Tuesday, 31 August 2010

2 August Campsie Fells – Meikle Bin

Distance: 13.6 kms

Paul allowed us to go to the Campsies today; the weather was set fair so he allowed us to go. Unfortunately, due to holidays and other commitments, only five intrepid souls - Allan, Davie, Ian, Jimmy & Paul - made the journey northward to Kilsyth. In Kilsyth, the Tak-ma-doon road took us up, up to a viewpoint high on the flank of the hill.
The rain of Monday and the showers of Tuesday had cleansed the atmosphere and a light northerly air-stream this morning gave us a day of clear air and long visibility and already the view was outstanding, southward and eastward. Over Cumbernauld and Lanarkshire to Tinto and the Culter Hills and over West Lothian to the Forth bridges, Arthur's Seat and the Pentlands the view was superb.
But we weren’t at the viewpoint for the view; we had a walk to do. As this was to be a linear rather than a circular walk we left a car here and motored on to Carron Reservoir in the other. We started walking around eleven.
The first part of the walk was through the Carron plantation on a forest road so the views were restricted. But the sun hit us and the day was August warm and we were in spirits to match the day. We wandered up that road setting the world to rights, Paul directing us when we met a bifurcation. At one point the trees cleared sufficiently for us to have a view northward to a mountainous landscape. It was just a small vignette bordered by spruce trees but it was one that whetted the appetite for a better, broader vista from the summit of the Meikle Bin, our destination.
Paul instructed the leading twosome to look out for a path through the trees on the left. We found it, a wet muddy slope obviously tramped that way by the passage of many feet. We slither our way up twenty metres of goo to find more solid grassy ground at the top. But the footprints ran out here. So did the gap in the trees. This was not our path. We slithered our way back down the goo. Davie, trying to avoid the goo by clinging to the trees, had a closer encounter with one than he would have wished for. This arboreal embrace left him with a grazed throat oozing blood and a pin-prick on the point of his nose fairly dripping the stuff. Were we sympathetic? Course we were and we showed it in the usual way.
Back on our forest road again, we continued the search for the path on the left. This time we found it, marked by a small cairn of stones. But this was in no better state than the last and required just as much attention. Feet placed injudiciously saw the owner slide half a metres or so back down the slope with what we took to be whoops of joy but were more likely screams of terror in case the perpetrator landed on his behind in the wet goo. Davie was careful to avoid too much contact with the trees this time though the branches were an assist to us as we held on to swing round and over the deepest of the ooze. And the muck lasted until we cleared the trees some hundred metres later.
Though the slope was still steepish, we were on firmer, drier ground now and could stride out a bit. But the progress wasn’t too fast and as we climbed and the view northward opened out, many were the ‘view stops’ called. And what a view it was. Beyond the low ground of the Forth and Endrick valleys rose the southern highlands, mountain upon mountain. Peaks were identified and re-identified as we climbed and more familiar summits appeared. And all of them were bathed in sunshine as we were, and all of them were sharp and distinct in the clear air, and all of them looked close and inviting. It took us – well four of us for Davie was away up in front again - some time to climb the last few hundred feet to the summit of the Meikle Bin.
For such a low eminence, a little over 1750ft/570m, Meikle Bin provides one of the most remarkable panoramas in Scotland, especially on a day as clear as this. The landmarks we could identify in our three-sixty degree compass took in, from the east in a clockwise direction, The Bass Rock (94Km/59miles*), Arthur’s Seat (65Km/41miles), The Pentland Hills, The Moffat and Culter Hills, Tinto (56Km/35miles), Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (86Km/53.5miles), Merrick (102Km/64miles), Brown Carrick above Ayr (76Km/48miles), Ailsa Craig (105Km/66Miles), The Arran Peaks (Coich-na-hoich and the Cock being the only two visible for the rest had cloud touching their tops), The Cobbler (48Km/30miles) and the Arrochar group, Ben Lomond (35Km/22miles), Ben Lui (58Km/36miles), Ben More (48Km/30miles) and Stob Binien, Ben Venue (32Km/19miles), The Braes o’ Balquidder, The Ochil Hills and The Lomond Hills. Others that we should have identified but didn’t were Ben Ledi, Ben A’an and BenVorlich in Strathyre (38Km/24miles). Man-made landmarks included Alloa, The Forth Bridges, Edinburgh, the Falkirk Wheel and Cumbernauld. This must rate highly on the McMeekin scale of fabulosity, second only to the Cobbler this year.
We took coffee on Meikle Bin and spent time there relaxing in the sun and taking in the phenomenal view from Ailsa to the Bass (182Km/114miles) and from Merrick to Ben More (140.8Km/88miles). Paul got all the plaudits for choosing the destination and the day to do it in. We might let him choose again some other day.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the summit of Meikle Bin. We followed a path of sorts across the top in a southerly direction. ‘It’s all downhill from here’ said Paul, ‘except for the wee uppy bits’. And downhill it was, down into the trees again and down into the peaty goo again. All views were lost to us as we picked our way carefully down the bog. A four foot wide, four foot deep sheugh cut across the ‘path’. This was also on the gooey side. Many and varied were the antics of five auld codgers trying to drop into this wet, peaty trench and back out without unexpected seats in the slimy, black wetness. It’s slightly disappointing for your scribe to report that we all made it without mishap.
Then came one of Paul’s ‘wee uppy bits’, a sixty degree slope of grassy tussocks with green bogs waiting on flatter sections to catch the unwary. Paul was now being called all manner of unflattering things for leading us into this. But it was only a wee uppy bit and didn’t last too long and we topped out at the edge of the trees beside a fence on Black Hill ‘Follow the fence’ said Paul and we did. And on the relatively flat section, Davie set the pace, Davie’s pace.
The path beside the fence brought us to the top of Garrel Hill where we could look back at Meikle Bin. Though most of the northern view had gone, hidden behind the Bin, there were still glimpses of highland hills rising one behind the other. And the Wallace monument on abbey Craig at Stirling showed itself now though the town still hid behind the Carron hills. Most of the view was on the south, across the Central Lowlands to the Southern Upland hills and we admired this for a wee while before moving on. And Davie still set the pace.
Paul said, casually ‘We’re coming to a wet bit now’. A wet bit! We thought we had already come to wet bits so why did he think to mention this now? We feared the worst. And we got the worst.
We dropped off the top of Garrel Hill still following the pad beside the fence. Down into a shallow col between hills we came and all our views disappeared. Not that we could have looked at the views anyway for we were now in Paul’s ‘wet bit’ and spent the time watching where we put our feet. Burns that didn’t yet know that they were burns oozed from the sphagnum and wet peat at every step covering the uppers of the boots and splashing legs and gaiters with black muck, and feet had to be placed cautiously to avoid even deeper immersions. Where the ooze wasn’t too deep, reeds and rushes were pressed into service as ‘steppies’ but detours were needed to avoid the deepest of the quagmires. Paul’s ears were abused again. And again. And again.
And Davie set the pace.
By the time we had negotiated the wet and started the rise on the drier (only drier by comparison) ground to the top of Tomtain it was closing on lunch time and Ian was complaining of starvation. Paul sought a place dry enough to sit on for a bite. But Jimmy and Davie had ‘better’ ideas. They saw the remains of a drystane dyke on the horizon and thought this would be ideal. So we followed them up the hill to its summit where we sat on the remains of a drystane dyke and ate.
What a place we chose to take lunch. Though the northwest views had gone, hidden behind the Bin, we could still look south and east and north-east. Oh how fickle are the Ooter’s memories. How quickly we forget. Paul, who, only twenty minutes ago, was being abused for leading us into the wet, now received plaudits for bringing us to another splendid hill on such a splendid day. Well done Paul.
Such was the clearness of the day, the magnificence of the view and the warmth of the afternoon sun that we thought to spend a bit of time over lunch. But the itchy feet lot had other ideas. Even before Ian had finished eating – well, we didn’t have all day – they had packed up and were ready for the off. Why this should be, we are not quite sure for we had just to walk down the hill to the car, but ready for the off they were. Poor Ian hurriedly scoffed down his third roll, packed up and followed meekly.
Less than a mile of downward progress brought us to the car parked at the Tak-ma-doon viewpoint.

