Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas Eve 2008 walk Annbank- Auchincruive circular

At Wallace' name what Scottish blood
But boils up in a spring-time flood?

Due to seasonal commitments, or being hen-pecked and not allowed out by their wives, today only two Early Ooters, Bob and Davie, made their way across country to the wee carpark at the bowling club in Annbank. Davie decided to cut out the boring road bit of the walk down via Mossblown church an instead headed straight downhill through the trees to Auchincruive estate. The weather was extremely mild but unfortunately not as frosty or bright as it has been of late. The River Ayr was also much lower than recently but it could easily be seen how high the water had been during the heavy rain. 
We decided to have our morning coffee at the Burns-Wallace Memorial at Oswald's Brig; hence the quotation above from Burns. 
Question: On which of the Ooters' walks have we come across this quotation elsewhere? Jimmy, being a smart-arse, is excluded from answering.
It was at this point that Bob was totally gob-smacked by Davie, who for the first time ever, produced a camera and proceeded to take a picture of him (proof above).  However this sudden rush of technical expertise quickly vanished when he tried to take a second photie, and couldnae get the bloody thing to work again. 
Having partaken of coffee, we set off back upriver noticing that some snowdrop bulbs had been uncovered by the recent flooding, and that viburnum bushes were blossoming pink. (At least that's what Bob said they were!)
Now that she had access to the water, Holly spent the rest of the walk swimming after sticks - right up to Tarholm Brig and then as as far as the old mill at Annbank. We chose to have our lunch at the lovely spot where the river Coyle enters the Ayr, whereupon Holly was mugged by a wee broon dug as she waited for her stick to be thrown. The walk between Tarholm and the pond at Annbank must be one of the loveliest stretches of the whole river Ayr walk, although admittedly it would be hard to beat the Mauchline Gorge.
A couple of pint of Boddingtons went down well at the Tap o' the Brae, where we witnessed the old folks' Christmas bottle being emptied and the cash therein counted. The old guy at the next table told Bob that every pensioner receives a bottle of whisky, ten pounds in their hand and six free drinks. Lucky Annbank pensioners!
Finally, another word of thanks to Jimmy in lasting appreciation for all the work and effort in compiling the Annals of the Early Ooters.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

17 December City Canals and Christmas Curries

The great canal between Forth and Clyde passes through the south part of the parish. It is carried over the river Kelvin by a stately aqueduct bridge, planned by Mr Whitworth and executed by Mr Gibb. The foundation of the bridge was laid June 15 1787, and it was finished in June 1790. The length is 350 ft, the breadth 37, of which the canal occupies 271/2, and the height, from the surface of the river to the top of the parapet wall 57. It stands upon 4 arches each 50ft wide, and 37 high.

Reverent Mr George Sym
Statistical Account of Scotland

In Jimmy's absence last week, the bus-pass brigade hatched a plot. We would travel for our day's outing and Christmas curry by bus. This was not at all to Jimmy's liking and he made his opinion clear. Davie and Robert agreed and the rest fell into line. That soon put a stop to this nonsense. Nine of us would now travel to Glasgow by car for our outing today and Peter would join us later.
Not surprisingly, given the collective nature of our group, we parked the cars in the same place in Kelvingrove to take the same walk as last Christmas before moving on to the same curry house for Christmas lunch. We really aught to get out more!
The weatherman predicted rain in the early afternoon so a decision was taken to walk outward for an hour, take a quick coffee and see if we could beat the rain to the cars. Robert led us down to the banks of the Kelvin and we turned upstream following the Kelvin walkway. We stopped under Kirklee Bridge (1899-1901) to examine it. We were impressed by the basic red sandstone construction of the arches but even more so by the Glasgow coat of arms, carved from the same material, that add adornment to the spandrels, and the pink granite columns at each pillar. The balustrade on top is made of the same material as the columns and adds lightness to the overall design. Altogether a most imposing structure. They certainly knew how to do things in Victorian times, cheap labour and the spoils of the Empire providing the where-with-all for such opulence.
The next bridge on the river is the canal aqueduct. This is where we left the Kelvin walkway and took to the canal towpath. As can be seen from Mr. Sym's comments above, the crossing of the Kelvin was remarkable achievement of the first transport revolution and we stopped on top to admire the skill of the engineers. Then we turned westward over the aqueduct and continued our walk along the canal bank.
An hour walked and there was a shout from the rear for coffee. We halted beside a lock and, for some reason chose to have coffee standing up.
Where the coffee was taken could not be said for certain for even he who knows such things was slightly disoriented in the built environment. We were not alone on the canal towpath. Since leaving the aqueduct, we had been passed by a series of joggers, cyclists, walkers and women with pushchairs. During coffee, an older man who looked as though he knew a thing or two approached us. Davie thought he would find out exactly where we were.
'Where exactly are we?' he asked.
'We-e-e-ell' said the sage.
Davie offered some assistance. 'Is that Drumchapel?' he prompted.
'Ye could say that, it's nearly'.
'Or is it Anniesland?' asked the inquisitor.
'It's nearly that as well. That's where I'm going.' replied the oldster and left us in our ignorance.
So, somewhere near Drumchapel or Anniesland or somewhere else, we had coffee.
After coffee and 'yer 'fishal photie', we returned along the canal to the Kelvin. A flock of mixed thrushes, fieldfare and redwing amused the birders by hedgehopping in front of us and duck, tufties and mallard, floated on the canal. We reached the aqueduct and Alan leaned over to look at the river below. It was he who spotted the cormorants, ten of them perched on the remains of bridge pillars. We all had a look over the side then and realised, again what an incredible engineering feat this aqueduct was.
Another engineering feat lies barely a hundred metres eastward of the Aqueduct, the Maryhill Locks, lifting the canal to a higher level. This was our direction now, with Port Dundas the destination. The rain came, gentle at first but getting steadily heavier. And through the increasing wetness, we walked towards Port Dundas.
We never made Port Dundas. The rain was set in for the day. Davie made a unilateral decision to return much to the disappointment of Rex who, for some reason wanted to visit the end of the canal. However, back we came.
The rain was wetting and the pace was upped accordingly. More than once Robert could be heard complaining from the rear about not being able to keep up the pace. But the fast ones at the front were deaf to his pleas and pushed on. Back behind Firhill we came and down to Maryhill Road: then behind a primary school practising Christmas activities and on to Queen Margaret Drive: across the road and down to the Kelvin again and at last, the pace relented. Davie took the steps into the botanic gardens and we followed but at a much slower rate now. We came through the gardens and arrived at the cars around 2:00, wet and dishevelled. We hadn't beaten the rain.
Most got changed into dry gear for lunch at the Ashoka, most because Johnny and Allan had left Irvine expecting us to take the bus so carried the minimum of gear. They sat damp for lunch. Peter was found on Byres Road, having done what he had to do, and the ten of us made our way to the Ashoka.
The Christmas curry was good, better than last year when we used the 'schule-dinner trays', and we spent an hour or two in eating, drinking and convivial banter. At the end of the meal, Jimmy was presented with a bottle of Glenlivet in thanks for his efforts on these Annals. 'Unexpected, unnecessary but not unappreciated' were his comments. He will drink a health to us all when he opens it.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


A pair of waterproof trousers were found in the boot of Jimmy's car and a single glove was left in the inside. If the owner needs them before 7 January could you please contact mee and I will make arrangements to return said items.

Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, 15 December 2008

10 December - Gogo Glen

'Twas when the sun his westering course,
With rays of mitigated force,
O'er the blue hills of Arran held,
That Hako's fleet was first unveil'd
In many a tier with pendants gay
Anchor'd in Largs breezy bay,
Near to the thickly-tented strand,
Where rank'd the bold invaders stand,
All shining in the evening beams,
As down the opening vale the Scottish army streams.

The Battle of Largs – A Gothic Epic: John Galt

Six go to the Gogo Glen

Distance 9.3 km

For the second successive week, Thor and Odin smiled down from Valhalla upon the Early Ooters as another perfect winter’s day greeted their arrival in Largs.

Rex, Davie, Peter and Paul assembled at the seafront in Largs, whilst Alan and Ian waited for them at the agreed location. Eventually the two groups were united.

Once across the A78 we entered Douglas Park. The garden dedicated to Robert Burns looked a little bare, but perhaps it was the wrong season! As we left the Park a steep ascent began, for the most part up a long flight of steps; but as we stopped at the orientation table we were rewarded with fine views over the Clyde, with Cumbrae, Bute and snow-capped Arran looking resplendent in the morning sunshine. Upon closer examination, it turned out that the 3D outline of Arran on the orientation table had been placed there by a passing avian.

A well-defined path took us along the plateau above and to the right of the Gogo Water and Ian was soon being praised for his choice of walk. We were being treated to magnificent views, with the Clyde behind and snow-topped hills ahead. It was agreed that these hills would make a fine extended walk when there was more daylight to be had.

