Category Archives: Walks

Tales of the walks I enjoyed

The Upper Nethan Gorge Woodland Walk

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The Upper Nethan Gorge

Sometimes it’s not all about big hills or long distances sometimes it’s about taking your time and looking at what’s on your own doorstep. It would appear on the face of things I have an area which is abundant in local signposted walks and ways. One of which brought me to the Upper Nethan Gorge. Literally right on my doorstep. Not 10 minutes from my door. It’s one of two, The Upper Nethan Gorge up at Blackwood and the Lower Nethan Gorge down towards Nethanfoot and Crossford on the River Clyde. Both of the areas are looked after and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They are also within the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership project boundary.

The Upper Gorge

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The Upper Nethan Gorge straddles the banks of the River Nethan. The river starts away up in the hills above Glenbuck in Ayrshire like the River Ayr. However it takes a considerably different and somewhat shorter route to the Clyde. A meandering distance of 21 km. The Upper Nethan Gorge is on the river’s lower reaches before it passes out and flows into the mighty Clyde at Nethanfoot ending its journey. The gorge is heavily wooded and full of all sorts of species of trees.

I’m lucky the walk is so close to my door. There is no parking at the start to speak of or public transport that passes the start of the walk. I have to walk along the Southfield Road towards Tillietudlem. The fictional place from Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 classic story, Old Morality. No longer fictional. It is an actual real place on a map and everything. It was a stop on the old Caledonian Railways in 1856 but more of that later. It’s a back road which is fairly quiet. Nonetheless there’s still a good amount of tarmacadam bashing and car dodging to get to where the track begins.

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The walk starts at NS797446. For those that like grid references. It’s hard to miss the beginning for several reasons. One the fields give way to trees. Two there’s a large kissing gate and 3 the most obvious of them all. A great big sign announcing it as the Upper Nethan Gorge. Once through the gate the path starts off on what was an old railway line now removed as mentioned previously. It was part of the Lesmahagow line that goes all the way to Coalburn. This part is the Blackwood spur.

The Railway Line

These railway lines were originally put in to get the coal out of this mineral rich area. There is also a trail marker which is a rather large 6×6 post pointing you down the track. It’s sending you to a castle. The 16th century fortification, Craignethan Castle. The real life inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s fictional Tillietudlem Castle. Home of the Bellenden family in the tale.

It does feel like you are walking down an old railway line at the start. Roman road straight with the fence line of the Southfield cottages to your left. However after a bit the trees start to overgrow the path like the roof of a tunnel and the wooden palisade that is the fence stops. Giving way to open fields. A few more feet forward and you feel cocooned in the bark and leaves yet it still doesn’t feel like a proper wood.

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There are a few relics of it’s former use. You can be walking along and become suddenly aware of what looks like a large sandstone retaining wall or maybe the abutment of an old bridge. Green with age and moss. It may the old signal box or junction box there’s always something if you keep your eyes open. The flora and fauna are trying hard to reclaim it from it’s past. It’s not until you are a good way down the line. Close to where the old Nethan Viaduct used to be. That you step down the embankment into the woods proper. This feels how it should feel. Here it feels old and ancient but the trees at most might only be a couple of hundred years old.

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The Woods

Here for me, is the best place to stop and stand awhile in the small glades. In autumn and winter you can catch glimpses of the other side and Auchenheath. You get an idea of just how high you are above the water. In spring and summer when the leaves are growing and the trees feel full of life. The view obscured you can hear and see the birds singing and dancing in the branches. Sparrow and Finch by the dozen. Chirping mad in a frenzy. The occasional an unmistakable cry of a pheasy from the border of the fields and wood. Rooks or Craws circling, cawin’ loud and harsh.

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From here it’s just a short walk to the end of the woods. A metal gate onto a field signifies the limits of the trees. The gorge curves away from you heading to the opening and relative flatness at Corra mill. It then cuts a swathe through the cliffs to the Clyde again. You can see the houses of Tillitudelum. Usually this is the end of the walk for me. Where I about turn and saunter back the way I came. Here you can pass through the gate and follow the hedge. It will take you to the road and the entrance road to Craignethan Castle. From there the path leads to Lower Nethan Gorge and Nethanfoot at Crossford.

That’s a post for another day.

Dalzell Park

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Dalzell Park, the good, the bad and the beautiful.

I recently had the chance to go on a guided walk around Dalzell Park in Motherwell. The walk was run by The Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) as part of their spring walks festival. It was an excellent morning out with two very knowledgable guides from North Lanarkshire’s Countryside Rangers. I really do wish I had taken better notes or recorded the information and stories told. I also wish I had taken more photographs but found it hard as I was too intent on listening and following someone else lead. However it did not take away from such a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Below are some of my highlights from around the park and hopefully I’ve got most of right.
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Dalzell House.

Now a private residence after being sold on by the council a few years ago so we didn’t access to get a closer look at the court yard and the splendid terraced gardens. It’s an A listed building and has had most if not all it’s important heritage preserved. A castle or defensive structure has apparently been on the site since the 9th Century. What you see today is mix of construction phases. The oldest being the tower in the centre, this dates from the 14th/15th century. The next phase is to the right and was added in the late 17th century and the the final phase on left was added in the 18th century. It’s been around and has seen many a distinguished guest, most notably Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as well as William Gladstone.

No proper castle is complete without a ghost story well Dalzell House is a bit spoiled for choice as it can boast no fewer than 3 ghosts. A green lady, a white lady and a grey lady. Hopefully I remember the right details for each ghost. The grey lady is supposed a nurse from when the house was a hospital during to after the First World War. The green lady is  of oriental origins or descent as there whiff of oriental perfume when she’s about. Finally the white ghost was a maid servant who got herself into trouble and rather than face the consequences threw herself off the tower. All that might make you think twice about living in one of the luxury apartments.
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The Covenanter’s Oak.

