Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Fur Davie

A hunner times he’s louped that fence,
A hunner times succeedit
We a’ tell’t him tae hae some sense,
Oor advice was never heedit.

You should see him noo - a’ black and blue,
And swalt aboot the ankle -
Ungainly like, he louped that fence,
An’ landit in a fankle.

While we’re outside tae tak’ the air,
An’ view the scenes o’ nature,
He sits at hame, stuck in his chair,
Wi’ a suspectit fracture.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

17 July Troon Woodlands

Where the Oak and the Ash and the bonnie Rowan tree,
Are all growing green in my ain countrie.

This was a walk in two halves so to speak. We were reduced to three Ooters this morning as holidays, broken limbs and grand-daughters detained others. And it was a rather uncertain two who drove through the rain to Paul’s place in Troon for a walk in his local area. Uncertain for it looked like a wet day and neither of us really knew what kind of walk Paul had in mind. We suspected a short walk in wet conditions. (‘Ye of little faith’, thinks Paul)
Part one:
We started off up a country road towards Collennan reservoir. The weather was dry for the moment but the prevailing conditions did nothing to lessen the doubts of the travelling two. The wind blew from the sea and chilled. The sky lowered as though ready for another downpour. And we walked briskly to warm the blood. Up through Collennan farm we strode and up through a small works unit to find a well constructed path labelled ‘The Smugglers Road’. Paul knows the walk well and suggest a deviation from the straightforward walk along it. His suggestion was accepted for Paul was ‘the man’ and we left the main path on a pad through Aught Wood. Jimmy and Paul debated the meaning of the word Aught as we climbed slowly through the trees, knowing the origin to be Gaelic. They think it means ‘the wooded field’, the English ‘wood’ being superfluous.
This was delightful part of the walk for we were sheltered from the wind and the sky was beginning to brighten above the summer canopy. Paul spoke of spring days in these woods when the primroses and bluebells are in full flower and the birds are singing. Though the spring is well past, there was sufficient colour to ensure a pleasant stroll through the trees. The birds, though, hid themselves against the wind.
We followed the pad up and down through the woods with Paul looking for another coming in from the left. We began to doubt his woodmanship when he suggested he had missed the turn-off. But confidence was restored when we found it at the bottom of a slope and followed it upward again. This took us up to the edge of Aught Wood and to the edge of Hillhouse quarry. The weather had improved while we were in the wood and now there was a brightness, almost a sunniness, in the sky. And we were still sheltered from the wind. And, as we stepped over the fence and came to the lip of the quarry, the sun shone on us. Now we looked down into the quarry and over it to Troon and Irvine. Even Arran began to show through the westward murk. And, in the north, sun and shadow mottled the Renfrewshire Heights. But we were for eastward yet.
The quarry road was followed for a few hundred yards. Then we stepped over the fence again. Paul said he likes to come this way for he misses the sign which tells how dangerous it is to cross the fence. We agree for we certainly didn’t see any danger coming the way we did. This new pad took us downward to a gate and a fork in the path. At Paul’s direction we went through the gate. Two hundred yards later he suggested we turn back for this was the wrong path. Oops! Confidence in Paul’s direction finding was totally lost. Davie was delighted.
However, back at the gate we found the right path and this took us back into the green shade of the woodland and downwards to Auchans. This ruin called out to be explored but the high fence surrounding it prevented any close investigation and we had to content ourselves with the longer view. Why are all our old, ruined buildings fenced-off against access? Health and safety has a lot to answer for. Or is the scribe just turning into a grumpy auld man?
Then it was on through the wood to come out at the edge of Dundonald. Dundonald Castle can be accessed, for a price, for it is in the care of Historic Scotland. We didn’t pay the price but walked up the hill anyway and viewed the castle from the outside. The view from the castle was also taken in and stretched as far as Loudoun Hill and Blacksidend. But we were no longer sheltered from the strong wind and the sun was gone again and it began to chill. So it was downward and back to the shelter of the woods again.
This time we did take the direct route of the Smugglers Road and this brought us quickly back to the reservoir. We walked across the dam and found the service road that took us back to Collennan and back to Paul’s place for lunch.
Part Two:
The afternoon saw us take the cycle path through Barassie for Shewalton Woods. His time Paul had no need for direction finding for the way was well way-marked. A full map was posted beside the path near the Irvine road. We crossed the old Irvine road and came under the new one in an underpass beside the railway. We followed the railway for a bit then crossed over the branch line that serviced the paper mill by a level crossing. Paul tells us that this must be the only level crossing in the country where the trains stop for pedestrians. We were not inclined to test his assertion and walked smartly over.
The cycle path was left after a bit and a well constructed path was taken through the nature reserve managed by The Scottish Wildlife Trust. This path was followed in a great loop through scrubland, open wetland and mature forest back to the cycle track. The track was followed back to the level crossing and back to Paul’s place.
A different kind of walk from the Ooter’s recent schedule but an extremely interesting one. Taking the two walks together we must have covered ten or so miles, most of them through woodland. This is a walk we should do again perhaps in the spring
Beer was taken in the Tower on the north beach.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

