Tag Archives: Scotland

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)

A Winter’s Tale: Ballantrae to Lendalfoot.

Ailsa Craig

Here I go again, stealing the second part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s title. You can read the first part about the first day here.

Striking camp from place that shall remain nameless. We had struck a deal. Hear no evil, see no evil. I don’t want the generous people that allowed us to camp to get into trouble for their kindness. A story for another day, possibly. Anither time. It felt colder than Saturday, pulling the pegs for the Gram-counter Gear LiteHouse Solo. My hands were going numb and I had all my layers on. Brrrr. I don’t think it WAS colder. It just felt it. Gone were the clear blue skies and weak winter sun to be replaced with cold gun metal grey clouds. The breeze was still there, not helping matters. I was slower than Phil packing up, he had already legged it back to the car and the warmth of it’s heaters. I wasn’t long behind. Not a morning for hanging around. Hopefully it would clear. Even if the sun broke through just a little it would feel better.

Phil had the car started and the heaters on and his fingers were starting to get there feeling back. I just huddled in my layers hoping to heat up soon. Strange to be so cold after being so warm the night before in the Therm-A-Rest Haven bag. Once I had figured it out. It’s always the way, losing all the heat that you’ve accumulated in your own wee cocoon. We left and joined the road back to Ballantrae. A couple of bedheads not quite fully awake to the world yet but looking forward to another fun days walking. I was anyway.

Back in Ballantrae we stopped at the Spar to resupply. Phil bought another pie for lunch and a big steak pie for his dinner. They are local made pies and he was impressed with them from the day before. Phil knows a thing or two about pies. If he says its a good yin, it’s a good yin. I bought two bottles of Irn Bru. My weakness. Sweet sweet nectar. The true drink of the gods. I drink it by the gallon. However I’m not alone in that, just ask Barrs.

With breakfast washed down with half a bottle of Bru. I was ready for the day. No need to be carrying all the gear we had yesterday. Everything other than what was classed as essential got left in the boot. Basically we dumped all the gear in the car except food and liquid and the water proof jackets. We had parked back in the same car park on the Foreland. We crossed the road to where the way markers were indicating the path continued. I had kept my insulated jacket on over my wind shirt and I was glad of the extra heat. Added to that I had my hat on. This served two purposes; one, keeping my head warm, two, hiding the Mr Majeika bedhead from the night in the sleeping bag. Hopefully it would flatten out the ducks tails and coos lick I was sporting. Not that I was likely to bump into anyone I know but you never know, back in the land of my fathers’ and the county I grew up in. So vain.

We walked along the Foreland stopping occasionally to read the information boards. I love those boards especially if there made by the locals. Full of interesting little nuggets of local knowledge. From there we walked round to the harbour. It’s a picturesque wee thing like a lot of harbours up the west coast. It would look even better if it had some boats anchored in it’s lea. Maybe in the summer but it stood proud and strong against the sea, if a little lonely. The coastal path then becomes just that, a coastal path. You make your way along the shore. For us the tide was out but may have been on it’s way back in. The beach was made up of firm sand with patches of pebbles and stones. The common make up of the beaches here and great for walking on. Especially in your bare feet during the summer months. Beware though the sea can still be terribly cold even in the height of summer. Ah when I was a boy.

It’s a long beach and a longer walk than you think. One of those walks that you have to look behind you to see how far you’ve come as the head land and it’s cave doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. Something I was doing frequently. It was a good section to start on and stretch my stiff and unfit walking legs. About halfway along I had built up a head of steam and had to remove my insulated jacket. I didn’t want to over heat and build up too much sweat. Eventually or so it felt; not in a bad way, we came to the end of the beach. We made our way off up the path to where a marker gave us a choice. A take it at your own risk sort of offer. You could either follow the new road up and over the head land and down or the old road round but that was your decision. On your head be it. Personally it wasn’t a hard choice for me and Phil was of the same mind. The two of us were not for the long hard pull along the new road with trucks, lorries and cars speeding by. Added to the fact that there was no real view. It was agreed. We moved off over a small bridge and joined the old road that I remember more fondly from my younger days.

Snib Scott's Cave

On the old road here is a cave. A cave that I remember well but having never gone in. It took a cairn and Phil to remind me of the story. This particular one was where Snib Scott lived. Originally a banker from Dundee, he just chucked. Decided it wasn’t for him, this modern world and he wanted something simpler. Doesn’t get much simpler than being in a cave, living hand to mouth. He must have been happy as he lived for many many years. Phil went in for a look about. Too dark for me. I’m a big shite bag in the dark places. It wasn’t for me. Even now my hackles are on end just remembering it. I let big brave Phil explore. I just stood in the entrance. He switched on his heard torch and vanished into the back, the abyss. Void of light. To me it was a black hole sooking up all the light. Shiver. I don’t think Phil realised that if anything happened back there; like attacked by cannibals, dinner with the De’il or a fall, he was on his own. I would run and jump in the freezing sea before venturing into that particular hell of mine. However I may surprise myself, bite it down and go in there and drag him out. Never say never. Luckily nothing foul happened to Phil and he returned safe.

Snib Scott's Cave

Once the caving expedition was complete we ventured back on to the road and followed it’s gently curving incline round the head land. Much more sedate and enjoyable than the up hill slog on the new road. The old road has been claimed back by the local farmer and he’s using it for his own needs. It is weird though walking up a full proper road with no traffic. Even although you know there’s no cars you still find yourself looking around for traffic.

