Tag Archives: Muirkirk

Thro’ Pathways Rough and Muddy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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)

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

Fae yin brig tae anither – The River Ayr Way Day 1

The river and some sandstone cliffs

Not so many weeks; nearly four, I walked the River Ayr Way with Phil, @MrPhilTurner. This is how I remember it. Not necessarily how he remembers it. We had talked about this walk the last time we were out, how I had done most of the sections but not all in one go and not all in the correct order. That it would be a good walk over three days. Split the 44 miles up and do some wild camping and bivvying. Messages were sent and dispatches received. Dates agreed and dates discounted. It was on, then it was off but ultimately we got a date and weekend that suited both of us. It was to be the the long weekend of the Royal Wedding. Plans now made and preparations set, it was only a matter of time.

The Friday morning came with a rosy finger’d dawn and I sneaked out the house. I didn’t want to wake my wife or my baby daughter best to let sleeping dogs lie as the say. I was meeting Phil at tookiebunten HQ in Ayrshire. My parents house for 8 am. I got there for just after seven. My lighter weight synthetic sleeping bag was in my parents loft and not in my garage. I had a bit of packing to do before Phil turned up and we wanted to get a good early start. That didn’t happen, I think I must have packed and repacked about 4 times before Phil arrived. It’s hard when your Dad is hinging o’er yer shooder offering unhelpful advice and then sterts tae rip in tae in front of your friend with funny sarcastic comments. I think my problem was I had no funny comebacks. I hate that. I reminded him, he was only getting a len o’ that. I’d get it back.

Eventually I got packed and also recieved a nice MountainGoat Gear hat from Phil. Sweet and luxurious. More on that at some point in the future. We got the Tookie taxi loaded up for the short drive to Glenbuck and the start of the walk. Glenbuck is a funny place in that it doesn’t actually exist anymore. It’s an opencast mine. Needless to say you can’t get there. The bus stops at Muirkirk and then sometimes there is a wee bus that shuttles to Douglas past the Glenbuck road end. Once in a blue moon I think as I couldn’t find a timetable but it didn’t matter as Auld Tookie nae knees had agreed to drop us off. The drive out was funny for me, not sure about Phil though. I had to bite my tongue and I probably shouldn’t have. My Dad had is ‘proper’ phone voice on talking to Phil. I could have had my own back but thought better of it. He was being a good guy giving us a lift out to the loch. It I’ll keep.

On the drive over the weather was not looking promising. Big black clouds as we drove through Muirkirk and out the other side. I think we said as much but I still took the decision to leave my full waterproofs in my car. I was beginning to think that might not have been the best idea. My apex wind shirt is waterproof to a point. Hopefully. We turned in and followed the road up and round to the Fisherman’s car park at Glenbuck loch. We got out and sorted ourselves. Maing ready. Said thank you and goodbye to Tookie Senior then we set off down the path to where we thought the start was. Not realising we had actually passed it. We came across a nice carved totem pole but that’s not the start. Still following the path. We walked round, then realised that we were back to where we turned into the car park and there was my Dad reading the board in front of a massive block of stone.

The Start of the River Ayr Way

The stone is interesting in that it’s not stone. It’s actually sand from the beach at Ayr and the structure is lined up with the harbour at there, creating an imaginary line straight to the end. Now officially at the start, we said out cheerios again and set off properly. I switched on the e-trex GPS and got the track recording and Phil fired of a SPOT beacon and switched on ViewRanger to record a track. That was it. Hi ho hi ho and off we went. We hadn’t walked far when we came to out next monument. In fact probably only 20 steps but we had noticed this one on the way in. How we missed that massive other one I’ll never know. This monument is a memorial to the legendary and revered football manager Bill Shankly. He was born in the village of Glenbuck. Their most famous son. We turned and continued down the road following the directional marker.

Bill Shankly Memorial

We crossed the main road to the other kissing gate which led onto the old railway line, it had a warning about new born lambs and how hill sheep are skittery in general and asking us not to walk through the fields till the next day. We politely ignored the warning or request. What difference is a day going to make. I know this sounds callous and ignorant. Ignoring a farmers wishes. However it was an educated decision. I’m a country boy; I’ve worked on farms, I have a certain amount of knowledge and experience of the beasts. Also we weren’t walking with a dog, we weren’t going to be lifting and cuddling the lambs or chasing them around. We were probably the ones in danger from the sheep coming at us thinking they were getting an extra feed! Not that us being there bothered the farmer, scooting aboot on his quad bike. If he had a problem, he would have asked us to leave. It’s just about being sensible. Closing gates and leaving the animals be. Leave it as you found it.