Possibly the oldest living thing in North Lanarkshire. Supposedly planted by David I around 1450 and around the same time as the Cadzow oaks across the Clyde. It has seen better days and despite appearances is still going strong. It’s been braced and supported to keep it going hopefully for another 500 years. There’s a couple of different stories about the Covenanters, they either carried out sermons under great tree or sheltered below it. Either way the Hamiltons of Dalzell at that time were supporters of the cause and ended up losing a lot of their lands because of it. Probably one of my favourite things in Dalzell Park just for it’s sheer majesty.

The Arboretum.

I’ll admit to being a big ignorant here. I thought and arboretum was a fancy greenhouse of sorts, oh how wrong was I. However as they say, you learn something new everyday. Well this was my new thing. An arboretum is basically a collection of trees. Yep, you’re not going to fit them in a greenhouse. This on in Dalzell Park has North American Sequoias, including one that they have managed to germinate from a cone using an oven. As Sequoias need raging forest fire to let their seeds drop. It also has many Yew trees more than I’ve seen in one garden. Maybe they were planting with zombie apocalypse in mind. Not just Scottish Yews either, they have specimens from all over the world. This is where it gets fuzzy with the tree stuff as the only other one I can remember is the Weeping Willow but there is lots of other trees. I promise. If trees are your thing go have a look.

The Phoenix Project.

Again I hope I get this correct on part of Dalzell Park, the Countryside Rangers and Phoenix Futures have been working on a project called Recovery through Nature. It’s all about helping people get rehabilitated and back on a even keel by helping out on nature projects. At Dalzell Park they’ve been working on clearing away rhododendron bushes and restoring some of the vistas the park had originally when the gardens were laid out. They also been involved in planting through out the park. Replacing trees and the like. Really worthwhile and great to hear about.
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The Listening Cave.

At the back of the house opposite the terraced gardens and across the Dalzell burn, I think it’s called that. There are a few that run through the park. You find just through the old bowling green, yes they had their own bowling green as well as a curling pond down by the Clyde and I’m sure one of the Rangers said a cricket pitch however I could be making that up. Anyway if you follow the path you’ll find the Listening Cave. Built to amplify the sound of the nearby waterfall and burn. I loved this. It was pretty cool. If you stood in a certain spot it felt like you were actually standing right next to the water. Step a little forward, backwards or either side and it was gone. Brilliant
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St Patrick’s Kirk.

The first christian site in Motherwell and home to the Hamiltons of Dalzell pet cemetery and mausoleum. The church no longer stands having fell into disrepair and ruin after being abandoned in the late 1700s. The graveyard however was used for many years after the church was left. The Hamiltons used the stone work from the ruined church for the mausoleum. Compared to the one down at the old palace grounds and Lord Belhaven’s just south along the Clyde this one is really understated. Bordering on the modest.

There’s been a lot of work carried out here by North Lanarkshire Council, CAVLP and the Phoenix Futures group to stabilise and rebuild the cemetery walls as well as protecting the mausoleum from vandalism. Next on the list is the graves and the yard themselves. Cleaning it up and fixing any headstones that can be. Also recording the names of those interred there for a local history project.
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Lord Gavin’s Temple.

Built for Lord Gavin Hamilton as a summer house it used to have a brilliant bright copper dome to crown it off. It allowed him to spend his time reading and smoking his cigars while watch over his wife’s grave down at the family mausoleum. He was either being very romantic or very scared that she would come back from the dead. Personally I hope he was being romantic.

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The Japanese Garden.

This has been moved two or three times. One of the original places was down between St Patrick’s well and Lord Gavin’s Temple. You can still see some of the traces there. The current Japanese garden has new pagodas. Not sure that’s the proper term. It’s been laid out to match the Buddha temple at Nagasaki. Well one of them was, not sure if it’s the current one or the original one. It’s full of oriental planting, Japanese Maples and rock gardens. It’s a really tranquil and beautiful place to wander round. In full bloom I think it will be stunning.

All in all it was a great morning’s walk. Full of information and wonder. If I get the chance and have the time I would definitely go on another guided walk and take better notes and more photographs!

You can look at the full set of photographs here on Flickr, Dalzell Park Photo Album.

If you have any questions, as always leave a comment below. Get me over on Twitter or you can send me an email through the contact me page.

Blackhill

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Blackhill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best for last

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

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

Falls of Clyde – Follow the Badger

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Falls of Clyde – Follow the Badger

We’ve walked here often at New Lanark but never actually up to the waterfalls. We’ve always just wandered round the old mills and the housing blocks. Small always seemed just too small and the distance a bit too far for her short legs and it wasn’t ever the terrain for the pushchair. Well things have changed, Small is not so small anymore and she’s started primary school so we ventured back up to New Lanark and to have a look at the linns (Scots for waterfall). A wee bit of background for those that don’t know. The Fall of Clyde comprise of 4 linn. Bonnington Linn which is about 30 feet and is part of a hydro-electric scheme, Corra Linn which is by far the highest at over 80 feet as well as having it’s own webcam which is good to have a view after there’s been some heavy rains. Dundaff Linn with a fall of about 10 feet. Those 3 all lie above New Lanark. The 4th a final waterfall is Stonebyres Linn which lies a few miles down the water past the village of Kirkfieldbank with in what was once the polices of the old Stonebyres Estate. It as now the site of one of the oldest hydro-electric power stations in the UK. The first 3 falls all lie within the Falls of Clyde Reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

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Late and unseasonably warm autumn sunshine.

