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Rough winds do shake the darling buds of new friends

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This is old, the dust has settled and more than likely the snow has melted so what better time to look back at a cracking weekend in the Arrochar Alps? It’s taken me awhile to sort out my notes and photographs with family life and work taking priority as always, however it’s done. I’m now setting it free from languishing in draft edit hell. I’m sure Dante would have a invented a new circle specifically for trip reports, probably after Limbo. Hopefully I can add something to the excellent posts that have already hit the interwebs. I’m probably the last to post about this and remember this is how I remembered it.

Petesy put a shout out for those that were interested in a meet up. I checked if I could get a pass. It was granted. I replied and was accepted. Then what followed can only be described was a hailstorm flurry of emails. Questions, requests, sizes, dates, all sorts flying around. Out of all the emails another thread appeared, that it might be a good idea to have a pre meet meet in Glasgow for those that could manage it. Any excuse to skip out of work for a bit is always good.

Friday trotted along and I nipped out to Tiso on Couper Street not too far from my work. I arrived at the appointed time and had a quick shifty round the gear. Well you can’t go and not have a look. Gear freaks can’t, there are plenty office types that stop off for something to eat in the excellent cafe. After that I headed up the stairs to the cafe. Reaching the top. I sent a message to Steve and Phil to let them know I was there. Looking up I saw Phil, not that Phil but another Phil, wave at me. I headed over to the table and the rest of the guys that had turned up. At the table was Michael, Phil, Petesy and John. After that other folks started to turn up and I’m not sure of the order but my friend Steve was definitely next, after that Del, Tom, Davy and Phil, that Phil not the other Phil, he was already there. Remember? Lots of names and lots new faces. I’m sure there were more but I’m not sure. So much to talk about and so many conversations going on. It was a really good hour and I was sad to have to leave. I hadn’t seen Steve since the Cairngorms and it was the same with Phil, so much had passed and too little time to catch up.

The day arrived. I was up and out early-ish. Left the family sleeping. Not that the little one would be sleeping long, she’s not one for the long lies yet. First stop was the petrol station. I always enjoy the drive up to Loch Lomond and beyond. It is always a drive full of anticipation and some fear, especially taking the road to Arrochar. It’s not for the faint hearted. The drive was great and pleasant. I arrived in plenty of time thinking that I would be the first there. How wrong was I. Turning into that car park I instantly recognised Sandy’s infamous/famous big green Land Rover Defender. Parked waiting. I drove up and introduced myself. John was also there, he rolled up first. After the handshakes I drove off to find a parking space.

Once I had parked Michael drove in and parked next to me. As he got out I was checking through my stuff and realised I didn’t have a shell! Never assume it makes an ass out of you and me but mostly me. I had only been boasting in the Tiso car park at how I would be fine. Everything was in the car. No packing for me. Yeah except my waterproof shell that I had used to go from the car to the house the previous couple of days. Not good with the weather that was forecast. Too late now to worry. Hopefully someone would have a spare jacket. Michael reckoned so and if not there maybe one to test. Fingers crossed. The car park was starting to fill up. Mostly with people who were here for the meet , it would seem. Michael and I made our way back to John and Sandy.

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As we ambled over John had started to ask sizes and had opened up his Aladdin’s cave, also known as the boot of his car. It was now a proper gear fest. Everyone was having a good feel and look at what he had brought for us all to test. Loads of gear. Montura, Leki, Hillsound, X-Bionic to name a few. Then Ollie and Katja arrived with more. They brought along Big Agnes and Granite Gear. Folks must have been wondering what was going on. Filling your boots out the back of two cars. I went away with 2 Montura jackets, a shell and an insulating one, a onesie base layer from X-bionic as well as a share in a tent a sleeping bag and insulating mat all from Big Agnes. She’s a wee darling.