It’s nice walk along the old railway line. The weather was threatening shaking fists at us, big heavy clouds but doing little about it. Blowing hard, nothing to worry about. We were walking away from it anyway. It was clear where we were heading. The landscape is juxtaposed here; on the one side of the road you have good green Ayrshire hill farms, nature being managed, on the other side a massive opencast coal operation, nature having her heart ripped out and us in the middle walking along on a past man-made scar that’s now, apart from the well kept track, slowly turning back to be green and wild. The only hints of it’s past life; the occasional wooden sidings of the old stations, or where it cuts straight through a bank.

The old railway line

Enjoying the walk on the old line. Passing through the numerous gates. Talking about this, that and the next thing, as you do. When suddenly I had one of those; not quite a flash back, more of a depth charge going off in the back of my mind. BANG. More like FUCK. FUCK, FUCK, FUCKITY, FUCK! Or something along those lines is what I vocalised. Much to Phil’s mid sentence surprise. Much to my own as well. FUCK just for good measure. In my rush to repack my rucksack I hadn’t put my main meals in. How stupid. I had packed my breakfasts plus my snacks. No dinner. Maybe it was a subconscious thing as I’m not all that keen on the dehydrated meals. Whatever it was, was not good. Really not good. Phil being a good guy though said he probably had enough and we would work something out. That he had plenty. I still felt like a dick though, amateur hour on prime time. On we went, me silently cursing and kicking myself.

Heading for Kames, were talking about how you don’t get see many walkers out on these Ayrshire paths or even the hills. How great and under rated it is. If you know me, a favourite rant of mine and one subject I can talk for hours on. Other than leaving my dad back at Glenbuck the only person we had seen all morning was the farmer on his ATV. Talk about the De’il and he’s sure to appear, especially in Ayrshire. No sooner had we got into full flow on the subject than we were passed by three. Yep count them, one, two, three cyclist on their mountain bikes. Which is great to see. Mind you, don’t know if I could be jucked being on bikes though. All those gates, kissing or otherwise, stiles and these weird new upside down Vs that they have put in place. Looks like it’s to deter the cyclist rather than encourage them but good on them and away they went, peddling into the distance. Us wondering if they were going to do the Way in one go.

The first few miles were being knocked off at a fine steady pace. The walking was easy as it is when you are in good company. I would like to say we reached Kames without noticing it but that’s not strictly true as it is obvious. There are houses, but you understand. You see the old parish church of Muirkirk to your right. Muir as in moor from Scots. The church on the moor. It is interesting from here as you get to see that Muirkirk as people and passersby think of it is wan place it’s actually three distinct areas. Kames where we were standing but also Muikirk itself, the oldest part and Smallburn a later extension. Most of those from Kames were moved there. Better housing. The path here takes you round the back of Kames which is a shame as you only get to see the back of the ‘Institute’. A common thing in these old mining villages. Built by the owners for their workers. It is a pretty building as these things go, of old red sandstone.

Here there is also a walkers car park where you can set off on a few excellent walks around the Muirkirk area. This is a good jumping off point. There is even an audio tour to accompany the walks, stating the links with Covenanters, local history and natural interests. However if the information board’s map is anything to go by, it’s a little bit confusing. It even left Phil scratching his head never mind me. Somebody needs a lesson on orientating maps or a compass at the very least. I can understand as well why the path goes roon the back. People now live in a row of houses, all that is left of Kames. You can see the parts of walls that formed the other rows as you follow the path.

First ever Tar McAdam road

The path continues up through some new planted woods and joins the old Sanquhar road. Famous locally for being the first tarred road in the world. Maybe even famous internationally? The process invented by a local engineer, John Loundon McAdam. He introduced the process of macadamising, using the by product from the local coal mines to produce coal tar to bind stones together to make a smooth hard road surface. I always get a little shiver of pride when walking on that road. To think that the world’s modern road system started here. Chalk another one up for Ayrshire. Not sure how much of the original surface is left but it the thoughts that count. We stopped to let a car pass, there is another unofficial car park at this end of the road. Then the local Game keeper all camoed up for war drove by us on his quad. We had stopped opposite what was once John McAdam’s house. Not much remains but a few walls but it seem that it wasn’t a modest home.

