Tag Archives: walking

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival

Clyde and Avon Valleys Spring Walks Festival.

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

Friday 22nd May

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

Saturday 23rd May

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

Sunday 24th May

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

Monday 25th May

  • Lanark Health Walks – 1pm and 3pm

Tuesday 26th May

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

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

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

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

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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.

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Photograph courtesy of Michael Thomson

Promises made and promises broken. I said I was going to post more often and I haven’t but less of my moaning, lets have a quick look at more gear. Like the other post, that you can see here Montura Magic G Active Shell, I have to qualify this review as more of a first look as I only had the jacket for a couple of days as part of a meet Petesy organised. These are my initial views and thoughts. Remember what works for me and what I like might not be for you or be to your liking.

There was a lot on offer to test and next up was the insulated gear. Down as well as synthetic jackets. I went for for the Skisky by Montura. For those that haven’t at a look at my last post about Montura Magic G Active shell, Montura are an Italian outdoor apparel manufacturer. Their website is under construction at the moment and can be found here at http://www.montura.it/

The jacket was red and black a more of a colour combination that I would go for, personally. The outer shell is made from TS165, a PU (polyurethane) coated polyester taslan that is very water resistant. It was mainly red with the black being on usual wear points, the shoulders, back and elbows. The hood was also black. The filling is about 40g of PrimaLoft. I’m not sure of the overall weight of the jacket but it didn’t feel excessively heavy.

Again my first impressions like that of those for Magic G were good. Another really well put together jacket. Even for a sample this was very good. No loose threads. The jacket had some very nice features which made you think that they had really thought about the little details that make a difference during the design process. The ones that really caught my eye were the lined hand warming pockets, two large long, Sigg bottle shaped internal pockets and my favorite, the long thick ribbed elasticated cuffs with monkey thumbs. Essentially turned the bottom of the sleeves into fingerless gloves. I really do like thumb holes on sleeves. It also meant that wearing your gloves over the cuffs meant that you are effectively sealing out the drafts and the cold. The hood was interesting as it wasn’t really adjustable in the true sense but was made from an elastic fabric which kept it tight to your head. The recommended retail price for the jacket is £195 should someone in the UK decide to stock it.

Once on the fit of the jacket was again accommodating, like the hard shell I had. This meant there would be no problem getting a fleece below for some extra insulation if needed. There was plenty of freedom of movement. I wasn’t restricted in anyway and the hem didn’t ride up as can sometimes happen when stretching. After that quick initial wear in the car park the jacket got packed away in the rucksack until later. It compressed down reasonably well into one of my small dry bags. As soon as we got to our camp spot it was the first thing out the bag. It was getting really cold, with the snow and wind blowing. You all probably know that when you stop moving, you start losing heat really fast. No problems with this jacket. I was snug while pitching the tent.

The next day I decided to give the jacket another go, this time in a more active scenario. We had all decided to climb The Cobbler and with it being cold and the stop start nature of my climbing, due to my fitness and wanting to take loads of photographs. I thought it would be ideal for this jacket. The jacket was good at no time on the entire climb was I too warm or felt wet on the inside and I never got cold when I stop for extended periods, either to talk to the others, take photographs or mostly just to catch my breath

I couldn’t pick fault with this jacket, I really liked and wished I didn’t have to give it back. I thought it was a very good insulated jacket. I would love to have it in pack for winter. I really liked the fit and the comfort and the warmth. Just a shame no-one in the UK seems to be stocking them.

Montura Magic G Active Shell

Montura Magic G Active Shell

Photograph courtesy of Michael Thomson

I have to qualify this review as more of a first look as I only had the jacket for a couple of days as part of a recent meet Petesy organised. These are my initial views and thoughts. Remember what works for me and what I like might not work for you or be to your liking.

The shell that I was given, volunteered to in the car park was the Montura Magic G Active shell. Montura are an Italian outdoor clothing manufacturer that I couldn’t find that much about. They have a website that’s under construction but by all accounts they are an up and coming company doing well over in Italy and that side of the Alps.

The jacket was a very bright green, not sure if it’s an attractive colour but it would certainly get you noticed. For those of you who don’t know Active shell is a new fabric from GORE-TEX® and it’s a bit of an enigma, some people love it and others hate it. According to the official bumph from GORE-TEX® the jackets engineered from the fabric are built to provide durable water and wind protection as well as extreme breath-ability. The Ret value for the material is less than 3. The fabric is a 3 layer construction and lighter in weight to deliver excellent comfort when being worn next to the skin. The garments are ideal for highly aerobic activities like mountain biking, fast alpine ascents and trail running. They also claim that garments made with Active Shell will have a maximum weight of 400 grams. The test jacket weighs in at 307g according to Montura. I’m not sure if that was for the size medium that I had or for the largest jacket they sell.

My first impressions were very good on having just been handed the jacket straight out the boot a car. I was very impressed with the quality. It did also feel very light in my hand and the fabric was very soft and subtle to the touch. With a more robust feeling version of Active Shell on the top of the arms and shoulders. The classic rub points. It was a well put together jacket. The quality was very evident, no loose threads or badly taped seams that I could see. Nothing extravagant, just a couple of hand pockets and a hood, no toggle adjustments. The cuffs, hood and hem were elasticated. The hood had a Velcro volume adjustment at the back. There are reflective strips on the hem and around the jacket and the logo. On the cuffs it had a couple of elasticated thumb loops which I thought was interesting, I do like thumb loops on tops. It also had robust waterproof zip with a really big storm flap behind it. The expected retail price in the UK is £185.

The fit of the jacket was quite accommodating for a medium including my beer belly which is fine in my opinion as it means you can get a layer, or 2 at push below the waterproof shell, like an insulating jacket or fleece. Maybe that’s what they call an active fit. I was very nice on, it felt as light as they claim and my initial hand hefting. There was good movement in the arms and torso.It was one of those days and the jacket got all sorts of weather thrown at it; snow, rain, sleet and wind, a really strong driving wind. A typical west of Scotland day. I’m not sure how it would cope in extended periods of rain over a few days. However I was fine in the jacket and felt that the fabric was breathing well as I wasn’t wet or damp even with all the exertions my unfit body was going through pulling up the track to the Cobbler and it was coping really well in the wind as well.

The only thing that I could pick fault with and fault is not the right word. It was more of an annoyance I found that because the hem of the jacket was elasticated it would and could ride up. The thumb loops worked well, keeping the sleeves down over the cuff of my gloves and therefore sealing out the drafts. The hood was good, not sure how it would deal with a helmet but was fine over my watch cap and I had no issues with the fabric. All in all I had a great time in and found nothing wrong with a very well made jacket from a brand I hadn’t heard of before. Very impressed indeed.

Cairngorm Kippers – yes please

In the clouds...

A Cairngorms Weekend Part 3

If you haven’t already you can read part 1 here, The Fantastic Four head to Aviemore? and part 2 here, Am Fear Liath Mor – The Grey Man and remember this how I remember it, not necessarily how that others do.

I slept another great sleep. I think I woke up once due to the wind, I think. I was hunkered down on top of my mat inside my sleeping bag and bivy. Nice, toasty and warm. I could see out the TrailStar and it was looking grey dreich and some what colder than the day before. Making it all that bit harder to break cover and leave my nice warm hole but needs must when the De’il drives. Personal admin to take care off and breakfast to sort. On with insulating layers and out into the cauld it was. Everyone was coming to life getting ready however if it was anything like Saturday morning both Steve and Colin had been awake for a good bit before Phil or I.

After getting stuff sorted the rest of the guys were getting stuck into nice big breakfasts and coffee. I must admit I’m not one for eating first thing in the morning. I had myself a nice little granola bar and some water. I’ve not been a great eater in the morning for along time, save for when I’m staying at a hotel or B&B. I can always be tempted by a full Scottish or kippers and a poached egg. Not like that was going to happen below the shelter stone.

After breakfast we got everything packed up and packed away. Taking care not leave anything behind. We did a walk over all the places we had been. Nothing left but the flat grass where we had slept. Leaving our spot we walked up towards the head of the glen, Hell’s Lum Crag and the path that we had talked about the previous day. We had to cross the Allt Coire Domhaim then follow it up on it’s right hand side and onto plateau. Not marked on the OS map but the track is very visible on the ground.

Stepping stones across another burn. Managing to keep my feet dry only to get one wet by sticking it straight in a yard of saturated moss. Squelch indeed. Thankful for the thick merino wool socks and trainers. Knowing that initial short sharp hit of freezing cold will be gone in a couple of steps. After that the ground started to rise steeply and the path with it. If I thought yesterday’s ascent was steep, this is vertical or so feels according to my legs. Every step massive, my knees are scraping my chin. Not quite but you get the idea but in some crazy perverse way I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the effort, the ever changing view. It’s great.

