Sunday, 28 February 2010

24 February Cumnock to Ochiltree (As per 6 January) or The Day We Were Nearly Snawed Aff

There are times in the year when the wather is clear,
And the sun splits the heevens abune.
But then again, there are times when the rain,
Disnae tak time tae come doon.
There are times when the heat blisters oor feet,
Oan tarmac het up by the sun,
Or times when we slog through marshes and bog,
Tae derive oor hard-gotten fun.

Yet, whatever the weather, ye ken that the blether
O’ Ooters is heard far and wide,
Oan the banks o’ the Ayr when the weather is fair,
Or in rain oan the shores o’ the Clyde.
Or maybe the will is tae tackle the hill,
Wi’ the sweat dreepin’ aff o’ the broo,
Then aff o’ the ben and doon in the glen,
Ye’ll find us come staggerin’ through.

I’m sure ye’ll agree, a tough lot are we
An’ no’ much pits us aff o’ oor dauner.
Nae maiter whit fate dumps doon in oor plate
We’ll meet ev’ry We’nsday by honour.

But noo I’ll regale ye a’ wi’ a tale,
O’ the time that the gods had a laugh,
They gave us a blaw accompianied by snaw,
An’ thocht that we wad cry aff.
But we’re made o’ strong stuff and rugged and tough,
An’ we’re no’ the folk tae resign,
Sae, in spite o’ the snaw that blanketed a’,
We gethered in Cumnock at nine.*

There wis Davie an’ Rex, and yon chap wi the specs,
By the name o’ Paul frae the Troon,
And Alan and Ronnie and Jimmy and Johnny
An’ Allan frae auld Irvine toon.
An’ last but no’ least, we had Ian the Feast
Yon remarkably ravenous guy.
And noo there wis nine o’ us fellows fine -
And Holly the Collie forby.

Noo, withoot too much talk we sterted the walk,
Northward towards Auchinleck,
Though the snaw piled high and the traffic whizzed by,
We were happy and cared na a feck
Then at the burn, we took a left turn,
And doon the wood pathway came we.
Till we were met by the Lugar in spate
Rinnin’ doon towards Ochiltree.

A snaw-covered road, quite level and broad,
Ran doon by the side o’ the watter,
And takin’ this route, we fairly strode oot,
Each ootdaein’ each wi’ his patter.
Then appeared through the trees, the Hoose o’ Dumfries
On the opposite bank o’ the river,
But the mood wisnae richt tae view such a sicht
Sae we walked on an’ visited never.

The shelter o’ trees provided some ease,
Frae the wind and the breeze driven snaw,
But we shin left the bield an’ took tae a field,
An’ met wi’ the elements a’.
The snaw scoured the face, sae we quickened the pace,
Tae get by wi’ the worst o’ the thing,
And making a turn by the side o’ a burn,
We strode oan tae Barony bing.

That slope loomed afore us and stertit tae scare us,
For there’s some that don’t fancy the climbin’,
But, here’s a thing, we climbed up that bing,
Wi’ barely a break in the stridin’.
As the snaw eased awa’ the path levelled an’ a’,
An’ we could relax for a bit,
We walked up a track wi’ the win’ oan oor back,
Tae the ‘A Frame’ o’ Barony Pit.

Then, feelin’ the need, we sat doon tae feed,
And savoured oor peeces an’ cheese,
An’ there’s nothing tae beat the al freso treat
O’ Allsorts and Jeely Babees.
We were gled o’ the rest, then bodies refreshed,
We wandered aroon the pit-heid,
Tae learn o’ the pit and the men that worked it -
The labour that won them their breed.

But the clock moves its haun, and time it rins on,
An’ the hour came for us tae make tracks,
Sae leavin’ ‘the frame’, we turned towards hame
Still wi’ the win’ oan oor backs.
The steps we had made were retraced, I’m afraid,
At least for a bit o’ a mile,
We then hatched a scheme tae return tae the stream,
An’ follow it yet for a while.

Sae takin’ a richt, we drapped oot o’ sicht,
Doon tae the river yince mair,
The snaw went awa’ and the win’ drapped an a’,
For the gods saw that we didnae care.
As the wather got brighter an’ spirits got lighter,
We entered a riverside glade,
Then each found a tree behind which tae pee,
For we’ve a’ reached that age, I’m afraid.

