Tag Archives: Lanarkshire

The Upper Nethan Gorge Woodland Walk

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The Upper Nethan Gorge

Sometimes it’s not all about big hills or long distances sometimes it’s about taking your time and looking at what’s on your own doorstep. It would appear on the face of things I have an area which is abundant in local signposted walks and ways. One of which brought me to the Upper Nethan Gorge. Literally right on my doorstep. Not 10 minutes from my door. It’s one of two, The Upper Nethan Gorge up at Blackwood and the Lower Nethan Gorge down towards Nethanfoot and Crossford on the River Clyde. Both of the areas are looked after and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They are also within the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership project boundary.

The Upper Gorge

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The Upper Nethan Gorge straddles the banks of the River Nethan. The river starts away up in the hills above Glenbuck in Ayrshire like the River Ayr. However it takes a considerably different and somewhat shorter route to the Clyde. A meandering distance of 21 km. The Upper Nethan Gorge is on the river’s lower reaches before it passes out and flows into the mighty Clyde at Nethanfoot ending its journey. The gorge is heavily wooded and full of all sorts of species of trees.

I’m lucky the walk is so close to my door. There is no parking at the start to speak of or public transport that passes the start of the walk. I have to walk along the Southfield Road towards Tillietudlem. The fictional place from Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 classic story, Old Morality. No longer fictional. It is an actual real place on a map and everything. It was a stop on the old Caledonian Railways in 1856 but more of that later. It’s a back road which is fairly quiet. Nonetheless there’s still a good amount of tarmacadam bashing and car dodging to get to where the track begins.

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The walk starts at NS797446. For those that like grid references. It’s hard to miss the beginning for several reasons. One the fields give way to trees. Two there’s a large kissing gate and 3 the most obvious of them all. A great big sign announcing it as the Upper Nethan Gorge. Once through the gate the path starts off on what was an old railway line now removed as mentioned previously. It was part of the Lesmahagow line that goes all the way to Coalburn. This part is the Blackwood spur.

The Railway Line

These railway lines were originally put in to get the coal out of this mineral rich area. There is also a trail marker which is a rather large 6×6 post pointing you down the track. It’s sending you to a castle. The 16th century fortification, Craignethan Castle. The real life inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s fictional Tillietudlem Castle. Home of the Bellenden family in the tale.

It does feel like you are walking down an old railway line at the start. Roman road straight with the fence line of the Southfield cottages to your left. However after a bit the trees start to overgrow the path like the roof of a tunnel and the wooden palisade that is the fence stops. Giving way to open fields. A few more feet forward and you feel cocooned in the bark and leaves yet it still doesn’t feel like a proper wood.

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There are a few relics of it’s former use. You can be walking along and become suddenly aware of what looks like a large sandstone retaining wall or maybe the abutment of an old bridge. Green with age and moss. It may the old signal box or junction box there’s always something if you keep your eyes open. The flora and fauna are trying hard to reclaim it from it’s past. It’s not until you are a good way down the line. Close to where the old Nethan Viaduct used to be. That you step down the embankment into the woods proper. This feels how it should feel. Here it feels old and ancient but the trees at most might only be a couple of hundred years old.

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The Woods

Here for me, is the best place to stop and stand awhile in the small glades. In autumn and winter you can catch glimpses of the other side and Auchenheath. You get an idea of just how high you are above the water. In spring and summer when the leaves are growing and the trees feel full of life. The view obscured you can hear and see the birds singing and dancing in the branches. Sparrow and Finch by the dozen. Chirping mad in a frenzy. The occasional an unmistakable cry of a pheasy from the border of the fields and wood. Rooks or Craws circling, cawin’ loud and harsh.

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From here it’s just a short walk to the end of the woods. A metal gate onto a field signifies the limits of the trees. The gorge curves away from you heading to the opening and relative flatness at Corra mill. It then cuts a swathe through the cliffs to the Clyde again. You can see the houses of Tillitudelum. Usually this is the end of the walk for me. Where I about turn and saunter back the way I came. Here you can pass through the gate and follow the hedge. It will take you to the road and the entrance road to Craignethan Castle. From there the path leads to Lower Nethan Gorge and Nethanfoot at Crossford.

