Tuesday, 27 May 2008

21 May Loch Katrine Cycle

‘Stand! What seek ye in McGregor country?’ - Helen McGregor in Walter Scott’s ‘Rob Roy’.

The dry spell continues. But, contrary to the trend, today was overcast and there was a cool easterly breeze, not a strong breeze but there nevertheless. The option was for a bike run and Davie’s suggestion from last year that we go to McGregor country around Loch Katrine was put on schedule for today. We hoped the long journey north would be worth it. Were we disappointed?
Eleven o’clock saw us at the Loch Katrine steamer pier. The weather had improved slightly on the journey. A weak sun broke through but it was far from bright and Jimmy, the seasoned cyclist detected the direction of the breeze. His warning to the rest to take it easy for the wind would push us faster than was good for us was acknowledge by the group who then took off along the loch-shore road like schoolboys released early from class. The only thing missing was the whooping but perhaps they whooped into themselves. Jimmy and Davie were left to bring up the rear. Still, considerate souls that we are, the fast waited for the slow pair three quarters of a mile along the road. We were together now. At least until the first climb.
This first climb wasn’t too steep but it was enough to separate the men from the boys, and the boys from he who suffers on such things. Bob nearly had Jimmy off. Riding beside Davie, he never noticed Jimmy on his outside. Having said something humorous to his companion, he veered across the wheel of Jimmy causing him to brake sharply and wobble fiercely. James said something less than humorous to Robert whose ears are probably burning yet. Still no real harm done and we continued.
The road still ran through the trees and only offered the occasional glimpses of the loch and a world beyond. And, as it continued to undulate, the group would split up and come together again depending on the direction and degree of slope. Then we were out of the trees and the landscape opened up. Elevenses called, late for it was now nearly quarter to twelve, and we found a grassy slope overlooking the loch to Ben Venue beyond and sat for coffee. Ben Lomond showed, far clearer today than it was the day we climbed it at the end of April. And coffee was taken while also taking in the hillscape of the Trossachs.
It is pleasing to note that Davie’s coffee doesn’t affect his biking as it does his walking and after elevenses he continued to bring up the rear, sometimes with one companion sometimes with us all but never alone. We passed the Clan Gregor cemetery for this is McGregor country. Davie had hoped to stop here to visit but the hasty sped on regardless. We did stop at the board describing the building of the reservoir in the eighteen-fifties and Paul told us more about this and about the Royal Cottage. But some seemed in a hurry and we moved on. Then Paul picked up the pace. Alan and Robert went with him and left Davie and Jimmy to bring up the rear.
Glengyle House, built on the site of Rob Roy’s birthplace, was examined in the passing and it was good to note renovation work being carried out. Then we were round the west end of the loch and running towards Stronachlachar. Geese had been honking among the islands in the loch almost from the start and the fast three spotted a group close to the shore and stopped to look. ‘Canada geese’, said our fledgling birder confidently. All agreed but waited for confirmation from the naturalist. We are definitely turning into a group of twitchers. The obligatory Buzzard was spotted by Jimmy and Davie who were once again bringing up the rear. The fast three waited at Stronachlachar and lunch was taken here.
A cheeky wee robin joined us and fed on Robert and Davie’s peece even perching on Robert’s shoulder at one point. The shelfie wasn’t quite as tame and kept a respectful distance. But each entertained us in its own way. And this is how the peece was taken. We are definitely turning into a group of twitchers.
The sky clouded over as we sat and there was a threat of rain. But it came to nothing though the sun never appeared again. Paul was eager to visit the water intake from Loch Arklet and the Royal Cottage. A split decision saw three for the extra distance and two for the return journey. They said they would travel slowly and we believed them. Why do we continue to believe each other?
The three stalwarts set off and within the mile were dismounted examining the intake. The standard of Victorian engineering was highly thought of and the structure of the intake works was compared favourably with what we thought modern engineering would produce. But are we just auld fuddy-duddies? Then we retraced the steps, remounted and set off towards the Royal Cottage. This ‘cottage’ is a substantial building, more like a shooting lodge or country house hotel. It was built for Queen Victoria when she came to open the water works, another example of Victorian opulence. Though it is still in remarkably good condition, having been lived in until recently, it is now boarded up. The outflow from the loch towards Glasgow is here also and this had to be examined also. New, locked gates prevented a direct approach but the intrepid took a bypass route through the shrubbery. Jimmy was protecting a dodgy knee so didn’t accompany the other two. ‘Pity’, said Alan, ‘for it’s well worth a visit’. Jimmy took his word. Then we were back on the bikes for the return journey.
Meanwhile the advance two had made it as far as the Clan Gregor graveyard and stopped for a look. As Davie approached the gate, two geese took off from behind the wall with much honking and flapping of wings. Whether the geese or Davie got the bigger fright is open for discussion but Davie was asking for his brown trousers. A close inspection of the gravestones revealed some as early as the sixteen hundreds. Yet the most famous of all McGregors is not buried here. Rob Roy is buried in Balquidder. Ten minutes after the ’goosing’ the two were remounted and travelling ‘slowly’ (their word) back along the road.
Jimmy left the other two at Stronachlachar with the intention of catching the advanced pair. We were now in three groups. Davie and Robert to the front, Jimmy motoring on to close the gap and Alan and Paul trying to close the gap on Jimmy. A sparrowhawk flew across Jimmy’s path in pursuit of a pigeon. Jimmy flew on in pursuit of the first pair. He never caught them. Ten minutes after the pair arrived at the car park Jimmy arrived. Alan and Paul arrived five minutes after this having spotted the buzzard along the road. We ALL came back quicker than we went out.
Were we disappointed in the day? Not a bit of it. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, bums notwithstanding. Thirty miles for some, twenty six for others.
Refreshment was taken at the Lade Inn at Kilmahog near Callander. Some (not Jimmy) would like it recorded that Robert said something humorous (this is twice in one day) as Jimmy was in mid-swaly. The combination of swallow and laughing caused a dose of hiccups in Jimmy that persisted during refreshment and as far south as the Bothwell services on the way home. We hope he is fully recovered for next week.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Who's pins

