Tag Archives: Ayrshire

North and South Kyle Forests

Map of Kyle

There’s not been too much happening recently concerning walks or any that I felt were worth sharing. However something really interesting; for me at any rate but also something that maybe you could help with. I got a very interesting email recently which led to quiet a few emails going back and forth and then a meeting in Hamilton. What was it about you ask and how can you help? Well…

…the Forestry Commision are looking to open up the north and south Kyle forests. To you and me, that is all their land roughly between Dalmellington and Cumnock in Ayrshire. It’s at an early stage but they are looking for folks to have and input. They have the idea of using the area a bit like the Galloway forest park; walking, cycling, community orchards, conservation, social enterprises. Open to all. They want to know what your doing, what paths your walking, tracks you are cycling, what viewpoints keep drawing you back, what wildlife do you go to watch but it’s not just that. They are keen on the history of the area, stories and anything you think is special. Hopefully they can get a picture of the routes and interesting places. Maybe even join them up and make a place people stop off and visit.

I spent a great afternoon with the Forestry Commission talking about the area and the places I have walked and the views that I thought were special. It was excellent and it really brought it home, especially when you see it printed out on a large scale map just how much there is in the area that could be done. It’s all at a very early stage and there’s no guarentees that it will happen but I left the meeting wishing it could happen. Here’s to hoping.

Personally I think it would be a great for the area so if you can help or just want some more information then use the contact form here or drop me an email at davidtookiebunten(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll pass your details on to them and hopefully we can make this happen and help get it off the ground.

Thro’ Pathways Rough and Muddy

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I keep finding myself drawn back to this place. The place I’ve walked countless times. I think it’s because I feel I have to document these walks for myself. Now that I write and take photographs so that I will have some record of them. Something to look back on. This time I decided to do the Muirkirk to Kirkconnel walk using the old road.

No Greggs sausage rolls this time as it was shut not open until 0730 however the EK Deli next door was so I pulled in and got myself a big baguette stuffed full of cheese, ham and tomato, a bottle of water and a bottle of IRN BRU. I already had a few chocolate bars left over from another walk. No need to buy extra treats. It was the usual road East Kilbride to Strathaven to Muirkirk then finally Kames.

As always even all though it was early, a couple of cars could be found in the Walkers’ car park. Generally it’s dog walkers out to stretch their dogs legs but sometimes you never know someone is here to climb the hills. It was cold but not overly with a bit of a wind so I chucked my insulating jacket in my bag and opted for just my wind shirt over my shirt.

I was a little excited but also a little apprehensive. I had only just had corrective surgery on my eyes. No more glasses, for awhile at least. I hope. Excited that this would the first walk and I would get to see how good these lasered peeps would be. Not that I had any doubts. I’d spent the previous couple of weeks wondering why it had taken me so long to get it done. Apprehensive in that what if I got something dust, muck, other matter blown into them.

I fired up ViewRanger on my iPhone to record my path. No live maps on Social Hiking for me. The battery doesn’t like that. Record and upload later. That done I head towards the old road and MacAdams old tar works. I wouldn’t be climbing a hill, I was going to walk the road. All the way to either Sanquhar or Kirkconnel and get the bust back. Roughly 16 good Scots’ miles. I think folks get the impression that the old road was built by MacAdam but it wasn’t, it had been a cart road that had been there for along time. An old drove road that branches off in few directions. He just tarred and made it better or so the story goes. The road is probably even older than a drove road probably and ancient track.

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Following the familiar way I set off round the back of the old institute and onto the old road. Today for a change I had on the 35mm lens instead of my usual 18-55mm kit lens for my Nikon. I was thinking different lens different view on the landscape. No zooming in and out. I would have to zoom with me feet where possible. I would have to, hopefully, think about my shots rather than just snapping away. That was the theory. The 35mm is cracking wee lens, it has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 which is great for creating depth of field. I don’t think it really works for landscape shots more of portrait, street photography lens in my head but hopefully I could get something decent with some landscape features, so the idea goes.

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Randomly snapping shots as I always do I found myself at the junction of the Sanquhar bridge over the Garpel Burn. Stay on this side and you start to climb the Cairn Table, cross the bridge and you’re heading south to across Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway or Lanarkshire if you want. Plenty of old tracks to choose from, plenty of walks. More than I can manage at the moment. Some have been on the ‘list’ for years and some have been done a few times.

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After the bridge the path winds and climbs up the shoulder of Wardlaw Hill. Every now and then I catch a fresh footprint or paw print in the path in front of me. Unusual to be on the road with others here, it’s not a circular route. As a round another corner, I find the makers of those marks. Two guys and a large dalmatian. All happed up like a pish hoose spicket. It’s not that cold and it’s dry but each to their own and it has been wet the previous few days. Hedging their bets. I stop and clap the big friendly dalmation as he bounds up to me and I speak to the guys. The usual stuff, weather and the like. Then they tell me they were trying to climb the Cairn Table. Easy done if you don’t know the walk or have a map. Usually they just up the front of the Cairn Table and back down the same path but the decided to try the other route. I tell them they would have been fine if they hadn’t crossed the bridge and continued on. All would be fine.

Marker Cairn

I left them to head back down to the bridge where they had made the wrong turn and continued on my way. The old road turns from hard packed to waterlogged peaty grass. For time, I find myself skipping, jumping, dodging and generally doing my best to avoid the worst of the stinking stale puddles. Foot suckers. Not that I’m afraid of getting dirty just don’t want to get too dirty. The shoulder of Wardlaw is saturated and soft. At time the road is unrecognisable and at others it has been chewed to bits by quad bikes or scramblers. Looking at all that water and standing on the shoulder of Wardlaw hill; I think that it’s weird but it probably isn’t, that all the water here flows to the River Ayr. The Garpel on one side runs straight into the Ayr but the other side all runs into the Glenmuir then into the Lugar then into the River Ayr away over in the west between Ochiltree and Mauchline just shy of Barskimming. Two different routes to the same place and ultimately the firth of Clyde and the sea.

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It’s such a great view of the Glenmuir and not one I see very often. Most of memories are from down in the glen; fishing, camping, swimming and wondering at the ruined castle at Kyle and why would anyone build a one there. Been a long time since I’ve been down there and I was sorely tempted to change my plans and head down that way and walk back to Muirkirk round the other side of Wardlaw Hill. However it I was out solo and had left my plans with my wife she knew where I was going and when to expect me back, not a good idea to change things on the hoof just in case they go bad. I turned slowly away from the glen and my memories and continued on the road.

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Past the worst of the peaty path, I was on the slopes of Pepper Hill as the road contoured round it. On the lands of the old High Shaw farm. Farm is being kind it would have been no bigger than a croft. Probably an old Scottish longhouse at one point. Now no more than a big sheep pen and rarely used at that. Much like Glenmuirshaw further down in the glen. Walking towards a large semi-ruined sheep pen. I noticed a small set of antlers and I hadn’t spooked them.

At last I somehow managed to get close to a deer. The wind blowing into my face had kept my smell away from it. The deer hadn’t a clue. I crept as silently as a ninja. In my head I was a ninja. All stealth and silence. Closer. Closer. I got as close to the old rusty fence in front of the collapsed stone wall as I dared. Holding my breath while cursing myself for not having my 18-55 kit lens. At least with it’s small zoom I would have got closer. Fortune favours the brave so the say. I moved closer to the rusty barbed wire. Inch by inch as close as I could, hedging my bets as I hadn’t been noticed. I slowly lifted the Nikon to my face. I focused on the deer and press down on the shutter. It sounded like a crash of thunder on that hillside.

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That was all it need, out it launched. Fast and hard along with two other deer I hadn’t even seen lying in the long grass. The alien noise of the shutter was all they had needed. Always alert. They run this way and that trying to figure out where I was going eventually the deer realised I wasn’t running after them. They just stood a top of one of the many knowes and watched me from a safe distance.

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Leaving the deer to gallop across the moor I continued along the grassy green road. Nearing the forest, the sounds changed and I could hear men at work. Heavy duty chainsaws whining, chewing, stripping and spitting out the pine trees. It was hard to tell from which direction it was coming from. Was I going to walk into it or was it at the other side of the plantation. Time would tell. On the edge of the plantation I crossed a small bridge over the March Burn, a boundary maker. Not sure if it’s between old farms or a couple of old baronies. Further down the Glenmuir is Kyle Castle and this could mark it’s eastern edge of it’s barony. Another possibility going the other way deep in the forest is Three Shire Hill. Where Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Galloway boundaries meet.

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The old road here was just as bad here as over the pass into Glenmuir if not worse. Almost a large river of oozing mud. The fact it was saturated and chewed up by the forestry vehicles didn’t help. Hopefully I would pick up one of their hard packed roads. I knew the old road became road again at the other side but the tracks through here change from time to time with the planting and work going on. I was hoping the sludging would come to an end.

Soon enough I hit hard packed gravel of the forestry road, the noise of industry getting louder and closer all the time. A single tree blocked the road. I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go under it, I couldn’t go around it. Oh well, I just had to go through it. I managed to wedge through the branches and stepped over the trunk and out the otherside. Not that it was too difficult. Once on the other side that’s where I saw where all the noise was going on. The trees were being harvested here. There was a Land Rover Discovery facing away from and a few bits of machinery. All the work was getting done off to my right.

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The guy in the Disco visibly jumped as a walked passed the passenger side door waving. Obviously wasn’t expecting anyone else there today. I waved and carried on, smiling. I was then assaulted, my nasal passages were battered by an overpowering smell of pine. Almost as strong as the cheap pine bleach in a public toilet. Not that I hang around public toilets. Ever. Needs must and all that. The fresh cut trees were scenting the air. The further along I walked the less pungent the scent got, these ones not so freshly hewn. It was actually becoming pleasant and made for a nice end to the forest section. Not long after the perfume drifted away I was back on the high muirs and the road was an actual road again.

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From this section I had a view past Mount Stuart right through to the Lowthers and the giant golf ball on the horizon that is the radar station. Which I think is for air traffic control. I could be wrong. It’s definitely a radar at all costs. I had a view of it as the crow flies. I could here a few grouse squawking away in the long tussocks hiding out the way. I walked on. The weather was starting to cloud over after a fine bright morning and the wind was still constantly blowing. Blowing enough that I knew I was going to have a nice wind burned face. Good old skelpt erse.

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Walking along listening to the birds sing. Minding my own business. Enjoying being there. When, woooosh! Out pops a Black Grouse from the roadside, not a foot from my face. I could feel the air rush past me as it exploded from the long grass. It was my turn to jump out my skin. Heart in the mouth. It’s a bird just a fecking bird. I think the bastards do that on purpose its not the first time a grouse or a ptarmigan has done that to me. You think they are sqwauking, that’s them laughing at you. Shouting at his buddy, “Haha look at that dick; nearly pished himself, gave him a squeaky bum”. After getting my heart rate back under control and a quick swig of the orange stuff. I started walking again. It now seemed that every few feet I was flushing out the grouse. They were all at it but that fright thing only works once. After the first one I’m expecting it. I was probably in the gamekeepers sights at that point, all those birds getting flushed into the sky.

Blackgannoch Coventicles

Deep in covenanter country here; not far from another conventicle site, Blackgannoch. It’s still a wild land here and must have been wilder back then, I would think. A great place to hide. I was now heading for the for the old junction at Fingland. From there you can head to the conventicle site or Spago Bridge and onto Wanlockhead high in the Lowthers where the old gold and lead mines are. It’s part of an old drove road through the Southern Uplands. I wasn’t going that way. It’s a path I haven’t walked yet and one that’s on the list. I was heading for the Sanquhar/Kirkconnel turn. On reaching Fingland I was greeted by the barking of a dog but saw no-one. There is only a couple of in habitable houses. The others abandoned for whatever reason, left derelict. Not wanting to disturb the dog further I didn’t tarry long and head off down the Sanquhar road. The road climbs steadily or so it feels, along the bottom of the High Knypes.

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It was decision time. I was at a fork in the road. I could continue on the road and head for Sanquhar or take the turn and the old path up and over in to Kirkconnel. I had been pounding the hard stuff for a while and decide to head off road again and take the trail. Back up into the hills. There was a short section after leaving the road where all of a sudden the old track completely disappears. It just vanishes into long tussocky grass. I slowed myself down and looked about carefully. Not that I was lost. Just wanted to ensure I kept to the path. I managed to pick out it’s faint trail and followed where it led. I was crossing the high pasture, summer grazing among some jittery sheep. They didn’t like me being there. There was one big tup that keep his eye on me while the others ran and gained some height and distance but this big boy just stood defiantly on the edge of knowe watching me. Almost daring me to challenge him. Either that or he was justing making sure I definitely didn’t have a bucket or two of feed. I ignored him, hopefully much to his annoyance and carried on.

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It’s a cracking view from the shoulder of Kirkland Hill,looking down the Nith valley over St Conal’s Kirk, Kirkconnel itself. Up and down the river. Over to Blackcraig and up towards New Cumnock. You don’t realise that you have gained a good bit of height. Nearly 1500 ft on the shoulder of Kirkland Hill. One of those views that you can sit and just drink in. There is the odd bit of man made interference that you have to ignore, a couple of wind farms on the opposite side of the valley. The tops of their spinning blades catching the sun. Also back to the north a rather large surface mine. A big bloody scar of an opencast mine. Barring that, great view.

It been awhile since I had seen a soul. I had the world to myself but here I did notice a single solitary being walking up from the Vennel, the farm at the bottom of the hill. Farmer. Possibly. Lots of yowes in the lower fields with lambs. Maybe out checking the beasts. I climbed down off Kirkland Hill and met guy at the bottom, standing in front of an information board. Not the farmer, shock horror but another walker. I had bumped into a grand total of 5 people and one dog in nearly 16 miles and 5 hours of walking. A busy day that was. He asked where I had come from and I had said over from Muirkirk. It must have sounded incredulous as he had that look about his face. He was looking for a somewhat shorter walk. He had a couple of options, up to the trig point on Kirkland hill or follow the old path but to the junction and turn for Sanquhar, from there back to Kirkconnel. A nice circular route if a bit road weary. I left him to mull over his choices and headed for the kirkyard.

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I climbed the stile over the wall and into St Conal’s Kirk. Apparently a church stood here for a thousand years, not the same original one but one of a few, growing expanding. Wood replaced by stone that sort of thing. Then along came the restoration in 1660, Charles II, the King tried to enforce episcopalian ways in the governance of the kirk. The minister here; one of many, refused and was tossed out. It was to be the start of the Killing Times, turning the South and West into a hotbed of religious turmoil. The kirk was closed and fell into disrepair and ruin. It wasn’t until 1710 that Kirkconnel had a minister again and a new church built in the village. Now here at this spot there is even less left. It’s a quiet spot. A perfect place for lunch after a long walk.

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I noticed a cage in the corner of the church yard but I pay it no attention as I walked round the yard clockwise. Looking at the old headstones and burial slabs. Some are legible and others are completely weather worn with no recognisable marks on them. I walked round to the information boards and the open sheds that are holding the archaeological finds, all carved stone from different periods. Some of it beautifully cut others weathered and only hinting at their previous designs. After reading the boards I have a look in the cage, a trap crow. Not seen anything like that in years. The crow was not amused at my presence, fluttering around it’s cage and a very agitated manner so I retreated out of view back to the stacks of stone and the plinth the sheds were on for a seat and something to eat.

Enjoying lunch as I was going to be late for the early bus and too early for the late bus. You know how it goes. I had the ancient churchyard to myself, well except for the auld corbie fluttering in his cage. He had settled back down once he realised I wasn’t going to try and eat him. I leisurely walk around the ruins; reading the excellent information boards, standing within the old walls, looking at the work stone and carved masonry. I’m not one for the church, a coo in the field without a name but the place did have an ambience. Tranquil, peaceful. Haloed? Not sure but it did have an aura. It feels ancient. Maybe that’s it, its old, really old and I feel that age. It has seen everything and the stones and grass have soaked it up.

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Out the corner of my eye I saw some movement. The walker I meet earlier had returned. He wandered over and sat at the far end of the platform. I asked where did go. Just to the top of Kirkland Hill. Fair enough. He asks about the crow. Was someone training it to stay put or had it been injured and was getting ready to be realised. Obviously not a country boy. In the back of my mind I was thinking of an altogether other purpose for the corbie. It was lambing time and crows are carrion. Known for pecking on weak newborn lambs or the stillborn ones. I was thinking it was being used to attract other crows so they could be shot. It is a cruel world.

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Finishing up my lunch I decided to head on over the last couple of miles into town. How needs guard dugs when you’ve got geese. Honking nipping bastards. Nearly chased from the Vennel by a gaggle. They were positively angry and aggressive compared to the tup, he was all menace and trying to be intimidating. The geese were for my ankles. One for the pot would have sorted that out but I’m pretty sure the fermer’s gudwife would be none too happy. I hastily made me retreat beyond the gate and onto the road again.

Misjudging my times had left me in Kirkconnel with nothing open and a long wait for a bus. The pub was open but I was a bit filthy and I didn’t fancy nursing a half and half shandy for nigh on two hours. Not too far from Cumnock I thought I would give Auld Tookie Nae Knees a bell see if he fancied a wee rin oot. Trying the parents house phone and it ringing out; I tried his mobile, thinking if he was already out even better chance of getting picked up. After a couple of rings he picked up, “Where are you? oot?”. “Aye, where are you”. I explained my predicament; his reply, “In Ayr, out for dinner, tough, you’re stuck till the bus comes”. My response “Enjoy your dinner”. I parked my rear back on the wall to wait.

In hindsight it might have been better to head for Sanquhar at least there was a chance that something would have been opened. Them’s the breaks, just have to roll with it. It took nothing away for the walk and saved more tramping up a road.