It was not long until we found ourselves in familiar territory, another river of coo shite and piss. Yep. We were back there again; well not quite physically, that was miles away on the other side of Ballantrae. Anither turgid, festering and stinking road of pish and shit. We had not long got rid of the stench from the day before. It was nowhere near as deep as the previously crap filled road but it was just as wide and just as long. That and another herd of cows; this time beef not dairy, stood between us and the top of the hill. I could see the look on Phil’s face and he didn’t look best pleased. I imagine mine to be similar but we laughed it off and got on with it. Skirting the slick road by way of the fence on the slightly higher ground and trying not to get entangled in the rusty old barbed wire. I didn’t fancy having to stop in at Ayr hospital on the way home to get myself a tetanus jab. Aye a jab not jag because it is like getting punched in the arm. It was almost like Total Wipe out on BBC1 but I didn’t fancy splashing down in that liquid road. That would not be funny.

On getting to the top of the hill we now had to join back up with the main road, the A77. Not the best having to walk along the verge. The views to our left were cracking but I can imagine it not being much fun in the height of summer. The coast road here can exceptionally busy. Nose to tail. We were lucky it was a Sunday in January and cold to go with it. At this point the road is all downhill and makes for easy walking and being high on the headland affords stunning views on a clear day. Northern Ireland, The Ailsa Craig, Mull of Kintyre and Arran. Mind you it has to an exceptionally clear day to see the hills of Northern Ireland.

It could be one of those places that if a car doesn’t get you, the cannibals might well. Oh? You don’t know we have cannibals in Ayrshire. Aye. They stay in caves along the shore at Bennane Point. That’s what I was lead to believe, my dad told the story of Swaney Bean like he was real and not some 200 year old tale. Used to scare us running round the beaches. It stopped my sister and I from venturing too far. Sawney Bean will get yi. Personally a great yarn invented by the smugglers that did use those caves, to keep folk out just in case the De’il wasnae awa’ wi’ th’ exciseman. It would take a brave man to go down there an’ face off against forty odd hungry rabid cannibalised Ayrshire folk. Just be like square in Cumnock when they kick the pubs oot on a Saturday night.

Down the Road

Having dodged the cars and avoided being boiled in a massive cauldron of human stovies or worse by Sawney Bean and his clan, we made it to Bennane and it’s very own five star spa. Not that Phil and I were about to go and get a pedicure. We don’t need such things. As we reached the spa, Phil stepped out of sight over the wall. I hadn’t notice him disappear from sight, I was too busy looking out to sea. The next thing I knew was  a shout of “Morning!”. It was a bit startling, no other soul was about or so we thought. I’m sure the De’il himself was woken, if not him then the dead. It brought me round from my day dreaming out at sea. As I jumped over the wall, I to was greeted with a shouty welcome. It was a guy coming out of the spa laden with towels. I returned the greeting but not as load and continued after Phil. He was checking to see if the walk continued on the beach. It didn’t, it still followed the road but had become a Tar McAdam(ed) path.

Kayaking in the bay

Now down at sea level barring a few feet. It was a straight walk into Lendalfoot. When I say straight I mean curvy. As we walked and talked on this easy part we noticed a keen sea kayaker. For keen read nutter. That’s what I was thinking. It was cold enough on dry land never mind out in the hypothermia inducing water. My face was nipping a bit with the cold and my nose was running like a dripping tap. Wat-iry snotters. Can’t image what it was like for him out there. Braver man than me. He must have had three Adam’s aipples. Wearing his baws as earrings. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do some sea kayaking but maybe not the back end of the winter in Scotland? I’m surprised the Ayrshire gulls never thought snack, dinner. Probably too cold for even them to bother.

Varyag Anchor

As we continued on we came across the memorial to the Varyag. Greatest of all the Russian warships. It ended up smashed on the rocks here. Not a fitting ending for such a famous battleship. Even if your driving by it’s well worth stopping off for a break and a walk about to read about the Varyag’s history. As well as to see the monument at the centre of the memorial. Real communist era Russian design. It is something to see. Impressive.

Monument to the Battle Cruiser Varyag

On the last short leg of this section and bit ahead of time, if I remember correctly. We came into the outskirts of Lendalfoot. Lots of unusual holiday homes. Built of wood in many different styles from Scandinavian to your simple hut with lean-to extension. These have been constructed over the years and it feels that Lendalfoot gets longer by the year. I’m not even sure if these are officially in the ‘village’ or not. Some are very nice indeed and couple I wouldn’t mind owning myself as they have wonderful views. Lucky people. In the village proper it was time to find the bus stop. It’s easy to tell when your in the actual ‘village’, it’s all old stone and white wash not bright pealing painted colours and wood.

Looking for the bus stop and finding none. Not like it can hide in Lendalfoot. One street and that’s the main road. The guide book said it was by the telephone exchange, a phone box to you and me. If it was, someone had forgot to put out the stop. Maybe they take it away and are laughing behind their net curtains. We walked to the edge of the village. The last hoose or the first depending what direction your coming. It was the auld Smiddy. Where we happened upon a man in a boiler suit painting some ceiling coving. Phil dispatched me and my local accent to ask where we could get the bus. With my one of my dad’s many favourite sayings ringing in my ears, “Ya’ve goat a gid scot’s tongue in yir heid, yase it!” Yes; I may have mental issues, hearing voices in my head. “‘scuse me chief” it might have been “sur”. Doesn’t matter either is acceptable in the local parlance. Onywiy. “Ya cudnae tell us whur the bus stoaps?”. Yes you always ask in the negative. Like he isn’t going to tell you.

Much to our surprise the gentleman spoke with a English accent. He informed us that the bus would stop anywhere on the main road. That made things easier so we parked ourselves down on a seating bench on the way into Lendalfoot. This gave us a easy view to see the bus coming and plenty of time to cross the road to stop it. We had nearly a couple hours to wait. Sunday service in operation, one bus every now and again. It was cold but you could see the clouds were breaking over the Mull of Kintyre and Arran was starting to appear out of the blue. Not a bad place to sit and wait.