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By now everyone had turned up, we had a fools compliment; Kelvin, Richard, Del, Davy, Michael, John, Tom, Arthur, Heather, Ollie, Katja, Phil, Petesy and of course myself. Petesy turned up last. Apparently this is not unusual. Everyone was now packing, packing and repacking. I went through two rucksacks trying to find one that I liked and fitted well enough. Finally settling on a test version of the Karrimor X-Lite from Petesy. A 45l + 10 in nice bright turquoise blue. Just what I need to go with my bright green test jacket. I’m generally happy with more subtle colours but what the hell. It was all turning out to be too much fun. I also managed to get a loner of an ice axe from Heather, she had spare. I don’t own one. Come on, I’m an Ayrshire boy, if I’m seen with an axe I’m liable to be lifted by the polis! Plus our hills are not high enough for snow. Supposedly.

I was packed and ready, eventually. It was time to head out, 15 of us in total, 15 on day release from the Ailsa or the weirdest looking D of E group. We were getting funny looks. Honestly it was that bad, it may have been all the bright clothing. Kelvin was particularly guilty. John was giving tips on walking with poles. Me I didn’t take a set. For some reason my brain can’t coordinate two pole walking. Just doesn’t happen. I look like I’m trying to ski. I’m better off with just one but even then I walk like a fermer with a shepherd’s crook. All in all only a slightly better look. We set off across the road and up the path through the woods. The hills were calling. It was my kind of walking. That was to say it was stop start and lots of talking. Everyone asking questions, getting to know each other. The banter was brilliant. All good fun.

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The weather was being typically Scottish, that’s to say it was throwing everything at us. Kitchen sink and set of wardrobes to boot. At times the wind was like taking a booting. Sun, rain, hail, snow, bright skies, clouds but almost constantly the wind. Howling, blowing, buffeting and battering. It couldn’t do nothing though to dampen the atmosphere. I think it could have done its worst and we would all have still been happy. We all continued on higher out past the trees and onto the hills above.

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The decision came down that it was plan B for the camp spot. Shelter in amongst the Narnain boulders as best we can out of the biting wind. We had already paired for those that were sharing tents and Davy was going to be my oppo. Ollie was making his way round everyone helping with the pitching of the tents. He being the expert with Big Agnes. He’d been out with her lots. Dirty stop out. The tent had some very interesting short poles and stuff and by all intents and purposes was made as a lightweight two man trail tent for the American market. I do believe at the time Davy and I were a little skeptical about this and the current Scottish weather. It was not California but more on that later.

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Things did not get off to a good start. Looking in you have though that none of us had pitched a tent before, a honless trio in the blustering gales. To top it off Ollie managed to catch the base of the tent on Davy’s ice axe. To be fair the wind caught it but still. Rrrrrriiiiipppp. You know that noise. That dreaded noise, like bending over in a too tight pair of dress trousers. Luckily all the tents came with a field repair kit so once we had the tent up and lashed down tight we applied a big patch over the hole.

Our problems at that time were far from over though. The wind was picking up something terrible and the tent bowing heavily in it. Then when it sprang back against the gust it was popping the stake. This was not boding well till Davy had a spark of genius. We staked that corner with the ice axe. Like to see it pop that. We did have visions if the wind kept up that tent would blow back down to Arrochar and all that was left was the axe and some torn fabric flapping in the wind. Please, no, but it seemed to shore everything up and gave us a bit more confidence. Hopefully it would last the night.

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It was almost, I say almost like an Everest basecamp. Tents dotted all over the place; all different shapes and sizes, all taking a severe buffering from the wind. Really severe. Concave instead of convex. It was cool view. Others were still trying to get their tents pitched so Davy and I made our way round the others to help out. Another set of hands is also good especially at that time. That’s when I found Heather trying to boil water for her dinner while holding on to a corner of her tent that was doing the same as what Davy and I had. I applied our tried and tested fix from earlier. The ice axe stake. Not really sure that it would pass muster on a HSE risk assessment but it was doing the job again. My good deed for that day done and Heather now being able to cook with both hands I left her in peace to eat.

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Walking back through the snow, I starting to think that dinner was a good shout. Get something warm inside and start to heat my core back up. Davy was obviously of the same mind as he was preparing his cooking gear. He said we was going to use his stove in the porch of the tent. Leaving Davy to set fire to the tent. I traipsed off looking for a sheltered place out the wind to fire up my stove and get the water boiling. The cold was really starting to bite now and I had stupidly taken an age to put my gloves on. I have hons like a fermer, rough as a badgers erse at the best of times. However they had started to go waxy and split at the creases not good. Nippy wee bastarding splits. I had not noticed them going cold and had let it go a bit too far. I eventually found a spot down next to Kelvin and Richard. I got the stove fired up and the water on for the dehydrated meal. Using this time to get some heat back in my hands and have a good chat with Kelvin and Richard. Everyone it seemed was packing on the calories. Double meals and we were no different hunkered down behind one of the big boulders.