At Mill o’ Affleck, we stopped tae inspect
The rusting auld iron mill wheel,
An’ tried tae explain why it stauns a’ alane
In the midst o’ a marsh in a field.
Then forward we pressed and onward progressed,
Back on the riverside way,
Till we came tae the span o’ the bridge at the dam,
An’ oor walkin’ was by for the day

But some time wis spared tae see the kirkyaird,
Whaur the deid hae been solemnly plantit,
In a flat bit o’ grun’ at a bend in the burn –
Whit mair could a body hae wantit?
Then, withoot too much fuss, we boarded a bus,
An’ came back tae where we had stertit,
But the day wis still young, sae tae continue oor fun,
We roonded it aff in The Mercat.

Noo a’ ye big sissies, ye jessies an’ prisses,
Wha sit oan your erse an’ complain,
Rise aff o’ yer chair an’ get oot in fresh air,
In spite o’ the snaw or the rain.
Jist think o’ us auld yins, the wrinkled and bald yins,
Oot for a Wednesday waun'er.
Despising the snaw, the rain and the blaw,
The Ooters will aye hae their dauner.

*Poetic licence. It was actually nine thirty, but you try to get a rhyme for nine thirty!

Monday, 22 February 2010

17 February - Coran of Portmark circuit

The drifts lay deep on the grizzly Rhynns, 
An' the deep-scarr'd rugged Meaul ;

An dim through the haze, the stately Bow
Loom'd ghostly, grim, an' tall.

Eight Ooters (Alan, Allan, Davie, Paul, Rex, Robert, Ian and Johnny) gathered outside the Dalmellington Inn at 9.30 am, not to await opening time, but to proceed to the Green Well of Scotland from where they would repeat last February's (February 4th to be exact) Coran of Portmark circuit.

Last year, this had been Ronnie's first ooting with the Ooters and it had left such a lasting impression upon him that he was missing at roll call. This had been a spectacular walk on ice and snow so it was pleasing (to the majority) to see, as we headed towards Carsphairn, that a fresh fall of snow was lying on the tops.

Leaving the cars on the abandoned bit of road to the west of the main road (more of this anon), we took the old miners' road to the ruins of Woodhead lead mines. We approached the bridge, and even in Jimmy's absence, the question was put:

"When was this bridge built?"

Robert reckoned the 1830s, Paul reckoned 1936. Both were wrong. It was 1935. Robert commented it was hard enough remembering his name, let alone when some bridge in the middle of nowhere was built.

Garryhorn Farm was reached. The walled garden by the farm was a blanket of white from the countless snowdrops. Meanwhile, the dogs we met on our previous visit were cooped up, but we could hear them barking as we passed. There was no farmer around for Robert to insult this time.

As we approached the Woodhead mine buildings no discussion was necessary as telepathically we headed for the ruins of the old school to take our morning coffee.

We were now into the wet snow as we climbed a stile, left the stony path and headed up the hill. The wet snow soon gave way to the real thing and we paused more than once to observe the view, the peace being disturbed only by a couple of RAF jet planes.

The top of Coran of Portmark (623 m) afforded fine views, especially to the north where Troon and Irvine could be made out and to the west over Loch Doon towards Lochs Riecawr and Macaterick.

Looking south towards Meaul something/someone was spotted on the track ahead. A walker? A quad bike? Some of us could see it moving, others weren't sure.

Off we set again. Davie and Robert took the path over Bow (613 m). The rest took another path which skirted the hill. They were advised by Robert that he and Davie were on the right path. We kept to the wrong path which seamlessly rejoined the right path a little further on. Here, on the col between the Garryhorn valley and Loch Doon, the snow was deep and the barbed wire fences were coated in ice. There were some threatening clouds around which looked as if they might bring more snow but the day remained dry.

The walker/quad bike some of us had seen moving down the hill earlier turned out to be a bale of barbed wire. It certainly wasn't moving as we passed it.

Now began the steep ascent of Meaul. Last year this had been an icy stretch but today the fresh snow covered the ice below and gave a relatively firm footing. The length of Rex's strides in the snow were remarked upon and discussion naturally turned to inner leg measurements. After more stops to admire the view, the trig point on Meaul (695 m, 2280 ft in old money) was reached and the view to the south opened up to reveal the Solway, the snow covered Lake District hills and possibly the northern tip of the Isle of Man. And unlike the last time Davie and Paul 'spotted' the hills of the Lake District (from Byne Hill?) they didn't drift across the sky.