Waiting for the Bus

Out came the extra insulating layers as it was biting now that we weren’t walking. Hoping that the clouds would get a move on and the sun would start to move closer to us and give what little heat it had to our cold bodies. Phil got tucked into his local pie and me my rolls then I cracked open the Irn Bru. It was now just a waiting game. Waiting for the bus but it wasn’t bad in the slightest, good views and good company. Eventually the bus arrived, guess the fare? One pound sixty five pence. Seems to be the standard fair. Same as it was Ballantrae to Glenapp. Then we were heading back to the car and home. Two brilliant days.

Leaving Lendalfoot

The Masters of Ballantrae: Glenapp to Ballantrae

Glenapp Church

Hopefully Robert Louis Stevenson will forgive me for stealing his title. The first half to be exact, it just seemed apt. I have not long returned from my first overnight in a long long time. Breaking out old gear and breaking in new gear. Learning new things and remembering old things. Yep, you can still teach an auld dug new tricks.

I should point out luckily for Phil and I this doesn’t end like the novel of the title, obviously I’ve sat here and written this and Phil is in Edinburgh, probably sitting in a corner shaking with a cold sweat and trying to come to terms with spending a weekend in my company. Hopefully he’ll get over it and his ears have stopped bleeding.

I should probably add a little caveat in that this is probably not how Phil remembers the first day of the walk. It is my memories that have been processed, regurgitated and bubbled back to the surface to be committed to these here digital pages. It may not be a true reflection of the events or the sequence in which they happened. If you want a accurate and true version, speaking to Phil might be a better idea than reading this. Then again?

The plan was to walk from Ballantrae over to Lendalfoot on the Saturday. Camping overnight. On the Sunday, walking to the Maidens. It was arranged to meet in the car park on the Foreland at Ballantrae for 9:30am. Very sociable time, not too early and not too late that you don’t get to put down some miles under foot.

I decided to stay in Cumnock on the Friday night at my parent’s house. Longer lie in and a shorter drive. Easier driving from Cumnock to Ballantrae instead of East Kilbride. Even better after getting there, mum made dad drive me to Ballantrae. No need to worry about the car.

Driving with my dad is an experience. If you’ve read some of the other posts you’ll know he is an experience. Being a passenger is just plain funny. Dad plays this game when driving in Ayrshire. Anywhere else he’d just get lost. Give this man a compass and he still couldn’t find north. Seriously and he’ll be the first to admit it. The sat nav gets switched on and the ‘route’ set. It tells him his expected arrival time at the inputted destination. Then it’s on. White on rice and bag of potato chips. All that. Dad proceeds to drive the roads he knows. Which is to say roads without letters or even a designation. If your lucky it’s B road. He knows roads I don’t even ken. The result of this is; bing bing, recalculating. Bing bing. Take the next whatever. My dad ignores this and keeps driving. Bing bing. Recalculating. This happened for nearly our entire journey to Ballantrae.

Half way to Ballantrae my dad started to inform me at how piss poor the planning was for this walk. If we were walking to the Maidens. Why weren’t we meeting Phil there, he leaves his car there and my dad drives the two of us to Ballantrae. Probably because it hadn’t occurred to us? Shut up taxi driver and just drive, I never said that out loud; just in my head, I think. Bing bing. Recalculating. Take the next right in point 3 miles. That wasn’t going to be the case.

Just as we pulled into the car park I received a message from Phil, “I’m parked here” but I had already spotted his car. Why does that always happen? Introduced Phil to my dad. He informed Phil how piss poor our planning was. Dad has a bigger gub than me and I can talk a squeaky gate into submission. Also that I was carrying enough kit for two weeks never mind one night. All that coming from the car camper.

It was an absolutely cracking morning, a bit chilly but clear blue sky. Maybe even a touch of frost. Now with my dad departed we started getting our gear sorted. Phil was lending me a one man tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. A Gram-counter Gear LiteHouse solo in a very fetching yellow (you can read my thoughts here), A Therm-a-rest Haven top bag and a Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Elite 6. I really don’t have much in the way of lightweight gear where it counts, so he was helping me out. Nice chap.

Phil suggested a change. That we catch the bus and head down to the very start of the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Glenapp. By saying this I make Glenapp sound like a big place. It doesn’t have a bus stop. The bus will just stop for you. Is no more than a handful of houses and an ancient church. Blink and you will miss it. It was a fine day and it would be a waste not to. I was happy with this new plan. No point in wasting this glorious opportunity. You don’t always get a fine weather window like that. We made the most of it.

The bus stop is opposite the Church in Ballantrae and handily the little shop of curiosities next to it had a seating bench. After popping into the local Spar to get change for the bus, we sat our self down and waited. We only had twenty or so minutes to wait. The bus was due through the village at about 10:30am. We sat. We chatted until a guy and his King Charles spaniel sidled up. Morning, morning. If I remember correctly he was taking the dog to Stranraer to the vets? I’m thinking would it not be easier to go to the vets in Girvan, it’s closer. He informed us the bus was due shortly and we wouldn’t have long to wait. He was getting the bus as well. He walked off with the dog in tow. When he returned the bus was running late and we all got talking about walking. Walks that we’d walked and walks he’d walked. The bus arrived about ten or so minutes late. One Scots pounds and sixty five of the new pennies, a single to Glenapp Church.