We’re all walking at our own pace now. Well; Phil, Colin, Steve, are walking the same gait. I’m tail-end charlie. Not that I’m bothered, I just hope the others aren’t too. They are like a magnet pulling me on. Struggling to get back up and on to the plateau. Climbing higher and higher. Every step felt like that of a giant. Like the stairs were cut for a Formorian. I was stopping ever more frequently. A combination of checking the view and grabbing a rest. It was a great view down the loch. I wasn’t out of breath just physically tired. My body was running on empty and I hadn’t noticed. At times we were in touching distance of the burn and especially some spectacular small water falls rushing down to Loch A’an. Every now and then I would see Phil’s head pop out from above to make sure I was still there. I’m sure I was still smiling. I was for all the effort, smiling on the inside. It was great to be outside. The tiredness and effort well worth it.

Once at the top the guys were waiting for me. Apparently it was my turn to lead. I’m sure we had tried that yesterday. The first thing I noticed immediately was that there was no views. Colin pointed me in the direction that had been decided. I was feeling pumped, one stop short of burst. The climb had taken more out of me than I had expected. Onwards towards the centre of the plateau we headed. Every now and then I would hear to your left or right from one of the guys behind. The ground was pretty flat and I was stumbling and slowing down again. We stopped for 5, probably by my instigation. At this point Phil sidled up next to me an asked how I was feeling. My answer was, I was still enjoying myself but was feeling a bit knackered. The climb had taken a good bit out of me. Then he asked what I had for breakfast. I don’t think he was too impressed with my answer but he was looking out for me. He told me get something down my throat. My body was needing it. It must have been pretty obvious to them. I chewed a protien bar and some jelly beans washing it down with some water.

It actually took me an age to realise that we were virtually in the same area as we had been yesterday. I usually have a good sense of direction and place. I’m glad that Phil, Colin and Steve were on the ball cause if they were relying on me we would have been in a little bit of trouble. Not really like me but probably had a lot to do with my tired body and mind and me not feeding it properly as well as my general fitness levels. I took a lot out my body the previous day and in the morning, climbing. It’s easy done and I won’t be doing that again. I’ll be forcing down a big breakfast next time. Give myself a chance with having the boiler stoked at the very least. As regardless of your state of fitness, if you don’t have the energy your body can’t do anything. I put myself a little out of my depth and luckily I had good friends with me. I supposed sometimes that you need the obvious pointed out and I’m happy the three of them were experienced enough to give me that nudge. Lesson learned.

Energy stores replenished for a bit we headed off. The sugar rush must have kicked in as I was feeling better after my force feeding. If I thought the wind was strong yesterday it was nothing compared to today. It had definitely climbed a couple of pints on the Stella scale so much so I was having to stop and physically brace myself against it. Walking pole out in front, leaning on it, leaning into the wind. The views up on the plateau had changed, fleeting and far between as the winds whipped low clouds across our fields of vision. Visibility at times was down to just a few feet and at times we were in the clouds. It always makes for such a surreal feeling when it’s like that or it does for me. Distances expanding and contracting like a rubber band. Sometimes you feel like your mind is playing tricks on you. You see things that aren’t there and miss things that are.

We made it to where we had entered the plateau yesterday and we stopped in the wind to discuss what to do next. There was only 2 options really, turn and head up Cairn Gorm in the crazy strong wind or head back to the car. I was happy to follow the majority vote, either or for me. The wind was really bad and I wish I could give you a miles per hour but I can’t, other than to say if you weren’t careful it would knock you over. Both Phil and Colin had been on Cairn Gorm before but not Steve or I. Again I said either way I was happy. Up or Down. Cairn Gorm wasn’t going anywhere we could always go back another day. It was going back and forth. We were all happy to do what the others wanted. However Phil said his recommendation would be to get off the hill. I was happy with that and I think we all were. Looking back it was the right decision and we took it. The weather and my fitness, I’m not sure how I would have done but under the circumstances I’m glad we didn’t have to find out. It was only another couple of clicks and couple of hundred metres of ascent but sometimes that’s all it takes to break the camel’s back and I sure as hell don’t want to be there when that happens.

Decision made we descended the path that we had climbed up on the Saturday. I was much easier going down. I always find climbing down easier so much so I managed to keep up with the rest of them. I sure it must have been a shock. Especially for Colin as I badgered him with questions about his through hike in Colorado and his future plans for other big walks. Next it was Steve’s turn as we neared the boulder field at the bottom. I asked him about Wainwrights and the lakes, again places I had no knowledge and experience of, and of his big Scotland adventure that he had planned but the awful weather had scuppered earlier in the year. Here on the decent we were out the wind and it was good. Good to get a rest from the pounding and the big gusts.

Back down below the Central Gully we headed across the boulder field. Skipping back across the rocks, jumping from one to another. Jumping and skipping might be an exaggeration on my part. Just a bit too athletic for me. Even striding is stretching it a bit, I only have short legs. Stuttering across the rocks is more apt. I followed the others heading for the path and track back to the start. On the path again I was slowing down my energy levels getting sapped and we were spacing out as a group but as was the way of things; Colin, Steve and Phil would wait for me to catch up and we would walk together for a bit before our natural pace set in again and the spacing appeared. Usually with me at the back but not always, we were walking down hill. The slope is in a better direction for me. My short legs don’t have to work so hard.

Burst

At times with the shelter growing less and less the wind would catch me unaware. I wasn’t the only one. Gusting out of no where, nearly knocking me flat or catching the pack and turning me through 90 degrees. If I was lucky I could again lean into it, brace myself against my walking pole like I had done up on the plateau. Then it was back to walking a few steps, feet and yards before the next gust. All the time with a steady stream of people heading towards the plateau. Crazy in my point of view but they would soon see for themselves. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

I’ve seen some sights on the hills and some are not for sore eyes, some make your eyes sore or water at the very least but this was crazy. Obviously off one of the tourist coaches, well you would hope so. A fake looking fur jacket, sun glasses and 6 inch stiletto heels. Not the high fashion you expect to see in the mountains. For those that know the path up from the Ski Centre, it can be hard enough in walking boots never mind heels. Each to your own and I truly hope she made it back without a broken ankle.

The closer we got to the car park the busier it got and with some near hilarious goings on. I saw several member’s of a school/college/university field trip blown on their arses by the wind. The lass in high heels seemed to be coping better with the wind. I think the group must have been looking a biodiversity or something as they had a square metre out and notebooks. However the best one was yet to come, a guy with a come-over, dressed in what appeared to be a suit and a long overcoat, trench-coat type of thing and brogues. He walked round a corner in the path and was completely taken by surprise by a rather strong blow. It spun him nearly 360 degrees lifting his coat tails and making him look like the spinning seeds off a Maple tree. Not that I had been fairing much better.

The Guys were waiting for me just before the little bridge that crosses Allt a’ Choire Chais and takes you up to the Ski Centre. Finishing as we started, all together. Back at the car Steve broke out the giant chocolate cake that Tracy had made. I fine way to end a trip something we could get used to, not sure how Tracy feels about it. I had slice of that and a blueberry muffin washed down with some IRN-BRU. After all I had burned a fair few calories.

That’s twice now that I’ve been on walks with Phil where he’s managed to burst me, not that’s hard and it’s more than likely to happen again. He’s used it now but Steve and Colin aren’t. I just need to get them used to it. I had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed myself and now hopefully looking forward to the next trip and wondering where the fantastic four will end up.

The Fantastic Four head to Aviemore?

Cairn Toul

A Cairngorms Weekend Part 1

As I always say, this is how I remember it an not necessarily how my good companions do. For that you would have to ask them. All thoughts, opinions, conjectures, etc, are mine and mine alone.

It was the September weekend and this trip had been organised for a few weeks. A couple of days in the Cairngorms. I was really looking forward to this for several reasons, I always enjoy myself walking with Phil, he is good company and the times we have walked together they are always memorable, for me. Also this time Colin and Steve would be there and I would be meeting them for the first time. Although we had all spoke plenty on interwebs. More added excitement. Phil, Colin and Steve had walked together before and from what I had heard it had been good. I was hoping for more of the same. Finally the mighty Cairngorm plateau itself. I had never been on it, save for an ill fated ski trip with my secondary school PE class where I managed to face plant ice, yes there was more ice than snow and wrap the skis round my head more times than I care to remember. I am not made for skiing. The least said the better. I had been up to Aviemore on several occasions and camped there as a wee Tookster. I love the Rothiemurchus estate and the old forest there. Some brilliant walks. I was excited that I would be walking on that high tundra, a different landscape and higher than what I am used to. I would be out my comfort zone if you want to put it that way.

