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Blackhill

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Blackhill

I’ve moved to pastures new a while ago, further into South Lanarkshire. Deepest darkest Lanarkshire, back to the countryside. Or almost so, if it wasn’t for the rather large M74 next to the village. However saying that it’s all green fields, hills, woods and little glens nestled down next to the Nethan and a stones throw from the Clyde valley and all that it offers. A happier pig in mud could not be found and to my great delight was some pretty good hills not so far away. Tinto and Culter Fell being a couple of big ones within easy driving distance but also some hills virtually on my doorstep. One of those hills being Blackhill. It dominates the sky line because it’s so close. I see it everyday. Not the biggest by any stretch of your imagination. It stands at 951 of your good Scottish feet or 290 metres in the new money. A Scheduled Ancient Monument as well as being owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It’s not big and it’s not pretty but Blackhill is my local hill and at times I have it to myself. What’s not to like?
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Why’s it so special?

That’s easy. It’s has over 4000 years of history seeping up through the very grass and rocks of it’s sides. On the top under the OS trip pillar lies a Bronze age burial cairn. I’m not sure of it’s size but it’s pretty big. 20 metres across. Next it’s has an Iron Age fort and settlement attached with a number of platforms that could have been wooden round house. The fort and adjoining settlement take up the entire hill top. There’s ditches and protective walls running round the whole summit. There’s possibly a Roman road that runs across the foot of the hill that may have been part of a road that ran from Peebles to Castledykes on the other side of Lanark over to the Irvine valley down to Loudoun Hill. There’s archaeological records of standing stones. Apparently at one point it had a couple of standing stones, possibly three. One stone to the south at Clarkston Farm and definitely one but maybe two on the north side at Blackhill Farm. As well as evidence of Medieval occupation and field systems. It’s all going on. The National Trust have had it in their possession since 1936 when Messrs Robert Howie and Sons donated it to them and because of all the history it was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1969.
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The View

For this particular visit I had a bit of spare time and it was a crackingly clear afternoon and I fancied catching a sunset. I grabbed my camera and jumped in my walking gear. It’s only roughly a couple of miles from my house but to maximise my hill time I got in the car and set off for the little layby at the bottom of the hill. Once parked up I promptly marched to the top off the hill which started with a hop over a fence and stile. Then it was just a case of heading upwards following a farm track. There’s a big gate to pass through then your in the enclosure from this side you enter the settlement first and it’s pretty obvious from the trig pillar where you’re heading. Like it’s not the biggest or most challenging but once up it pays you back in spadefuls for the little effort you put in.
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The sunset was still probably a good hour off so I dumped by bag at the pillar and take out my down jacket and hat as it’s a bit baltic on top. There’s a good breeze going and it is December. What is lovely winter sunshine down by the road isn’t warm enough to heat up even at the top of this modest hill. Wrapped up I set of an wonder over the lumps and bumps wondering what it looked like before loads of the stone were robbed and the walls collapsed. Where the standings were. Were they lined up with something. Did they have anything to do with the fort or settlement. Trying to guess the path of the Roman through the much plowed fields. I’ve got my camera and I’m snapping away. The view’s are 360.

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I still don’t really have my bearings when it come to the hills I can see from here. Tinto is the obvious one, due south or there abouts. Apparently the massive cairn there and here are in alignment. It could be something or nothing or just a giant coincidence. With the trig pillar to my back, Lanark in a south easterly direction, I can only think it’s the big peaks of Mount Law, Bleak Law, Byrehope Mount and the rest I can see but I’m not sure. Over towards the west and to the south I can see Nutberry Hill, again I think it is. It’s all a bit alien to me. Supposedly further over to the west you can see Goatfell on a really clear day. That is one view I would love to catch.

By far the best view is to the north and west. It’s an amazing view and one my camera skills can’t quite do it justice, yet, I hope I will learn to. The Clyde valley opens up before you. All the big towns are there. Hamilton, Motherwell and Wishaw. As well as the famous big city of Glasgow. It’s beyond them that really takes your breath away. I have in one big swathe, the Arrochar Alps, The Cobbler and Beinn Ime and Narnian. Ben Lomond and it’s distinctive table like top, at ease standing proud. Then the full length of the Campsies. However it doesn’t stop there, the hills of the Trossachs and all the way to Ben Lawers. I’m pretty sure it’s Lawers. There is nothing taller then me in that direction. I have that feeling of being on the top of the world. I’m the only person here and the only one seeing this. I’m in deepest Lanarkshire and I can see all the way to the Southern Highlands. An absolutely stunning view for such a small bump. It’s special. I don’t think I will tire of this outlook. Yes, there’s turbines, towns and city in the road but brain filters those out. Maybe they actually help the view be better, making the hills and the natural stand out against the concrete and the man-made.

The Clyde herself is not to be out done. Up close she’s brown, fast flowing and a little bit tumultuous but from up here she’s serine, a silver blue steel metal ribbon winding a path to the sea

Best for last

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After my wanderings and musing I start to try and take some selfies. Not so easy with a dSLR or so I find. I’m a proponent of the @DavyWA, @petesy, @MThomson, @Rye1966 school of the outdoor selfie. Maybe they’ll run classes in the new year. However they do it so much better but it’s a good bit of fun. The sun is on it’s final leg to setting. Tinto has a crowning of grey cloud and little jacket of snow on his shoulders. It’s catching the sun beautifully and try to catch it the camera. Again I don’t do it justice but I’m happy that I’m there to see. Lanark too is looking pretty on the other side of the Clyde. Rooftops, church spires and glinting windows catching the last rays of the sun. Glasgow and the towns to the north are the same. The light is great. It’s crisp like the air. I can see mist gathering over towards the Stonehouse and Larkhall. It may over the Avon water. The river and the woods catching it and holding onto it. I’m looking north again and sure it’s Ben Lawers catching the sun, way, way, way north. Has to be. I turn west and watch the Nethan gorge turn dark as the sun hits the hills. The street lights of home start to light up and burn orange. By pure luck I turn right instead of left to circle round and look at Lanark again. I catch a sight that drops my jaw. The moon is rising over the hills. I have the top of the moon peeking above one set of hills and the sun disappearing over another set of hills. It’s almost perfectly aligned. Where I’m standing I’m the only person that can see this. I don’t know if I should take photographs or just watch. In the end I just watch and try to take photographs at the same time. Then it’s over. That special moment. The sun has gone and the moon is up. I linger on a bit in disbelief. I’ve never seen a sunset/moonrise as good as that ever. Even now I can’t adequately describe it. The photographs don’t either but I was there. The Blackhill really is a bit special in my opinion and any chance I get I walk up it. It never disappoints.

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You can find a full set of photographs on flickr, Blackhill.

Culter Fell, cloudy as hell

Culter Fell

Ever since I moved further out into South Lanarkshire I’ve been looking at walking Culter Fell (pronounced Cooter). I kept going to the circular route that’s on the walkhighlands website and also another walker that blogs, James Boulter (@bpackingbongos) posted a walk that he had done recently on Culter Fell. That really made me want to get out and do it. For the list tickers, Culter Fell sits on 3 list. It’s a Marilyn, Graham and a Donald. It’s the highest point it South Lanarkshire at 748 metres or 2244 of good Scot’s feet so that should make for a good view. It is also part of the Southern Uplands. What’s not to like.

An opportunity presented itself so with the blessing of my wife I was off early Saturday morning. I set the alarm for 0630 ZULU. Up and out the door before the house wakes up. My bag was at the door ready and packed. The only thing I didn’t have was a map of the area. I had a thought to stop at the motorway services at Abington and pop into the WH Smiths and pick one up. Off I went chucking everything in the car and joined the M74 at the ‘gow. I doesn’t take long to get to the Abington junction from Blackwood. I was at the services before I really had time to think. Parking up I wasn’t very impressed with sky, clouds hanging low and heavy but it was breezy and the clouds were moving fast. I was hopeful for clear skies and good vistas.