Covenanters Admirals and Deer

The monument

Well the weather has been a bit poor of late, Grey, dreich and wet and I have no walks I feel worthy of sharing so far this year so I’ve jumped into my notes and pulled one out from last summer. A walk out to the Auchengilloch monument.

It was a Friday night and it was going to be one of those rare Saturdays. I would be at a loose end. Not that it happens often these days. I would have a few free hours and was looking for somewhere new to walk. Just a quick walk. When all of a sudden it popped into my head. There was one of those green rights of way signs that you see indicating a path. I’ve been driving past it for years, ad infinitum. It was off a stretch of the B743 between Strathaven and Muirkirk otherwise known as the back of beyond. No offence Muirkirk, I love you really. Every time I drove past I always said to myself I should do that walk. However that still hadn’t happened. Until now.

I couldn’t for the life of me remember where the walk led to or the reason for the sign. I couldn’t even recall what was cast on it, in nice white clearly legible letters but had it in my head that it could possibly be to do with the covenanters. I wasn’t sure. I have that problem, sometimes. Heid fu’ o’ holes. A tumshie at times. Too much information stored and not enough connections. I got on the twitters, sending Phil (@MrPhilTurner) and Paul (@walkhighlands) a message to see if they could shed some light on it. I knew Phil had been walking in that area recently but he wasn’t sure, though he did point me to a website, http://www.covenanter.org.uk/. Wish I had thought to kneel at the alter of google and type a prayer in the offering box. Smart phone in hand an’ all. Only smart if you use it. Probably would have saved me straining and bursting the few brains cells I have. Bang. Just the ticket found what I was looking for. Thanks chief. The interwebs are wonderful.

It was time to dig out the good old paper maps because sometimes there is nothing better than unfolding a map on a table or on the floor and tracing your fingers across miles of contours, tracks, hills, rivers and lochs. Doesn’t quite work the same on the laptop. I feel I get a better orientation and lie of the land from the paper map. I can anchor myself and get my bearings. Pick up points of reference. I have no idea why looking at the same map on the laptop does work in the same way.

All sorted, I just had to wait for Saturday and Dawn with her rose-red fingers to show up nice and bright. If only. I woke to the usual ‘daddy, daddy, daddy! daaaaaddddyyyyyy’ over the baby monitor from the little one’s room. Not that it’s a bad way to be woken and it sure beats an alarm clock. I got up and went through and picked my daughter out her cot and we both went to the kitchen for breakfast. After that we played for a bit and then it was time to get washed and dressed.

Mostly everything was packed in the car I just had to get my walking ‘clothes’ and ‘trainers’ on. Lunch would be picked up on route. I check the camera had a battery and it was fully charged. I learned that lesson only a couple of weeks earlier on a walk. Then I had grabbed my Nikon and headed out the door. Didn’t even realise it was lighter, until I switched it or tried. No power. The battery was back in the house still charging. Oops. Luckily I haven’t left the memory card behind, yet but doesn’t matter if you forget the battery. I said my goodbyes and headed out.

It was a nice bright day, mid morning by the time I was on my way. Blue sky and white fluffy clouds. Not to warm for a July day. Today was a good day for a walk but first stop was lunch. Which is pretty easy since Greggs open one of their pie emporiums at the bottom of my road. Two sausage rolls, a sugared donut and bottle of IRN-BRU. Sorted. It wasn’t quite that easy; I had the eternal internal, pie, sausage roll, bridie, steak bake debate. It was settled by a fresh batch of sausage rolls straight from the oven. Not sure why, I wasn’t going to eat them for a couple of hours.

Back in the car, back on the road. East Kilbride, Chapleton, Strathaven, then make like I was heading to Dungavel and Muirkirk. The A726 then onto the B743. After that it’s the 3rd road on the left after crossing the Avon Water. Lambhill Steading is what the sign says. Bridge, 1, 2, indicator, turn. Be fore warned it’s ticht. Proper single lane road. Passing places and high hedges, can’t see what’s coming round the corner stuff but like I was always telt; if it’s tarmacadamed, you can drive it.

Following the road to the steading, which is actually now a brand new housing construction of luxury 4 and 5 bedroom houses around a courtyard over looking the upper reaches of the Irvine Valley. Beautiful. I found a little gravel car park sign posted just beyond the new development. Parking there I got out, stretched and retrieved my kit from the car. Getting myself comfortable I set off through an open gate and onto a hard packed forestry road.

Lambhill Steading

I checked my phone just to make sure I was indeed on the right road and looked to where I had to turn off the road and on to the beaten track. I followed this road for a few kilometres until, not on the maps the road curves away to my left and over the Kype Muir in the direction of the Kype Reservoir. Again I checked the map just to make sure I was to continue on. To be honest the walk isn’t that greatly sign posted but the track on the map is clear at least.

After a double double check I kept walking in the direction I was on, climbing over a gate and on to a less well travelled road where other that the tracks worn by infrequent forestry commission traffic where grasses and flowers were starting to win the battle and reclaim the road. Looking about there was a perfusion of wild plants none that I can name save the good old purple thistle and crawling all around them tons of caterpillars. Flapping around in the slight breeze loads of butterflies. The most common being the Red Admiral.

Towards Drumclog & Loundon Hill

Enjoying the wildlife within a few feet and all around me I failed to notice the deer up ahead. Again for the umpteenth time I was too slow. Slower that the freeze frame button on the DVD player. So slow I was probably going backwards. I couldn’t have been any slower if you had tied me up with ropes. That’s how it probably appeared to the handful of deer about 40 metres up the track.

They nonchalantly lifted their heads from the grass and shook the white of their bums in my general direction before jumping over the ditch and plowing head long into the plantation of trees. Without so much noise as to notice them going. All that had happened and I hadn’t even got the lens cap off. Another walk seeing deer and no photograph. Gone like so many times before.

Clipping the lens cap back on off I went. It was very plesant weather wise and I was surely enjoying being out. Every now and again I was greeted with an expanding view of the moors and hills around through the channels of fire breaks. Catching glimpses of the side of hills and on some occasions the mound of Loudoun Hill over at Darvel.

Remains of an old Quarry

There wasn’t much up and down, no gain of thousands of feet on this track but it did undulate at a nice easy rate. I was heading for a glen but I wasn’t having to go up and over anything of great height. I was absorbed in the walk and my surroundings when suddenly the bank on the left open up. A large square cut, definitely machines or man and tools.

It was all overgrown as nature took it back but there was no mistaking it was not a natural feature. I had a walk around its confines trying to pick out clues as to it’s purpose. It was all the more intriguing for that fact there was a lone confier growing at the back. All tall and proud. Checking the OS Map on my phone and my postion, it’s marked as quarry. A local one by the size of it, I thought.

Towards Spirebush Hill and Nutberry Hill

Back on the forestry road, which started to climb slightly. At the top of the rise my view was channeled by the trees on both sides out towards Spirebush and Nutberry Hills. Nutberry Hill is one of the bigger lumps in this part of the world. It lies just north and a bit east of Murkirk and stands 522 metres tall. It sits on the boundary of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and one for the list and another day.

I walked down the other side of the small hill and on to the muirs for a bit. I was in an area called the Long Knowe which sat low and had a small lochan and few burns running through it. Probably why there was no trees as it was too water logged and marshy to plant. I stopped here for rest and watched the dragonflies buzz around the reeds and the water’s edge. No sign of fish that I could see but the surface was like a glinting silver mirror. Reflecting the light and surroundings back at me.

On the Long Knowe

After my little rest the path climbed out the Long Knowe where I was met by the first sign I could remember since the car park at the start? The sign had the helpful instruction of follow the white waymark post. Not that they were very white or visible. Being now very weather worn and cracked. As well as 3 feet to your left in the long grass and heather between the track and the tree-line.

A sandy road

I also noticed that the path here was very sandy. I’m not sure but I would assume that’s got something to do with forestry commission but I could be wrong. It just doesn’t seem natural to see golden sand in the middle of a moor. I followed this new road until it petered out in what look like a wide seldomly used turning circle. Here the road ended but luckily the sign a ways back had said to follow the post.

I plunged head long into the the thick heather. There was not much of a visible path here. No one had been this far in a while but zigging and zagging between the posts you could if you looked hard enough, see faint traces of track. Dancing from marker to marker I made my way throught the calf deep heather and scrub on the fire break. Truely off the beaten track as it were. Enjoying the fact I had the place to myself.

Marker post

Eventaully the trees opened and could see the Auchengilloch monument in the short distance at the head of the glen. Though to call it a glen seems to be a bit grandiose. I think a cleugh would be more of a fitting description. I dropped down the step side of the glen with heather grabbing at my ankles trying to trip me up. I’m no mountain goat but if your less than sure footed you could find yourself face down in the small pol at the bottom.

The monument marks the spot

Skipping across the burn I made the steep climb up the other side of the glen on on to the small plateau on which the mounemnet sits. Continuing to kick my way through the rough heather along the barely visible track, I headed for the carved stone structure. On reaching it I took a walk round each of it’s sides. Tracing my fingers on the now nearly illegable cut stone lettering. Tying to put myself back in time and imagine how things were.

Auchengilloch Monument

In places it’s split and cracked, with parts covered in lichen and moss. The enclosing railing faded and missing some of its posts. However far from looking tired and worn. It looks to me that it’s part of the landscape. Like it has always been there. Maybe because it is weather worn and has been there since 1834 helps. Standing stag on the moss for 177 years. America had only been independent for 58 years when this statue was new. Queen Victoria hadn’t even clapped her arse on the throne yet. My great great great great grandfather was just entering his prime. It may just be that quiet a few places that I walk tend to have monuments or graves to men killed during that turbulent time so it’s not entirely out of place to see them in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately at some point, most likely the Scottish Covenanters Memorial Assoctation have placed the inscription on to a couple of metal plaques. One side reads,

THIS MONUMENT
WHICH WAS GENEROUSLY
EXECUTED BY THE GRATUITOUS
LABOURS OF A FEW FRIENDS
OF THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION.
WAS OCCASIONED BY A
SERMON DELIVERED HERE ON
SABBATH THE 6TH OF JULY 1834
BY THE REV. WILLIAM LOGAN
LESMAHAGOW. FROM REV. 7.14

“THESE ARE THEY WHICH CAME
OUT OF GREAT TRIBULATION
AND HAVE WASHED THEIR ROBES
AND MADE THEM WHITE IN THE
BLOOD OF THE LAMB”.

and the other reads,

ERECTED BY
THEIR COUNTRYMEN
IN MEMORY OF THE
PRESBYTERIANS IN SCOTLAND
WHO WERE FREQUENTLY
COMPELLED TO SEEK SAFETY
FROM PERSECUTION IN THE
REIGNS OF CHARLES II AND
JAMES II BY HOLDING
THEIR MEETINGS FOR
PREACHING THE GOSPEL AND
OTHER RELIGIOUS PURPOSES
IN THIS SEQUESTERED PLACE
AND WHOSE PATRIOTISM AND
PIETY THEY RECORD WITH
ADMIRATION AND GRATITUDE

Not to be funny but that’s a fair auld trek from Lesmahagow, seaven lang scots mile as a craw flees fae the ‘Gow oor some rough moor. A widnae fancy humpfing that staine work. According to Naithsmith’s thumb that should take only about 2 hours 30 minutes. No sir. I can only imagine that it was dragged at the tail of some big powerful Clydesdale work horse.

Unslinging my rucksack I propped myself against the railing and fetched my lunch. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like out here at the conviticles, listening to the preachings. It is definitely a remote spot and well out the road. I’m not sure where the nearest garrison would have been stationed. I know that there were ones at Sorn and Strathaven. Even with Strathaven being close, it’s still far and the chance of the King’s men just happening upon the covenanters must have been slim. Probably the biggest reason why the picked the spot.

The beginning of the Back Burn

It made me think though how did they find the spot. The nearest farm is Logan Farm and it’s a good couple of miles away. The only other structures are fanks for the yowes. No ruined dwellings I could see on the map. For me it was nice quiet isolation with a good view. I was out here for fun and curiosity. They came here because of what they believed in and from what I have read quite ready to die for that belief. No half way house for them.

With those serious thoughts I upped sticks, clearing away my rubbish and headed for the car. Back over the burn and fighting through the heather I made the sandy road. Falling into a nice easy gait. I was enjoying the day much like the in-ward leg until, deer. Another group appearred out the trees just at the rise above the Long Knowe. Maybe the wind was in a better direction, they didn’t bolt.

I can see some deer from here...

You can see the rubbish deer photograph here

I slowly dropped to me knee and got the lens cap off. Still no movement. I lifted the camera and zoomed in. They were right at the edge of my kit lens’s zoom. Not to worry, I clicked away and hoped that I would have something. Finally how ever poor I would have captured some deer. I continued the walk back to the car an even happier man.

Walking back to the car

My track on Social Hiking

Links that may interest you and give you further insight.

The Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association

Jardine’s Book of Martyrs: An exploration of the Later Covenanters, the Killing Times and Scottish History

Some affiliate links to books I have read and the OS map of the area.

The Covenanter Encyclopaedia

Scottish Covenanter Stories: Tales from the Killing Time

East Kilbride, Galston and Darvel (OS Explorer Map Series)

Kings, Romans, Ayrshiremen, lend me your feet

Loudoun Hill

After the detour to Galston and hacking through the overgrown undergrowth to reach the walk that isn’t a walk and it’s fairie dell, we reached Darvel. Another out the road corner of Ayrshire. Phil and I parked up on the main street, East Main Street to be exact. It’s split in two east and west but it’s basically just the A71 that runs throught the middle of the town. There’s plenty of parking to be had. Once settled we opted to leave the packs this time and take just take the cameras. We headed off out of Darvel to Loudoun Hill. Along the main road talking about Darvel; heading for the hill, Loudoun Hill.

Darvel like most of Ayrshire has an industrial past, most famously lace making and the associated mills but also coal and iron, that is now long gone and some very interesting history. Stretching back to the mists of time; standing stones, Romans, William Wallace(supposedly and probably), Robert Bruce as well as the Bloody Killing Times with the Covenanters through to it being the birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming. Not that he discovered penicillin there but was born at Lochfield Farm on the outskirts of the town. Once an Ayrshireman always and Ayrshireman.

A bust...

From Alexander Fleming back to the Covenanters holding their conventicles, field meetings in the surrounding muirs and mosses. The most famous run in with King’s men; the Battle of Drumclog, a couple of kilometres to the east of Darvel on the other side of Loudoun Hill, where a group of 200 or so Covenanters under the leadership of Robert Hamilton routed the army under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse also known as Bluidy Clavers. There is a monument that you can visit out at Drumclog itself.

Then we have in May 1307, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland another Ayrshireman born out at Turnberry on the coast giving it good guerilla style to King’s men (Edward I of England) this time under the command of Amyer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Erse kicked, coupon burst and sent fleeing to Bothwell Castle. Again a superior force met it’s match. Back a few years further and we have according to Blind Harry the minstrel; now believed to be a little fanciful story telling, William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. Another Ayrshire boy. It’s just not true what those Renfrewshire folks claim. Lies, lies and lies. Anyway Wallace according to the wise old sage Harry give the English a good kicking and a slapping over on the main road into Darvel. The Winny Wizzen, again next to Loudoun Hill.

Loudoun Hill seems to be a favourite spot out by Darvel, maybe because it’s noticeable for miles around. Even the Romans built a fort next to it. I think it’s the only actual verified Roman fort in Ayrshire. They left some of their roads, that fort and not much else. Now sadly no longer there having being dug up at the quarry but we know the Romans didn’t hang around long in Ayrshire and Scotland for that matter having buggered off, back south of the wall, once they built it. What did the Romans ever do for us? Is it me or is there a pattern here?

The Dagon Staine

And finally the Dogon Staine a possible prehistoric unhewn monolith that some local Blacksmith decided to add an iron bar with a round sandstone ball on the top of it. Beggars belief. There is a few local traditions and superstitions regarding the stone. Supposedly the markings on 3 of the sides match astronomical bodies or it lines up with midday sun on the summer solstice. Nobody seems to know where it originally stood but it has been moved a couple of times in the last few years. Now it sits in the centre of the town next to a bust of Sir Alexander Fleming in Hasting Square.

Overgrown

We walked along the main road until we reached Cemetery Road and then turned up hill and underneath what was an old railway bridge and almost immediately at the other side of the the bridge pillar we picked up the path for Loudoun Hill. We followed that path up and onto the old railway line. Obviously no longer used as the sleepers and rails have been lifted. Another line that fell under the Beeching axe. It didn’t take us long to find ourselves back in familiar territory for the day. Seriously overgrown undergrowth. Not really a problem for the friendly giant Phil but for me, the dwarf, it was. Stinging nettles as tall as me. Hands above the head stuff again trying to avoid getting stung. Luckily it didn’t last long. Having cleared Darvel the countryside opens up to fields and moors.

It’s a very simple and easy walk out to Loudoun Hill. We generally just followed the railway line. It makes for a very pleasant and level walk. Especially on that fine dry day. A couple of times we had to leave the line either to cross old sidings or on one occasions we were funnelled between two fences because the deck of a bridge that crossed over a farm road was no longer there. That was when we were starting to think it was easier to just walk a long the railway instead of following the local diversions. Up and over stiles and fences. Look what thinking nearly done. Could have been a nice 18 foot plunge down to the road. I’ve been living in the city too long. Big city ideas.