The Friday arrived and generally I was ready. The car was packed, my good lady had me well stocked in rolls, chocolate and sweets for the next couple of days. Not to mention IRN-BRU. I’m lucky, she is very good to me and indulges my need to disappear into the wilds. It was an easy enough get away, early afternoon. No rush. My in-laws had dropped in and we all sat around having lunch and chatting. Originally the plan was to wild camp over a couple of nights but the weather was looking a bit iffy and there would be a good chance of a severe buffeting at high levels. About 3 to 4 pints on the Stella scale. The decision was taken to use one of the campsites in the area and start early on the Saturday. Saturday looking like the best day, weather-wise and go from there.

I said my goodbyes. Collecting my food and my camera, fully charged and ready to go. First stop was a carry oot for later. We were glamping after all, no weight penalties here for bottles of beer. Two of us being card carrying card CAMRA members, I went to my local well stocked beer emporium (read Sainsburys) as they have a good selection of real man Scottish Ales. Also having checked with Phil that both Colin and Steve liked a beer. I made my informed selection. After paying the lady the next stop was petrol. Aviemore is a fair old distance and as we all know petrol ain’t cheap north of the central belt. I filled the Swift to the gunwales. Which is approximately £50 these days. Time to hit the open road? It was a going to be a fairly long drive, 3 to 3 and a half hours. A725 Express Way down to the Raith Interchange then the M74 towards Glasgow. Then on to the M73, A80, M80 heading for Stirling then onto Perth, M9, A9 then turning on to the A95 and finally the B9152 in towards Aviemore. It’s a drive I always enjoy especially when the weather is fine. The A9 can be particularly bad at times with it’s long lines of traffic no real passing places, roadworks, impatient drives and sometimes bad weather.

I made Aviemore in good time and drove into the village. Heaving would be an understatement. The place was mobbed with throngs of people. All descending on the Highlands for the September weekend. I managed to get parked in the Tesco car park. I had arranged to meet Steve and Phil here earlier as I wasn’t sure where the campsite was. They both turned up within minutes of me getting out the car and heading to the main road in front of the supermarket. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t miss me as I was wearing my newly aquired Social Hiking t-shirt in a fetching outdoors woodland green, which was gathering admiring glances. Phil spotted me straight away. After they were parked and Steve and I got our proper introductions done, we headed into Tesco for them to stock up on supplies. Phil informed me that Colin was at the campsite and had managed to secure us a couple of pitches. We got back to the cars and I followed both of them out the car park and out of the village towards the camp site at Coylum Bridge.

As we turned left at the round-a-bout I was flooded with childhood memories of this area and I got more and more as we drove past the entrance to the Rothiemurchus estate. Fishing in the fishery, bike rides and walks through the trees. Next it was the turning into the campsite and I had a deja vu there. I remember being here with the caravan and my family. This was where we had stayed the 1st time at Aviemore. It was lucky that Colin was at the campsite early as when we turned up the sign was out saying no more places were available. We stopped off at the site off and signed in, paying the deposit to get our tent tags.

We headed round to the tent area. Parking up the two cars, we crossed a small bridge and headed along a path. It was obvious to me where we were going and having never met Colin before I would have found him without trouble. He already had his TrailStar pitched by the time we rolled up. As I walked around I had all those memories as a kid running around these woods, playing in the burn. I was a nice surprise to come back there after all those years. Back then summers felt like they lasted forever. It felt like nothing had changed. It was shaping up to be great.

TrailStar

After meeting Colin, I did the civilised thing and went and got the beers from my car and handed them out to everyone. We cracked the bottles open and got one with pitching the other 2 Trailstars. One was Steve’s and the other Phil’s. Where’s mine I hear you ask? Sadly I don’t have one but I was going to be sleeping under Phil’s. Even with Phil testing one of Sean’s OookStar inners, there is still plenty of room for another Tookie sized person and gear. The TrailStars really are great shelters.

For dinner we decided rather than fire up assorted stoves and rehydrate our assorted dehydrated dinners we would head in to Aviemore for the famous Italian buffet at the La Taverna. I’m sure it’s famous to those familiar with the place. Pizza and beer is always a winner for me. You didn’t have to ask me twice. We got stuff packed up and locked up in the cars. Grabbing our jackets we set off by foot. There was a brief discussion about taking a car but then some-one wasn’t getting another beer. Like I said, it was brief. I’m sure Steven Hawking could measure it. It was a millionth of a second, if that. Heading on down the road to town we talked about everything and anything.

It was busy when we arrived at the La Tavern and we said we were happy to wait. The waitress asked us to take a seat in the bar. In the bar we ordered some more beer this time it was Black Gold from the local Cairngorm Brewery. A really nice pint. We sat down at the nearest empty table and got the map out to discuss the next days escapades while we waited to be called to the restaurant. Bringing the beer back to the table, someone spilled the top of their pint. I can’t remember if it was me or not. I remember going to the bar to ask for the cloth but for fairness I’m blaming Phil. Apparently he’s the clumsy one.

We didn’t have to wait long before they had a table for four. The restaurant was stowed like the village was earlier. Evidently the buffet is indeed famous and popular. Always a good sign. Not that I had doubted the guys. Would you like something off the menu? Err, no just the buffet please, for 4. Here’s your plate, batter in and batter in I did. I managed to get through 10 fairly big slices of pizza plus some ice cream to finish it. Between courses on my way between table and the buffet, I noticed that my t-shirt was gathering further admiring glances. Phil had his on too so they were being admired twice as much. I wasn’t the only one getting a good feed, Colin managed to shovel away a fair few slices plus other assorted pasta dishes. However technically he was far from being the stank I was. He was recovering from some seriously weight loss brought on from a severe bug that he caught walking the Colorado Trail. All in all I think we all managed to eat more than our fair share. It was all you can eat and we did.

Paying the bill we headed on up the road. Bellies full and a couple of pints wiser. It was now dark, the sun had well and truly set while we fattened ourselves. We would have to pass the Coylum Bridge Hilton. It was suggested by one of the others that we could pop in and have a couple of pints before retiring to our sleeping bags for the evening. I was all for that but did ask are the Hilton people happy to have walkers tramp through their lovely expensive hotel? Colin said not to worry as there is a bar round the back, away from the main hotel that was more then happy to have walkers. I was introduced to the Woodshed at the Coylum Bridge Hilton.

On entering the Shed; the shed being a bit of a misnomer, it’s bigger than my entire flat. It’s huge. With a massive open fire at one and some interesting wall art. We doubled the number of punters in the place. The size of the bar exaggerates the emptiness. The fire was blazing and the pub was roasting. Shedding layers we walked over and acquired more fine beer from the Cairngorm Brewery. The cask now being 4 pints lighter we turned to be met with a myriad of seating choices. Which to be honest I found a bit weird. A Friday night and the pub was empty. Location?

....honest here is @townsendoutdoor

To say there wasn’t much of an atmosphere is no exaggeration so we went about making our own and having a laugh. In the hope of making things better they have live music and it wasn’t long before one man and his guitar turned up. Oh dear. Don’t be shy he said, any request just ask. In our case we didn’t. We had another pint and drank up instead. It was bad. I have a feeling that if the entertainment hadn’t turned up we may have stayed longer. Maybe that was a good thing but before all that we were fascinated by some of the wall art. In particular what looked like a tribute to the walking legend, Chris Townsend. If it wasn’t, it had an uncanny likeness. I was sure. Go see for yourself I’m sure you’ll agree. We left the Hilton’s grounds crossed the road and headed for the sleeping bags. Dreams of tomorrows hills were waiting…

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)

Kings, Romans, Ayrshiremen, lend me your feet

Loudoun Hill

After the detour to Galston and hacking through the overgrown undergrowth to reach the walk that isn’t a walk and it’s fairie dell, we reached Darvel. Another out the road corner of Ayrshire. Phil and I parked up on the main street, East Main Street to be exact. It’s split in two east and west but it’s basically just the A71 that runs throught the middle of the town. There’s plenty of parking to be had. Once settled we opted to leave the packs this time and take just take the cameras. We headed off out of Darvel to Loudoun Hill. Along the main road talking about Darvel; heading for the hill, Loudoun Hill.

Darvel like most of Ayrshire has an industrial past, most famously lace making and the associated mills but also coal and iron, that is now long gone and some very interesting history. Stretching back to the mists of time; standing stones, Romans, William Wallace(supposedly and probably), Robert Bruce as well as the Bloody Killing Times with the Covenanters through to it being the birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming. Not that he discovered penicillin there but was born at Lochfield Farm on the outskirts of the town. Once an Ayrshireman always and Ayrshireman.