The service station was busy even at this early hour and with half the concessions were closed at that. I made my way through to the WH Smiths and their books/map section. After scanning the shelf a few times it was becoming pretty clear that they didn’t have the map I was after, the Ordnance Survey Explorer 336, Biggar & Broughton, Culter Fell & Dollar Law or even the Landranger 72, Upper Clyde Valley would have done. I think I could have had any map for the rest of Scotland and the Lake District that morning. A little put off but unperturbed. I’ve got OS maps for all of southern Scotland on my iPhone. It’s just nice to have a back up. Since I was at the services I grabbed myself a roll and sausage. It would have been not to. Extra Fuel for the engine. After stuffing my face and costing myself a small fortune in the process. I jumped back in the motor and headed along the road towards Biggar. A map is cheaper than a meal at a service station.

The village of Coulter is only a few short miles along the A702, parts of which apparently follow the route of a Roman road. I drove into Coulter and turned right where the 702 turns left at about 90 degrees and heads for Biggar. There’s a small junction on the corner. This road takes you past the new primary school and out towards the reservoir. The road is marked as a dead-end but it’s a few miles before you need worry about that. I followed the single track always mindful of other cars driving towards me especially around some of those twisty bends. However it wasn’t cars I needed to be worried about but sheep. A few yowes had squeezed under a fence or through a hole hugging the banks next to the road and getting skittish as I approached. Always makes for fun driving trying not to play dodgems with the yowes. Don’t think the fermer would be happy.

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I continued along the single track road until it forked at Birthwood and Culter Allers Farm just before the public road ends. I swung the car around as the road was wide enough. I was now facing back the way I came. Just in case I need to make a quick getaway. Getting out the car I looked up towards Culter Fell, only not to see it as it was covered in cloud. I was there so there was nothing left to do but get on with it, in the hope the cloud would clear. I grabbed my new hand made wooden walking stick. My dad makes walking sticks of all styles, types of wood, horn and antler handles. I opted for a plain stick that felt good in my hand and light with a vee notch at the top. I swung the rucksack on and headed off along the road. As I went I set up ViewRanger on the phone to record my track so I could upload it later. Airplane mode and locking the SIM to save the battery and only use the GPS. I stuck the phone in my pocket.

I crossed a cattle grid and the road started to climb slightly. I was on the look out for a small burn that the road crosses as after that the path I was to take started on the left. As I wandered along the road looking for the path taking in the glen, I heard the cattle grid rumble and rattle with what sounded like a quad bike coming my way. I waited until the noise of the diesel engine got closer and stepped off the road and turned to see a JCB Workmax with the fermer and his sheepdug in the passenger seat rather than the quad bike I had suspected. We exchanged a couple of nods and a wave has he drove away.

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There was no need to worry about spotting the path as it’s pretty obvious where it starts. It starts off nice and gentle before it picks up a mean gradient. It’s a very clear track to follow up Fell Shin and you soon pick up some great height and the views down the glen back towards Coulter are great. From here though the reservoir is hidden. Views above 600m still weren’t looking good with all the cloud but the wind was still brisk and the clouds were moving fast. I still had some hope of clear tops. I was fascinated by some really old ancient looking stone structures almost kist like in their construction minus the coping stone. Such wonders these are as the followed the path up the hill. Amazing, what was their significances? Who built them? Bronze age, Iron Age? It was also amazing that in some places due to the lee of the land or the way the wind was blowing all of a sudden I would walk into a small pocket of calm. Maybe only for a couple of steps but it was like walking through a door into another room. All of sudden silence and then you would pick up the sound of birds singing and the grouse calling. No wind whistling. I found myself stopping and listening every time I stepped into one of theses areas.

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I turned back to look down the line of the fank like things and noticed some crazies. Hill runners, crazies to me. Why would you want to waste a perfectly good hill walk by running. Not me. It didn’t take long from the to catch me. I was taking my time and enjoying the walk. As they got closer, I moved out their road on the track to let them pass. We said our mornings. I asked is this a regular thing for them, the answer was yes. Crazies. The one at the back walked with me for a bit, talking. I think he was trying to get his second wind. I asked what route they were taking and what I had hoped to do. Weather permitting. The 3 of them run these hills most weekends. See crazies. The route is a good one and the views great on a clear day. Here’s hoping I said, with that he picked up his pace and went to catch the other 2 crazies, I mean his 2 buddies. It wasn’t long before the 3 of them were out of sight and over the top of Fell Shin. Once gone I got back to my structures. Was it coincidence that pockets where the wind dropped was round most of these stones I wondered. It wasn’t till I got home that I found out there was nothing magical about them. Just some old unloved grouse butts. Obvious now looking back. Jeezoh, I got carried away with myself.

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The wind had gone from breezy to a severe buffeting. Nothing drastic, 3 pints of the stellar tortoise on an empty stomach as I crested Fell Shin and up on to Culter Fell properly. There’s a single solitary wooden post here just off to the left of the path. It’s purpose is definitely a mystery to me. One for Scooby Doo and his mystery bus. I took a walk over to check it out and to my surprise a pair of glasses were hanging from it and for a while by the nick they were in Well weathered. Some poor soul had lost their reading glasses and some good soul had stuck them on the post to be found. From there I headed over to a small marker cairn. Here the clouds were drifting across the front of me and up ahead the track was disappearing into some heavy clouds and no views. If I turned my back on the clouds I had good views over to Tinto and the hills otherside the glen, Dod Hill and Hillshaw Head above the reservoir. Luckily the clouds were hiding the majority of the large turbines over there. The closer ones keeked in and out of the drifts. There was some pluses to all the cloud.

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I turned around and head off in the direction of the cloud and the top of Culter Fell or so I hoped. I decided that it would be a good idea to get the phone out hand have a check. I’m really glad I did. The battery was hovering on 21% and I hadn’t even been out for more than a couple of hours. I can only assume that ViewRanger and iOS7 don’t get on very well or it’s how I have my settings in ViewRanger pinging away. This wasn’t going to end well. No paper map and phone not long from flat and me somewhere I had never walked before. Decisions were going to have to be made. Go on or go home. I knew I wasn’t too far from the summit. I could see that from the screen on the iPhone. As the 20% battery warning popped up. I took out my compass and took a bearing. You can’t beat the Silva 1-2-3 style of navigation. Get me doing a bit of proper navigating. Kind of. Compass in hand a followed the path towards the cloud and hoped for the best and the path would hold true. Worse case I would just turn round and head back the way I came. No blood, no foul.

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In the cloud I had the feeling of the distance expanding but my view contracting, almost like time was standing still. Gone were the birds and grouse. Just myself and me with the wind ringing in my lugs. As the steepness levels out here to a gentle incline towards the summit of Culter Fell, the ground is no longer hard but wet and boggy mire. Lots of standing water and a faint track that was flitting in and out. Check the compass, check the path or check the compass and hold to the reading and hope to pick the track up. This really slowed down the last few hundred metres. Felt like I had walked an extra mile, the time it had taken. Eventually the trig point and the summit top of Culter Fell started to solidify out of the cloud. My compass reading had been good and the path had stayed true most of the way. Had I missed the pillar I would have walked into a fence.

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I hung about for a bit had a bar of chocolate and big long slug of water. I tried my hand a taking a few selfies with dSLR; set the timer, run for the count of ten, hope for the best. I really need more practice at this. Some just looked terribly out of focus. There is no shelter to speak of, that or it was hiding in the cloud and the wind was at it’s buffeting best and the view non-existent. My phone was flat so I wasn’t going to attempt to find the path for the circular route I had planned. A the best laid plans o’ mice and men. A bit of a downer. It was what it was. Time to reverse my bearing and head back the way I had come. Culter Fell wasn’t going anywhere. I can come back. I picked up my walking stick that was resting against the trig pillar and started singing to myself;

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the streets
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the lassies say hello
Donald, where’s your troosers

morphed into….

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the hills
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the grouse say chut, chut, chutttttt
Tookie, where’s your troosers?

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I wasn’t even wearing a kilt. Plenty of grouse shouting on the lower slopes though. I’m a bit daft in the heid at times. Chanting away to myself it was long before I was back down below the cloud and the world opened back up to me no longer enveloped in cotton wool, enjoying the pockets of quiet on the way down as I had on the way up. After sauntering around for a bit I was back on the road and in the car heading for home.