I’m glad Phil was paying attention as I was away in another world. Tying my boots a bit tighter and generally looking out the window but not really paying much attention to what was going on out there. Happy within in myself looking forward to good day of walking. Phil gave me a nudge at the exact same time as our newly acquired friend and his dog said, “Next corner is for you boys”. The dog didn’t speak it was the guy. Now that would have been something. We got up and walked to the front of the bus. I’m positive as the bus swung round the corner, I nearly took out the old lady with my rucksack. Luckily for her I was going lightweight. I apologised regardless. I plinked the bell or Phil did. I’m not sure. The driver flung out the anchors and put the brakes on like the De’il himself had stepped out in front us; eating thunder, shitting lightening, all raining hellfire and brimestaine. It’s known to happen. The De’il is a regular visitor to these parts. Can’t you hear the banjos? I have plenty of stories to tell about him. It probably wasn’t like that but that’s how I remember the bus stopping.

After jumping clear of the bus. Tuck and roll. We hurried across the road to where the sign post was indicating the direction of the path. Hoping to dodge any approaching speeding traffic or speed freak bus drivers. We took a couple photographs of the church from the relative safety of the grass verge. Settling our packs on our shoulders we set off into the Ayrshire countryside. When we turned, we saw the postman in his van making deliveries to the couple of cottages across from the church. Or so we thought. Instead of coming out of the back of his van with parcel and letters, His chocolate retriever appears. Walkies? Bizarre.

Loch Ryan

As I said earlier it was a glorious morning, a little chilly in the shade but beautiful for a days walking none-the-less. We started off down an nicely wooded, what appeared to be old estate road. Then we turned off on to what looked like an old cart road. As indicated by the sign post. The Rotary Club have done a great job marking the route. The old road started to go up hill steadily out of the glen and up through the trees. I was puffing a bit. I was out of practice. Pushing the buggy round Whitelees  Wind farm is not the same. However it was a nice path to stretch the legs on and get into my stride. As we gained more metres above the glen the trees started to get thinner and finally we were greeted by a stunning view. We had great views down towards Cairnryan and Stranraer with the Ferries turning into port as well as across to the Rhins of Galloway. Loch Ryan shinning blue in the sun. We stood a bit drinking it in and taking a few photographs. A worthy reward for nice climb.

As the path turned we left the view of Galloway behind and followed the old road on a northward direction. We hadn’t seen hide or tail of anyone since we left the postman way down at the main road. Then all of a sudden we came across a dog walker with her little terrier. By that time we were a good few miles from anywhere. We exchanged pleasantries. Morning, Morning. “You boys walking the coastal path to Ballantrae”. Both “Yes”, well maybe I said “Aye”. Her reply was “Good on youse!” but I heard it in tone like. Crikey you boys are a bit keen, that’s a fair old walk. You’ll be lucky to get there by sun down. What did she know that we didn’t? Thinking about now as I type it out, maybe she was an Ayrshire witch? She did appear out of no-where and there hus been no sign of onybudy else. No parked cars or such like and we weren’t far from a set of standing stones? Aye. I’m probably reading far too much into it but you never know and standing stones always make me tingle. Ayrshire is an old place.

Ailsa Craig

After we said our goodbyes to the “Witch” (read nice lady). We carried on the road this time with a great view off to the north and west a bit of the Ailsa Craig, the large volcanic plug that sits in the Irish sea. The De’il papped it there in a fit of rage. Some laird somewhere managing to get the better of him, again. The road had levelled out for a while on the cliff. It was pretty apparent that we were now within an estate rather on just farm land. There was feeding troughs for pheasants and not surprising the odd pheasant diving about and generally being skittish. You would be to if folk fired buck shot pellets in your general direction. Little did we know.

As we walked on we noticed in the distance an convoy of four by fours moving towards us. A Land Rover Defender, a Range Rover Vogue, a Land Rover Freelander 2 and a Toyota Land Cruiser. Not the usual banged up farmers choice. Well looked after and new. The clues were plain to see. We were walking into a shoot. The jeeps turned down a track before they got to us and we though we were okay. For about 5 minutes it was fine then we came to the turn they had made and Phil checked the guide, we were to take that path they had ten minutes earlier. As we turned we noticed that the Mole Catcher had been busy.

Moley, moley, mole

Following the road it started to descend down towards the coast and the sea. He turned another corner and came across an old cottage. It was in a weird place. We had look inside. Possibly an old estate workers house but it had a unusual configuration of rooms. At some point it had been done up but it had fallen back into disrepair again. No roof and no original fittings inside. I looked a bit like it could have once been a auld fermhoose with the byre attached but there was no obvious remains of any steadings. We walked on and turned another corner when we heard the noise of an approaching Land Rover Defender. Unmistakable. We got out the road. Phil stepped to the fence; me on the other hand, stepped into the gorse bushes. Ouch! Stupid but no damage down. It’s the Beat Master. I nod in greeting. He stops. Rolls down the window and speaks to Phil. I can’t hear anything I’m stuck in the gorse. The master has asked us to hang back, there about to start shooting. How long? He didn’t say. However he could have asked to leave on health and safety grounds. It’s also private land even although we have right of access. A hang back was fine for me. We’ll I don’t know about Phil but I didn’t fancy picking pellets out my arse.

Walking slowly down the track we could see the beaters on the other side of the wooded glen. The side you would have to be climbing back up. I looked that they were driving the pheasants down the glen to the shooting posts. Phil asked a few questions about a pheasant shoot and I did my best to explain, having been on a few. The shotguns where soon blasting out and echoing around the glen. I think more birds were escaping than were getting shot or so it appeared. It was hard to pick out where the shooters were because of the sounds bouncing about like a rubber ball. When the echoes died to nothing and the dogs were sent into pick up the birds. We walked down to the cove where the jeeps were parked. We decided here was as good as any to take a break but as Phil was getting his stove out, the Beat Master appeared. I asked when it would be safe to continue. Now was the answer they were finishing up. Ah well, away with the stove and back on the track.