Sorry folk. There are no pictures on the following post. Not that there are no pictures, but the ******** blog will not let me post them. I will add them at a later date when the blog has calmed down and is speaking to me again.

Meanwhile, to keep you amused, name the feet in this picture.

14 May Loch Skein and White Coomb

The dry, sunny weather that has characterised May this year lingered on but today there was a cool easterly wind to take the edge off the late spring sun. Still, the sun was shining hazily from early morning and we anticipated a good walk. But, when we got out of the car at the Grey Mare’s Tale car park in the Moffat valley, the sun had gone and the easterly was cold. Though shorts were worn, jackets or jerseys remained on. And we moved quickly to warm the blood.
We took the well constructed path towards Loch Skein, climbing high on the east side of the burn. This path was steep and the climb caught the breath and tested legs still stiff from the car journey. But it did warm us up and get us height quickly. And it afforded some superb views of the main valley and the waterfall from the hanging valley in front of us. Woodland flowers - primroses, dog violets, woodrush and stunted bluebells - showed how the area was once wooded, part of the ancient Forest of Selkirk. Now these woodland plants flower in the open for the area is treeless, dry heather moorland. And our path climbed through this. Then the fall was below us as the path continued to climb. But the walking became easy once the sharp climb was over and we had gained the level of the hanging valley of Loch Skein.
We never made Loch skein. Near the drumlins we crossed the burn and found a path - a pad really, tramped by feet rather than properly constructed - up beside a drystane dyke. This dyke was to be our guide for the rest of the day. ‘Cloudberry!’, exclaimed Jimmy, almost excitedly, as he found a cluster of these Arctic brambles, a relic of the ice age, growing beside the path. We were to find more as the day and our walk progressed. But just at that time hunger called and we found a grassy knoll in sight of the loch on which to have elevenses.
The slope steepened considerably again as we started the climb of White Coomb proper. As is usual after coffee, Davie took off at a fair old lick. Robert threatened to do something anatomical to him if he didn’t slow his pace and Davie complied. We could see metaphorical tears come to his eyes at the very thought of what was threatened. So the pace was slowed. And the views were enjoyed for we stopped frequently. A pair of wheatear hedge-hopped the drystane dyke in front of us and when Davie explained the derivation of the name, the others became more interested to see their white rumps. Maybe we’re all becoming twitchers despite ourselves. And, as we crested the summit of White Coomb, the sun came out to add to a very pleasant part of the walk.
He sun brought with it clearer air, at least to the north for the southward prospect still held the haze and visibility was restricted in that direction. But to the north the view was extensive, from the closer hills of Talla and those around Culter, to Tinto and the Lowthers and the Galloways in the distance. Just across a deep cleugh Blackhope Scaur looked tempting and a suggestion was made for a future excursion here. But the wind still blew and it was too cool to hang around for long.
The walking on the tops was easy, on a sward of sheep cropped grasses. And we followed our drystane dyke down from the top and along the broad grassy ridge surrounding Loch Skein. We were not alone. Four or five hundred metres in front of us were three men. We caught up with them when they stopped and sat behind the dyke for a break. They were from Cumbria, come up to Moffat for the peace and quiet for the Lake District was getting too busy. We left them to their peace and quiet and walked on. They were the only folk we saw on the hill though many made the climb to the loch.
Jimmy wanted to look down on the loch so we left the dyke and paralleled it some fifty metres to the south. We certainly got to look down on the loch for the slope here was steep. And in the shelter of the rocks of a boulder field, over looking Loch Skein, we sat down for lunch, a leisurely lunch for we were sheltered from the wind, the sun was warm and it was a day for leisurely lunches.
After lunch Davie took off again. (We are convinced he has more than coffee in his flask.) The rest climbed casually through the boulder field to find the bold David waiting on the top of Lochcraighead. Robert didn’t threaten this time. He didn’t need to for we were now on the downward slope and Davie is slower on the downward. The views were now northward and eastward over Talla. And they were to stay with us for a while on the gentle descent of the hill. But the slope steepened and the view disappeared and we dropped quickly to the level of the loch.
This is where we thanked the weather god* for this fine spell for the path at this level lay through peat hags and sphaggy bogs and could have been much wetter. As it was it was mainly dry and any wet bits were easily avoided. Robert and Alan spotted great patches of cloudberry in full flower on this stretch and identified it correctly. There’s hope for them yet.
Holly was first to reach the loch. Well, in it really for the stick chasing swimming game was on. Davie and Alan threw the stick while Holly did the swimming and Bob and Jimmy did the watching. Had it not been for the cool wind, we might all have done the swimming for the afternoon sun was hot. And it got hotter as we walked through the drumlins, down the side of the burn and dropped steeply down beside the Grey Mare’s Tail to the car park in the Moffat valley.
A great day in superb country.
* It should be noted that this deity is not Paul. Paul is just an Apostle.