However, despite frost on the ground we soon encountered substantial boggy patches which had to be circumnavigated or traversed with care and the praise heaped upon Ian ten minutes earlier was unanimously withdrawn!

We continued heading east towards Rigging Hill and as we approached the hill made our turn to the north passing under its rocky ramparts as we made a beeline towards the Gogo Water. We were heading for a point below the waterfalls.

The descent was steep and over expanses of snow which had the consistency of Christmas cake icing. It soon became clear that the required technique for descending was to dig our heels into the snow. Nine times out of ten the snow yielded but the tenth step was likely to land us on our backsides. Still it was a delightful and speedy descent.

As we approached the Gogo it became clear, not just to Paul, that crossing it wouldn’t be a doddle. The boulders strewn about the river bed were icy and there was a considerable flow of water. The group fragmented with Alan heading upstream a little and crossing without much difficulty. Ian, Peter and Paul headed downstream, and goodness only knows where Rex and Davie were. Soon the three heading downstream were gazing up at the three who had crossed the river and ascended the steep slope on the opposite bank.

Ian, Peter and Paul assessed several potential crossing points and ruled them out and in time found themselves at the remains of a bridge bearing the warning “DANGER DO NOT CROSS” This might have had something to do with the missing 4 feet of bridge in the middle and the precarious angle at which it was perched.

Ian heeded the warning and crossed alongside the bridge. Quite a bit of splashing was involved in his crossing, but he safely reached the opposite bank. Peter and Paul chose to cross the bridge. Being lighter, Peter was sent on ahead and crossed uneventfully, and Paul then followed suit.

Only a sheer grassy slope now stood between the two groups, with Rex, Davie and Alan gathered on the high ground above them like a line of Apaches Indians, or native Americans as they must now be called. At length, we were reunited.

A short walk along a cart track (with Jimmy being absent, the significance of this track must remain a mystery) took us to Greeto Bridge and we stopped for lunch by a deep pool in the Greeto Water, just above the bridge. In summer this would have been an inviting spot for a quick dip but only Holly was tempted to take the plunge …again and again and again. It might have been December but our lunch spot was a suntrap and we were bathed in the gentle warmth of the winter’s sun.

After our relaxed lunch we investigated the waterfall which cut its way through rocks below the bridge. And then we followed the track west towards Largs – enjoying yet more breathtaking views across Largs Bay.

We entered Largs along icy roads which had to be negotiated carefully and passed Largs Academy before entering the town centre and discussing the events of 1995 when a train came to rest in the street outside the station.

This was an excellent walk, opening up a new area for most of us.

Refreshments were taken once more in McCabe’s Bar.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

3 December Cumbrae 4 - Gladestane revisited

If it's thinkin' in yer inner hert braggarts in my step,
You've never smellt the tangle o' the isles

OK! when Harry Lauder penned these words, he was thinking of the Hebrides. But, the sentiment could apply to any group of islands. There is a fascination about islands, even those as close to 'civilisation' as those of the Clyde. In the few years of the Ooters existence, we have visited them on numerous occasions: Arran four times, Cumbrae three, Bute two and even Ailsa Craig has had a visit.
This attraction was understandable on a day like this when the sky was blue, frost whitened the ground and snow lay above the thousand contour. The Alp-like peaks of Arran looked particularly grand, so grand in fact that the photographer cheil from Alloway and his apprentice from Troon stopped on the way to Largs for a photo-shoot. They still arrived in time for coffee. We met them there.
We gathered in Largs to make a short ferry crossing for we were for Cumbrae once more. The route taken on the island requires no description for we have walked it before. It is sufficient to say that it was to be a circuit of the island taking in the Gladestane today for we suspected superb views from the heights. We were not to be disappointed.
Frost still rimed the grasses where the sun hadn't reached it even in the salty air of the coast and, as we climbed towards the Gladestane ice spilled across the road. On one of these icy patches, the waste disposal vehicle (bucket lorry) was stuck while a tractor laden with salt-grit tried to rescue it. We might have offered our services but we didn't want to spoil the fun of those already there. We walked on. Near the top of the hill, the lorry and tractor passed us with cheery waves from the crews.
The cackling of geese took our attention and a large flock (300+) feeding two fields away were identified as Pink-footed by the man who seems to know. The cackling apparently is a good indicator. But we left the geese to their noisy feeding and climbed yet.
All the time we had been climbing, the views east and north had been opening up for us. The Renfrew Heights above Largs were white with last week's snow, as were the hills of Argyll and Cowal. They all looked inviting. Yet this north-eastward view was nothing to what greeted us on the top for now we could look in a three-sixty degree compass. Arran lay directly in front, magnificent in its winter manly: beyond Arran the lower hills of Knapdale glistened mint-green under the frost: Bute similarly, with Mount Stuart being pointed out: the northern hills, as far as the eye could see, gleamed white in the sun with the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond being identified: east and southeast, the hills of Ayrshire and Galloway shone slightly less white but inviting nevertheless. Even Ailsa Craig in the south donned a white cap today. Absolutely magnificent. 'Whaur's yer Canigu, noo?' someone was heard to ask and, yes, today's views were comparable with Mosset. We spent time at the Gladestane.
View-wise, the rest of the walk was an anticlimax for we were now returning to sea level. The hills did remain in view but, from the low angle, they didn't have the same appeal. Interest was found in other things, though. We came down through the farm of Breakough. This was a mill at one time and Davie had us all in the yard looking at where the mill wheel used to be. ‘It’s some size’, said Ian. We hope he was referring to the mill wheel and not boasting again.
Further architectural interest was engendered when we came into Millport and along the front of the Garrison building. We noted, from closer distance than before, the original architectural features and the sympathetic restoration of the building. Peter was impressed.
We wandered through the town, along the shore and out to Davie’s favourite seat for lunch. (Who says the Ooters are creatures of habit?) A car was parked at the picnic area. Inside were two middle-aged women. Half way through our peece, one of the women leaned out of the drivers door, raised a flask above her head and shouted something about Last of the Summer Wine. She then disappeared back into the car and the two drove off. We never did find out what was in that flask.
We now had only four miles or so to walk and an hour and a half to do it in so it would be leisurely walk back. Well, for Peter and Ian it was to be a leisurely walk back. The rest shot off at a fair rate of knots. The fast groups suggested Peter and Ian would be too busy blethering to put one foot in front of the other. They, on the other hand, thought the fast group already had the smell of ale in their nostrils and had started a stampede. We were to be at the ferry terminal before the two groups came together again.
The fast group included the birders and they were at it now. Ducks and ducks and more ducks. Then geese, the same gaggle as we had seen earlier. Then some wee things prancing about in the water. Then more ducks.* They were enthralled and started ornithologising. Yet Rex never let the conversation get too serious. He certainly was on good form today.
The lifebelt was found by Rex. We suspected it might have been removed from the ferry terminal by some scallywag or other who found it too heavy to carry round the island. We offered to help Rex carry it back but, being a tough Aussie, he declined our offer. (That’s our story and we are sticking to it.) He carried it back himself, all the way to the terminal.
We just missed the two o’clock ferry and had a few minutes to wait for the next one. Then Peter and Ian joined us.

FRT was administered in our Largs local today.

* Note from the birders: Eider, Mallard, Widgeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Pink-footed goose, feral goose, Cormorant, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Stonechat, Robin, Redwing, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit were all seen at different times today.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Re added info

Thanks for the addtitions, Paul. It was touching to note your concern for the injured. Feel free to add other bits to the script - I will just ignore them when copying.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Greenock Cut

In defence of the Greenock Cut which won worst walk award here it is yesterday in all its glory.

Lack of pictures

Appologies for the lack of pictures in the Mosset post. The stupid thing let me insert some pictures then wouldn't let me add any more. I will get round to adding more pictures when it has come out of its dourles.

13 - 20 November Mosset Visit

Davie, Robert and the rest have prevailed upon the writer to scribble a few words of description of the Mosset trip this year. This is not such an easy task for an abundance of good food, convivial company and more than a little red wine has dulled the memory of the scribe to the extent that many things will be left out of his report. (The sigh of relief as you read this is nearly audible in Cumnock). If you feel you can add to the tale, feel free.
Good food there was in plenty thanks to our blue ribbon chefs. Johnny's soup, Rex's chicken with pesto and Robert's sausages provided sustenance for seven hungry walkers. Alan's pork and bean casserole will long be remembered for quantity as well as quality. We certainly did not starve, as the bathroom scales will testify.
Compliments must also go to the dishwashers, those unsung heroes of the kitchen, who ensured that the cooks had clean utensils with which to work and clean crockery on which to serve. We feel sure their wrinkly, waterlogged hands will recover in time.
As usual, the company was good. The conversation was the usual mix of deep philosophical debate interspersed with witty banter, each taking his turn to be the butt of some comment or other. Rex shall forever be called Bluey.
A recurring theme of the banter was Jimmy’s snoring. To be fair to him, he had a throat infection and couldn’t breathe properly. But this didn’t help a light sleeper like Davie, who by the second night of sleep deprivation wandered about in a zombie-like state mumbling things about snorting and grunting. Eventually, he took to sleeping in the cellar. Both he and Jimmy got a decent night’s sleep after that for there was nobody to wake Jimmy to tell him he was snoring. It didn’t stop the comments though.
Yet, neither Jimmy’s sore throat nor Davie’s lack of sleep prevented them from walking, which was the main purpose of the visit.
The scribbler will now attempt to describe what can be remembered of the walks.

