its islands melted into the haze. Not a lot could be seen today. Yet ‘view stops’ were called frequently. It was during one of these stops that Jimmy unzipped his trouser legs and remained in shorts for the rest of the walk.

As these view stops became more frequent, somebody suggested coffee and this was taken on the first dry spot we could find, in the lea of Creag an t-Seilich. We were now around the seventeen-fifty contour. Not far to go to the summit now.
Coffee finished, we continued the upward slog. We were right though, it wasn’t so far to the summit and, after an initial steep, the slope eased and we found ourselves at the summit cairn. We also found a slight breeze and were hopeful that it would drive away the haze. But we were lucky with the weather today and we probably shouldn’t expect too much at this time of year. The haze remained. Yet the views into Luss Glen were good and the visibility in the north and west was improving. Various hills came into view and speculation was made as to their identity. But, in the east, Ben Lomond was still hidden in the March miasma.

We were now on what might best be described as a broad sweeping ridge running away westward then southward and gently undulating as it went. Lunch called somewhere along the ridge. Even though it was barely three-quarters of an hour since coffee, the ravenous amongst us were in need of more sustenance. Robert found place in the lea of a peat-hag and, sheltered from the coolish breeze, we ate. Robert would like it noted that he not only made a decision, but it was a good decision! We ate and lay in the warming spring-like sunshine and might have lain there still if Robert hadn’t made another decision. We were off again.

The ridge was just as soggy as the rise onto it had been and various slips and slides were made along its length. But it did afford us different views. At one point Glen Douglas lay below and the hills on its north side were admired and noted as a possible future outing. The Arrochar hills all but solidified out of the haze in the west and tales were told of days on these. But we had to watch our footing rather than any views for the ridge was proving to be just as slippery as the ascent.

There came a point where something of a bog obstructed our path. Davie, in order to avoid wet feet, made a long sweep to the north. Some followed him. (Again?) Jimmy, the experienced bog man, recognises a shallow wetness when he sees one and ploughed on through it. The wet barely covered the sole of his boots. Those who followed him were through in no time, and with dry feet. Those who followed Davie found themselves on top of a peat hag with a five foot drop off the end into slimy peat. It was good to watch their antics as they dreeped aff their peat castle. Comments were made by those who should know better. They should remember that pride cometh before a fall.

Now it was a gentle climb onto the second, and last, summit of the day, Stob Coire na h-Eanachan. This would probably provide excellent views on a clear day but, today they were merely good for the haze yet persisted despite our hopes for the breeze. The main focus was across and down Luss Glen but behind us we could see the slope that the unwary climbed the last time we were here. It was steep! And long, and should not even be considered by those of mature years and ‘heavy bones’. It was Davie’s turn to make comments.

The view down Luss Glen to Loch Lomond was superb with the fresh green creeping up the valley bottom contrasting with the browns and yellows of the winter-dead hill grasses. And Loch Lomond lay at the end of the glen, hazy but visible. We could see Glenmollochan farm at our end of the glen and this was to be our next target. It would be an easy walk for it was downhill all the way.

Downhill it was, but easy it wasn’t. Fifteen hundred feet downhill it was and the slope was unrelenting. And it was soggy and slippery. At one point Davie exhibited his ice-skating skills by completing a single lutz followed by a triple-salchow for which we were prepared to award maximum points. Then he spoiled the effect by landing on his backside. Paul, who was too busy laughing at Davie to pay attention to himself, slid six feet down the slope. But he wasn’t nearly as classy as Davie. Jimmy joined in the fun, as did Allan. Was there anybody who didn’t slide at one time or other on this descent? But Davie’s was the best and he was the only one with a wet backside.

As the slope dried, (it dried but didn’t ease in any way) Jimmy felt the need to break into a jog and away he went. Silly auld b*****. By the time he had stopped at the fence and we had caught up with him, he said his wee legs were trembling like jelly. He barely had the strength to climb the style. Mind you other legs were shaky as well for the slope was long and took its toll on old limbs. On the other side of the style Johnny called for an afternoon stop. Without saying so, most of us were only too glad to oblige.

We sat for a while but, as they say, ‘needs must’ and we had to move on. The slope eventually eased and deposited us on the road on the glen bottom. A ‘gentle stroll’ back along the road in the afternoon sunshine brought us to Luss village around half past two.
This was easily the warmest walk of the year so far. It might have rated higher in our estimation had the day been clearer, but it still comes into the top twenty.
We drove back to the King’s Arms in Fenwick for FRT today and there ensued the great debate on Scottish football, a debate which may well be revisited in the future.