That’s a post for another day.

Dalzell Park

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Dalzell Park, the good, the bad and the beautiful.

I recently had the chance to go on a guided walk around Dalzell Park in Motherwell. The walk was run by The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) as part of their spring walks festival. It was an excellent morning out with two very knowledgable guides from North Lanarkshire’s Countryside Rangers. I really do wish I had taken better notes or recorded the information and stories told. I also wish I had taken more photographs but found it hard as I was too intent on listening and following someone else lead. However it did not take away from such a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Below are some of my highlights from around the park and hopefully I’ve got most of right.
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Dalzell House.

Now a private residence after being sold on by the council a few years ago so we didn’t access to get a closer look at the court yard and the splendid terraced gardens. It’s an A listed building and has had most if not all it’s important heritage preserved. A castle or defensive structure has apparently been on the site since the 9th Century. What you see today is mix of construction phases. The oldest being the tower in the centre, this dates from the 14th/15th century. The next phase is to the right and was added in the late 17th century and the the final phase on left was added in the 18th century. It’s been around and has seen many a distinguished guest, most notably Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as well as William Gladstone.

No proper castle is complete without a ghost story well Dalzell House is a bit spoiled for choice as it can boast no fewer than 3 ghosts. A green lady, a white lady and a grey lady. Hopefully I remember the right details for each ghost. The grey lady is supposed a nurse from when the house was a hospital during to after the First World War. The green lady is  of oriental origins or descent as there whiff of oriental perfume when she’s about. Finally the white ghost was a maid servant who got herself into trouble and rather than face the consequences threw herself off the tower. All that might make you think twice about living in one of the luxury apartments.
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The Covenanter’s Oak.

Possibly the oldest living thing in North Lanarkshire. Supposedly planted by David I around 1450 and around the same time as the Cadzow oaks across the Clyde. It has seen better days and despite appearances is still going strong. It’s been braced and supported to keep it going hopefully for another 500 years. There’s a couple of different stories about the Covenanters, they either carried out sermons under great tree or sheltered below it. Either way the Hamiltons of Dalzell at that time were supporters of the cause and ended up losing a lot of their lands because of it. Probably one of my favourite things in Dalzell Park just for it’s sheer majesty.

The Arboretum.

I’ll admit to being a big ignorant here. I thought and arboretum was a fancy greenhouse of sorts, oh how wrong was I. However as they say, you learn something new everyday. Well this was my new thing. An arboretum is basically a collection of trees. Yep, you’re not going to fit them in a greenhouse. This on in Dalzell Park has North American Sequoias, including one that they have managed to germinate from a cone using an oven. As Sequoias need raging forest fire to let their seeds drop. It also has many Yew trees more than I’ve seen in one garden. Maybe they were planting with zombie apocalypse in mind. Not just Scottish Yews either, they have specimens from all over the world. This is where it gets fuzzy with the tree stuff as the only other one I can remember is the Weeping Willow but there is lots of other trees. I promise. If trees are your thing go have a look.

The Phoenix Project.

Again I hope I get this correct on part of Dalzell Park, the Countryside Rangers and Phoenix Futures have been working on a project called Recovery through Nature. It’s all about helping people get rehabilitated and back on a even keel by helping out on nature projects. At Dalzell Park they’ve been working on clearing away rhododendron bushes and restoring some of the vistas the park had originally when the gardens were laid out. They also been involved in planting through out the park. Replacing trees and the like. Really worthwhile and great to hear about.
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The Listening Cave.

At the back of the house opposite the terraced gardens and across the Dalzell burn, I think it’s called that. There are a few that run through the park. You find just through the old bowling green, yes they had their own bowling green as well as a curling pond down by the Clyde and I’m sure one of the Rangers said a cricket pitch however I could be making that up. Anyway if you follow the path you’ll find the Listening Cave. Built to amplify the sound of the nearby waterfall and burn. I loved this. It was pretty cool. If you stood in a certain spot it felt like you were actually standing right next to the water. Step a little forward, backwards or either side and it was gone. Brilliant
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St Patrick’s Kirk.

