Tuesday, 28 June 2011

22 June Ayrshire Coast – Largs to Skelmorlie

Allan, Davie, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Paul & Robert

Burns was right: The best laid schemes o’ mice and Ooters gang aft agley. The scribe has lost count of the number of walks that we’ve had to change at the last minute because of the weather this year. Here was another such. The plan for today was to walk from West Kilbride to Largs over the hill (See 28/04/2010) but once again the weather forecast was poor and the ground on the hill was likely to be saturated with the week’s rain. A change of plan was called for when we gathered in Johnny’s in Irvine. (Call us softies if you like but we prefer the word ‘sensible’.) Paul had the answer – and the guidebook for he had come prepared. We would walk the coastal path from Largs to Skelmorlie taking the low route or the high depending on overhead conditions, new territory for all and easy access to an escape route should the weather turn really nasty.
So it was that we left the cars by the side of the Gogo Burn and walked through Largs. Funnily enough, the weather in the extreme north of the county was better than it had been further south. In fact the sky was beginning to lift and the air was considerably drier here. Some set off jacketless and two even wore shorts for the morning, though far from June hot, wasn’t particularly cold.
Johnny stamped his authority on the group right from the off. As we walked briskly along the prom (tiddlie-om-pom-pom) Johnny spoke. ‘Would you kindly slow down please? This is not a race and we have plenty of time today’, said he, using much more colourful language than I am permitted to write; those who know him best can fill in the blanks. So we slowed the pace down.
Brisbane Glen road was found easily enough and we turned up this, following it out of the town.
Then we found the Ayrshire Coastal Path sign directing us up the farm road through Brisbane Mains Farm and on to the open moorland around the base of Knock Hill. Coffee was called and we stopped on a dry-ish bank beside the track for refreshment.
The ground rose after coffee and the temperature did likewise. A halt was called for Jackets to be removed; a halt called at just the right place for looking back there was a super view over Largs to the Firth and Cumbrae beyond. Somehow there was only one camera today so Ian was designated official photographer while the rest acted as advisers on what to take and how to take it. We hope his pictures (with or without the posing Robert) are worth waiting for. Then, with jackets removed and Ian’s photo-shoot finished, we walked on.
The track continued to rise, degenerating eventually into a grass path through the moor. Then there came a bifurcation in the path; the right hand fork heading directly for the Skelmorlie road, the left for the top of Knock Hill. A decision had to be made but really there was no contest; Knock Hill top won the day. Knock Hill – now there’s a tautology if ever there was one. It simply means ‘hill’ in two different languages, ‘an cnoc’ in Gaelic and ‘hill’ in English. But we decided to climb the hill-hill anyway. The grass path continued on its gradual ascent, contouring round the hill. Then it steepened for the last section to the top. Near the top we came on the ancient ‘roadway’ that spiralled to the iron-age hill fort that crowned the summit. We followed this and a within a few minutes we stood at the trig point in the middle of the ancient fortification to admire the view.
And a view there was today for the sky had lifted and patches of blue could be seen in the cloud – not enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers but enough for us to have a fine view. No wonder the iron-age peoples chose Hill Hill for their fort. The view is superb for such a low height: From the hills around Brisbane Glen, the Renfrew Heights, the turn of the Clyde round the Cloch, Ben Lomond and the hills of Dunbartonshire, Dunoon and Argyle’s Bowling Green, over Bute to the hills of Argyll, over Largs to the Cumbraes and south-westward to the high peaks of Arran. Even Ailsa Craig showed itself in the distant south.
As we have noted frequently in these pages, Ayrshire as a county is remarkable for having such fine views from such low eminences and we reckon we have seen most of them. This was another to add to the collection. We stood for a while taking it in but the restless in the company could contain themselves no longer and had to be off. We all followed.
Robert and Jimmy set the pace on the downward, jogging down the steep we had come up not so long ago. By the time we had reached the level grass path, they were seventy or eighty metres in front. Why they turned off the path we didn’t quite know but when we reached where they did so there was the Ayrshire Coastal Path sign pointing us down what might best be described as an animal track of sorts. We followed the leading two down this path.
Gradually the path narrowed and all but disappeared at one point. But our intrepid leaders pushed on, finding a sheep pad alongside a drystane dyke. This brought us into a wee glen beside a burn where we found the low grass path again. What a delightful wee dell this was with dozens of pale-purple spotted orchids decking the banks, more orchids than even our botanical friend had ever seen in one place. Ian was instructed to do the necessary with the camera again. Then we followed the burn down to find the road for Skelmorlie.
We were to stay on this road for the rest of the walk. And the rest of the walk went off without notable incident. We did stop for the peece but, much to Johnny’s consternation, not on the top of the first rise as suggested. We stopped where we had a view over the firth to Dunoon, a view that showed the rain showers sweeping the firth. We hoped they would stay on the firth and leave us alone.
After lunch we followed the road past a caravan park and into Skelmorlie. The rain hit us as we dropped down through the town but it was only spits and spots and we didn’t bother to waterproof. We carried on down to sea level again.
The Skelmorlie Burn marks the boundary between Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay, the boundary between Ayrshire and Renfrewshire and the end of the Ayrshire Coastal Path. Today saw our completion, in various stages, of this path. Hooray and congratulations all round.