A bust...

From Alexander Fleming back to the Covenanters holding their conventicles, field meetings in the surrounding muirs and mosses. The most famous run in with King’s men; the Battle of Drumclog, a couple of kilometres to the east of Darvel on the other side of Loudoun Hill, where a group of 200 or so Covenanters under the leadership of Robert Hamilton routed the army under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse also known as Bluidy Clavers. There is a monument that you can visit out at Drumclog itself.

Then we have in May 1307, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland another Ayrshireman born out at Turnberry on the coast giving it good guerilla style to King’s men (Edward I of England) this time under the command of Amyer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Erse kicked, coupon burst and sent fleeing to Bothwell Castle. Again a superior force met it’s match. Back a few years further and we have according to Blind Harry the minstrel; now believed to be a little fanciful story telling, William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. Another Ayrshire boy. It’s just not true what those Renfrewshire folks claim. Lies, lies and lies. Anyway Wallace according to the wise old sage Harry give the English a good kicking and a slapping over on the main road into Darvel. The Winny Wizzen, again next to Loudoun Hill.

Loudoun Hill seems to be a favourite spot out by Darvel, maybe because it’s noticeable for miles around. Even the Romans built a fort next to it. I think it’s the only actual verified Roman fort in Ayrshire. They left some of their roads, that fort and not much else. Now sadly no longer there having being dug up at the quarry but we know the Romans didn’t hang around long in Ayrshire and Scotland for that matter having buggered off, back south of the wall, once they built it. What did the Romans ever do for us? Is it me or is there a pattern here?

The Dagon Staine

And finally the Dogon Staine a possible prehistoric unhewn monolith that some local Blacksmith decided to add an iron bar with a round sandstone ball on the top of it. Beggars belief. There is a few local traditions and superstitions regarding the stone. Supposedly the markings on 3 of the sides match astronomical bodies or it lines up with midday sun on the summer solstice. Nobody seems to know where it originally stood but it has been moved a couple of times in the last few years. Now it sits in the centre of the town next to a bust of Sir Alexander Fleming in Hasting Square.

Overgrown

We walked along the main road until we reached Cemetery Road and then turned up hill and underneath what was an old railway bridge and almost immediately at the other side of the the bridge pillar we picked up the path for Loudoun Hill. We followed that path up and onto the old railway line. Obviously no longer used as the sleepers and rails have been lifted. Another line that fell under the Beeching axe. It didn’t take us long to find ourselves back in familiar territory for the day. Seriously overgrown undergrowth. Not really a problem for the friendly giant Phil but for me, the dwarf, it was. Stinging nettles as tall as me. Hands above the head stuff again trying to avoid getting stung. Luckily it didn’t last long. Having cleared Darvel the countryside opens up to fields and moors.

It’s a very simple and easy walk out to Loudoun Hill. We generally just followed the railway line. It makes for a very pleasant and level walk. Especially on that fine dry day. A couple of times we had to leave the line either to cross old sidings or on one occasions we were funnelled between two fences because the deck of a bridge that crossed over a farm road was no longer there. That was when we were starting to think it was easier to just walk a long the railway instead of following the local diversions. Up and over stiles and fences. Look what thinking nearly done. Could have been a nice 18 foot plunge down to the road. I’ve been living in the city too long. Big city ideas.

Bridge and Cutting

It was only about here that I noticed that I had bounced the ISO button on my dSLR. It was now at ISO 3200 and in some cases 12800! Instead of the 100 I had set it at over in Straiton. Woohoo, night time shooting in the daylight. For the past how many photographs I had been wondering why my shutter speed was so fast and it wasn’t that bright. Spot the newbie. I was maxing out the shutter speed at 1/4000 and 1/1600 of a second at f/32 aperture for some because the ISO was set so high. Cranking down the aperture to correct my exposure. Hadn’t even thought to check the settings to see why I had gone from 1/125 of a second at f/16 at ISO 100. I just thought the sensor must be picking up some light I couldn’t see. It’s got a built in micro chip, It must know better. You would think I would no better. SISO; shite in, shite out. Felt like a right fud when I noticed, finally checking the settings and correcting them. Dick. Lesson learned though. I hope.

Eventually we came to another railway bridge that has been removed and were directed via a signpost down a set of wooden stairs in need of some repair as the rails were a bit on the shoggly side of shoggly. Having come down the steps I was confronted by a wall and stile. They don’t make it easy for small people. Even with the stile the dugs baws were resting on the coping staine. Never the most comfortable position to be in, astride a wall. I’m sure Phil had no such bother.

After scraping my nether regions off the wall we were back on the road. Turning right then left on to a steep winding road that starts to curve around the old volcanic plug. I remember that this didn’t look familiar. It had been a while since I had climbed Loudoun Hill. I think I may even had put some doubt in Phil’s head, so luckily there was a older gent tending his veg, digging in his garden. We stopped and asked. Kindly he pointed out we were on the correct path with just a little further to go. Look out for the car park and there is a fence with a sign on it.

We continued up the road, skirting round the western edge of the hill. It’s now, looking back at my notes and having spoke to a few people that I realised that we always walked round Loudoun hill from the eastern side and the Winny Wizzen. That’s why I was confused and unsure. It doesn’t matter now, we reached the car park and followed the sign.

Climbing the gate into the field we followed the marker posts. They’re white and not all that obvious having been weathered for so long and not replaced. Anyway it’s not too difficult, make like the crow flies for the trees at the base of the hill. That would be straight ahead for those not in the know. Another wall to be crossed then we were on the hill proper. We circled round to our left and made our way up. There’s plenty of tracks to follow to the top. The yowes and tups are not daft when climbing for the grazing. It’s a steep yin, almost 400 metres pretty much straight up. It gets the legs pumping and if your like me, the heart beating hard. I’m now starting to believe Phil was a mountain goat in another life. It felt like he took a hop skip and a jump to reach the top. I really need longer legs or something.

Loudoun Hill towards Arran

Once I caught up with Phil we were greeted with great views again. Ayrshire unfolding below us again. All green and pleasant. The usual landmarks clearly visible to the eye, Arran away out in the Firth of Clyde and Tinto in the opposite direction in Lanarkshire. Panoramic views like most of the bigger hills in Ayrshire. Having enjoyed the vista with the naked eye, it was time to get the recently reset camera. I removed the lens cap then proceeded to juggle the camera like a poor version of Coco the Clown with both hands tied behind my back. Luckily I managed to catch the camera before it went lens first into the ground. However it did include me smearing a big thumb soaked with sweat and sun lotion over the glass. Things were not going good in the camera department today. Not at all. Looking through the view finder everything was a blurry mess. Insert expletives as appropriate. Having left the rucksack in the car, I had no cleaning cloth. Enter stage left, the hem of my merino top but to no avail. It cleaned most of it but there was still some residue. More expletives and then some more again.

Loudoun Hill

I was beginning to think that was it for the photographs today until Phil came back along the summit. He had been off exploring the top while I was doing my circus performance. He had his Lowe Pro camera bag for his Sony NEX and in that wonderful little bag was a stitched in lens cloth. Saviour. It did the trick, the lens was spotless. I was snap happy again as usual.

On his exploration of the summit; Phil found another path down, less steep. If that was possible. We made our way back down and to the road for the walk back to Darvel along the dis-used railway line. This like so many other walks left me thinking among other things, why does the walk back to the car seem to be shorter than the walk out…

The Colonel his Lady and the missing fairie dell

Straiton

I’m playing catch up with my walks and failing miserable to get each one written up and posted so please bear with me, I will get there. I have all my notes and photographs. It’s just a case of making sense of it all and putting it into some semblance of order.

This one especially it was back in July; one day, a Saturday with 3 separate walks and a kind of off piste, machete requiring non walk hack around the undergrowth or more accurately the overgrowth to a fairy dell. I’ve decided to scratch from my post. It would just be crazy to suggest walking there. Over grown like a jungle and no real distinct path or markers to follow. I think the Galston fairies want to keep the place to themselves. I’ve decided to split it into 2 posts for the 3 walks.

It started earlier that week in July when I got a text message from my friend, Phil asking if I fancied going for a few walks in glorious Ayrshire and an over night camp somewhere. I couldn’t make the over night but I could meet early on the Saturday for a walk. Deal sealed. Phil suggested we do a couple of walks at Straiton. I was happy with that as it had been a long time since I was down that end of the county.