The first christian site in Motherwell and home to the Hamiltons of Dalzell pet cemetery and mausoleum. The church no longer stands having fell into disrepair and ruin after being abandoned in the late 1700s. The graveyard however was used for many years after the church was left. The Hamiltons used the stone work from the ruined church for the mausoleum. Compared to the one down at the old palace grounds and Lord Belhaven’s just south along the Clyde this one is really understated. Bordering on the modest.

There’s been a lot of work carried out here by North Lanarkshire Council, CAVLP and the Phoenix Futures group to stabilise and rebuild the cemetery walls as well as protecting the mausoleum from vandalism. Next on the list is the graves and the yard themselves. Cleaning it up and fixing any headstones that can be. Also recording the names of those interred there for a local history project.
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Lord Gavin’s Temple.

Built for Lord Gavin Hamilton as a summer house it used to have a brilliant bright copper dome to crown it off. It allowed him to spend his time reading and smoking his cigars while watch over his wife’s grave down at the family mausoleum. He was either being very romantic or very scared that she would come back from the dead. Personally I hope he was being romantic.

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The Japanese Garden.

This has been moved two or three times. One of the original places was down between St Patrick’s well and Lord Gavin’s Temple. You can still see some of the traces there. The current Japanese garden has new pagodas. Not sure that’s the proper term. It’s been laid out to match the Buddha temple at Nagasaki. Well one of them was, not sure if it’s the current one or the original one. It’s full of oriental planting, Japanese Maples and rock gardens. It’s a really tranquil and beautiful place to wander round. In full bloom I think it will be stunning.

All in all it was a great morning’s walk. Full of information and wonder. If I get the chance and have the time I would definitely go on another guided walk and take better notes and more photographs!

You can look at the full set of photographs here on Flickr, Dalzell Park Photo Album.

If you have any questions, as always leave a comment below. Get me over on Twitter or you can send me an email through the contact me page.

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival.

The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership are putting on a Spring walking festival from Friday 22nd to Tuesday 26th May 2015. There’s loads of walks to do and something for every one.

Friday 22nd May

  • Discovering Castlebank Park, Lanark – 1pm
  • Bluebell Walk, Cleghorn Glen National Nature Reserve – 1pm and 3:30pm
  • A Walk in the Woods at New Lanark – 2pm

Saturday 23rd May

  • Restoring the Historic Landscape at Chatelherault – 10am
  • Ranger Guided Walk to the Falls of Clyde, Peregrine Watch Site – 1pm

Sunday 24th May

  • The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful at Dalzell Estate – 10am and 1:30pm
  • Kirkfieldbank Orchard Open Day – 2pm – 4pm

Monday 25th May

  • Lanark Health Walks – 1pm and 3pm

Tuesday 26th May

  • Spring Evening Walk at RSPB Baron’s Haugh – 7pm

The walks are free but booking is recommended. Click on the gallery below for more details.

You can read their official news release on there website or on go straight there with this link. Step Out for Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival. There you can click through and book yourself on one of the walks or you can use this link to go through to the booking page and sign right up.

I’ve booked myself on one of the walks on the Sunday so hopefully I’ll see you there.

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Covenanters Admirals and Deer

The monument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lambhill Steading

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

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

Towards Drumclog & Loundon Hill

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

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

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

Remains of an old Quarry

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

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

Towards Spirebush Hill and Nutberry Hill

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

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

On the Long Knowe

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

A sandy road

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

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

Marker post

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

The monument marks the spot

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

Auchengilloch Monument

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

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

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

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

and the other reads,

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

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

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

The beginning of the Back Burn

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

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

I can see some deer from here...

You can see the rubbish deer photograph here

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

Walking back to the car

My track on Social Hiking

Links that may interest you and give you further insight.

The Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association

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

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

The Covenanter Encyclopaedia

Scottish Covenanter Stories: Tales from the Killing Time

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

And in that kist, there is…..

Please act responsibily

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

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

At the beginning......

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

The inner wall

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

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

Is it brighter over there?

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

Where's the summit?

