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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.

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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Blackhill

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Blackhill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best for last

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

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