As the light began to fade we finished up and made our way back into the wind to join the others. Happy to see no black fireballs in the distance. I trudged back through the snow to the tent. Somewhere along that 30 or so metre walk I managed to drop my spork. Raging. I didn’t notice it till I was back at the tent putting my cooking gear away. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail, some lucky person was going to find a nice titanium spork when the snows melted. Bastard. If you find it, it’s mine.

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After all the four seasons of earlier the night sky was really clear and the stars were out in force. There was still the big massive orange light spill in the distance from Glasgow but luckily we were so far away it wasn’t interfering with our view above our heads. It’s something that I wish I was better at; in fact it’s something I was I could do, take long exposures at night. It’s not like my dSLR is not capable. It’s just that I haven’t got it down yet. It was a great time, everyone was mingling and chatting,standing around marvelling at the skies. We were like some cult waiting on aliens landing faces turned skyward looking for the flying saucers. Not quite invaders from Mars.

During the star gazing we noticed a couple of torches coming up the burn on the opposite side of the path. Beams flashing left and right as if they were looking for something. The never really got close enough or came across to see us. Not likely to miss us in the dark. Fifteen or so head torches can be pretty bright. We all got to wondering, someone lost their keys, MRT out on exercise, MRT checking us out? Who knows?

The wind was still strong and with what sun there was gone the temperature really started to drop quickly. People were starting to feel the cold and started to drift off to their tents and sleeping bags. I wasn’t the first but I heard Davy shout on me and he said he was heading off to bed. Not wanting to clambering over him later as I had the inside spot I decided it was as good a time as any to turn in. I got myself settled and into my little bit of camp life luxury. I stuck on my hand knitted woollen MountainGoat gear beanie hat. Lovely, soft and warm. Ideal for sleeping. It might not like getting wet but it is sure ideal for the inside of the tent.

I was in square cut down bag and mat from Big Agnes which took a bit of time to get warmed up. Eventually I had to stuff insulated jacket and gilet down the bottom which cut the air space down. I’m not the biggest wee guy on the planet and I’ve found that trick works every time. With less air to heat up it was long before I was toasty and out for the count. Never been one to have a hard time sleeping even with the wind doing its best impression of a gale. There was a fair old bit of movement in the trail tent but what the hey, I’d worry about that if I had to. Sleep came quickly.

At some point in the night the wind had stopped when I’m not sure. I stirred around first light to all peace and quiet in this part of the world. Not sure if Davy had been awake long or most of the night but he was up. He had had a cold night and bit restless but when he had slept he was fine. It was cold out. Really cold. That way you didn’t want to get out the sleeping bag. I’m pretty sure there were a few brass monkeys running around looking for their baws. However we were greeted with a clear beautiful sky. Sun just rising. Rosy fingered dawn was about show her hand. They’re special mornings, I think lying in your sleeping bag watching the sun pop above the peaks. I was a great view.

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However, it ends all too soon and you have to make a move. Nature calls or some sort of personal admin has to be looked after. Luckily having stuck my insulating layers in the sleeping bag I wasn’t having to put on cold clothes. Saving my body the jolt of camp cold. I have no idea of how cold it was in degrees but I do know the water from inside the tent was freezing to a couple of inches as soon as it hit the pan for heating up. I’m sure someone would know how cold it would have to be for that to happen. Obviously below zero. The camp was starting to come alive. Some were already up and eating breakfast, others just stirring. Everyone was looking forward to the day ahead.

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I remember while eating breakfast watching Del go for morning run up the hill. He was keen I thought. Chasing deer. Michael was also up and out early. He was up high talking photographs. Davy and I were amazed that such a light tent had made it through the night. The Copper Spur UL2 was a surprising beast, don’t judge a book by its cover. Talked turned from how the gear had performed last night to where to go today. Personally I was happy to go with the majority. I had been many years since I had been on the Cobbler. I remember it being a good climb with great views. The general consensus was for the Cobbler with I think only Sandy looking to climb up Ben Narnain but in true peer pressure, group bullying style he soon had his arm twisted and under threat of a nipple twister relented and decided to join the rest of us.