1 Friday 14th Molitg les Bains to Les Plains
A thrilling visit to SuperU (Oh, joy unconfined!) to stock up on supplies took up the morning. The cooks obviously took to heart Napoleon's adage that an army marches on its stomach and proceeded to buy up the stock of the supermarket. Sufficient supplies were laid in to survive a prolonged siege, including a ten litre box of vin rouge. Though why we needed so many tomatoes is beyond the comprehension of us mere dishwashers.
By the rime we unpacked and stored all the provisions it was lunchtime and we settled down for the first of a series of excellent meals. After lunch, we were left with only a few hours of afternoon daylight for our walk. So, it was to be a short stroll today.
Our transport (Two Ford Focuses hired from Girona airport) took us down the valley to Molitg les Bains and up to the old village that Robert called ‘High’ Molitg where we parked in a small car park. A walk through the village, snapping pictures as we went, took us out into pastures that were still dry from the summer, on a path that slanted gently upwards. This gave us great views over the village and the gorge of the Castellane but these vanished as the path slanted into a wood of birch and scrub oak.
The colour of the wood was superb; reds, oranges, yellows, browns and still some greens provided an enchanting part of the walk. And the trees gave shade from the sun that shone through the colours and dappled the woodland floor. Cameras were used frequently. (Cameras were always to be ‘used frequently’ as the week progressed. It will be interesting to see six sets of the same pictures [Davie didn’t have a camera] when they are shown later.)
Then the wood gave way to open hillside and we found ourselves on the high hill pasture known as Les Plains. We were now high above the valley of la Tet, looking over Prades to the snow-capped peaks of Le massif du Canigou. Magnificent! We spent some time following the path over Les Plains, looking down on the Tet valley and Prades, and trying to catch the scene with the cameras. (Told you!) Then the path dropped and we found ourselves back in the scrubby wood.
A few hundred metres of sun dappled wood saw us back onto the lower pastures and back to the village.
A short walk but a superb introduction to the week.

2 Saturday 15 The high pasture of the Pic del Roussillou
This is a walk we have done twice before and twice we’ve lost the way. We felt that we should do it again until we get it right and felt confident that this was the year. Anyway, it’s a super walk and worth doing as many times as we fancy. Bluey made the sandwiches and we set off walking from Mosset.
It looked like we had lost the start of the walk when we climbed through what seemed like gardens. Yet, the path continued to climb through these and in the right direction, so we climbed with it. We found a broader path that we recognised from last year and were now confident in our direction. This path was still narrow and we were reduced to single file as we climbed through the scrubby vegetation high above Mosset with superb views of the Castellanne and Tet valleys. Johnny complimented Jimmyfor setting a good pace at the front as the path climbed through the scrub of the hillside and into a wood of birch and oak.
This wood was a pleasure. The yellowing leaves still hung on the trees and cast a warm glow to the dappled shade. We came to the point of Robert’s famous painting of the Ooters’ first visit where time was spent while we recreated, and again and again recreated, the image for the camera boys. At last, they were satisfied and we moved on.
The wood gave way to open pasture with stunted shrubbery. On a grassy area, where the wild colchicums opened their flowers to the late autumn sun, we sat down for coffee. It was to be a long coffee break for we were sheltered from the cold wind that blew off the snow of the mountains and we had a magnificent view before us. We lazed and took our time about lazing.
After coffee, we wandered up the, now gentle, grassy slope completely confident in our direction for we had come this way before. A path was found and followed. After a bit, though, this path appeared to go away from where we wanted to be, and it began to drop. Jimmy went out as scout and confirmed the path was heading down towards Eus. We were lost again. Did we panic? Did we heck. We retraced our steps and found a marker indicating a path through the shrubbery. This was our path and we were now confident in our direction. (The scribbler has lost count of the number of times we have been confident in our direction today.)
This certainly was our path and it took us alongside a shallow valley to the old ruin we reached on our last visit. We knew where we were going now. We were confident. The path we followed past the ruin began to drop away from where we wanted to be and we were no longer confident. This time Davie confirmed that we were lost again. We retraced our steps. Once again, the real path was found hidden in the scrubby vegetation. This certainly was our path for we could now see the ‘road’ in front of us, and the path joining it.
Robert, being Robert, took the high path for he thought it might cut a corner. We, being we, followed him. The path disappeared again and we found ourselves climbing through the scrub. Again! This is the third year we have done this on this walk and we are getting to know the buckthorn and juniper and brambles quite well now and, as Davie pointed out, at least this year we had long-legged trousers on. However, by stumbling through scrub and climbing a grassy slope, we found the ‘road’ crossing the high pastures.
We were now on top of the broad ridge close to the top of the Pic del Roussillou and the views were splendid in almost all directions. To the west and south the vista was as it had been all day but now the landscape opened to the east as well and gave great views down the valley of the Tet to the coast at Perpignan.
The cold wind could be felt now for there was nothing between us and the snow-covered high peaks it blew over. Lunch was calling but we had to find shelter from the biting wind. When we found a stone-built hut, the troglodytes amongst us climbed into it for lunch. The surface dwellers preferred to find the shelter of a crag with views to the open air. We dined in two separate groups some hundred metres apart.
The peece-maker was complimented for the quality of his work. We think we will let him make the peeces again.
After the peece, we continued to follow the road over the Pic del Roussillou, striding out through the scrub and high pasture to keep the heat against the cool wind. The views were superb with the snow-capped peaks to the north, west and south and the sea some thirty kilometres away in the east. And all under a clear blue sky. This was a thoroughly enjoyable part of the walk.
Then the road dropped into a valley and we lost the wind. We halted and lay in the sun for a while soaking up the warming rays. Occasions for doing this have been few this year so we enjoyed every minute of it. And we lay and we lay. Eventually, forcing ourselves to action, we moved on.
We followed the road down into the scrub and woodland of the main valley. Davie’s knee complained on the down slope so, taking pity on the soul, it was a slow, easy descent that was made to the village via the television mast. We hoped his knee would recover for the morning for Robert had plans.
Another thoroughly enjoyable walk but the feeling was that we aught to do it again until we get it right. Right?

3 Sunday 16 Snow at La Coumasse
Robert knew the very place for an easy two hour walk today. It was an hour’s drive away but it was an easy walk in splendid mountain scenery. In summer a bus takes you from the lower car park to the hotel at le Lac de Bouillouses but Robert felt sure we would be able to drive up to the hotel car park and have an easy, two hour walk. Who were we to argue with one who knows these things?
The peece-maker did his thing with baguette, pate, cheese and tomato and we set off. An hour later we parked in the lower car park for there was a barrier across the hotel road.
Snow and ice lay at the side of the car park yet the sun was warm and the sky was blue. No wind could be felt today for we were on the south side of the mountain and it was a perfect day for a short walk. But did we get our short walk? Did we heck. We had the four kilometres of icy tarmac to negotiate before we started our walk.
The road climbed but the walking was easy and the pace brisk. Too brisk for Jimmy who fell back. Then he was joined by Alan and Davie. The four kilometres were covered in two groups, the fast to the front and the three to the rear. We came together at the bus shelter at the hotel for coffee.
Robert was right about the scenery. When we left the shelter and came to the top of a dam, there was a winter wonderland of snow covered peaks, olive-green tree-clad lower slopes, blue sky and the deep blue water of le Lac de Bouillouses. Cameras clicked and many photos were taken. (The scribbler wonders if they will all be the same or will somebody have something unique?)
Now we were able to start our short walk. We found a path through the trees and followed it upward. Even in the forest, the snow covered the path and made it difficult to find in places. Then, as the path rose higher and the trees thinned out, the path was lost under a deep covering of snow. Sometimes new snow lay over old, frozen stuff and the walking was good. Sometimes we came into fresh, powdery snow and sunk to the knee or deeper. This was hard going and sapped the energy. Yet, we had faith in the leader to get us to our destination. He followed the footprints that went before us. And we followed him.
Get us there he did. The slope eased into what we would describe a large corrie in the Pic Carlet. And in the corrie was a lake, a frozen lake, La Coumasse, surrounded by snow-covered peaks and ridges, hollows and hillocks and evergreen conifers - a perfect Christmas card scene.
Robert remembered a refuge somewhere around here and we went in search of it. It was not at the lakeside as he suspected so we retraced the footprints through the knee-deep powdery deep snow. It was found further round the lake and we stopped inside for lunch.
Our compliments to Bluey for le baguette.
We were now approximately a third of the way round the lake walk and time was wearing on. Knowing that we had the road to walk down, and inclined to the side of caution, we decided to cut the walk short and return by the way we had come. It had already been a great day so why spoils it by making life difficult for ourselves?
After lunch, we set off back the way we had come. Well, we would have gone back the way we had come but the snow-shoe tracks we were following decided to return by a different way. When these tracks left the main path we couldn’t say for we were well down by the time we realised that they had. Still we followed them. They took us down into a burn valley and some really deep snow. We stumbled and slid through this stuff until the tracks took us onto the open hillside and we realised where we were.
A flag-pole near the hotel showed us that it was now a relatively easy slope back up to the dam we had crossed earlier. We didn’t spend any time at the dam for the wind could be felt again, a strong wind and cold. We walked across the dam and took the road down the valley.
A steady amble for some and a sprint for others took us back down the four kilometres of road to the cars.
We were happy with our short walk today, especially as Robert said the walk with the village tomorrow would be long. We believed him.

