Tag Archives: Cumnock

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.

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.