Tag Archives: hills

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.

CulterFell000873210913

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.

CulterFell000874210913

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.

CulterFell000877210913

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.

CulterFell000886210913

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.

CulterFell000889210913

CulterFell000890210913

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.

CulterFell000894210913

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.

CulterFell000907210913

CulterFell000910210913

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?

CulterFell000921210913

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

Thro’ Pathways Rough and Muddy

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000557010512

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

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

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

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

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000562010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000566010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000581010512

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

Marker Cairn

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000589010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000610010512

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

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000602010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000605010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000627010512

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

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000633010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000634010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000638010512

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

Blackgannoch Coventicles

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000661010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000666010512

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

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000700010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000711010512

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

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000714010512

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

MuirkirkToKirkconnel000707010512

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

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

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

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of new friends

Arrochar_Meet_000028200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000001200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000003200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000017200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000022200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000041200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000065200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000060200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000058200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000077200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000085200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000120200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000138210212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000151200212

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.

Arrochar_Meet_000159200212

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.

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.

Range of the Awful Hand – Part 2

Merrick in Cloud

Photograph courtesy of tigerweet on flickr

It’s been awhile. Not that I haven’t been writing just that I haven’t posted. I’ve been nervous about posting this. Especially after the last being somewhat well received. We all like to please people and I always worry that people won’t like what I write. I suppose we all look for validation from our peers?

If you haven’t you may want to go and read the first part or if you have you may want to refresh your memory. You can do that here.

Well the last one ended with my dad and I building up our energy reserves for the next day. The walk of walks. Not that I told him. I didn’t want to put him off. My plan for the morning was the Range of the Awful hand. From the car park up through the forest past the old bothy onto Benyellary down the col up and onto The Merrick, then Kirriereoch and Tarfessock then finally Shalloch on Minnoch. With a long walk back to the car park at Loch Trool. Now you know why I hadn’t let him know. It sounds daunting. It’s a long day but I knew once we were out ‘in country’ we would be fine. Or so I hoped.

I remember it being a beautiful clear night and the stars being so bright in the sky. My dad and I going through the constellations that we knew. We are not astronomers not even amateurs by along shot but we went through our favourites, Orion and his belt, The Seven Sisters, The plough. I always look for Orion in the night sky, not sure why. It’s what I do. It always amazes me the effect that town lights have on the night sky. Even growing up in a small place like Cumnock, they dull the sky but nothing like what I’m used to now in East Kilbride but when your out in the wilds, miles from anywhere the sky is alive and bright. I almost find it perverse that I like being out in the wilds in the dark. I’m scared of the dark. Proper scared as well. Fear. You know that black dark, pitch black, can’t see your hand in front of your face stuff but I digress.

We were sitting there having a laugh and a beer or two. Good times.

The sun is up, the tent is glowing green. Well glowing might not the correct term but we’ve all been there in a stuffy tent when Dawn shows us her face. It was time to fire up the twin burners once more. These ancient twin suns were getting their best work out in years. A full cooked breakfast. Square (Lorne, sliced or whatever you know it as) sausage, bacon, eggs and toast. Did I mention that the camp cooker also had a furnace to burn the bread. It was like the De’il’s front room when everything was set to burn. Roasting. Not much beats a great breakfast before venturing out into nature.

All packed and ready we jumped in the car up to the car park at the loch. It was a cracking September weekend weather. Which is to say that the sun was out and it was dry. For those that know that’s rare for the west of Scotland, especially at that time of year. Strangely there was another car in the car park. Someone was keen to be out and about.

Hi Ho Hi Ho and off we went like a couple of Dwarves. Lead on. Up the track through the forest we went. When I say forest I don’t some great ancient Caledonian wood older than man his-self and Jesus was a boy but rather the more common and utterly sad Forestry Commission forest packed tighter than duck erse. Void of light and happiness. It’s only ray of joy this path that cuts a swath up through it.

It was stuffy hot on that path through the trees. Out of the light breeze and with the lovely sun in the sky the sweat was beginning to trickle down my back and my dad had already unzipped his fleece. Remember them, a fleece, polartec and that was the best. The shoftshell was only a flash of a thought in the corner of someones dream then. Off came mine by the time we had reached the Culsharg bothy and we continued on. Listening and hearing only the occasional bird.