4 Monday 17 Spain - El Convento de San Quirze de Colera
The Mosset village walking group were going out today and Robert thought it a good idea if we went with them. They were for an area around Collioure and an early start was to be made so, at five to eight, we met them in the village, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Even Davie had lost his Zombie-like demeanour after a good night's sleep in his cellar.
This was Monday, the shop had no bread. Neither had we. Neither had the villagers. No matter, for we could stop on the way and get bread if we took the fillings with us. We left sometime after eight, after some discussion about where to stop for bread and whether the wind would be too strong for it was blowing stronger this morning than it had done since we arrived. We stopped in Marquixanes. The bread shop was shut. We motored on.
A stop was made above Collioure to meet with others and to discus the weather. It was felt that the wind would be too strong for the high-level walk planned so an alternative was chosen. But first we needed bread and headed for the supermarket in Collioure. Oh, bliss!
Another drive took us over the Col de Banyuls into Spain. We stooped on a high grassy plain near an abandoned hacienda. It was now eleven o’clock and, three hours after meeting in Mosset, we started walking. We took to a dirt road through the pasture and up into the scrubby heather.
With one exception, we were to keep to this road for the day. It took us up the side of the valley heading for a high col and, as it did so, it took us in to the wind. The one exception to the road came twenty minutes into the walk. We left the road and followed a well worn path to a holy spring. We were told that nobody knows how the water comes to this spring, but we could see the pipe leading into it from the back. The sceptics amongst us voiced their opinion.
We waited at the spring for everybody to gather and then continued the climb back to the road - we had just cut a corner of it. It climbed yet and brought us onto the col and into the full strength of the wind. A correct decision was made to abandon the high ridge walk planned for even at this comparatively low point we could barely stand against the wind. We sat down in what shelter could be found and waited for the slow again.
High on our right was a man with a rifle, a hunter. More of them could be seen spaced out down the valley side on the left. We were told that wild boar was the prey for these hills abounded with the beasts. Yet, for all the time we were in the area, we never heard a shot. Lucky pigs, today. Still, we were advised to keep to the road in case somebody got trigger-happy or mistook us for pigs.
From high on the valley side, we could see the monastery of St Quirze nestling in the hollow but we had a fair distance to go yet, according to our guide. It wasn’t so long for us though, and twenty minutes later, we were finding a windless spot behind the monastery wall for lunch. The peece-maker did us proud with his usual selection of baguette fillings. (It now became clear to the dishwashers why there was need for all those tomatoes.) We dined well again.
Yes, we dined well but not, it would appear, as well as our French friends who continued to eat well after we were finished. We left them to enjoy their long French lunch and started back up the road towards the col.
Back at the col, the hunters had given up. But not so the wind. If anything this had strengthened to a severe gale and we shuddered to think what it might have been like on the high ridge that was the planned walk of the day. Or, perhaps the shuddering was against the blustering wind, which threatened to blow us off the hill and back down to the monastery. It was fierce in the face but we leant into it and drove forward off the top of the col.
Yet, we made it from the col back to the relative calm of the scrubby hillside and down to the cars, barely half an hour away.
The day was yet young and a visit to Collioure was proposed, just to let Paul see the place. The proposal was accepted unanimously for this is a bonnie part of the world and a visit here is welcome at any time. We wandered around the old town and out to the breakwater. Waves, driven by the wind, crashed against the rocks throwing white spray into the air against the blue of the sea and sky. Cameras were in overdrive trying to catch the action. But, the sun was dropping, casting long shadows and the visit only lasted an hour or so before we had to climb back into the cars and head for home.
We must be getting fitter for today’s long walk didn’t seem nearly as long as yesterday’s short one.
5 Tuesday 18 Market, log cutting and a sair back
(followed by an afternoon walk)
Tuesday in Prades is market day. Those with inclinations towards such things decided this was a 'must visit' while those with more sense opted to stay at home and split logs for the fire.
The market was its usual mix of cheese stalls, meat stalls, clothes stalls and folk selling cheap tools. But the free food samples went down well with our gourmets. Alan looked for the woman with the big melons but she wasn't there so he had to content himself with preparing a different starter for the evening meal. Rex bought the 'doughsticks' - sugar-coated, deep-fried doughnut mix in sticks. He bought another other bag for those left at home. An hour or so of wandering around was enough for some and the market group returned home.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jimmy, Johnny and Robert had reduced the two cubic metres of tree trunks to fire sized logs and were content with a job well done. With only the last one or two left to split, the worn disc in Jimmy's back slipped. OOOOOOhh! Ya B*******! Jimmy was reduced to a posture resembling a half shut knife for the rest of the stay. The poor soul had to take it easy so went and sat down on the balcony where he could gaffer the others.
The market group arrived as the sweeping up was being done.
The peece-maker was excused today for we were lunching in the house before an afternoon walk. Yet, his expertise was needed when it came to laying out the baguette fillings. We almost forgot the tomatoes!

Six of us took the walk in the afternoon leaving Jimmy prone in front of the fire. The survivors followed the watercourse from Mosset to Molitg, a walk which afforded some fine glimpses of wildlife - deer were spotted and there was an abundance of jays to be seen. After some nimble criss-crossing of the water we entered Molitg.

We had the choice of a sunny or a shady route down to Molitg-les-Bains, and in keeping with our collective nature we chose the sunny one. Davie and Paul stopped to look at the menu outside the Chateau de Riell, and at 25 euros for a plate of soup decided it wasn't for them. Having stopped they were, of course, all alone. On reaching the main road there was no sign of the others. They chose to turn left ('right' in Rex's case) but soon realised that they were on a false trail. Returning to Molitg-les-Bains the rest of the group were found in the tourist information centre, chatting up the attractive assistant and pretending to be interested in her brochures.

Down they all went to the river in the attractive grounds of the spa and then on to the only climb of the day, to the ruins commanding a fine panoramic view of the area. Having rested and surveyed the scene we headed down to Campome.

At this point Davie chose to walk back to Mosset whilst the rest walked on to the car which had been strategically placed for the return. As we overtook Davie in the car, all windows were wound down and words of encouragement were called out to him.

He must have misheard us since, on his return, he muttered something about the disgraceful behaviour of so-called professional gentlemen.

Oh yes, and Jimmy was still prone in front of the fire when we returned. He was promptly moved out of the way so that we could all get a heat. (Paul)

6 Wednesday 19 The Touristy Bit
Rex was called upon to act as peece-maker again this morning for we were to have another away day. But, unlike the rest of the week, this was to be a touristy day with a short afternoon walk.
We drove to the medieval walled city of Villefranche de Conflent, for a walk around the ancient streets. Though this is our third visit here, it was new territory to Paul. He shared our interest in the place, popping off photos as we walked round. Well, most of us walked round. Jimmy sort of shuffled, doing a fair impression of somebody who has just gone three rounds with Mike Tyson. At least he was with us.
The touristy bit at Villefranche lasted no more than an hour. We returned to our transport and turned southward up a minor valley to the small village of Casteil. We had talked often about l’Abbeye de St Martin du Canigu and now it was time to take Paul to see it for himself. Jimmy remained in the village, the three hundred metres of altitude proving too much for his back, while the rest of us climbed up the steep road towards the monastery. (At this point, the scribe must ask for a description from one who went up the hill, Paul.)