The full set of photgraphs can be seen over on my flickr set, here

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of new friends

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This is old, the dust has settled and more than likely the snow has melted so what better time to look back at a cracking weekend in the Arrochar Alps? It’s taken me awhile to sort out my notes and photographs with family life and work taking priority as always, however it’s done. I’m now setting it free from languishing in draft edit hell. I’m sure Dante would have a invented a new circle specifically for trip reports, probably after Limbo. Hopefully I can add something to the excellent posts that have already hit the interwebs. I’m probably the last to post about this and remember this is how I remembered it.

Petesy put a shout out for those that were interested in a meet up. I checked if I could get a pass. It was granted. I replied and was accepted. Then what followed can only be described was a hailstorm flurry of emails. Questions, requests, sizes, dates, all sorts flying around. Out of all the emails another thread appeared, that it might be a good idea to have a pre meet meet in Glasgow for those that could manage it. Any excuse to skip out of work for a bit is always good.

Friday trotted along and I nipped out to Tiso on Couper Street not too far from my work. I arrived at the appointed time and had a quick shifty round the gear. Well you can’t go and not have a look. Gear freaks can’t, there are plenty office types that stop off for something to eat in the excellent cafe. After that I headed up the stairs to the cafe. Reaching the top. I sent a message to Steve and Phil to let them know I was there. Looking up I saw Phil, not that Phil but another Phil, wave at me. I headed over to the table and the rest of the guys that had turned up. At the table was Michael, Phil, Petesy and John. After that other folks started to turn up and I’m not sure of the order but my friend Steve was definitely next, after that Del, Tom, Davy and Phil, that Phil not the other Phil, he was already there. Remember? Lots of names and lots new faces. I’m sure there were more but I’m not sure. So much to talk about and so many conversations going on. It was a really good hour and I was sad to have to leave. I hadn’t seen Steve since the Cairngorms and it was the same with Phil, so much had passed and too little time to catch up.

The day arrived. I was up and out early-ish. Left the family sleeping. Not that the little one would be sleeping long, she’s not one for the long lies yet. First stop was the petrol station. I always enjoy the drive up to Loch Lomond and beyond. It is always a drive full of anticipation and some fear, especially taking the road to Arrochar. It’s not for the faint hearted. The drive was great and pleasant. I arrived in plenty of time thinking that I would be the first there. How wrong was I. Turning into that car park I instantly recognised Sandy’s infamous/famous big green Land Rover Defender. Parked waiting. I drove up and introduced myself. John was also there, he rolled up first. After the handshakes I drove off to find a parking space.

Once I had parked Michael drove in and parked next to me. As he got out I was checking through my stuff and realised I didn’t have a shell! Never assume it makes an ass out of you and me but mostly me. I had only been boasting in the Tiso car park at how I would be fine. Everything was in the car. No packing for me. Yeah except my waterproof shell that I had used to go from the car to the house the previous couple of days. Not good with the weather that was forecast. Too late now to worry. Hopefully someone would have a spare jacket. Michael reckoned so and if not there maybe one to test. Fingers crossed. The car park was starting to fill up. Mostly with people who were here for the meet , it would seem. Michael and I made our way back to John and Sandy.

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As we ambled over John had started to ask sizes and had opened up his Aladdin’s cave, also known as the boot of his car. It was now a proper gear fest. Everyone was having a good feel and look at what he had brought for us all to test. Loads of gear. Montura, Leki, Hillsound, X-Bionic to name a few. Then Ollie and Katja arrived with more. They brought along Big Agnes and Granite Gear. Folks must have been wondering what was going on. Filling your boots out the back of two cars. I went away with 2 Montura jackets, a shell and an insulating one, a onesie base layer from X-bionic as well as a share in a tent a sleeping bag and insulating mat all from Big Agnes. She’s a wee darling.

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By now everyone had turned up, we had a fools compliment; Kelvin, Richard, Del, Davy, Michael, John, Tom, Arthur, Heather, Ollie, Katja, Phil, Petesy and of course myself. Petesy turned up last. Apparently this is not unusual. Everyone was now packing, packing and repacking. I went through two rucksacks trying to find one that I liked and fitted well enough. Finally settling on a test version of the Karrimor X-Lite from Petesy. A 45l + 10 in nice bright turquoise blue. Just what I need to go with my bright green test jacket. I’m generally happy with more subtle colours but what the hell. It was all turning out to be too much fun. I also managed to get a loner of an ice axe from Heather, she had spare. I don’t own one. Come on, I’m an Ayrshire boy, if I’m seen with an axe I’m liable to be lifted by the polis! Plus our hills are not high enough for snow. Supposedly.

I was packed and ready, eventually. It was time to head out, 15 of us in total, 15 on day release from the Ailsa or the weirdest looking D of E group. We were getting funny looks. Honestly it was that bad, it may have been all the bright clothing. Kelvin was particularly guilty. John was giving tips on walking with poles. Me I didn’t take a set. For some reason my brain can’t coordinate two pole walking. Just doesn’t happen. I look like I’m trying to ski. I’m better off with just one but even then I walk like a fermer with a shepherd’s crook. All in all only a slightly better look. We set off across the road and up the path through the woods. The hills were calling. It was my kind of walking. That was to say it was stop start and lots of talking. Everyone asking questions, getting to know each other. The banter was brilliant. All good fun.

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The weather was being typically Scottish, that’s to say it was throwing everything at us. Kitchen sink and set of wardrobes to boot. At times the wind was like taking a booting. Sun, rain, hail, snow, bright skies, clouds but almost constantly the wind. Howling, blowing, buffeting and battering. It couldn’t do nothing though to dampen the atmosphere. I think it could have done its worst and we would all have still been happy. We all continued on higher out past the trees and onto the hills above.

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The decision came down that it was plan B for the camp spot. Shelter in amongst the Narnain boulders as best we can out of the biting wind. We had already paired for those that were sharing tents and Davy was going to be my oppo. Ollie was making his way round everyone helping with the pitching of the tents. He being the expert with Big Agnes. He’d been out with her lots. Dirty stop out. The tent had some very interesting short poles and stuff and by all intents and purposes was made as a lightweight two man trail tent for the American market. I do believe at the time Davy and I were a little skeptical about this and the current Scottish weather. It was not California but more on that later.

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Things did not get off to a good start. Looking in you have though that none of us had pitched a tent before, a honless trio in the blustering gales. To top it off Ollie managed to catch the base of the tent on Davy’s ice axe. To be fair the wind caught it but still. Rrrrrriiiiipppp. You know that noise. That dreaded noise, like bending over in a too tight pair of dress trousers. Luckily all the tents came with a field repair kit so once we had the tent up and lashed down tight we applied a big patch over the hole.

Our problems at that time were far from over though. The wind was picking up something terrible and the tent bowing heavily in it. Then when it sprang back against the gust it was popping the stake. This was not boding well till Davy had a spark of genius. We staked that corner with the ice axe. Like to see it pop that. We did have visions if the wind kept up that tent would blow back down to Arrochar and all that was left was the axe and some torn fabric flapping in the wind. Please, no, but it seemed to shore everything up and gave us a bit more confidence. Hopefully it would last the night.

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It was almost, I say almost like an Everest basecamp. Tents dotted all over the place; all different shapes and sizes, all taking a severe buffering from the wind. Really severe. Concave instead of convex. It was cool view. Others were still trying to get their tents pitched so Davy and I made our way round the others to help out. Another set of hands is also good especially at that time. That’s when I found Heather trying to boil water for her dinner while holding on to a corner of her tent that was doing the same as what Davy and I had. I applied our tried and tested fix from earlier. The ice axe stake. Not really sure that it would pass muster on a HSE risk assessment but it was doing the job again. My good deed for that day done and Heather now being able to cook with both hands I left her in peace to eat.

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Walking back through the snow, I starting to think that dinner was a good shout. Get something warm inside and start to heat my core back up. Davy was obviously of the same mind as he was preparing his cooking gear. He said we was going to use his stove in the porch of the tent. Leaving Davy to set fire to the tent. I traipsed off looking for a sheltered place out the wind to fire up my stove and get the water boiling. The cold was really starting to bite now and I had stupidly taken an age to put my gloves on. I have hons like a fermer, rough as a badgers erse at the best of times. However they had started to go waxy and split at the creases not good. Nippy wee bastarding splits. I had not noticed them going cold and had let it go a bit too far. I eventually found a spot down next to Kelvin and Richard. I got the stove fired up and the water on for the dehydrated meal. Using this time to get some heat back in my hands and have a good chat with Kelvin and Richard. Everyone it seemed was packing on the calories. Double meals and we were no different hunkered down behind one of the big boulders.