This was a day when the enjoyment of the views and the warmth of the sun far outweighed the nuisance of underfoot conditions. Our thanks go to Paul for
1- Putting us off from going in the rain a fortnight ago. ‘It would have been miserable’ said Davie, ‘We would have seen nothing and got soaking forbye’.
2- Allowing us to go on such a splendidly clear day. We will let him lead some other day.

Those who missed today missed a very good walk. But it’s one we will do it again for it is well worth the doing.

Distances from
Meikle Bin to Ailsa Craig 104.8 km
Meikle Bin to Bass Rock 93.4 km
Ailsa Craig to Bass Rock 181.4 km

Report by Jimmy, Route & distance calculations by Paul, Photos by Allan

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Robert Is Cool

Robert is cool.
There’s nae doot aboot that.
Frae the heel o’ his shoes,
Tae the tip o’ his hat,
Robert is cool.

Robert is cool.
In the way that he walks,
In the things that he does
An’ the way that he talks
Robert is cool

Robert is cool.
It’s officially said
Oan the internet
Where the message wis laid,
Robert is cool.

Robert is cool.
The wee teenage lass
That sat at the back
In Robert’s art class
Says Robert is cool.

Robert is cool.
That got oor attention
An’ so did the times
That he happened tae mention
That Robert is cool.

Robert is cool.
If we hear that again
We’ll a’ lose oor cool
An’ inflict severe pain
Oan Robert that’s cool.

Sae, Robert the cool
Juist haud yer wheesht
Juist cool it a bit
An’ gie us a’ peace
Frae hearin’ ye’re cool.

18 August A Brief History of Cumnock

Malcolm, the new lad, made a mistake. When Jimmy offered to show us some of the historical sites in the Cumnock area, Malcolm quipped, ‘What History? In Cumnock? Cumnock hisnae got a history!’ This was enough to spark Jimmy off and treat us all to the history of every bump, stone and blade of grass in the area. And what Jimmy missed out, Davie, also a native Cumnockian, filled in.

It was the day of Paul’s bus pass do and a short, local walk was called for. So when Jimmy suggested the Cumnock area, this was accepted and we all met at his place for a nine thirty (ish) start. OK, before the Talbot boys get their undergarments in turmoil, some of the walk was in Auchinleck Parish but it was still the Cumnock area.

The transport was left in the car park at the swimming pool (the new one apparently) and we set off along Auchinleck Road towards the town centre. Barely two hundred metres later we were stopped outside a tall, grey sandstone building for the first lesson. This was Lochnorris and was the home of James Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour party. (See www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRhardie.htm) It is still a private home but a small plaque on the wall commemorates Keir Hardie’s connection with it and the town.