At this point Allan was asked where he would like his lunch (with Davie suggesting Carlin's Cairn, in the distance). Allan replied by suggesting he would have liked his lunch at the foot of the hill he had just climbed! Touché.

Because of the cold breeze on the summit we decided to have lunch in the lee of the wall just below the summit. It wasn't the most comfortable spot, with the choice of seating being a cold snowy rock or cold snowy snow. Johnny, of course, had brought his own seat with him.

After lunch we followed the wall down the steep side of Meaul, with snow, deep in places and more underlying ice. Then up to Cairnsgarroch and the Shepherd's Cairn at 659 m for the last climb of the day.

Last year we had cut across the top of Cairnsgarroch as we headed back to Woodhead mines, but the descent was found to be steep and rocky. This time we skirted round the eastern edge of the hill, but it was no better. Instead of rocks we had dougals and walking laterally along the slope was tiring and sore on the feet (of some of us). The snow gave way to slush and then to bog. Robert slipped twice prompting Alan to suggest he needed a zimmer. All in all this short stretch was a bit unpleasant. We vowed that next time we'd find a better way down.

The Garryhorn Burn still had to be negotiated and 8 Ooters appeared to find 8 different ways across. Some crossed by jumping part the way across and getting a wet boot, others crossed using poles and fencing which had been built over the burn whilst Davie disappeared into the distance only to re-appear at our meeting point by a mine shaft with a beautiful stone wall around it. How he got there, no one knows.

And so we set off back down the miners' track to the cars.

'Concatenation' had been the word of the day and quite late in the day Davie announced that the word was derived from the Latin 'concatenare' - to link together, which in turn came from 'catena' - a chain. He added for good measure that the Italian football defensive tactics 'catenaccio' came from the same root.

Was that impressive, or was that impressive? Had he been saving this erudite exposition until late in the day or had he just remembered?

And he still had one trick left. As we approached the farm buildings near the foot of the road he announced that he would offer the kitty (or was it just a bit of the kitty?) to anyone who knew the name of this farm. Of course the kitty was safe, so he proudly announced that it was called Holm of Daltallochan. And to prove it he went to show us the sign bearing the name ....except it was no longer there. Did we believe him? Of course not.

After our 6 hour excursion we were back at the cars, to be met with a large trailer which had been deliberately placed across the exit from where the cars were parked.

"I've had words with this farmer before" said Davie, "he's a miserable old ....".

Ten minutes later a tractor drew up and a youngish friendlyish driver got out .... his mood perhaps tempered by the sight of 8 Ooters awaiting him. No harsh words were exchanged although he pointed out we had blocked an area he needed for turning his tractor and trailer. That was all, and off he went with his trailer. It had the potential for another Dollar incident but it was averted.

And for the second successive week we found ourselves in the Dalmellington Inn.

A great walk repeated in similar conditions to last year. We must make it an annual event!

Computer problems have prevented me from mapping the walk but based on last year's walk I reckon it was approx 17.5 km.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Sportsman's Dinner

The Irvine Cricket Club dinner will be held at Irvine Sports Club on Friday 26th March, cost £25 plus the £10 entrance to the raffle.
We need definite numbers by next Wednesday, 24 February, so be prepared to give a 'yes' or 'no' after the walk.
If you will not make the walk next Wednesday please phone or e-mail Johnny before then.

Walk for 24 February - 4 Tops

Meet at Jimmy's house at 9.30am.

Q What if Jimmy's still no weel?

A Even better - gives him more time to make our breakfast and to clear up after we have left.

Wet weather alternative will be Cumnock to Ochiltree or similar - to be decided on the day.