From here we turned right or in a general west direction. Here the landscape looks natural, wild moorland but it is anything but, nature has just over grown and laid a blanket down over what is left of man’s ruins. We were now walking through the old tar works themselves. There are the tell tale lumps and bumps and even the obvious lade cut from the burn if you know what your looking for. Stuart Ainsworth from the Time Team’s territory. We were now heading to yin o’ the twa brigs. The Garpel Bridge or as it’s more commonly known as Tibbie’s Brig. The other brig being the Sanquhar Brig but that was not on our path, not today. The bridge gets it’s name from the fact that a local poetess lived next to the ford of the burn. The bridge not being built when she lived there. Her name was Isobel Pagan or Tibbie to everyone. As the legend goes; not the most attractive of ladies, a deformed foot and lame from birth. She also had a squint and a hump back by all accounts. Her fame comes from running a howff and serving beer and usquabae to the local miners as well has her singing and poetic recitals. She is most famous for a rhyme that Robert Burns quoted. Wither the poem was actually written by her is debatable. It just maybe part of the oral tradition and it just so happened that someone wrote it down after hearing Tibbie sing it. Ca’ the yowes tae the knowes is the title.

Tibbie's Brig

Ca’ the yowes to the knowes,
Ca’ them where the heather grows,
Ca’ them where the burnie rows,
My bonie dearie

Burns took the song and rewrote to suit himself but keept the original chorus. Isobel had a book of works printed with some of her favourite songs. Here there is also a cairn marking the spot where her howff sat next to the water. It is a nice spot to sit  some time under the bridge with tumbling water. It was the first time we had been next to the water for a while. Almost since the start.

From here the path climbs up and back onto a section of the old railway line and away from the river again via a set of stairs. Here I was greeted by an over enthusiastic Border Collie puppy. I would normally say much to the owners embarrassment. No amount of shouting commands would get the dog to heel. The dog just being playful and wanting to be clapped. Luckily both of us are not scared of dugs. Well unless they are big rabid hounds of the Baskerville, fangs dripping, teeth snarling, devil dog beasts. The old Billy Connelly joke springs to mind; must be able to smell my dog, they call it puppy love. Once the owner had the excitable pup back on the lead Phil and I continued on. Still the only walkers that appeared to be out to do the River Ayr Way.

We were now past Smallburn and getting close to the old parish boundary. Entering into the policies of the old Wellwood House. Now no longer visible. A ruin, destroyed and the stone probably quarried away to use else where. The only clue to the fact is the ubiquitous rhododendron bushes and the purple flowers scattered here an and there. It was the sight of an ancient tower house and with all auld castles there’s a story to go along with it. This particular one goes along the lines of a maid was murdered in the house and for years no amount of scrubbing could remove a mysterious stain from a flagstone step. The new owner decided to call in a local mason. A stone mason and possibly a brother on the level to cut out the offending step and replace it with a new one. The local man duly complete his task, got paid and ended up dead. All with in a few hours, so the story goes. It was about here that we decide to take a mid-morning break. We were making good time but it was not like we  were yomping on. The pace was easy, it was that it was a good well made track we were following.

I found myself checking the E-trex while we were sitting watching the green hued water flow by. Something that worried us both, trying to figure it out. Was it the run off from the fields or some other thing from the opencast. Either way it wasn’t pleasant looking and to think I used to swim in these deep slow meandering bends. I don’t remember it being like that but I don’t think it did me any harm? Me and the E-trex were heading for a fall out. It was my own fault and much to Phil’s amusement I had manged to switch it off and I couldn’t get it back on. How I managed to record my route on the Merrick I’ll never know, One thing it did know was I wasn’t going to be recording this. Off. Phil was tracking the route anyway and as the good gentleman that he is said he would send me on the GPX.

As we sat there, low and behold two other walkers. Proper walkers in full on walking gear, rucksacks and everything appeared from around the bend in the burn. Now we weren’t the only ones walking the River Ayr Way. When they reached our resting spot we exchange pleasantries and they stopped to chat. They were staying at the Sorn Inn. They had driven from Sorn to the start at Glenbuck. Walking back to Sorn where their bikes were, them cycling back to Glenbuck to pick the car up. Keen, I remember thinking. It’s all up hill on the way back if your cycling to Muirkirk. It’s a big pull out of Sorn. We wished them well and hoped to see them later on.