As the light began to fade we finished up and made our way back into the wind to join the others. Happy to see no black fireballs in the distance. I trudged back through the snow to the tent. Somewhere along that 30 or so metre walk I managed to drop my spork. Raging. I didn’t notice it till I was back at the tent putting my cooking gear away. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail, some lucky person was going to find a nice titanium spork when the snows melted. Bastard. If you find it, it’s mine.

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After all the four seasons of earlier the night sky was really clear and the stars were out in force. There was still the big massive orange light spill in the distance from Glasgow but luckily we were so far away it wasn’t interfering with our view above our heads. It’s something that I wish I was better at; in fact it’s something I was I could do, take long exposures at night. It’s not like my dSLR is not capable. It’s just that I haven’t got it down yet. It was a great time, everyone was mingling and chatting,standing around marvelling at the skies. We were like some cult waiting on aliens landing faces turned skyward looking for the flying saucers. Not quite invaders from Mars.

During the star gazing we noticed a couple of torches coming up the burn on the opposite side of the path. Beams flashing left and right as if they were looking for something. The never really got close enough or came across to see us. Not likely to miss us in the dark. Fifteen or so head torches can be pretty bright. We all got to wondering, someone lost their keys, MRT out on exercise, MRT checking us out? Who knows?

The wind was still strong and with what sun there was gone the temperature really started to drop quickly. People were starting to feel the cold and started to drift off to their tents and sleeping bags. I wasn’t the first but I heard Davy shout on me and he said he was heading off to bed. Not wanting to clambering over him later as I had the inside spot I decided it was as good a time as any to turn in. I got myself settled and into my little bit of camp life luxury. I stuck on my hand knitted woollen MountainGoat gear beanie hat. Lovely, soft and warm. Ideal for sleeping. It might not like getting wet but it is sure ideal for the inside of the tent.

I was in square cut down bag and mat from Big Agnes which took a bit of time to get warmed up. Eventually I had to stuff insulated jacket and gilet down the bottom which cut the air space down. I’m not the biggest wee guy on the planet and I’ve found that trick works every time. With less air to heat up it was long before I was toasty and out for the count. Never been one to have a hard time sleeping even with the wind doing its best impression of a gale. There was a fair old bit of movement in the trail tent but what the hey, I’d worry about that if I had to. Sleep came quickly.

At some point in the night the wind had stopped when I’m not sure. I stirred around first light to all peace and quiet in this part of the world. Not sure if Davy had been awake long or most of the night but he was up. He had had a cold night and bit restless but when he had slept he was fine. It was cold out. Really cold. That way you didn’t want to get out the sleeping bag. I’m pretty sure there were a few brass monkeys running around looking for their baws. However we were greeted with a clear beautiful sky. Sun just rising. Rosy fingered dawn was about show her hand. They’re special mornings, I think lying in your sleeping bag watching the sun pop above the peaks. I was a great view.

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However, it ends all too soon and you have to make a move. Nature calls or some sort of personal admin has to be looked after. Luckily having stuck my insulating layers in the sleeping bag I wasn’t having to put on cold clothes. Saving my body the jolt of camp cold. I have no idea of how cold it was in degrees but I do know the water from inside the tent was freezing to a couple of inches as soon as it hit the pan for heating up. I’m sure someone would know how cold it would have to be for that to happen. Obviously below zero. The camp was starting to come alive. Some were already up and eating breakfast, others just stirring. Everyone was looking forward to the day ahead.

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I remember while eating breakfast watching Del go for morning run up the hill. He was keen I thought. Chasing deer. Michael was also up and out early. He was up high talking photographs. Davy and I were amazed that such a light tent had made it through the night. The Copper Spur UL2 was a surprising beast, don’t judge a book by its cover. Talked turned from how the gear had performed last night to where to go today. Personally I was happy to go with the majority. I had been many years since I had been on the Cobbler. I remember it being a good climb with great views. The general consensus was for the Cobbler with I think only Sandy looking to climb up Ben Narnain but in true peer pressure, group bullying style he soon had his arm twisted and under threat of a nipple twister relented and decided to join the rest of us.

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Again we headed out en masse. The loonies had left the asylum for awhile at any rate. We headed further up the path towards The Cobbler. It amazes me in the summer how many people attempt hills in unsuitable gear in winter it just looks plain crazy. We were looking less like the loonies after passing some nutters. No gear to speak of, seriously. It’s a wonder the MRT guys are not busier. Really really crazy people taking some awful risks out there. One a couple of occasions I was slack jawed in surprise. It was crampon and axe work not up the gym in trainers stuff. Ice, inches thick and light non compacted fluffy snow in places. There’s no telling the fools.

Other than the crazies it was a great walk up. The views down the Ayrshire coast and the Firth of Clyde. All the down to the Ailsa Craig and if you can see the Ailsa you can see the old grey man, well the Merrick anyway and some of the Southern Uplands. The vista was fantastic. The Ochill Hills, Argyll and Cowal, the Hunterston power station, not so great but you can’t miss it. Arran, Cumbrae, the list goes on just like the horizon. Usually I’m down there looking up towards these hills so it was great to see it from this side. It had been a long time since I had been on The Cobbler. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. I was tailend charlie as usual, John was keeping me company along with Heather. I don’t think they were buying the short legged excuse. I’m not sure anybody does anymore.

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Eventually on top between the two peaks it was a different beast. All the way up we had been sheltered by the bulk of the hill. On there with no protection the biting wind was back and it was cold. We all huddled together in a big group. Sometimes being smaller has its advantages I could hide behind the bigger guys and get a break from the wind. The talk was of left peak or right peak. Many moons ago and almost in another life I’ve done both so I wasn’t really bothered. I was enjoying the view. Heather and John had already said they were just going to head back down. Not wanting to break up the group as I had really enjoyed their company on the way up I opted to go with them and left the others to their decisions. After a quick refuelling bite to eat we headed off back down.

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If I thought the way up was impressive for idiots on the slopes coming down was just as good. More nutters trying to get up without the correct gear. I subtle hints on conditions went unheeded. Words like slippery, icy, etc went over their heads. I was really glad to have the HillSound crampons. They were very good once I gotten used to wearing them. I was instilled with a bit of confidence especially when on the ice. How the people in just boots were managing not to break ankles and necks I will never know.

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I don’t think the others tarried long as some of the mountain goats started to catch us up before the bottom. By the time I was back on the path everyone had caught up with me. Once we were off the hill it was time to pack up and head back to the cars. I think everyone was like me and very reluctant to go. It was a slow walk back enjoying everyone’s company. It had been a great couple of days. Everyone was on great form. It was brilliant to meet others in person rather than online and for everyone to get on. There was a lot to take away from the experience. One I must remember to take more photographs of the gear next time. Two, to make friends with shared interests and have future plans to look forward to. Oh and three not forgetting the gear, it was good to get access to stuff you would never normally but most of all the people. Happy days.

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Photograph courtesy of Michael Thomson

Promises made and promises broken. I said I was going to post more often and I haven’t but less of my moaning, lets have a quick look at more gear. Like the other post, that you can see here Montura Magic G Active Shell, I have to qualify this review as more of a first look as I only had the jacket for a couple of days as part of a meet Petesy organised. These are my initial views and thoughts. Remember what works for me and what I like might not be for you or be to your liking.

There was a lot on offer to test and next up was the insulated gear. Down as well as synthetic jackets. I went for for the Skisky by Montura. For those that haven’t at a look at my last post about Montura Magic G Active shell, Montura are an Italian outdoor apparel manufacturer. Their website is under construction at the moment and can be found here at http://www.montura.it/

The jacket was red and black a more of a colour combination that I would go for, personally. The outer shell is made from TS165, a PU (polyurethane) coated polyester taslan that is very water resistant. It was mainly red with the black being on usual wear points, the shoulders, back and elbows. The hood was also black. The filling is about 40g of PrimaLoft. I’m not sure of the overall weight of the jacket but it didn’t feel excessively heavy.