10 February Ness Glen Again

The day dawned crisp and clear. An overnight frost left the sky cloudless and the air still and crystal in its clarity, a perfect day for a walk. And we had the perfect walk for such a day. We would visit one of our old favourites, Ness Glen at Dalmellington, for the fifth time as a group.
Loch Doon looked superb when we gathered at the dam there, dead calm and reflecting the blue sky. Ice round the shore gave a white edge to the water separating it from the yellow and orange winter-dead grasses. The mountains to the south rose yellow and brown into the clear sky. And on the heights, many white patches of snow, still lying from Christmas time, gleamed in the morning sunshine. A magnificent starting point for our walk.
But, we turned our backs to the view and dropped down a path by the face of the dam, a path that would take us into the Ness Glen.
In keeping with our new philosophy of not doing things the same way all the time, we opted to do the walk in the reverse of our usual way, for the first time ever. So, when we reached the first split in the path, we took the higher route along the top of the gorge. The walk through the woods was an absolute pleasure this sunny morning. The ground was frozen solid, making the walking easy. The low winter sun shone through the canopy to dapple the ground, light the trunks of the pale beeches and dark alders and limes, and filigree the frost-rimed branches against the blue sky – an absolute delight. The first snowdrops of the year were spotted, showing white bells through the brown woodland grasses. And we, in light spirits to match the mood of the morning, walked along the top of the gorge to where Tracy’s bench once stood.
There was some dispute about whither this was really the spot of Tracy’s achievement but ‘he who knows’ was adamant and the doubter soon conceded. This was the very spot. Ronnie, the Ness Glen virgin, was told the story of the bench and was equally as taken with it was we all were and looked forward to meeting Tracy, as we all would like to do some day, if only we knew what she looked like. For five minutes we stood there discussing this and enjoying the winter sun on our backs. Then we moved on.
From Tracy’s bench the path dropped to the riverside again, and the estate road for Craigengillan. We turned up the road and approached the house. This is where Holly disgraced herself again, running and barking at the horses being fed by two women and totally ignoring Davie’s call back. When she eventually came to the call she was put on her lead, the ultimate punishment for a dog that always has the freedom to run, and she knew she was in disgrace. Now, with the errant dog on her lead and her tail between her legs, and with Davie’s blood pressure slowly returning to normal, we walked on down the main drive.
Halfway down the drive we took a left turn and came up through the trees onto the open moor. The track – ‘The old turnpike from Newton Stewart’, said the historian - continued to rise, and we continued to rise with it. On a knoll high above the home farm and overlooking the Doon valley, we sat down for coffee. The morning was pleasant, the sun warming and the views good. We settled down and took our time over coffee, a long time over coffee. But this is still February and the air is still cool. Eventually the cold drove us on.
We came down off our knoll, found the old turnpike track again and came to the ruined house of Barbeth. The reason for stopping here has been forgotten by the scribe but stop, we did. Perhaps was just another opportunity to have a blether and take in more of the sun. Or perhaps, which is more likely, it was a call of nature that caused the halt. Whatever the reason, the scribe spent this time taking photos over the Doon and Bogton Loch to Ben Beoch and Lethanhill. But five minutes later we were on our way again
Another stretch of open moor brought us to another ruin, Nether Barbeth. This is where we left the old turnpike, it to run westward and we to turn down towards Dalcairnie.
Dalcairnie Linn is one of Ayrshire’s hidden gems. The Dalcairnie Burn drops thirty feet into a rock-walled caldron surrounded on top by mature beech and ash trees. Today, the falling water was cold and splashes solidified as ice on the boulders strewn at the bottom where the sun failed to reach. And in the gloom of the cauldron the water gathered darkly before rushing out the narrow open end. The spray of the falls was back-lit by the sun and misted the far bank and the bridge above. Ronnie was impressed, as impressed as the rest of us were, and still are by the spectacle of the Linn.
A new path running away from the low end of the caldron needed exploring and remembering our new philosophy, we explored it. It took us down the side of the burn, below Dalcairnie Farm across a field and brought us to tarmac near to Bogton Loch. The first of the deer was spotted by Jimmy who halted everybody including the couple coming in the other direction for a sighting of it. The couple pointed out another three nearer the loch edge. Jimmy, the nature lover, would have spent time observing the deer but the rest walked on and he was forced to follow. That didn’t stop him spotting buzzard soaring in the thermals above Dalnean Hill, nor the kestrel flying over the road to hunt the rushes by the waterside. He does like to see this kind of thing, does Jimmy.
By the time nature had been pointed out to us, well to some of us, we had come along the Dalcairnie tarmac and were approaching the Straiton Road. The path to the Doon footbridge is now complete (see 7/11/07 & 1/10/08) and we took it to come onto Tarmac once again. And once again poor Holly had to be leashed for this is a busy road and narrow. Despite a suggestion that we should take the path to the west of the road where Holly might be freed again, Davie insisted we stick to tarmac. We think he was getting tired and needed the dog to help him along.
However, we weren’t on the road too long, just long enough for us to get to the Muck Bridge and turn onto the burn-side path. Davie asked the question. It was the same question he has asked before and he got the same response as before; no, we didn’t know what this bit of countryside was called. We were informed it was called ‘The Promised Land’ and commemorated an escapade by one McNab during the Wars of Independence. And how did the knowledgeable one know this? He learnt it from the information board we were now approaching. The ability to read is a wonderful thing. Well done Davie.
It was nearing lunch time when we walked up Craigengillan main drive. The pace was quickened by those at the front. They knew that the place chosen for lunch had only one bench and that held only four bodies and only the fleet would get a seat. It was a quick march the four hundred metres or so up the drive to the chosen place. That place was beside the nature ponds under Bellsbank. As we sat and ate, we were passed by many people out to enjoy the sunny day, some we had already seen on the other side of Bogton Loch. Many pleasantries were exchanged for it was a day for such things and we were in no hurry to leave our lunch spot. But some ‘had promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep’. So, somewhat reluctantly we packed up and took to the road again.
The woodland of Bellsbank was every bit as delightful as that of earlier for the sun hadn’t risen too high in the sky and the soft light filtered through the branches. Holly enjoyed herself by finding sticks, more accurately in this instance, tearing up half tree trunks, and cracking the back of knees with them. We enjoyed ourselves just wandering up the tarmac road through the woods.
We left the main drive as it crossed the river for we were to take the track on the east side of the water and come under Bellsbank to the bridge at the foot of the Ness Glen gorge. We almost made a mistake here for some were for taking the high road, the way we always go. But sense prevailed and we turned our steps towards the gorge.
The gorge was as spectacular as usual, another one of Ayrshire’s hidden gems. Not as much water came down the river as the last time we were here but there was sufficient to impress Ronnie. The water roared in the narrower parts and the echoes resounded off the rock walls of the gorge. Icicles hung from the rocks above the path dripping water on to us as we passed. The inner vandal showed in one or two of us who took delight in breaking off these icicles and dropping them into the river. A few fallen trees and landslips threatened to block our path, but somebody with a chainsaw had cleared most of the wood and the landslips were easily climbed round. So, while it is always interesting in the gorge, it presented us with no danger and we came safely through.
The gorge stops abruptly under the face of the dam of Loch Doon and it was here that we rejoined the path we had come down this morning. A hundred metre saunter brought us back to the cars around one.