William Adam a Martyr

Fuelled and ready to move on, we got our packs settled and ourselves ready. Still within the Wellwood polices and close to what is now Upper Wellwood farm. We made our way across the Proscribe Burn towards a martyr’s grave. One of the may that litter the moss’s here. Another thing that Ayrshire was famous for, renouncing the King and his Episcopalian faith in favour of their own Presbyterian faith. There are many battles and many graves marked around here from the Killing Times, for both sides. Sorn where we were heading for, was one of the main garrisons in the area for the Red Coats. From there they would strike out searching for Covenanters but the would soon just question anyone that they came upon and hell mend you if didn’t answer their questions to their liking as happened to the poor William Adam. Shot on the spot. No judge or jury. The grave sits in a lovely little wooded glade which would be pleasant place to sit if there wasn’t such a sad story.

A Martyrs Grave

We followed the river to the road, the A70 and crossed over to the other side. Not in a spiritual way but in the physical sense. From there we followed the track over a well made foot bridge. There was some pride in that construction. Once over the bridge we were into Airds Moss. Airds Moss is now a nature preserve looked after by the RSPB. I think they describe it as an upland bog. Yes, very pleasant. It is home to a variety of wildlife and all manner of birds. I’m painting a pretty picture of the place but it can be a brutal place if the weather is bad. It is open moorland and not a place to be caught in bad weather. Luckily for Phil and I, we were enjoying some fine Ayrshire weather. That was to say it was dry and not cold. However Ayrshire is always a fine place when I’m home.

The bridge into Airds Moss

Airds Moss is another of these areas recovering from man’s intervention. It is starting to get some of it’s wild beauty back but there are still signs of the industrial revolution. One in particular is what I though was the parish mill. A big building in it’s own right. All the farms were tithed to it so it would be producing a lot of flour and grain. I was convinced it was. I could see the lade cut but then it open up massively. I would have to have been the biggest mill in the world. There would have been and immense amount of water turning the wheel. Time to get the guide book out. Dane Love to the rescue. Not a mill but an Iron Works. A big Irons Works.

The moss was also a favourite hiding place for the Covenanters due to the many secluded farms and steadings dotted about. It was also heavily grazed in the past. It was also the site of a battle between the Covenanters and the Red Coats. The monument is on another path and in the opposite direction from our heading. It commemorates a battle of 1680 where the preacher, Reverend Richard Cameron was killed after having prayed, “Lord, spare the green and take the ripe”. He was one of 9 Covenanters to die that day including his brother. The Cameronian’s (26th Regiment of Foot) of the British Army are said to have taken their name from him.

The moss is a weird place there’s lots going on but not much to look at, if that makes sense. The place is full of history, steeped in but it’s not there to see. If your a twitcher the place is probably a haven for you but for the walker. The landscape is flat and probably why I’ve just given such a history lesson and no photographs to show, well a couple. I have more to tell as well. Airds Moss was also home to John Lapraik, another 18th Century poet and friend of Robert Burns. We do like oor wurds in Ayrshire. He was a wealthy farmer until the banks crash in Ayr and he lost it all, ending up in the debtor’s prison. Moving to the farm at Dalfram. Burns wrote three Epistles to him an old Scottish bard. The were known to be friends and supposedly Lapraik is where Robert got is inspiration for A Man’s a Man for a’ That. For all his woes he lived a long life dying at the age of 80. He is buried in the churchyard at Muirkirk.

I’m not sure but I think Phil was glad by the time we had reached the end of Airds Moss and I would shut up for a bit. I’m sure I saw him wiping a trickle of blood from his ears. We crossed over another stout and well made bridge. We were now at Greenock Mains and off the bog on the other side of the river. It was only just past one in the afternoon and we were close, only a couple miles short of where we were going to camp for the night. I think at this point we were both starting to think that Sorn was a distinct possibility. Not at that point had we vocalised it but I know I was feeling fine then. No problems with walking further. It was around here we caught back up with the cyclists/walkers. They had stopped for a spot of lunch or a break. We said our hellos again and left them to it. However I think they planted a seed as not long after that Phil suggested we stop or was it me? Matters not. We found an agreeable spot next to the water. I broke out more energy bars and some of that sweet sweet sickly thick energy syrup. It makes me gag a bit but it doesn’t half give you that kick. For me anyway.

