Saturday, 29 March 2008

Hi Guys,
I forgot to mention Bob's sare legs in the Glen Afton post. I hope your legs were fully recovered when you took the bandages off, Robert. We thought Johnny's gaiters were bad but yours take the biscuit. When will we see such sights again?

PS Great night last night. Thanks again Johnny. And if anybody remembers any of the jokes let's have them on a Wednesday.

Friday, 28 March 2008

26 March Glen Afton

The amendment to the amendment to the amendment to today’s outing saw seven­ of us - Alan, Davie, Jimmy, Johnny, Paul, Rex & Robert (and Holly) - gather at the waterworks in Glen Afton. Even here an amendment to the plan was made. Blackcraig was to be the destination but, in the light of the forecasted weather and the present conditions of hill fog and lying snow and the wet snow just starting to fall, an amendment was made. Now Steyamara was to be our first objective with the intention of seeing what conditions were like higher up and then deciding where we should go from there.
As usual, Holly led the way from the fisher’s car park running up the road towards the face of the dam. Here was another example of our uncaring public bodies. What was, under Ayr County Council, once a pleasant tarmaced road with short-clipped grass verges is now a pot-holed remnant with mosses and rank moor grasses encroaching. And the fountain at the foot of the dam is a disgrace with crumbling concrete and slimy overgrowth. Even the cast iron Edwardian/GeorgeV gateposts have been uprooted to be replaced by galvanised steel. Another two feet of hardcore has been laid over the road resulting in the fountain wall being nearly buried. If the old councillors could see the neglect of the place by Strathclyde Region and West of Scotland Water, they would hang their heads in embarrassment. Still, enough of the rant. Let’s get on with the walk.
Once the height of the dam was gained we could feel the south-easterly stirring. It wasn’t cold but it was damp and threatened rain. And we turned our back to this and started the slant up Steyamara. The grass was coarse and without paths and the upward progress proved less than easy. Then we encountered the snow, soft and wet with long deep drifts where we sank up to the knee. Energy sapping stuff this. It was a relieved group that sat for a breather in the shelter of the crag on the top. And a breather was all that we got then for the view was limited. Fog hung on the higher hills, breaking only to show dirty white fangs of snow. And the view down the glen became obscured as minute pellets of snow were blown on the wind.
It was into this spindrift-like snow that we turned, heading for Cannock Hill. Down off Steyamara then, through snow drifts and rank grass, trying to follow the ‘path’. Bob’s mountaineering instincts prevailed here - he only lost the path once - and took us to the foot of the climb to Cannock Hill. We stopped for elevenses in the shelter of a small crag just off the summit of Cannock. The dull grey water of the reservoir looked bitterly cold and the drifts of snow made the day look arctic no matter what the thermometer said. Yet we were snug enough in our shelter.
Two minutes after leaving the shelter of our rock we were on the summit of Cannock. We were also into the light fog. This was enough to obscure the trees in the valley below and it was these trees that would be our guide on the descent for we had enough of the hill for the day. Davie took the high route for the top corner of the forest but Jimmy spotted the short-cut where the forest had been cleared and there was a direct gap through to the road below. The silly followed Jimmy. Davie was forced to follow the silly. The forest had been cleared right enough but the brashings had been left. And branches. And logs. And they were now well hidden by the tussocky grass and slimy moss. We stumbled and tripped, slithered and slipped, grumbled and mumbled and outright swore. Jimmy led from the front. Well in the front. Well out of earshot. Just as well for he was being called all sorts of things. But he did get us to the forest road.
We were to stay on this road through the trees for the next mile or two towards the starting point. Here we found frog spawn for Davie who claimed to not having seen any this year yet. The, now obligatory buzzard was spotted by the advanced five but was totally missed by the tardy pair who, for all we know, were still miscalling Jimmy for the short-cut. Where the road split near the dam Jimmy suggested a deviation (Well he would, wouldn’t he?). This brought us out of the trees high above the glen to Castle William. Here we had lunch. Davie asked Jimmy the derivation of the name knowing full well that the latter would rise to the bait. He did. Castle William is named after William Wallace who had a winter camp here in thirteen something-or-other. This was a great place for a look-out for Wallace and, for us, a great view down the glen. At least as far as atmospheric conditions allowed.
After lunch it was a short hundred metres to the finishing point giving us a much shorter walk than usual - only 6.7 Km - but enough given the conditions.
We returned to the Sun in Cumnock for our happy hour. Somehow we seem to visit the Sun only after a day of poor weather. Ironic or what?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