Fluid Replacement Therapy was taken in the Dalmellington Inn.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Thanks to Jimmy

Got round to viewing the CD that Jimmy provided us with on Wednesday last. Outstanding! The amount of work required to create these documents - well - he would just have to be retired. The 2009 file is impressive. Well done Jimmy!
If anyone else had trouble in opening the documents - please let me know by Tuesday night - I'll have an updating solution for you on Wednesday.
Thanks again Jimmy for all the effort.
All I have to do is print it out now-whole 109 or so A4 pages.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Walk for Wednesday 17 February

The walk for next week will be Coran of Portmark. Meet at Dalmellington in the car park of the Loch Doon Hotel at 9:30.
Foul weather alternative will be arranged in the car park.

Proposals for the future include:
Pentland Hills
Campsie Fells
Luss Hills
Glen Douglas Hills
Steam train to Mallaig
Glasgow cycle
Linlithgow to Falkirk cycle
Cairnsmore of Fleet on a good day
Grey Mare's Tail, Moffat
Buachaille Etive Mor
Hill of Stake (Paul)
There are some possible Ayrshire walks here eg Girvan-Pinmore, Maybole-Drummochreen, Barr - Changue Forest (Paul)

Please copy these suggestions, and any more you can think of please note them down for future discussion.
We really should try somwhere different this year

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Arthur's Seat - route and photos