I remember learning later on that experienced walkers call this part of the walk or that path even, the tourist route. Maybe cause you start in the car park? On we sauntered

We broke through the stifling forest and into the open. It would have been like a breath of fresh air if the lovely breeze I mentioned earlier hadn’t turned into gale and blown both of us on our erses, not the aforementioned duck’s one. It was like one of those you hear on the shipping forecasts. North of here, south of here. The temperature had also dropped some what. Back on went the fleeces. It was chilly.

Now on the shoulder of Benyellary proper the view started to open up. To our front and left was the Firth of Clyde and views of Ailsa Craig or Paddy’s milestone and to the right Loch Enoch and the other Galloway hills hanging above the forestry plantations.

From the top of Benyellary we looked down onto the Spit of Neive and up onto The Merrick. Highest of the hills south of the Trossachs. Majestic. I love the way the dry staine dyke runs up the middle of the col splitting it in two. I think my dad was more thankful. This was the first time I had experienced my dad’s proper fear of heights. I think up until that point I thought he was only joking. This was the first time I seen the fear in his face. You might not think that unusual, many people have a fear of heights. ‘We have to fuckin’ walk up that?’, ‘Your fuckin’ kidding me’, ‘Eh naw’, ‘No chance’.

I shall explain. Auld Tooky nae knees has a weird employment history for someone scared of being higher than two feet off the carpet. He started at 16 as a plumber/heating engineer and added roofer and slater to his many skills. As you all no doubt know these professions involve being up on a ladder at some point. He has also in his time renewed slates on church steeples. In Cumnock there’s nothing higher than the Crichton West’s steeple.

It doesn’t end there, he was at that time a LF, Leading Firefighter Bunten with over 25 years experience with Strathclyde Fire Brigade and having to climb ladders weekly if not every other day. FFS. He goes white at the drop off on col where his feet are anchored on the Terra firma? Beggars belief. Looking at it, is making him feel dizzy and go wobbly at the knees. At this point the jackets were going on. The temperature was getting even colder due to the wind increasing a couple of notches. He’s having second thoughts. At the is point I hadn’t realised an error in my packing. No hat and no gloves. That was to come later.

Faither was wanting to chuck it and turn back. He didn’t fancy having to walk across the col. It’s not like its a razor sharp ridge with 200 odd foot drop off. It’s flat and wide with a rather large wall up the middle. Then it has it’s drop. Where’s the sympathy I hear you say? Well there was none. It was time to get it richt roon him or up him, whichever you prefer. Lets be honest, if the boot in this case was on the other foot, there would have been no hesitation on his part to give me a tongue lashing of sarcastic comment and ribbing. That’s love for you.

I can’t remember what I said other than he got it good. It was usually always the other way and I wasn’t wasting this opperchancity. However I do remember what got him moving. I was going to be a big clipe. When I was in the pub back home in Cumnock I was going to tell my Uncle Richard, my dad’s best drinking buddy, brither and freend. I was going to tell him that dad was a big scaredy cat, a chicken and he wouldn’t walk up a wee hill. Biting it doon was a far better option than a slagging from your peers, apparently.

The big fearty walked up the ‘wrang side’ o’ the dyke so he and his shaky legs couldn’t see the drop off from the col. It still makes me laugh thinking back on this. Especially what the other guy walking coming back down must have though about these two men nodding and saying hello from the other side of the wall. We stopped long enough for him to tell us it was really windy and the clouds would be closing in shortly. No shit Sherlock?

By the time we were off the Spit of Nieve the wind was a proper gale. My ears were frozen stuck to the side of my heed. My hands were that bright pink colour before they turn that awful blue colour and were completely numb. I was having trouble opening and closing them. No exaggeration. It was that cold. The wind chill was really bad. Yep that error was coming back to bite us big time.

Now on The Merrick with hands thrust into pockets and backs bent against the onslaught of the wind, we carried on up towards the summit. Not that it was a straight path, we zigged and zagged with the gusts. We could see the clouds coming up from the Irish Sea and they were looking black and angry. Still far enough away but not far enough away for us to complete the Range of the Awful Hand. In my mind I scratched it. No point in getting dad to push on. Where’s the fun in getting soaked to the skin?