Bridge and Cutting

It was only about here that I noticed that I had bounced the ISO button on my dSLR. It was now at ISO 3200 and in some cases 12800! Instead of the 100 I had set it at over in Straiton. Woohoo, night time shooting in the daylight. For the past how many photographs I had been wondering why my shutter speed was so fast and it wasn’t that bright. Spot the newbie. I was maxing out the shutter speed at 1/4000 and 1/1600 of a second at f/32 aperture for some because the ISO was set so high. Cranking down the aperture to correct my exposure. Hadn’t even thought to check the settings to see why I had gone from 1/125 of a second at f/16 at ISO 100. I just thought the sensor must be picking up some light I couldn’t see. It’s got a built in micro chip, It must know better. You would think I would no better. SISO; shite in, shite out. Felt like a right fud when I noticed, finally checking the settings and correcting them. Dick. Lesson learned though. I hope.

Eventually we came to another railway bridge that has been removed and were directed via a signpost down a set of wooden stairs in need of some repair as the rails were a bit on the shoggly side of shoggly. Having come down the steps I was confronted by a wall and stile. They don’t make it easy for small people. Even with the stile the dugs baws were resting on the coping staine. Never the most comfortable position to be in, astride a wall. I’m sure Phil had no such bother.

After scraping my nether regions off the wall we were back on the road. Turning right then left on to a steep winding road that starts to curve around the old volcanic plug. I remember that this didn’t look familiar. It had been a while since I had climbed Loudoun Hill. I think I may even had put some doubt in Phil’s head, so luckily there was a older gent tending his veg, digging in his garden. We stopped and asked. Kindly he pointed out we were on the correct path with just a little further to go. Look out for the car park and there is a fence with a sign on it.

We continued up the road, skirting round the western edge of the hill. It’s now, looking back at my notes and having spoke to a few people that I realised that we always walked round Loudoun hill from the eastern side and the Winny Wizzen. That’s why I was confused and unsure. It doesn’t matter now, we reached the car park and followed the sign.

Climbing the gate into the field we followed the marker posts. They’re white and not all that obvious having been weathered for so long and not replaced. Anyway it’s not too difficult, make like the crow flies for the trees at the base of the hill. That would be straight ahead for those not in the know. Another wall to be crossed then we were on the hill proper. We circled round to our left and made our way up. There’s plenty of tracks to follow to the top. The yowes and tups are not daft when climbing for the grazing. It’s a steep yin, almost 400 metres pretty much straight up. It gets the legs pumping and if your like me, the heart beating hard. I’m now starting to believe Phil was a mountain goat in another life. It felt like he took a hop skip and a jump to reach the top. I really need longer legs or something.

Loudoun Hill towards Arran

Once I caught up with Phil we were greeted with great views again. Ayrshire unfolding below us again. All green and pleasant. The usual landmarks clearly visible to the eye, Arran away out in the Firth of Clyde and Tinto in the opposite direction in Lanarkshire. Panoramic views like most of the bigger hills in Ayrshire. Having enjoyed the vista with the naked eye, it was time to get the recently reset camera. I removed the lens cap then proceeded to juggle the camera like a poor version of Coco the Clown with both hands tied behind my back. Luckily I managed to catch the camera before it went lens first into the ground. However it did include me smearing a big thumb soaked with sweat and sun lotion over the glass. Things were not going good in the camera department today. Not at all. Looking through the view finder everything was a blurry mess. Insert expletives as appropriate. Having left the rucksack in the car, I had no cleaning cloth. Enter stage left, the hem of my merino top but to no avail. It cleaned most of it but there was still some residue. More expletives and then some more again.

Loudoun Hill

I was beginning to think that was it for the photographs today until Phil came back along the summit. He had been off exploring the top while I was doing my circus performance. He had his Lowe Pro camera bag for his Sony NEX and in that wonderful little bag was a stitched in lens cloth. Saviour. It did the trick, the lens was spotless. I was snap happy again as usual.

On his exploration of the summit; Phil found another path down, less steep. If that was possible. We made our way back down and to the road for the walk back to Darvel along the dis-used railway line. This like so many other walks left me thinking among other things, why does the walk back to the car seem to be shorter than the walk out…

The Colonel his Lady and the missing fairie dell

Straiton

I’m playing catch up with my walks and failing miserable to get each one written up and posted so please bear with me, I will get there. I have all my notes and photographs. It’s just a case of making sense of it all and putting it into some semblance of order.

This one especially it was back in July; one day, a Saturday with 3 separate walks and a kind of off piste, machete requiring non walk hack around the undergrowth or more accurately the overgrowth to a fairy dell. I’ve decided to scratch from my post. It would just be crazy to suggest walking there. Over grown like a jungle and no real distinct path or markers to follow. I think the Galston fairies want to keep the place to themselves. I’ve decided to split it into 2 posts for the 3 walks.

It started earlier that week in July when I got a text message from my friend, Phil asking if I fancied going for a few walks in glorious Ayrshire and an over night camp somewhere. I couldn’t make the over night but I could meet early on the Saturday for a walk. Deal sealed. Phil suggested we do a couple of walks at Straiton. I was happy with that as it had been a long time since I was down that end of the county.

Saturday came and I was up with birds, nice and early. I left my wife and daughter sleeping as I crept out the front having got most of my gear ready the night before. First stop was breakfast, I needed some of Mucky D’s pancakes and syrup to plan my road journey out in my head. What would be the quickest way to Straiton from East Kilbride. After 8 mints of exile from god’s country I still find I have to re-wire my brain for the roads. I have to plug in the South Lanarkshire section. Crazy but that’s how it works for me. I was trying to figure out my quickest route. I ended up going the easiest road the A77 down to Ayr then head for Patna and Dalmellington, the A713 and then along the B741. A favourite of mine, a great drive from New Cumnock but I wasn’t going that way. I could have gone the Kirkmichael way when I got to the back-end of Ayr. One of those 6 of one half a dozen of the other.

I made Straiton in good time to find Phil in the car park waiting. It was fine sunny morning that had made for an excellent drive down and would hopefully make for a good walk. We got out the cars and set about getting ourselves sorted. Which involved; on my part, some heavy handed lathering on of high factor sun scream to my face, arms and any exposed skin. Liquid asbestos is the factor strength. The bane of being a fair skinned Scot. At this time of the year the sun need only wink in my general direction and I end looking like a skelpt erse or a bleisha beacon. There’s ginger in my genes and not just from the IRN-BRU.

We head up into to the village and to the village store for some supplies. Passing the old 16th Century church. I had been lazy earlier and not made up anything for lunch. I asked the man behind the counter if they had any filled rolls. No, not the answer I was expecting. I had to make do with a couple of sausage rolls and some IRN-BRU. Not that the sausage rolls were bad, far from it. Locally made, straight from the butchers or the farm. However I do think the shop is missing a trick or two. Freshly made rolls, even if they are to order surely would bring in a few more bob or two? Surely? It’s not that didn’t have the ingredients.

Leaving the shop we headed up the main street past The Black Bull Hotel. A good place for a decent pint and feed but it was a bit early for that. It wasn’t open either. It’s picture postcard stuff here, rows of well kept single story cottages a running along a wide main street. Probably all down to the Earl of Cassilis deciding he was fed up of playing with toy houses and wanting to play with some life-sized models instead. None-the-less still pretty in the sunshine.

From the main street we got a great view of our first target for the day. The monument atop of Craigengower. Continuing on through the village we headed on out the other side on the Newton Stewart road. Following this road out past the Manse and the old toll cottage to the primary school where we left the road through a gate into a field otherwise known as fly central. The air was thick with them, might have to do with the fact that the small field was presently being occupied by both a herd of cows and sheep. Plus the sun was heating the place up very nicely indeed.

We followed a very obvious grass path through the field. Dodging coos and scaring the yowes. Well they are jumpy by nature and doesn’t take much encouragement to get out your road, other than being closer than 3 feet from them. The grassy path cuts across the field then curves round to follow round the boundary with the wood until we get to the gate which leads us into a path in the wood. Along the shaded path through the woodland which looks like it also doubles as a fire break for the conifer forest. This leads us to a drystaine dyke with a stile.

Climbing over the dyke by way of the ladder stile we find ourselves at the bottom of Craigengower. It’s almost straight up vertical from here to the monument. Okay maybe not vertical but it’s a steep a section as you’ll get anywhere. Out of the shade of the trees it was getting very warm indeed. Just what my unfit body needs to go along with a nice bit of vertical leg pumping. Onwards and upwards we go. The path is well marked and worn. I’m not saying it gets well used or often but it’s getting some use. Maybe even if it’s just the sheep.

Phil is bounding on like a mountain goat, skipping up the slope while I’m hobbling like a one-legged pirate with a wooden leg and a crutch or so it seems. I say it every time, I need to get fitter. Maybe one day I’ll listen to myself and find the time. Phil has disappeared over a false summit so I take the opportunity to take a breath and grabs some photographs. By this time the heat plus the steady steep incline and my physical conditioning have combined to create a greasy liquid asbestos coated sweat. You could quite possibly power cars with this stuff. I’m in mortal fear that the combination is going to spontaneously combust so I decide to remove my glass and wipe down my face. It seemed like a good idea at the time. That was until I opened my eyes and blinked. It would appear that all I manage to do was to move the slick oil in the sockets that house my eyes.

Oh yes it nips. It nips nippier than a nippy crab with a big nippy claw. I have now lost the mortal fear of combustion only to replace it with the mortal fear that I have just blinded myself. You would think after all those years I would have learned the lesson that eyeballs and sun cream don’t play nice together, EVER. After what seems like much rubbing, blinking, wiping, half a litre of water and much much cursing and chastising of my stupid self the stinging has eased enough that I can keep e’en open long enough for me to see and continue my walk.

I have no doubt that had there been any witness it would have been a hilarious dance to see but luckily no-one did. Until now. I also have no doubt Phil was wondering what the hell was keeping me. Fun and games. I continued on, I was closer to the top than I realised. I soon reached the summit and a glorious view and not just the impressive monument to the late Lt. Col. James Hunter Blair. I know very little about the Lieutenant colonel other than he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854 which was during the Crimean War and the family seat is just up the road at Blairquhan. Only because it tells you that on the monument itself.

_DSC3790020711

The view was panoramic and stunning, the fine weather helping no end. Blues skies dotted by powder puff clouds. All points of the compass had views. To the north Ben Lomond’s distinctive shape was clearly visible, 60 or so miles. To the east was the Southern Uplands rolling away and more particularly the Glenkens with the Cairsphairn hill tops visible as well as Blackcraig Hill at Glen Afton. Off to the south the Merrick, king of the southern hills, with Trafessock and Kirriereoch Hill guarding the approach from this view, two fingers of the Range of the Awful Hand clear visible, only being 12 miles away. Finally to the west the firth of Clyde and the sea with the Ailsa Craig, the prominent volcanic plug standing strong in the water. Everywhere you looked there was something for you to see. Well worth the effort and the near self inflicted blinding of the upward climb.

We sometime milling around the monument talking in the views, capturing some photographs and taking a water break. Generally just enjoying the day. Phil checked the map for our next destination and what our general heading should be so together we walked off the summit to the first wooden way-markers. From there on we went from pillar to post heading south across the muir before making our way down to the road. We crossed the road and made our towards a road bridge following a semi overgrown path that follow the rivers edge. It was thick in places and we were kicking up clouds of pollen, turning the sunlight hazy around us. Luckily neither of us suffer from hay fever.

_DSC3797020711

Reaching the bridge we headed right and on to a grassy path which lead us in to Bennan Wood again we following the way-markers provided. I love walking in the woods and this was no exception. Nice mixed plantation. Plenty of wildlife to spot and another deer that we managed to scare before I can get my camera up and in place. I’m starting to think I’m not going to get a photo of a deer. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been out walking and stumbled into a deer or 3, only for them to hightail it out of sight. It be useless hunter. My tribe would go hungry.

Continuing to walk through the wood skirting the bottom of Bennan Hill. Enjoying the dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy we get to a marker pointing to a viewpoint. We follow this steep path which turn us almost back in the direction we came. It’s not the best here the path has been moved and destroyed by the tree roots and little up keep. It takes a while to find the vantage point once we get to the top. It’s another fine spot for a rest and some photographs. We return down the same path as climbed back to the path at the base of the hill turning left.

From the top of Bennan Hill

Leaving the woods we find ourselves on a farm track which leads us through Bennan Farm and onto the road. Following the road till we come across a sign for a footpath which we follow. This takes us along the river bank again for a short distance before crossing a footbridge over the water to find ourselves back where we started. In the car park a little over a couple hours after we left. However we were not finished with Straiton just yet. Oh no.

Dumping the rucksacks in the cars we were off after Lady Hunter Blair. Having dealt with the Col. it was only fair that we should go after his lady. It was only going to be a short walk. This time heading out in the opposite direction. He headed past some of the old cottages, catching a path leading over a small burn and onto what is the Dalmellington road.

Straiton Parish Church

We follow the road again till the way markers indicate we’ve to enter the field. This where we make a bit of a mess of things. Not really our fault. So Phil and I walk across the long grass swarmed by flies again, except this time its worse. No live stock means we’re the only ones the flies are interested in. Lovely.

It becomes apparent that somethings not right. We reach the other side of the field; no more way markers, no visible or obvious path. Our choices are; loup a fence, that doesn’t seem right, wade through a burn, that really doesn’t seem right. Its meant to be a managed path but there is no path. We get the guide out but its not the most accuracte or detailed. Oh deary me.

After much walking up and down the fence line, pointing, chin rubbing, general gesticulating and discussion. We discover the path that we should have followed is squeezed between the fence along the roadside and a horrendously over grown hedge. As in so overgrown you couldn’t see the path because it looks like some put a fence up in front of a hedge minus room for the path. Sure enough though we find an extremely well hidden way marker. In the name of the wee man, I’ve found easier Geo caches. Seriously.

Twoo

I let Phil go first to push as much of the undergrowth overgrowth out of the way. Then I follow behind, hands above me head to protect my face as most, if not all of this stuff is taller than me. I’m like a quarterback with his centre in front defending him from tackles. In this case its not other players but getting whipped and scratched by the hedgerow. It doesn’t take us long to clear the worst of it and enter into some really pleasant woodland.

This woodland walk was short and sweet but filled with carvings and wildlife. The carvings are of different animals found in the woods and countryside. You follow path up onside of the river and down the other side. Not the most arduous of walks but still a nice relaxing one if you only have a hour or so. On the way back to the car we opted to walk down the road and not the hidden path. Straiton done it was time for our next destination……and another post.

 

Great War Memorials, Picts and Druids

Cairn Table from Kames

It was one of those day’s, I found myself on my lonesome. My wife and daughter were off to a party. I was at a loose end so to speak for a few hours. It had been a couple of weeks since I had stretched my legs properly and I felt like a walk. The weather forecast was fine, cloudy with sunshine, no rain. The eternal question though, where to go? Not to far but not to close either. Then the Cairn Table springs to mind. It’s been awhile since I walked up there, I had walked pasted it only a few weeks earlier. Done deal. That was that settled, Muirkirk was the heading.

Destination decided, I got my walking trousers on, no need to pack the bag everything is in the boot of the car. I just stopped off at the Gregg’s in the village and collected some lunch for the walk. A Bottle of IRN BRU, sausage roll and a ham salad baguette. I was off, East Kilbride, Chapleton, Strathaven, Dungavel and then to Muirkirk. The A726 then onto the B743. East Ayrshire really need to get their end of the road sorted. Once your past Glengavel Reservoir and onto Blood Moss, the road is a rutted, pot holed mess but it’s such a fun road to drive. Especially as the B743 can be a quiet stretch of road.

I made Muirkirk in good time and headed for Kames and the walkers’ car park. I parked up, only one other car there. Be interesting to see if I would meet anyone, there’s about few walks you can do from here and they are all marked on the confusing information board. I got out the car and retrieved my rucksack and Roclites from the boot. Loaded my lunch into the pack, put on my 315s, grabbed my camera and headed on up the path from the car park and taking the route for the Cairn Table. Straight to the top. The direct path.

The path starts by weaving between what is left of Kames’s industrial heritage. All lumps and bumps, nondescript, now covered in grass and gorse. There are bits of fence, broken and twisted. Rusted and creaking in the breeze. Crumpled walls of concrete or stone and platforms where buildings, sheds and offices used to sit. The only workers here are the sheep; grazing, baa-ing, wondering if I’m going to feed them. Judging by the landscape it must have been a massive complex. Coal, Iron and Tar works all belching, coughing and smoking at one time or another as well as the quarries mining out the good old red sandstone that Ayrshire was once famous for. To me it’s always looked liked this, empty and some what quiet but at some point it must have been full, heaving with men, noisy with the heavy industry. All black, dirty and dusty instead of the lush green grass the yowes are munching on. I confidentially pick my way across this landscape, the path is well worn and easy to follow despite a lot of the markers missing, broken or just so weather worn and ruined that they now look a part of what was here before.

Towards Powharnal Opencast workings

It’s not long before you have cleared the old works and are out onto the moss and the start of the climb onto The Steel. Before you start to climb you zig and zag through the moor. The path here is wedged but not tightly between the Auldhouse burn on one side and the Linky and Cout burns on the other. Following the March fence, suggesting that it’s a very old boundary. You cross numerous pols and springs that serve to fill these little streams before they gather speed and join the River Ayr. The most famous is here on the western side, the Cauldron. Where the ancient Picts brewed some sort of get pished quick rocket fuel from the heather, so the legend has it. It can be very boggy underfoot and even more so after some heavy rain. However recently; in the last few years, in association with Scottish Coal, the local community have placed wooden paths at strategic points to save you getting your feet too wet. Making the access easy and not at all that heavy but still care is needed.