It was steep. Do you want more? - Paul

Well just a little bit more then. It's a long hard slog up to the Abbaye from Casteil - but gluttons for punishment as we were we made a detour to scramble up rocks which afforded a fine view down the valley to Vernet-les-Bains and beyond.

The next excuse for a breather was the unknown beast in the woods. It seemed completely unperturbed by us as we took copious photographs of the creature.

At last we dragged ourselves up to the Abbaye, but if Paul the novice had thought that this was to be the end of the climbing he was soon to discover his mistake. Onward and upward we went - but it was well worth it.

Was there ever such a fine spot for lunch? The view looking down on to the Abbaye surrounded by mountains in all directions really was worth the climb! As we looked down on the Abbaye we could see monks scurrying about the cloisters - naturally, comments were made about the cleanliness of their habits.

We descended on the opposite side of the Abbaye - a much rougher track over boulders and streams which had to be tackled with caution. But we made it! Then we hurried at full speed along the road, concerned as we were for Jimmy.

(OK I made up the last bit.)

Jimmy stayed low and contented himself with a shuffle round the village. When we returned from l’Abbeye, we found him perched on a boulder in the car park finishing his lunch. Yet, even he, who knows this kind of thing, was unable to identify the beast. (We were to be back at the house before somebody found a picture of it in a brochure. It was an Izard (aka Pyrenean chamois (Paul)).
Back together again, and the day being yet young, it was decided to hold the final part of the Mosset Championship, les boules, with much protestation from the injured Jimmy who was defending the title. However, the game was played in Molitg. Johnny triumphed when Alan, with a superb take-out shot on the last end, knocked Robert's lying shot out of the rink, but also knocked the jack over to Johnny's ball to give him the championship. Jimmy hopes he will keep the trophy clean for him for the next time.
By the time the boules was finished the afternoon was wearing on and we made our way home.

7 Thursday 20 The great clean-up and homeward bound
The last day of the trip saw the usual flurry of activity on the cleaning front with beds stripped and washed, floors swept ad washed dishes stacked where they should be and the house generally tidied up.
We are becoming so skilled at this clean up now that the whole job took less time than we ettled and we had time to idle away. Some went for a walk through the village and some lazed in the house. It was a long wait. Eventually somebody suggested we move to the airport and this is what we did. Homeward bound, sad to be leaving Mosset for another year.

Overall, the holiday was a great success once again. Old ground was re-tramped and new ground discovered by most. The highlight for most was the walk in the snow. For Rex the great thing was not having to put the toilet seat down. For Davie it was a good night's sleep. But, for all it was another thoroughly great experience.
How did our supplies hold out? Well, the boys were in the shop nearly every day and at least one more visit was made to Super U. The ten-litre box of wine died on us early in the week. Son of ten-litre did likewise and grandson of ten-litre was showing signs of failing towards the end of our stay. We suspect evaporation in the dry mountain air.

Our thanks must go to Robert who not only provided the accommodation, but also booked the flights. Well done Robert and many thanks

Thursday, 4 December 2008

3D Route - Cumbrae

Distance 16.1 km

26 November - Girvan

Oh the sky it wis dourlike and dreepin’ a wee,
When Private McPhun gruppit Private McPhee.
Oh the glaur it wis fylin’ and crieshin’ the grun’,
When Private McPhee guidit Private McPhun.

The Haggis of Private McPhee – Robert Service

Girvan Glaur

Seven Early Ooters (absentees: Jimmy, Peter, Rex) assembled just south of Girvan for what your correspondent had assumed would be a walk along part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path. A reasonable assumption one would have thought, given that this had been the walk agreed upon somewhere in France (or was it Spain?), the previous week. No need for a map no need for a GPS he thought.

How wrong can you be?

Instead of the Coastal Path we were to head inland to do the Pinmore Walk. Rex (the other GPS aficionado), who appeared to be the instigator of this change of plan, had been laid low by the Ryanair lurgy and he, his GPS and most regrettably of all his ANZAC biscuits were all conspicuous by their absence.

Still, Alan had a map.

The ascent out of Girvan was an unpleasant trudge through glutinous glaur masquerading as a farm track. As the climb levelled out the route became less clear with various tracks shooting off in different directions. Fortunately a few marker posts showed the way. After several of the group had studied the first marker and then moved off, Johnny called them back to tell them they were going in the wrong direction. How did he know? Well, they weren’t going in the direction the arrow was pointing.

What a cunningly simple device when it’s explained to you by a mathematician!

However, the markers soon petered out and we were faced with a bewildering choice of routes. Alan’s map had limited use since there was no scale shown or to be bluntly honest anything else of much use apart from a nice picture of a motor car and a cup of tea. We really didn’t know where we were.

We opted to ignore the route downhill towards a road, which was unfortunate since it turned out to have been the correct way. Eventually it dawned on us that instead of being on our 17 km circuit we were on a short 7 km granny walk.

Not everyone in the party appeared disappointed by this revelation.

As we made our descent back towards Girvan, and the prospect of a record early finishing time we discussed the possibility of extending the walk to take in Byne Hill, which stood invitingly to the left of our route.

We were all aware of the inhospitable nature of the present occupants of Byne Farm which stands sentry over the traditional starting point of the ascent, but armed with our trusty shield of righteousness (© Jonathan Aitken) we resolved that if we were challenged we would simply invoke our inalienable Right to Roam. However, as we passed the farm buildings we were harangued by a hairy harridan who let it be known we were not welcome ….. so we beat a hasty retreat, trailing our shield of righteousness behind us.

The harpy had suggested an alternative route and we decided to follow this. But first lunch, which was taken in the Elysian Fields of Girvan.

Setting off again, we spotted in a field a most appropriately-named farm vehicle. Here's a photo from the company website:

It turned out that the diversion wasn’t quite as the scold had described and we were obliged to walk 100 yards down the main road before following a new track which rose steeply up the Byne Hill to a small quarry. On the way we passed three contented pigs scrabbling about in a muddy field - sae cantie as a sou amang glaur - and this gave rise to a discussion about the film featuring a pig being secretly fattened up for Christmas in wartime Britain. Its title evaded everyone, but your correspondent can exclusively reveal that the film was ‘A Private Function’ starring Michael Palin and Maggie Smith.

Once past the quarry we were on to the open hillside where we stopped to look at a badly-weathered obelisk erected in memory of one Major A C B Craufuird who participated in the capture of the Cape of Good Hope. At 700 feet, the summit of Byne Hill was reached and this afforded fine views in all directions – we could see the Three Towns to the north, whilst to the south David pointed out the Lake District hills and Paul identified Skiddaw and Blencathra amongst them. As the hills drifted east, David and Paul became slightly less confident in the reliability of their pronouncements.

We descended along the shoulder of the hill - this involved a little scrambling - and were soon frighteningly close to Byne Farm again. However, at the last moment we veered sharply left into yet another field of mud and then into a yard which would have delighted the absent Peter – full of stone troughs, chimney pots, red telephone boxes and something that looked like a bell but, according to Robert, wasn’t one. Oddest of all were the trees sprouting satellite dishes – dozens of them. But all was explained when we saw the static caravan park below.

And that was the walk, apart from a half mile amble along the side of the A77 to the cars. All in all an enjoyable and varied walk, despite the muck and the crone.

Refreshments were consumed at the Harbour Bar in Girvan. A welcoming hostelry and a distinct improvement upon the Pish Bar.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

3D Route - Girvan

I thought I had better get this one done before I forget, given the complexity of the route.

Distance 11.7 km

3D Route - Catrine

Distance 10.0 km

The Oofta Awards 2008

The Oofta Awards 2008

The Oofta Awards for 2008 as decided by the 'Committee'.

Best walk of 2008 ..................................Arran - The Western Hills, 4 June

Worst walk of 2008 ...............................The Greenock Cut

Best pub of 2008....................................The Loch Doon, Dalmellington

Worst pub of 2008.................................The Fish, Girvan

Best photo of the year............................Jimmy - Two Ooters having a great time on Blacksidend

Most Abstract Photo Johnny - A break in France, 7 May

Legs of the year................................... Robert - for red and white gaiters, 26 March

Most stylish burn crossing............ Paul - for Lowther Hills, 16 Jan and for maintaining his standard

Bore of the year................................. Jimmy and Davie - for birds and Johnny - for computers (Awarded Jointly)

Best sense of direction........................ Davie - for Return to the Western Hills of Arran, 8 October

Fashion statement of the year........... Peter - Luminous yellow jacket

Fastest Ooter of the year.................... Rex - for many outings

Loudest Ooter....................................... Johnny

The William McGonagall Prize for poetry................ Jimmy

Best newcomer....................................... Allan

Quip of the year.................................... Robert, when observing the shepherd at Garryhorn having problems with his collies 'Ye'll no' be doing One Man And His Dog this year, then?'