Again my first impressions like that of those for Magic G were good. Another really well put together jacket. Even for a sample this was very good. No loose threads. The jacket had some very nice features which made you think that they had really thought about the little details that make a difference during the design process. The ones that really caught my eye were the lined hand warming pockets, two large long, Sigg bottle shaped internal pockets and my favorite, the long thick ribbed elasticated cuffs with monkey thumbs. Essentially turned the bottom of the sleeves into fingerless gloves. I really do like thumb holes on sleeves. It also meant that wearing your gloves over the cuffs meant that you are effectively sealing out the drafts and the cold. The hood was interesting as it wasn’t really adjustable in the true sense but was made from an elastic fabric which kept it tight to your head. The recommended retail price for the jacket is £195 should someone in the UK decide to stock it.

Once on the fit of the jacket was again accommodating, like the hard shell I had. This meant there would be no problem getting a fleece below for some extra insulation if needed. There was plenty of freedom of movement. I wasn’t restricted in anyway and the hem didn’t ride up as can sometimes happen when stretching. After that quick initial wear in the car park the jacket got packed away in the rucksack until later. It compressed down reasonably well into one of my small dry bags. As soon as we got to our camp spot it was the first thing out the bag. It was getting really cold, with the snow and wind blowing. You all probably know that when you stop moving, you start losing heat really fast. No problems with this jacket. I was snug while pitching the tent.

The next day I decided to give the jacket another go, this time in a more active scenario. We had all decided to climb The Cobbler and with it being cold and the stop start nature of my climbing, due to my fitness and wanting to take loads of photographs. I thought it would be ideal for this jacket. The jacket was good at no time on the entire climb was I too warm or felt wet on the inside and I never got cold when I stop for extended periods, either to talk to the others, take photographs or mostly just to catch my breath

I couldn’t pick fault with this jacket, I really liked and wished I didn’t have to give it back. I thought it was a very good insulated jacket. I would love to have it in pack for winter. I really liked the fit and the comfort and the warmth. Just a shame no-one in the UK seems to be stocking them.

Montura Magic G Active Shell

Montura Magic G Active Shell

Photograph courtesy of Michael Thomson

I have to qualify this review as more of a first look as I only had the jacket for a couple of days as part of a recent meet Petesy organised. These are my initial views and thoughts. Remember what works for me and what I like might not work for you or be to your liking.

The shell that I was given, volunteered to in the car park was the Montura Magic G Active shell. Montura are an Italian outdoor clothing manufacturer that I couldn’t find that much about. They have a website that’s under construction but by all accounts they are an up and coming company doing well over in Italy and that side of the Alps.

The jacket was a very bright green, not sure if it’s an attractive colour but it would certainly get you noticed. For those of you who don’t know Active shell is a new fabric from GORE-TEX® and it’s a bit of an enigma, some people love it and others hate it. According to the official bumph from GORE-TEX® the jackets engineered from the fabric are built to provide durable water and wind protection as well as extreme breath-ability. The Ret value for the material is less than 3. The fabric is a 3 layer construction and lighter in weight to deliver excellent comfort when being worn next to the skin. The garments are ideal for highly aerobic activities like mountain biking, fast alpine ascents and trail running. They also claim that garments made with Active Shell will have a maximum weight of 400 grams. The test jacket weighs in at 307g according to Montura. I’m not sure if that was for the size medium that I had or for the largest jacket they sell.

My first impressions were very good on having just been handed the jacket straight out the boot a car. I was very impressed with the quality. It did also feel very light in my hand and the fabric was very soft and subtle to the touch. With a more robust feeling version of Active Shell on the top of the arms and shoulders. The classic rub points. It was a well put together jacket. The quality was very evident, no loose threads or badly taped seams that I could see. Nothing extravagant, just a couple of hand pockets and a hood, no toggle adjustments. The cuffs, hood and hem were elasticated. The hood had a Velcro volume adjustment at the back. There are reflective strips on the hem and around the jacket and the logo. On the cuffs it had a couple of elasticated thumb loops which I thought was interesting, I do like thumb loops on tops. It also had robust waterproof zip with a really big storm flap behind it. The expected retail price in the UK is £185.

The fit of the jacket was quite accommodating for a medium including my beer belly which is fine in my opinion as it means you can get a layer, or 2 at push below the waterproof shell, like an insulating jacket or fleece. Maybe that’s what they call an active fit. I was very nice on, it felt as light as they claim and my initial hand hefting. There was good movement in the arms and torso.It was one of those days and the jacket got all sorts of weather thrown at it; snow, rain, sleet and wind, a really strong driving wind. A typical west of Scotland day. I’m not sure how it would cope in extended periods of rain over a few days. However I was fine in the jacket and felt that the fabric was breathing well as I wasn’t wet or damp even with all the exertions my unfit body was going through pulling up the track to the Cobbler and it was coping really well in the wind as well.

The only thing that I could pick fault with and fault is not the right word. It was more of an annoyance I found that because the hem of the jacket was elasticated it would and could ride up. The thumb loops worked well, keeping the sleeves down over the cuff of my gloves and therefore sealing out the drafts. The hood was good, not sure how it would deal with a helmet but was fine over my watch cap and I had no issues with the fabric. All in all I had a great time in and found nothing wrong with a very well made jacket from a brand I hadn’t heard of before. Very impressed indeed.

Cairngorm Kippers – yes please

In the clouds...

A Cairngorms Weekend Part 3

If you haven’t already you can read part 1 here, The Fantastic Four head to Aviemore? and part 2 here, Am Fear Liath Mor – The Grey Man and remember this how I remember it, not necessarily how that others do.

I slept another great sleep. I think I woke up once due to the wind, I think. I was hunkered down on top of my mat inside my sleeping bag and bivy. Nice, toasty and warm. I could see out the TrailStar and it was looking grey dreich and some what colder than the day before. Making it all that bit harder to break cover and leave my nice warm hole but needs must when the De’il drives. Personal admin to take care off and breakfast to sort. On with insulating layers and out into the cauld it was. Everyone was coming to life getting ready however if it was anything like Saturday morning both Steve and Colin had been awake for a good bit before Phil or I.

After getting stuff sorted the rest of the guys were getting stuck into nice big breakfasts and coffee. I must admit I’m not one for eating first thing in the morning. I had myself a nice little granola bar and some water. I’ve not been a great eater in the morning for along time, save for when I’m staying at a hotel or B&B. I can always be tempted by a full Scottish or kippers and a poached egg. Not like that was going to happen below the shelter stone.

After breakfast we got everything packed up and packed away. Taking care not leave anything behind. We did a walk over all the places we had been. Nothing left but the flat grass where we had slept. Leaving our spot we walked up towards the head of the glen, Hell’s Lum Crag and the path that we had talked about the previous day. We had to cross the Allt Coire Domhaim then follow it up on it’s right hand side and onto plateau. Not marked on the OS map but the track is very visible on the ground.

Stepping stones across another burn. Managing to keep my feet dry only to get one wet by sticking it straight in a yard of saturated moss. Squelch indeed. Thankful for the thick merino wool socks and trainers. Knowing that initial short sharp hit of freezing cold will be gone in a couple of steps. After that the ground started to rise steeply and the path with it. If I thought yesterday’s ascent was steep, this is vertical or so feels according to my legs. Every step massive, my knees are scraping my chin. Not quite but you get the idea but in some crazy perverse way I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the effort, the ever changing view. It’s great.

We’re all walking at our own pace now. Well; Phil, Colin, Steve, are walking the same gait. I’m tail-end charlie. Not that I’m bothered, I just hope the others aren’t too. They are like a magnet pulling me on. Struggling to get back up and on to the plateau. Climbing higher and higher. Every step felt like that of a giant. Like the stairs were cut for a Formorian. I was stopping ever more frequently. A combination of checking the view and grabbing a rest. It was a great view down the loch. I wasn’t out of breath just physically tired. My body was running on empty and I hadn’t noticed. At times we were in touching distance of the burn and especially some spectacular small water falls rushing down to Loch A’an. Every now and then I would see Phil’s head pop out from above to make sure I was still there. I’m sure I was still smiling. I was for all the effort, smiling on the inside. It was great to be outside. The tiredness and effort well worth it.