The river after Airds Moss

It was then that Phil said that he thought he recognised the guy that was one half of the walkers/cyclist pair; to which I laughed, but not in a mocking way. It was funny. I had been thinking the same thing since we had seen them back at Wellwood. I thocht I kent them baith. That they were local folks, Cumnockians at the very least. Phil reckoned the guy was another out door blogger (If your reading this let us know). I still haven’t figured it oot. Maybe he just had one of those faces. It was decision time, 2 miles to the proposed bivvy or do we walk on to Sorn and take it from there. There’s not much distance between Sorn and Catrine so it would probably be best to bivvy at the back end o’ Ca’in. I pointed out that from there is wasn’t far to the campsite but then Phil reminded me, no tents. Ah. The wids would be fine and the chance of some fine pints and a meal in the Sorn Inn. That’s an attractive offer at any time. Never mind when your out having a great walk. Done deal, Sorn it was. We got our pack sorted again but not before I got to see and try out some great glorious gear porn from Phil. Which I won’t disclose here has he hasn’t posted anything about on his blog. I’ll just tease you all. You’ll have to keep an eye on http://lightweightoutdoors.com

The River Ayr looking back towards Kames

Back to the path it was and the thought of good beer. It’s not long from where we stopped at Limmerhaugh Muir that you have to climb up the river bank and out as starts to cut deep into the surrounding countryside. It’s at the Crook Moss. It’s not until you get to the top of the bank do you realise just how far down the water has eroded. Again you are on raised moorland but further on the land rises away from you to the north with Auchenlongford Hill and Wedder Hill higher still but only being about 1200ft. The path here seems to follow an older track with a ditch cut along one side as well as remnants of a windbreak or tree planted boundary. When you get to the end of this track and enter Merkland the path descends steeply along side some waterfalls. You can hear the water falling hard but it takes a bit of peering between the trees to see it. Once down you are along side the river again. I was starting to find that I missing the river when the sections forced you away from the water. It’s soothing sound and tranquil flow. I don’t know what it is about the water, it just draws me in.

The old road to Sorn

From here the path turns into a board walk that’s attached to a steep bank above the water. This section takes you round an old Motte and Bailey castle. Don’t get too excited there’s only the Bailey left. Even that is hard to make out, as it’s now completely wooded over. I think it would be hard to see even with out the trees as the builders of the castle took a natural feature and enhanced it somewhat into a strong defencive position. It’s not that the walk is precarious here but I think that if yourself and heights didn’t get on too well you might find this section some what uncomfortable. It does give you a different view of the river. If you look hard enough on the way into Sorn from Daldilling past Glenlogan House and up to the cottage at Dalgain. You’ll see more of tell tale signs of Ayrshire’s industrial past. There are ruins of iron works and coal mines. Water filled holes and fallen masonry arches of the kilns for the smelting.

It was here that I was starting to feel the strains of the day. My legs were starting to get tired. Especially with the up and downs of the last few sections. I was looking forward to a beer. It was then that it looked like it was finally going to rain, the weather that we had left behind in Muirkirk had finally caught us up. There was some big drops falling and I thought it felt that it could thunder. It was close feeling and I could almost sense the electricity in the air but it came to nothing. Just a little shower but the skies stayed overcast after having such great weather most of the way to Sorn.

Sorn is a two bridge one street sort of village and I was glad to see the cottage it was all down hill to the pub. It had been a long time since I had done mileage like that. My calf’s and hamstrings had taken the brunt. My feet in my Roclites were doing great, a hell of a lot better than they would have been in my usual Scarpa SLs. Phil and I joked as much but half knowing that it was probably true. I would have flooded the river with the all my greetin’. The legs were going, getting really stiff and the hard packed tarmacadam pavement wasn’t helping. Every step was a step closer to the pub. Hmm closer to a cool pint of beer. A fair reward. It was about here that our new ‘friends’ passed us on their bikes on the way out of Sorn going back to get Glenbuck.

Much to my dismay the pub was shut. Shut on a Friday afternoon. Yep, never mind no room at the inn, the shop was shut up tight. It wasn’t even 4pm yet and these weary travellers were in need of a refreshment. I say we but you should probably read me. I think Phil was fine. My fitness is definitely better than the last outing but nowhere near fit Phil’s. My heart sank. There is nothing in Sorn. Remember two bridges one main street. Nothing for it but to walk back to the other end and the post office stroke local store stoke news agents. IRN-BRU would have to suffice. That walk back to the shop was lucky if it was 500 yards but to my legs it was another ten miles. It was a good pain but it was still pain. Oh how a pint of beer would have slaked that and washed away the pain.