We pulled in at the car park after lunch at the top of the hill as we always do in some really fine late and unseasonably warm sunshine. A quick change of footwear and we were off down the hill. Follow the badger is what the sign said and follow the badger is what we did. Heading off down the steep path to New Lanark. Robert Owen’s masterpiece of utopian socialism. It’s a great path to walk down towards the hotel, houses and the mills especially in the glorious yellow sunshine. Everything opens up below you and provides you with a great view up and down the river Clyde. Today was a really good day for that view so much so the sunglasses were on. Normally unheard of at this time of year in Scotland.

At the bottom of the steep hill next to the small church and the war memorial the hunt for the next badger begun. Which direction was he/she going to point us in. I actually have no idea how you tell from the picture if it is a boy or girl. Small asked and I had just to shrug my shoulders as we looked. Spotting the badger sign quickly we followed on as indicated. Towards the big mill buildings. Badger, badger where are you. Ah, there you are. Not so hard for Small, now that she knew what to look for. This one was over next to a cart selling of all things, ice cream. in the outdoors, in Scotland during autumn or what was meant to be autumn. T-shirts and sunglasses. In previous years on the same weekend I’ve been hunkered down on hills against the wind or soomin’ like a droont rat. Crazy.

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Again onwards in the direction of the badger. Only this time the signposts had changed. Either that or we had missed the badger! At nearly 5 an just learning reading is not yet a strong point so with a little help we pointed Small the right way. Through the wall and on into the woods. Past the furthest we had gone before on previous visits. Now buggyless things were easier. Where lo and behold we too much excitement another badger picture. Unbeknown to us it would be the last one as again the signposts would change.

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Into the woods we go.

This last badger was on an information board and part of a set of the dos and don’ts of the trail and also a very informative guide to what you can see as you make your way along the path. We took our time and went through it for Small’s benefit so she knew what to look for and lot’s of warnings on another board. Steep cliffs, dogs on leashes, children under close control, responsible mountain biking and don’t enter into the gorge due to the hydro schemes. Basically be good. The best bit being all the things you can find in the woods; aik, birk, rowan (the tree), loads of other trees, a varied variety of mushrooms which all look great to eat but wouldn’t dare and all sorts of woodland creatures and florer and fauna. Now armed with the knowledge of what to look out for Small struck ahead leading the way along the path.

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All was well walking along enjoying the sunshine falling through the gaps in the trees dappling the trail. Until we came to a fork in the road. Decision time follow the red marker or the blue marker. No on our 4th or 5th different style of sign. I do think some sort of consistency would be good for signage. I know that the place is managed both by New Lanark world heritage site and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It would be good if they were on the same page. Red was for the riverside walk and blue was the woodland walk or the alternative route should the Clyde be in spate either naturally or because of the hydro plant. Which will still get you to the viewing areas. Already of thinking of another visit after some heavy rains to see the linns especially Corra in full flow. Red it was as we did come to see the waterfalls.

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Following the right hand fork we dropped down to the water’s edge and on to a wooden causeyway. The water on the river here looks deceptively slow here till you see it pouring over the weir. Where it runs at such a tumult. Standing watching the water run and listen to the noise. I noticed in an eddy of slow water next to us a wee broon troot sook a fly or something from the surface and the tiniest of splashes as it kicked its tale as it turned back to the river bottom. There were a couple no more than a few inches long. I pointed them out to Small but she was only seeing the surface of the break. Forgetting I had my sunglasses on which was cutting out the sun’s glare on the water. The benefits of polarized lenses. I gave them over to Small so she could see. I’m pretty sure fish weren’t mentioned on the information board but I could be wrong. After we had watched the fish a bit we walked on to find yet another different sign post, by this time I had lost count. This one was pointing towards the Bonnington Linn Power station.

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Corra Linn

This is where the path starts to climb up again away from the river and away from the Bonnington Linn Power station. Corra Castle is hard to see in all the trees but still stands proud but ruinous on the high cliffs on the opposite side of the river here. The large pipes painted green and covered in moss merge in to the woods. The path climbs on to the view point of the river’s most majestic daughter. Wordsworth he’s not but sometimes and probably got this about right. This is probably the best spot on the whole walk if the rivers are running heavy. I’m sure of that.

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Now it was a case of following the path even higher and onto the Bonnigton waterfall itself. At times here, walking along the path would give you the fear especially with a small person who has no fear, intent on climbing up on railings for a better view. Or poking her head between and leaning out. Not good for the heart. The cliffs must be over 30 metres as the river Clyde here cuts a great gorge here. There high enough that peregrine falcons come to nest in the nooks and crannies. You can come and watch them in spring and summer with their chicks. There’s even a hide.

Whinging and moaning.

We followed on and came to another view point by this time small was getting a bit fed up or hungry both illicit the same responses. Whinging and moaning, her legs were tired, she was hungry. However all was solved when Mummy Bunten produced a packet of Fruitella chews. It was almost like breadcrumbs. If you walk to here you can have another, once we get to this point you can have one more. This is how we got to the big horseshoe of a waterfall and then passed the old iron bridge and onto the new bridge where the water is diverted for the power station. We stood in the middle of the bridge, basking in the glorious late autumn shine. Looking for more fish and watching the swans and ducks floating. Small resting her tired legs.

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The hill at the end.

After that it was a case of retracing our steps all the way a back and finally all that was left to do was climb back up the big hill  to the car park. The only badgers we saw where pictures and it was the same with the falcons. Next we might just try for the circular route and see how that goes. Plenty of sweets and juice for bribes to get us round might be the order of the day as well. If you’re around this neck of the woods pardon the pun. Its well worth a visit to the nature reserve and the Falls of Clyde, anytime of the year.