Most Welcoming Local........................ The woman at Portincross who welcomed Holly into her field most warmly

Biggest lunchbox of the year................. Ian, for many occasions

The Profane Bastard Award of 2008.... Johnny, for consistently high standard of swearsmanship

12 November Catrine to the Haugh

The carrot cake that Peter promised us on the last outing was the temptation to gather at his house for a short local walk before leaving for Mosset. Six of us plus Peter himself got stuck into the cake and very much appreciated it.
Peter had plans. Davie suggested a short walk but Peter still had plans. We thought we were heading for Sorn especially when we took a route by the voes. The voes looked continental today and the photographer was busy with the camera. Wee look forward to seeing the pictures. We still thought we were heading for Sorn when we turned up the river. No Salmon leapt the weir and no heron fished the calmer waters of the dam so we walked on, still heading upstream toward Sorn.
Peter's plans didn't include a walk up the river to Sorn, though. At the entrance to Daldorch School, we turned away from the river and came up through the school to the Sorn road. We turned right. We weren't for Sorn at all.
We came into the scheme. The scheme in Catrine is typical of our council housing schemes today - nice properties beside rundown ones, neglected gardens and boarded-up houses. This is another sad comment on our society. (Hey, you grumpy auld so-and-so, get on with describing the walk!)
Peter showed us the field where he was born. All right, it was an open space where the house once stood but we prefer to think Peter was born in a field. Johnny suggested that the house was demolished because that's what they do when a heinous crime is committed there. Peter was not amused.
A path brought us down to the Institute and back to the River Ayr Way. The rest of the walk is so familiar that it requires little in the way of description. We were to follow the river to the Haugh. The newcomers found this an interesting section of the walk and the usual landmarks were pointed out. Howford’s bridges elicited the same reaction from the newcomers as they have done on many occasions from the rest of us; the sandstone overhang high above the river was ventured on to by some though the sensible kept to firmer footing; the cup and ring markings were examined and debate ensued over their authenticity; the Fisher’s Tryst was visited; Ballochmyle's big brig was examined and it's statistics were quoted. This was an education for the newcomers.
The only change to the usual route came at the viaduct. We would normally take the high path but Jimmy fancied taking the low path for it is a long time since he had been this way and many in the company hadn’t been at all. Therefore, the low path was taken. This brought us to the side of the river.
There came a point on the route where the sandstone cliff came right to the river’s edge and the only way forward was by a narrow ledge four feet above the level of the water. This looked green and slippery. Though Peter and Jimmy strode on like heroes before us, it was with some apprehension that most ventured on to the ledge and it was only by careful scrambling and not a little trepidation that got us across it, though the stalwart pair saw no problem.
Once on the more secure ground, it was an easy walk to the top of the valley and Kingencluech. Peecetime was called in a wee stand of mature conifers by the side of the main road and we took our time over this reflecting on the scenery of the gorge.
After the peece, we found ourselves back at Howford. A band of ramblers was seated along the bridge having lunch. Our blether stopped to talk to them. There were twelve women and three men, all of our age or older, from ‘The Three Toons’. They had walked from Mauchline to Catrine and down the river. After lunch, they were to walk down the river to the Haugh and back to Mauchline. We left them to enjoy their lunch and walked on.
Peter had us up the brae to see the new cafe before dropping us back into the river valley where we retraced our steps upriver to Catrine.
The Royal Bar provided FRT today.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

3D routes - Scaur Valley and Portencross

Scaur Valley (Distance 14.5 km, 9.1 miles )

Portencross (Distance 11.4 km, 7.1 miles)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

5 November Portencross Circular - Lap 2

The spell of frosty nights and sunny days broke today and left us with one of these ‘no weather’ type of days - no wind, no rain, no sun, no heat, no cold, just no weather. No complaints from us though for it was dry and reasonably mild for the time of year and a perfect day for a walk by the sea.
Seven Ooters - Alan, Allan, Davie, Ian, Jimmy, Paul and Peter - gathered at Johnny’s to enjoy his usual hospitality before the eight of us headed off to the car park at Portincross.
Even in the car park, the twitchers were at it, binoculars scanning the sea. What did they see? They saw the sea for very little was moving on it this morning. So, we set off on the walk.
Two hundred metres later, we stopped to view the ruins of Portincross Castle. The present castle dates from the reign of Robert the second in mid fourteenth century though there appears to have been an earlier structure there. Today it is weatherworn but still substantial. They certainly knew how to build things back then. No baked clay brick or reinforced concrete here, just locally quarried red sandstone held together by shell mortar. Peter enthused over this stonework; particularly the blue-grey cornerstones. We were all suitably impressed.
Back on the path, we turned ourselves northward but stopped again within a few yards. A lobster creel hung over a fence and in the lobster creel was a tabby cat. Not that it was trapped there for there was an opening at the back through which it could come and go, but it obviously thought this a good place to relax. It was recalled that the creels at Ballantrae (September 17) had been bated with sparrows but we felt that baiting them with cats is just too much. We left Pussie to her slumbers and walked on.
The group split into two along the raised beach. The birders formed the slower and those who stood a hundred metres along the path and waited patiently for them, the faster. Paul, who has joined the ranks of the twitchers, was delighted when a Red-breasted Merganser was spotted but most of us think the birders just make up these names. It was just another duck.
When we reached the power station at Hunterston, we thought that the birders might give up. No chance! Even on the tarmac, they had binoculars trained into a wet field. We think the non-birders showed remarkable patience today; especially when they spotted a bird and the noise from the approaching aviphiles frightened it away. ‘It was only a stonechat anyway’ was their superior comment.
We took the estate road by Hunterston Castle. The autumn colour was still on the trees despite the efforts of the wind and this part of the walk was a delight. Paul, Jimmy and Ian halted at the castle to read the Latin inscription on the clock there. Paul translated this as ‘I number the quick hours’ but Jimmy’s colloquial translation ‘It’s later than ye think’ might be more to the point.
By the time the trio had translated or mistranslated the Latin, the rest of us were two hundred metres in front. Shouts from the rear for coffee brought us to a halt and coffee was taken on the same bank by the side of the road that we had taken it the last time. We suspect Davie might have leanings towards the Closed Brethren for, while the rest of us sat together for coffee, he took his on the opposite side of the road. Maybe it was our aftershave.
Coffee finished, we set off along the road again. We passed a field with a large flock of curlew feeding in it. ‘Whaups’, Jimmy called them though Peter remains convinced they were curlews.
Holly caused a stushie when she left the road and went through an open fence into the field, as far as we could see an empty field. A wee wummin at the far side of this field started shouting the odds - something about breaking the law, sheep molesting (steady, Davie) and chickens. Her aggressive attitude prompted Davie into a suitable response, which raised the harridan’s blood pressure even higher. The wee man at her side said nothing, wise wee soul. We left her shouting about chickens and continued along the road. We reckon that her noise disturbed her chickens more than Holly ever would.
The rest of the walk was uneventful. We passed the new house that’s still not finished and turned right on the Portincross road. Signs along this road indicated footpaths to the shore and it was suggested we might go down to the shore. Davie told us it would be hard going over the slippery rocks down there so we kept to the road and came back to the car park that way.
A shorter walk than of late but an interesting one in many ways, not least the woman with the chickens.
The Merrick in Seamill provided FRT today.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A history lesson for Davie (and others who might be interested)

For those who are interested in such things, here is a little history gleaned from original source material in the National Archive and the Dumfries and Galloway Archive.