Lesson one past, we continued along the street, still heading into town. At the Lugar Bridge we left the main street and took the road for Woodroad Park. ‘All Our Yesterdays’ kicked in with the Cumnock boys for this was the scene of their youthful frolics. The outdoor swimming pool was here (built 1936 and one of the first and finest outdoor pools in the country - see John Strawhorn, A New History of Cumnock, 1966), the putting green was here, the carnival was held here – Ah, nostalgia! As Davie wiped a nostalgic tear from his eye, we walked on through the park. Her Majesty, the Queen visited here in 1956 and made a speech from the bandstand. ‘Us weans thocht she was juist a wee wummin’, said Jimmy, ‘We were expectin’ flowin’ robes an’ a crown at least’. And with this observation ended lesson number two.

One thing Jimmy forgot to mention in his speech was that the Cumnock Cycling rally was also held here during the forties and fifties. It was their hill climb section that we tackled next as the road climbed steeply through the wood to Templands Farm.

Holly was amused by the chickens and ducks in the farmyard and some of the rest of us were more amused by the pigs and goats. We feel sorry for those who don’t get out often.
The last time we came this way as a group, it was chucking down with rain. Today made a pleasant change for the early morning rain had gone and the sun was trying to make an appearance. We took to the Broombraes footpath and continued the climb. Somewhere up the slope we halted to remove fleeces as the heat of the day and the slope took its toll. But the climb didn’t last long and we were soon dropping down through the trees to meet the river again. Jimmy had us halted for another lesson. ‘This is where they quarried the stone for Dumfries House back on the mid seventeen hundreds’ (Lesson three). Peter, our lithophile, wasn’t content with seeing the quarry from the top, he was for down into it to examine the rocks. Ian went with him. The rest stayed where they were and awaited the interesting report.

No report was forthcoming so we wandered on. The path came down to the river and brought us out to the main A70 at the west end of Lugar village. We turned through the village. The neat rows of single storey, brick-built, cottages - iron-worker’s cottages originally - and their gardens were admired as we wandered along to the other end of the village.

Lesson number four came at Rosebank Park, the home of Lugar Boswell Thistle FC. The gate was open and we wandered in. Paul, our expert on all things junior football, was asked about Lugar Boswell’s claim to fame. ‘They used to play in the senior leagues’, said he, confident in his answer, ‘playing the likes of Rangers and Hearts’. But this was not the answer the inquisitors were after. Apparently Lugar developed the tactical system of playing two full backs, three midfielders and five attackers using two flying wingers, a system that was used universally for fifty-odd years before the Italians came up with four – two – four and effectively killed the game. Well, were we gobsmacked or what? We Walked on.

Fifty metres along the road we were stopped again, this time it was to have a look at Bello Mill Farm. Bello Mill was the birthplace on 21 August 1754 of one William Murdoch, inventor and engineer. (See en.wikipedia.org.wiki). Murdoch (later Murdock) whose most famous work, gas lighting, was developed here at Bello Mill, in a riverside cave under the present farm. (Lesson five) This cave just had to be explored. But the burn was high and access today would be difficult and would probably result in wet feet, so the visit was postponed. We did however see the original Mill where Murdoch was born.

Fifty metres beyond the farm, at the entrance to the gorge of Bello Pass, are the remains of a Neolithic stone circle, evidence of a very early history for the place. Had Jimmy not pointed them out as such (lesson six), we would have walked past and noted only a pile of stones.

Then we were into the gorge. Bello Pass was the scene, in 1688 of a skirmish between covenanters and government troops when a party of covenanters ambushed the troops taking the covenanting minister David Houston from Ayr to trial, and probable execution, in Edinburgh. Houston escaped but local man John McGeachan was mortally wounded. He is buried on his farm of Meikle Auchengibbert above Cumnock. (See www.cumnock.net/) We would maybe see his monument later. Until then, we walked on.

Up through Bello Pass we went then, on the busy Muirkirk road. At the top of the pass we took a minor road on the right. Lack of coffee was beginning to tell on the caffeine junkies for it was now after eleven and at least an hour since coffee in Jimmy’s so, somewhere along this wee road, on the parapet of a bridge over a wee burn, we stopped for coffee.

The road rose sharply after coffee; rose beside a wee wood into which Peter constantly looked in search of mushrooms, another of his passions. But, mushrooms there were none so we continued up the hill without hindrance to top out in a flattish, mossy area. A few spots of rain hit us, only a few spots but the sky behind was ominously black and the few spots were sufficient to make the wary don the waterproofs. This however was enough to make the rain go off in another direction and that was the last we were to get for the day. It wasn’t the last we would see, though.

The moss we encountered at the top of the hill was dominated on the right by the spoil-heap of another opencast coal works. This elicited some interest for it just wasn’t here the last time either Davie or Jimmy came up this road. Peter, he of the interest in things rocky, was interested in this, as was Ian, our physicist so a short stop was made here to examine the workings, or what we could see of the workings. ‘Part of Cumnock’s new history’, said Jimmy. Lesson seven?

We followed the road yet. Along past where Glenmuir School used to stand (now swallowed by the opencast), down to a bridge on Glenmuir water, took a right turn on Glenmuir Road and climbed again by Darmalloch Farm. At the top of this hill we left tarmac for a while and took the service road for Avisyard (pronounced Aisyard) Farm and the phone mast we could see on the summit of Avisyard Hill.