You can see the full set of photographs here New Lanark/Falls of Clyde Flickr set. I’ll add more as time goes by and the visits mount up.

As always feel free to leave a comment in the box below or send me a message through the contact page. Failing that hit me up on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.

Culter Fell, cloudy as hell

Culter Fell

Ever since I moved further out into South Lanarkshire I’ve been looking at walking Culter Fell (pronounced Cooter). I kept going to the circular route that’s on the walkhighlands website and also another walker that blogs, James Boulter (@bpackingbongos) posted a walk that he had done recently on Culter Fell. That really made me want to get out and do it. For the list tickers, Culter Fell sits on 3 list. It’s a Marilyn, Graham and a Donald. It’s the highest point it South Lanarkshire at 748 metres or 2244 of good Scot’s feet so that should make for a good view. It is also part of the Southern Uplands. What’s not to like.

An opportunity presented itself so with the blessing of my wife I was off early Saturday morning. I set the alarm for 0630 ZULU. Up and out the door before the house wakes up. My bag was at the door ready and packed. The only thing I didn’t have was a map of the area. I had a thought to stop at the motorway services at Abington and pop into the WH Smiths and pick one up. Off I went chucking everything in the car and joined the M74 at the ‘gow. I doesn’t take long to get to the Abington junction from Blackwood. I was at the services before I really had time to think. Parking up I wasn’t very impressed with sky, clouds hanging low and heavy but it was breezy and the clouds were moving fast. I was hopeful for clear skies and good vistas.

The service station was busy even at this early hour and with half the concessions were closed at that. I made my way through to the WH Smiths and their books/map section. After scanning the shelf a few times it was becoming pretty clear that they didn’t have the map I was after, the Ordnance Survey Explorer 336, Biggar & Broughton, Culter Fell & Dollar Law or even the Landranger 72, Upper Clyde Valley would have done. I think I could have had any map for the rest of Scotland and the Lake District that morning. A little put off but unperturbed. I’ve got OS maps for all of southern Scotland on my iPhone. It’s just nice to have a back up. Since I was at the services I grabbed myself a roll and sausage. It would have been not to. Extra Fuel for the engine. After stuffing my face and costing myself a small fortune in the process. I jumped back in the motor and headed along the road towards Biggar. A map is cheaper than a meal at a service station.

The village of Coulter is only a few short miles along the A702, parts of which apparently follow the route of a Roman road. I drove into Coulter and turned right where the 702 turns left at about 90 degrees and heads for Biggar. There’s a small junction on the corner. This road takes you past the new primary school and out towards the reservoir. The road is marked as a dead-end but it’s a few miles before you need worry about that. I followed the single track always mindful of other cars driving towards me especially around some of those twisty bends. However it wasn’t cars I needed to be worried about but sheep. A few yowes had squeezed under a fence or through a hole hugging the banks next to the road and getting skittish as I approached. Always makes for fun driving trying not to play dodgems with the yowes. Don’t think the fermer would be happy.

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I continued along the single track road until it forked at Birthwood and Culter Allers Farm just before the public road ends. I swung the car around as the road was wide enough. I was now facing back the way I came. Just in case I need to make a quick getaway. Getting out the car I looked up towards Culter Fell, only not to see it as it was covered in cloud. I was there so there was nothing left to do but get on with it, in the hope the cloud would clear. I grabbed my new hand made wooden walking stick. My dad makes walking sticks of all styles, types of wood, horn and antler handles. I opted for a plain stick that felt good in my hand and light with a vee notch at the top. I swung the rucksack on and headed off along the road. As I went I set up ViewRanger on the phone to record my track so I could upload it later. Airplane mode and locking the SIM to save the battery and only use the GPS. I stuck the phone in my pocket.

I crossed a cattle grid and the road started to climb slightly. I was on the look out for a small burn that the road crosses as after that the path I was to take started on the left. As I wandered along the road looking for the path taking in the glen, I heard the cattle grid rumble and rattle with what sounded like a quad bike coming my way. I waited until the noise of the diesel engine got closer and stepped off the road and turned to see a JCB Workmax with the fermer and his sheepdug in the passenger seat rather than the quad bike I had suspected. We exchanged a couple of nods and a wave has he drove away.

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There was no need to worry about spotting the path as it’s pretty obvious where it starts. It starts off nice and gentle before it picks up a mean gradient. It’s a very clear track to follow up Fell Shin and you soon pick up some great height and the views down the glen back towards Coulter are great. From here though the reservoir is hidden. Views above 600m still weren’t looking good with all the cloud but the wind was still brisk and the clouds were moving fast. I still had some hope of clear tops. I was fascinated by some really old ancient looking stone structures almost kist like in their construction minus the coping stone. Such wonders these are as the followed the path up the hill. Amazing, what was their significances? Who built them? Bronze age, Iron Age? It was also amazing that in some places due to the lee of the land or the way the wind was blowing all of a sudden I would walk into a small pocket of calm. Maybe only for a couple of steps but it was like walking through a door into another room. All of sudden silence and then you would pick up the sound of birds singing and the grouse calling. No wind whistling. I found myself stopping and listening every time I stepped into one of theses areas.