Distance: 9.2 km

3 February Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

A different sort of outing was planned for today. We would drive east for an adventure in the capital. There was a little consternation in the ranks when we heard that there was to be more snow in the east but fears were soon allayed and we set off on the long drive to Edinburgh, all eleven of us today.
Most of us parked in the car park at St. Margaret’s Loch as had been arranged before we left Killie. Why the others chose to wait for us at Duddingston Loch is beyond the understanding of the scribe, but they did while we waited for them at St Margaret’s. Mobile phones are wonderful devices and the lost souls were soon re-united with the pack. Slightly later than expected we took the path for Arthur’s Seat.
On the way into the city we could see the snow on Arthur’s Seat and now we encountered it, new and soft and powdery, and almost five centimetres deep. But the powdery nature provided excellent grip and it was no hindrance to our upward progress. That didn’t stop a ‘view stop’ being called. The view, for all that we could see of it for we were down in a bit of a gully, extended northward over the city to Fife. ‘They’re burning Fife’, said Jimmy pointing to two plumes of grey reek rising into the sky. It had to be pointed out to him that this was the petrochemical cracking plant at Mossmorran near Cowdenbeath. ‘They bring the liquid gas from the North Sea and crack it into ethylene, the basic building block of the petrochemical industry’, said the knowledgeable one. We knew there was a reason we bring Alan.
The soft snow continued to provide good footing up the lion’s shoulder. But climbing the last few feet onto its head was a different story. Ice, probably left from the big freeze, lay under the new-fall and proved tricky, especially with Vibram soles. Feet had to be placed carefully to avoid a nasty backwards tumble. But we all made it to the trig point without too much difficulty.
The view from Arthur’s seat is remarkable. From a height of 250.5m (814ft) the compass must reach some fifty miles. Across the snowy rooftops of the city the landscape gleamed under an overcast sky. Immediately south, the Pentlands look grand, rising to fill the skyline; to the east Berwick Law and the Bass showed though a haar hung over the sea; across the Forth, the Lomond Hills rose above Fife and beyond the white foothills of the highlands, the Braes O’ Angus gleamed white in sunshine; to the west, Ben Lomond appeared in a distant haze.
Some time was spent on the top picking out the distant features as pointed to by the viewfinder and trying to identify the landmarks of the city. There was the castle and Calton Hill – easy. There was Easter Road, home of Hibernian FC – also easy. There was Murrayfield - slightly more difficult - and the dark smudge to its left was Tynecastle, home of the other half of the Edinburgh ‘Auld Firm’, Heart of Midlothian FC - really difficult.
As we stood, we were joined by more and more people out to enjoy the day in the snow. When the time came for us to leave Rex was for down the south side of the slope carefully picking his way with hands and feed along the ice. Jimmy wasn’t very sure of this route and was for the north side. A young couple standing close by told us that the easiest way was down the north path. Rex retreated and joined the rest on the easier path. Easier, it may have been but it was still coated in slippery ice. We came down to the shoulder every man for himself. Some picked their way carefully on the icy path, some strode out confidently but whichever method was chosen, we all arrived on the shoulder without breaking bones though Rex sat unexpectedly in the snow a couple of times.
On a broad top to our right, above Salisbury Crags, a pair of young ladies cavorted in the snow, turning cartwheels and doing handstands. When we joined them, they enthusiastically showed us the photos they had taken of each other; two young ladies delighting in their youth in the wintery conditions. Ah nostalgia! Whether they cavorted further we don’t know for we left them there and took the downward slope towards Duddingston Loch.
The snow was deeper on the grassy slope and it was a treat to walk downward through it. Robert and Jimmy led the way down to the road above the loch. A lot has been reported in these pages about old bladders so it was a great relief to some to reach the road and find convenient shrubbery. Away from prying eyes there was a great streaming of relief.
We kept to the road above Duddingston Loch and came to the bottom of the Salisbury Crags. The blether was good and the pace easy, yet the group split in two. The first group approached the end of the Radical Road and, much to the concern of the others, Jimmy immediately turned up it. ‘Where are you going?’ asked they. ‘This is the quickest way’, replied he. They remained unconvinced until the second group arrived and turned up beside Jimmy. We all came back by the Radical Road.
At the high point of the road we stopped for a view of the city. The castle looked splendid from this angle. Then Davie pointed out that it was nearly one o’clock and the gun would soon be fired from the ramparts. Jimmy drew our attention to the Nelson Monument of Calton Hill and to the ball at the top of the post. ‘When the gun fires, the ball drops to let ships on the Forth know what time to set their chronometers’, said another knowledgeable one .(That’s the beauty of this group. There’s always somebody who knows something about something that others don’t.) A certain amount of disbelief was expressed but the speaker held to his guns. The gun fired and the ball dropped. Most of us saw the ball drop but Bob was so intent in trying to spot where the smoke from the gun was that he missed the ball fall. Still, there’s more chance of him seeing this in the future than there is of him spotting a kingfisher.
With a slightly disappointed Robert in tow, we made the descent of the Radical Road. Perhaps the choice of this way back was a mistake after all. Ice covered the road, wet ice and slippery. Extreme care was taken by all but we managed and came down to the level in one piece.
On the level we met the young couple who had directed us from the top. She stopped, beaming. ‘Just after you left the top’, said she,’ he asked me to marry him’. The news was greeted by clapping and hearty congratulations until the cynic asked ‘And did you accept?’ The answer was affirmative, but the cynic doesn’t expect an invitation to the wedding.
A quick five minutes saw us back at the cars.