Looking up the climb to the top of The Steel; I’m not sure where it gets it’s name from or what it is a corruption of, I first noticed a dog then a couple of walkers making their way down. It’s always nice to see others out. Like I’m always saying it’s a rare thing to meet others on these Ayrshire hills. It was then I could feel the wind get up a bit and the temperature drop. Not much but still noticeable. The clouds were blowing from the south and they were looking dark and angry, so much for the weather forecast. It looked like a shower of rain was on its way. Once your out, your out. I was contemplating digging the jacket out the bag when the dog appeared in front of me and stopped. I crossed one of the wooden sections towards it, as his owners came down.

Hello’s were exchanged and we chatted about the local hills. They were also on a short timescale, having driven down from Ayr, they had to be back for early afternoon. I pointed them to Blackcraig at New Cumnock and the hills around the dam next time if they were looking for more hills that were close to them. They usually drove down towards Galloway and walked around Carsphairn. I place I know nearly as well. They hadn’t as I had wondered on seeing them up on the Steel; done the circular route for the Cairn Table, like I was going to do but in reverse. I had thought that they had started at the car park and headed along the old Sanquhar road, then heading to the summit and down this path but no. They had gone straight up and were heading back to their car. It was then we all felt a spot of rain. Just a little one. It was water none-the-less. We said our goodbyes and I started my climb.

Wardlaw Hill and Cairn Hill

Luckily the water came to nothing, blown away with the wind. It had picked even more. That being an understatement. I wasn’t cold though just windy. Summertime. I continued up the path which is now a big scar on the hill. You don’t have worry about getting lost the track is very obvious and wide. Weathered sandstone like the mountains bones juts out through the soil like an open fracture. It’s not entirely due to natural erosion but a combination of walkers, fell runners and MTBers exposing it and the rains washing the dirt away. A little bit of everything is to blame, only a thin skin covering the rocks makes it easy to wear. There was also some obvious signs of scramblers being on the hillside. Deep ruts gouged by the powerful engines of the motorcycles. Not sure how you go about fixing it and it’s not just confined to the Cairn Table almost all un-managed hills have the problem. I supposed it’s the problem that comes with the right of access and those that are less responsible? Who knows, I don’t.

Follow the path to the summit

I continued on up the 3 lane motorway that is the path and noticed my second pair of walkers with a dog, locals. How did I know they were local? Did I recognise them? No. They were in jogging suits and trainers. You don’t get much more local than that. That would cause a bit of an uproar in certain circles, still it won’t be the strangest or the craziest thing I’ve seen on a hill. However I have a feeling the pair know this place better than I do. We spoke, the usual hello, the rain seems to have missed us, luckily and such like in the local parlance ken? They headed down, I headed on up towards the top.

Nearly at the Summit

It’s an impressive sight when the summit cairn rears into full view. For a long time you’re only seeing the tip of it. It’s a fitting monument. There were two but now there are three cairns on the Cairn Table. Two you don’t see from a distance; both ancient, now collapsed. The other; a massive monument, pyramidal. A memorial to those in the Great War that didn’t return and those that did. Built from the stones already on the summit, hence two became three. Story goes that the two original cairns cover the bones of some centuries old mystical Druids. Sounds great, Picts and Druids invoking the spirits.

WWI War Memorial on the Cairn Table

The massive cairn loomed up as I got closer to the summit dwarfing the little trig pillar and the information pillar. It wasn’t the only thing that loomed up though, the wind was blowing at a good rate of knots being on the summit. Strong enough that it was chilling me, now that I had stopped walking. The legs no longer pumping. I got into the lea of the monument and out of the wind, retrieving my jacket from my pack. The war memorial has a plaque, “ERECTED IN MEMORY OF THE 87 MEN OF MUIRKIRK PARISH WHO FELL IN, AND ALSO TO THE HONOUR OF THE 262 MEN AND WOMEN WHO RETURNED FROM, THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918” a poignant reminder, along with the remains of poppy wreathes flopping at the base in the wind from the Armistice Day remembrance services that take place here.

All zipped up and insulated from the wind and this is was meant to be the summer. I had the top all to myself. I started wandering around the cairns and the pillars. Despite the wind and the cloud, I had a great view. I’ve stood on that very spot and could see all the way to Jura and her Paps. 80 odd miles as the crow flies but not today and not that it’s mentioned on the information pillar. However the view was still spectacular. I could see Arran in the distance, Goatfelll clearing the cloud to my west and over to the east I could see Tinto hill majestic, proud. Away to the south was the Lowther Hills and to the south and west, Blackcraig, the Galloway hills beyond. 360 clear panorama. I could make out the coast and the heads of Ayr. I could see the places of Ayrshire dotted in the landscape. I could also see many wind farms and worst of all the massive holes of open-casts.

Cairn Table Trig Pillar

I could hear my lunch calling from my rucksack, it was that or my belly rumbling but I ignored it a little longer and got on with taking some photographs. For some reason I got the idea of trying to take a photo of myself. I’d been impressed of late at how a group of tweeters and walkers including @Petesy, @Astronick, @hendrikmorkel and @stewyphoto managed them so well. Making it look easy. It isn’t easy, I fannied about for ages. My stomach growing more and more annoyed with me and the lack of food it was receiving. Finally after many attempts, I got one that I was kind of happy with. Lucky it’s a digital camera. Delete, delete, delete, mibbay, delete, mibbay, delete, delete. That over with, I hunkered down at the base of the cairn. Sheltered, looking towards Ayr and Arran. Kicked backed I enjoyed a good lunch.

On the Throne...

Eating finished, I packed up my rubbish and got my rucksack set on my shoulders, starting off down hill but not by the track I took on the upward journey. I was making down towards the old Sanquhar road to where it crosses the Garpel burn. If I thought the path on the other side was in bad condition then this was worse. The motor bikes are really ripping up the heather and peat on this slope. Huge ankle breaking holes. I skip my way down dodging the ruts, picking up the old road with ease. Tarmacadam’s first all the way from Muirkirk to Sanquhar. I’m heading to Muirkirk, back to Kames to the car. Easy walking now I’m on a hard packed surface my pace increasing with almost every step. It’s not long before I’m passed Macadam’s Cairn and passing the ruins of his house at Springhill. Next stop is the car and home.

Old Sanquhar Road towards Muirkirk

For honest men & bonie lasses – The River Ayr Way Day 2

The river and some sandstone cliffs

The adventure continues and I can only apologise for the length of time that it has taken me to get this posted. I’ve been finding it hard between work and my home life to find the time to flesh out and write my notes but here it is, day 2. The first day can be found here http://walkwithtookie.com/fae-yin-brig-tae-anither-the-river-ayr-way-da if you want to refresh your memory on happened on that leg of our source to sea journey.

The Saturday started bright and early. Despite having to toss aside my sleeping mat and having to sleep on the woodland floor. I had a great night’s kip. I slept like a log. Feeling refreshed, rested and feeling stiff at the same time. It’s not everyday I walk 20 odd miles. It had be a good day walking with Phil and I was looking forward to more of the same. Firstly though, I had to extract myself from my sleeping bag and get some breakfast. This was proving harder than I expected. I was stiffer than a stiff thing now that I was trying to move and this was no morning glory either. I wasn’t feeling stiff, I was stiff.

Once I got myself out of my bag and had a big stretch I noticed a blister. The walkers menace. I hadn’t been there last night, remember I had thoroughly rubbed my feet down with some cream but there it was glaring angrily at me. Not from a normal blister place, on my second toe on the side of my big toe. Weird. Never ever had a blister there. Blisters appearing in the night in strange places, bizarre. Nothing for it than to deal with. If you’re squeamish jump the next few sentences. I’m blister burster, I don’t like the pressure point they create when full of liquid. I got it drained and after much faffing around got some moleskin attached to the offending toe. With the protection added I got my socks and shoes back on. After taking a few steps I realised I couldn’t even feel where the blister was, let alone figure out how I manage to rub those two toes hard enough to cause it. Nothing to worry about. Pain free walking.

After a breakfast of kings, breakfast energy bars and water for me and a Fuizion Freeze dried just add water super calorie laden meal for Phil. Once we were fed and watered, we made busy and packed up camp. One of these days I’ll beat Phil. I seem to do so much more fanny about and sorting stuff out than he does. One day I’ll be first. Maybe. We checked around and double checked, nothing left. Unless you’ve a trained eye and notice the couple depressed areas where we slept but soon, even they would no longer be there. All trace gone. Instead of heading back the way we came to catch the path, we headed as the craw flies to intercept it further down.

It was a fine quiet morning if a little chilly but my MountainGoat hat was doing a good job of keeping my lugs and heid warm. Just us and the fermer bombing about the field in his tractor. Heading along the path towards the Howford Bridge. Well the first of two Howford bridges. One the new road one and the second the old road one. When I say new I mean 1960s new and when I say old I mean a couple of hundred years old. Both are old to me but maybe not some of you readers out there. We climbed steadily up towards the road, the A76. When we got to the road the path goes under the road and its all downhill from here to the old bridge. At the road the path splits and you can go off up to Catrine House or what’s left of it. Here there’s a petting farm and farm shop/eatery. It’s serves great food and excellent ice cream. The shop sells good local produce. I would recommend stopping off there but we were a little early.

We made our way down to the old Howford Bridge walking in the woods. When I suddenly noticed in my periphery vision, something moving. A Deer. I called to Phil in my best covert voice and pointed in the direction of the beast. It was well in the thicket of woods off the path. Well hidden but as usual, flashing its white arse gave it away. Phil and I tried our best stealthy silent walks to get as close as we dared for a photograph. However; as these things go for me, the deer high tailed out of there just I as lifting my camera. No shot. Next time, maybe. We continued on down the path and joined the old Mauchline road and made our way across the auld Howford Bridge which doesn’t look unlike the brig at Sorn. You would think that they had the same builder.

The Howford Bridge from the Auld Howford Brig

There’s a good fishing ‘hole’ here at the auld brig and my Dad always tells the story of how this was the place he first went fishing with my Papa and that his fishing rod was made from a tank’s communication aerial. Apparently it weighed a ton. I’ve never been lucky enough to hook into anything at this fishing hole but there are others more fortunate than me. We headed over the bridge and up towards Mauchline. Towards Mauchline is a loose term, more like skirting it and heading to Haugh farm and the old Mill through a wood walk. Around here are some cups and ring marked stones. As cup and rings go they are very famous in that they are carved vertically on the sandstone cliffs rather that the standard horizontal. The discovery of this changed the interpretation of the other carvings. However I was to busy talking all about them that we walked passed them and didn’t see them. Lesson learned, sometimes it’s better to shut up and show. Not to worry, they haven’t moved in a few thousand years. The path here takes you through what was once the polices of Kingencleugh house and castle (read tower house) as well as under the Ballochmyle Viaduct. Famous for being the world’s largest masonry span arch. The viaduct was built around 1845 and is still in daily use as part of the Glasgow to Carlisle main-line route. It’s a fine piece of masonry work with attractive detailing and great to see it from below instead of passing over it and hardly noticing it.

Mauchline Viaduct(2)

Phil and I continued on through the wooded gorge. The sun piercing through in places, illuminating glades of bluebells here in there. From Catrine to here it’s a bit of an up and down walk but a very pleasant one indeed. It was still early and no-one but the two of us about. This is another part of the walk where you find yourself far from the river itself due to geography and the wishes of the local land owner. Once you reach Haugh farm, you leave the river entirely as you make your way around the borders of the Barskimming Estate. It was interesting for both Phil and I when we reached the mill as we realised that the guide books we were carrying were different. It wasn’t obvious as Phil’s; the newer version did have anything to indicate that the route had changed here. His version has you walking up the road to Haughyett then taking a left at the junction there to Woodlands. Where as the edition I have has you going through the old Barskimming works, the Bostonbank woods and past one of the Barskimming Lodges to Woodlands.

We must have looked dodgy from a distance, how I’m not sure. Two guys standing in the middle of nowhere comparing maps and point in numerous directions. However we must have as local fermer out on his morning rounds came over to us and said as much. He initially thought we were a pair of burglars but as he got closer, he realised. Don’t think I’ve been mistaken for a criminal before. It was probably Phil’s fault. After having a chat with the fermer, he suggested that we continue to follow the original route. It was much more attractive than the new way up the tarmac. We took his advice and crossed the field to the old stile. Once in the Bostonbank woods it was obvious that a lot of people were still walking this way, the track was well worn and not over grown. We exited the trees and now only had a short road section to walk, past the lodge to the Woodlands cottages.

Now a good distance from the water, we turned in through a new gate at the cottages and followed a very new section or recently repaired part of the walk. Basically we were on the boundary of the estate and we wouldn’t be back near the river until we were passed Stairaird another local estate. It’s a shame and blessing in a way. You don’t get to walk past and see these beautiful old country houses hiding the trees but you also miss out probably the windiest part of the river. It turns north, south, east and west twice in a two mile stretch or so. Four big massive loops. There was no point in worrying about what we would miss and got on with walking. We continued on and were soon walking past the massive old sandstone quarry at Barskimming. Now hidden from view by trees and filled with water. The glimpses that you get only hint at the size and depth of the quarry.

Leaving the quarry behind, we crossed a couple of fields and entered the Kipplemoss wood. Wood is being generous; more of a plantation, forestry commission style. All dark and unappealing. Luckily it’s not long before we are back out in the open and crossing the Avenue, one of the main private roads to Barskimming house. At this point we’re not far from Failford, maybe only a couple of miles. Walking downhill from the avenue we followed the old estate wall and crossed the Mauchline burn before coming upon another estate road which we followed up to the entrance lodge and the main road, the Ayr Road, the B743. Another short road section of tar took us into Failford. If it wasn’t so early I would have welcomed a fine pint of beer at the excellent Failford Inn and I think Phil would have too. I think if it had been open I would have enjoyed a pint that early in the morning, fine Ayrshire Ales. Not sure what that says about me.

With a great morning of walking all ready under our belts. We decide to take a break just at the start of the Failford gorge. The river is wide here and sits on a large slab of rock which allows you to sit far out in the water when there’s not a run on the river. The perfect spot for a break. We got right down onto the bank and found a fallen tree trunk ideal for bench. Phil got out his kuksa, not a euphemism and his Foster’s can stove caldera cone combination and some esbit tablets. I say some but I’m certain it was only half a tablet. He got the water boiling for his coffee an intriguing little number. I’m not a coffee drinking but it’s the first time I’d never seen coffee in a tea bag, or should that be coffee bag? Ingenious, I thought. Very clever.

The River Ayr at Failford Gorge

Apparently we looked like a pair of anglers. Which was better than earlier and being mistaken for a couple of house breakers. A passing dog walker saw us and enquired about the state of the morning’s fishing. Probably an easy mistake to make this time as there was an angler already fishing the bend in front of us and the guy may have assumed we were together. I don’t think I helped commenting on the fact it was a good spot and we had seen a few fish jumping. After our short conversation he left after his dog. I left Phil to enjoy his coffee in peace for a while and walked out across the sandstone slab to the waters edge and took a few photographs.

After a bit I wandered back across as Phil was clearing up, leave no trace. We climbed back up the bank and onto the walks. There are a few here; a couple of circular ones all well laid out and marked. Most of the paths start by having you climb up a wooden staircase and out of the gorge, on to the wooded cliff tops. This section is probably my favourite. The path through the Coilsholm Wood is idyllic to say the least at this time of year. Spring was in full bloom. Glades and glades of bluebells and pungent wild garlic littered the forest floor. It’s an almost magic call place to walk and again other than the angler and the dog walker. We had the best of Ayrshire to ourselves. Climbing up and down of the path following the gorge and before we knew it the woods had ended and we were making our way down towards Daldorch and Stair beyond.

Walking through the woods

It had reached mid-morning and the day was heating up nicely. I was enjoying the walk, no bite back from the blister and my legs were feeling fine. After all of yesterdays walking, the planned 3 days was definitely looking like a do able 2 days. The other side of Stair would be the point of no return. The closer we get to Ayr the less choice if any would we have for a wild camp. We had now settled into our comfortable walking pace, Phil a couple of steps in front. Like I keep saying he is much taller than me and has a bigger stride. We had just passed Daldorch Farm when we noticed a dog walker coming towards us. Phil was a bit further in front as I had stopped to snap a few photos. I started off after Phil; as I was approaching the dog walker, I stopped to let him and his dog pass, I said good morning to him. His reply was and I quote, “Christ! I thocht it wiz yir fayther there”. I have an uncanny resemblance to my dad; a chip off the old block, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, a spitting image. Personally I don’t see it but others do. The Bunten curse. I should point out I’m the taller, younger, better looking one, if you ever see us together.

This particular dog walker had grown up in the same street as, and went to school with my dad. We got talking, as you do. I apologised because I couldn’t remember him as he hadn’t seen me since I was a boy. That he was now living in Mauchline and had seen my dad the other week; driving by Poosie Nancy’s, peeping the horn and waving. How that he hadn’t been in my dad’s company for a few years but the last time there was a lot of drinking, merriment and good laughter. I hear this quite a lot when people talk about my dad. We talked about the River Ayr Way and how he regularly got the bus to Ayr and walked back to Mauchline. We talked for nearly a long time; possibly 20 minutes, before I said my good byes. In my head the alarm, OH FUCK, OH FUCK, OH FUCK was going off. Phil would be wondering where had I got to, maybe even starting to walk back to make sure I hadn’t befallen some terrible accident.

I needed have worried such, as I hoofed it double time on the last bit to Stair, passed Stair house and the church on other side of the river. Stair is old parish and has it’s part in dark page of Scottish history, the Glencoe Massacre. The Master of Stair having his hand in that. Almost but not quite running passed the mill lade out to the road at Milton. I looked down the road and found Phil patiently waiting for me at Stair Bridge. He waved in acknowledgement at seeing me. Walking up to cross the bridge, I noticed my legs were not happy. Don’t think they were pleased with the last half mile or so of power walking to catch up with Phil. Nothing a cold pint at the Stair Inn wouldn’t fix. Once on the bridge I explained to Phil what had happened but he had already guessed as much. A similar scenario had unfolded at the Ayrshire Beer Festival in Troon last October. We headed over to the Inn.