19 March Cumbrae 4

Jimmy was late - it was his own fault, he should remember his PIN number - so, when he joined the rest of us at Johnny’s house, scones and coffee were almost finished. (You do spoil us, Mr. M.) There were only five of us today (plus Holly, of course) as sickness and commitments depleted our band yet again. Jimmy also forgot his camera. So did Johnny so we are relying on Rex to provide the evidence for today.
As a consequence of Jimmy’s tardiness it was a later ferry than usual that we took from Largs for the circuit of Cumbrae. The 10:15 boat was just drawing into the jetty and already the twitchers were at it - a raft of Eider, a murmeration of Starling, a boredom of birders. This was to be a day of Davie and Jimmy with binoculars glued to their eyeballs.
We turned south from the ferry terminal towards Millport. We stopped, there were birds on the shore. We started again. We stopped for there were birds on the water. We started again. We stopped for there were birds in the sky, on the fields, in the gardens, on the sand or the rocks. We stopped frequently. Bob learned that there was more than one kind of plover. Rex learned the orgasmic call of the eider. Johnny learned patience. Davie and Jimmy were in their element. It took us nearly two hours to cover the three miles from the ferry to Millport. Granted we stopped for coffee but this was still slow going. (The pace was to pick up but I will get to that in due course)
Across the water Arran looked good with the snow capped peaks catching the sun. Millport also looked good in the brightness, a sea-side town waking up from a long winter sleep. Fresh pain was being applied and gardens were being tidied up. The newly restored Garrison building was commented on for this was in the process of reconstruction the last time we were here. And here, in Millport, we were sheltered from the cool northerly breeze but did we stop for lunch. Did we heck!
Davie said we should take lunch on the picnic table beyond the caravan park where the view was best. And we all listen to Davie. Don’t we? So we left the shelter of the town. The breeze hadn’t warmed up to any extent, - it blew off snow in the highlands - and lunch was had in slightly less than balmy conditions. But the view was good, Davie. It was during this peece stop that Davie told us that there was no three o’clock ferry, that the one after half past two was the half past three. We had four and a half miles to cover and nearly an hour and a half to do it in so there was no real rush.
But Davie’s statement seemed to alarm the older members of the group for immediately after lunch they took off along the road like turbo-charged peregrines. (This illusion was just put in to keep the bird theme going.) It was difficult for the birdie two to keep up. Davie stopped for a pee and found himself two hundred metres behind. Jimmy struggled to close the gap on the leaders. Davie struggled to close the gap on Jimmy. But eventually the group came together as the oldies ran out of steam. Still the pace was kept high. Bob and Johnny broke into a jog but slowed up as they ran out of puff and the rest caught up. This happened more than once. Hares and tortoises spring to mind. The tea-room at Fintry Bay was passed quickly as was the outdoor centre at Bell Bay. Come to think of it, everywhere on that stretch of road was passed quickly. On rounding the final bend we could see the two o’clock ferry still at the slipway. Jimmy, Johnny and Rex ran. Davie and Bob ran behind. Holly set the pace in front. Fortunately the boatman saw our effort and took pity on us. He waited until we were on board before he left. The first three miles of the walk had taken two hours. The last four and a half miles were done in fifty-five minutes by Johnny‘s watch. Not bad for old boys who have been know to shift a pint or two.
We may suffer tomorrow but we took pleasure in today. A ten mile walk at a variety of speeds and another good day on the island.
We took refreshment in Largs.
Hopefully, next week we will be back to a fuller compliment of ooters if not a full one.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