Saturday came and I was up with birds, nice and early. I left my wife and daughter sleeping as I crept out the front having got most of my gear ready the night before. First stop was breakfast, I needed some of Mucky D’s pancakes and syrup to plan my road journey out in my head. What would be the quickest way to Straiton from East Kilbride. After 8 mints of exile from god’s country I still find I have to re-wire my brain for the roads. I have to plug in the South Lanarkshire section. Crazy but that’s how it works for me. I was trying to figure out my quickest route. I ended up going the easiest road the A77 down to Ayr then head for Patna and Dalmellington, the A713 and then along the B741. A favourite of mine, a great drive from New Cumnock but I wasn’t going that way. I could have gone the Kirkmichael way when I got to the back-end of Ayr. One of those 6 of one half a dozen of the other.

I made Straiton in good time to find Phil in the car park waiting. It was fine sunny morning that had made for an excellent drive down and would hopefully make for a good walk. We got out the cars and set about getting ourselves sorted. Which involved; on my part, some heavy handed lathering on of high factor sun scream to my face, arms and any exposed skin. Liquid asbestos is the factor strength. The bane of being a fair skinned Scot. At this time of the year the sun need only wink in my general direction and I end looking like a skelpt erse or a bleisha beacon. There’s ginger in my genes and not just from the IRN-BRU.

We head up into to the village and to the village store for some supplies. Passing the old 16th Century church. I had been lazy earlier and not made up anything for lunch. I asked the man behind the counter if they had any filled rolls. No, not the answer I was expecting. I had to make do with a couple of sausage rolls and some IRN-BRU. Not that the sausage rolls were bad, far from it. Locally made, straight from the butchers or the farm. However I do think the shop is missing a trick or two. Freshly made rolls, even if they are to order surely would bring in a few more bob or two? Surely? It’s not that didn’t have the ingredients.

Leaving the shop we headed up the main street past The Black Bull Hotel. A good place for a decent pint and feed but it was a bit early for that. It wasn’t open either. It’s picture postcard stuff here, rows of well kept single story cottages a running along a wide main street. Probably all down to the Earl of Cassilis deciding he was fed up of playing with toy houses and wanting to play with some life-sized models instead. None-the-less still pretty in the sunshine.

From the main street we got a great view of our first target for the day. The monument atop of Craigengower. Continuing on through the village we headed on out the other side on the Newton Stewart road. Following this road out past the Manse and the old toll cottage to the primary school where we left the road through a gate into a field otherwise known as fly central. The air was thick with them, might have to do with the fact that the small field was presently being occupied by both a herd of cows and sheep. Plus the sun was heating the place up very nicely indeed.

We followed a very obvious grass path through the field. Dodging coos and scaring the yowes. Well they are jumpy by nature and doesn’t take much encouragement to get out your road, other than being closer than 3 feet from them. The grassy path cuts across the field then curves round to follow round the boundary with the wood until we get to the gate which leads us into a path in the wood. Along the shaded path through the woodland which looks like it also doubles as a fire break for the conifer forest. This leads us to a drystaine dyke with a stile.

Climbing over the dyke by way of the ladder stile we find ourselves at the bottom of Craigengower. It’s almost straight up vertical from here to the monument. Okay maybe not vertical but it’s a steep a section as you’ll get anywhere. Out of the shade of the trees it was getting very warm indeed. Just what my unfit body needs to go along with a nice bit of vertical leg pumping. Onwards and upwards we go. The path is well marked and worn. I’m not saying it gets well used or often but it’s getting some use. Maybe even if it’s just the sheep.

Phil is bounding on like a mountain goat, skipping up the slope while I’m hobbling like a one-legged pirate with a wooden leg and a crutch or so it seems. I say it every time, I need to get fitter. Maybe one day I’ll listen to myself and find the time. Phil has disappeared over a false summit so I take the opportunity to take a breath and grabs some photographs. By this time the heat plus the steady steep incline and my physical conditioning have combined to create a greasy liquid asbestos coated sweat. You could quite possibly power cars with this stuff. I’m in mortal fear that the combination is going to spontaneously combust so I decide to remove my glass and wipe down my face. It seemed like a good idea at the time. That was until I opened my eyes and blinked. It would appear that all I manage to do was to move the slick oil in the sockets that house my eyes.

Oh yes it nips. It nips nippier than a nippy crab with a big nippy claw. I have now lost the mortal fear of combustion only to replace it with the mortal fear that I have just blinded myself. You would think after all those years I would have learned the lesson that eyeballs and sun cream don’t play nice together, EVER. After what seems like much rubbing, blinking, wiping, half a litre of water and much much cursing and chastising of my stupid self the stinging has eased enough that I can keep e’en open long enough for me to see and continue my walk.

I have no doubt that had there been any witness it would have been a hilarious dance to see but luckily no-one did. Until now. I also have no doubt Phil was wondering what the hell was keeping me. Fun and games. I continued on, I was closer to the top than I realised. I soon reached the summit and a glorious view and not just the impressive monument to the late Lt. Col. James Hunter Blair. I know very little about the Lieutenant colonel other than he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854 which was during the Crimean War and the family seat is just up the road at Blairquhan. Only because it tells you that on the monument itself.

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The view was panoramic and stunning, the fine weather helping no end. Blues skies dotted by powder puff clouds. All points of the compass had views. To the north Ben Lomond’s distinctive shape was clearly visible, 60 or so miles. To the east was the Southern Uplands rolling away and more particularly the Glenkens with the Cairsphairn hill tops visible as well as Blackcraig Hill at Glen Afton. Off to the south the Merrick, king of the southern hills, with Trafessock and Kirriereoch Hill guarding the approach from this view, two fingers of the Range of the Awful Hand clear visible, only being 12 miles away. Finally to the west the firth of Clyde and the sea with the Ailsa Craig, the prominent volcanic plug standing strong in the water. Everywhere you looked there was something for you to see. Well worth the effort and the near self inflicted blinding of the upward climb.

We sometime milling around the monument talking in the views, capturing some photographs and taking a water break. Generally just enjoying the day. Phil checked the map for our next destination and what our general heading should be so together we walked off the summit to the first wooden way-markers. From there on we went from pillar to post heading south across the muir before making our way down to the road. We crossed the road and made our towards a road bridge following a semi overgrown path that follow the rivers edge. It was thick in places and we were kicking up clouds of pollen, turning the sunlight hazy around us. Luckily neither of us suffer from hay fever.

_DSC3797020711

Reaching the bridge we headed right and on to a grassy path which lead us in to Bennan Wood again we following the way-markers provided. I love walking in the woods and this was no exception. Nice mixed plantation. Plenty of wildlife to spot and another deer that we managed to scare before I can get my camera up and in place. I’m starting to think I’m not going to get a photo of a deer. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been out walking and stumbled into a deer or 3, only for them to hightail it out of sight. It be useless hunter. My tribe would go hungry.

Continuing to walk through the wood skirting the bottom of Bennan Hill. Enjoying the dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy we get to a marker pointing to a viewpoint. We follow this steep path which turn us almost back in the direction we came. It’s not the best here the path has been moved and destroyed by the tree roots and little up keep. It takes a while to find the vantage point once we get to the top. It’s another fine spot for a rest and some photographs. We return down the same path as climbed back to the path at the base of the hill turning left.

From the top of Bennan Hill

Leaving the woods we find ourselves on a farm track which leads us through Bennan Farm and onto the road. Following the road till we come across a sign for a footpath which we follow. This takes us along the river bank again for a short distance before crossing a footbridge over the water to find ourselves back where we started. In the car park a little over a couple hours after we left. However we were not finished with Straiton just yet. Oh no.

Dumping the rucksacks in the cars we were off after Lady Hunter Blair. Having dealt with the Col. it was only fair that we should go after his lady. It was only going to be a short walk. This time heading out in the opposite direction. He headed past some of the old cottages, catching a path leading over a small burn and onto what is the Dalmellington road.

Straiton Parish Church

We follow the road again till the way markers indicate we’ve to enter the field. This where we make a bit of a mess of things. Not really our fault. So Phil and I walk across the long grass swarmed by flies again, except this time its worse. No live stock means we’re the only ones the flies are interested in. Lovely.

It becomes apparent that somethings not right. We reach the other side of the field; no more way markers, no visible or obvious path. Our choices are; loup a fence, that doesn’t seem right, wade through a burn, that really doesn’t seem right. Its meant to be a managed path but there is no path. We get the guide out but its not the most accuracte or detailed. Oh deary me.

After much walking up and down the fence line, pointing, chin rubbing, general gesticulating and discussion. We discover the path that we should have followed is squeezed between the fence along the roadside and a horrendously over grown hedge. As in so overgrown you couldn’t see the path because it looks like some put a fence up in front of a hedge minus room for the path. Sure enough though we find an extremely well hidden way marker. In the name of the wee man, I’ve found easier Geo caches. Seriously.