PS There were complaints of stiff legs after this walk, the down-slope being blamed. Allan would like it pointed out that he didn’t have stiff legs at all, he takes his time on the hill.

Distance 11.8 km

Report by Jimmy
Photos by Johnnie
3D map by Paul

Friday, 13 March 2009

11 March Windy Standard, we think

In January 2007, the Ooters went to Windy Standard and saw nothing but wind turbines and fog. Nothing much changes in the Ooters. Today, the postponed walk of last week was put back on schedule and seven of us gathered in Jimmy’s house in Cumnock. Despite the unpromising start to the morning, we were hopeful of a good walk for our weatherman predicted a ribbon of rain crossing in the early morning and drier weather coming behind, around eleven o’clock. Even when we arrived in Glen Afton in the fog, we were still optimistic for we believe our weatherman. Has he ever let us down? Waterproofs were worn anyway.
We also believe Davie when he says that he knows this hill like the back of his hand. But, just in case, GPS’s were set and Rex even came armed with a map. He was slightly miffed when the route that he had plotted wasn’t the one that Jimmy and Davie had in mind. ‘We always go this way’, said they and nothing much changes in the Ooters. ‘Up the dry way and down the wet’, said Jimmy. So we set off their way, up through the clag to the face of the dam. Rex had suggested, and many agreed, that we should climb to Castle William and along the road from there but the ‘we always go this way’ two prevailed. Their excuse was that we would walk our legs in before attempting a steep climb. So, the face of the dam it was.
The water of the reservoir (or what we could see of it through the fog) was steely grey and choppy and looked bitterly cold. Already we encountered the breeze. And with it came the rain. This wasn’t particularly heavy rain but it was continuous and varied between a heavy drizzle and heavier showers. And it persisted as we climbed the forest road away from Glen Afton to the valley of the Deugh. So did the fog.
When we came into the trees at the head of the pass, we were sheltered from the wind but we found last week’s snow still lying two or three inches deep on the road. Though it was crystalline and rotting, it still made the going more tiring than it should have been and we quietly thanked goodness that we were going down through it rather than up. And down through it we came, to the Deugh brig where coffee was called.
At the beginning of the walk Holly was given a pink tennis ball to chase instead of sticks. Somewhere along the road this ball was lost. Holly spent coffee time trying to persuade us to throw sticks for her and obviously wondered why we weren’t. (The puir dug tried this for the rest of the walk but we have been well warned and kept our hands in our pockets. No more cricket skills practice for Johnny and Rex, I’m afraid.)
After coffee we kept to the road for a bit. The naturalist was asked what made the tracks in the snow. ‘Fox’, he replied confidently knowing full well that nobody would contradict what he said. Nobody did for he was probably correct. Other tracks were found when we left the road and started the climb of Jedburgh Knees. Deer were obvious to everybody. Dog the same. But polar bear we suspect to be a figment of an overactive imagination.
That Allan is now enjoying hill climbing became obvious to us all on the steep, wet, snow-covered slope onto the Knees. How else could we explain why he took so long, savouring every upward step. And he took every advantage of frequently called view stops to enjoy the prospect of the climb still to come. Well, they would have been view stops if we had had a view. The fog persisted, but was the rain easing? The slope certainly wasn’t and Allan continued his enjoyment of the climb. It was a sweaty group that collected on the crest of the ridge at the base of a windmill, sweaty but chilled for we were now back into the wind.
Jimmy’s opinion of wind turbines on the hill is well known in the Ooters but now he has an ally in opposition in Allan. The only decent thing about them is the ladder on which to have a photo-shoot. Johnny duly arranged us and we duly obliged.