Pheasant Shoot

The road climbed steeply out this side of the glen as we headed back towards the cliff tops. It looked like a fairly new track. The stones were large and possible ankle breakers, not at all knocked about by estate or farm vehicles driving over them. We got to the top and were about to make a left turn back towards the sea when Phil jumped out his skin. I literally shat myself. An escapee was making another bolt for freedom. A pheasant had blasted out from the ferns at the path side. I think we got a bigger fright than the startled bird. Catching me breath we were now on a even steeper slope. I was starting to toil a bit. I’m blaming the roll and corn beef that I had inhaled as Phil got his stove out. Really it was my poor hill fitness.

It levelled out as best as nature can. In to say that it undulated like a gentle sea. A mirror of what we could see. It’s not so much of a path to follow here, more of a sheep track and painted fence posts with the occasional direction marker. Not like you can go far. You have a dry staine dyke on one side or a fall off the cliffs on the other. It funnels you nicely along towards Ballantrae. We came across a funny stone on here. Weird that things like that appear where you stop. We had stopped again for me to take a wee breather. I’m out of practice remember. To our left was a rectangular stone set in the ground flush with grass. It had no markings, nothing. Wasn’t on the map either. Interesting. No ideas. Just a strange place to be.

There is not much change in the terrain on this section. Steadily making your way along the cliff. Following the markings and the white topped fence posts. The view out the Irish sea is incredible on a summers day it would be magnificent. It was here on this part that I started to really started to struggle. There was a lot more up and down rather than the gentle undulating of earlier. We were also into agricultural fields that was home to a large dairy herd. I don’t think falling into hoof holes with my small feet all over the soft ground was helping either. Much to Phil’s credit, if the frequent breathers were starting to annoy him as it can when your continually stopping and starting. He never showed it. He is great walking company.

For the land being the same here it more than made up for it with the wildlife. Amazing sights and first for me and possibly Phil. Walking and talking as we were, pointing out views. Me asking about sailing. Phil has a boat. There was a massive FLASH out of the dead ferns and bracken. A massive hare all resplendent in it’s winter coat. Pure white like the driven snow. Whiter than Snow White or some untouched Himalayan peak. Whiter even that Gandalf after returning from defeating the Balrog. It was that white. Except the jet black tip to the tail. It was off, so fast. Greased lightening. I was so happy I’d never seen a hare in winter dress before. I’ve seen plenty of hares. Eaten a few, there just big rabbits really. It was amazing to see and all the more easier considering there was no snow. The hare stood out like a sore thumb. Magnificent to watch it run. Then it was gone. Gone. Hidden again in a hole or the undergrowth. Not long after that we disturbed another or maybe the same one but he had decided to leave the winter coat in the wardrobe this time.

On Downan Farm

Unfortunately there is a problem when you start to get into a rhythm of following the markers. Especially when one is wrong and or just plain missing. We were now in the heart of the farmers fields and not far from the end of the days walk. We could see Ballantrae and Ardstinchar Castle clearly now. Now on a proper farm road. Which for me was good as my legs were getting a rest. No up and down, no kissing gates, stiles to negotiate. Just walking. We came across a nice big white arrow pointing up the farm road. It wasn’t clear straight away that we had missed something or that something was missing. We turned another corner and were heading up when we met what can only be described as a river of shit shining with a sheen of piss. All oil slick and horrible. Black and smelly. It was a bottle neck for the dairy coos going to the milking parlour. It was stinking. It was getting deeper. Sure this is the right way? Must be, the arrow pointed this way. After much dancing, skipping and generally trying to find the high ground. Boots now caked in cow shite we make it to the top but it’s a gate. Not any gate and electrical wire and we’re on the wrong side of the river of excrement. The hook up point is on the other post. At the this point the beasts must have been pissing themselves laughing watching us pair louping around. Not that you would have noticed. Phil being the brave one, wades through and unhooks the wire. Pure manure. I don’t think Phil liked the cows. It was enough to put you off your milk.

Towards Ballantrae

Once through the gate and back on terra firma we realised our mistake. We shouldn’t have followed the road but skirted round the field edge. There was a kissing get in the very bottom corner out sight from the road. Ah well. Onward, stamping hard to get as much of the cloying cow pats loose from our footwear. We were on the homeward straight as it were. It was all road from here to Ballantrae and all down hill. We made our way to the bridge at the Stinchar and on to the car. Luckily it wasn’t at the Maidens. Maybe just as well the planning wasn’t that good? Now it was time to find a place to camp and get ready for another day of walking but that’s another story in itself……

Four men went…. and one got the fear.

Shenavall bothy

photogrpahy courtesy of LHOON

It was the morning after the night before. One of those nights. One of those mornings. Bauwk. I was a guest at a wedding. It was a friend of my now wife’s parents. It was at the Crutherland Hotel not far from my house. It was meant to be a quiet night. Nothing to be worried about. Aye right. I got foo o’ the beer and the vodka. This always a bad move, for me personally. Me and spirits don’t get on. A lesson I thought I had learned along time a go. There is no fun in shouting for auld hughey in the morning.