We took refreshment in the black Bull in Moffat. This was much to Jimmy’s delight for it is an ancient establishment with Burns and other historic connections.

PS. This was the day of the EUFA cup final in Manchester and the motorway was busy with Rangers supporters travelling to the game, vehicles decked out in team colours. From above the road must have looked like a river of red, white and blue.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

7 May Muirshiel Country Park

This was to be, of necessity, one of our shorter walks for we were scheduled to visit our lame friend in Irvine in the afternoon. So we chose an area near here for our outing.
The fine, summery weather of the last few days continued into today. When we drew up at the visitor’s car park at Muirshiel the sun was already shining hazily and the morning was warm. So shorts were worn for the first time in ages, shorts and hill boots for we were for the hill again today. But, first we had the road to walk.
This ‘road’ was the track to the old Barytes Mine. For the aviphiles this was to be a birdie day (Another!!!!) and as we started along the track we could hear the cuckoo calling from a copse of conifers. But, try as we might, we couldn‘t spot it. Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo echoed across the open moor, getting fainter as we walked on. Jimmy and Davie talked of hen harriers for this is the country of such birds and eyes were peeled for these. We think they might be a figment of Jimmy’s imagination for, apart from ubiquitous meadow pipit, nary a bird was seen. Alan did spot a great yellow pipit but this turned out to be a JCB parked by the roadside. We think Alan doesn’t take this bird spotting seriously. And this was how the four kilometres to the old mine was covered, with Jimmy looking for harriers and Alan spotting weird and wonderful things. We all spotted the two walkers in front of us as we approached the mine workings, though. And also the female harrier - at a distance but at least there.
The mine exited some interest and time was spent examining the works and the quarry where the barytes was mined. Bits of pink barytes lay around and were picked up and inspected often. The two walkers were found having a bite at the lip of the quarry and a few minutes conversation was had with them. They were for the hill as well. Davie, however, was now for the end of the quarry for he is of an inquisitive nature and had to explore. He was warned by the strangers that there was no way out at the end and he would have to come back to their end but they underestimated Davie’s Spiderman-like climbing ability. The other three of us, though, opted for the easier route up the lip of the quarry.
Rusty machinery - gears, cogs, bogies etc. - lay on the moor around the quarry and a sluice was found in the burn. These were noted as we climbed a faintly defined path towards the hill. We found Davie and Holly emerging from the pit at the top end and they joined us on the path. But this path became less and less distinct and eventually we lost it completely and took to the heather. Due to the recent dry spell the hill was drier than it might have been and the heather was short. The walking was easy. But none of us had actually been on the hill that we intended to climb and each left the carrying of a map to the others. No map, then. And no real guide to the destination. We picked our way upward through the heather hoping to find a guiding path on the skyline in front. For reasons known only to himself Robert thought the path must be away to the left even though the rest knew it must be towards the right. Bob went his own way though remained in sight. It became obvious that Robert was not coming back our way so we went his for we thought he must have found a path. But there was none and it was now peece time. We sat down.
The landscape had been opening up as we climbed but the day was hazy and the diffuse light flattened the scene and limited visibility. But the day was warm and the breeze now blowing was warm. We sat and enjoyed a leisurely peece.
Peece finished we continued the upward progress and crested the ridge within a few hundred yards. We could now see our objective hill over to the right. Far over to the right. We had no time to visit for the afternoon appointment at Johnny’s was looming. Did we care that we were on the wrong hill. Not a bit of it. We were on a hill and that was the important thing. We could see another top to the left and, below this, a small lochan dammed at the far end. A reservoir? And where there is a reservoir, there is a service road or path.
We strode out on the ridge, through the heather and sphaggy bog and gained the top easily enough. Then we dropped straight down to the reservoir. Alan spotted ducks on the water (Is he taking this bird spotting seriously after all?) but they were too far away for positive identification by the naturalist. Holly, as ever, enjoyed the reservoir when we reached it. She helped the boys enjoy it as well by bring back the stick so that they could take pleasure in throwing it in the water again. Great fun.
We found the path at the dam and followed this back to the road. The cuckoo was still calling in the same copse as we approached but this time it was answered by a call from another wood. When we came to the bridge the second cuckoo flew along a fence and landed on a post giving a good view of itself. It flew over the burn and was joined by the first. ‘Great spot’, said Jimmy. The others agreed. Approaching the centre car park we met two young men. Robert was heard to ask if they had seen the cuckoo. Then he told them of the great view we had. Do we have a fledgling birder in our company? (Sorry about the rotten pun)
We took refreshment back to our lame friend’s in Irvine where he showed us pictures of his break in France. He also showed us pictures of the pins holding it together. We hope he will be back with us before the end of the summer.
Right: A picture of Johnny's break in France and the pins holding it together.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

