Friday, 25 April 2008

23 April Ben Lomond

The biting easterly wind that has been with us for the best part of the month had veered to the south on Monday night and had given us a fine spring day yesterday. But this also brought Atlantic weather patterns. This morning, St George’s Day as our token Englishman reminded us, was wet and miserable and we were for Ben Lomond.
Five of us gathered at Alan’s place in Kilmarnock for coffee and bacon rolls before the journey north. (The rolls were much appreciated, Alan). Peter had commitments, Robert was in France, Johnny was recovering from a break in France (we hope it doesn’t keep him out of action for too long) and Holly was ill. So only five made the journey north through the rain.
The wimps suggested that they would be happy with a low level walk in the rain but Paul, who had been studying the weather radar, assured us that the rain would go at eleven o’clock and the intrepid wanted to go to the hill. So the hill it was.
We reached Rowardennan at ten forty-five. It was raining. It was warm enough but it was raining. The waterproofs were donned and the path through the visitor centre was taken towards the Ben. It was five to eleven and it was raining. We were beginning to doubt Paul’s forecasting ability. We reached the forest road at eleven o’clock on the dot and the rain stopped. On the dot! The waterproofs came off. Paul is to be our weather man from now on. On the whole the rain was to stay away for the rest of the day but the dampness persisted and sweat failed to evaporate.
Today was Rex’s wife, Barbara’s birthday (it would be indelicate to tell her age here but Rex did announce it to everybody) and he had a schedule to keep. He set the pace upward. And almost from the off it was upward, with only the occasional flat to break the slope and relieve the tiring legs. The pace was brisk. Jimmy struggled, excess food and ale the night before taking its toll. The cuckoo was heard, the first of the year. Jimmy, Alan and Paul halted to listen and found themselves well off the pace as the fit pair walked on. There was no halt to look at the view either for there was no point. The landscape was dismal, damp and grey and the sky hung low, clothing the hills in fog. Though Ptarmigan showed itself briefly under the clag, the Ben kept itself well hidden. But the forecast was for brighter weather coming in early afternoon so we walked onward and upward. And Rex kept the pace high.
We met the fog around the fifteen hundred contour and the group split into two with the faster pair going on ahead and the slower, seeing the sense of letting them go, adopting a more sensible pace. Drizzle hit around the two and a half thousand contour but lasted no longer than a few minutes, the last rain we were to see for the day. The last of anything much we were to see for the day, actually, for the fog thickened as we reached the climb to the summit ridge. Dirty patches of rotting snow lay on the eastern side of the ridge but we were to avoid these for the path hangs more to the west. Not that you would know which direction was which for the fog was thick and disorientating. We thanked goodness for the path.
The fit pair reached the top at one o’clock, barely two hours after leaving Rowardennan. The slower three arrived around fifteen minutes later and we all rested on the top for lunch and took in the view. ‘It’s just like the view from Merrick and Ben Ime and Windy Standard’, said Davie for we could see no further than we could on these tops. The fog was thick. Rex captured the scene with his own and then Jimmy’s camera.
But Rex had a schedule to keep and was ready for the return. So, at half past one, we set off. Along the ridge Jimmy spotted the Snow Bunting, a small white bird of Arctic regions and higher Scottish mountains and he thought it a good spot for the time of year. The group was split again for Rex set a fair old pace. The excesses of the previous night must have worn off Jimmy for he was to keep Rex company on his fast descent. The view was not any different now than it was earlier except that the fog hung lower so there was no point in hanging around to admire the scenery. We did come out of the fog at the top of the trees but the gloom still hung over the visible landscape and there was still no reason to hang around.
The first group reached Rowardennan at three o’clock and the second fifteen minutes behind having stopped for a drinks break. Two hours to two and a quarter hours up and an hour and a half to an hour forty-five on the descent. Twelve kilometres of walking and nine hundred and twenty metres of ascent and descent. Not a bad day’s exercise for us old fellows.
We replaced essential salts and minerals in the Rowardennan Hotel, a pleasant bar with an open log fire. Rex could only wait for one pint of fluid replacement for he had an appointment to keep. But we sat and as we did so the hill fog cleared and the sun broke through. B*@@%# typical!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Happy daze

Oh! how we enjoy our walking. Please show this picture to your wives as they think we really do enjoy these Wednesday outings.
For next week please supply the conversation between the pair of them.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