We took the bus back to Largs and took FRT in McCauley’s. One thing noted by Davie was the tattoo on the arm of the young barmaid. We noted her other attributes.

More Images from Ailsa Craig

Saturday, 25 June 2011

ACP Largs to Skelmorlie

Knock Hill summit, wild orchids and Johnny nae pals


The birthday boy on Knock Hill

All Ooters kept a close eye on Robert today just in case he got lost again!

Due to recent medical research, he is now to be called "Half-Pint Bob".

Tailor Craft - Literary Competition

Our own Allan, twice a winner of the Literary competition, entered the following piece for the 2011 event held on Friday (24th June). Allan did not regain his title with this entry. He is too modest to post it himself. I know it will interest the Ooters. So here it is. Enjoy.

Are we there yet?Allan Sim

So here I am at Ardrossan ferry terminal on a bright, dry October morning awaiting the arrival of the rest of the ‘team’. Having given up on the day job – or maybe the job had given up on me- I had been persuaded by Johnny boy to join this motley group of former teachers who walked each Wednesday. Ayrshire, Arran, the Galloway hills, in fact ‘anywhere we can get to and back in a day’ was the sphere of operations. I had done part of the Ayrshire Coastal path already with them and last week we had completed the Ness Glen walk down by Loch Doon. But this is to be more of a challenge particularly as I have no previous hillwalking experience.

Soon we were on board and enjoying the rolls and bacon from the servery.

Lesson 1: Don’t have two rolls prior to a big climb, but then nobody told me it would be a big climb.

Brodick is soon reached and I follow the guys to the bus stop, for today’s walk is to begin round the back of the island.

Lesson 2: I hadn’t reached bus pass age at this time, the rest had. It had been an age since I had been on a bus and the cost of the journey certainly wasn’t coppers and I was the only one paying!

The trip seems to take ages before Davie calls out that we are nearly at the stop at Thundergay which is to be or starting point. Davie and faithful (that’ll be right!) collie, Holly, had done this walk a few weeks previously and knows it like the back of his hand. More of this later. Up we go on a track straight from the stop, no time to loosen up or get run in, and the pace is swift, too swift for me. But I cling on and am grateful for a coffee stop at a lochan. Here’s where it begins to go wrong. A mist has descended on this part of Arran and anything above the lochan is obscured. Not for the last time do I ask, ‘Are we there yet?’ The answer is in the negative but there is just a wee climb to go.

Lesson 3: Never believe a word these guys say. No matter how many hills you do on a walk there is still one more to do and when they say ‘It’s all downhill from here’ it means it’s all downhill until the next climb.

The ‘B’ word is used at this point and is to be repeated at regular intervals during the rest of the day.

Onwards and upwards we go, knowing not where I am going because I can’t see more than a few yards in any direction and, in any case, I am concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. I am struggling big time by now and getting ‘advice’ aplenty from those in front. Johnny keeps me company and we start doing the climb fifty paces at a time before short stops. It has to be short stops as we can’t risk losing contact with those in front. Whoever said that the fastest man should bring up the rear?

Eventually the shout is ‘We’re here, the top of the hill’ and in the gloom we sit down for lunch. How uncomfortable can you get? Soaking from haar on the outside and from sweat on the inside. I’m so out of breath and miserable that I can’t face my pieces. Holly enjoys them.