Safe to say I was in no fit shape to get out of bed or anything else for that matter. Luckily I had the foresight or is it hindsight, to pack my gear. I got up and met Hughey in the bathroom. Which was strange because I thought I had left him back at the hotel the night before. Oh well or more to the point unwell. I then met his brother, dry bauwk in the shower. Not someone you want to be sharing a shower with, I’m sure you understand. It wasn’t going well. I had a lift to meet. One of those, meet a friend of a friend at such a place at such a time. If I got there first I’ll stick a stone on the dyke, if you get there and I’m not there, knock it off and I’ll know you’ve been. However If you get there first you put the stone up and I’ll knock it off. You get the idea? Not the best start to a weekend in the hills.

What was worse, I wasn’t meeting the guy until 14:00 in the afternoon and I was off, he was working a half day. It was the Septemeber weekend and my dad had pissed off to Spain to play golf with one of his brothers and a couple of mates. I hadn’t been late to bed, the Thurday wedding finished at 00:30 dark. I was only at the reception. I crawled into bed and had passed out before 1 am and like heyzeus, had risen late and was now running late. Thankful of the aformentioned foresight but it’s not great to be meeting someone you’ve never met and being late. Fuck.

I was seriously considering a call off. I was not good. Green about the gills and greyer than Gollum. After a good slapping about the chops from my now wife. Only joking she doesn’t batter me. Just sometimes. No she doesn’t but I do think she told me to man up, grow a set or some such wise sage advice, as usual. I got my shit together and myself squared away. I wasn’t on a even keel, far from it. But close enough. She got me back on track and back on time.

I was deposited at the preordaned pick up point. Tuck and roll. I was earlier than I expect but later than I wanted to be. It meant I was standing round like a spare lamp post in my trilby hat, pink carnation and a copy of the Evening Times tuck under my left oxster. We had never met and I’ve seen it in the movies. That’s how they do it. I was there first no one waiting. Perfect, as I thought I was going to have to go round the wall and have a serious shouting match with Hughey. It passed, the wave of nuasia washed over me and was gone. Shiver. Sweat. Shake. Where’s a clothes line when you need one.

Seriously though, I was grateful for the walking gear. I worried that the polis might mistake me for some we junkie roon the back o’ the hospital looking to tan motors for the cd players. Cash Convertors. Especially in my current state, shaking with an unholy palor. The guy I was meeting worked in the hospital labs at the Royal Infirmary.

I should probably stop now and explain where we were going if the photograph hasn’t already given it away. Hopefully the cat is not out the bag. We were off to An Teallach but not climb this magnificent mountain.

From the centre of Glasgow that’s about a five and a half hour drive. This bit I was not looking forward to. A very long drive in my current state, was not going to be fun. Nevermind for me but my walking buddies were going to have to put up with this stinking wet washing until it had dried out.

The plan was park up on A832 somewhere around Dundonell with one of the cars and park the other over at Kinlochewe also on the A832. Then spend the next four days walking over to pick up the car Kinlochewe. One night in the bothy at Shenavall and the other two nights bivying. Then drive back round, pick up the car at Dundonell and drive home. Cracking plan for the weekend.

I was waiting but not for long. The guy I was meeting duely turned up. Spot on time and the other two turned shortly after. They were coming from the west of the city so the had made there own arrangements, on who was driving and who was picking up who. The hand shaking and ribbing commenced. Jokes were told. Exagurations exagurated and then we were ready. Packs in the cars. Nothing for it but to go.

Off we went. Heading north. Heading for the A9. It had been decided to stop at Dunkeld for something to eat as none of us had eaten any lunch, I hadn’t eaten anything and had drank very little. I was happy with this, it gave me a little longer to recover.

We made Dunkeld in good time, the traffic wasn’t too bad. The banter continued along with the tales. I for some reason didn’t go for the fish supper but for a massive sausage supper. I was a lot more hungrier than I had thought. Glad to be eating and so was my body. It was going to need the fuel and it knew it.

Back in the car after the late late lunch. Feeling a bit better after a big creashy supper. Something in my stomach. I probably should have done this earlier but the thought of seeing my breakfast again was a non-starter. Now it was time to settle in for the rest of the drive north. I always find that in the car you pass a lot of scenery and a lot happens but as a passenger you take very little of it in. The miles dropped off and the clock ticked on.

We arrived early evening at the lay-by. Later than expected was the impression I got. I was a follower on this trip not a leader and didn’t have a look at the maps. I had no idea the distances or where we were actually going. I was along for the ride. I was looking forward to it. I was informed that we should make the bothy before dark. Should. Fair enough.

Having deposited my other dry set of clothes in the boot of the other car that was left at Kinlochewe. I usually only have two sets of clothes with me, a wet set and dry set. The dry set is for sleeping in. For some reason I thought it would good to have some nice fresh togs to get into after four days in the same gear. So much so it’s now a standard procedure for me.

I re-jigged my pack, got it up on my back and settled it. I think I was carrying about twelve kilos for the three nights. It was heavy but not that I really noticed. Sit down at the back and take a breath. This is before I started weighing things and before I started trying to follow lightweight enthusiasts. Lets be honest it makes sense. Less weight more fun. Well the weight was the weight and that was what I was carrying. This included sleeping bag, bivvy, stove, gas, food, pot, water, dry clothes and a heavy weight fleece to keep the chill off at night. I could have probably fed all four of us quite easily with sheer amount of scran I had. It’s a lesson I need to learn but I like my food. It’ll probably be what makes the biggest difference to my pack weight. Not so much the weight around my middle.

We crossed the road from the layby and throught a gate, starting up wards. Onwards. Each of us trying to get into our natural walking rhythm. I fell into mine quite easy, at the back. Last. Like I’ve said before, I’m short and have stride to match. All was well. I felt okay. I had drank plenty of water in the car on the road from Dunkeld and just created a small burn in the lay-by. A big streak o’ pish comes to mind.