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I turned back to look down the line of the fank like things and noticed some crazies. Hill runners, crazies to me. Why would you want to waste a perfectly good hill walk by running. Not me. It didn’t take long from the to catch me. I was taking my time and enjoying the walk. As they got closer, I moved out their road on the track to let them pass. We said our mornings. I asked is this a regular thing for them, the answer was yes. Crazies. The one at the back walked with me for a bit, talking. I think he was trying to get his second wind. I asked what route they were taking and what I had hoped to do. Weather permitting. The 3 of them run these hills most weekends. See crazies. The route is a good one and the views great on a clear day. Here’s hoping I said, with that he picked up his pace and went to catch the other 2 crazies, I mean his 2 buddies. It wasn’t long before the 3 of them were out of sight and over the top of Fell Shin. Once gone I got back to my structures. Was it coincidence that pockets where the wind dropped was round most of these stones I wondered. It wasn’t till I got home that I found out there was nothing magical about them. Just some old unloved grouse butts. Obvious now looking back. Jeezoh, I got carried away with myself.

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The wind had gone from breezy to a severe buffeting. Nothing drastic, 3 pints of the stellar tortoise on an empty stomach as I crested Fell Shin and up on to Culter Fell properly. There’s a single solitary wooden post here just off to the left of the path. It’s purpose is definitely a mystery to me. One for Scooby Doo and his mystery bus. I took a walk over to check it out and to my surprise a pair of glasses were hanging from it and for a while by the nick they were in Well weathered. Some poor soul had lost their reading glasses and some good soul had stuck them on the post to be found. From there I headed over to a small marker cairn. Here the clouds were drifting across the front of me and up ahead the track was disappearing into some heavy clouds and no views. If I turned my back on the clouds I had good views over to Tinto and the hills otherside the glen, Dod Hill and Hillshaw Head above the reservoir. Luckily the clouds were hiding the majority of the large turbines over there. The closer ones keeked in and out of the drifts. There was some pluses to all the cloud.

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I turned around and head off in the direction of the cloud and the top of Culter Fell or so I hoped. I decided that it would be a good idea to get the phone out hand have a check. I’m really glad I did. The battery was hovering on 21% and I hadn’t even been out for more than a couple of hours. I can only assume that ViewRanger and iOS7 don’t get on very well or it’s how I have my settings in ViewRanger pinging away. This wasn’t going to end well. No paper map and phone not long from flat and me somewhere I had never walked before. Decisions were going to have to be made. Go on or go home. I knew I wasn’t too far from the summit. I could see that from the screen on the iPhone. As the 20% battery warning popped up. I took out my compass and took a bearing. You can’t beat the Silva 1-2-3 style of navigation. Get me doing a bit of proper navigating. Kind of. Compass in hand a followed the path towards the cloud and hoped for the best and the path would hold true. Worse case I would just turn round and head back the way I came. No blood, no foul.

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In the cloud I had the feeling of the distance expanding but my view contracting, almost like time was standing still. Gone were the birds and grouse. Just myself and me with the wind ringing in my lugs. As the steepness levels out here to a gentle incline towards the summit of Culter Fell, the ground is no longer hard but wet and boggy mire. Lots of standing water and a faint track that was flitting in and out. Check the compass, check the path or check the compass and hold to the reading and hope to pick the track up. This really slowed down the last few hundred metres. Felt like I had walked an extra mile, the time it had taken. Eventually the trig point and the summit top of Culter Fell started to solidify out of the cloud. My compass reading had been good and the path had stayed true most of the way. Had I missed the pillar I would have walked into a fence.

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I hung about for a bit had a bar of chocolate and big long slug of water. I tried my hand a taking a few selfies with dSLR; set the timer, run for the count of ten, hope for the best. I really need more practice at this. Some just looked terribly out of focus. There is no shelter to speak of, that or it was hiding in the cloud and the wind was at it’s buffeting best and the view non-existent. My phone was flat so I wasn’t going to attempt to find the path for the circular route I had planned. A the best laid plans o’ mice and men. A bit of a downer. It was what it was. Time to reverse my bearing and head back the way I had come. Culter Fell wasn’t going anywhere. I can come back. I picked up my walking stick that was resting against the trig pillar and started singing to myself;

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the streets
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the lassies say hello
Donald, where’s your troosers

morphed into….

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the hills
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the grouse say chut, chut, chutttttt
Tookie, where’s your troosers?

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I wasn’t even wearing a kilt. Plenty of grouse shouting on the lower slopes though. I’m a bit daft in the heid at times. Chanting away to myself it was long before I was back down below the cloud and the world opened back up to me no longer enveloped in cotton wool, enjoying the pockets of quiet on the way down as I had on the way up. After sauntering around for a bit I was back on the road and in the car heading for home.

The full set of photgraphs can be seen over on my flickr set, here

North and South Kyle Forests

Map of Kyle

There’s not been too much happening recently concerning walks or any that I felt were worth sharing. However something really interesting; for me at any rate but also something that maybe you could help with. I got a very interesting email recently which led to quiet a few emails going back and forth and then a meeting in Hamilton. What was it about you ask and how can you help? Well…

…the Forestry Commision are looking to open up the north and south Kyle forests. To you and me, that is all their land roughly between Dalmellington and Cumnock in Ayrshire. It’s at an early stage but they are looking for folks to have and input. They have the idea of using the area a bit like the Galloway forest park; walking, cycling, community orchards, conservation, social enterprises. Open to all. They want to know what your doing, what paths your walking, tracks you are cycling, what viewpoints keep drawing you back, what wildlife do you go to watch but it’s not just that. They are keen on the history of the area, stories and anything you think is special. Hopefully they can get a picture of the routes and interesting places. Maybe even join them up and make a place people stop off and visit.

I spent a great afternoon with the Forestry Commission talking about the area and the places I have walked and the views that I thought were special. It was excellent and it really brought it home, especially when you see it printed out on a large scale map just how much there is in the area that could be done. It’s all at a very early stage and there’s no guarentees that it will happen but I left the meeting wishing it could happen. Here’s to hoping.