Twoo

I let Phil go first to push as much of the undergrowth overgrowth out of the way. Then I follow behind, hands above me head to protect my face as most, if not all of this stuff is taller than me. I’m like a quarterback with his centre in front defending him from tackles. In this case its not other players but getting whipped and scratched by the hedgerow. It doesn’t take us long to clear the worst of it and enter into some really pleasant woodland.

This woodland walk was short and sweet but filled with carvings and wildlife. The carvings are of different animals found in the woods and countryside. You follow path up onside of the river and down the other side. Not the most arduous of walks but still a nice relaxing one if you only have a hour or so. On the way back to the car we opted to walk down the road and not the hidden path. Straiton done it was time for our next destination……and another post.

 

For honest men & bonie lasses – The River Ayr Way Day 2

The river and some sandstone cliffs

The adventure continues and I can only apologise for the length of time that it has taken me to get this posted. I’ve been finding it hard between work and my home life to find the time to flesh out and write my notes but here it is, day 2. The first day can be found here http://walkwithtookie.com/fae-yin-brig-tae-anither-the-river-ayr-way-da if you want to refresh your memory on happened on that leg of our source to sea journey.

The Saturday started bright and early. Despite having to toss aside my sleeping mat and having to sleep on the woodland floor. I had a great night’s kip. I slept like a log. Feeling refreshed, rested and feeling stiff at the same time. It’s not everyday I walk 20 odd miles. It had be a good day walking with Phil and I was looking forward to more of the same. Firstly though, I had to extract myself from my sleeping bag and get some breakfast. This was proving harder than I expected. I was stiffer than a stiff thing now that I was trying to move and this was no morning glory either. I wasn’t feeling stiff, I was stiff.

Once I got myself out of my bag and had a big stretch I noticed a blister. The walkers menace. I hadn’t been there last night, remember I had thoroughly rubbed my feet down with some cream but there it was glaring angrily at me. Not from a normal blister place, on my second toe on the side of my big toe. Weird. Never ever had a blister there. Blisters appearing in the night in strange places, bizarre. Nothing for it than to deal with. If you’re squeamish jump the next few sentences. I’m blister burster, I don’t like the pressure point they create when full of liquid. I got it drained and after much faffing around got some moleskin attached to the offending toe. With the protection added I got my socks and shoes back on. After taking a few steps I realised I couldn’t even feel where the blister was, let alone figure out how I manage to rub those two toes hard enough to cause it. Nothing to worry about. Pain free walking.

After a breakfast of kings, breakfast energy bars and water for me and a Fuizion Freeze dried just add water super calorie laden meal for Phil. Once we were fed and watered, we made busy and packed up camp. One of these days I’ll beat Phil. I seem to do so much more fanny about and sorting stuff out than he does. One day I’ll be first. Maybe. We checked around and double checked, nothing left. Unless you’ve a trained eye and notice the couple depressed areas where we slept but soon, even they would no longer be there. All trace gone. Instead of heading back the way we came to catch the path, we headed as the craw flies to intercept it further down.

It was a fine quiet morning if a little chilly but my MountainGoat hat was doing a good job of keeping my lugs and heid warm. Just us and the fermer bombing about the field in his tractor. Heading along the path towards the Howford Bridge. Well the first of two Howford bridges. One the new road one and the second the old road one. When I say new I mean 1960s new and when I say old I mean a couple of hundred years old. Both are old to me but maybe not some of you readers out there. We climbed steadily up towards the road, the A76. When we got to the road the path goes under the road and its all downhill from here to the old bridge. At the road the path splits and you can go off up to Catrine House or what’s left of it. Here there’s a petting farm and farm shop/eatery. It’s serves great food and excellent ice cream. The shop sells good local produce. I would recommend stopping off there but we were a little early.

We made our way down to the old Howford Bridge walking in the woods. When I suddenly noticed in my periphery vision, something moving. A Deer. I called to Phil in my best covert voice and pointed in the direction of the beast. It was well in the thicket of woods off the path. Well hidden but as usual, flashing its white arse gave it away. Phil and I tried our best stealthy silent walks to get as close as we dared for a photograph. However; as these things go for me, the deer high tailed out of there just I as lifting my camera. No shot. Next time, maybe. We continued on down the path and joined the old Mauchline road and made our way across the auld Howford Bridge which doesn’t look unlike the brig at Sorn. You would think that they had the same builder.

The Howford Bridge from the Auld Howford Brig

There’s a good fishing ‘hole’ here at the auld brig and my Dad always tells the story of how this was the place he first went fishing with my Papa and that his fishing rod was made from a tank’s communication aerial. Apparently it weighed a ton. I’ve never been lucky enough to hook into anything at this fishing hole but there are others more fortunate than me. We headed over the bridge and up towards Mauchline. Towards Mauchline is a loose term, more like skirting it and heading to Haugh farm and the old Mill through a wood walk. Around here are some cups and ring marked stones. As cup and rings go they are very famous in that they are carved vertically on the sandstone cliffs rather that the standard horizontal. The discovery of this changed the interpretation of the other carvings. However I was to busy talking all about them that we walked passed them and didn’t see them. Lesson learned, sometimes it’s better to shut up and show. Not to worry, they haven’t moved in a few thousand years. The path here takes you through what was once the polices of Kingencleugh house and castle (read tower house) as well as under the Ballochmyle Viaduct. Famous for being the world’s largest masonry span arch. The viaduct was built around 1845 and is still in daily use as part of the Glasgow to Carlisle main-line route. It’s a fine piece of masonry work with attractive detailing and great to see it from below instead of passing over it and hardly noticing it.

Mauchline Viaduct(2)

Phil and I continued on through the wooded gorge. The sun piercing through in places, illuminating glades of bluebells here in there. From Catrine to here it’s a bit of an up and down walk but a very pleasant one indeed. It was still early and no-one but the two of us about. This is another part of the walk where you find yourself far from the river itself due to geography and the wishes of the local land owner. Once you reach Haugh farm, you leave the river entirely as you make your way around the borders of the Barskimming Estate. It was interesting for both Phil and I when we reached the mill as we realised that the guide books we were carrying were different. It wasn’t obvious as Phil’s; the newer version did have anything to indicate that the route had changed here. His version has you walking up the road to Haughyett then taking a left at the junction there to Woodlands. Where as the edition I have has you going through the old Barskimming works, the Bostonbank woods and past one of the Barskimming Lodges to Woodlands.

We must have looked dodgy from a distance, how I’m not sure. Two guys standing in the middle of nowhere comparing maps and point in numerous directions. However we must have as local fermer out on his morning rounds came over to us and said as much. He initially thought we were a pair of burglars but as he got closer, he realised. Don’t think I’ve been mistaken for a criminal before. It was probably Phil’s fault. After having a chat with the fermer, he suggested that we continue to follow the original route. It was much more attractive than the new way up the tarmac. We took his advice and crossed the field to the old stile. Once in the Bostonbank woods it was obvious that a lot of people were still walking this way, the track was well worn and not over grown. We exited the trees and now only had a short road section to walk, past the lodge to the Woodlands cottages.

Now a good distance from the water, we turned in through a new gate at the cottages and followed a very new section or recently repaired part of the walk. Basically we were on the boundary of the estate and we wouldn’t be back near the river until we were passed Stairaird another local estate. It’s a shame and blessing in a way. You don’t get to walk past and see these beautiful old country houses hiding the trees but you also miss out probably the windiest part of the river. It turns north, south, east and west twice in a two mile stretch or so. Four big massive loops. There was no point in worrying about what we would miss and got on with walking. We continued on and were soon walking past the massive old sandstone quarry at Barskimming. Now hidden from view by trees and filled with water. The glimpses that you get only hint at the size and depth of the quarry.

Leaving the quarry behind, we crossed a couple of fields and entered the Kipplemoss wood. Wood is being generous; more of a plantation, forestry commission style. All dark and unappealing. Luckily it’s not long before we are back out in the open and crossing the Avenue, one of the main private roads to Barskimming house. At this point we’re not far from Failford, maybe only a couple of miles. Walking downhill from the avenue we followed the old estate wall and crossed the Mauchline burn before coming upon another estate road which we followed up to the entrance lodge and the main road, the Ayr Road, the B743. Another short road section of tar took us into Failford. If it wasn’t so early I would have welcomed a fine pint of beer at the excellent Failford Inn and I think Phil would have too. I think if it had been open I would have enjoyed a pint that early in the morning, fine Ayrshire Ales. Not sure what that says about me.