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Again we headed out en masse. The loonies had left the asylum for awhile at any rate. We headed further up the path towards The Cobbler. It amazes me in the summer how many people attempt hills in unsuitable gear in winter it just looks plain crazy. We were looking less like the loonies after passing some nutters. No gear to speak of, seriously. It’s a wonder the MRT guys are not busier. Really really crazy people taking some awful risks out there. One a couple of occasions I was slack jawed in surprise. It was crampon and axe work not up the gym in trainers stuff. Ice, inches thick and light non compacted fluffy snow in places. There’s no telling the fools.

Other than the crazies it was a great walk up. The views down the Ayrshire coast and the Firth of Clyde. All the down to the Ailsa Craig and if you can see the Ailsa you can see the old grey man, well the Merrick anyway and some of the Southern Uplands. The vista was fantastic. The Ochill Hills, Argyll and Cowal, the Hunterston power station, not so great but you can’t miss it. Arran, Cumbrae, the list goes on just like the horizon. Usually I’m down there looking up towards these hills so it was great to see it from this side. It had been a long time since I had been on The Cobbler. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. I was tailend charlie as usual, John was keeping me company along with Heather. I don’t think they were buying the short legged excuse. I’m not sure anybody does anymore.

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Eventually on top between the two peaks it was a different beast. All the way up we had been sheltered by the bulk of the hill. On there with no protection the biting wind was back and it was cold. We all huddled together in a big group. Sometimes being smaller has its advantages I could hide behind the bigger guys and get a break from the wind. The talk was of left peak or right peak. Many moons ago and almost in another life I’ve done both so I wasn’t really bothered. I was enjoying the view. Heather and John had already said they were just going to head back down. Not wanting to break up the group as I had really enjoyed their company on the way up I opted to go with them and left the others to their decisions. After a quick refuelling bite to eat we headed off back down.

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If I thought the way up was impressive for idiots on the slopes coming down was just as good. More nutters trying to get up without the correct gear. I subtle hints on conditions went unheeded. Words like slippery, icy, etc went over their heads. I was really glad to have the HillSound crampons. They were very good once I gotten used to wearing them. I was instilled with a bit of confidence especially when on the ice. How the people in just boots were managing not to break ankles and necks I will never know.

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I don’t think the others tarried long as some of the mountain goats started to catch us up before the bottom. By the time I was back on the path everyone had caught up with me. Once we were off the hill it was time to pack up and head back to the cars. I think everyone was like me and very reluctant to go. It was a slow walk back enjoying everyone’s company. It had been a great couple of days. Everyone was on great form. It was brilliant to meet others in person rather than online and for everyone to get on. There was a lot to take away from the experience. One I must remember to take more photographs of the gear next time. Two, to make friends with shared interests and have future plans to look forward to. Oh and three not forgetting the gear, it was good to get access to stuff you would never normally but most of all the people. Happy days.

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.

Am Fear Liath Mhor, the grey man

Central Gully

A Cairgorms Weekend Part 2

I had a great sleep probably the combination of good food, great beer, the wonderful outdoors long with some superb company. If you want you can read about that here, The Fantastic Four head to Aviemore? I spent a nice toasting warm night snuggled up in my sleeping bag and bivi under the TrailStar. Everyone was stirring and getting up and pretty sure Steve and Colin had been up for a while compared to Phil and I. We started to get our self sorted. Personal admin and all that it entails. Squaring away the shelters we packed the cars and got ready to leave. Picking up our deposits from the office while signing out.

We got into the cars and formed an orderly convoy with me at the back. I wasn’t sure how to get to the Cairngorms Mountain Railway. We left the site heading east and south along the road towards the Glenmore Lodge where Phil had been a few weeks earlier doing his Mountain Leaders course and Loch Morlich. After the first couple of corners. I noticed that something was hanging from underneath Colin’s car. Steve and Phil were in the lead car followed by Colin then me. Every time Colin hit a bump I expected, whatever it was, to come loose. Luckily it hadn’t. Once rounding the loch the road started to gain some height heading towards the ski lifts and the railway. After a couple of switch back corners we reached our destination, the car park.