The Muirkirk to Sanquhar road was constructed from scratch as part of the Rutherglen to Sanquhar Turnpike. There was no road here before it was made. It was built to provide a shorter route between Glasgow and England than already existed.
The section from Muirkirk to Sanquhar was the first part of the road to be completed, being finished before July 1791.
The subdivision from Muirkirk to the county boundary with Dumfriesshire was surveyed by John Ainslie, surveyor and cartographer in Edinburgh, in July and August of 1788 and his report was submitted to the trustees in September of that year. It was approved and contracts for construction were invited. James Finlayson, road maker in Ayr, won the contract for this part.
The subdivision in Dumfriesshire was surveyed by John Greenlaw, a retained surveyor of the county. Mr. Finlayson and his men also constructed this.
Commodore Keith Stewart was the Trustee given the responsibility for this part of the turnpike. In a letter to him from the treasurer of the trustees dated March 1791, it is stated that the amount already ‘paid to James Finlayson towards making the road from the tunnel over Colt burn at the Tarwork southward to the march with the county of Dumfries £712 - 2 - 10’. In a footnote to the same letter it is written, ‘This district of road will be finished by the first of July when James Finlayson will have to be paid about £550 which aught to be provided.’
The Dumfriesshire section was completed by June of the same year for John Ainslie, writing to Keith Stewart in that month, complains ‘I wish the Gentlemen of the Sanquhar district had been equally as attentive in laying off the Road down the Bale hill, or the hill leading down to Sanquhar. By the Road now made leading down that hill (the one surveyed and set out by Greenlaw), I am sorry to acquaint you, that they have deviated very much from the line that was originally pitted out'
Both of these letters would suggest that the road was completed from Muirkirk through to Sanquhar by the summer of 1791.
The Furnace Road was constructed from scratch as part of the turnpike. The original road built by the Ironworks company was further east and came on to the Ayr to Edinburgh turnpike opposite the end of the Glasgow Road. Ainslie thought the slope here too steep for wheeled carriages so surveyed a new line, which became the Furnace Road.
The Coach House Inn was built by Keith Stewart in 1800 for the convenience of the travelling public, as there was no inn in the village at that time.
So, if the road was survey by John Ainslie and John Greenlaw, was constructed by James Finlayson and the Trustee given responsibility for the road was Keith Stewart, what was John Loudoun McAdam's connection with it? McAdam was manager and then proprietor of the British Tar Company whose works were at Muirkirk (McAdam's Cairn). His only connection with the road was as a trustee of the turnpike trust, though his company had constructed a road from here to the Ironworks by 1789.

Despite popular belief in Muirkirk, McAdam had very little to do with this road. It is very probable that he watched the construction of the new road and later refined the system when he started building roads in England. As far as is known here are no McAdam built roads in Scotland. Confusion exists because a contemporary, perhaps relation, of John Loudoun McAdam was John McAdam of Craigengillan who built a number of roads in Ayrshire notably the new road through Glenmuck and the Dalmellington 'bypass'.

Monday, 3 November 2008

29 October -Cairntable 1945 ft

Due to Jimmy and Paul having other commitments today and therefore being unable to go for a walk, Davie was duly assigned the task of being the scribe; since the pair of them will probably go over the text to check what I have went and wrote, I had better watch my grammar!
We met at 10 am in Furnace Road, Muirkirk outside the Black Bull Hotel where we were later to rendezvous for our post walk libation.
Muirkirk has a most fascinating and interesting industrial history and indeed it was in Furnace Road that the gasworks (the Muirkirk Coke and Gaslight Company) opened in 1859, Muirkirk being the first town in Britain to be lit by gas; ironically it was also the last place in the UK to be connected to the national gas network, in 1977.
We proceeded to the Kaimes car park where we picked up Peter who had initially been missed by Rex as he (Peter) was having a pee behind the wee shelter. This walk was supposed to be a repeat of the one on the 13th February 2008 when Jimmy was the first in 2008 to don shorts. Since the weather forecasters had promised us really foul weather coming in about noontime, it was decided to curtail the walk and simply climb Cairntable from the Sanquhar Road and return down the front. 
Since there was a spot of rain while we were at the car park, we all duly donned wet weather gear and set off. Beyond the ruins of Springhill House, the newcomers to he Early Ooters had a look at the cairn commemorating the road-maker John Loudoun McAdam, erected on the site of his tar kilns.  Incidentally, Tar McAdam never used or promoted the use of tar in the building of roads; his nickname merely derives from from his association with the tar works.
Furnace Road itself was built by McAdam as an early experiment in road construction; it was one of the first ever to use the engineer's revolutionary methods of compacting small broken stones, and slag from the ironworks further up Furnace Road, into to a mass that was impervious to moisture. 
(turning into a ********  history lesson this)
We shortly reached the Sanquhar Brig and left the old road, originally part of a coach road linking Glasgow with Carlisle and constructed in 1793. No doubt Jimmy will tell me the bloody date's wrong. We proceeded along the path up the west shoulder of Cairntable, being pleasantly surprised that conditions underfoot were not as bad as they could have been, due to the overnight frost. The weather had still not deteriorated as promised  and although there was a biting wind as we ate our lunch,  behind the huge cairn on the summit, it was still a very clear and otherwise pleasant day. So much so, that the big football on the top of Lowther Hill was clearly visible. Mind you, if Jimmy  had been present, he would probably have thought it was Steygail. The cairn was erected by volunteers in 1920 to commemorate those Muirkirk men who died and served in the Great War and contains a scroll in the middle listing all their names.
From the summit we could have headed east towards Glenbuck Loch, but again the pessimists warned of the impending bad weather and insisted we just made our way back down the tourist path. Rex was slightly miffed as he had plans to take us in a somewhat longer route back, but he was overruled.  As it turned out, the bad weather did not materialise until very late in the afternoon and we strolled back downhill in what could be described as a pleasant late autumn day, even having time to have a diversion to let Peter see some of the lochans that have been created once the old ironworks mines flooded.
The final part of the walk of course was across the old Muirkirk Juniors football ground which has almost reverted to nature, although you can still see signs of the clubhouse, the covered enclosure and indeed the goalposts. I well remember coming up here to watch games which had attendances of several hundred - mind you, 95% of the spectators were sheep.
Davie's question as to what former Muirkirk Juniors player played several times for Scotland, and in 1962 scored with  a penalty and then later in the game broke his leg in a 2:1 victory over England was answered almost indignantly by Robert - Eric Caldow.
A short but enjoyable walk with lots of blether and banter, although the comments about the antics of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross are unprintable.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

22 October Scaur Valley 2 - A fast sloe walk

'They don't hang about much, do they?'
Allan Sim, 2008

An off-the-cuff remark by Jimmy when we did the Killie to Darvel walk back in August was taken as a promise. He must learn to keep his mouth shut. What he innocently said, while passing a copse of blackthorn, was 'I haven't made sloe gin for while. I quite fancy making some again'. What was heard by the Ooters, who are fond of a small libation, was 'I'll make everybody sloe gin this year'. Throughout the autumn, Jimmy was constantly reminded of this 'promise' and the day would dawn when we would go in search of sloes for his brew. This was the chosen day. The Scaur Valley was the chosen place for Davie said this was great for the berries and, even if we didn’t get sloes, it was still a good area for autumn colour.
The morning was fair when nine of us gathered at Jimmy’s in Cumnock and the drive down Nithsdale was a delight with the autumn colour showing well on the trees. Yet, as we changed into walking gear in the car park of Penpont, the first spots of rain hit us and the sky turned ominously dark. It rained as we set off along the Moniaive road.
The route was to be the same as the last time we came this way (26/09/07), i.e. up the west side of the Scaur Valley, turning by Druidhall and coming down the Sanquhar to Penpont road, staying on tarmac for the day. At least Davie said we would be on tarmac for the day but less than half a mile up the Scaur road, he had us under a fence, over a wee sheuch running full of brown water and along a pad through the wet grass. He was for the gorge of the Scaur to see if salmon leapt the falls. We were glad of the diversion though, for he took us to a place where branches, bedecked in autumn leaves, overhung a river gushing in brown and white torrents through the gorge and over the falls. The camera boys attempted to capture the scene and we look forward to seeing the results. No salmon though.
Coming back through the wood to the road, Peter decided to cut hazel sticks for Holly. Everybody expected him to produce a pocket-knife. But this is Peter we are talking about. A mini hacksaw with a wood cutting blade was draw from his waterproof pocket and the hazels stood no chance. We suspect he might have a power drill and a bench saw hidden somewhere about that jacket.
The rain went when we found the road again. We stripped off the waterproofs and were not to need them for the rest of the day. The sun tried hard to break through and in some places succeeded, spotlighting the landscape ahead of us. The valley was filled with the hues of autumn: the yellows, reds and browns of the trees, the golden browns of the bracken, the pale yellows of the drying moor grasses and the deep purple of the heather on the hill. The walk up the valley was punctuated by photo-shoots.
The peece was taken on the wee bridge where we took it last time. Paul spotted the red squirrel. At first, he thought it was a bird moving in the saughs barely twenty feet away but it stopped and looked at us and presented us with a great view of itself. It came towards us and might have come even closer had it not spotted Holly. It returned to its saugh where it sat and watched us for a while. It was a great sighting, well done Paul.
We also heard the shooting as we sat. A Landrover pulling a morgue of dead pheasants had passed us further down the valley and we knew that the birds were coming under fire further up the road. We were to find out where sometime later. Yet, the shooting didn’t seem to disturb the squirrel that continued to watch us from the vantage point of its tree.
Peece finished, we took to the road again. Round the bend, we stopped again. There was a stand of blackthorn and on the blackthorn hung a few sloes. We picked these for that was the purpose of the day. Jimmy picked them for his brew, as did Davie and Peter. Alan and Johnny picked them for themselves for they also fancied a go at the sloe gin making. Therefore, sometime in the New Year, we are having a sloe gin tasting session.
Only fifteen minutes was wasted spent this way then we continued the walk. The shooters were found standing beside the road. Hooray-Henrys they were, tweeded to the eyeballs and enjoying their micro-sandwiches and pink champagne. ‘Having a good day?’ asked Jimmy as we passed. ‘Yes, thenk-yo’ was pleasant the reply. But they never offered to share the champers. Further along the road we spoke to a chap clearing up behind them. ‘Are they shooting much or just wasting ammo?’ we asked. ‘A waste o’ bluidy ammo’ said he. We had to agree for the pheasants were still flying around over the killing field and the spaniels didn’t seem to be picking up much.
Davie’s opinion of this activity is unprintable. Anyway, the author wouldn’t be able to spell half the words he used. We referred him to Alan Stewart.
The shoot must have finished for the shooters passed us at Druidhall in a convoy of four-by-fours. Despite the reputation of these Hoorray-Henrys, many gave us a cheery wave in the passing. This was not the only traffic on what is normally a very quiet road. More than once, we had to step aside for cars and even the occasional lorry, especially when they splashed through the water that flooded the road at one point.
Then the pace was increased for we were now on the homeward leg. Somehow Rex had gotten to the front and away he went, followed by the rest. Allan Sim was asked what he thought of walking with the Ooters. ‘They don’t hang about much, do they?’ was the answer. And we certainly didn’t hang about now. Davie pointed out the Lowther Hills on the far side of Nithsdale. Jimmy stopped to take a photo and found himself two hundred metres behind the bunch. It took him two miles to catch up. Not only did he catch up but he passed us saying, ‘You fellows didn’t wait for me so I’m not waiting for you’. These might not have been his exact words but this is what he meant. And he kept his speed going. Davie went with him claiming that Holly was pulling him. Johnny joined the speedy two after a while but failed to slow them up. Even shouts from the rear to entice Holly back failed to slow them. It was a fast march back down that road, all the way to the car park at Penpont. More than a few were relieved to be the finished the race.
This was another good walk but fast towards the end. The ale in the Crown in Sanquhar was most welcome.
PS. Far be it from Jimmy to be immodest but one of the helpers on the shoot was a former pupil of his. ‘The best teacher I ever had’, was his comment, ‘and my boy and lassie say the same thing’. We doubt whether we’ll ever get Jimmy’s head back to a reasonable size.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