It was a fine evening for walking up into the wilderness and on to the mountain massiff that is An Teallach, the forge. It was dry but with patchy clouds. The clouds were high. Not the usual, lower than 3000ft we get. We were gaining height quickly on this path and the views of the massif where getting better with each step. Beautiful. I remember walking over pink like granite slabs. I maybe wrong and it was elsewhere but it just sparkled in the evening sun.

Things were now starting to be a struggle for me. I was stopping and drinking more water from my nalgene bladder and the guys were having to wait a points for me so the didn’t get out of sight. It was a plod. One foot in front of the other. A slog. I was feeling worse with every step. The hangover was returning and it wasn’t funny like the movie. To top it off the clouds were dropping down and becoming less patchy. It was like An Teallach was gathering them in his arms and turning them dark and angry.

It was going to get dark earlier. The sun was already setting. That time of year it sets before 20:00. We were in the wilderness with some very high mountains between us the sun. Making it darker even faster. Then it started.

Plop…………….. plop……………. plop………… plop….. plop….. plop…. plop… plop… plop… plop.. plop.. plop.. plop.. plop.. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. Until it was like sheets of water dropping. Like tipping out the bath onto my head. Hood up and thanks to the little gods of the outdoors for Goretex. On we went as the light faded and the path started to disappear.

Then the light was gone. Completely. Gone. Black. Black like I don’t like. No stars, no moon. Nothing but rain in the sky. It was weird because the light had been fading slowly with your eyes growing used to it but all of a sudden. GONE. Off came the packs and then one by one. Click. Click. Click. Click. The four of us found our head torches and switched them on. We still had aways to go to the bothy. This was going to slow us down.

It was going to slow us for two reasons. One I had never done a night walk. Never. It’s different. Everything slows down because the track just disappears into the heather. It vanishes. Foot placement becomes crucial. The guys were great. Nothing to worry about. Just follow the torches and keep talking. If you have to stop, shout. If one stops we all stop. We’ll get there but it’ll take a bit longer. Follow the leader, leader.

After about an hour of this I was done. The night before was coming back to haunt me. I was tired. I was hungry. I had lost track of time. Like I said, in reality only an hour had past but felt like I had been walking all night. If I turned my head to the side to look into the void, I stumbled. If I looked up I stumbled. I had tunnel vision. I just had to stare at my feet and keep walking. It was like I was hypnotised by the white blue light of the torch. Only the light bouncing on my feet mattered. Every so often I would stop look up and see the glow of the other torches and then stagger on after them.

I remember all of a sudden being acutely aware of some running water on my left handside but not level with me. It was below me. Running angry and fast like little burns do when the rains are heavy. All dark brown full of silt and stone, with mean white crests breaking against rocks, pools and bends. That was when I noticed I was walking downhill. When did that happen? We must be close. The bothy would have to be near a water course. Then I was alone. I froze. Terror. I was alone. No torches to be seen in any direction. Nothing. Fuck. FUCK!

PANIC! Sheer panic. Like nothing I’ve a felt since or before. What do I do? Turning wildly in circles trying to get a bearing. That wasn’t going happen. My mind started racing, did I miss a junction in the track, was I that out of it? What should I do? Stay? Stumble on blindly? I had no map and no idea where is was. I could have been on the moon for all the good it would do me. FEAR.

I was really starting to freak out. PANIC! I started shouting but it was getting drowned out in the downpour. What do I do? I’m standing there in the pitch black alone and I’m scared. Really scared. How stupid was I getting lost. All I had to was follow. How hard is that? So stupid. Why did I have to get so drunk the night before. I’m lost, the guys will panicing. They be wondering what happened to me. What will they do?

I was resigned to the fact there was nothing I could do. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing to do but bed down till the sun was up. Wait for Dawn to show her face and see how the land lies. With this realisation the panic began to fade. The fear was still there but the panic was over. Calm. I unslung my pack. Time to get the bivy out and be as comfy as I can.

It was then I noticed something funny. The darkness wasn’t sucking up the light like a black hole. The light was bouncing back. It was hitting something right at the edge of the beam. Must have been about thirty metres away. I then thought I was losing it. Something opposite of those in the desert, my mind was playing tricks on me but like a magnet it had a hold of me and was pulling in me in.

Step after step I got closer and the shape became a wall, then a gable end. Relief. Pure Relief. I had made it. I hadn’t lost the rest of the guys. One by one they had entered the bothy. It must have been just out of reach of the beam but in my panic I must have moved closer and it caught the light. I made my way round to the door and entered the shelter and safety of Shenavall. No panic, no fear. I could hear voices in the front room. I went in. The fire was still burning and the other guys were settling down. Happy.

“You took your time, that must have been some shite?”, “We heard you shouting but left yi tae it, yi can wipe yir ane erse. Yir a big boy”. Bastards. There’s always a funny bastard. Always.

There’s not much to tell of the weekend after that. No walks walked. No mountains climded. It rained. I never saw the tops of An Teallach or Beinn Dearg Mor. We spent the next couple of days collecting fire wood and hanging round the Bothy. Hoping the clouds would lift. They never did. The company was great, the banter good. A great weekend.

Range of the Awful Hand – Part 2

Merrick in Cloud

Photograph courtesy of tigerweet on flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I takes two? The kit list

This is in response to Hendrik’s comments on my response to his orginal post here.

If you haven’t read my reponse and you want to know what I’m on about, go here.

So I’m having another goof off Tuesday. Not that it’s been hard. Trying to bash and cleanse spreadsheets so the data can be imported into the database, not hard for my mind wonder to my ultimate trips and dream. I would like to add a premise in that the trip would be taking place at my favourite time of year. The Autumn, not too cold yet and not too warm either, all those colours changing. I don’t think I had mentioned that on my original post but I mention it now. Remember cost is no object. Lets begin with paddle in Canada.