The farmer stopped his car and rolled down the window. ‘Are you heading for the mast?’ he asked. When we replied in the affirmative he told us there were kye with young calves in the field and warned us that they could be dangerous. ‘Especially wi’ the dug’, said he. It looks as though he didn’t want us to be there. We told him we would take our chances and were ready to spout the freedom of access laws to him. But without further comment, he rolled up his window and drove on. We walked on.

Just after we parted company with the farmer Holly disgraced herself. Jumping the fence, she entered a field with young beasts. When nosy young cow approached her, she started barking and chasing. No matter how much Davie called her, she refused to give up the fun. Well, that is until all the other cattle joined in the chase. This time it was Holly who was the chased. Discretion being the better part of valour, even in the canine world, and especially with twenty cows running after her, Holly beat a hasty retreat and joined us back on the farm road. She knew then that she was in disgrace for she was leashed.

The field, up through which the track to the mast ran, did contain kye, young beasts and nosy. But they presented no threat to us and we walked up to the mast with a mini herd of young cattle going before. And we reached the mast and trig point on top of Avisyard Hill dead on Jimmy’s schedule of 12:30.

We didn’t stop at the mast, the breeze was cool and there was no shelter. We walked westward down the hill to find the remains of a drystane dyke along which we sat and had lunch.
It had been commented often that you don’t have to go particularly high in Ayrshire for a view. Here was another. From Corsencon in the south, through the Afton Hills, Blackcraig and Windy Standard, Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, Ben Beoch above Dalmellington, Brown Carrick at Ayr to Blacksidend in the North, the whole of central Ayrshire was laid out. Cumnock lay below us and the towns of East Ayrshire could be picked out as the low ground of the county stretched down to the sea. Yet, the day was such that Arran, normally a prominent feature of Ayrshire views, remained hidden.

We took our time over lunch, enjoying the view and resting in the sun. And as we sat, we watched another heavy cloud drifted in from the west dragging a dark streak of rain below it, obscuring the landscape as it came. But we were in sunshine and we watched as the rain fell on Auchinleck and parts of Cumnock before heading up the Lugar water towards Muirkirk. But we were in sunshine and so it would stay.

It was all downhill after lunch – literally. We walked down to the corner of a wood where we found another track. ‘Do we follow this track?’ asked Robert. ‘Aye, it’s bound to take us somewhere’, replied our leader. It took us down to the farm of Borland Mains. Over to our right was the farm of Auchengibbert and in a field surrounded by trees could just be seen John McGeachan’s grave.

The farm road took us down to tarmac again. Turning right then left, we crossed the railway bridge and came to Craigens. ‘All Our Yesterdays’ kicked in again. This was the boyhood haunt of Davie and Jimmy and they revelled in nostalgia. ‘Do you remember the duck pond?’ This asked as we passed Craigens Farm. ‘Oh, aye. An’ the horse? Whit wis its name?’ ‘Auld Davie’ ‘Auld Jimmy Craig wis the fermer, crabbit auld bugger’. Ah, the good old days.

In this bout of reminiscence, they had had us down into Netherthird where they were brought up. Twisting and turning through the streets, they had us past where Davie stayed; then where Jimmy stayed. It seemed to keep them amused. What amused Robert though, were the Unionist flags hanging out of windows. For this was the middle of the marching season. He immediately broke into a swagger and started whistling The Sash much to the amusement of some, not least himself. But the sensible amongst us just admired the carved wooden birds in a garden. And the two natives wallowed in nostalgia as we wandered down through Netherthird.

At the bottom of Netherthird sits The Thistle Inn. Adopting our new philosophy of doing something different, this is where we took today’s FRT.
But we weren’t yet finished with the walk, or the history lessons. We left The Thistle and came down Glaisnock Road past the cemetery. ‘That’s where James Keir Hardie is buried’, nodded Jimmy. (Lesson eight)

We stopped outside the town hall to admire Benno Schotz’s bronze bust of Keir Hardie. And outside the Dumfries Arms Hotel for lesson nine. ‘Finished around 1771, it was where Burns stayed once on a journey from Dumfries to Mauchline. But it’s not the oldest building in the town’. The oldest apparently was the one facing us as we crossed Ayr Road, The Craighead Inn. ‘Don’t know the exact date but it’s pre-seventeen hundred’.

Then we entered The Square. ‘You’re walking on top of the old medieval cemetery. The present church dates from 1866 but there’s been a church on this site since the middle ages’. (Lesson ten).

From the Square we made our way back along Auchinleck Road to the cars, not quite exhausted from the walk but totally ‘history’d oot’. Bet Malcolm won’t make that mistake again!

Distance: 16.6 kms
by Paul

11 August Anither Irvine Valley Walk

The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft agley
An’ lea’e us naught but............

.....................................................Anither Irvine Valley Walk

We looked forward to a walk in the Campsies, a walk that would be new to most of us. All week long we looked forward to it. Paul looked forward to it, even to the extent that he did a ‘reccy’ at the week-end and posted i t on the blog just to keep us looking forward to it. Oh, how we looked forward to that walk in the Campsies.

Came the day, came the weather. A depression in the North Sea was dragging rain southward across the country. Paul, very unlike himself, was reluctant to go to the Campsies suggesting that the rain would reach there around eleven, just about the time as we would. Should we really go that far for another soaking? Or would it be more sensible to stay local and get another soaking? Yielding to Paul’s reticence, we opted for the latter. We would walk from Robert’s house along the Irvine valley trails.
We were joined today by Malcolm Campbell a recent escapee from the chalk face who, in the exhilaration of his new-found freedom, had a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided to join us. Time will tell if this was a wise decision.