15 October Ochil Hills 1 - Ben Cleuch

The hill continues to rise gradually for about two miles further north, untill it reaches the top of Ben-Cloch, which is the highest of the Alva hills, and is the summit of all the Ochills; and according to the observations taken by Mr Udney, land surveyor, is about 2420 feet above the level of the Devon. The view from the top of Ben-Cloch is the most extensive and beautiful any where to be found, and is visited by all travellers of curiosity who delight in fine prospects.
Rev. Mr John Duncan
Statistical Account of Scotland
Paul's outing to the Ochil Hills was on for today. It should have been on last week but for some reason we decided to go to Arran instead. The morning was grey but our weatherman said that a thin band of rain would quickly clear and sunnier weather would follow. This would be around one o'clock, said he, and we believed him for he is good at this kind of thing.
Therefore, to follow in illustrious footsteps - Albert Einstein has walked these hills, and Walter Scott, and the Wordsworths, Coleridge and others - we travelled north to the car park at Alva Glen. Not that we were for Alva Glen, though, but the car park here gave us a good starting point. A map board showed us how to get out of the car park. It was examined. After a few minutes, Jimmy moved off followed by Davie and Rex only to be called back for the ‘leader’ was unsure of the way. Eventually we went Jimmy’s way.
Down into a wee glen we went, over a rustic bridge beside a waterfall, took the first path on the right, and came into open ground. The path slanted up the hillside but it was between stands of whin and was narrow. We were reduced to Indian file. That didn’t stop us halting to admire the view and point out landmarks, the message being relayed down the line. There’s the Kincardine Bridge, and that’s Grangemouth - the Kincardine bridge and Grangemouth - the Kincardine bridge and ......... Even before the information reached the end, the question was returning, ‘Is that Grangemouth and the Kincardine Bridge?’ Is it not amazing how many comments are made and repeated by those who haven’t heard? We used to think it was Davie’s hearing but now we are all at it. However, Rex did manage to point out Grangemouth several more times, as we slanted upward across the hill.
We found a road, a track really, that climbed the hill in our direction and Paul directed us up it. We also found a man, a local chap, and stopped for a blether. He had already been on the top and told us it was cold up there. It wasn’t particularly cold where we stood but then the first spots of rain hit us and the dampness chilled. We donned the waterproofs. Before we parted with our newfound friend, he told us the best pub to go to on our return. There are some decent left folk in the world.
The track continued to climb and the rain went. It was heating up under waterproofs so, at a style in a fence, we stopped to disrobe. The view over the upper Forth estuary, as far down as the Pentlands, was good albeit dull and greyish under the lowering sky. But, was the sky beginning to lift? The mist certainly lifted in front of us as we climbed, but only sufficiently to show the hills in front still hiding in the clag.
Coffee was called and a break was had where the track levelled out. We could see quad tracks that would take us to Ben Ever, our next objective but, like everything above us, these disappeared into the mist that seemed to be returning. Then the rain hit, and did it hit. Waterproofs were thrown on just in time for something akin to a monsoon hit us then. Ben Ever became Ben Never for, in the light of the deluge, it was decided to take the track round it rather than go over it.
We kept to the track which contoured the side of Ben Ever above what might have been the top of Alva Glen. Had the rain not been so heavy, we might have stopped to consult the map. However, it was not the weather for stopping. We ploughed on through the wet. Then the rain eased and the sky lifted before us once more. Yet, we still managed to come into the fog before the top of the pass. When this happened, we can’t be sure for rain and mist merged one into the other. All we can say is that the rain went and the fog was here.
Rex set the pace when we left the track at the head of the pass and took to the open hill. It’s always a bad move to let Rex set the pace for he can move faster than the rest of us and today was no exception. Quad tracks eased the climb but still Robert and Jimmy struggled on this upward section and Davie complained of a sair knee. View stops might have been called if there had been views. As it was, the mist closed thickly around us and we struggled on upward. The climb wasn’t too long, though, for we had done most of it on the track and we gained the summit of Ben Buck before we knew it. We also gained the full strength of the wind. Though this was strong and cold, it was in the tail and was no hindrance as we walked over the top of Ben Buck. towards Ben Cleuch.
Paul’s GPS said we now had very little ascent to the top of Ben Cleuch. It was right. The slope was gentle and the wind on the back was an assist. We got to the top easily enough and, as we did so, the mist lifted to reveal the landscape below us brooding under the heavy sky. Yet, the sun shone in the west and we were optimistic of a better day now given our weatherman’s prediction. It was now five to one, the rain had gone, and the sky was clearing. However, the wind was strong and cool and we didn’t wait too long on the top. We came down to find a reasonably sheltered spot for lunch. The sun now shone in the east as well, over Fife. In fact, it seemed to be shining everywhere except where we sat. At least it was dry.
Peece finished, we moved on. In front of us now rose Andrew Gannel Hill with an outcrop of rock marking the summit. ‘The last ascent of the day’, said Paul and the climb was easy for there was now a path to take us there.
'It's all downhill now' said the wise one, and it was. We dropped down the slope of the hill to the top of a steep-sided glen, Gannel Cleuch, and extension of the Mill Glen according to the map. The path led us down and across the steep side of this glen but it was narrow and we were reduced to single file again. Johnny, in the rear, called a halt to remove his waterproofs. He was heating up inside these. The rest persevered. Twenty metres later we had a silly-bugger's halt to allow Johnny to put his waterproofs back on as the rain came again. This wasn't heavy rain nor did it last long and it was the last we were to see for the day. We kept the waterproofs on, though, until we had cleared the hill at Tillicoultry and the sun shone on us at last.
Paul lied. Andrew Gannel Hill was not the last ascent of the day. When we found our way through the village and found the path back to Alva, it rose like a tarmac ski-slope in front of us. Nor was this the last climb. An even steeper one awaited us by the cemetery at Alva. Yet, between these climbs, the walk was pleasant. We came through a wood of autumn colour that put us in the notion for Nithsdale next week.
It was on the down slope by Alva House that Johnny found it easier to jog than to walk for the pace had been gradually increased by the advanced pair of Rex and Jimmy and Johnny’s French break was telling on him. The cadence was kept high for the rest of the walk, even on the steep into Alva, and the group was split. We arrived back at the transport in two groups around a minute apart.
Paul was complimented warmly for his choice of walk. It won’t be the last time we come to these hills. However, it will be the last time we believe him when he says ‘This is the last ascent of the day’.
Our newfound friend of this morning was correct in two things - it was cold on top of the hill and the pub was good. It might not be the last time we use it.