Once at the top the guys were waiting for me. Apparently it was my turn to lead. I’m sure we had tried that yesterday. The first thing I noticed immediately was that there was no views. Colin pointed me in the direction that had been decided. I was feeling pumped, one stop short of burst. The climb had taken more out of me than I had expected. Onwards towards the centre of the plateau we headed. Every now and then I would hear to your left or right from one of the guys behind. The ground was pretty flat and I was stumbling and slowing down again. We stopped for 5, probably by my instigation. At this point Phil sidled up next to me an asked how I was feeling. My answer was, I was still enjoying myself but was feeling a bit knackered. The climb had taken a good bit out of me. Then he asked what I had for breakfast. I don’t think he was too impressed with my answer but he was looking out for me. He told me get something down my throat. My body was needing it. It must have been pretty obvious to them. I chewed a protien bar and some jelly beans washing it down with some water.

It actually took me an age to realise that we were virtually in the same area as we had been yesterday. I usually have a good sense of direction and place. I’m glad that Phil, Colin and Steve were on the ball cause if they were relying on me we would have been in a little bit of trouble. Not really like me but probably had a lot to do with my tired body and mind and me not feeding it properly as well as my general fitness levels. I took a lot out my body the previous day and in the morning, climbing. It’s easy done and I won’t be doing that again. I’ll be forcing down a big breakfast next time. Give myself a chance with having the boiler stoked at the very least. As regardless of your state of fitness, if you don’t have the energy your body can’t do anything. I put myself a little out of my depth and luckily I had good friends with me. I supposed sometimes that you need the obvious pointed out and I’m happy the three of them were experienced enough to give me that nudge. Lesson learned.

Energy stores replenished for a bit we headed off. The sugar rush must have kicked in as I was feeling better after my force feeding. If I thought the wind was strong yesterday it was nothing compared to today. It had definitely climbed a couple of pints on the Stella scale so much so I was having to stop and physically brace myself against it. Walking pole out in front, leaning on it, leaning into the wind. The views up on the plateau had changed, fleeting and far between as the winds whipped low clouds across our fields of vision. Visibility at times was down to just a few feet and at times we were in the clouds. It always makes for such a surreal feeling when it’s like that or it does for me. Distances expanding and contracting like a rubber band. Sometimes you feel like your mind is playing tricks on you. You see things that aren’t there and miss things that are.

We made it to where we had entered the plateau yesterday and we stopped in the wind to discuss what to do next. There was only 2 options really, turn and head up Cairn Gorm in the crazy strong wind or head back to the car. I was happy to follow the majority vote, either or for me. The wind was really bad and I wish I could give you a miles per hour but I can’t, other than to say if you weren’t careful it would knock you over. Both Phil and Colin had been on Cairn Gorm before but not Steve or I. Again I said either way I was happy. Up or Down. Cairn Gorm wasn’t going anywhere we could always go back another day. It was going back and forth. We were all happy to do what the others wanted. However Phil said his recommendation would be to get off the hill. I was happy with that and I think we all were. Looking back it was the right decision and we took it. The weather and my fitness, I’m not sure how I would have done but under the circumstances I’m glad we didn’t have to find out. It was only another couple of clicks and couple of hundred metres of ascent but sometimes that’s all it takes to break the camel’s back and I sure as hell don’t want to be there when that happens.

Decision made we descended the path that we had climbed up on the Saturday. I was much easier going down. I always find climbing down easier so much so I managed to keep up with the rest of them. I sure it must have been a shock. Especially for Colin as I badgered him with questions about his through hike in Colorado and his future plans for other big walks. Next it was Steve’s turn as we neared the boulder field at the bottom. I asked him about Wainwrights and the lakes, again places I had no knowledge and experience of, and of his big Scotland adventure that he had planned but the awful weather had scuppered earlier in the year. Here on the decent we were out the wind and it was good. Good to get a rest from the pounding and the big gusts.

Back down below the Central Gully we headed across the boulder field. Skipping back across the rocks, jumping from one to another. Jumping and skipping might be an exaggeration on my part. Just a bit too athletic for me. Even striding is stretching it a bit, I only have short legs. Stuttering across the rocks is more apt. I followed the others heading for the path and track back to the start. On the path again I was slowing down my energy levels getting sapped and we were spacing out as a group but as was the way of things; Colin, Steve and Phil would wait for me to catch up and we would walk together for a bit before our natural pace set in again and the spacing appeared. Usually with me at the back but not always, we were walking down hill. The slope is in a better direction for me. My short legs don’t have to work so hard.

Burst

At times with the shelter growing less and less the wind would catch me unaware. I wasn’t the only one. Gusting out of no where, nearly knocking me flat or catching the pack and turning me through 90 degrees. If I was lucky I could again lean into it, brace myself against my walking pole like I had done up on the plateau. Then it was back to walking a few steps, feet and yards before the next gust. All the time with a steady stream of people heading towards the plateau. Crazy in my point of view but they would soon see for themselves. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

I’ve seen some sights on the hills and some are not for sore eyes, some make your eyes sore or water at the very least but this was crazy. Obviously off one of the tourist coaches, well you would hope so. A fake looking fur jacket, sun glasses and 6 inch stiletto heels. Not the high fashion you expect to see in the mountains. For those that know the path up from the Ski Centre, it can be hard enough in walking boots never mind heels. Each to your own and I truly hope she made it back without a broken ankle.

The closer we got to the car park the busier it got and with some near hilarious goings on. I saw several member’s of a school/college/university field trip blown on their arses by the wind. The lass in high heels seemed to be coping better with the wind. I think the group must have been looking a biodiversity or something as they had a square metre out and notebooks. However the best one was yet to come, a guy with a come-over, dressed in what appeared to be a suit and a long overcoat, trench-coat type of thing and brogues. He walked round a corner in the path and was completely taken by surprise by a rather strong blow. It spun him nearly 360 degrees lifting his coat tails and making him look like the spinning seeds off a Maple tree. Not that I had been fairing much better.

The Guys were waiting for me just before the little bridge that crosses Allt a’ Choire Chais and takes you up to the Ski Centre. Finishing as we started, all together. Back at the car Steve broke out the giant chocolate cake that Tracy had made. I fine way to end a trip something we could get used to, not sure how Tracy feels about it. I had slice of that and a blueberry muffin washed down with some IRN-BRU. After all I had burned a fair few calories.

That’s twice now that I’ve been on walks with Phil where he’s managed to burst me, not that’s hard and it’s more than likely to happen again. He’s used it now but Steve and Colin aren’t. I just need to get them used to it. I had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed myself and now hopefully looking forward to the next trip and wondering where the fantastic four will end up.

The Fantastic Four head to Aviemore?

Cairn Toul

A Cairngorms Weekend Part 1

As I always say, this is how I remember it an not necessarily how my good companions do. For that you would have to ask them. All thoughts, opinions, conjectures, etc, are mine and mine alone.

It was the September weekend and this trip had been organised for a few weeks. A couple of days in the Cairngorms. I was really looking forward to this for several reasons, I always enjoy myself walking with Phil, he is good company and the times we have walked together they are always memorable, for me. Also this time Colin and Steve would be there and I would be meeting them for the first time. Although we had all spoke plenty on interwebs. More added excitement. Phil, Colin and Steve had walked together before and from what I had heard it had been good. I was hoping for more of the same. Finally the mighty Cairngorm plateau itself. I had never been on it, save for an ill fated ski trip with my secondary school PE class where I managed to face plant ice, yes there was more ice than snow and wrap the skis round my head more times than I care to remember. I am not made for skiing. The least said the better. I had been up to Aviemore on several occasions and camped there as a wee Tookster. I love the Rothiemurchus estate and the old forest there. Some brilliant walks. I was excited that I would be walking on that high tundra, a different landscape and higher than what I am used to. I would be out my comfort zone if you want to put it that way.