However them that know are beginning to question whether we are here after all and after a debate between those who have GPS’s, those who have maps and him who knows the walk like the back of his hand, a decision is made that we aren’t at the top after all and that we have still some way to go yet. Wonderful! Even with all the expertise available there is a lively debate about the correct way to proceed. With thoughts of having to be rescued by helicopter, but how would it fly in this mist?, and of never seeing my family again, and beginning to panic, I help the debate along by intervening with the plea ‘Get me off this hill’. This seems to focus minds and after being promised that it is just as easy now to go on than to turn back –remember lesson 3- we follow Davie. After twenty minutes going in one direction it becomes apparent the he and the back of his hand are in fact very distant relations. So, we retrace our steps and come back to the point we had left ages ago. This time sense prevails and we follow the route dictated by the satnavs, climbing again over grass and rock until we reach the point where we will descend. What a relief! But just when I think that I can enjoy the walk down, it is announced that if we want to catch the bus at Pirnmill we have to get a move on. And so get a move on we do and make the bus by five minutes. And when we look up to the horseshoe that we had traversed, I could not have told you what we had done or in which direction we had been travelling, the mist has cleared.

‘ It’s a great walk in a good day’, I am assured. The B word in triplicate.

When I get home I am so knackered that I literally crawl upstairs and fall into a hot bath.

That’s it, never again, you can stuff your hillwalking!

The Great Outdoors. You can keep it. Well, until next week anyway.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Puffin pictures

As requested, some of Jimmy's puffin pictures and a few others.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Living on the Craig

Just watched the 2006 Dvd about the Girvan family of stone quarriers on Ailsa Craig. Fascinating stuff, well put together.
Living on the Craig
The link to ailsa craig online doesn't work though.

Walk on Wed 29th June

Meet at Kaimes (Muirkirk) at 10a.m. The' Lunkey Hole' walk is the proposed outing.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Special pics of Ailsa Craig for Holly

Her name was Col as she was born on the Island of Colonsay,and lives with her master in Sheffield,who also was a retired teacher(I know, you cant get away from them,even on Ailsa Craig). She loves visiting islands and this is her 51st. Next week she is going with her family to Arran.It was a pity you couldn't be with us today as your master thought dogs were banned from the Craig in case you started chasing all these black and white birds which I think are called seagulls. But we know that you only chase sticks and there were hunners of them on the beach, all shapes and sizes. You would have had such great fun picking up a large one and running to the top with it, hitting the Ooters neatly behind the knees as you passed them struggling to get to the top. Also your navigational skills were missed as Jimmy nearly had us all over a 400ft cliff.
Hope to see you next time.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Some Four Lochs Pics

A few pics from the walk showing Loch Doon and Loch Finlas and a rare photo of Johnny minus hat( he left it in the car by mistake ).

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

8 June Paddy’s Milestane – An Early Ooters Adventure

Allan, Davie, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Paul, Peter, Rex, Robert and guests, Frazer and John

Editor’s note: You’ll have to excuse our scribe this week. Last week he discovered somebody actually reads what he writes and now he thinks he’s an author. With any luck he will be back to normal next week.

The following is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty, but they know who they are.

09:00 hours, Girvan harbour: On a floating pontoon in the middle of the harbour eleven men waited in the damp grey of an overcast June morning, dressed in a loose uniform of waterproof jackets and trousers, rucksacks slung over shoulders.
Slowly, the Motor Vessel Glorious left its mooring on the side of the harbour and chugged quietly towards the waiting men. On board were skipper McCrindle, a short, plump man with the vestige of a moustache adorning his chubby face, and his companion, an older man and equally stout; men who looked as though they should spend their time in front of computer screens in some darkened call-room somewhere instead of plying their trade on the open waters of the Firth of Clyde. But both were proficient in their duties and steered the Glorious steadily towards the waiting men. As soon as it reached them, the men sprang aboard the vessel and sat on the hard wooden seats around the stern. Their leader said something to McCrindle and the Glorious chugged away from the pontoon towards the harbour mouth.
On the open sea McCrindle opened the throttle and The Glorious shuddered up to cruising speed.