We parked in the lower car park. Getting out I mentioned to Colin that I noticed the arse hanging off the back of his car. Colin said that it had happened recently but had obviously gotten worse if I was seeing. The exhausts heat shield was loose. A broken clip most likely the culprit. Having already packed our gear at the campsite it was just a case of grabbing our kit locking the cars up, which we did. This was going to be a busy walk. Plenty of people about looking like serious walkers. However I was a bit disappointed I never noticed any blue with the red piping Ron Hills kicking about. Shame. A few buses with tourist types not equipped for the hills, hopefully they were heading up the railway to the top of Cairn Gorm.

It was a nice well constructed path out from the Ski Centre basically following the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda. We dropped down from the car park and then turned and started gaining height. I did learn on that path though that walking with two poles and a camera slung out front is no good. Kept clanging my hands off the camera. It was really annoying so much so that it was distracting. I collapsed one and attached it to my pack. That was that, problem solved and I could get on with walking. To start with, you are already quiet high up. Well think about it. The car park sits about 650 metres above sea level. The path takes a turn and you start to see the top of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. I really should get better at my Gaelic. I’m never sure if I’m writing the thing correctly or not. As we followed the path further up I started to see the Central Gully and Aladdins Couloir become bigger and bigger like a great gray slab of impassable stone. A giants ruined dry staine dyke. It is the view and all of the view, save if you turn 180 degrees and look back towards Aviemore.

It probably doesn’t help that your view is channeled by Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais on one side and Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda on the other. By now the well constructed path had given way to a boulder field. Not that you could see where you were going. You just have to look for the well worn stones. Walking became more of a hop, skip and a jump. Well it did for me and my short arse legs. It reminded me much of the Lord of The Rings. The men of Rohan defending the burg. Helm’s Deep without the Orcs. Thankfully.

Break time

We stopped for a break at the bottom of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda while we watched a couple of climbers going at it up on the big slabs of the Central Gully. All roped up with safeties clanging and the occasional shout. We all dropped our packs and took on some water and food. Jelly beans & granola bars for me. Fueling the body for what looked to me an almost vertical climb. Steep indeed.

We started the climb up Coire an t-Sneachda switching back and forth on the well worn path. I was at the back slowing down my long legged companions. It was steep going for me. Lots of knee to chest action getting my short leg pistons firing. It was a good easy pace, we stopped often to let me catch up. Then Phil suggested that I go to the front and set the pace. Never a wise idea in my opinion. Reluctantly I made my way to the front and took up the lead. Not that I don’t like to lead I just hate to think I’m holding up people. However we came unstuck almost immediately when I thought I was following the path when in fact it was more likely a deer track. Oops. The trouble with putting me at the front missing a turn. We doubled back and I took more care and did a fair bit of checking that I was going in the correct direction. Which was generally up.

The intricacies of the belay

We stopped about 3/4 of the way up. More than likely for me to catch my breath. The other 3 being fit as butcher’s dug. I was happy for the break and to enjoy the view. While we rested Phil explained some of the training he had been doing in this very area for his ML course. All about rope work and getting people safely off the hill. Even pointing out the rock they had used for an anchor and belay point. Now with my breath back in my lungs we headed up the last part and onto the Cairngorm Plateau.

On the Plateau

Once on the plateau you could really feel the wind. It was blowy but not too bad. When I say not too bad I mean it wasn’t as bad as forecast. However the Tookite nearly to flight crossing over the lip. Nearly back to the car park in double quick time. Also with the wind was specks and spots of rain carried along in air but nothing to worry about. It was just spitting. There was almost a constant stream of people, walking this way and that. As groups or pairs and a few individuals. Left you take to Cairn Gorm itself but that wasn’t where we were going. We were heading into the wind and a generally southerly direction and Ben Macdui, Beinn Macduibh. The second tallest mountain in the UK only Ben Nevis being taller or higher, which ever you prefer. It stands 1309 metres or 4295 feet in old money. It’s a big chunk of mountain.