The Friday arrived and generally I was ready. The car was packed, my good lady had me well stocked in rolls, chocolate and sweets for the next couple of days. Not to mention IRN-BRU. I’m lucky, she is very good to me and indulges my need to disappear into the wilds. It was an easy enough get away, early afternoon. No rush. My in-laws had dropped in and we all sat around having lunch and chatting. Originally the plan was to wild camp over a couple of nights but the weather was looking a bit iffy and there would be a good chance of a severe buffeting at high levels. About 3 to 4 pints on the Stella scale. The decision was taken to use one of the campsites in the area and start early on the Saturday. Saturday looking like the best day, weather-wise and go from there.

I said my goodbyes. Collecting my food and my camera, fully charged and ready to go. First stop was a carry oot for later. We were glamping after all, no weight penalties here for bottles of beer. Two of us being card carrying card CAMRA members, I went to my local well stocked beer emporium (read Sainsburys) as they have a good selection of real man Scottish Ales. Also having checked with Phil that both Colin and Steve liked a beer. I made my informed selection. After paying the lady the next stop was petrol. Aviemore is a fair old distance and as we all know petrol ain’t cheap north of the central belt. I filled the Swift to the gunwales. Which is approximately £50 these days. Time to hit the open road? It was a going to be a fairly long drive, 3 to 3 and a half hours. A725 Express Way down to the Raith Interchange then the M74 towards Glasgow. Then on to the M73, A80, M80 heading for Stirling then onto Perth, M9, A9 then turning on to the A95 and finally the B9152 in towards Aviemore. It’s a drive I always enjoy especially when the weather is fine. The A9 can be particularly bad at times with it’s long lines of traffic no real passing places, roadworks, impatient drives and sometimes bad weather.

I made Aviemore in good time and drove into the village. Heaving would be an understatement. The place was mobbed with throngs of people. All descending on the Highlands for the September weekend. I managed to get parked in the Tesco car park. I had arranged to meet Steve and Phil here earlier as I wasn’t sure where the campsite was. They both turned up within minutes of me getting out the car and heading to the main road in front of the supermarket. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t miss me as I was wearing my newly aquired Social Hiking t-shirt in a fetching outdoors woodland green, which was gathering admiring glances. Phil spotted me straight away. After they were parked and Steve and I got our proper introductions done, we headed into Tesco for them to stock up on supplies. Phil informed me that Colin was at the campsite and had managed to secure us a couple of pitches. We got back to the cars and I followed both of them out the car park and out of the village towards the camp site at Coylum Bridge.

As we turned left at the round-a-bout I was flooded with childhood memories of this area and I got more and more as we drove past the entrance to the Rothiemurchus estate. Fishing in the fishery, bike rides and walks through the trees. Next it was the turning into the campsite and I had a deja vu there. I remember being here with the caravan and my family. This was where we had stayed the 1st time at Aviemore. It was lucky that Colin was at the campsite early as when we turned up the sign was out saying no more places were available. We stopped off at the site off and signed in, paying the deposit to get our tent tags.

We headed round to the tent area. Parking up the two cars, we crossed a small bridge and headed along a path. It was obvious to me where we were going and having never met Colin before I would have found him without trouble. He already had his TrailStar pitched by the time we rolled up. As I walked around I had all those memories as a kid running around these woods, playing in the burn. I was a nice surprise to come back there after all those years. Back then summers felt like they lasted forever. It felt like nothing had changed. It was shaping up to be great.

TrailStar

After meeting Colin, I did the civilised thing and went and got the beers from my car and handed them out to everyone. We cracked the bottles open and got one with pitching the other 2 Trailstars. One was Steve’s and the other Phil’s. Where’s mine I hear you ask? Sadly I don’t have one but I was going to be sleeping under Phil’s. Even with Phil testing one of Sean’s OookStar inners, there is still plenty of room for another Tookie sized person and gear. The TrailStars really are great shelters.

For dinner we decided rather than fire up assorted stoves and rehydrate our assorted dehydrated dinners we would head in to Aviemore for the famous Italian buffet at the La Taverna. I’m sure it’s famous to those familiar with the place. Pizza and beer is always a winner for me. You didn’t have to ask me twice. We got stuff packed up and locked up in the cars. Grabbing our jackets we set off by foot. There was a brief discussion about taking a car but then some-one wasn’t getting another beer. Like I said, it was brief. I’m sure Steven Hawking could measure it. It was a millionth of a second, if that. Heading on down the road to town we talked about everything and anything.

It was busy when we arrived at the La Tavern and we said we were happy to wait. The waitress asked us to take a seat in the bar. In the bar we ordered some more beer this time it was Black Gold from the local Cairngorm Brewery. A really nice pint. We sat down at the nearest empty table and got the map out to discuss the next days escapades while we waited to be called to the restaurant. Bringing the beer back to the table, someone spilled the top of their pint. I can’t remember if it was me or not. I remember going to the bar to ask for the cloth but for fairness I’m blaming Phil. Apparently he’s the clumsy one.

We didn’t have to wait long before they had a table for four. The restaurant was stowed like the village was earlier. Evidently the buffet is indeed famous and popular. Always a good sign. Not that I had doubted the guys. Would you like something off the menu? Err, no just the buffet please, for 4. Here’s your plate, batter in and batter in I did. I managed to get through 10 fairly big slices of pizza plus some ice cream to finish it. Between courses on my way between table and the buffet, I noticed that my t-shirt was gathering further admiring glances. Phil had his on too so they were being admired twice as much. I wasn’t the only one getting a good feed, Colin managed to shovel away a fair few slices plus other assorted pasta dishes. However technically he was far from being the stank I was. He was recovering from some seriously weight loss brought on from a severe bug that he caught walking the Colorado Trail. All in all I think we all managed to eat more than our fair share. It was all you can eat and we did.

Paying the bill we headed on up the road. Bellies full and a couple of pints wiser. It was now dark, the sun had well and truly set while we fattened ourselves. We would have to pass the Coylum Bridge Hilton. It was suggested by one of the others that we could pop in and have a couple of pints before retiring to our sleeping bags for the evening. I was all for that but did ask are the Hilton people happy to have walkers tramp through their lovely expensive hotel? Colin said not to worry as there is a bar round the back, away from the main hotel that was more then happy to have walkers. I was introduced to the Woodshed at the Coylum Bridge Hilton.

On entering the Shed; the shed being a bit of a misnomer, it’s bigger than my entire flat. It’s huge. With a massive open fire at one and some interesting wall art. We doubled the number of punters in the place. The size of the bar exaggerates the emptiness. The fire was blazing and the pub was roasting. Shedding layers we walked over and acquired more fine beer from the Cairngorm Brewery. The cask now being 4 pints lighter we turned to be met with a myriad of seating choices. Which to be honest I found a bit weird. A Friday night and the pub was empty. Location?

....honest here is @townsendoutdoor

To say there wasn’t much of an atmosphere is no exaggeration so we went about making our own and having a laugh. In the hope of making things better they have live music and it wasn’t long before one man and his guitar turned up. Oh dear. Don’t be shy he said, any request just ask. In our case we didn’t. We had another pint and drank up instead. It was bad. I have a feeling that if the entertainment hadn’t turned up we may have stayed longer. Maybe that was a good thing but before all that we were fascinated by some of the wall art. In particular what looked like a tribute to the walking legend, Chris Townsend. If it wasn’t, it had an uncanny likeness. I was sure. Go see for yourself I’m sure you’ll agree. We left the Hilton’s grounds crossed the road and headed for the sleeping bags. Dreams of tomorrows hills were waiting…

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

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.

And in that kist, there is…..

Please act responsibily

I needed a walk but where to go? I didn’t want to travel too far, I wanted to gain some height however I didn’t want to go to any of the usual suspects in my area, west central Scotland. Somewhere new. Hmmmm. Then it came to me, Tinto! I’ve lived in East Kilbride for 7 years now and it’s somehow taken me this long to get round to Tinto, Tinto hill. It’s one of those I keep meaning to do but then I forget about, something else pops into my head and then the thought is gone. I’m off walking somewhere else or doing something else. This time though I was going. I had nothing to stop me and no excuses. The latest OS map was in my hand, courtesay of my good wife. All that was left to do? Go see the cairn and stand on the highest hill in Lanarkshire.