09:30 hours, Glorious weather: Even those without binoculars could see the rain coming, a dark mass of cloud approaching from the south trailing a curtain of equally dark rain underneath. Within minutes those seated around the open deck of the Glorious were being drenched as the rain hit. This did not augur well for the mission; it would have been much better carried out in drier conditions. Still, there was nothing they could do about the weather and the mission had to be completed today. They looked from one to the other, shrugged their shoulders philosophically but said nothing as the Glorious chugged its way towards the eleven hundred foot high, rocky island now obscured by the falling rain.
‘Good job I brought this’, said Gary McRob and unfurled an umbrella.
At least he would be safe from the elements.

10:15 hours, the island: McCrindle edged the Glorious in to the dilapidated pier, a pier that once served the lighthouse and the island’s only industry, the granite quarry. Now the lighthouse was automated, the quarry closed and the island uninhabited. But the old pier still stands even if it is in a state of disrepair, not having been maintained since the quarry closed. The tide was low and McCrindle could only nudge the vessel to the very end of it. One by one the men came to the bow of the Glorious and clambered on to the rusty iron and concrete of the pier as if they had done this many times before. It was easy for them.
Once all eleven were ashore, McCrindle reversed engines and pulled the Glorious away from the pier; there was no point hanging around and anyway he had other business to attend to. The men stood for a few minutes and watched the Glorious pull away. There was no going back now.
The concrete of the old pier was not nearly as slippy as they had expected for somehow the rain that swept the firth earlier had missed the island and the green algae on the pier was dry and not too slimy. The rain itself had gone, sweeping up the firth towards the mainland but it had left low cloud blanketing the summit. Though their mission could still be completed, these were far from ideal conditions. Still, the calm air should be a help.
Once ashore the men’s undertaking became clear.

10:45 hours, the old castle: John Jamieson threw down his rucksack and leaned against the rough stonework of the old castle, the steep climb and the warm, humid air had taken their toll. He was accompanied by McRob.
‘Gees, it’s clammy, said McRob.
Jamieson nodded in agreement and sat down on a low wall, grateful for the respite.

There had only been one moment of concern so far. That was when a head suddenly appeared from behind a stone wall near the lighthouse and asked questions of them. But the questioner turned out to be an island bagger, a tourist, and nobody that should bother the men nor interrupt the mission. They answered his questions cheerfully without betraying too much then tackled the climb to the old castle some hundred and fifty metres above them.

In ones and twos the men joined Jamieson and McRob on the level in front of the old castle, Irvine Sim being the last to appear. The climb had exacted a severe toll on Sim who hadn’t quite shaken off the virus of a few weeks back, his drawn look and slow step revealing this to all.
‘I can’t go on, skipper’, he gasped.
‘We’ll have a break here, and a brew’, said Jamieson, ‘We’ll let Simmy recover’.

Kleb Peterson, a craggy faced man from the hinterland of Ayrshire, a man who looked as though he had seen much in life, reconnoitred the old ruin, climbing in what had once been a first floor door but was now just a ragged hole in the wall overlooking the drop to the sea below.
‘Careful, Kleb, we don’t want to lose anybody just yet’, said McRob, concerned for his old friend.
‘It’s dry inside’, reported Peterson on his return a few minutes later, ‘We might be able to use it later’.
His comments were duly noted by the group. Then each shouldered his rucksack and prepared to set off.

11:10 hours, the push: With words of encouragement to Sim from his close buddy, Matt Johns, the men set off. Automatically, as they had done a hundred times before, they split into two groups.
The fast assault group led by McRob included Rex Carter, a wiry old Aussie, the father of the group; Ian Merrick, the scientist and quick with a needle, as quick as the men needed; Shawn Polcrank, a tall, long-legged Lancastrian, intelligent, a bank of information valuable to such a group; ‘Meek’ McDavie, the navigator, a useful man to have in the fog. And it was into the fog that they now climbed, into the cloud that clothed the summit of the island. Their purpose was to drive a route forward that the others could follow.