Personally I think it would be a great for the area so if you can help or just want some more information then use the contact form here or drop me an email at davidtookiebunten(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll pass your details on to them and hopefully we can make this happen and help get it off the ground.

Thro’ Pathways Rough and Muddy

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I keep finding myself drawn back to this place. The place I’ve walked countless times. I think it’s because I feel I have to document these walks for myself. Now that I write and take photographs so that I will have some record of them. Something to look back on. This time I decided to do the Muirkirk to Kirkconnel walk using the old road.

No Greggs sausage rolls this time as it was shut not open until 0730 however the EK Deli next door was so I pulled in and got myself a big baguette stuffed full of cheese, ham and tomato, a bottle of water and a bottle of IRN BRU. I already had a few chocolate bars left over from another walk. No need to buy extra treats. It was the usual road East Kilbride to Strathaven to Muirkirk then finally Kames.

As always even all though it was early, a couple of cars could be found in the Walkers’ car park. Generally it’s dog walkers out to stretch their dogs legs but sometimes you never know someone is here to climb the hills. It was cold but not overly with a bit of a wind so I chucked my insulating jacket in my bag and opted for just my wind shirt over my shirt.

I was a little excited but also a little apprehensive. I had only just had corrective surgery on my eyes. No more glasses, for awhile at least. I hope. Excited that this would the first walk and I would get to see how good these lasered peeps would be. Not that I had any doubts. I’d spent the previous couple of weeks wondering why it had taken me so long to get it done. Apprehensive in that what if I got something dust, muck, other matter blown into them.

I fired up ViewRanger on my iPhone to record my path. No live maps on Social Hiking for me. The battery doesn’t like that. Record and upload later. That done I head towards the old road and MacAdams old tar works. I wouldn’t be climbing a hill, I was going to walk the road. All the way to either Sanquhar or Kirkconnel and get the bust back. Roughly 16 good Scots’ miles. I think folks get the impression that the old road was built by MacAdam but it wasn’t, it had been a cart road that had been there for along time. An old drove road that branches off in few directions. He just tarred and made it better or so the story goes. The road is probably even older than a drove road probably and ancient track.

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Following the familiar way I set off round the back of the old institute and onto the old road. Today for a change I had on the 35mm lens instead of my usual 18-55mm kit lens for my Nikon. I was thinking different lens different view on the landscape. No zooming in and out. I would have to zoom with me feet where possible. I would have to, hopefully, think about my shots rather than just snapping away. That was the theory. The 35mm is cracking wee lens, it has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 which is great for creating depth of field. I don’t think it really works for landscape shots more of portrait, street photography lens in my head but hopefully I could get something decent with some landscape features, so the idea goes.

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Randomly snapping shots as I always do I found myself at the junction of the Sanquhar bridge over the Garpel Burn. Stay on this side and you start to climb the Cairn Table, cross the bridge and you’re heading south to across Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway or Lanarkshire if you want. Plenty of old tracks to choose from, plenty of walks. More than I can manage at the moment. Some have been on the ‘list’ for years and some have been done a few times.

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After the bridge the path winds and climbs up the shoulder of Wardlaw Hill. Every now and then I catch a fresh footprint or paw print in the path in front of me. Unusual to be on the road with others here, it’s not a circular route. As a round another corner, I find the makers of those marks. Two guys and a large dalmatian. All happed up like a pish hoose spicket. It’s not that cold and it’s dry but each to their own and it has been wet the previous few days. Hedging their bets. I stop and clap the big friendly dalmation as he bounds up to me and I speak to the guys. The usual stuff, weather and the like. Then they tell me they were trying to climb the Cairn Table. Easy done if you don’t know the walk or have a map. Usually they just up the front of the Cairn Table and back down the same path but the decided to try the other route. I tell them they would have been fine if they hadn’t crossed the bridge and continued on. All would be fine.

Marker Cairn

I left them to head back down to the bridge where they had made the wrong turn and continued on my way. The old road turns from hard packed to waterlogged peaty grass. For time, I find myself skipping, jumping, dodging and generally doing my best to avoid the worst of the stinking stale puddles. Foot suckers. Not that I’m afraid of getting dirty just don’t want to get too dirty. The shoulder of Wardlaw is saturated and soft. At time the road is unrecognisable and at others it has been chewed to bits by quad bikes or scramblers. Looking at all that water and standing on the shoulder of Wardlaw hill; I think that it’s weird but it probably isn’t, that all the water here flows to the River Ayr. The Garpel on one side runs straight into the Ayr but the other side all runs into the Glenmuir then into the Lugar then into the River Ayr away over in the west between Ochiltree and Mauchline just shy of Barskimming. Two different routes to the same place and ultimately the firth of Clyde and the sea.

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It’s such a great view of the Glenmuir and not one I see very often. Most of memories are from down in the glen; fishing, camping, swimming and wondering at the ruined castle at Kyle and why would anyone build a one there. Been a long time since I’ve been down there and I was sorely tempted to change my plans and head down that way and walk back to Muirkirk round the other side of Wardlaw Hill. However it I was out solo and had left my plans with my wife she knew where I was going and when to expect me back, not a good idea to change things on the hoof just in case they go bad. I turned slowly away from the glen and my memories and continued on the road.

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Past the worst of the peaty path, I was on the slopes of Pepper Hill as the road contoured round it. On the lands of the old High Shaw farm. Farm is being kind it would have been no bigger than a croft. Probably an old Scottish longhouse at one point. Now no more than a big sheep pen and rarely used at that. Much like Glenmuirshaw further down in the glen. Walking towards a large semi-ruined sheep pen. I noticed a small set of antlers and I hadn’t spooked them.