We reached the summit and the trig point and the shelter of the circular pen. In we dived out the wind. After spending the last half our nearly horizontal against the gale. Next was to eat or not to eat?

Poking our heads above the parapet as it were. We looked south to the clouds. Then north, to be greeted by one of the best views I have ever seen. EVER. It was still clear blue skies from us all up to the north. We could see all the way to the Campsies and Ben Lomond. Though it was hazy blue in the distance. Ayrshire laid bare in front of us. Amazing. I think it was at that point I forgot about the wind for awhile and just drank in that view. We both smiled.

Not sure how long we spent hunkered down, keeking over the pen. I can’t adequately describe the vastness of the vista but it just held us for ages. Pointing stuff out to each other. Hills, places, roads and rivers. By the time we looked back round to check the weather blowing in, it was time to go. No time to eat. The clouds, we could now see were dropping copious amounts of water into the firth. Heading straight for us. I hate soggy pieces.

Time to hump it back to the car, hoping we could beat the rain but it wasn’t looking good. Especially with the gale pushing it on. Hands were thrust back in to pockets and the horizontal posture resumed. Down the side of The Merrick we went onto the Spit of Nieve. Louping o’er the dyke tae the wrang side again. Much to my amusement and ribbing. The rain and cloud still marching on. I’m certain they dropped a gear and powered on, faster. Really.

We had just crowned Benyellary again when they came upon us. Just like it is says in the bible, rain came pouring down on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. Well not quite the 40 days and nights. It sure felt like the clouds were trying to dump that much rain down on us in one go. The tourist route soon turned to a burn then a river. We were soaked to oor baws in no time at all. No waterproof trousers either. Feet were wringing. The water from the path was up about and over our ankles as it ran past us so fast. Water finds is own level and follows the path of least resistance. That was into my boots or so it felt. I was entering blister country. Soft wet feet.

This time we welcomed the forest, at least we were out of reach from the gale. The rain was still tipping down. No rest from that. It had, though, returned to it’s natural position of falling on our heads rather than the unnatural de’il’s horizontal, soaking you get from the feet up on the side of Benyellary.

Wading through the river that path had become we reached the bothy and hesitated, only for a moment. Should we duck in there out of this terrible rain. We carried on. Sit wet in the Culsharg bothy for god knows how long. It wasn’t really an option. The car wasn’t far now. We were wet anyway. Once your wet your wet. You can only get dry. Your skin is waterproof, right?

We hammered on, ploughing a path as best we could. It would have been nice to have some help from Moses but it never came and the rain never stopped. Lashing. We managed to get to the car in half the time it took to get to the top of The Merrick. Not with out cost though. I had a blister on the side of my heal bigger than 50p piece. Small stones and grit had enter into my boot. Chewing up the Goretex lining and blistering my soft wet skin. Luckily we had a left a dry set of clothes to change into in the car, as we always do.

After that we dropped the wet gear back at the camp site and headed on in to Newton Stewart. There was nothing else for it. Sat in the pub had some dinner and chatted away. Talked about the greatest view and watched the football scores coming in. It kept us out the weather and after a while we headed back to the tent. The darkness came early that night and with no stars. The deluge continued. Never once letting up so into sleeping bags we crawled. Nothing more for it. Tired but happy despite the rain.

We woke the next morning to find ourselves on an island in the field. The only patch of dry ground. The river had risen over 12 feet, we learned from the farmer later. How fortuitous was our pitch. The others in the field who had camped were not so lucky, having to spend the night sleeping in their cars. Like I said earlier it’s all in the pitching. Luck.

All that was left to do was pack up our troubles in the form of a wet tent and head for home. Well after stopping off for some breakfast. Great days and good times. Best of memories.

 

The Range of the Awful Hand

Merrick in Cloud

Photograph courtesy of tigerweet on flickr

This might be a bit presumptuous of me. However I’m going to continue, most people seemed to enjoy my last piece of reminiscing and the retrospective look back at my first munro. With me struggling to get out on the hills of late, I thought I would regale another tale of me in the hills. So get yourself sorted, get some refreshments or at least make sure you’ve been to the toilet. Strap yourself in this could be as epic as the first one or epic-ier. Like Die Hard II – Die Harder. Well not really but you’ll get the idea.