I stiffly sauntered over to the Inn and Phil noticed and asked if the blister was bothering me. To which my reply was no, hadn’t felt it since I burst it this morning. My problem was my legs were seizing up a bit but not that it was bothering me, it might slow me down a bit. It was jus after 12. A really good time for that pint and lunch. I said to Phil that we could eat out the front in the sunshine. We reached the Sorn Inn and it was shut! What is it with us and Ayrshire pubs being shut, we laughed. 12:30 before it opened. Not much of a problem, I just sat my weary body down on one of the benches out the front. Nothing for but to sit and wait. We weren’t the only ones waiting. A couple of cars had pulled into the car park. It’s a very popular place for something to eat. Like I said I have family that live less than 5 minutes from where we were sitting and are regular vistors here. Jokingly I said it wouldn’t surprise me if we bumped into my Aunt and Uncle. I also said that I would probably get into trouble for passing and not dropping in.

Finally the pub opened. It was one of those really long 20 minutes; you know the ones, feels like time has stopped. Especially as we could see the staff walking about inside. Get a move on clock. The key scraped in the lock and the door was swung inward. I was like a shot out of a gun; probably the fastest Phil has ever seen me move. I ordered a couple of pints and a couple of pints of juice as well as lifting a copy of the menu. I went for the steak pie again. This time it was steak and sausage compared to the straight up steak pie at Sorn the day before. I love a good home made steak pie. Clean plates all round. I did warn Phil that not every pub in Ayrshire served food as good as the two inns we had visited.

The River Ayr and the Enterkine Viaduct

We finished our beers and got ourselves set to go. Over lunch we came to the natural conclusion, that for this leg of the Way, we had passed the point of no return. There were still plenty of hours left in the day and Ayr wasn’t that far away. I think we both knew that and had come to that conclusion seperately. The country-side was becoming far more populated and we had long entered the agricultural heart of the county. Not many suitable camping spots left, if any. What was another 20 odd mile day? Getting up from the bench and walking back toward the bridge to get back onto the path my legs were protesting greatly. I had seized up and was thinking that no amount of WD40 was going to loosen my joints but with every step I started to feel freer.

Back across the bridge and walking through the cottages at Milton, I was explaining to Phil that just up that road and take the fork to the right and that’s where my Aunt and Uncle live. It was then when I was pointing that I noticed a blue car with a personalised plate parked in off the road where the next section of the path begins. I recognised the car, you guessed it. With exclamation I said I know that car then I noticed two people walking back along the path towards the car. Yes, my Aunt Judy and Uncle Les. Brilliant, couldn’t have planned that if I had tried. I would normally say pure luck but I suppose the chance of that happening does increase when your not 5 minutes from their front door. I introduced Phil to them both and Tammy the mental Springer Spaniel. They had been out with dog in the car and had stopped on their way home to let Tammy stretch her legs. My Aunt Jud even said they had been wondering whereabouts we would have been but hadn’t expected us to be this far on. We said our goodbyes and parted with some wise words from my Uncle Les.

Under the Enterkine Viaduct

This next part was towards Annbank through policies of another Ayrshire estate this time it was Enterkine House, now a very nice hotel and restaurant. The sun was out in all its glory now and it was nice, feeling its warming heat penetrating me. It is glorious by the river on these days. In fact it was one of those days where you really would love to take a dip in the cool waters. I know my tiring feet would have loved it. I was soon back in step with Phil and we were making good progress again. Heading towards the Enterkine Viaduct were suddenly aware of a small herd of dairy cows approaching us. Luckily we were on the other side of the fence and when I say luckily I don’t mean it in a bad way. It would have been awkward to move through them as they are big beast but the cows seemed very tame and not at all jumpy. Maybe they were used to walkers feeding them, I’m not sure. I think they thought we had some feed for them but it was funny as they joined us for a short while as reached the viaduct. Interesting smelly company and I’m not talking about Phil.

Moo-ve on..

The path climbs a bit up into Annbank and I really felt myself slowing down especially when I came to one of those wooden steps that are built for giants. Every step up one of those felt like my knees were smacking off my chest. Having to take them one at a time. Step, up, step, up, step, up. Had the stairs been any steeper and I would need a harness and rope. Reaching the top you enter into a park at Annbank. We knew we have another little road section to Auchincruive so we took advantage of been in the village and headed to the local shop for a juice break. Much to my annoyance, no cold IRN BRU or Curries Red Kola. Shocking. A warm bottle of IRN BRU it was then but it was wet and what was needed. On leaving the shop we noticed a few buses parked up the road and then we heard the shouts. Annbank Juniors must have been playing. Probably where all the cold juice had went, up to the park with the supporters.

We headed down the road to St. Oswald’s Bridge and Auchincruive. Auchincruive is another fine old country house. It’s now an agricultural college with some really nice walks in its grounds. The gardens are particularly well tended and beautiful in the summer. My feet were now starting to get very tired. I hadn’t walked this much in two days since my last jaunt on the West Highland Way. I was very happy though that I wasn’t wearing my big heavy Scarpa SLs. I would have been crippled by now as we were on the road section of the walk and looking at the guide it looked like tarmac pavements and roads all the way to the end. We reached St. Oswald’s Bridge, meaning that we only had about 3 miles or so as the crow flies to go to the harbour. Crossing the road here and heading for Mainholm, I phoned home, well my Ayrshire home and arranged for the Tookie Taxi back to Cumnock for Phil and me. My dad was well impressed that we had reached Auchincruive so quickly as my Uncle Les has spoke to him earlier about meeting us. I said that I would phone him when we reached Ayr proper; it’s only a 20 minute drive from Cumnock to Ayr so he didn’t have to leave just yet.

Plodding along the farm roads to Mainholm I was really really starting to struggle. I could feel every step on the hard roads. I think if there had been some grass or something maybe feet and legs wouldn’t have been as sore. I was really starting to feel it in my calf muscles as well as my hamstrings but there was nothing for it, to the end or nothing. Death or glory and I am partial to being glorious like Tam. I think Phil sensed I was struggling a bit and slowed his pace and was more or less walking beside me instead of our usual couple of steps in front. It helped and he did point out that I had walked 40 odd miles in nearly two days. Good point. Maybe if I was fitter too I wouldn’t be finding it so hard? The good news, the blister still hadn’t made a re-appearance and was not even noticeable in the slightest but it was in a weird place to start with. Were reached the Mainholm Cottages and the A77, only just escaping death by stupid van driver who couldn’t reverse his little van. Slight exaggeration there but he hadn’t a clue what he was doing. Weaving in and out. He gave Phil and I a worry, we gave him a wide berth.

The 77 is a busy, busy road. Luckily you don’t have to dodge the traffic here you walk along the pavement to the south. You cross the river on the road bridge and then take a flight of stairs down to a path along the bank. Heyzeus, in the name of the wee man and any other invocation you could think of, including several sweary words went through my head along with the jolt of pain that accompanied every step down those stairs. No pain, no foul? No pain, no glory? If I was made of lesser stuff, I would have jacked it in then but were in Holmston and Ayr properly. I could see Kyle Academy one of Ayr’s many secondary schools. The south pier was calling and so was Phil. It was from this point onward that Phil was a driving force; he was a good few metres in front now and sometimes out of sight as the path followed the bends in the river. He was a magnet pulling me to the finish. I was glad of that. Focus on catching Phil and focus on the finish. Not that I had stopped enjoying the walk but there in Holmston I was struggling.

The River Ayr at Craigie

Nothing for it but to catch up on Phil. I started to pick up the pace as much as I could and started again to focus on the river and how great the weather was, fine beautiful sunshine. Anything to forget about the pains in my legs. Here there were loads of people enjoying the water. Kids splashing in the water and making use of the wide open spaces. Lots of young teams out enjoying the sun and showing off. Drinking; not buckfast but good old bottles of cider, White Lightening. Been there and done that. I caught back up with Phil at the Craigholm foot bridge that takes you over into Craigie. When I say I caught up I mean Phil waited for me. We crossed into the grounds of the Craigie Estate, now a park and the grounds of one of the campuses of the University of the West of Scotland and Ayr College itself. It’s a beautiful big park and busy with families and dog walkers. The whole aspect of the walk had changed since we crossed the A77. Gone was the rural and agricultural landscape to be replaced with a townscape. No bigger contrast.

Now in the park we headed onwards, Phil taking the lead and pulling me onwards. I was walking on the grass as much as possible now. I was finding this much easier than the hard packed pavement, knowing that as soon as we passed Dam Park Stadium and reached the Victoria Bridge I would have no choice. I took advantage of the soft springy grass. We passed under the Victoria Bridge and now had only one bridge to cross and then we would be on the last, last and final leg. My legs would be happy. I always find it weird at this part of Ayr as one side of the River all the houses look to the water but the other side that back of the old town always look away from the water. I’m sure there is some old historical reason for it but it gives a feeling that this side of Ayr is almost completely separate for the high street. It has turned its back on Wallacetown. The old town wants nothing to do with this expansion across the river.

The New bridge from the Auld Brig

We passed Turner’s bridge another foot bridge this one leads over into the centre of Ayr. The Auld Bridge was now fully in view, our last crossing of the river. Phil waited for me again. It was busy on this side as Ayr United must have been playing a home game over at Somerset Park. Tons of people streaming into the centre of town wearing the black and white strips. No doubt searching out their local pubs for a few pints before heading home. Either they had a good result or because the sun was shining the fans were in a good mood and in good voice. The Auld Brig was a choke point as we had to do a bit of weaving. Five in the afternoon people heading home from the shops, fans heading into town for the beer. Two tides clashing on the bridge, Phil and I in the middle. Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses for honest men and bonie lasses. Exiting on out onto the High Street we turned right, away from the water for a bit was we negotiated the last of the shoppers and headed towards New Bridge street and the harbour beyond. I said to Phil I was surprised that I hadn’t heard anyone shout ‘Tookie’ as we walked along the High Street; he said he was surprised too. He’d been half expecting it.

Auldest hoose in Ayr

Luckily no delays here and we crossed into the lane, the Boat Vennel that leads to one of Ayr’s oldest houses, Loudon Hall. It dates back to 15th Century and was built for one of town’s wealth merchants and was later a town house for the Campbells of Loudon. We passed through the little square there and out onto South Harbour Street, crossing at Fort Street and heading towards the Citadel which is what they’re now calling Ayr swimming baths. Time to make that call to Tookie HQ back in Cumnock confirming that we were nearly at the end and it was time to send the Tookie Taxi down to get us. The call made I followed after Phil.

The Fort

A lot has changed down here since I was a boy and a lot has stayed the same. As with most places the industrial ness of the harbour has been replaced with houses and attractive flats and restaurants looking out of over the water. Fish are no longer landed here and all the heavy industry has been pushed elsewhere or across to the North Harbour and the dock there. The trawlers and fishing boats replaced by pleasure craft and yachts. However the ever present folly is still there. Miller’s Folly is a later addition to a Cromwellian Citadel Fort that was built to help control Scotland and one of the largest made. The merchant added a corbelled turret to one of the corners, making what’s left of the ruins more spectacular. If you walk about here and know what you’re looking for you can see more fingerprints of the fort.

Walking passed the new housing development and over the south dock and onto the esplanade. I’m pretty sure by this time Phil was actually at the end of the south pier. He was no longer in view. No matter I was nearly done. Just the length of the pier to go when I must have inadvertently turned on my magnet and set it to attract young drunken whallapers. I had only just stepped on to the pier when a young skelpt erse of a boy staggered over to me and asked what I was doing. I should also point out that along with his lobster looking skin his friends felt that it wasn’t enough that he was sun burnt, had set about with a set of magic markers and given him a rather intriguing false makeup look. How this was going to impress his drunken girlfriend, I’m unclear or how she was still impressed with him. I responded by saying to the end of the pier. Then I was asked where I had come from; my reply was Muirkirk yesterday, I had walked all the way to here. He was drunkenly impressed. Saying it out loud I was really impressed, even if I do say so myself. Obviously he was feeling rather inadequate in front of his girl after that revelation. He asked me if I thought he could jump off the end pier. Trying to appear macho I suppose. I said he could if he wanted to but that I wouldn’t. I don’t think he understood that around the pier that water wasn’t very deep as it was built on large rocks and boulders. He would have to jump out a fair distance first and that personally he wasn’t in the best state to attempt it.

Blue on blue on blue, Arran from Ayr

Finally me and my new buddy had caught up with Phil. I explained to Phil what my buddy was wanting to try. Apparently he had seen sense and decided not to jump. Thankfully. That was it I was done. I took some photographs of the beach and Arran. There was some great views of Arran and the Ailsa Craig. Can’t beat Ayrshire on a fine sunny day. Then it was time to head back to South Harbour Street and meet my dad and the Tookie Taxi home. Not before stopping off at a wee shop for a celebratory bottle of IRN BRU. I couldn’t get the smile off my face and I told Phil that I was so chuffed that we had managed the 40 odd miles in just two days. I never thought I would have been able to do that. I still smile when I think I’ve done it in two days. For all those painfully last few miles it was well worth the effort. Two glorious days of walking through the heart of Ayrshire.

You can get the guide book we used; through my Amazon Associates link, The River Ayr Way. Also the maps that I carried just in case, Sanquhar and New Cumnock (OS Explorer Map Series) and Ayr & Troon OS Explorer Map 326

Fae yin brig tae anither – The River Ayr Way Day 1

The river and some sandstone cliffs

Not so many weeks; nearly four, I walked the River Ayr Way with Phil, @MrPhilTurner. This is how I remember it. Not necessarily how he remembers it. We had talked about this walk the last time we were out, how I had done most of the sections but not all in one go and not all in the correct order. That it would be a good walk over three days. Split the 44 miles up and do some wild camping and bivvying. Messages were sent and dispatches received. Dates agreed and dates discounted. It was on, then it was off but ultimately we got a date and weekend that suited both of us. It was to be the the long weekend of the Royal Wedding. Plans now made and preparations set, it was only a matter of time.

The Friday morning came with a rosy finger’d dawn and I sneaked out the house. I didn’t want to wake my wife or my baby daughter best to let sleeping dogs lie as the say. I was meeting Phil at tookiebunten HQ in Ayrshire. My parents house for 8 am. I got there for just after seven. My lighter weight synthetic sleeping bag was in my parents loft and not in my garage. I had a bit of packing to do before Phil turned up and we wanted to get a good early start. That didn’t happen, I think I must have packed and repacked about 4 times before Phil arrived. It’s hard when your Dad is hinging o’er yer shooder offering unhelpful advice and then sterts tae rip in tae in front of your friend with funny sarcastic comments. I think my problem was I had no funny comebacks. I hate that. I reminded him, he was only getting a len o’ that. I’d get it back.

Eventually I got packed and also recieved a nice MountainGoat Gear hat from Phil. Sweet and luxurious. More on that at some point in the future. We got the Tookie taxi loaded up for the short drive to Glenbuck and the start of the walk. Glenbuck is a funny place in that it doesn’t actually exist anymore. It’s an opencast mine. Needless to say you can’t get there. The bus stops at Muirkirk and then sometimes there is a wee bus that shuttles to Douglas past the Glenbuck road end. Once in a blue moon I think as I couldn’t find a timetable but it didn’t matter as Auld Tookie nae knees had agreed to drop us off. The drive out was funny for me, not sure about Phil though. I had to bite my tongue and I probably shouldn’t have. My Dad had is ‘proper’ phone voice on talking to Phil. I could have had my own back but thought better of it. He was being a good guy giving us a lift out to the loch. It I’ll keep.

On the drive over the weather was not looking promising. Big black clouds as we drove through Muirkirk and out the other side. I think we said as much but I still took the decision to leave my full waterproofs in my car. I was beginning to think that might not have been the best idea. My apex wind shirt is waterproof to a point. Hopefully. We turned in and followed the road up and round to the Fisherman’s car park at Glenbuck loch. We got out and sorted ourselves. Maing ready. Said thank you and goodbye to Tookie Senior then we set off down the path to where we thought the start was. Not realising we had actually passed it. We came across a nice carved totem pole but that’s not the start. Still following the path. We walked round, then realised that we were back to where we turned into the car park and there was my Dad reading the board in front of a massive block of stone.

The Start of the River Ayr Way

The stone is interesting in that it’s not stone. It’s actually sand from the beach at Ayr and the structure is lined up with the harbour at there, creating an imaginary line straight to the end. Now officially at the start, we said out cheerios again and set off properly. I switched on the e-trex GPS and got the track recording and Phil fired of a SPOT beacon and switched on ViewRanger to record a track. That was it. Hi ho hi ho and off we went. We hadn’t walked far when we came to out next monument. In fact probably only 20 steps but we had noticed this one on the way in. How we missed that massive other one I’ll never know. This monument is a memorial to the legendary and revered football manager Bill Shankly. He was born in the village of Glenbuck. Their most famous son. We turned and continued down the road following the directional marker.

Bill Shankly Memorial

We crossed the main road to the other kissing gate which led onto the old railway line, it had a warning about new born lambs and how hill sheep are skittery in general and asking us not to walk through the fields till the next day. We politely ignored the warning or request. What difference is a day going to make. I know this sounds callous and ignorant. Ignoring a farmers wishes. However it was an educated decision. I’m a country boy; I’ve worked on farms, I have a certain amount of knowledge and experience of the beasts. Also we weren’t walking with a dog, we weren’t going to be lifting and cuddling the lambs or chasing them around. We were probably the ones in danger from the sheep coming at us thinking they were getting an extra feed! Not that us being there bothered the farmer, scooting aboot on his quad bike. If he had a problem, he would have asked us to leave. It’s just about being sensible. Closing gates and leaving the animals be. Leave it as you found it.