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

Ice on the fence

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

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

Cairn

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

Love heart trig

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

Iced up cairn

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

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

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

Maps, maps and Beer also known as planning a route, sort of

Plans are a foot

Well where to start. I’m never good at this. This being writing a post, not the planning of a walk. It is the first time I’ve planned a walk that’s not on an established route, like the West Highland Way or a real favourite of mine, climbing the Merrick from Glentrool.

It all came about from talking to my Dad and some of the things we’ve done as young boys growing up in Ayrshire, Cumnock and being up at Dalblair and the Glenmuir. Camping, Fishing and tramping about. Talking about the ruins of the Castle at Kyle. Most people forget about that castle (I had), also the old bridge and the shell that is High Dalblair Farm. That’s the furtherest I ever went but the road runs out there, right? Or so I thought. Bombshell from my Dad, that road goes to Crawfordjohn. It’s an old road, really old and there’s one from there that leads over to the Kames and Muirkirk. I knew about that one cause he’d walked and told me about but a road from Cumnock to Crawfordjohn. That was new. Well new to me.

To me Crawfordjohn has always been one of those places that’s miles away. If you ever have to drive to it from Cumnock is a long and winding loop of about 30 miles by car, either towards Muirkirk first then on to Crawfordjohn or down to Sanquhar and across. You see on signposts but don’t go to.

Now I’m intrigued that there was a road straight there. I started wondering if you the road was still there or parts of it, at the very least. So out came the maps and I can’t see anything. Well that’s not really true but the road ends at a sheep pen then there’s no trail marked on the OS and a whole host of Forestry Commission roads but it looks possible to walk but impossible to walk the old road. Can’t tell where it goes after the Glenmuir. I’m stumped and not sure what to do now. Like I said, I’m not a trailblazer, laying down new routes. Where do I start, how do I figure this out.

I’ve got a few contacts on Twitter (Ah, good old Twitter I hear you moan). That like me, like the outdoors and love walking and one name that I’ve been following immediately springs to mind, @MrPhilTurner, Phil Turner. Phil runs a site http://lightweightoutdoors.com/ and also writes and takes photographs for @walkhighlands. The reason Phil sprang to mind was on his lightweightoutdoors site he has a sub category, The local adventure project and this seem to fit right in there and of course he is a very knowledgeable outdoors man. I ping him a tweet and then an email. Bascically asking for his advice and what did he think of this as route.

I can’t thank Phil enough, much to his credit, away he went and came back with a route. I was amazed and asked him how he came up with it. Now for some embarrassment on my behalf. Phil sent me a link. A link to this, The road to Crawfordjohn. Why the embarrassment you are asking? I work in I.T. and never though to Google, Cumnock to Crawfordjohn. School boy error there I think you might agree. It’s a cracking wee post and details the old road nearly all the way. I never expect that much help from Phil and it’s another example of how good the Twitter community is.

Andrew Armstrong 1775 map

Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

I managed to find a copy of the Andrew Armstrong map from 1775 on line at the National Library that is mentioned in the article. You can see where the old road ran from the map. Compared to the new Ordnance Survey map below you can see there is no longer a road.

cumnock crawfordjohn os

Reproduced by the permission of Ordnance Survey.

Now I’ve got a beer, my OS map and the laptop open and I’m looking at the route and there’s much to get excited about. It looks a great walk on paper and the map is full of those little italics for old bits of history, interesting place names as well as couple of hills worth a trek up. I think that may well be a further post. It will be a further post.

Speaking to my walking buddy for this one, he’s not on twitter and doesn’t have a blog so I can’t link him up for you but he was all for banging out the 25 odd miles in a day. Start early but where’s the fun in that? I’m all for an over-nighter, camping out under the stars, taking our time, talking plenty of photographs. Fun. I’m winning.

I’m also thinking about grabbing a proper gps route while walking it. The .gpx file Phil sent is great but nothing beats boots on the ground. Lets face it nobody seems to walk this way any more and who knows some of you guys out there might be interested in the route and want to walk it yourself.

This was meant to be a planning blog, don’t think much planning went on, Phil did the hard work and I’m just reaping the glory. More like me waffling on. If there’s anything you want to know leave a comment. I suppose all that’s really left to do is set a date and get the boots on.