As for the walk we did undertake, it followed a route we’ve done before (20 August 2008) taking us by Kay Park along McKenzie Drive and McPhail Drive over the bypass by a footbridge and on to the Milton Road. Not a lot happened that was worth reporting over the next hour or so. We walked to Templetonburn where some of us might have missed the route such was the conversations and our interest in the surroundings. But Davie called us back and had us down the fisher’s path by the river. And we kept to the riverside for a bit eventually finding tarmac again at Greenwood Bridge Then we came by Grougar Row and Burnbank to the ancient kirkyard of Loudoun Kirk where coffee was taken.

While most of us sat and conversed socially (blethers again – Ed.) Jimmy took himself off in search of a particular grave, that of Janet Little poetess of this parish, leaving behind his rucksack and camera. Now, haven’t just we learnt a new jape from young Davie Clunie? (see Allan’s poem of 28 July last) When it was time for us to go, we shouted to Jimmy, handed him his rucksack and walked on.

We came down a track to Ga’ston. It was suggested that we might walk on to Darvel as we did the last time we came this way and take the bus back to Killie. This nearly caused apoplexy in Jimmy who had left his wallet and bus pass in his car. So, to keep theold soul happy we decided to return by the old railway, now a cycle path, to Hurlford. So it was up through Ga’ston then.

The old railway is now The Sir Chris Hoy Cycle Way. ‘Why Chris Hoy, Why not Graeme Obree’, asked one. We had to agree that the local man should have been commemorated rather than the Edinburgh fellow. However, it was along the Chris Hoy Way that we went.
Cycle path or no, this is still the old railway, straight, level and uninteresting in itself. The highlights included a yellow plant that our botanist could identify * and our meeting with Boydy.

The yellow flowers grew profusely in clumps around forty centimetres high on both sides of the tarmac but what they were stumped Jimmy. ‘You could always photograph the flower and look it up when you get home’ suggested Davie with something of a twinkle in his eye. But Jimmy was for none of this. ‘My camera’s in my bag and I cannae be bothered getting it oot. Anyway I’ve got a fair idea in my mind’. So we walked on.
Boydy was a collie and was accompanied by a wee lassie of around eleven on a bike. ‘Boydy?’ we queried. ‘Aye, ma faither’s a Rangers supporter’ came the reply. ‘But Boydy disnae play for Rangers ony mare’ we smirked. ‘S’no ma problem’ said she, threw her head high and cycled haughtily up the track with Boydy trotting alongside.

By this time Ian was reminding us that it was lunch time. So, when we reached the viaduct over the Cessnock, we sat down and took the peece.

The amusement during lunch was the men painting the electricity pylons. ‘That would make a good photo’ said Robert in Jimmy’s direction. At this comment Allan took the opportunity to wander round the group photographing everything in sight. For some reason he seemed particularly interested in taking Jimmy’s picture. Not until he asked Jimmy if he liked his new camera, did the latter realise that it was his. The bold Alan had picked it up at Loudoun Kirk when Jimmy went walkabout and Jimmy hadn’t missed it until now. I refuse to repeat what he called us all when we burst out laughing, such things are not for sensitive ears. But he has sworn revenge. We quake in our boots. See what you’ve started, Davie Clunie.

From the Cessnock viaduct we followed a path behind the houses of Hurlford. This took us to the main Valley road and turning along this we came to Hurlford cross where we crossed the river. Then taking a footpath beside the river, we came back to the Milton Road and retraced our steps back into Killie.

The ultra-observant among you will have noticed that there is no mention of rain in the above narrative. That’s because there was none. The sky was overcast but there was no rain. But Paul assures us that it would probably be chucking it down on the Campsies.

*The mystery plant would appear to be a thing called common toadflax – not so common in this area.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Arrangements for Wednesday 18th

Due to Paul's belated birthday do, we are having a short walk this week. Meet at Jimmy's at 9:00 for a 9:30 (approx) start and we will have a walk around Cumnock area.
Those requiring more than a coffee at Jimmy's should phone in their orders before hand to
Royal Hotel,
01290 420822
Jimmy refuses to pick up the bill!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wednesday's walk

At the weekend I did a 'reccy' of the walk I fancied in the Kilsyth Hills, up to the Meikle Bin (highest point in the Campsies) from Kilsyth; and decided it wasn't up to the Ooters exacting standards. The climb was pathless and overgrown and the descent to Queenzieburn is out of commission because of work going on at the Birkenburn reservoir.