However that wasn’t the day finished. We wandered up Canongate in search of a place to lunch. As we passed Canongate Churchyard, somebody mentioned Adam Smith so we had to go in search of the great man’s grave. This was found easily enough, to the left of the church, and suitable homage was paid to ‘The Father of Modern Economics’.
Not to be outdone by the economists, the Burnsians took us to see that grave of Robert Fergusson, above which Burns had a monument erected. The monument was repaired later at the expense of RL Stevenson but Burns words remain:-
‘This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way
To pour her sorrows o’er her poet’s dust’

Then it was over to the other side of the churchyard for the grave of Agnes M’Lehose, Burns ‘Clarinda’.
‘Fare-thee-weel thou first and fairest,
Fare-thee-weel thou best and dearest’

Alas we had to bid a farewell to the cemetery for hunger definitely called now. Lunch was taken in the Old Tollbooth Inn, overlooking the ornate grave monument of Adam Smith.

After lunch we came back down the Canongate to the parliament. Despite Davie’s opinion of the building, we had to visit it. We went in to the debating chamber to see how the great and the good govern this little country of ours. Each of us has his own viewpoint but the consensus on this question was ‘Not very well’. If they would just leave it to us in the pub, what vast improvements we could make.

Yes, this was a different sort of outing but one which was thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially by those seeing things for the first time. We will need to do something similar in the future.