At last I somehow managed to get close to a deer. The wind blowing into my face had kept my smell away from it. The deer hadn’t a clue. I crept as silently as a ninja. In my head I was a ninja. All stealth and silence. Closer. Closer. I got as close to the old rusty fence in front of the collapsed stone wall as I dared. Holding my breath while cursing myself for not having my 18-55 kit lens. At least with it’s small zoom I would have got closer. Fortune favours the brave so the say. I moved closer to the rusty barbed wire. Inch by inch as close as I could, hedging my bets as I hadn’t been noticed. I slowly lifted the Nikon to my face. I focused on the deer and press down on the shutter. It sounded like a crash of thunder on that hillside.

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That was all it need, out it launched. Fast and hard along with two other deer I hadn’t even seen lying in the long grass. The alien noise of the shutter was all they had needed. Always alert. They run this way and that trying to figure out where I was going eventually the deer realised I wasn’t running after them. They just stood a top of one of the many knowes and watched me from a safe distance.

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Leaving the deer to gallop across the moor I continued along the grassy green road. Nearing the forest, the sounds changed and I could hear men at work. Heavy duty chainsaws whining, chewing, stripping and spitting out the pine trees. It was hard to tell from which direction it was coming from. Was I going to walk into it or was it at the other side of the plantation. Time would tell. On the edge of the plantation I crossed a small bridge over the March Burn, a boundary maker. Not sure if it’s between old farms or a couple of old baronies. Further down the Glenmuir is Kyle Castle and this could mark it’s eastern edge of it’s barony. Another possibility going the other way deep in the forest is Three Shire Hill. Where Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Galloway boundaries meet.

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The old road here was just as bad here as over the pass into Glenmuir if not worse. Almost a large river of oozing mud. The fact it was saturated and chewed up by the forestry vehicles didn’t help. Hopefully I would pick up one of their hard packed roads. I knew the old road became road again at the other side but the tracks through here change from time to time with the planting and work going on. I was hoping the sludging would come to an end.

Soon enough I hit hard packed gravel of the forestry road, the noise of industry getting louder and closer all the time. A single tree blocked the road. I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go under it, I couldn’t go around it. Oh well, I just had to go through it. I managed to wedge through the branches and stepped over the trunk and out the otherside. Not that it was too difficult. Once on the other side that’s where I saw where all the noise was going on. The trees were being harvested here. There was a Land Rover Discovery facing away from and a few bits of machinery. All the work was getting done off to my right.

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The guy in the Disco visibly jumped as a walked passed the passenger side door waving. Obviously wasn’t expecting anyone else there today. I waved and carried on, smiling. I was then assaulted, my nasal passages were battered by an overpowering smell of pine. Almost as strong as the cheap pine bleach in a public toilet. Not that I hang around public toilets. Ever. Needs must and all that. The fresh cut trees were scenting the air. The further along I walked the less pungent the scent got, these ones not so freshly hewn. It was actually becoming pleasant and made for a nice end to the forest section. Not long after the perfume drifted away I was back on the high muirs and the road was an actual road again.

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From this section I had a view past Mount Stuart right through to the Lowthers and the giant golf ball on the horizon that is the radar station. Which I think is for air traffic control. I could be wrong. It’s definitely a radar at all costs. I had a view of it as the crow flies. I could here a few grouse squawking away in the long tussocks hiding out the way. I walked on. The weather was starting to cloud over after a fine bright morning and the wind was still constantly blowing. Blowing enough that I knew I was going to have a nice wind burned face. Good old skelpt erse.

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Walking along listening to the birds sing. Minding my own business. Enjoying being there. When, woooosh! Out pops a Black Grouse from the roadside, not a foot from my face. I could feel the air rush past me as it exploded from the long grass. It was my turn to jump out my skin. Heart in the mouth. It’s a bird just a fecking bird. I think the bastards do that on purpose its not the first time a grouse or a ptarmigan has done that to me. You think they are sqwauking, that’s them laughing at you. Shouting at his buddy, “Haha look at that dick; nearly pished himself, gave him a squeaky bum”. After getting my heart rate back under control and a quick swig of the orange stuff. I started walking again. It now seemed that every few feet I was flushing out the grouse. They were all at it but that fright thing only works once. After the first one I’m expecting it. I was probably in the gamekeepers sights at that point, all those birds getting flushed into the sky.

Blackgannoch Coventicles

Deep in covenanter country here; not far from another conventicle site, Blackgannoch. It’s still a wild land here and must have been wilder back then, I would think. A great place to hide. I was now heading for the for the old junction at Fingland. From there you can head to the conventicle site or Spago Bridge and onto Wanlockhead high in the Lowthers where the old gold and lead mines are. It’s part of an old drove road through the Southern Uplands. I wasn’t going that way. It’s a path I haven’t walked yet and one that’s on the list. I was heading for the Sanquhar/Kirkconnel turn. On reaching Fingland I was greeted by the barking of a dog but saw no-one. There is only a couple of in habitable houses. The others abandoned for whatever reason, left derelict. Not wanting to disturb the dog further I didn’t tarry long and head off down the Sanquhar road. The road climbs steadily or so it feels, along the bottom of the High Knypes.