It’s nice walk along the old railway line. The weather was threatening shaking fists at us, big heavy clouds but doing little about it. Blowing hard, nothing to worry about. We were walking away from it anyway. It was clear where we were heading. The landscape is juxtaposed here; on the one side of the road you have good green Ayrshire hill farms, nature being managed, on the other side a massive opencast coal operation, nature having her heart ripped out and us in the middle walking along on a past man-made scar that’s now, apart from the well kept track, slowly turning back to be green and wild. The only hints of it’s past life; the occasional wooden sidings of the old stations, or where it cuts straight through a bank.

The old railway line

Enjoying the walk on the old line. Passing through the numerous gates. Talking about this, that and the next thing, as you do. When suddenly I had one of those; not quite a flash back, more of a depth charge going off in the back of my mind. BANG. More like FUCK. FUCK, FUCK, FUCKITY, FUCK! Or something along those lines is what I vocalised. Much to Phil’s mid sentence surprise. Much to my own as well. FUCK just for good measure. In my rush to repack my rucksack I hadn’t put my main meals in. How stupid. I had packed my breakfasts plus my snacks. No dinner. Maybe it was a subconscious thing as I’m not all that keen on the dehydrated meals. Whatever it was, was not good. Really not good. Phil being a good guy though said he probably had enough and we would work something out. That he had plenty. I still felt like a dick though, amateur hour on prime time. On we went, me silently cursing and kicking myself.

Heading for Kames, were talking about how you don’t get see many walkers out on these Ayrshire paths or even the hills. How great and under rated it is. If you know me, a favourite rant of mine and one subject I can talk for hours on. Other than leaving my dad back at Glenbuck the only person we had seen all morning was the farmer on his ATV. Talk about the De’il and he’s sure to appear, especially in Ayrshire. No sooner had we got into full flow on the subject than we were passed by three. Yep count them, one, two, three cyclist on their mountain bikes. Which is great to see. Mind you, don’t know if I could be jucked being on bikes though. All those gates, kissing or otherwise, stiles and these weird new upside down Vs that they have put in place. Looks like it’s to deter the cyclist rather than encourage them but good on them and away they went, peddling into the distance. Us wondering if they were going to do the Way in one go.

The first few miles were being knocked off at a fine steady pace. The walking was easy as it is when you are in good company. I would like to say we reached Kames without noticing it but that’s not strictly true as it is obvious. There are houses, but you understand. You see the old parish church of Muirkirk to your right. Muir as in moor from Scots. The church on the moor. It is interesting from here as you get to see that Muirkirk as people and passersby think of it is wan place it’s actually three distinct areas. Kames where we were standing but also Muikirk itself, the oldest part and Smallburn a later extension. Most of those from Kames were moved there. Better housing. The path here takes you round the back of Kames which is a shame as you only get to see the back of the ‘Institute’. A common thing in these old mining villages. Built by the owners for their workers. It is a pretty building as these things go, of old red sandstone.

Here there is also a walkers car park where you can set off on a few excellent walks around the Muirkirk area. This is a good jumping off point. There is even an audio tour to accompany the walks, stating the links with Covenanters, local history and natural interests. However if the information board’s map is anything to go by, it’s a little bit confusing. It even left Phil scratching his head never mind me. Somebody needs a lesson on orientating maps or a compass at the very least. I can understand as well why the path goes roon the back. People now live in a row of houses, all that is left of Kames. You can see the parts of walls that formed the other rows as you follow the path.

First ever Tar McAdam road

The path continues up through some new planted woods and joins the old Sanquhar road. Famous locally for being the first tarred road in the world. Maybe even famous internationally? The process invented by a local engineer, John Loundon McAdam. He introduced the process of macadamising, using the by product from the local coal mines to produce coal tar to bind stones together to make a smooth hard road surface. I always get a little shiver of pride when walking on that road. To think that the world’s modern road system started here. Chalk another one up for Ayrshire. Not sure how much of the original surface is left but it the thoughts that count. We stopped to let a car pass, there is another unofficial car park at this end of the road. Then the local Game keeper all camoed up for war drove by us on his quad. We had stopped opposite what was once John McAdam’s house. Not much remains but a few walls but it seem that it wasn’t a modest home.

From here we turned right or in a general west direction. Here the landscape looks natural, wild moorland but it is anything but, nature has just over grown and laid a blanket down over what is left of man’s ruins. We were now walking through the old tar works themselves. There are the tell tale lumps and bumps and even the obvious lade cut from the burn if you know what your looking for. Stuart Ainsworth from the Time Team’s territory. We were now heading to yin o’ the twa brigs. The Garpel Bridge or as it’s more commonly known as Tibbie’s Brig. The other brig being the Sanquhar Brig but that was not on our path, not today. The bridge gets it’s name from the fact that a local poetess lived next to the ford of the burn. The bridge not being built when she lived there. Her name was Isobel Pagan or Tibbie to everyone. As the legend goes; not the most attractive of ladies, a deformed foot and lame from birth. She also had a squint and a hump back by all accounts. Her fame comes from running a howff and serving beer and usquabae to the local miners as well has her singing and poetic recitals. She is most famous for a rhyme that Robert Burns quoted. Wither the poem was actually written by her is debatable. It just maybe part of the oral tradition and it just so happened that someone wrote it down after hearing Tibbie sing it. Ca’ the yowes tae the knowes is the title.

Tibbie's Brig

Ca’ the yowes to the knowes,
Ca’ them where the heather grows,
Ca’ them where the burnie rows,
My bonie dearie

Burns took the song and rewrote to suit himself but keept the original chorus. Isobel had a book of works printed with some of her favourite songs. Here there is also a cairn marking the spot where her howff sat next to the water. It is a nice spot to sit  some time under the bridge with tumbling water. It was the first time we had been next to the water for a while. Almost since the start.

From here the path climbs up and back onto a section of the old railway line and away from the river again via a set of stairs. Here I was greeted by an over enthusiastic Border Collie puppy. I would normally say much to the owners embarrassment. No amount of shouting commands would get the dog to heel. The dog just being playful and wanting to be clapped. Luckily both of us are not scared of dugs. Well unless they are big rabid hounds of the Baskerville, fangs dripping, teeth snarling, devil dog beasts. The old Billy Connelly joke springs to mind; must be able to smell my dog, they call it puppy love. Once the owner had the excitable pup back on the lead Phil and I continued on. Still the only walkers that appeared to be out to do the River Ayr Way.

We were now past Smallburn and getting close to the old parish boundary. Entering into the policies of the old Wellwood House. Now no longer visible. A ruin, destroyed and the stone probably quarried away to use else where. The only clue to the fact is the ubiquitous rhododendron bushes and the purple flowers scattered here an and there. It was the sight of an ancient tower house and with all auld castles there’s a story to go along with it. This particular one goes along the lines of a maid was murdered in the house and for years no amount of scrubbing could remove a mysterious stain from a flagstone step. The new owner decided to call in a local mason. A stone mason and possibly a brother on the level to cut out the offending step and replace it with a new one. The local man duly complete his task, got paid and ended up dead. All with in a few hours, so the story goes. It was about here that we decide to take a mid-morning break. We were making good time but it was not like we  were yomping on. The pace was easy, it was that it was a good well made track we were following.

I found myself checking the E-trex while we were sitting watching the green hued water flow by. Something that worried us both, trying to figure it out. Was it the run off from the fields or some other thing from the opencast. Either way it wasn’t pleasant looking and to think I used to swim in these deep slow meandering bends. I don’t remember it being like that but I don’t think it did me any harm? Me and the E-trex were heading for a fall out. It was my own fault and much to Phil’s amusement I had manged to switch it off and I couldn’t get it back on. How I managed to record my route on the Merrick I’ll never know, One thing it did know was I wasn’t going to be recording this. Off. Phil was tracking the route anyway and as the good gentleman that he is said he would send me on the GPX.

As we sat there, low and behold two other walkers. Proper walkers in full on walking gear, rucksacks and everything appeared from around the bend in the burn. Now we weren’t the only ones walking the River Ayr Way. When they reached our resting spot we exchange pleasantries and they stopped to chat. They were staying at the Sorn Inn. They had driven from Sorn to the start at Glenbuck. Walking back to Sorn where their bikes were, them cycling back to Glenbuck to pick the car up. Keen, I remember thinking. It’s all up hill on the way back if your cycling to Muirkirk. It’s a big pull out of Sorn. We wished them well and hoped to see them later on.

William Adam a Martyr

Fuelled and ready to move on, we got our packs settled and ourselves ready. Still within the Wellwood polices and close to what is now Upper Wellwood farm. We made our way across the Proscribe Burn towards a martyr’s grave. One of the may that litter the moss’s here. Another thing that Ayrshire was famous for, renouncing the King and his Episcopalian faith in favour of their own Presbyterian faith. There are many battles and many graves marked around here from the Killing Times, for both sides. Sorn where we were heading for, was one of the main garrisons in the area for the Red Coats. From there they would strike out searching for Covenanters but the would soon just question anyone that they came upon and hell mend you if didn’t answer their questions to their liking as happened to the poor William Adam. Shot on the spot. No judge or jury. The grave sits in a lovely little wooded glade which would be pleasant place to sit if there wasn’t such a sad story.

A Martyrs Grave

We followed the river to the road, the A70 and crossed over to the other side. Not in a spiritual way but in the physical sense. From there we followed the track over a well made foot bridge. There was some pride in that construction. Once over the bridge we were into Airds Moss. Airds Moss is now a nature preserve looked after by the RSPB. I think they describe it as an upland bog. Yes, very pleasant. It is home to a variety of wildlife and all manner of birds. I’m painting a pretty picture of the place but it can be a brutal place if the weather is bad. It is open moorland and not a place to be caught in bad weather. Luckily for Phil and I, we were enjoying some fine Ayrshire weather. That was to say it was dry and not cold. However Ayrshire is always a fine place when I’m home.

The bridge into Airds Moss

Airds Moss is another of these areas recovering from man’s intervention. It is starting to get some of it’s wild beauty back but there are still signs of the industrial revolution. One in particular is what I though was the parish mill. A big building in it’s own right. All the farms were tithed to it so it would be producing a lot of flour and grain. I was convinced it was. I could see the lade cut but then it open up massively. I would have to have been the biggest mill in the world. There would have been and immense amount of water turning the wheel. Time to get the guide book out. Dane Love to the rescue. Not a mill but an Iron Works. A big Irons Works.

The moss was also a favourite hiding place for the Covenanters due to the many secluded farms and steadings dotted about. It was also heavily grazed in the past. It was also the site of a battle between the Covenanters and the Red Coats. The monument is on another path and in the opposite direction from our heading. It commemorates a battle of 1680 where the preacher, Reverend Richard Cameron was killed after having prayed, “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe”. He was one of 9 Covenanters to die that day including his brother. The Cameronian’s (26th Regiment of Foot) of the British Army are said to have taken their name from him.

The moss is a weird place there’s lots going on but not much to look at, if that makes sense. The place is full of history, steeped in but it’s not there to see. If your a twitcher the place is probably a haven for you but for the walker. The landscape is flat and probably why I’ve just given such a history lesson and no photographs to show, well a couple. I have more to tell as well. Airds Moss was also home to John Lapraik, another 18th Century poet and friend of Robert Burns. We do like oor wurds in Ayrshire. He was a wealthy farmer until the banks crash in Ayr and he lost it all, ending up in the debtor’s prison. Moving to the farm at Dalfram. Burns wrote three Epistles to him an old Scottish bard. The were known to be friends and supposedly Lapraik is where Robert got is inspiration for A Man’s a Man for a’ That. For all his woes he lived a long life dying at the age of 80. He is buried in the churchyard at Muirkirk.

I’m not sure but I think Phil was glad by the time we had reached the end of Airds Moss and I would shut up for a bit. I’m sure I saw him wiping a trickle of blood from his ears. We crossed over another stout and well made bridge. We were now at Greenock Mains and off the bog on the other side of the river. It was only just past one in the afternoon and we were close, only a couple miles short of where we were going to camp for the night. I think at this point we were both starting to think that Sorn was a distinct possibility. Not at that point had we vocalised it but I know I was feeling fine then. No problems with walking further. It was around here we caught back up with the cyclists/walkers. They had stopped for a spot of lunch or a break. We said our hellos again and left them to it. However I think they planted a seed as not long after that Phil suggested we stop or was it me? Matters not. We found an agreeable spot next to the water. I broke out more energy bars and some of that sweet sweet sickly thick energy syrup. It makes me gag a bit but it doesn’t half give you that kick. For me anyway.

The river after Airds Moss

It was then that Phil said that he thought he recognised the guy that was one half of the walkers/cyclist pair; to which I laughed, but not in a mocking way. It was funny. I had been thinking the same thing since we had seen them back at Wellwood. I thocht I kent them baith. That they were local folks, Cumnockians at the very least. Phil reckoned the guy was another out door blogger (If your reading this let us know). I still haven’t figured it oot. Maybe he just had one of those faces. It was decision time, 2 miles to the proposed bivvy or do we walk on to Sorn and take it from there. There’s not much distance between Sorn and Catrine so it would probably be best to bivvy at the back end o’ Ca’in. I pointed out that from there is wasn’t far to the campsite but then Phil reminded me, no tents. Ah. The wids would be fine and the chance of some fine pints and a meal in the Sorn Inn. That’s an attractive offer at any time. Never mind when your out having a great walk. Done deal, Sorn it was. We got our pack sorted again but not before I got to see and try out some great glorious gear porn from Phil. Which I won’t disclose here has he hasn’t posted anything about on his blog. I’ll just tease you all. You’ll have to keep an eye on http://lightweightoutdoors.com

The River Ayr looking back towards Kames

Back to the path it was and the thought of good beer. It’s not long from where we stopped at Limmerhaugh Muir that you have to climb up the river bank and out as starts to cut deep into the surrounding countryside. It’s at the Crook Moss. It’s not until you get to the top of the bank do you realise just how far down the water has eroded. Again you are on raised moorland but further on the land rises away from you to the north with Auchenlongford Hill and Wedder Hill higher still but only being about 1200ft. The path here seems to follow an older track with a ditch cut along one side as well as remnants of a windbreak or tree planted boundary. When you get to the end of this track and enter Merkland the path descends steeply along side some waterfalls. You can hear the water falling hard but it takes a bit of peering between the trees to see it. Once down you are along side the river again. I was starting to find that I missing the river when the sections forced you away from the water. It’s soothing sound and tranquil flow. I don’t know what it is about the water, it just draws me in.

The old road to Sorn

From here the path turns into a board walk that’s attached to a steep bank above the water. This section takes you round an old Motte and Bailey castle. Don’t get too excited there’s only the Bailey left. Even that is hard to make out, as it’s now completely wooded over. I think it would be hard to see even with out the trees as the builders of the castle took a natural feature and enhanced it somewhat into a strong defencive position. It’s not that the walk is precarious here but I think that if yourself and heights didn’t get on too well you might find this section some what uncomfortable. It does give you a different view of the river. If you look hard enough on the way into Sorn from Daldilling past Glenlogan House and up to the cottage at Dalgain. You’ll see more of tell tale signs of Ayrshire’s industrial past. There are ruins of iron works and coal mines. Water filled holes and fallen masonry arches of the kilns for the smelting.

It was here that I was starting to feel the strains of the day. My legs were starting to get tired. Especially with the up and downs of the last few sections. I was looking forward to a beer. It was then that it looked like it was finally going to rain, the weather that we had left behind in Muirkirk had finally caught us up. There was some big drops falling and I thought it felt that it could thunder. It was close feeling and I could almost sense the electricity in the air but it came to nothing. Just a little shower but the skies stayed overcast after having such great weather most of the way to Sorn.

Sorn is a two bridge one street sort of village and I was glad to see the cottage it was all down hill to the pub. It had been a long time since I had done mileage like that. My calf’s and hamstrings had taken the brunt. My feet in my Roclites were doing great, a hell of a lot better than they would have been in my usual Scarpa SLs. Phil and I joked as much but half knowing that it was probably true. I would have flooded the river with the all my greetin’. The legs were going, getting really stiff and the hard packed tarmacadam pavement wasn’t helping. Every step was a step closer to the pub. Hmm closer to a cool pint of beer. A fair reward. It was about here that our new ‘friends’ passed us on their bikes on the way out of Sorn going back to get Glenbuck.

Much to my dismay the pub was shut. Shut on a Friday afternoon. Yep, never mind no room at the inn, the shop was shut up tight. It wasn’t even 4pm yet and these weary travellers were in need of a refreshment. I say we but you should probably read me. I think Phil was fine. My fitness is definitely better than the last outing but nowhere near fit Phil’s. My heart sank. There is nothing in Sorn. Remember two bridges one main street. Nothing for it but to walk back to the other end and the post office stroke local store stoke news agents. IRN-BRU would have to suffice. That walk back to the shop was lucky if it was 500 yards but to my legs it was another ten miles. It was a good pain but it was still pain. Oh how a pint of beer would have slaked that and washed away the pain.