Now came the interesting part. Going up in the fog is easy, you just keep climbing. When you can’t find anything else to climb, you have reached the top. Coming down is a different matter. There is an infinite number of ways to get lost and find yourself at the wrong place at the foot of the hill. If you want to come down to a specific place, you have to choose the route carefully. We wanted to come back to the cars in Glen Afton. We chose our route carefully. We followed Davie! (Do we never learn?)
‘Follow the electric fence but don’t touch it, it’s live’, said the voice of experience. This we did, slithering down through the rotting snow to find ourselves at a gate in the said fence. ‘Through the gate’, said our leader. This we did and started up the opposite slope. Jimmy’s homing instinct kicked in. ‘We shouldnae be climbing’, said he and struck off downward. He was followed by Rex and then the rest of us, including Davie.
Jimmy’s instinct for home is good but so also is his instinct for finding bogs. This one was a cracker. (Before the linguists start on the scribbler, he knows you can’t crack bogs – it’s just the way I tell 'em! All right, it was a squelcher.) We squelched through inches deep bog and foot deep mire and, in some instances, open water and appeared to be getting nowhere. Mind you, he did say we would come down the wet way. When Davie and he made for the higher ground on the other side of the bog, there were suspicions of being lost again. Oh! Ye of little faith. When GPS’s and maps were consulted it showed us to be where they thought we were and, yes, we were heading in the right direction. We knew this for a fact when we found the burn flowing northward, the Afton. (Paul’s 3D map would later prove how unerring these two are in the navigation.)
We followed the Afton down through a narrow valley to find the forest road by the reservoir. The fit took off at speed along the road but the sensible adopted a more sedate pace and followed behind. ‘Is that the reservoir there?’ asked Ian with a surprised note in his voice, pointing to the grey choppy water appearing out of the fog. He was assured it was and we had only about a mile left to go. ‘Is that the dam already?’ enquired the same person with the same surprised tone a few minutes later. He was given the same reassurance. He was even more reassured when we caught up with the speedy, lounging against the wall of the dam.
The walk back to the cars was taken at a gentle pace and we arrived around two o’clock. Credit to the weather forecaster, the rain did go off half way through the day but the b***** fog was still down. We were half way down Glen Afton before we eventually came out of it. Another day on Windy Standard and another day of seeing b*****-all but windmills and fog.

We retired to the Mercat in Cumnock for FRT today for last week we had been promised stovies. The disappointment of the day was to continue. The bar was crowded and the stovies had been forgotten about. However, mine host, Ian, and his good lady made up for this by opening a room especially for us and providing free crisps as well as good cheer. We will be back here.

Report by Jimmy
Photos by Johnnie

Windy Standard: 11th March 2009 am.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Windy Standard - 3D route

Distance 14.2 Km. Luckily the GPS was on for most of the day otherwise I would have had no idea where we had been. The route taken from Windy Standard to the reservoir was surprisingly direct!!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Windy standard on a good day (1983)

Hi guys.

This is what you should have seen on Windy Standard - minus the bike and plus the windmills but basically the same. We are looking towards Glen Afton and Black Craig. Technical note for Rex : This was scanned from a print made from a slide on Kodachrome 64

Friday, 6 March 2009

Get Well Soon

4 March, Windy Standard, no. Snowy Cumnock, yes

Distance 15.8 Km

Dumfries House was built by the late Earl, who, at the same time, inclosed and planted much. In particular, 35 acres, not far from the house, were planted with oaks, which are now beautiful and grow luxuriously. This has encouraged the present Earl to continue the plantations in belts around his enclosures, and clumps on every height, which embellish the country at present, and in time will be very profitable. The land which the Earl holds in his own hand extends to 1200 acres including pleasure ground.
Andrew Wight, The present State of Husbandry in Scotland, 1773

Winter returned with a vengeance last night, dumping three or four inches of snow on the county. We all awoke to a Christmas card scene of white landscape and continually falling snow, even those in the sub-tropics of Alloway and Troon. We had planned to go to Windy Standard but those who know this kind of thing realised there was no way we would get up the Glen Afton road. A quick bout of ringing round* and the outing was rearranged for a Cumnock local.
Ten Ooters came out today despite the weather. Following Jimmy’s advice we all met in the snow-bound car park of Cumnock swimming pool rather than attempt the slither up to his hill-top residence. At least now the snow had stopped falling and there was a brightening in the sky that foretold sunshine. And by the time we had changed into boots, this sunshine had arrived. We started the walk from the swimming pool.
The first part of the walk was on the path down the River Lugar, alongside the playing fields of Broomfield. This was where Johnny produced his quiz. What vegetable can you only buy fresh because it can’t be frozen, dried or in any way preserved? Which natural feature in North America is constantly moving backward? What’s the point of quizzes? What a clever, show-off bunch we are. We managed to answer all of Johnny’s questions - eventually.
By this time we were down past the sewage works - Jimmy does show us the scenic areas of the country - through a small wood of Scots Pines and encountering the first fence of the day. This had to be negotiated carefully for it stood atop a steep snow-covered and slippery slope. Those who delight in the misfortune of others had nothing to gloat over here for all safely negotiated the fence and slithered down the slope in their own fashion.
We were now on a farm track which took us under the Auchinleck bypass and into Dumfries House policies. It was suggested by some that this was turning into a ‘Peter walk’ for there came, in quick succession, a negotiation of a fence by overhanging the river and another barbed-wire fence. But, again, all came safely through this trial. ‘This is the last fence of the day’, said our leader. Liar! We had to re-cross this barbed-wire to find a pad through some stunted saughs. Definitely a Peter walk now. But this pad took us to the track again and that was the last of the obstacles for the day - not! We continued on the track until we found the main entrance to the house.
Adam’s brig was the first of our historical studies for the day. Davie had most of us – Jimmy had seen it all before and others weren’t that interested – down the snowy bank to look at the architecture of the bridge. Then we crossed it, examining the structure from a different angle.