Five minutes behind the first group came the slower, more methodical one. Along with Jamieson were Peterson, Sim, Matt Johns, a tall thick-set powerful looking man, not a man to argue with, Adam John, a new man to the group and as yet untested, and Fazer, simply known as Frazer, nobody knew his first name. Upwards they pushed, and upwards, ignoring screaming sea birds and muscles and lungs that burned with the effort. Eventually Sim succumbed.
‘I can’t go on. Just leave me here and go on without me. I’ll make my way back down’, he said through exhausted gasps.
No words of encouragement or comradely banter could change a mind so firmly fixed by exhaustion and it was with a little reluctance but full understanding, that they left the exhausted Irvine Sim to his own devices and climbed on. Not once did they look back to their stricken colleague. The push was on and time was against them.
11:45 hours, the summit: The summit of the island came quicker than expected. The slope suddenly levelled and ten metres in front of the lead group the trig point that marked the summit appeared through the fog. This was the place to wait for the others. While most lounged on the dry turf around the trig point and opened ration packs and flasks of strong coffee, ‘Meek’ and Merrick took the opportunity to reconnoitre the summit, walking into the fog along the broad southern ridge. And the fog cleared for them, cleared long enough for them to see the sea far below, the sea surrounding the small volcanic plug on which they stood. Then it closed in again and the men’s world was reduced to a few metres once more.
Then one by one a fragmented second squad arrived, Frazer, and Johns, and Jamieson, and finally Peterson and John. The terrain and interest in things botanical or geological had split the group.

12:00 hours, mission accomplished: The men lay around on the dry turf on the top of the island feeling pleased with themselves. The mission had gone well so far and the men had every right to feel pleased. They were the Early Ooters; an eclectic group of retired gentlemen whose sole purpose in what was left of their lives was to carry out such tasks as they were engaged in this day. And today’s task was to climb to the top of Ailsa Craig - Ailsa Craig, Paddy’s Milestane, that eleven hundred foot high lump of granite that sits in the Firth of Clyde half way between Belfast and Glasgow and nearer to Ayrshire than to Kintyre. Last week the mission had to be aborted due to strong winds in the Firth but this week the mission was accomplished and the men felt pleased about it. It was just a shame about the cloud on the top that prevented them seeing anything apart from the sea.

13:45 hours, mission complete: Once again McCrindle nudged the Glorious into the old pier. The sea was higher now - the tide had turned - and the glorious came alongside the pier. Once again the men boarded one at a time and settled on the stern benches.

The mission had been accomplished, the summit reached, but disaster nearly caught them out on the descent. Jamieson set a rapid pace downwards, a rendezvous was to be kept with the Glorious and McCrindle would not wait. Such was the speed of descent that carefully laid checkmarks were overlooked and it was not until they stood on the brink of a four hundred foot precipice that they knew they had gone wrong somewhere. But wrong directions are nothing new to the Ooters and there was no panic. If all else failed, footsteps could be retraced. But where to go now for the best? In front of them were the cliffs dropping vertically to the sea, to the right was the steep slope they had just come down, to the left an even steeper slope ran down to God only knew what rocks and cliffs; only behind did the ground offer any easy escape. They climbed on to the ridge behind them. By a skilful piece of navigation known to the men as ‘suck it and see’, they came down to the old castle in two groups by two different routes. Disaster had been averted this time and now they were back on track.
There was no need for the shelter of the old castle for the sun was making an appearance for the first time since the mission began. And since there was no sign of the Glorious on the sea below there was time enough to make a casual and sunny descent to sea level. On the safety of the shingle beach they were relieved to find Irvine Sim somewhat recovered. He had waited until partly recovered then made a slow and halting descent to the beach.
The men’s descent had made been faster, much faster, than the ascent and now they had time to kill. Some lazed around on the sward covering the shingle chatting to the tourist and worming out information that might be useful to future missions, information such as ‘It can only be classed as an island if it is more than forty hectares in extent’ and ‘Some islands require two or even three separate boat journeys’; others set off to explore the island at sea level.
Then, right on schedule, McCrindle nudged the Glorious in to the old pier and the men boarded one by one. Mission accomplished.

15:30 hours, epilogue: In the warmth of the Harbour Bar in Girvan, over a few beers, the men reflected on a job well done. On the return journey McCrindle had taken the longer way home, circumnavigating the island and the men relaxed in the stern of the vessel in the warming June sun and took in the sea-bird spectacular on display. Then it was a smooth and comfortable crossing to the mainland and a few beers in the Harbour Bar to celebrate.
Their next mission, should they choose to accept it, is to conquer fourteen miles of the difficult terrain of the Carrick hinterland, taking in the four lochs, a mission fraught with possibilities.

Ornithological note: Birds seen on the island today were; Black Guillemot, Cormorant, Eider – one on the nest, others with chicks, Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull (including nests with eggs), Guillemot, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Manx Shearwater, Puffin, Raven, Shag and approximately twenty-six thousand Gannets.