16 April Blacksidened 3

Peter's house in Catrine was the gathering place today. We were reduced to six for Johnny was still on holiday and Rex was doting on his relatively new granddaughter.
The day was beginning to cloud over after a night of frost and a cold easterly was felt even in the bottom of the valley. After coffee and cake - it was delicious, Peter - we left Peter’s and took an indirect route through a wood to the war memorial at the top of the brae. Peter was warned about brambles (see Blacksidend 1, 19/04/06) but this time there was no shrubbery to fight through for we followed tarmac toward Sorn, walking directly into the wind. This was to be the case for most of the outward journey. As is usual of late, we split into two groups, the fast two at the front and the sensible to the rear. There were to be a few miles of tarmac before we came together again.
At Hillhead Farm, cattle, still in the winter shed, were being fed on silage and Paul thought that this would make a good picture only to discover camera problems. His camera was to stay in the rucksack for the day. Jimmy took the picture for him.
Still, we followed tarmac. Down to the Mauchline-Sorn road, towards Sorn, up the Galston road and turned east along a minor road that would take us closer to the hill. Pheasant had been heard and seen all along the route and, at Blairmulloch, Jimmy spotted a hen lying by boulders on a burn bank. It took the rest some minutes to find her such was her camouflage. During these minutes the fast pair disappeared out of sight. They were spotted taking the service road for Blackside Farm for they knew where they were going. The rest followed.
The house that was being built the last time we were here was still being built. Though it was several feet higher, it was far from complete. The chap building it single-handedly made comment about ‘Planning’ but this wasn’t picked up on for we were walking smartly now to try to catch the fast pair. They were found resting at the cattle grid just beyond the trees and a coffee break was called by the slow. We would stay together now for the best part of the rest of the day. Curlew called across the moor and a pair of lapwing displayed over the field in front of us. Whaups and peesies, Jimmy called them. But whatever you call them these birds are highly evocative of the Scottish moors and it is always a delight to hear and see them.
A pair of barking spaniels greeted us at Blacksidend farm and an aged Belgian shepherd escorted us through the steading. Then the dry farm road deteriorated into a wet muddy track. But this was only to be followed for a hundred metres or so before we came through a field gate and on to the open hillside. The hill was wet after a winter of exceptionally rainy weather but the climb was short and the top was dry. Dry, it may have been, but here we found the strength of the easterly and we were glad to cocoon ourselves in the shelter of the hollow cairn on the top for an early lunch.
As we sat for the peece, Paul, being a wireless ham himself, was able to give us the reason for the wireless mast on the cairn. It is used for competitions. Though we couldn’t quite grasp the concept of wireless competitions, we could see the reason for the mast being at this particular point. The day was hazier than the last couple of times we were here but the view was extensive in almost three hundred and sixty degrees and encompassed most of the county. The mast would be available to almost any ham anywhere in Ayrshire.
Also, as we sat, Robert was looking at the cairn on Wedder Hill barely a mile away. Jimmy was the only one of the group to have been on this top, having come over it with his bike. (Remember, Jimmy is a cyclist/masochist/feckin’ idiot*). So, peece finished, we set off through the sphaggy bogs to Wedder Hill. Holly disgraced herself. Having no stick to chase, she thought it fun to chase other things. Davie is fluent in three languages but we felt that he was now inventing a new one for he was using words that none of us had heard before as he tried to get Holly back. And we sympathised. Then, with the dog and Davie back under control, we moved on. We reached the cairn on Wedder, looked at the view and retraced our steps through the sphaggy bogs to Blacksidend. Holly was on her lead in abject disgrace.
The way back was the reverse of the way forwards, at least as far as Brocklar Farm. Here we turned left then almost immediately right on the minor road for Sorn. A car tooted. The driver was a friend of Peter and Robert and the group stopped for a blether. Davie and Jimmy sauntered on. They waited for the others on the bench on the path above Sorn but only three arrived for Peter decided that he would rather walk through the village. We met him again near the old graveyard. We were now to follow the River Ayr Way back to Catrine
The walk down the river from Sorn to Catrine is always a pleasure. Today was no exception and those for whom this was the first time here, delighted in this part of the walk. As they did at the voes for the sun made the place look almost continental. And swans, on the water and on a nest on the island, completed an idyllic scene far from the popular view of Catrine.
A pint in the Royal Bar in Catrine completed a superb day.