It wasn’t all bad, in the post office looking for chocolate and IRN-BRU my Ayrshire boy spider sense was sent tingling. Whoop, whoop. Like a bee to a flower’s nectar or dug tae chocolate. There it was like a shining blesha beacon, a bottle of Curries Red Kola. I knew this before I knew IRN-BRU. I grew up guzzling this stuff by the gless cheque. It was delivered to the house, yes delivered to the house straight from the factory by the crate load, weekly. Along with all sorts of other exotic flavours. Grapefruit Cup, Dandelion and Burdock, Special Limeade and Lime Crush. This is the fizzy juice of all fizzy juices and as far as I’m aware only known in Ayrshire. Please correct me if I’m wrong. IRN-BRU can’t clap wind on Curries Red Kola erse when it comes to pure sugar and artificial colouring. All the good natural stuff you need after a long walk. I was a happy boy again. The pub could wait.

We went a cross the road; I hobbled like pony with a stone in it’s hoof, like I said Phil was good and sat on the bench next to the bus shelter to consume our treats while we waited. As it is with all things nature takes it course and starts to call. Well I had nearly drunk 750ml of natural goodness that is Red Kola and Phil had some artificial day glow Mountain Dew concoction, I think. It was that or Lucozade. The guide informed us that there was indeed local facilities available however not where. Phil, feeling a bit sorry for me nipped back across the road to ask the fine upstanding women in the shop where we could find the public conveniences. He came back and said that they were next to the Church. The Church was beyond the inn, the very last building of the town. Ouch. I hadn’t moved for a good ‘our as we talked and watched the world go by and a mangy old dog saunter up and down the road with impunity. There was nothing for it, I downed the last of the sweet liquid and got up. Ouch ouch ouch ouch aaahhh, that was how I crossed the road. I returned my empty glass bottle to the shop and got my 30p return fee back. Nice. Aaahh ouch ouch ouch aaahhh ouch as I crossed the road again. The more I walked the more the stiffness eased. I probably shouldn’t have sat so long.

After that; you don’t need the details, we sat in the church yard for a bit. It was a nice afternoon and it was peaceful, dead quiet. The clock ticked and the hands moved. Time to walk back to the pub. Dinner and beer. Which was handy for me, remember I had left my meals in car. We were a few minutes early but they let us in and through to the bar anyway. Nice folks. They’ve done a bit of work since the last time I was there. The bar is a bit smaller but it was never big in the first place and they have increased the size of the restaurant. We ordered a couple of pints; for the life of me I can’t remember what, other than I think it came from the Houston brewery over in Renfrewshire. It was a good beer and well worth the wait. On top of the fine pint the bar had some excellent snacks on offer of pigs in blankets. We scoffed a few as a ‘starter’ as we perused the menu. Phil ordered a burger and chips, I went for the steak pie and tatties. It was then cyclist/walkers returned. It had been a hard cycle for them back to get the car, into the wind for most of the way and of course up hill.

Auld Bridge at Sorn

The steak pie was a treat. A blessing in disguise leaving those dehydrated meals in the car at Cumnock. Not that couldn’t have phoned my Dad and he would have met us somewhere and handed them over. We were never far from home. Time was getting on, we were already 3 or 4 pints down the road as it was. A new suitable bivvy spot was still to be found and there was still a couple of miles to walk. It wasn’t going to get dark for a while yet but it was time to move. We said our good-byes and settled the bill. Heading out the pub and over the auld brig at Sorn.

Sorn Castle(2)

Climbing up out of the village we entered in the grounds of Sorn Castle. There has been much work going on here recently. The track was a wide and broad avenue. Obvious that the work was still continuing but still able to walk. I’m unclear to the reason for the upgrading here but it makes for a nice walk here and you are afforded good views of the castle. The castle is now a fine house, and far from the original tower structure as you can get. The pain was gone but the stiff legs were still there. Beer has amazing properties and I sure I was probably about a jar away from sporting a nice warm and comforting beer jacket. Every step was getting easy again. From the great views of the Castle it’s all downhill and the polices make for a very pleasant walk now that the path has been improved.

It’s not far from Sorn to Catrine along the river and it wasn’t long until we approaching Daldorch House; once the mill owners house, now a bank school or special needs or whatever the current term is. As we were nearing the back of the house, we noticed a boy fishing and I asked if anything was biting. The River Ayr is good for trout and the sea trout, salmon run is getting better every year. Just getting some minties was the reply. I smiled, been I long time since I did that. He was fishing in a competition and gathering up minnows for some live bait.

Catrine Voes

Here is were the hand of man is most obvious even although the mills are gone. All the workings are still here. The lades, weirs and voes as well as the sluce gates are all still in place. A reminder of the industrial revolution, of when it started here, continued in use up until the late 60s and early 70s. My Dad started his apprenticeship in the mill and my Gran, his mum worked there also. It must have been something to see in it’s hay day. The power of all that water. This side of Catrine up on the hill is actually quite nice the large reservoirs that held the water in case the river ran low has been turned into a nature reserve and the mill workers cottages over look it. However down the hill where we were heading was a different story. It’s all run down, boarded up shops and graffiti. Nothing for the kids to do. An all to familiar sight.

It was getting late and the buckfast crew were beginning to assemble like zombies in the streets as we passed through. Not really a good time to be hanging about and seeing the sights. We crossed the river yet again to Cartine’s Institute and followed the signs for the River Ayr Way. Now heading along the water towards Ballochmyle and the Howford Bridge. The river cuts through another deep gorge here but we were not going to go as far the road bridge. Two runners passed us running along the water next to the Ayrshire tattie fields with it’s shiny plastic furrows. I’ve never seen the machine that lays down the miles and miles of the stuff. It would be interesting to see how it worked. Soon we turned west following the river climbing into woods again and way from the village. Once enveloped by the trees we started to look for a suitable spot away from the path and any possible prying eyes. Somewhere nice to bed down for the night.

The river between Catrine and Mauchline

We weren’t long in finding a good place. The river turned again creating a large meandering bend and the path turns leaving the river to climb up and over the Howford towards Catrine House. We didn’t, we headed down to the bank and followed the river further into the woods. The track high above us. Phil found a nice glade, a good a place as any. Off came the rucksacks and out with the bivvy bags. Mine’s being bright red and not very subtle especially against the lush green carpet of the wood’s floor. Phil on the other hand had a nice green one. Anyway I had my tarp so I suggested, for extra protection and some cover from the path above, that we set it up. Not that onybuddy was aboot ken. The tarp was pitched simple fashion. All Bristol and ship shaped. Will not quite but you get the idea. Nothing complicated.

We got oorsels settled in and sorted. Sleeping bags and mats in place. When probably one of the strangest things that has happened on any of my walks but I’ve got broad shoodirs so I’ll talk about it. Phil got out some foot cream. Not the most manly of things. I think I may have ribbed him about it but I’ll be honest, I was intrigued. He explained that it was good for tired sore feet and by the gods they were tired and sore. What the hell gies a shot, I’ll give that a bang. There I am in the middle of the Ayrshire wids rubbing some lavender smelling cream into my feet. I’ve never rubbed cream into my feet before. It was nice and we’ll leave it at that. I will also point out Phil did not rub my feet and I did not rub his and no, there is no truth in the rumour that we walk holding hands. Behave yoursels.

pitched in the woods(1)

Now it was time to kick back and get some zeds. It had been a brilliant day walking. The weather had been fine mostly. However all the fun and games hadn’t finished yet. Sitting on my nice new Alpkit sleeping mat was fine, feet anchored in the grass but it was a different story as soon as I lay down. It was like a slipper chute. Straight off. Try again. Nope. A greased monkey wouldn’t have been slipperier. Phil suggested letting some air out to see if that would help. Unfortunately it didn’t. My own fault for being so desperate to try out the new mat. My only recourse was to cast the mat aside if I was to get a decent night’s sleep. I managed after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get myself comfy and that was that. Out like a light. The switch had been flicked. The last thing I remember, the sounds of the running river. Day one was done and so was I, but in a good way.

You can find day 2 here http://walkwithtookie.com/62708888

You can get the guide book we used; through my Amazon Associates link, The River Ayr Way. Also the maps that I carried just in case, Sanquhar and New Cumnock (OS Explorer Map Series) and Ayr & Troon OS Explorer Map 326

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills

Blackcraig Hill

“How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills, Far mark’d with the courses of clear winding rills;”

It is strange how some things happen. Without realising a course is set and at the time you don’t even realise. A few weeks back Mark Roberts (@bckpckingNorth on twitter) tweeted a link to post about an over night walk he had gone on, up the Afton. Mark lives in North America. I had replied, asking him if a Scotsman or a Robert Burns fan had named the place? For those of you that don’t know I’m an Ayrshireman and grew up in Cumnock not 6 miles from Glen Afton, an area of wild country on the edge of the Southern Uplands. Known by many throughout the world from Burn’s song Flow Gently, Sweet Afton. Unknown to me or to Mark at that time he had planted a seed. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had made plans to visit my parents. I hadn’t given them a time of arrival, other than I would be down to see them. Yes, I would be there for dinner. Off I went. Heading for Cumnock. It’s roughly an hour travelling time in the car from where I live now, East Kilbride. I got to Auchinleck and took the by-pass for Cumnock but instead of taking the exit for Cumnock at the next round about I continued on the rest of the by-pass for New Cumnock. I’ve got into that habit of carrying my basic kit in the boot of the car. Hoping for a chance like this, spur of the moment. I had time, the weather was dry but overcast. I didn’t look like it was going to rain. The seed had sprouted. Glen Afton here I come.

Maybe I should probably point out Cumnock is actually Old Cumnock but is younger than New Cumnock? Still following me? At one point there was just Cumnock. A loose connection of ferm touns, tower houses and of course the church. Then in 1650 it was split into two parishes. Old Cumnock where the original church stood and New Cumnock where, yep you guessed it a new parish church was built. Doesn’t make much sense but we’ve got loads of history that gets ignored in the books and it’s not just all about Robert Burns. Wallace and The Bruce wandered here, hiding from or terrorising the English and there’s more besides.

Anyway I’m on the road to New Cumnock. Passing the place I got married. In and out of New Cumnock and on to the road up Glen Afton. It’s not a place to linger anymore. New Cumnock has turned into an empty, sad and desolate shell. Nearly everything in the main street is boarded up and closed. The church is smashed. The whole place is dejected. An air of loss. It is place of no hope or so it seems as you drive through. It’s missing a heart and a soul. A ghost town. The pits have gone and all the industries that went with it. They’ve been gone along time and now it appears to be taking it’s toll. The reaper has moved in. No jobs, no money. A sign of the times. Old Cumnock is fairing much better. 

Passing by the Robert Burns memorial and the Glen Afton Caravan Park. It’s single track road here with plenty of pot holes to swallow up your car. Lots of weaving and hoping that you don’t meet another car. The passing places are few and far between. There’s a dam at the head of glen now. I say that like it’s something new. It’s been there since the 30’s and it has a car pack that you can use. That was my target. Park there and wander round the loch that has been created there. Spend some time in the ‘ruins’ of castle William, sitting on the Cloven Stone at Blackhill. Maybe round to the ruins at Montraw, now encased in trees. For some reason I pulled up short. A couple of miles short of the dam at Blackcraig Farm. I had a sudden urge to climb my old friend Blackcraig, the highest hill in Ayrshire. It had been a while. The farm has had new coat of paint since the last time. The only obvious indication that time has passed.

There was no-one else about that I could see but I still got changed behind the car door. This is turning into a habit. I headed up the road to the farm and skirted by the buildings and the little wood that forms a wind break around it to the beginning of an old road. Not a drovers road but an old cart road. It looks like that to me but I don’t know for sure. I do know that it’ll take you over the hills to Kirkconnell. It feels great to be walking here again. The weather was clearing; the clouds where getting patchier, sometimes the sun was poking through and catching the still dormant heather and grass. The hills looked golden in places. When the clouds parted the sky was blue and bright. Which means it wasn’t raining, always a plus for the west of Scotland. In my head the plan had evolved from walking round Glen Afton and the loch to climbing up Blackcraig, was now sprouting arms and legs. I was starting to think; Blackcraig, Greenlorg, Blacklorg, down to the dam and back to the car. A favourite of old. A great walk.

Hugging the shoulder

My mind set and my route locked. I tightened the straps on my rucksack and continued on the old road. I love walking these forgotten ways. It feels to me like you’ve been let in on a secret that no-one else knows. Following a faint and over grown trail that’s long since slipped from the world’s conciseness. That you are standing in the footsteps of old, ancient people and if listen hard enough you can here the rustle of feet and clip clop of the hooves from the ghost’s of the past. As the old road climbs following along side the Langlee Burn until it peters out. You cross over many rills, nameless springs and small burns that litter the hillsides of this glen. Flowing down to meet the sweet Afton and onwards to the river Nith and the sea at the Solway Firth. 

It’s not long before you feel like you are in the wilds here. There are now some intrusions into this with three wind farms that surround the the Afton. Hare Hill, McCrierick’s Cairn and over the other side at Windy Standard. Men have always been in this landscape so are the turbines any more of an encroachment? Is it not just another way of announcing our presence here? Instead of cutting down trees or removing coal and peat, creating false forest we’re planting great metal monuments to the power of the wind. It is scar on the landscape but no greater or worse that I have seen here. Whole hillsides removed and altered for the want of coal to power our lives. They may take away from the view but they also add something to it. Almost monolithic like standing stones of old. Sentinels watching over the hills, an army in waiting. However here, they don’t take away completely the feeling of isolation and wildness. There are no longer any of the old sheilings up this high. Just the ruins and the sheep. The farmers only come up to gather the sheep in for winter and lambing. No one lives and works up here. Trying to scratch a living. They are all long gone. No one lives here.

Looking towards McCrierick's cairn

I was to all intent and purposes on my own. A lonely walker but not feeling alone. I have history here. It is the land of my fathers. Born, raised and steeped in this very place. Places that are mine, where I belong. This is home. A poem by Sir Alexander Gray and strangely not Ayrshire’s most famous son comes to mind. 

“This is my country
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who here toil
In the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh
And bone of my bone.”

The land belonged to me, there was nobody else to dispute the claim. Ayrshire was my kingdom. For all the soul-less and down at heel towns that Ayrshire has, it has these glorious wide open areas of magnificent beauty but I am biased and I fear a rant but I will spare you that.

Back on the road it appears that someone. Some national body is trying to open them up. Make it accessible. I’m all for that. Following the rutted old road ever upwards, ever higher. Marker posts have been put in place indicating a right of way, a walk to some place. These are new to me and I’m excited about this but also a little sad. Sad because if you know what to look for the markers are already there. Larger stones marking the edge of the road, larger stones again marking where the road turns but that too is obvious as it follows the contour of Laglass Hill. Most obvious of all, the cairns on the knowes. Stark against the horizon; shouting, this is the way. Maybe others are discovering what I already know and maybe they need it pointed out a little clearer. I’ve climbed to the top of the pass, stopping to touch each cairn. Thank you, you have led the way. 

Quintin Knowe

Galloway, an other old haunt is in front of me, Ayrshire ends not far from this spot. The Southern Uplands are rolling away in all directions as I stand on Quintin Knowe. No man’s land or the disputed land if you like. Depends on how you want to translate the corrupted Gaelic, much like Hare Hill to my left. There’s a wooden post here to, but for me it’s not pointing the right way. It’s pointing off to the summit of Blackcraig. Not my way, not yet. It wasn’t where I was shown all those years ago. To me this is leading you the wrong way. Taking you an unnecessary and steep path to the top. I continue on the road for a bit. Why make it hard if you don’t have to? There’s a gate and a fence where once there was a dry staine dyke that runs over the top. That’s where I turn for the top following the fence. The old ways die hard, you go with what you know. 

Towards Hare Hill Windfarm

There are fresh foot prints in front of me where the track has worn through to the peat. Not by the feet of man, the sheep also walk this way. Somebody else know the secrets. More likely anither local. Ayrshire to my right and Galloway to my left is I climb up the shoulder. There’s more cairns on the top, three in total and then there’s the trig pillar. I zig-zag my way across the large flat top to the first false summit to touch the cairn then I make my way back to the fence and the stile to carry on to-ing and fro-ing between the cairns to the top. Dodging the boggy bits until I get to the trig point. The clouds have blown in. It seems to be my lot. Clouds obscuring my views. They blew in when I touched the first cairn. Bringing the quiet peacefulness with them, expanding distance and compressing time but unlike Tinto I’ve been here on countless occasions. I know where I am. No doubts creeping into my head here. 

Blackcraig Trig Point

I have arrived. I get squated down into the wind break at the pillar. On with the insulating layer as it’s cold in the cloud and the wind now that I’ve stopped. Brew time. This time I don’t have to worry about a solid brick of a chocolate bar, it wasn’t that cold. Cold enough though. I have great view to home now that the cloud is moving off again. There is still a ceiling of the fluffy stuff but it’s now higher than the two and half thousand feet that I’m sitting at. Ayrshire is spread before me like a large patch work blanket of earthy tones. Nothing is green yet, except for the pine forests and a few of the grazing fields. Even then their green is dulled by winters grip. The signs of spring are still few. Every now and then your blessed by a small explosion of snow drops or sprouting daffodils not quite come to flower. Everything else I see from my seat on top of the world is tones of yellow and brown. Patiently waiting for the suns warm spring caress rather than this cold and unloving winter glimpse that it gives just now.

Packed up and ready to continue. It’s still a bit chilly so I keep on my insulated jacket. I make my way over another stile down the other side of Blackcraig making for Greenlorg Hill. Blacklorg Hill off in the background and little higher again. Here I can see Cairnsmore of Carsphairn in the distance. Another hill that I haven’t stood on for a long time. The cloud hanging on his head. You can walk all the way to Cairnsmore but that’s a longer walk and one for another day when I’ve better planned things. As usual, I’m not far off the top and the sun comes out. The clouds float way leaving large swathes of bright blue sky. No need to be insulated now. It feels warm in the sun when the wind is no longer blowing at my back. Off with the rucksack and I deposit my jacket in there and get the sack hitched back up. It’s steep and no natural path or track as such. Follow the sheep, the fence or make your best guess. I opt for the yowes. They aren’t as daft as they make out, especially in the high places. They can read contours better than I can.