I’m going to use that canoe to my advantage and have some heavier items or luxuries as it were.

Canadian Kit List

A birch bark canoe – to keep with the feel and tradition of the Voyageurs.

Shelter –  10′ x 12′  Equinox Ultralight Globe Skimmer Silnylon Tarp. Yes it’s huge but that makes a for for great versatility and it’s light.

Cooking –  A 4 or 6 litre dutch oven. I’ve always fancied cooking over an open fire. Chile bubbling away and probably a ghillie’s kettle for a making a brew, you don’t always want to have to create a large camp fire just to get some tea.

Pack – Probably pack everything in some Ortlieb Packsac Drybags or my favourite North Face Basecamp Duffels.

Sleeping – My mat would be a Therm-a-rest Neo Air (Small), for those that know me I’m not the tallest and a Nanatuk Arc Specialist quilt.

As you will see there is a fair bit of course over but I suppose that’s cause you like what you like.

Galloway Kit List

Shelter –  6′ x 8′  Equinox Ultralight Globe Skimmer Silnylon Tarp. A better size for a single person out wild camping. Well for short arse me.

Sleeping – My mat would be a Therm-a-rest Neo Air (Small) and a Nanatuk Arc Specialist quilt.

Pack –  I think I would go for something like a custom MLD Ark. Nice and light with plenty of room.

Cooking – Caldera Keg. Don’t think I need to say much more than that.

When it comes to the clothing side of things I’m not so sure. The choices are too wide and too great. I’ll leave open, what clothing wise would you guys take? Feel free to comment and let me know.

It takes two? A paddle and a walk

Red Canoe

photography courtesy of mister.tim on flickr

I was catching up with all the posts that have stacked up in my google reader this morning while I waited to get myself reved up and in the mood for working. One post that really caught my was by Hendrik Morkel over on his Hiking in Finland blog. Basically Hendrik posed the question what is your ultimate trip and gear list. He wrote about his here and that’s where he lay the challenge for us all to goof off today, think about it and share ours.

Well I’ve been thinking about this for most of the day and I’m stuck between two places. I couldn’t split them, then I remembered that Hendrik mentioned that money was no object so, what the hell. I’ll do both. My Ultimate trip is two destinations. I’ll deal with the destinations first and save the gear porn for the (anti)climax at the end.

One place I have always wanted to go is Canada. Specifically padding down the Hudson Bay tributeries, following in the wake of the Voyageurs. Well maybe not the quite their wake as I don’t fancy paddling at 55 strokes a minute or humpfing as much gear as them. It’s just a place that has always captured my imaginantion. Just to take it easy and paddle, meandering down the water. Taking in all the glory of it. Nature and the natural world at it’s finest. Pulling the canoe up at suitable campsites, setting a fire and cooking, enjoying the sun going down. Just the different pace of things. Getting into the cycle and rhythm of the river.

The other place is my favourite and that’s what makes it the ultimate. The hills, woods and glens of Galloway. I would though, spend more than the couple of days I usually spend in Galloway. I would work out a route that would take in all my favourite spots and places along with plenty of wild camps. It’s not quite home but the area is special to me. It may not have the highest hills but it is definitely one of the wildest and least populated places you can go in Scotland. Nearly every time I’ve tramped over the hills, through the woods, up and down the glens of Galloway, I’ve had the place to myself or who ever I’m with. It’s special feeling you get. It’s like your the king of the castle. Some little secret that no-one else knows.

Now for the bit you’ve all really been waiting for? The gear. I’m going to be a tease and keep writing for a bit. But seriously though, I think the kits for both would be different and maybe have some over-lapping kit. The paddling I think will be heavier as I can carry more in the canoe than I can on my back and even have some luxuries. Why not? Might as well make use of the canoe. The thing is as well, its going to take too long to come up with a kit list for them both. I’ll let you decide what I would take. I told you I was going to be a tease.

 

If you want to see the kit list go here

 

The Range of the Awful Hand

Merrick in Cloud

Photograph courtesy of tigerweet on flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…….

Don’t look back in anger? Or my 1st munro

BUCHAILLE_ETIVE_MOR

BE WARNED THIS IS EPIC!

Not epic in the sense of Beowulf or Lord of the Rings but just EPIC in size. It’s probably the longest post I’ve ever written and the longest thing I’ve written since I was pupil in higher english. I will also warn of some choice language. If you don’t like sweery words don’t read on.

I’m in the mood for reminiscing, don’t know why. It’s not normally like me. Not normally like me to do it here. It may be that I have been regaling this tale at some point to the poor @MrPhilTurner. I say may because the last time I was in Phil’s presence a pretty few beers had been drank in the land of my fathers’, the ‘shire of my birth and the county of my youth.

I’m unsure as to what was talked about on that last meeting it was getting a little fuzzy towards the end (A recurring theme). However it probably doesn’t really matter other than it’s at the front of my head rather than locked away in the dark spaces of my brain.

The story and the reason for this post, it’s probably nothing of interest to anyone but myself, to put it down for prosperity. It’s the tale of my first munro, my first hill of the highlands. My first.

The photograph is a give away to those that know. The mighty majestic guardian of Glencoe. Buachaille Etive Mor, ‘THE’ Buachaille and on that day my nemesis. Goliath versus David. Not so much for it’s awe inspiring massiveness. It is massive, lets not kid ourselves, it’s a hulk of hill. Or the fact that it is a big climb, 3353ft if I remember correctly. It was more to do with the condition I was in.

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