It wasn’t all bad, in the post office looking for chocolate and IRN-BRU my Ayrshire boy spider sense was sent tingling. Whoop, whoop. Like a bee to a flower’s nectar or dug tae chocolate. There it was like a shining blesha beacon, a bottle of Curries Red Kola. I knew this before I knew IRN-BRU. I grew up guzzling this stuff by the gless cheque. It was delivered to the house, yes delivered to the house straight from the factory by the crate load, weekly. Along with all sorts of other exotic flavours. Grapefruit Cup, Dandelion and Burdock, Special Limeade and Lime Crush. This is the fizzy juice of all fizzy juices and as far as I’m aware only known in Ayrshire. Please correct me if I’m wrong. IRN-BRU can’t clap wind on Curries Red Kola erse when it comes to pure sugar and artificial colouring. All the good natural stuff you need after a long walk. I was a happy boy again. The pub could wait.

We went a cross the road; I hobbled like pony with a stone in it’s hoof, like I said Phil was good and sat on the bench next to the bus shelter to consume our treats while we waited. As it is with all things nature takes it course and starts to call. Well I had nearly drunk 750ml of natural goodness that is Red Kola and Phil had some artificial day glow Mountain Dew concoction, I think. It was that or Lucozade. The guide informed us that there was indeed local facilities available however not where. Phil, feeling a bit sorry for me nipped back across the road to ask the fine upstanding women in the shop where we could find the public conveniences. He came back and said that they were next to the Church. The Church was beyond the inn, the very last building of the town. Ouch. I hadn’t moved for a good ‘our as we talked and watched the world go by and a mangy old dog saunter up and down the road with impunity. There was nothing for it, I downed the last of the sweet liquid and got up. Ouch ouch ouch ouch aaahhh, that was how I crossed the road. I returned my empty glass bottle to the shop and got my 30p return fee back. Nice. Aaahh ouch ouch ouch aaahhh ouch as I crossed the road again. The more I walked the more the stiffness eased. I probably shouldn’t have sat so long.

After that; you don’t need the details, we sat in the church yard for a bit. It was a nice afternoon and it was peaceful, dead quiet. The clock ticked and the hands moved. Time to walk back to the pub. Dinner and beer. Which was handy for me, remember I had left my meals in car. We were a few minutes early but they let us in and through to the bar anyway. Nice folks. They’ve done a bit of work since the last time I was there. The bar is a bit smaller but it was never big in the first place and they have increased the size of the restaurant. We ordered a couple of pints; for the life of me I can’t remember what, other than I think it came from the Houston brewery over in Renfrewshire. It was a good beer and well worth the wait. On top of the fine pint the bar had some excellent snacks on offer of pigs in blankets. We scoffed a few as a ‘starter’ as we perused the menu. Phil ordered a burger and chips, I went for the steak pie and tatties. It was then cyclist/walkers returned. It had been a hard cycle for them back to get the car, into the wind for most of the way and of course up hill.

Auld Bridge at Sorn

The steak pie was a treat. A blessing in disguise leaving those dehydrated meals in the car at Cumnock. Not that couldn’t have phoned my Dad and he would have met us somewhere and handed them over. We were never far from home. Time was getting on, we were already 3 or 4 pints down the road as it was. A new suitable bivvy spot was still to be found and there was still a couple of miles to walk. It wasn’t going to get dark for a while yet but it was time to move. We said our good-byes and settled the bill. Heading out the pub and over the auld brig at Sorn.

Sorn Castle(2)

Climbing up out of the village we entered in the grounds of Sorn Castle. There has been much work going on here recently. The track was a wide and broad avenue. Obvious that the work was still continuing but still able to walk. I’m unclear to the reason for the upgrading here but it makes for a nice walk here and you are afforded good views of the castle. The castle is now a fine house, and far from the original tower structure as you can get. The pain was gone but the stiff legs were still there. Beer has amazing properties and I sure I was probably about a jar away from sporting a nice warm and comforting beer jacket. Every step was getting easy again. From the great views of the Castle it’s all downhill and the polices make for a very pleasant walk now that the path has been improved.