Monday, 8 February 2010

27 January Wanlock Water Circular

Since the big freeze went, the weather has been mixed, sometimes frosty, bright and sunny but mainly damp and dreich. Today was to continue the dreich pattern.
The intention of the day was for a walk on the Lowther Hills before the snow went completely and when a fresh fall came earlier in the week, we were hopeful of a pleasant snowy walk. But, when we gathered in Jimmy’s place in Cumnock, the day was dreich with damp air and a lowering sky. Some were for a local walk round Cumnock fearing a repeat of last week but Davie suggested that we go to Wanlockhead and if the conditions for a climb were poor we could have a low level walk. It was Jimmy who pointed out that Wanlockhead sits somewhere above the fourteen hundred contour and there could be no ‘low level’ walking around there. However, we knew what Davie meant and his suggestion was accepted. We headed for Wanlockhead.
The village was free of snow but great icy drifts lay in the cleuchs and we suspected more lay on the tops; suspected, for there was no way we could see for sure for the tops rose into claggy hill fog the base of which was barely a hundred feet above our heads. There was no way we would get the veterans of last week’s soaking up into that fog so a ‘low level’ walk it would be.
The first spots of rain hit as we prepared to leave the cars, not heavy rain nor long lasting but enough to make us waterproof from the outset.
We set off down through the village, down past the old lead works buildings – ‘I helped excavate this in the nineteen seventies,’ said Paul and we were suitably impressed – and down the valley of the Wanlock Water. The drizzly rain went as we approached Meadowfoot Cemetery. We have amongst us those who love to explore old cemeteries. (It has been said that we only do this because, at our age, we are only sussing out future lodgings.) We interrupted our walk to investigate. That the cemetery is still in use is evident from the modern gravestones but its antiquity – it dates from 1751 - is also evident from the old stones. The earliest we found today dated from 1774 and the grandest was that of the mine manager on the late eighteenth century. The historian suggested that, if Maria Riddel’s account is to be believed, this may well have been the man who showed Burns and the Riddel group round the mines here in January 1792. We have only his suggestion for this but it is an interesting theory.
By the time we had exhausted the cemetery’s possibilities the rain had gone but the sky still showed no sign of lifting. We walked on down the valley on a forest-road type track that dropped imperceptibly down beside the burn, opening and closing jackets as the drizzle continued to come and go. Even when it went there was no drying and sweat built up inside the waterproofs. Then the track crossed the burn by a bridge and started to climb the valley side.
The abandoned farmhouse of Duntercleuch sits above the burn, on the side of the valley. Since it was mow nearing eleven, we stopped here, leaned our backs to the wall of the house and had coffee.
It was a good choice to have coffee at Duntercleuch for a few minutes after we had started on the climb again the rain came once more, this time in more serious mood. And it was up through the rain we climbed to enter the plantation clothing the side of Duntercleuch Rig. Our weatherman had suggested that the rain would go for it was just a front passing through but, at that moment, it didn’t look like it. The rain came straight down and it looked as though it was bringing the sky with it and we would be walking in fog again. Yet we climbed on with the road, Rex and Davie setting a cracking pace on the upward, splitting the group into two parties. And we continued to climb on what most thought would be the last on this ‘low level’ walk.
Somewhere in the mizzle and the trees the fast waited for the slow to catch up, and then they were off again. We continued to climb with the road. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the trees gave way and we came into a more open hillscape. The rain eased and was the sky clearing? Would our weatherman be right after all? It certainly seemed that way. We left the road and, at another abandoned, and this time ruinous, farmstead a hundred yards across the hill, we sat down for our peece.
Davie, being first to the ruin, found the only bit of shelter from the remaining drizzle under the still intact roof of the porch and the rest had to make do with an outside wall. But the rain went, and we were first to see the sunshine. A patch of blue sky floated above us and the first shaft of sunlight swept across the hill, to light and warm us. Were we jealous of Davie’s shelter? Were we heck! Now that the rain had gone, some took the opportunity to change into dry shirts. It’s a good job we had finished the peece for semi-naked Ooters are not a pretty sight and we of a delicate nature may well have been put off our food. As it was, we were finished the peece and were ready to set off again.
With the brightening weather came a brightening in the attitude of the group. A brightening until we found out that we had another mountain to climb. We slanted up grassy field to find a green track slanting up the hillside. Davie was being called all manner of uncomplimentary things. He said it was to be a ‘low level’ walk and here he was dragging us up another mountain. But, at least the track was good and well graded up the slope and, with the clearing weather, the views began to open out. The effort of the climb was rewarded by a super view from Wedder Hill. South-west, the hills around Moniaive showed well and in the west Nithsdale ran into Ayrshire with the Afton Hills on one side and Corsencon guarding the other; in the east, the bulk of Tinto looked close; due north, Cairntable and the Muirkirk hills had the wind-farm at Lesmahagow as a backdrop and through a gap, the Ochils were bathed in sunshine. This was a remarkable view for so low an eminence, one which was completely unexpected for us today given the weather at the start. Yet, to the south the Lowthers still held onto the clag as they would for the rest of the day so Davie’s choice of the ‘low level’ walk turned out to be a good one. His ears stopped burning as the comments turned more pleasant and perhaps we will let him choose some other walks in the future.
Wedder Hill was the high point of the day. Now we had to drop back into the Wanlock Water valley. The path found another track. We would follow this downward. This wasn’t as straightforward as it would seem for great wreaths of icy, rotting snow lay across it and these had to be negotiated with some caution for they were slippy. The Irvine two certainly took their time. But this is to be expected of those from the coast who think a heavy frost is a severe winter. But, remembering (eventually Rex and Davie) the new axiom of the ooters, we waited compassionately for them on the bridge over the Wanlock.
An easy saunter saw us back up the valley into the village. But Rex and Davie hadn’t finished with their exploits. In front of the main group, they were seen to veer away to the right, onto the old railway track. But enough was enough for the rest of us who kept to the road through the village. Wrong move! Davie knew exactly where he was going and the fast pair beat us all to the cars, having taken the shorter route.
A good end to a poor start today but as yon English fellow said, ‘All’s well that ends well’. And all was well with us as we took FRT in the Crown in Sanquhar.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Recent Mosset Visit

Vernet les Bains

Kate on the walk from the Prades College to Ria.

Ansignan Viaduct

I have uploaded a few pictures to let you see some aspects of our recent holiday. The weather was mostly clear and bright with a snell breeze blowing combined with occasional snow flurries.