12 March River Ayr - Failford to Annbank

Wednesday Wimps Walking Group or Wise Wednesday Walkers depending on your point of view for our proposed walk on Merrick was cancelled today in the light of a weather forecast that predicted storm force winds and snow down to six hundred metres. So the foul weather alternative of the River Ayr was preferred for the day’s outing. Failford was the meeting point - it’s handy for the pub - and six of us (and Holly) gathered there with the wind just beginning to pick up.
The Ayr Gorge Nature Reserve was our first objective but this was easily found for it was just across the road. Bob’s extended absence in France told on him at the first flight of ‘stairs’ up from the river. I think ‘knackered’ was the word used. But his composure was regained as we reached the path along the top of the gorge. The wind was stirring the trees and wildlife was keeping its head down so very little was seen by even the keenest watchers. Having gained the lip of the gorge we could feel the wind strengthening. But the sun broke through and Jimmy thought that it would be a great day for the Merrick. He was quickly shouted down.
The same comment was made by the same person as the path dropped towards the river. We were now in the shelter of the gorge and in the sunshine it was quite warm. ‘This would be a great day for the hill’, said he and was quickly shouted down. Paul’s was the lone voice in support. Opening the jackets against the warmth of the sun, we walked beside the river, swollen by the weeks rain, as far as Peden’s Pulpit, a flight of steps and a platform cut into the sandstone of the gorge side. A bit of Peden’s story was related for some in the group had never heard of him. A suggestion was made that we might climb the steps, cross the bad step near the top and find the pad that would take us back to the main path, but this had to be abandoned when it was felt the bad step looked to be too slippery and it was twenty feet to the river below. And we had Paul with us. So our steps were retraced to find the path that would take us back to the top of the gorge. This climb was warm and when we came into the wind at the top it began to chill. The jackets were done up again. And we were to stay in the wind until the nature reserve was left. It was noticed when we halted here that Johnny’s legs had disappeared from the knee down. His new camouflaged gaiters certainly work. Peter left us here for he had domestic business to see to but the hardy five (not forgetting Holly) continued on the River Ayr Way.
Once again the path dropped to the river side and once again the jackets were undone. (It was a day of this kind of thing - undoing and redoing jackets and removing and replacing hats). A light shower hit as we approached Stair but it was sufficiently heavy to encourage some to don the waterproof trousers. It didn’t last long but it took the sunshine away for a while. And it was in duller conditions that we stopped at the sluice near Stair for a bite.
Now came decisions. Have we had enough and should we turn back before the rain and snow came? Nah! 'Let’s go on', was the consensus. And go on, we did. The good path gave way to a slough where it crossed a marsh and was lower than the surrounding fields. Another badly engineered part of the path. But, by the side of the river, came drier footing again. Thank heavens for the Annbank Angling Club. We were to follow their path beside the river to the viaduct at Gadgirth which became our turning point.
Like the previous walk, the return was by the same route as the outward. The same five herons were at the same place on the river, the same glaur-holes had to be negotiated and the same peece spot was stopped at for coffee. The same comment was made about the same hill by the same person for we were still in the valley and sheltered from the wind. It received the same answer. Funny how the walk back always seems shorter than the walk out and today was no exception. The valley was soon left to find the strength of the wind again on the higher ground at the entrance to the Nature Reserve. The gale was stronger than before and when it brought the first spots of rain, these exploded on the skin, stinging into the flesh. Fortunately the rain didn’t last and there was no real need for the waterproofs. At this point Davie was demanding a drugs test on Bob who now had a second or third or fourth wind and actually broke into a run at one point. Then it was Davie’s turn to show the speed as the smell of the ale got to him. We hung high on the top path before dropping to the river again at Failford, blown about but dry. Given the strength of the wind at this level, the right decision was made as to the walk. Even without snow, Merrick would be a dangerous place this day. But don’t tell Bob.
The Failford Inn was the chosen place of refreshment. This is an old fashioned inn with home brewed ale and walls bedecked with beer mats advertising different brews. Jimmy made the mistake of sitting under a mat advertising ‘Old Fecker’. The comments were choice. Beware you comment makers for Jimmy has a long memory and is vengeful.