Greenlorg and Blacklorg Hills

Having followed the track down onto the bealach. It was time to climb up and on to Greenlorg Hill, which I find a bit strange as it’s not much of a hill on its own. Before; back in the mists of time, there was just Lorg hill, Slope hill. Now we have Greenlorg the green slope that leads onto the Black slope, Blacklorg. Lorg meaning slope. It’s not the only one to change. Over the other side of Blacklorg stands Meikledodd Hill; big hill hill, was once Montraw Hill, the boundary hill. Monadh being hill and airbhe meaning boundary. Again it depends on your translation of the corruption. There is still a burn by that name and an old ruined farm with that name too.

Looking up to where I was heading I was suddenly aware of movement. Just a flash. Something quick. I stopped and looked. Looked hard. You know that way where you screw up your nose and focus. I’m moving my head left to right and back. Working across the hill. I was positive something was out there, I began to think that maybe it was just the sun catching the hillside. A beam poking out lightening fast as the clouds move. Fleeting. Then I see it again, this time I’m locked in on it. A Roe deer flashes it’s white erse at me. Not deliberately, I don’t think. It’s a small group. Three in total, two females and a young buck. Not much in the way of antlers. I haven’t been spotted yet and the wind is blowing my scent away across the glen. The fawn coats melding them into the long tussocky grass perfectly. Perfectly, until they turn away from me and face up hill. I can see the whites, well not of their eyes.

I would love to get a good photograph but I don’t have a long lens. Haven’t got the money for that, yet. I only have my kit lens. A 18 mm to 55 mm. I’m going to have to get closer. Much closer. The deer hold the high ground. I can’t get above them without them catching my scent. The stalk is on. Slowly and painstakingly I make my way down hill. They haven’t caught sight of me yet. I keep checking. Furitive glances up hill. White bums bobbing. I drop down a few contours and I’m completely hidden from them as they are for me. Guess work now, how far I should walk along this contour before moving back up. I’m trying to judge my pace with they’re movements. Tyring not make any sudden and unusual noises. Hoping I don’t clink the walking poles together, hoping that any noise I do make is carried a way on the four winds. 

I’m close. I can feel it. The alarm in my head is ringing. It’s time to start moving up hill. I stab the poles into the ground and place my rucksack at the base of the two walking sticks. Down on my honches, I start a crouching walk up to the crest of the contour. I can’t hear them but I know the deer are over there. Not two feet from the false summit I get down on my belly. I’m now crawling, slithering forward inch by inch like a snake. I’m there, the deer are there. We’re all there. I can’t get the camera round. Off like the green light had come down on a formula one start. I was too close. Not six feet from them. The deer had changed direction and moved downhill towards me. They must have changed direction when we couldn’t see each other. I have never been that close to deer. Never. Playing it back in my mind it was slow motion stuff like a John Woo movie minus the white doves but still so fast. Incredibly fast. The nostrils flared and the deer turned tail and made light work of running in the long grass. Up and over Greenlorg in no time at all. I turned over and lay on my back looking at the blue sky and watching the clouds run over head. Thinking a longer lens might be the better answer.

The deer were gone and I had no chance of following them any further and no photographs to boot. To top it right off and stick some icing on the cake, I found myself trapped behind a new deer fence. More trees must be getting planted soon. FUCK. How did I manage to be on this side, the wrong side. I never saw the fence from up on the shoulder of Greenlorg. Too busy focusing on the deer. FUCK. Stupid. Much cursing of my own name. I’m not sure if your familiar with deer fencing but climbing over it where I stood was not an option. Therevery flimsy. There not meant to climbed over and I can guarantee there was no stile along it’s length. I was well off the beaten track, so far in fact I was probably on another reservation. Off piste walking and deer stalking are us dot com. The high of the chase and low of the let down.

Looking down the Craig burn

There’s a lesson to be learnt. Somewhere. I’m lucky I know the lie of the land so being stuck here was not a problem. The problem was getting over the other side of the brand spanking new deer fence. I suppose I could have returned in the direction I had come from and try to find where the fence had started but I was closer to the road on this side. I followed the dyke round to the upper reaches of the Craig burn and found a turn in the fence where it headed down the other side of the water. A right angle. Ideal. The large corner post would more than take my weight and the wire was tighter here. I passed my poles through the fence and tossed my ruck sack over. I climbed the fence. No fancy commando rolls over the top wire. Didn’t want to injure myself. I had been silly enough today already. The plan had changed again. I don’t have the time to gain the height and head over Craigbraneoch Hill to catch the path round the dam and back to the car. I’ll make for the road best as I can from this side.

Craig Farm and the Craig burn

Now I was on the correct side of the fence, skirting round the side of Craigbraneoch. Next obstacle was getting to the other side of the Craig burn. That wasn’t difficult, in these upper reaches it’s nothing more that a rill. I was having more difficulty with the massive ditches that have been scored into the hillside to drain the peaty soil and make the rigs for the trees to be planted. It was the good old short ass, legs not long enough problem. I stopped for a few minutes to get my breath back after all the pole vaulting I’ve been doing with my walking sticks. I looked down towards Afton Glen, the sun now on it’s downward arc casting large shadows on my side of the glen. The sky is a crisp, sharp blue and the view down the Afton is superb. I also notice further above me that the rigs change direction and start to run top left to bottom right in a more or less horizontal fashion. A unexpected turn of luck. It’s the way I want to be heading. I scramble up and jump across my last ditch. The rig is getting wider and wider when it becomes a very new scar in the hill. A new forestry road, hard packed with stone and I can see it leads all the way to Craig Farm. Craig Farm leads to the road and the road leads back to the car. Only a couple of miles of road walking. It was pleasant walk back to the car with my thoughts turning to visiting my parents and dinner. A fine end to a great day.

A Winter’s Tale: Ballantrae to Lendalfoot.

Ailsa Craig

Here I go again, stealing the second part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s title. You can read the first part about the first day here.

Striking camp from place that shall remain nameless. We had struck a deal. Hear no evil, see no evil. I don’t want the generous people that allowed us to camp to get into trouble for their kindness. A story for another day, possibly. Anither time. It felt colder than Saturday, pulling the pegs for the Gram-counter Gear LiteHouse Solo. My hands were going numb and I had all my layers on. Brrrr. I don’t think it WAS colder. It just felt it. Gone were the clear blue skies and weak winter sun to be replaced with cold gun metal grey clouds. The breeze was still there, not helping matters. I was slower than Phil packing up, he had already legged it back to the car and the warmth of it’s heaters. I wasn’t long behind. Not a morning for hanging around. Hopefully it would clear. Even if the sun broke through just a little it would feel better.

Phil had the car started and the heaters on and his fingers were starting to get there feeling back. I just huddled in my layers hoping to heat up soon. Strange to be so cold after being so warm the night before in the Therm-A-Rest Haven bag. Once I had figured it out. It’s always the way, losing all the heat that you’ve accumulated in your own wee cocoon. We left and joined the road back to Ballantrae. A couple of bedheads not quite fully awake to the world yet but looking forward to another fun days walking. I was anyway.

Back in Ballantrae we stopped at the Spar to resupply. Phil bought another pie for lunch and a big steak pie for his dinner. They are local made pies and he was impressed with them from the day before. Phil knows a thing or two about pies. If he says its a good yin, it’s a good yin. I bought two bottles of Irn Bru. My weakness. Sweet sweet nectar. The true drink of the gods. I drink it by the gallon. However I’m not alone in that, just ask Barrs.

With breakfast washed down with half a bottle of Bru. I was ready for the day. No need to be carrying all the gear we had yesterday. Everything other than what was classed as essential got left in the boot. Basically we dumped all the gear in the car except food and liquid and the water proof jackets. We had parked back in the same car park on the Foreland. We crossed the road to where the way markers were indicating the path continued. I had kept my insulated jacket on over my wind shirt and I was glad of the extra heat. Added to that I had my hat on. This served two purposes; one, keeping my head warm, two, hiding the Mr Majeika bedhead from the night in the sleeping bag. Hopefully it would flatten out the ducks tails and coos lick I was sporting. Not that I was likely to bump into anyone I know but you never know, back in the land of my fathers’ and the county I grew up in. So vain.

We walked along the Foreland stopping occasionally to read the information boards. I love those boards especially if there made by the locals. Full of interesting little nuggets of local knowledge. From there we walked round to the harbour. It’s a picturesque wee thing like a lot of harbours up the west coast. It would look even better if it had some boats anchored in it’s lea. Maybe in the summer but it stood proud and strong against the sea, if a little lonely. The coastal path then becomes just that, a coastal path. You make your way along the shore. For us the tide was out but may have been on it’s way back in. The beach was made up of firm sand with patches of pebbles and stones. The common make up of the beaches here and great for walking on. Especially in your bare feet during the summer months. Beware though the sea can still be terribly cold even in the height of summer. Ah when I was a boy.

It’s a long beach and a longer walk than you think. One of those walks that you have to look behind you to see how far you’ve come as the head land and it’s cave doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. Something I was doing frequently. It was a good section to start on and stretch my stiff and unfit walking legs. About halfway along I had built up a head of steam and had to remove my insulated jacket. I didn’t want to over heat and build up too much sweat. Eventually or so it felt; not in a bad way, we came to the end of the beach. We made our way off up the path to where a marker gave us a choice. A take it at your own risk sort of offer. You could either follow the new road up and over the head land and down or the old road round but that was your decision. On your head be it. Personally it wasn’t a hard choice for me and Phil was of the same mind. The two of us were not for the long hard pull along the new road with trucks, lorries and cars speeding by. Added to the fact that there was no real view. It was agreed. We moved off over a small bridge and joined the old road that I remember more fondly from my younger days.

Snib Scott's Cave

On the old road here is a cave. A cave that I remember well but having never gone in. It took a cairn and Phil to remind me of the story. This particular one was where Snib Scott lived. Originally a banker from Dundee, he just chucked. Decided it wasn’t for him, this modern world and he wanted something simpler. Doesn’t get much simpler than being in a cave, living hand to mouth. He must have been happy as he lived for many many years. Phil went in for a look about. Too dark for me. I’m a big shite bag in the dark places. It wasn’t for me. Even now my hackles are on end just remembering it. I let big brave Phil explore. I just stood in the entrance. He switched on his heard torch and vanished into the back, the abyss. Void of light. To me it was a black hole sooking up all the light. Shiver. I don’t think Phil realised that if anything happened back there; like attacked by cannibals, dinner with the De’il or a fall, he was on his own. I would run and jump in the freezing sea before venturing into that particular hell of mine. However I may surprise myself, bite it down and go in there and drag him out. Never say never. Luckily nothing foul happened to Phil and he returned safe.

Snib Scott's Cave

Once the caving expedition was complete we ventured back on to the road and followed it’s gently curving incline round the head land. Much more sedate and enjoyable than the up hill slog on the new road. The old road has been claimed back by the local farmer and he’s using it for his own needs. It is weird though walking up a full proper road with no traffic. Even although you know there’s no cars you still find yourself looking around for traffic.

It was not long until we found ourselves in familiar territory, another river of coo shite and piss. Yep. We were back there again; well not quite physically, that was miles away on the other side of Ballantrae. Anither turgid, festering and stinking road of pish and shit. We had not long got rid of the stench from the day before. It was nowhere near as deep as the previously crap filled road but it was just as wide and just as long. That and another herd of cows; this time beef not dairy, stood between us and the top of the hill. I could see the look on Phil’s face and he didn’t look best pleased. I imagine mine to be similar but we laughed it off and got on with it. Skirting the slick road by way of the fence on the slightly higher ground and trying not to get entangled in the rusty old barbed wire. I didn’t fancy having to stop in at Ayr hospital on the way home to get myself a tetanus jab. Aye a jab not jag because it is like getting punched in the arm. It was almost like Total Wipe out on BBC1 but I didn’t fancy splashing down in that liquid road. That would not be funny.

On getting to the top of the hill we now had to join back up with the main road, the A77. Not the best having to walk along the verge. The views to our left were cracking but I can imagine it not being much fun in the height of summer. The coast road here can exceptionally busy. Nose to tail. We were lucky it was a Sunday in January and cold to go with it. At this point the road is all downhill and makes for easy walking and being high on the headland affords stunning views on a clear day. Northern Ireland, The Ailsa Craig, Mull of Kintyre and Arran. Mind you it has to an exceptionally clear day to see the hills of Northern Ireland.

It could be one of those places that if a car doesn’t get you, the cannibals might well. Oh? You don’t know we have cannibals in Ayrshire. Aye. They stay in caves along the shore at Bennane Point. That’s what I was lead to believe, my dad told the story of Swaney Bean like he was real and not some 200 year old tale. Used to scare us running round the beaches. It stopped my sister and I from venturing too far. Sawney Bean will get yi. Personally a great yarn invented by the smugglers that did use those caves, to keep folk out just in case the De’il wasnae awa’ wi’ th’ exciseman. It would take a brave man to go down there an’ face off against forty odd hungry rabid cannibalised Ayrshire folk. Just be like square in Cumnock when they kick the pubs oot on a Saturday night.

Down the Road

Having dodged the cars and avoided being boiled in a massive cauldron of human stovies or worse by Sawney Bean and his clan, we made it to Bennane and it’s very own five star spa. Not that Phil and I were about to go and get a pedicure. We don’t need such things. As we reached the spa, Phil stepped out of sight over the wall. I hadn’t notice him disappear from sight, I was too busy looking out to sea. The next thing I knew was  a shout of “Morning!”. It was a bit startling, no other soul was about or so we thought. I’m sure the De’il himself was woken, if not him then the dead. It brought me round from my day dreaming out at sea. As I jumped over the wall, I to was greeted with a shouty welcome. It was a guy coming out of the spa laden with towels. I returned the greeting but not as load and continued after Phil. He was checking to see if the walk continued on the beach. It didn’t, it still followed the road but had become a Tar McAdam(ed) path.

Kayaking in the bay

Now down at sea level barring a few feet. It was a straight walk into Lendalfoot. When I say straight I mean curvy. As we walked and talked on this easy part we noticed a keen sea kayaker. For keen read nutter. That’s what I was thinking. It was cold enough on dry land never mind out in the hypothermia inducing water. My face was nipping a bit with the cold and my nose was running like a dripping tap. Wat-iry snotters. Can’t image what it was like for him out there. Braver man than me. He must have had three Adam’s aipples. Wearing his baws as earrings. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do some sea kayaking but maybe not the back end of the winter in Scotland? I’m surprised the Ayrshire gulls never thought snack, dinner. Probably too cold for even them to bother.

Varyag Anchor

As we continued on we came across the memorial to the Varyag. Greatest of all the Russian warships. It ended up smashed on the rocks here. Not a fitting ending for such a famous battleship. Even if your driving by it’s well worth stopping off for a break and a walk about to read about the Varyag’s history. As well as to see the monument at the centre of the memorial. Real communist era Russian design. It is something to see. Impressive.

Monument to the Battle Cruiser Varyag

On the last short leg of this section and bit ahead of time, if I remember correctly. We came into the outskirts of Lendalfoot. Lots of unusual holiday homes. Built of wood in many different styles from Scandinavian to your simple hut with lean-to extension. These have been constructed over the years and it feels that Lendalfoot gets longer by the year. I’m not even sure if these are officially in the ‘village’ or not. Some are very nice indeed and couple I wouldn’t mind owning myself as they have wonderful views. Lucky people. In the village proper it was time to find the bus stop. It’s easy to tell when your in the actual ‘village’, it’s all old stone and white wash not bright pealing painted colours and wood.

Looking for the bus stop and finding none. Not like it can hide in Lendalfoot. One street and that’s the main road. The guide book said it was by the telephone exchange, a phone box to you and me. If it was, someone had forgot to put out the stop. Maybe they take it away and are laughing behind their net curtains. We walked to the edge of the village. The last hoose or the first depending what direction your coming. It was the auld Smiddy. Where we happened upon a man in a boiler suit painting some ceiling coving. Phil dispatched me and my local accent to ask where we could get the bus. With my one of my dad’s many favourite sayings ringing in my ears, “Ya’ve goat a gid scot’s tongue in yir heid, yase it!” Yes; I may have mental issues, hearing voices in my head. “‘scuse me chief” it might have been “sur”. Doesn’t matter either is acceptable in the local parlance. Onywiy. “Ya cudnae tell us whur the bus stoaps?”. Yes you always ask in the negative. Like he isn’t going to tell you.

Much to our surprise the gentleman spoke with a English accent. He informed us that the bus would stop anywhere on the main road. That made things easier so we parked ourselves down on a seating bench on the way into Lendalfoot. This gave us a easy view to see the bus coming and plenty of time to cross the road to stop it. We had nearly a couple hours to wait. Sunday service in operation, one bus every now and again. It was cold but you could see the clouds were breaking over the Mull of Kintyre and Arran was starting to appear out of the blue. Not a bad place to sit and wait.

Waiting for the Bus

Out came the extra insulating layers as it was biting now that we weren’t walking. Hoping that the clouds would get a move on and the sun would start to move closer to us and give what little heat it had to our cold bodies. Phil got tucked into his local pie and me my rolls then I cracked open the Irn Bru. It was now just a waiting game. Waiting for the bus but it wasn’t bad in the slightest, good views and good company. Eventually the bus arrived, guess the fare? One pound sixty five pence. Seems to be the standard fair. Same as it was Ballantrae to Glenapp. Then we were heading back to the car and home. Two brilliant days.

Leaving Lendalfoot