It’s not far from Sorn to Catrine along the river and it wasn’t long until we approaching Daldorch House; once the mill owners house, now a bank school or special needs or whatever the current term is. As we were nearing the back of the house, we noticed a boy fishing and I asked if anything was biting. The River Ayr is good for trout and the sea trout, salmon run is getting better every year. Just getting some minties was the reply. I smiled, been I long time since I did that. He was fishing in a competition and gathering up minnows for some live bait.

Catrine Voes

Here is were the hand of man is most obvious even although the mills are gone. All the workings are still here. The lades, weirs and voes as well as the sluce gates are all still in place. A reminder of the industrial revolution, of when it started here, continued in use up until the late 60s and early 70s. My Dad started his apprenticeship in the mill and my Gran, his mum worked there also. It must have been something to see in it’s hay day. The power of all that water. This side of Catrine up on the hill is actually quite nice the large reservoirs that held the water in case the river ran low has been turned into a nature reserve and the mill workers cottages over look it. However down the hill where we were heading was a different story. It’s all run down, boarded up shops and graffiti. Nothing for the kids to do. An all to familiar sight.

It was getting late and the buckfast crew were beginning to assemble like zombies in the streets as we passed through. Not really a good time to be hanging about and seeing the sights. We crossed the river yet again to Cartine’s Institute and followed the signs for the River Ayr Way. Now heading along the water towards Ballochmyle and the Howford Bridge. The river cuts through another deep gorge here but we were not going to go as far the road bridge. Two runners passed us running along the water next to the Ayrshire tattie fields with it’s shiny plastic furrows. I’ve never seen the machine that lays down the miles and miles of the stuff. It would be interesting to see how it worked. Soon we turned west following the river climbing into woods again and way from the village. Once enveloped by the trees we started to look for a suitable spot away from the path and any possible prying eyes. Somewhere nice to bed down for the night.

The river between Catrine and Mauchline

We weren’t long in finding a good place. The river turned again creating a large meandering bend and the path turns leaving the river to climb up and over the Howford towards Catrine House. We didn’t, we headed down to the bank and followed the river further into the woods. The track high above us. Phil found a nice glade, a good a place as any. Off came the rucksacks and out with the bivvy bags. Mine’s being bright red and not very subtle especially against the lush green carpet of the wood’s floor. Phil on the other hand had a nice green one. Anyway I had my tarp so I suggested, for extra protection and some cover from the path above, that we set it up. Not that onybuddy was aboot ken. The tarp was pitched simple fashion. All Bristol and ship shaped. Will not quite but you get the idea. Nothing complicated.

We got oorsels settled in and sorted. Sleeping bags and mats in place. When probably one of the strangest things that has happened on any of my walks but I’ve got broad shoodirs so I’ll talk about it. Phil got out some foot cream. Not the most manly of things. I think I may have ribbed him about it but I’ll be honest, I was intrigued. He explained that it was good for tired sore feet and by the gods they were tired and sore. What the hell gies a shot, I’ll give that a bang. There I am in the middle of the Ayrshire wids rubbing some lavender smelling cream into my feet. I’ve never rubbed cream into my feet before. It was nice and we’ll leave it at that. I will also point out Phil did not rub my feet and I did not rub his and no, there is no truth in the rumour that we walk holding hands. Behave yoursels.

pitched in the woods(1)

Now it was time to kick back and get some zeds. It had been a brilliant day walking. The weather had been fine mostly. However all the fun and games hadn’t finished yet. Sitting on my nice new Alpkit sleeping mat was fine, feet anchored in the grass but it was a different story as soon as I lay down. It was like a slipper chute. Straight off. Try again. Nope. A greased monkey wouldn’t have been slipperier. Phil suggested letting some air out to see if that would help. Unfortunately it didn’t. My own fault for being so desperate to try out the new mat. My only recourse was to cast the mat aside if I was to get a decent night’s sleep. I managed after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get myself comfy and that was that. Out like a light. The switch had been flicked. The last thing I remember, the sounds of the running river. Day one was done and so was I, but in a good way.

You can find day 2 here http://walkwithtookie.com/62708888

You can get the guide book we used; through my Amazon Associates link, The River Ayr Way. Also the maps that I carried just in case, Sanquhar and New Cumnock (OS Explorer Map Series) and Ayr & Troon OS Explorer Map 326