Weather permitting I would suggest a linear walk from the top of the Carron Reservoir up the Meikle Bin and then along the tops via Garrel Hill and Tomtain to the Tak ma Doon road above Kilsyth. It would mean leaving a car at the destination to take drivers back to the start to collect their vehicles. I did the walk back from Meikle Bin to the Tack ma Doon road and it is pretty boggy in places but manageable ... gaiters are recommended. I haven't done the climb up from the Carron Reservoir but it's well documented and seems to be the 'tourist route' up, although the Blue Sky Scotland boys recommended snorkels for one stretch they did in April. It's about 8 miles in total - 2.5 miles to the Meikle Bin and 5.5 along the top and the views are good. My walk at the weekend was 13 miles!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

4 August The Striding Arches

‘Blows the wind today, and the sun and rain are flying?
Blows the wind on the moor today and now,


The magazine article that drew Jimmy’s attention to the Striding Arches walk said that it would be about ten miles, the official leaflet said six and the internet said nine kilometres. So today’s walk would be anything between five and a half and ten miles.
The morning wasn’t promising with overcast skies and drizzle blowing across the landscape in waves in the gentlest of breezes. This was against a forecast that promised sunshine with the occasional shower but, when we gathered at Jimmy’s, the drizzle persisted and there was little sign of it lifting. There were some (well, Davie and Jimmy, actually) who were for wimping out of the planned excursion and suggested a local walk. It’s a good thing to have Robert with us. ‘Look, the forecast’s good. We’ll just go for it’, said he, authoritatively. So the six of us (wimps included), made the journey south to Moniaive and the valley of the Dalwhat Water.
The hills surrounding the head of the Dalwhat are the platforms for one of Andy Goldsworthy’s art installations, Striding Arches, and this is what we made the long journey down Nithsdale to see. And as we journeyed south, the weather improved slightly – at least the drizzle went off.

The abandoned farm of Cairnhead seven miles north of Moniaive provides the car park for the arches and the start of the walk. It also hosts the first of the Striding Arches. So the first part of the outing was to walk the whole hundred yards or so to the farm and ‘Byre’. ‘Byre’, funnily enough, makes use of the old farm byre. Goldsworthy has cut a window in the end wall through which strides his first arch – a seven metre broad, four metre high arch of sandstone blocks held up by nothing more that friction and the gravitational pull on the keystone at the top. Robert, the only artist with us today, was slightly surprised by the scale of the installation but admired Goldsworthy’s insight. And we had to admit that this arch at least, whether insightful art or not, is an impressive piece of work. We only hoped that the rest would be worth the effort.
Fifteen minutes later we were back in the car park and ready for the real walk. Alternative routes are described by the magazine and the leaflet; through a gate, down over the burn by a bridge and up a fire break by the Dibbin Burn to Benbrack, or by the forest road to Colt Hill. Simply because we couldn’t find the start of the route of the magazine, we opted for the forest road.
By its very nature, this road was devoid of any views except the forest – not that we would have seen anything anyway for the valley here is narrow and the hills steep sided - but it did lift us gently up the hill and made the walking easier than it might have been. At one point a break in the trees gave us a view of more forest extending up the sides of the valley.
This easy walking, though, didn’t prevent the group being split. Robert and Jimmy set off like exocets on speed leaving the sensible four trailing on behind. They did stop at one point but only sufficiently to let us catch up, throw us a liquorice sweety and then they were off again. Even when the slope steepened as the road rose up towards the head of the pass, they didn’t ease up. But we were content to let them go and enjoy whatever the forest allowed us to see.
Apart from the ease of the climb, one other good thing happened on this section. As we rose, so did the sky. The cloud that tickled the hill-tops was now well above them and breaking up. At one point there was a patch of blue, a small patch admittedly, but blue it certainly was. Was Robert’s optimism for the day being fulfilled? At least we hoped so.
The next time we caught up with the fast pair, they were standing at the head of the pass between Colt Hill and Black Hill beside a wooden indicator post with three arms pointing to different arches; uphill to the right, Colt Hill; uphill to the left, Benbrack; and downhill, the way we had just come, ‘Byre’. Since Colt Hill was less than a mile distant, we decided this was our first objective. So, leaving the firmness of the road behind, we took the well trodden pad up the steep flank of Colt Hill.
The forest still barred any views on the left but on the right was open ground now and this gave views to the south, over the Dalwhat valley. Not that we could see much of the views for the slope took its toll and heads were down as we pushed upwards towards the summit. We had been warned in the magazine to prepare for wet feet. Yes, the path was wet in places but no more than could be expected given the rain we have had over the last few weeks, and no more than your average hill walk. And it dried off as the slope eased. And, as the slope ease, the forest on the left gave way and there was our next ‘striding arch’ barely fifty metres away on the summit of the hill. The time was now approaching twelve-thirty so we sat down on the summit of Colt Hill with our backs against the Striding Arch and had the peece.
Was it worth the effort? Yes it was, not only for the arch but also for the superb view that is had from the top of Colt Hill. The sky had lifted enough to allow us an extensive panorama in nearly three-sixty degrees. To the south lay the valley of the Dalwhat with the arch on Bail Hill sanding sentry over it. And beyond this, Screel Hill at Castle Douglas and Criffel at the mouth of the Nith stood over the silver streak of the Solway. In the east, the Durrisdeer Hills and the Lowthers, with their unmistakable radar installations, filled the skyline above the valley of the Nith. In the North Corsencon guarded the northern entrance to Nithsdale, looking somewhat smaller from our height than it does from the valley floor. In the north-west, the hills around Glen Afton, Blackcraig, Alwhat and the ‘windmill’ topped Windy Standard, looked very close, spots of sunlight dappling them as the cloud broke up. Yet, in the west, Cairnsmore of Carsphairn still brooded darkly as cloud hung over it’s top. And the landscape beyond this was obscured as rain swept across it. But we didn’t look west; we looked north to a brightening sky and thanked Robert for making the decision to ‘go for it’.
From Colt Hill we had a choice of walks; either south to the last arch on Bail Hill or west to the last arch on Benbrack. From where we were, we could see both arches and, since Bail hill seemed further away and we were now in the mood for a relaxed walk, we opted for Benbrack.
Back down the slope then, back to the forest road and the three armed signpost. Without halt, we crossed the forest road and started on the slope of Black Hill. This wasn’t nearly as steep or as wet as the Colt hill path and we gained the height of Black Hill easily enough. Here we picked up the Southern Upland Way path. The going was easy, the grass short and the way relatively dry. Only the occasional wet patches needed circumnavigating. But on the whole the path is good and allows time to take in the views.
For us the views were northward and westward now. The Glen Afton hills came closer than before, just over the valley of the headwaters of the River Ken, the ‘windmills’ on Windy standard waving cheerily to us in the mild breeze. Even Cairnsmore cheered up as the sun hit it. And now we could see to the west. Over the Glenkens, the long ridge of the Rhinns of Kells appeared through its curtain of rain. But in the south-west, the whale-back of Cairnsmore of Fleet still rose darkly under a heavier sky. But we were in sunshine now and enjoyed the easy walking along the broad ridge to Benbrack and the last of our Striding Arches for the day.