With a great morning of walking all ready under our belts. We decide to take a break just at the start of the Failford gorge. The river is wide here and sits on a large slab of rock which allows you to sit far out in the water when there’s not a run on the river. The perfect spot for a break. We got right down onto the bank and found a fallen tree trunk ideal for bench. Phil got out his kuksa, not a euphemism and his Foster’s can stove caldera cone combination and some esbit tablets. I say some but I’m certain it was only half a tablet. He got the water boiling for his coffee an intriguing little number. I’m not a coffee drinking but it’s the first time I’d never seen coffee in a tea bag, or should that be coffee bag? Ingenious, I thought. Very clever.

The River Ayr at Failford Gorge

Apparently we looked like a pair of anglers. Which was better than earlier and being mistaken for a couple of house breakers. A passing dog walker saw us and enquired about the state of the morning’s fishing. Probably an easy mistake to make this time as there was an angler already fishing the bend in front of us and the guy may have assumed we were together. I don’t think I helped commenting on the fact it was a good spot and we had seen a few fish jumping. After our short conversation he left after his dog. I left Phil to enjoy his coffee in peace for a while and walked out across the sandstone slab to the waters edge and took a few photographs.

After a bit I wandered back across as Phil was clearing up, leave no trace. We climbed back up the bank and onto the walks. There are a few here; a couple of circular ones all well laid out and marked. Most of the paths start by having you climb up a wooden staircase and out of the gorge, on to the wooded cliff tops. This section is probably my favourite. The path through the Coilsholm Wood is idyllic to say the least at this time of year. Spring was in full bloom. Glades and glades of bluebells and pungent wild garlic littered the forest floor. It’s an almost magic call place to walk and again other than the angler and the dog walker. We had the best of Ayrshire to ourselves. Climbing up and down of the path following the gorge and before we knew it the woods had ended and we were making our way down towards Daldorch and Stair beyond.

Walking through the woods

It had reached mid-morning and the day was heating up nicely. I was enjoying the walk, no bite back from the blister and my legs were feeling fine. After all of yesterdays walking, the planned 3 days was definitely looking like a do able 2 days. The other side of Stair would be the point of no return. The closer we get to Ayr the less choice if any would we have for a wild camp. We had now settled into our comfortable walking pace, Phil a couple of steps in front. Like I keep saying he is much taller than me and has a bigger stride. We had just passed Daldorch Farm when we noticed a dog walker coming towards us. Phil was a bit further in front as I had stopped to snap a few photos. I started off after Phil; as I was approaching the dog walker, I stopped to let him and his dog pass, I said good morning to him. His reply was and I quote, “Christ! I thocht it wiz yir fayther there”. I have an uncanny resemblance to my dad; a chip off the old block, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, a spitting image. Personally I don’t see it but others do. The Bunten curse. I should point out I’m the taller, younger, better looking one, if you ever see us together.

This particular dog walker had grown up in the same street as, and went to school with my dad. We got talking, as you do. I apologised because I couldn’t remember him as he hadn’t seen me since I was a boy. That he was now living in Mauchline and had seen my dad the other week; driving by Poosie Nancy’s, peeping the horn and waving. How that he hadn’t been in my dad’s company for a few years but the last time there was a lot of drinking, merriment and good laughter. I hear this quite a lot when people talk about my dad. We talked about the River Ayr Way and how he regularly got the bus to Ayr and walked back to Mauchline. We talked for nearly a long time; possibly 20 minutes, before I said my good byes. In my head the alarm, OH FUCK, OH FUCK, OH FUCK was going off. Phil would be wondering where had I got to, maybe even starting to walk back to make sure I hadn’t befallen some terrible accident.

I needed have worried such, as I hoofed it double time on the last bit to Stair, passed Stair house and the church on other side of the river. Stair is old parish and has it’s part in dark page of Scottish history, the Glencoe Massacre. The Master of Stair having his hand in that. Almost but not quite running passed the mill lade out to the road at Milton. I looked down the road and found Phil patiently waiting for me at Stair Bridge. He waved in acknowledgement at seeing me. Walking up to cross the bridge, I noticed my legs were not happy. Don’t think they were pleased with the last half mile or so of power walking to catch up with Phil. Nothing a cold pint at the Stair Inn wouldn’t fix. Once on the bridge I explained to Phil what had happened but he had already guessed as much. A similar scenario had unfolded at the Ayrshire Beer Festival in Troon last October. We headed over to the Inn.

I stiffly sauntered over to the Inn and Phil noticed and asked if the blister was bothering me. To which my reply was no, hadn’t felt it since I burst it this morning. My problem was my legs were seizing up a bit but not that it was bothering me, it might slow me down a bit. It was jus after 12. A really good time for that pint and lunch. I said to Phil that we could eat out the front in the sunshine. We reached the Sorn Inn and it was shut! What is it with us and Ayrshire pubs being shut, we laughed. 12:30 before it opened. Not much of a problem, I just sat my weary body down on one of the benches out the front. Nothing for but to sit and wait. We weren’t the only ones waiting. A couple of cars had pulled into the car park. It’s a very popular place for something to eat. Like I said I have family that live less than 5 minutes from where we were sitting and are regular vistors here. Jokingly I said it wouldn’t surprise me if we bumped into my Aunt and Uncle. I also said that I would probably get into trouble for passing and not dropping in.

Finally the pub opened. It was one of those really long 20 minutes; you know the ones, feels like time has stopped. Especially as we could see the staff walking about inside. Get a move on clock. The key scraped in the lock and the door was swung inward. I was like a shot out of a gun; probably the fastest Phil has ever seen me move. I ordered a couple of pints and a couple of pints of juice as well as lifting a copy of the menu. I went for the steak pie again. This time it was steak and sausage compared to the straight up steak pie at Sorn the day before. I love a good home made steak pie. Clean plates all round. I did warn Phil that not every pub in Ayrshire served food as good as the two inns we had visited.

The River Ayr and the Enterkine Viaduct

We finished our beers and got ourselves set to go. Over lunch we came to the natural conclusion, that for this leg of the Way, we had passed the point of no return. There were still plenty of hours left in the day and Ayr wasn’t that far away. I think we both knew that and had come to that conclusion seperately. The country-side was becoming far more populated and we had long entered the agricultural heart of the county. Not many suitable camping spots left, if any. What was another 20 odd mile day? Getting up from the bench and walking back toward the bridge to get back onto the path my legs were protesting greatly. I had seized up and was thinking that no amount of WD40 was going to loosen my joints but with every step I started to feel freer.

Back across the bridge and walking through the cottages at Milton, I was explaining to Phil that just up that road and take the fork to the right and that’s where my Aunt and Uncle live. It was then when I was pointing that I noticed a blue car with a personalised plate parked in off the road where the next section of the path begins. I recognised the car, you guessed it. With exclamation I said I know that car then I noticed two people walking back along the path towards the car. Yes, my Aunt Judy and Uncle Les. Brilliant, couldn’t have planned that if I had tried. I would normally say pure luck but I suppose the chance of that happening does increase when your not 5 minutes from their front door. I introduced Phil to them both and Tammy the mental Springer Spaniel. They had been out with dog in the car and had stopped on their way home to let Tammy stretch her legs. My Aunt Jud even said they had been wondering whereabouts we would have been but hadn’t expected us to be this far on. We said our goodbyes and parted with some wise words from my Uncle Les.

Under the Enterkine Viaduct

This next part was towards Annbank through policies of another Ayrshire estate this time it was Enterkine House, now a very nice hotel and restaurant. The sun was out in all its glory now and it was nice, feeling its warming heat penetrating me. It is glorious by the river on these days. In fact it was one of those days where you really would love to take a dip in the cool waters. I know my tiring feet would have loved it. I was soon back in step with Phil and we were making good progress again. Heading towards the Enterkine Viaduct were suddenly aware of a small herd of dairy cows approaching us. Luckily we were on the other side of the fence and when I say luckily I don’t mean it in a bad way. It would have been awkward to move through them as they are big beast but the cows seemed very tame and not at all jumpy. Maybe they were used to walkers feeding them, I’m not sure. I think they thought we had some feed for them but it was funny as they joined us for a short while as reached the viaduct. Interesting smelly company and I’m not talking about Phil.

Moo-ve on..

The path climbs a bit up into Annbank and I really felt myself slowing down especially when I came to one of those wooden steps that are built for giants. Every step up one of those felt like my knees were smacking off my chest. Having to take them one at a time. Step, up, step, up, step, up. Had the stairs been any steeper and I would need a harness and rope. Reaching the top you enter into a park at Annbank. We knew we have another little road section to Auchincruive so we took advantage of been in the village and headed to the local shop for a juice break. Much to my annoyance, no cold IRN BRU or Curries Red Kola. Shocking. A warm bottle of IRN BRU it was then but it was wet and what was needed. On leaving the shop we noticed a few buses parked up the road and then we heard the shouts. Annbank Juniors must have been playing. Probably where all the cold juice had went, up to the park with the supporters.