Cairn Toul

I was amazed at the amount of routes to the top. People appeared to becoming from all directions. I was pretty sure no-one had really passed us on the way up and on to the plateau. I’m even more than sure we passed a couple. Anyway plenty of people were heading in the same direction for the same spot. The light was magical because of wind and the cloud, sweeping across the sky. I was for a while particularly captured by the light hitting the top of Carn Toul. To the extent I stumbled a couple of times. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t quite get it in my camera.

Ben MacDui summit was the busiest top I’ve been on for a long time. Not quite heaving but pretty close. Reminded me a lot like the Buachaille. Lots of groups milling around in pockets around the top. Most looking for shelter from the wind. Climbing up the cairn I touched the trig point. That’s the highest I’ve stood in Scotland. Yep never done Ben Nevis, yet. Phil graciously took my camera, I struck my best Tam Weir pose and he fired the shutter a couple of times to make sure that the moment was captured for all eternity or until the hosting services die or I hit delete, accidentally.

Me as Tam Weir

Trig point touched and handshakes all round. Another hill complete and if you’re into that sort of thing, another bagged or a tick in the list. We left the summit to the crowds. I left it having was one of those on top of the world feelings that you often get standing on a summit. 360 degree views. A feeling of warm achievement. I was happy to busy pondering that I hadn’t notice the view as we walked off the summit. I was too busy looking around instead of looking. I started to drink it all in as we head down hill slightly. Then we stopped and that’s when it really hit me and it wasn’t just the wind getting stronger.

Just off the summit of Beinn MacDuibh

The view, the view. It is true, a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Keats had it right. It was like a knock out punch; an upper cut from Tyson, my brain exploded. There was so much to take in. The weather wasn’t perfect but it didn’t matter. It was expansive, mountains rippling off on all directions. Disappearing off into the horizon, progressively getting bluer until they merged with the sky or disappeared under duvet of cloud. The Dee a shining silver ribbon snaking it’s way along the glen or like and adder sunning itself, trying to gather in all the rays of heat. The most famous lairig ghru. The mountain pass but sometimes these mountains don’t let you pass.

Lairig Ghru & River Dee from Beinn MacDuibh

We headed east to pick up the path towards Loch Etchachan and Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan along the way we stopped off in a small ruin. Not like a sheiling or anything like that more of an old rescue hut and I’m sure Colin said that it was something like that. It was good to get shelter as the wind on this side of Beinn Macduibh was very strong. Hunkering down behind the ruined walls we all pulled on our insulating layers and got our lunches out. We sat about talking and eating, every now and then popping our heads above the stones to see what was happening. That’s when we noticed someone coming up from the direction of Hutchison Hut. It looked like he was carrying a small person strapped to his back but as he got closer it became apparent that it was just the biggest rucksack known to man. I kid you not when I say it was the size of me. It was rammed solid. I would fancy carrying that. Hat’s off but where is the fun in that and to top it of he was wearing jeans. Yes, denim in the hills. He and his partner were heading in our direction.

Derry Cairngorm

We pack our rubbish away and left the tourists to shelter of the ruin and made our way down to path to Loch Etchachan and the little loch. By this time my lack of any reasonable fitness was starting to show. Even on this downhill section. I was walking even slower. I was starting to feel it. My wee legs were getting tired. The pistons had been pumping hard all day. No matter I was still enjoying myself. The views were expansive, every time I stopped there was always something to take in or a breath taking view. Derry Cairngorm, looking down the Narrow Gully. It was just great. It all put a smile on my face. A rainbow over Loch Etchachan was just stunning,the moody threatening clouds. There was always something to stop and gawp at. Plenty of jaw dropping scenery.