The way off Benbrack to Cairnhead should be straightforward. But this is the Ooters we are talking about here. A set of quad bike tracks took us away from the S.U.W. path, following the fence. So far we were in the right direction. But as we approached the edge of the trees again, the quad tracks and the fence parted company and the fence seemed to be going off in the wrong direction. Our navigator for the day, despite reservations in some parts, decided we should follow the quad tracks. This seemed sensible enough at the time so we all followed. Sure enough, the quad tracks took us into a firebreak. But as we dropped lower and the grass grew thicker, the tracks disappeared. Still all we had to do was follow the firebreak. All was going well until the firebreak split. Which one to take? Jimmy, in the lead again, decided to follow the broader. Slipping and sliding on slimy ground, we still followed the break but less than comfortably now. This brought us to a clearing in the steep glen of the Black burn. Here the vegetation was rampant, thick, tussock grass and tall bracken fronds. And there was no path. We struggled down that burn side as best we could.

Eventually we were decanted onto a forest road, the forest road that left our earlier on just a hundred yards or so from the bridge. We were happy to follow this back to Cairnhead.

This was new territory for all and a walk enjoyed by all. We will definitely be back but next time we will follow the fence off Benbrack.

The usual watering hole of the Crown in Sanquhar provided the FRT for the day.

Striding Arches Moniaive

Here are a few pictures of Andy Goldsworthy's sandstone arches around Moniaive

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

28 July Arran – Dun Fion

We made it to Arran this time and had a decent walk which, given the recent weather, the dreich morning and the poor forecast, was something of a minor miracle. The previous evening some had expressed doubts as to the sense of going so far and paying for the privilege of another soaking, but the hardy (foolhardy, some would say) amongst us convinced them we should go as planned. And so the journey to the island was made on the quarter to ten ferry. Given that, as we approached Brodick, we could barely see the bottoms of the high hills let alone the tops, Johnny’s suggestion of staying low was accepted and his choice of a long remembered walk to Dun Fion proved to be a good one.
To say the southbound bus was overcrowded would be something of an understatement. It would have done justice to the Indian railway system with all seats occupied and standing passengers taking up the length of the passage, luggage stowed where there was available space. But this didn’t seem to bother the driver who just asked folk to squeeze up the bus a bit and crowed more on. It did the job in carrying us over the hill, though, and depositing us in Lamlash.
We should have turned northward in Lamlash but biological necessity meant that we turned southward into the village to find a toilet, the public toilet at the wee pier that served the Holy Isle ferry. Whilst the weak-bladdered made themselves comfortable, the rest of us stood and watched as the wee ferry carried its cargo to the island in the bay. ‘Someday’, said one, ‘we will need to go there’. And possibilities were discussed while we waited for the old boys returning from their comfort stop.
Re-united now, we could turn tracks northward toward the high point of Dun Fion.
We walked along the shore road between the sea and a loose line of Victorian and Edwardian houses, built when money was plentiful (for some) and labour was cheap. Most stood in gardens the best part of an acre in extent, sloping down to the road and the sea. Many are past their best and some are in dire need of renovation, the old kirk being a case in point, and some have been replaced by modern houses, not quite as grand but equally large. Comments were made on each as we passed.
By this time it was after eleven and Davie (old Davie, for today we had young Davie Clunie with us again) called for a coffee – it was a long time since breakfast said he. So, at a picnic table on the grass between the road and the sea, we sat for our first coffee of the day.
After coffee we kept to the shore road for a bit. Jimmy and Davie at the front found the sign saying ‘Brodick by Dun Fion, 4 Miles’ and directing us up a lane away from the shore. Without thinking, they followed the sign. Without comment, we followed. The lane lifted us gradually to a path through a wee wood and this in turn took us on to a farm road. At a cottage by the roadside, a sign pointed us into a field where there was no obvious route. Jimmy asked the man working in the garden, ‘Is this the right way?’. ‘Depends where you want to go’, answered the wag. However, he directed us diagonally up through the field to a stand of whin behind which, said he, we would find a style and another path.
The wag was right, we found the style and the path as he described. Now we could see the dun rising on our right hand side. An information board beside the path described the dun and its possible occupation during the bronze/iron ages. Then it was just a short walk and a short, steep climb onto the dun itself.
The peregrine was spotted by the front pair, a male peregrine, gliding effortlessly on the updraft from the sea. As we climbed towards it, it was joined by a calling juvenile still expecting food from its parent. We watched the two of them drift away southward as we made the short climb into the dun itself.