We headed down the road to St. Oswald’s Bridge and Auchincruive. Auchincruive is another fine old country house. It’s now an agricultural college with some really nice walks in its grounds. The gardens are particularly well tended and beautiful in the summer. My feet were now starting to get very tired. I hadn’t walked this much in two days since my last jaunt on the West Highland Way. I was very happy though that I wasn’t wearing my big heavy Scarpa SLs. I would have been crippled by now as we were on the road section of the walk and looking at the guide it looked like tarmac pavements and roads all the way to the end. We reached St. Oswald’s Bridge, meaning that we only had about 3 miles or so as the crow flies to go to the harbour. Crossing the road here and heading for Mainholm, I phoned home, well my Ayrshire home and arranged for the Tookie Taxi back to Cumnock for Phil and me. My dad was well impressed that we had reached Auchincruive so quickly as my Uncle Les has spoke to him earlier about meeting us. I said that I would phone him when we reached Ayr proper; it’s only a 20 minute drive from Cumnock to Ayr so he didn’t have to leave just yet.

Plodding along the farm roads to Mainholm I was really really starting to struggle. I could feel every step on the hard roads. I think if there had been some grass or something maybe feet and legs wouldn’t have been as sore. I was really starting to feel it in my calf muscles as well as my hamstrings but there was nothing for it, to the end or nothing. Death or glory and I am partial to being glorious like Tam. I think Phil sensed I was struggling a bit and slowed his pace and was more or less walking beside me instead of our usual couple of steps in front. It helped and he did point out that I had walked 40 odd miles in nearly two days. Good point. Maybe if I was fitter too I wouldn’t be finding it so hard? The good news, the blister still hadn’t made a re-appearance and was not even noticeable in the slightest but it was in a weird place to start with. Were reached the Mainholm Cottages and the A77, only just escaping death by stupid van driver who couldn’t reverse his little van. Slight exaggeration there but he hadn’t a clue what he was doing. Weaving in and out. He gave Phil and I a worry, we gave him a wide berth.

The 77 is a busy, busy road. Luckily you don’t have to dodge the traffic here you walk along the pavement to the south. You cross the river on the road bridge and then take a flight of stairs down to a path along the bank. Heyzeus, in the name of the wee man and any other invocation you could think of, including several sweary words went through my head along with the jolt of pain that accompanied every step down those stairs. No pain, no foul? No pain, no glory? If I was made of lesser stuff, I would have jacked it in then but were in Holmston and Ayr properly. I could see Kyle Academy one of Ayr’s many secondary schools. The south pier was calling and so was Phil. It was from this point onward that Phil was a driving force; he was a good few metres in front now and sometimes out of sight as the path followed the bends in the river. He was a magnet pulling me to the finish. I was glad of that. Focus on catching Phil and focus on the finish. Not that I had stopped enjoying the walk but there in Holmston I was struggling.

The River Ayr at Craigie

Nothing for it but to catch up on Phil. I started to pick up the pace as much as I could and started again to focus on the river and how great the weather was, fine beautiful sunshine. Anything to forget about the pains in my legs. Here there were loads of people enjoying the water. Kids splashing in the water and making use of the wide open spaces. Lots of young teams out enjoying the sun and showing off. Drinking; not buckfast but good old bottles of cider, White Lightening. Been there and done that. I caught back up with Phil at the Craigholm foot bridge that takes you over into Craigie. When I say I caught up I mean Phil waited for me. We crossed into the grounds of the Craigie Estate, now a park and the grounds of one of the campuses of the University of the West of Scotland and Ayr College itself. It’s a beautiful big park and busy with families and dog walkers. The whole aspect of the walk had changed since we crossed the A77. Gone was the rural and agricultural landscape to be replaced with a townscape. No bigger contrast.

Now in the park we headed onwards, Phil taking the lead and pulling me onwards. I was walking on the grass as much as possible now. I was finding this much easier than the hard packed pavement, knowing that as soon as we passed Dam Park Stadium and reached the Victoria Bridge I would have no choice. I took advantage of the soft springy grass. We passed under the Victoria Bridge and now had only one bridge to cross and then we would be on the last, last and final leg. My legs would be happy. I always find it weird at this part of Ayr as one side of the River all the houses look to the water but the other side that back of the old town always look away from the water. I’m sure there is some old historical reason for it but it gives a feeling that this side of Ayr is almost completely separate for the high street. It has turned its back on Wallacetown. The old town wants nothing to do with this expansion across the river.

The New bridge from the Auld Brig

We passed Turner’s bridge another foot bridge this one leads over into the centre of Ayr. The Auld Bridge was now fully in view, our last crossing of the river. Phil waited for me again. It was busy on this side as Ayr United must have been playing a home game over at Somerset Park. Tons of people streaming into the centre of town wearing the black and white strips. No doubt searching out their local pubs for a few pints before heading home. Either they had a good result or because the sun was shining the fans were in a good mood and in good voice. The Auld Brig was a choke point as we had to do a bit of weaving. Five in the afternoon people heading home from the shops, fans heading into town for the beer. Two tides clashing on the bridge, Phil and I in the middle. Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses for honest men and bonie lasses. Exiting on out onto the High Street we turned right, away from the water for a bit was we negotiated the last of the shoppers and headed towards New Bridge street and the harbour beyond. I said to Phil I was surprised that I hadn’t heard anyone shout ‘Tookie’ as we walked along the High Street; he said he was surprised too. He’d been half expecting it.

Auldest hoose in Ayr

Luckily no delays here and we crossed into the lane, the Boat Vennel that leads to one of Ayr’s oldest houses, Loudon Hall. It dates back to 15th Century and was built for one of town’s wealth merchants and was later a town house for the Campbells of Loudon. We passed through the little square there and out onto South Harbour Street, crossing at Fort Street and heading towards the Citadel which is what they’re now calling Ayr swimming baths. Time to make that call to Tookie HQ back in Cumnock confirming that we were nearly at the end and it was time to send the Tookie Taxi down to get us. The call made I followed after Phil.

The Fort

A lot has changed down here since I was a boy and a lot has stayed the same. As with most places the industrial ness of the harbour has been replaced with houses and attractive flats and restaurants looking out of over the water. Fish are no longer landed here and all the heavy industry has been pushed elsewhere or across to the North Harbour and the dock there. The trawlers and fishing boats replaced by pleasure craft and yachts. However the ever present folly is still there. Miller’s Folly is a later addition to a Cromwellian Citadel Fort that was built to help control Scotland and one of the largest made. The merchant added a corbelled turret to one of the corners, making what’s left of the ruins more spectacular. If you walk about here and know what you’re looking for you can see more fingerprints of the fort.

Walking passed the new housing development and over the south dock and onto the esplanade. I’m pretty sure by this time Phil was actually at the end of the south pier. He was no longer in view. No matter I was nearly done. Just the length of the pier to go when I must have inadvertently turned on my magnet and set it to attract young drunken whallapers. I had only just stepped on to the pier when a young skelpt erse of a boy staggered over to me and asked what I was doing. I should also point out that along with his lobster looking skin his friends felt that it wasn’t enough that he was sun burnt, had set about with a set of magic markers and given him a rather intriguing false makeup look. How this was going to impress his drunken girlfriend, I’m unclear or how she was still impressed with him. I responded by saying to the end of the pier. Then I was asked where I had come from; my reply was Muirkirk yesterday, I had walked all the way to here. He was drunkenly impressed. Saying it out loud I was really impressed, even if I do say so myself. Obviously he was feeling rather inadequate in front of his girl after that revelation. He asked me if I thought he could jump off the end pier. Trying to appear macho I suppose. I said he could if he wanted to but that I wouldn’t. I don’t think he understood that around the pier that water wasn’t very deep as it was built on large rocks and boulders. He would have to jump out a fair distance first and that personally he wasn’t in the best state to attempt it.

Blue on blue on blue, Arran from Ayr

Finally me and my new buddy had caught up with Phil. I explained to Phil what my buddy was wanting to try. Apparently he had seen sense and decided not to jump. Thankfully. That was it I was done. I took some photographs of the beach and Arran. There was some great views of Arran and the Ailsa Craig. Can’t beat Ayrshire on a fine sunny day. Then it was time to head back to South Harbour Street and meet my dad and the Tookie Taxi home. Not before stopping off at a wee shop for a celebratory bottle of IRN BRU. I couldn’t get the smile off my face and I told Phil that I was so chuffed that we had managed the 40 odd miles in just two days. I never thought I would have been able to do that. I still smile when I think I’ve done it in two days. For all those painfully last few miles it was well worth the effort. Two glorious days of walking through the heart of Ayrshire.

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