Looking towards the Hutchison Memorial Hut

Reaching the Little Loch Etchacha, Colin, Steve and Phil were waiting. I’m sure it was to see if I was going to get wet crossing the ford, they were already across the stones. I managed with shaky legs only to dip a toe of my trailing foot as I gaily skipped on the steps. Walking up to them Phil pointed down the glen, another great scene. The view down the glen to the Hutchison Memorial Hut, the light reflecting off the Coire Etchachan burn, looking like a silver serpent. Turning our back on glen we headed in the opposite direction along next to the Allt nan Stacan Dubha

Loch A'an

I walked only a short distance to be met by one of the bluest looking lochs I have seen. The cold September sky was reflecting off of Loch A’an or Loch Avon which ever you prefer. I stood for a bit just watching the space at the blue and green and brown the I found filling my eyes. Next for my eyes to take in as I took the steep path down to the Shelter stone was the large cliffs and forms of Pinnacle Gully, Shelter Stone Crag and Castlegates Gully. All famous for their winter climbing. Finally I was catching up with the other 3 and I could see them heading towards the massive boulder.

Give me shelter...

The Shelter Stone. It’s impressive and that’s probably a huge understatement. If I had been thinking at the time I should have put something in front for scale when I was taking photographs. It’s probably the biggest boulder I have ever seen. Even now thinking back, I’m still amazed. Even scrambling up to it over huge rocks is great fun. When I got there. The 3 others were already inside. It’s absolutely massive but there is no way you’d catch me sleeping in there. I sat by the entrance the others had ventured deeper into the black abyss. It certainly lives up to it’s name. You are definitely shelter and if event’s and weather ever unfolded to such at an extent, it would save your life. The stone has an unusual guest book, stowed away in a Tupperware box. Plenty of people writing their experiences, mostly and other stuff. Lot’s of stories of smelly fingers and of kicking in back doors.

Camp life

We decided to pitch the TrailStars on the flat ground, Meur na Banaraich, the fingers of the dairymaid or so the translation goes. Maybe it harks back to a time when cattle grazed. I have no idea. It looked a perfect spot even if it was a bit damp. It was relatively even and level with plenty of room. We got the shelters up pretty quick, Phil’s looking the worst. Probably because I was involved in the pitch but after some help from Colin, it was looking slick and taught. Then Phil and I went about pitching the OookStar inner which went up easier and quicker this time. It was looking very good. Sean his a highly skilled seamstress. A high quality piece of work and an ideal addition for Scotland in the height of the midge season.

After a few photographs and some camp admin, Colin fired up his Backcountry Boiler. He was used bits of sticks and old withered heather but I still managed to create that great outdoors wood burning smell, eventually. It’s an impressive bit of kit also. Doesn’t take long or much fuel to get a full boil going. I think that’s when all our stomachs started to rumble. The other stoves started to fire up and boil water for dinner and some tea or coffee.

1 TrailStar, 2 TrailStar, 3 TrailStar!

Not long after getting dinner sorted. We could here this whump whump whump whump whump. It was a helicopter for sure. No doubt about it. Whump whump whump whump whump. We stood in the middle of the shelters doing the circle dance, trying to pin-point the direction of the chopper. Not as easy as you think. The noise was just bouncing about this end of the glen bouncing off the stone. Then a twin engine Chinook HC take your pick of designation number, I’m not up with what current models that are flying. The cargo mark was Colin pointed out that it was a long way from home as the squadrons are based in England. I’m pretty positive he said Hampshire. Either the Brylcreem boys were out for a fun run or on an exercise.

That is one of the coolest things I have seen out in the hills. I think of it as our own mini fly past. The noise of the that twin turbines helo is something else. You could actually feel the power of those engines thumping off your body and reflected down the glen. They flew round in a big circle, right up to the Hell’s Lum Crag round past Pinnacle Gully, Shelter Stone Crag and Castlegates Gully then towards Loch A’an and over Stacan Dubha before disappearing out of site. whump whump whump whump whump. After that there wasn’t much to do but sit around and chat before climbing into sleeping bags looking forward to our third day

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…

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

The river and some sandstone cliffs

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

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

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

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

The Start of the River Ayr Way

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

Bill Shankly Memorial

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

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

The old railway line

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

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

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

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

First ever Tar McAdam road

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

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

Tibbie's Brig

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Adam a Martyr

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

A Martyrs Grave

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

The bridge into Airds Moss

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

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

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

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

The river after Airds Moss

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

The River Ayr looking back towards Kames

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

The old road to Sorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auld Bridge at Sorn

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

Sorn Castle(2)

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

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

Catrine Voes

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

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

The river between Catrine and Mauchline

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

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

pitched in the woods(1)

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

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

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