Monday, 10 March 2008

5 March Carrick Hills from Alloway

Illness and family commitments reduced the group to four this morning but the healthy and non-committed four (not forgetting Holly, the dug) gathered at Rex’s place in Alloway. Not to be outdone by Johnny, Rex provided coffee and Anzac biscuits, a sweet cookie supposedly developed by the Anzacs at Gallipoli. Very good they were, but your correspondent couldn’t eat more than four or five at one sitting. Well done, Rex.
Rain met most of us on the way to Alloway but during coffee a brightness appeared in the sky. This brightness was to come and go for most of the day, the dryness interspersed with scudding rain showers but the brightening sky was sufficient at that time to stir us from our sloth and set us on our way in heartier mood.
Our way was through Rozelle Park where the granite sculptures were commented on, Rex’s comment on the ‘nose picker’ deemed very appropriate. Then it was into Bellisle Park. It’s an absolute rotten shame what is being allowed to happen to this park. Rex said that many of the animals from the children’s corner had been sold off. Davie showed us the boarded-up glasshouse that was once a main feature of the park and Jimmy wondered how long it would be before houses were built on the site. A depressing comment on our local authorities. Then the right bank of the Doon was taken towards The Millenium Bridge and the shore. Jimmy and Davie talked birds as we walked beside the river and the other two showed some kind of interest, especially Paul who used his binoculars occasionally. And Rex mentioned the black swan that frequented the river for a few years.
On the shore we met the strong south-westerly that whipped the drying sand along in mini sandstorms. How Holly coped with this sand-blasting is difficult to say - she seemed to ignore it - but at man height it stung the hands and face and made walking and observing wildlife difficult. Still, oystercatcher, redshank, ringed plover, dunlin and curlew were spotted, especially the large flock of curlew that took to the air at our approach near the caravans of Craig Tara.
We left the shore at Craig Tara and came up through the caravans to the Dunure road. We were to stay on Tarmac for the rest of the day. At the sign pointing out ‘Carrick Hills’ we left the Dunure road and took to the minor one climbing the hill. A large, new house in the ‘Grand Designs’ manner was examined, the opinions being positive. Then the road climbed steeply. A shallow gulley held the first primroses seen this year, a sign that spring might not be far way. And it was hoped by some that lunch would not be far away for hunger came calling on this part of the climb. A sheltered spot beside a line of beech trees was found where we could dine in relative comfort out of the strong wind. And at last came a rest for we had not stopped walking since Alloway. The sun appeared but this was closely followed by the rain, not particularly heavy rain but enough to make Paul don the waterproofs as a precaution.
After lunch the rain continued only for a few minutes but Paul was encouraged to keep his waterproofs on to keep the rain away. This was successful for the next time we were to see the rain we were nearly home. The trees were left behind and the hill opened out onto moorland.
The view also opened out but, in the present weather conditions, this was not as extensive as it might have been. Still it was admired as we climbed the service road to the radio mast. This was as far as most had been on the hill but the top was barely half a mile away and Rex was keen to go to there. So the road was left and the moor taken to. A wet patch cooled the road-hot feet but the top was gained without real incident. The view from the trig-point was limited by the rain skudding up the firth but the coast as far as Irvine was clear and landmarks of Ayr, Troon and Irvine were pointed out. But the wind was beginning to chill and a retreat from the top was in order.
The return was by way of a reverse of the outward journey, at least as far as Craig Tara. As we left the radio mast, Rex and Paul, fifty metres in front of the other two, spotted the hare. The other two thought it was a figment of imagination brought on by altitude but this was to be the highlight of the wildlife on the hill.
The pace was brisk but comfortable on the downward tarmac and it was kept brisk along the road to the outskirts of Doonfoot. The unfortunates being interviewed by the traffic polis were noted in the passing. At Doonfoot the old railway cycle path was reached and this was taken. This was an interesting part of the walk. Paul had not been here before but Jimmy and Davie remembered parts of it from the Auchincruive cycle that we did from Rex’s house last year. The single roe deer standing on the track some twenty metres away was seen by all before it disappeared into the undergrowth. The Doon was crossed on the old railway bridge and gave us a good view of the Auld Brig under the new road one. Then came the tunnel. Rex tried to convince Jimmy and Davie that we had come through it on the afore mentioned cycle but neither of the pair could remember it. Who’s getting senile? Rex or Jimmy or Davie? Or all three, perhaps.
The streets of Alloway, past Burns Cottage, took us back to Rex’s place, the whole return journey being done without a halt. A fairly long walk (17K+) and another good one despite the weather.
Beered at Rex’s.