As a litte caveat the languauge may well be a little choice in places, that’s just me. If think I’m bad you want to hear my dad. Well where did you think I got it from? Also there is some metrosexual, in touch with my feelings man love going on as well. Deal with it. Get over it or HTFU. There may also be some colloquialism that I’m not in the habit of explaining, feel free to ask. You are now fore warned and therefore fore armed.

When I first moved out from the shadow of my infamous (or famous, just depends on who’s telling the story) dad; I come from a small town in deepest darkest Ayrshire, most folk ken the other folk and if your not related they’ve either seen your face or they’ve heard your name, it’s not quite like Deliverance, banjo battling country as most people conjure up. There’s no (much) inbreeding. It’s great to be kent even if it’s by the extension of someone else. There is a downside you get away with nothing. Nothing.

I was being seduced by the bright lights and the big city. It was different. Exciting even. No hills, green fields and beasts. Not entirely, there’s beast but I was talking about the agricultural variety. Well maybe. I wasn’t spending much time back in the hinterlands or much time with my family, especially my dad. We used to do a lot together; walking the dogs, fishing, walking, arguing, fighting, walking, arguing, fighting and arguring some more. We’re the same. Cut from the same cloth. A spitting image. This apple sitting here typing hasn’t fallen far from the tree. We ARE the same but like chalk and cheese. You understand? I would do something exactly as asked/shown but I still couldn’t do it right and he fucking showed me.

I suppose this sounds like we didn’t get on back them but we did, greatly. There is no man I look up to and admire more than my dad. If I’m lucky enough to be half the man he is, my wee Rowan will have a great dad. Maybe at times I never showed him the respect he was due but he’s always been right by me and stood by my desicions. Right or Wrong. Hopefully I’ve learned.

Now we get on even better. I’m not at home. Strange that, how I have a home of my own but Cumnock is still ‘home’? Folk must think I’m loaded, East Kilbride is home. Cumnock is home. He’s got two houses. I wish. Home is where you make it and I make it in both these places.

Even when I write I blether. Your patter is like water, Tooks. Onwards.

The whole point was we weren’t spending as much time in each others’ pocket. More so me in his spending his money. We decided that if all else failed we would always spend the September weekend the gither. We’d go do something. Some beers, some walking or fishing or whatever. That was that and that was law. It has of slipped the last few years but that’s fine. I see him and my mum most every other weekend these days.

The September weekend arrived, which weekend it was I’m not sure. Ayrshire has is September holiday the week before Glasgow’s which is usually the last full weekend of the month. In the run up there was much back and forth discussion of where and what. My dad has never been for bagging hills, he’s not really into the pointy stuff. Much prefering to walk the glens, woods, fields and the coast. Where I like walking on the hills but I’m by no means a bagger. See, the same but different. I’ve bagged more than I know and can name you even less. It just about being out there for me.

The destination or base camp was to be Newton Stewart in Galloway. In fact we ended up a few miles away on a campsite at Glentrool Village. Just out the side the village. Yes were up for a bit of glamping. My dad is like that, he likes to rough it but not that much. We were directed to a field adjcent to and out the road of the caravans but we had a shower/toilet block, which made dad happy.

Mum had organised the food for the weekend. There was enough to sustain an arctic expedetion. Seriously. There was a cool box stuffed full of perishable gear. It was so full you couldn’t have wedged a wafer thin after eight in there. Not a MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) insight for these boys. Tupperware crammed full of home cooked goodies. Mince, Stovies, soup and the rest. Sliced sausage and bacon for breakfast. Full on catered for weekend. No small camping stove for us either, a calor gas twin ring burner with grill and I’m not talking one of those small fits in a rucksack gas canisters. This beauty takes the full on, heats up your caravan for 2 week holiday gas cannister. What’s the point of taking the car and not making full use of it. It’s your own personal sherpa. Wasn’t like I had to load the gear on my back and hike in, dragging arse like a dug with an itchy bum over your best carpet. It was going to be a great weekend.