Down the M74 I bombed, so much so I missed the Douglas road end. My excuse, it looks different travelling north to south than my usual west to east along the A70. It didn’t matter much, I took the next exit at the Abington services and worked my way back on the A702 and back onto the A73. After a bit I took the junction for the A72 and Thankerton. For most of this leg I could see the massive hulk of Tinto. I know that it’s only 2333ft but because it stands proud and on it’s own, it looks massive. There’s nothing next to it to dwarf it or to give you a perspective. It’s there in the landscape, shouting hello. It was looking good, sprinkled with fresh snow but clear to the top. From the car it looked almost perfect. Finally after the extra miles, I pulled into an empty car park. It was still early not much after 8:15 am. Excellent. The skies were still clear. I got changed behind the car door, retrieved my Alpkit rucksack from the boot and started off up the path.

At the beginning......

There’s a couple of different ways to the top of Tinto and this one is probably the most popular. The path is rather straight up and down according to the map. It’s a well used path, probably for a couple of thousand years judging by the width and how it bites into the hillside. It’s not hard to believe either, as the cairn at the top has bronze age beginnings. You also have the pleasure of walking in a well preserved hill fort just off the main path on the slopes of Totherin Hill. You can imagine the residents of the fort marching up the path to the cairn to light the fire on Beltane. It’s also a favourite of those nutters, the hill runners and apparently paragliders.

The inner wall

About half a mile from the car park; the Hill fort becomes visible, the large rings and ditches. I spent some time walking round the ditches wondering what it would have looked like. The defences must have been really big as even now at some points I was disappearing from sight in the ditches. I think that there would not be much more than a couple of buildings inside. As the diameter is not more than 60 odd of my strides, across the inner most circle. More a job for the Time Team than my uneducated guesses.

I got my contemplative self back on the path and started on the first hurdle. Up and over Totherin Hill. It’s a nice lung buster for this little unfit walker to stretch his legs on. I made steady but slow progress. Not that it mattered. I was walking with myself and having fun. I stopped often; to take photographs, not catch my breath. If you hear anything to contrary, lies. It was windy but fresh but not that I needed any extra layers on when I was walking. I had built up a good head of steam. The views that I was afforded to the south and west were great. I could see far down the rest of the Southern Uplands into Galloway and Ayrshire. I could even make out the Kames at Muirkirk and it’s flat table top summit. Beautiful. Even although there was still no sign of spring. The heather still brown and sleeping, waiting for a warmer sun and less frost. 

Is it brighter over there?

Tinto’s tap had been hidden for a while and as I got over the top of Totherin Hill, I was surprised to see some really heavy looking clouds had blown in. Angry looking fuckers with menace attached also know as snow carriers. You know the type. Not what I was expecting it but not unexpected. It’s Scotland in February. As a reached Maurice’s Cleuch and started to climb upwards again the cloud started to drop the white stuff. Nothing drastic, a powdering like it was covering a cake in icing sugar. The visibility was getting shorter with every step but not to a degree that was I going to worry and especially not on this hill.

Where's the summit?

I always find that when the clouds close in around and envelope you an eerie quiet descends with them. Very peaceful except for the crunch my foot falls on the gravel and the clink of the tungsten tips of my walking poles. It changes your perspective and distances expand as your vision shortens. The path was getting harder to pick out with fresh snow falling even although it was light. It was adding to what was already there. I was having to look hard for the depression in the ground that indicated where the track was. I just took my time and every now and then I would see a frozen foot print in the snow. Visibility was down to less than twenty feet by now. At that point the fence appeared that isn’t shown on the map. It would lead me to the summit. That made things very easy, I just had to keep the fence on my right and it would take me all the way.

Ice on the fence

Enjoying the solitude and the quietness. Just me, my thoughts and the hill. Enjoying the placing of one foot in front of the other. Making my way slowly to the top. Completely absorbed in my little world. Until…… SQUAWK! I disturbed a grouse. I jumped out my skin with the sound of it’s unholy scared calling. The bird took flight. Frantic flapping. Disappearing into the cloud and snow. Not sure who got the bigger shock but I’m certain it’s final call as it vanished was calling me a tnuk. Sounded very much like it. A bastarding grouse! I’m jumping about like one of those blood thirsty pterodactyls from the land that time forgot was about to swoop down and carry me to my doom. I had a word with myself, popped my heart back in my mouth and got on with following the fence. Luckily I was walking solo.

I was beginning to feel like I was walking to the ends of the earth, that I should be on the cairn by now. I was even tempted to dig the map out but I knew it was my mind playing tricks in the cloud. Not sure what I was going to take a reading from, there was nothing to get a bearing off. I suppose I could have juiced the battery on my iPhone if I really needed to but then that’s dependant on a signal. I knew hadn’t walked nearly as far as I had sensed. Plus the fence hadn’t changed direction yet, it’s not marked on the map but it takes an angled turn when it reaches the cairn and the trig pillar. 

Cairn

Shaking the clouds from between my ears I continued on. All of a sudden out of the gloomy clouds appeared THE cairn. I’ve seen some big cairns in my life but nothing like this. It’s massive. There at that moment in that weather it just towered above me. Not that that’s hard and here was me, minutes earlier thinking that I could have walked by it. I never measured it but the cairn is six metres high and about forty metres across and that’s how it stands just now with the top loped off it. Would be interesting to see in all it’s glory before it collaspsed and some folk building wind breaks from the stones. I was a bit exposed to the elements standing on the top. Techinically the highest point but not really, the trig pillar was off to my left and a little hidden in the clouds. I sclimbed down and louped the dyke, walked over and touched the trig point. Done. Summit reached. Not that I was bagging the summit. I just have the urge to always touch the pillar like I do with cairns. I just have to physically touch them and connect to them. I suppose it’s my little ritual. 

Love heart trig

I jumped back over the fence and hunkered down in the lee of the large summit, out of reach of the wind and whispy blowing snow. Brew time. A Lion Bar and a cup of tea. Out came my Pocket Rocket, behave! Stop the sniggering at the back there. Yes that means you. I got it fired up, poured water into my Halulite Mininalist pot and got it on for the boil. The Lion bar was solid, like I had left chocolate in the fridge over night. I wasn’t expecting that. I got as comfy as I could. The water boiled in no time at all. Hoping that the wind would carry the clouds away and that I would at least get a break so I could snap some photographs of the view. Dunking your Lion bar in your tea makes for an interesting cuppa but it certainly softened the bar. 

Iced up cairn

I gave up. The cloud wasn’t for clearing anytime soon and I could see ice was starting to form on the Gourdon where the sweat collected on the backpack. I gathered my gear back together which is to say I tidied up my stove and the pot. I started to follow the fence and my fresh tracks back down. It wasn’t long till I was scaring the grouse again. This time I was ready for the blood thirsty pterodactyl. No fright this time. After that I was out the cloud and looking down on to Totherin Hill again and I could see the views again. Much to my surprise I could see two people making their way up.

I past the two, a man and women. We spoke, just a short conversation. Pleasantries. Me passing on the summit conditions. I had not long left the couple when I spotted another next walker. In fact it was probably only a couple of minutes. An old guy out for a walk. Hopefully I’ll still be fit enough at his age to be tackling nice strenuous walks like this. It was starting to get busy. After him it was like a slow procession; a guy, 2 guys, a guy with 2 dugs, guy with a big Clydesdale cuddy o’ a dug. A great Dane I think, It wasn’t shaggy like a Lurcher but smooth like a Setter. I’m not up on big breeds of dug. Whatever it was; it could probably bring down a deer, the way it was loupin’ aroon the dormant heather. It didn’t have a leash, it has reigns. FFS. It could definitely pull a plough. It was big enough to walk up to me a gie my dish a lickin’ without standing on it’s hind legs. If it did that it would be taller than me. Easy.

Then I was back at the Fort heading to the car park thinking that it was going to be a busy lunchtime on the tap of Tinto. On Tintock tap, there is a mist, and in that mist, there is a kist, and in that kist, there is a cup, and in that cup, there is a drap. Tak’ up that cup, and drink that drap, that’s in yon kist, on Tintock tap. Expect there was none of that but I still had a good time.