* delete as you think appropriate

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Deil's Back Door 2

We came from different airts this morning. The Killie boys met at Davie’s and those from the south met at Jimmy’s. Coffee was on offer so the proposed meeting time in Muirkirk was pushed back. We gathered at the Walkers car park at Kaimes at 9:45. The rain had gone and touches of blue could be seen in the sky and the forecast was for a brighter afternoon (Here we go believing weather forecasts again) so the signs were good for a first-class outing.
Johnny was skiing somewhere in France and Robert was missing with a sare leg (genuine this time not gaiter induced) but we were joined by a guest in Davie Cluny, a guest in this group because Davie is still tied to the chalk face. Keep up the good work, Davie, our pensions need the likes of you.
The intention was to walk along the old Sanquhar road to the Deil’s Back Door and return over Wardlaw. Davie Mc suggested the reverse because we would then be going down over the hard stuff at the back of Wardlaw. His suggestion was adopted unanimously. So we set of along the old road as far Grievehill where we turned westward for Tibbie’s Brig. Peter, whose interest in geology is legendary in the group, was pointed in the direction of the fossil bearing strata downstream of the brig. A further visit to the area was in order as far as Peter was concerned.
The River Ayr Way was left beyond Tibbie’s and a track was followed taking us across the moor toward the base of Ward Law. Then it began to rise up the hill itself. The fit pair of Davie and Rex set the pace and, as is their wont, made this fast. Calls from the rear elicited the response of, ‘We’ll stop just up here’. Mutterings and mumblings and downright mutiny saw the speedy pair well up the hill with the rest stopped to admire the view. And now the sun shone on Muirkirk and the hills to the north. Perhaps that was Ben Lomond seen through the gap.
The group was re-united as the track ran out into the moor. The moor around Muirkirk is grassy and wet. It doesn’t help when quad tracks churn up the underlying soil and turn it into liquid peat. And this was the stuff we had to find our way through. This was where Davie C regretted wearing walking trainers as the oose overflowed his shoe-tops. Eventually the wet gave out to drier, heathery slopes as the hill steepened. And it was easy walking now and the top of the hill was gained quicker than we expected. Elevenses were take by the summit cairn.
Sunshine and cloud chased each other across the landscape and the prospect was much more extensive now. Cairn Table blocked the view to the east but the Lowthers in the south held snow wreaths, as did the Galloways to the south-west, Arran in the west and the Arrochar Alps in the north. The Ayrshire plain was a mix of sunlight and shadows. Jimmy reckoned he could pick out his own house and rest agreed for they said, ‘Aye, right!’. But good things must come to an end and it was time for us to move on.
The grasses grew thicker and more tussocky the further down the hill we came and we found the going getting tougher - but at least it was downward as Davie suggested. It continued a lot longer than we expected and the group was split, three at the front and the rest bringing up the rear some hundred metres behind. It was the rear group who spotted the mountain hare still with its winter white for the advanced group had their heads down ploughing through the rank grass. The hare and ‘the disc’ lightened what was a hard section of the day and it was a relieved bunch that gathered at the shearing pens at Glenmuirshaw for a breather. Another hare was spotted here. And was missed by those who had missed the first one.
We made the dog-leg round the head of Gass Water to Glenmuirshaw to find the rickety wooden bridge that would take us across the Glenmuir water to the mouth of the Connor Gorge. We were now to follow the burn through the gorge, crossing and re-crossing the water, to the foot of the waterfall called the Deil’s Back Door. The usual comments were made about Paul’s swimming ability but it was Jimmy who showed him how to fall into the burn with a degree of class. Then Davie C really regretted wearing trainers for he too found himself unexpectedly paddling. At the foot of the falls we had lunch while Davie wrung out his socks and muttered things to himself.
We opted for the short walk out from the falls. This entailed climbing the wall of the gorge beside the scree fall. Not to Peter’s liking, this. Not to anybody’s liking today as the steep slope took it toll on already tiring legs after the slog from Wardlaw to Glenmuirshaw. Then we crested the lip of the gorge and breathed slightly easier. But the travail was not finished yet. The flank of Connor Hill held rank grass and this was nearly as hard going as Wardlaw. The sun shone on the pale, winter dead grass and we had to screw eyes against the glare. But we were still able to spot the deer, at least the first group did for we were split again. Roe Deer they were, three of them bounding effortlessly across the hillside. We wished we could move as easily.
The group gathered again at the sheep rees on the old Sanquhar Turnpike road. We were to follow this old road back to Muirkirk. Last time we were here this section of the road was a fine dry grass track. Now it has been cut up by quad-bike tyres and is a combination of dry track and peaty glaur. Avoiding the worst of these quagmires we came to the Range Cleugh. How the road crossed this was conjectured at as we climbed down into the cleugh and out the other side without halt. The other side of the cleugh is where we found the wettest part of the old road. And Davie C had wet feet again. (So had Davie Mc for his boots were leaking.) At the top of the pass where the road should have been better, we found the same quad damage as earlier and the same precautions were taken to keep clean feet. But the road did improve and we walked casually down to the Sanquhar Brig.
Peter had heard of the Caul’ Water Spoot and went in search of it. The rest, with the exception of Jimmy, walked on. We were in two groups again as we walked back to the Kaimes car park in warming afternoon sunshine. A super day.
Thirst was quenched in the Coach House Inn in Muirkirk.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