Some of the trees of the fifth earl’s ‘pleasure ground’ were noted as we walked towards the mansion itself. A circuit of the house was made, not, as some suggested, to find somebody for Davie to have words with, but to examine the architectural work of Robert Adam. This time we were able to get right in to the walls of the house itself and examine the structure at very close quarters. Alan asked about the motto ‘Nemo me impune lacesit’. Paul translated this as ‘Do not name me with impunity’ but Jimmy’s colloquial ‘Wha are you talking tae?’ appealed more to Alan. Everybody agreed that the house was a magnificent building but hardly worth the money being charged to get inside.
Stomachs rumbled and coffee was called. On a grassy patch under an ancient tree we sat and had coffee and looked back toward the house. As usual at coffee, a stick was thrown for Holly and away she chased. The yelp she let out may well have been heard back in Cumnock. Something had happened but Davie could find little amiss when he prized her jaws open. Yet something had happened for Holly was not herself for the rest of the day. (See Davie's report below)
After coffee we came to the main Ochiltree to Cumnock road and turned along this, dodging slushy spray thrown up by passing lorries. But we were only on this road for a hundred metres or so before turning off it onto the quieter track for the old Dumfries House station. Yes, the group was informed, the Marquis of Bute had his own private station.
There is very little left of the old station, only the waiting room converted to a private dwelling. Nor is there much left of the railway on the west side for the cutting here has been filled in. Only on the east side of the bridge is it obvious that a railway once came through here. We didn’t spend too long here for a cool breeze had sprung up from somewhere and we moved on to keep warm.
We came onto the Skares road and turned for Garrallan. The old school here was examined - it was a day for looking at old buildings – before we turned off southward on the Benston Road. Hunger called and we sat down on the metal barrier of an old bridge at Garlaff and enjoyed both the peece and the warmth of the early March sun. Robert had watched a very scientific programme on tele last night and regaled us with his newly gleaned knowledge. It would appear that baldy men are more virile. Jimmy and Paul, they of the extensive head skin, were quick to confirm this. But they challenged his assertion that women prefer hairless faces for both of them sport beards. This was the level of conversation today.
Post peece we set of again, towards New Cumnock. From this high ground we had extensive views of the east Ayrshire countryside. We looked towards the Afton hills and saw them gleam white in the sunshine. We nearly regretted our decision to stay low but this notion soon left us when we turned off the road onto a field track and found several inches of powdery snow. This feield track brought us down through Greenside Farm to the Benston to Cumnock road.
Glaisnock House sits a few hundred yard off this road and this was another old building that just had to be looked at today. Davie was slightly miffed to read the notice about dogs but it didn’t prevent him from joining us on our close examination. Those who knew something of its history told it as we completed a circuit of the old house.
From Glaisnock house it was to be a straightforward walk down to Cumnock. It was to be, but those in the forward party took some diversions and it was a longer walk to the pub than it might have been. Tongues were almost hanging out.
We made for our usual haunt, The Sun, but they have an embargo on dugs so we adjourned to the Merkat for FRT today.
Here we were treated like long lost friends. Holly was given free drink and biscuits but she was the only one. The Merkat was compared favourably with the best of our watering holes (www.comparethemerkat.com).

*We might have managed to contact everyone if the Irvine/Troon contingent had their mobiles with them or had them switched on!


Report by Jimmy
Photos by Johnnie and Jimmy