30 April Irvine Valley

Not a lot can be said about today’s outing. As can be deduced from the lack of pictures, it was a walk in the rain. The intention was to travel through to Moffat for a high level route round Loch Skein. But, when the five of us - Peter was busy, Johnny was still hobbling around on crutches and Rex was in sunnier climes - gathered at Davie’s in Darvel the sky was lowering and heavy with expected rain. Paul, our weather man, said rain wasn’t to clear Moffat till around half past two . ‘I don’t fancy going that distance to get a soaking’, said one. ‘We can stay local and get a soaking’, commented another. So the resolution to stay nearer home was adopted and Davie’s suggestion of Loudoun Hill was accepted. Then the rain came on. It came straight down for there was barely a stir in the air, but it did come down. Waterproofs were worn from the off.
We left Darvel by taking the bridge at the end of Ranoldcoup Road. This took us to the south side of the river where we turned east on the road that runs upstream. Robert, who had just given us all a row for the speed at which we’ve walked over the last few weeks, had to check himself here for he, with Jimmy, found himself fifty yards in front of the others on the first short climb. But, after giving himself a severe talking to, he managed to stay with us for the rest of the walk. We walked on as a group.
The new house at Greenbank was commented on for we have watched it from construction and it is now occupied. This is where the tarmac ran out and we took to a track. Davie warned that it would be mucky in this weather but the ground was firm for the weather has been dry of late and only the top inch gave under the weight and the walking was not as bad as Davie expected. And, at the top of the hill, we could see our target hill in the distance, misty through the rain but visible nevertheless. We walked towards it, dropping into the valley to find tarmac again to thw south of Bransfield.
Came a cattle grid on the road. Robert, pointing to a deep bending in the grid where something heavy had crossed, commented, ‘You’ve come this way before then, Davie.’ Davie was hurt to the marrow. This comment and others of similar vane were the only thing to brighten the day for the rain was now incessant and the breeze was rising.
We came to Loanfoot where tarmac ran out again and the track by the Long Cairn was followed. Jimmy asked what were the chances of crossing the burn under Loudoun Hill given the present weather. Davie said there was now a bridge. There was supposed to be a bridge built over the burn at Long Cairn for the walking festival but this hasn’t been done yet. We turned the corner and there was the bridge that wasn’t built yet. We crossed this bridge that wasn’t there and came over the moor to the weather station. The wind was now in our faces and the rain was stinging.
When we found tarmac again a summit was called and it was decided, in the present miserable conditions, to cut the walk short. We stayed on tarmac and dropped into the valley at Priestland. The rain did ease as we came into Darvel but it didn’t halt. We followed the path down the side of the burn and the river to come back to the bridge at Ranoldcoup Road.
A much shorter and considerably wetter walk than we’ve been used to for a while. Internal wetness was supplied by the bar of the Black Bull.