2 April Merrick 2

The wimps were outvoted. In the light of the rain just past and the hill fog hanging down to well under a thousand feet, they suggested an alternative to the hill. And with the weather forecast predicting rain they thought this would be preferable. They were outvoted and the proposed climb of Merrick was on.
We left Bruce’s Stone in Glen Trool around ten thirty. Robert set the pace. He had heard the forecasters say that rain would arrive in the early afternoon and he wanted to get back before he got wet (we think he might turn into a gremlin if he gets wet) so he set a fast pace. Two kept up and the rest lagged behind. Up beside the Buchan Burn, we went. The view backward was dismal with the fog flat-capping the surrounding hills and the lowering sky turning the landscape grey. And the view didn’t improve as we climbed higher for we were now into the trees and the gloom of the forest made the day seem more depressing. Only the company cheered the progress for we are basically a cheery bunch despite outward appearance. Then we were out of the trees and approaching the old shepherd’s cottage of Culsharg. We halted at Culsharg for it was a long time since breakfast and hunger came calling and the worst of the climb was still to come. ‘We don’t do enough of this sitting about’, said Davie and we all agreed.
We would all like some of what Davie has in his peece. After the break it was he who set the pace. And an remorseless pace he set. Up to the forest road, up through the trees, up into the fog on the open hillside. Some managed to keep up. Many struggled. Johnny was ill. He thinks it might have been something he ate the previous night that disagreed with his alcohol system. A summit was called and Johnny decided to return. Peter decided to return with him. ‘We won’t be able to see anything from the top anyway’, was the gist of what he said though these might not have been his exact words. The pair returned.
So six of us proceeded with Davie and Rex leading. Up to the drystane dyke and the first patches of snow where it had drifted deep and thawed slow. Up beside the dyke to the top of Benyellary with shouts form the rear for breathers for the pace of the leading two was unrelenting. A brief halt on Benyellary gave some respite. Then it was off again. Still, the worst part of the climb was over and the remaining mile distance and five hundred feet of altitude was a casual stroll. Or so we thought.
The fit pair continued to set a blistering pace. Then came Alan and Jimmy. Paul and Robert brought up the rear. The fog never lifted as we crossed the ridge and climbed the short-grassed flank of the hill. Needless to say it was the fit pair who reached the summit cairn first. Then Alan and Jimmy. Then Paul. Robert wasn’t best pleased with us for walking on and leaving him struggling. We sympathised and tucked into the peece. No wonder he struggled for it was only twelve forty-five, two and a quarter hours since leaving Bruce’s Stone. ‘One hour fifty of walking time’, said Rex consulting his GPS and sounding quite proud.
The last time we were here (7/3/2007) the fog broke up as we sat at the cairn. Hopes were raised today as a brightening of the fog came with a slight warming of the air. But it was false hope for the fog remained. Davie’s assertion that you can see twenty-seven lochs from here could not be challenged today as much as some would have liked. But Jimmy did point out where Loch Doon would have been if we could have seen it.
It was decided to return by the same route as we had come. And who set the pace this time? The bold Robert! Speed walking and running at times, he was determined not to be at the rear this time. But the rest kept up. Down over Merrick‘ broad flank, along the ridge, up over Benyellary and down the drystane dyke. The pace was fast with the lead changing as terrain changed. ‘Scenery’, shouted Jimmy as, at last, there was a slight break in the fog and we could see westward to Loch Ochiltree. And Davie could be heard muttering, ‘Twenty six, twenty seven’, as more and more scenery was revealed and more lochs were seen. And the sun had the cheek to show itself now. The day was turning pleasant and the fog was burning off the hills.
On the descent towards the trees Robert ran past the leading group with a shout of, ‘That’ll save you having to turn round to see where I am’, and hurtled on downward. We caught up with him as he ran out of steam at the tree line. It then became Jimmy and Rex’s turn to set the pace down to Culsharg bridge where they had to wait for the rest. A short drinks break here was accompanied by Davie saying ‘We don’t do enough of this sitting about‘. We all agreed. But we still continued the rapid descent to the bothy and down Buchan to Bruce’s Stone. An hour and a half after leaving the summit of Merrick we met the returned pair at Bruce’s stone. We await their report as an addendum to this.
This was a fast walk - two and a bit hours up, one and a half hours down - and is probably a testament to how fit we are all becoming now. But we don’t do enough sitting about. Agreed? And, it’s the last time we are going to listen to a weather forecast.
We tried the House of the Hill for refreshment but it was shut so it was all the way back to Minishant with our tongues hanging out before we could get a pint.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008