I’m a bit sad at this point because I remember we didn’t have a camera and nethier of us had camera phones. In fact I don’t think anyone had a camera phone back in those dark ages. However for some bizarre reason we had a video camcorder thing. It was huge, thinking back now it was fucking huge, it was breeze block big but probably small for the time. There was so much footage from around the campsite and absolutely hilarious commentery of me collecting water from the spicket. When I first seen the footage back, my thoughts were Geez-oh! But everyone that watched was rolling about laughing. It’s a shame there was no Youtubez back then. This too is all now lost after my parents house was broken into and the camcorder stolen. Bastards. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m writing this?

I was excited as outside of Ayrshire, for me Galloway is the next best place. I’ve done as much walking here as I have anywhere. To me it is, was Lord of the Rings country long before Peter ‘The Hobbit’ Jackson had a wet dream about and idea about a film. If you’ve read any Tolkien you’ll know what I’m talking about. The place is wild, as wild as anything you’ll find up north in the highlands. Wilder than a hairy arsed blue painted Pict chasing a smooth skin sun tanned Roman back south of the wall. Yes it is that wild. Galloway is one of the least populated Shires in all the country. There has been times when we’ve had the place to ourselves . It’s beautiful on a fine day but it can be a brutal slog on wet day. Don’t kid yourself when I said it’s wild I mean it’s wild. Most of the time you will have the place to yourself or whoever your with.

Even the places names you can imagine in Tolkien’s novels. The Dungeon Hills, Rhinns of Kells (one of the finest ridge walks in all the lands, in my humble opinion), Corserine, Mount Doom, Black Craig, Emyn Muil, Murder Hole, Moria, The Rig of The Jarkness, Mindolluin, Loch Neldricken, Mullwharchar, Neive of the Spit to name a lot and of course the Range of the Awful Hand, Shalloch on Minnoch, Trafessock, Kirriereoch, Merrick and Benyellary. My favourites.

As it was early afternoon by the time the green Vango dome was planted, secured in a spot not too far from the facilities block and far enough away from the other 2 tents in the field. It was a good spot. Ideal some would say. Perfect. Sometimes you wonder why some people pitch where they pitch?

We fattened oorsels at the alter of the coolbox. Filled our full and decided to tackle the high stuff the next day. But a walk was indeed in order as we need to shift some of the gluttony on. The fatted calf and the Bull. We jumped in the motor and drove up to the car park at Loch Trool and Bruce’s Stone. Unlike his cave, which there are many. We parked and took the short walk to the stone.

The stone commerates 1307 when Robert Bruce won a minor engangement during the Scottish Wars of Independence. This led to, to later in that year, a more comprehensive win at his first major battle in the middle of Ayrshire at Drumclog or Loudon Hill which ever you prefer. However it wasn’t till Bannockburn in 1314, did he finally have the decisive victory. If at first you don’t succeed, try try and try again. So lengend goes. 7 years that’s a lot of caves and watching a lot of spiders. Maybe. Think I best end the history lesson before I really bore everyone. Too late?

After reading the inscription we wandered on. I’m not implying it in the aimless fashion but in the sense of the speed of a wander. It’s slow. Like I stated in my other post. I’m short so I don’t walk fast. I don’t have a swinging gate. Simple science. That and the fact that I take my height from my dad. Though I’m taller. The same but different. On we went. There is a cracking shortish walk round the loch. Short in the that it takes about 3 hours. Not very up and down. They weather was fine and dry. It was good to be out walking with my dad. Trying hard to ignore the baited hooks. We like to rib each other. “Ony fuckin’ hawfwit wid ken better” or “yir jist gettin’ a len o’ that”, “it’s no fur keeps sir”, “‘member it just a len o'”is the usual lines after one of us has bitten. ‘Member once bitten, twice shy.

Like I said it’s a fine walk. The mix of terrain and views is great. Glentrool or Loch Trool is a great stepping off point, a great starting point for exploring the wilds of Galloway. There is much in this area. Especially if your a wild camper.

It was getting late as we returned to the car. This calf was no longer fat, looking at the Bull though, I wasn’t too sure but dinner was on the cards, well in the cool box at any rate. Real stovies. It was time for to fire up the twin ring burner. Get the jet engines blazing and cooking up a storm.

To be continued…….