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It was decision time. I was at a fork in the road. I could continue on the road and head for Sanquhar or take the turn and the old path up and over in to Kirkconnel. I had been pounding the hard stuff for a while and decide to head off road again and take the trail. Back up into the hills. There was a short section after leaving the road where all of a sudden the old track completely disappears. It just vanishes into long tussocky grass. I slowed myself down and looked about carefully. Not that I was lost. Just wanted to ensure I kept to the path. I managed to pick out it’s faint trail and followed where it led. I was crossing the high pasture, summer grazing among some jittery sheep. They didn’t like me being there. There was one big tup that keep his eye on me while the others ran and gained some height and distance but this big boy just stood defiantly on the edge of knowe watching me. Almost daring me to challenge him. Either that or he was justing making sure I definitely didn’t have a bucket or two of feed. I ignored him, hopefully much to his annoyance and carried on.

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It’s a cracking view from the shoulder of Kirkland Hill,looking down the Nith valley over St Conal’s Kirk, Kirkconnel itself. Up and down the river. Over to Blackcraig and up towards New Cumnock. You don’t realise that you have gained a good bit of height. Nearly 1500 ft on the shoulder of Kirkland Hill. One of those views that you can sit and just drink in. There is the odd bit of man made interference that you have to ignore, a couple of wind farms on the opposite side of the valley. The tops of their spinning blades catching the sun. Also back to the north a rather large surface mine. A big bloody scar of an opencast mine. Barring that, great view.

It been awhile since I had seen a soul. I had the world to myself but here I did notice a single solitary being walking up from the Vennel, the farm at the bottom of the hill. Farmer. Possibly. Lots of yowes in the lower fields with lambs. Maybe out checking the beasts. I climbed down off Kirkland Hill and met guy at the bottom, standing in front of an information board. Not the farmer, shock horror but another walker. I had bumped into a grand total of 5 people and one dog in nearly 16 miles and 5 hours of walking. A busy day that was. He asked where I had come from and I had said over from Muirkirk. It must have sounded incredulous as he had that look about his face. He was looking for a somewhat shorter walk. He had a couple of options, up to the trig point on Kirkland hill or follow the old path but to the junction and turn for Sanquhar, from there back to Kirkconnel. A nice circular route if a bit road weary. I left him to mull over his choices and headed for the kirkyard.

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I climbed the stile over the wall and into St Conal’s Kirk. Apparently a church stood here for a thousand years, not the same original one but one of a few, growing expanding. Wood replaced by stone that sort of thing. Then along came the restoration in 1660, Charles II, the King tried to enforce episcopalian ways in the governance of the kirk. The minister here; one of many, refused and was tossed out. It was to be the start of the Killing Times, turning the South and West into a hotbed of religious turmoil. The kirk was closed and fell into disrepair and ruin. It wasn’t until 1710 that Kirkconnel had a minister again and a new church built in the village. Now here at this spot there is even less left. It’s a quiet spot. A perfect place for lunch after a long walk.

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I noticed a cage in the corner of the church yard but I pay it no attention as I walked round the yard clockwise. Looking at the old headstones and burial slabs. Some are legible and others are completely weather worn with no recognisable marks on them. I walked round to the information boards and the open sheds that are holding the archaeological finds, all carved stone from different periods. Some of it beautifully cut others weathered and only hinting at their previous designs. After reading the boards I have a look in the cage, a trap crow. Not seen anything like that in years. The crow was not amused at my presence, fluttering around it’s cage and a very agitated manner so I retreated out of view back to the stacks of stone and the plinth the sheds were on for a seat and something to eat.

Enjoying lunch as I was going to be late for the early bus and too early for the late bus. You know how it goes. I had the ancient churchyard to myself, well except for the auld corbie fluttering in his cage. He had settled back down once he realised I wasn’t going to try and eat him. I leisurely walk around the ruins; reading the excellent information boards, standing within the old walls, looking at the work stone and carved masonry. I’m not one for the church, a coo in the field without a name but the place did have an ambience. Tranquil, peaceful. Haloed? Not sure but it did have an aura. It feels ancient. Maybe that’s it, its old, really old and I feel that age. It has seen everything and the stones and grass have soaked it up.

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Out the corner of my eye I saw some movement. The walker I meet earlier had returned. He wandered over and sat at the far end of the platform. I asked where did go. Just to the top of Kirkland Hill. Fair enough. He asks about the crow. Was someone training it to stay put or had it been injured and was getting ready to be realised. Obviously not a country boy. In the back of my mind I was thinking of an altogether other purpose for the corbie. It was lambing time and crows are carrion. Known for pecking on weak newborn lambs or the stillborn ones. I was thinking it was being used to attract other crows so they could be shot. It is a cruel world.

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Finishing up my lunch I decided to head on over the last couple of miles into town. How needs guard dugs when you’ve got geese. Honking nipping bastards. Nearly chased from the Vennel by a gaggle. They were positively angry and aggressive compared to the tup, he was all menace and trying to be intimidating. The geese were for my ankles. One for the pot would have sorted that out but I’m pretty sure the fermer’s gudwife would be none too happy. I hastily made me retreat beyond the gate and onto the road again.

Misjudging my times had left me in Kirkconnel with nothing open and a long wait for a bus. The pub was open but I was a bit filthy and I didn’t fancy nursing a half and half shandy for nigh on two hours. Not too far from Cumnock I thought I would give Auld Tookie Nae Knees a bell see if he fancied a wee rin oot. Trying the parents house phone and it ringing out; I tried his mobile, thinking if he was already out even better chance of getting picked up. After a couple of rings he picked up, “Where are you? oot?”. “Aye, where are you”. I explained my predicament; his reply, “In Ayr, out for dinner, tough, you’re stuck till the bus comes”. My response “Enjoy your dinner”. I parked my rear back on the wall to wait.

In hindsight it might have been better to head for Sanquhar at least there was a chance that something would have been opened. Them’s the breaks, just have to roll with it. It took nothing away for the walk and saved more tramping up a road.

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