Dun Fion occupies the high ground above the cliffs of Clauchlands Point and affords superb views of Arran’s east coast. To the south lay Lamlash Bay with the Holy isle brooding darkly under the heavy sky. To the north, across Brodick Bay, the high peaks of the northern hills rose into cloud that flat-topped them around the fifteen hundred contour. Below us, the sea rolled gently in the still air. ‘A perfect place for lunch’, said the hungry one, and on the short grass surrounding the trig point, we sat and took the peece. And as we tucked into the sandwiches, the hungry young peregrine still ‘mee-ewed’ at its parent from the crags below us while a potential snack of house martins swooped around us, themselves dining on a selection of insects quite invisible to us.
Away across the sea to the east, the Ayrshire coast was lit by sunshine but, and it was a big ‘but’, behind us a bank of rain- filled cloud swept in from the west obscuring first Glen Cloy and its surrounding hills, then the northern hills and the high ground above Lamlash and threatening to envelop us any time now. We donned the waterproofs and prepared to set off, just as the first of the drizzle hit us.
Back down the steep slope we came, back to the information board. The ‘sma’ rain’, as Davie called it, was as yet light and jackets could be opened a bit to allow the sweat to evaporate for, despite the dullness of the day, it was reasonably warm. But there was little evaporation and when the mizzle came heavier, jackets were fully zipped and hoods were raised against the wet. We would just have to thole the sweatiness.
The path we took next rose quite steeply and halted conversation for a bit as breath became short. And it took us up into the trees just as the worst of the drizzle came. We followed the path through the trees with the ‘sma’ rain’ easing, drying to nothing then coming again. This was the pattern for a while as we walked through the forest and on to the open ground of Clauchlands Hill. Now there was hope for a drier spell for from our vantage point we could see the mizzle begin to thin. Would we get a better afternoon? We hoped.
The path through the wood decanted us onto the Brodick-Lamlash road near its high point. Across the tarmac was the entrance to a forest road with a sign indicating a picnic area and telling us that Water of Cloy was two miles away and Brodick a further two. This would do us nicely.
By this time the drizzle had gone and jackets could be removed and we could walk up that forest road in relative comfort though there was little in the way of drying. Then, as the road cleared the trees for a bit, we were given fresh hope for the day for we could look down and see Brodick Castle in sunshine. And our mizzle was clearing away to the east showing the hills around Glen Cloy. ‘That looks like a walk for the future’, said one indicating the circle of heather clad hills around the glen. We added it to our ‘to do’ list and walked on down into the glen watching a waterfall cascade down the far slope. Then the drizzle came again.
Then the drizzle went and jackets came off. Then it came and jackets were put on. Then it went........ And so the day continued. Rain on, rain off. Jackets on, jackets off. And this is how we came down the forest road to the bridge on the Cloy Water.
The bridge over the Cloy Water ended the forest road but a well constructed path carried on. The path took us into the trees and all views were gone. Then we were out of the trees and on the floor of Glen Cloy. The first buildings that we had seen since leaving Lamlash took us by surprise. Around a traditional cottage were outbuildings roofed with turf, the grass growing some foot high. The naturalists among us thought this a great idea for it would provide a safe environment for insects. The artists were divided on the aesthetics while the philistines couldn’t care less one way or the other. We walked on past.
The next set of buildings we past were the holiday cottages of Auchrannie. Again the aesthetics of the buildings were debated and, in typical Ooters fashion, no conclusions were reached. We walked on.
We came into Brodick near its north end and wandered along the sea-front without undue haste making for Mac’s Bar to partake of the usual FRT.

Despite the drizzle, this was a good walk. Well done to Johnny for suggesting it and leading us so skilfully from behind. Dun Fion is certainly somewhere to be visited again.

Post scriptum
This was a day where we almost felt sorry for Peter. He had talked of a fish supper in Brodick even before we left the ferry this morning. And he talked of it frequently during the walk, almost salivating at the thought. But the FRT in Mac’s was good and we were reluctant to move. When the time came that we did move on, it was closing on ferry time. Those who went for a fish supper were disappointed to learn that the fish would take a few minutes to fry. They didn’t have a few minutes or they would miss the ferry. Poor Peter had to forgo the fish supper that he so looked forward to all day. We sympathised in the usual way

Monday, 2 August 2010

'If the cap fits, ...'

Davie had lost his walkin' bunnet
The story was like a guid whodunnit
Wee Davie was the man who eventually funnit
In a raffle it was thought that he had won it

So on the ferry Wee Davie did wear it
The bunnet and him were truly marrit
The tension was such we couldnae bear it
How long would it take for Davie to snare it

We couldnae haud our laughter nae mair
'D'ye like Davie's hat,' we ventured with care
'Mine and it could be a matchin' pair,
I've lost ma hat and it's just no fair'

Tears of laughter doon oor faces did run
Davie couldnae see the source of oor fun
He must have thought his flies were undone
Or that we a' had a doze of the sun

And then it dawned, the penny had fell
'Is that ma hat', he offered a yell
'Ah hope you get your reward in hell'
The look on his face was one you could sell

As a bit of a wheeze, how low could we sink?
How long would it take, if you'd like to think
For Davie to spot that wi' a nod and a wink
We a' turned up wi shirts in striped pink