2 July Glen Afton - The Four Tops 3

‘How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills' - R. Burns

Holiday commitments reduced the number to three this morning. When we gathered at the fishers' car park in Glen Afton we wished that the numbers had been reduced even further. The morning was damp, cloud hung low over the tops and there was the threat of imminent rain. And we three were for the hill, the Blackcraig horseshoe which Davie calls his ‘Four Tops’. None of us really had the notion for it but one convinced the other who convinced the first, so the ‘Four Tops’ it was. We set off without enthusiasm, not so much to start the walk but to get away from the midges that drilled into every bit of naked flesh as we changed into walking gear.
We were for the hill but first we had over a mile of road to walk to find the Blackcraig bridge that would see us over Afton. Rain hit us sparking fears of a wet day but it lasted no length of time and there was no need for waterproofing. We could see the hill we were heading for, at least we could see the base of it for anything above the thousand contour was into the clouds. Yet we continued walking towards it convincing each other it was a good idea. The rain hit us again and this time waterproofs were worn ‘just in case’. But the shower passed as Blackcraig bridge was crossed. Beside Blackcraig Farm we found the old Dunside pony track that would take us over the shoulder of the hill.
The track wasn’t as steep as Robert remembered it - memory is a fickle thing. But the other two remembered it as it is for this is the third time the Ooters have come this way in the last three years (22/3/06, 22/8/07), each of them under completely different conditions and, anyway, this is home territory for Jimmy and Davie. Today the view was limited by the conditions. All the tops were obscured by the low sky and the glen looked miserably grey. Yet the Ayrshire plain was clear under the cloud. Auchinleck, Cumnock and New Cumnock were clearly visible and Jimmy looked for his house in Cumnock.
The rain hit again. This time it was serious. It was as though, having missed us the first twice, it was making sure this time. And as we climbed higher it got heavier and was now driven on the fresh southerly. It stung. The path was dry though, well mostly dry and wet bits were easily avoided, and it raised us steadily up the hill through the deluge. A short and wet drinks halt was called at the top of the pass where we had to leave the track.
The way was steep now, ‘the steepest part of the day’, Jimmy said. At least the rain was gone again. Steep, the climb might have been but it was short and took us up to the wide, flat plateau of Blackcraig. And into the fog. We topped out onto a sward of red fescues, club mosses and patches of the least willow broken frequently by frost-shattered rocky outcrops. The walking was easy. And it would have continued that way if we had taken the direct route to the summit cairn. But, given the lack of visibility, it was suggested we follow the fence and this brought us through shpaggy bogs, wide and deep and wet. Davie and Robert crossed the fence and made a wide sweep to avoid these. Jimmy, refusing to enter Dumfriesshire, did a high wire act along the fence. (Actually, he took the lowest possible wire above the water and clung on tightly to the top one). This procedure was carried out more than once before the cairn was gained. And at the cairn we took the peece. Debate ensued as to our next move. Given the weather, one suggested we drop off the hill to the Afton and cut the walk short. It was decided to assess the situation again at the col between here and Blacklorg.
Peece finished, we walked southward and downward from the top of Blackcraig. The fog cleared and was gone for the day but the fresh southerly wind stayed with us. The slope on to Blacklorg hill always looks long and steep from the flank of Blackcraig. Long and steep it may be but this top was our next objective for the day was clearing and the entire walk was now to be completed. Some quad tracks were found to ease the way through the long grasses and woodrushes on the south slope of Blackcraig but these split into two different tracks after a hundred metres or so. Jimmy and Davie took the left branch while Robert took the right. We think it might have something to do with our aftershave. Or Jimmy’s cheese and onion sandwiches. Whatever it was, this is how the descent of Blackcraig was made, in two groups paralleling each other some hundred metres apart.
This is where Davie was heard to be singing ‘Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home’. The reason for this melodious outburst was the bog cotton growing in white swathes across the hillside. We await his musical interpretation of other features of our walks. River Deep, Mountain High? Strangers on the Shore? Homeward Bound? You'll Never Walk Alone?
We all came together again as we started up the slope of Blacklorg. This is not nearly as steep nor as long as it appears and we gained the top easily enough. Davie was for a halt here for the view was getting better as the sky lifted but Bob was for on for the wind was beginning to cool sweat. On we went then, down the west slope of the hill beside Rex’s fence. The view westward showed the wind farm on Windy Standard, a spoiled skyline according to Jimmy. It also showed Cannock Hill, our third top of the day, rising directly in front.
The short snap to the top of Cannock is steep and tested tiring legs, especially Jimmy’s. He left the shorter grass near the fence to show Holly where her stick* had fallen in the longer grass and had to plough his way up through this stuff to the top. Holly was unappreciative and shot off leaving Jimmy to his travail. A welcome halt was called on the top. Then it was downward again towards Craigbranneoch Rig and the last top of the day in Steyamara. The wind was now on our backs and we expected an assist on the long rise to Steyamara. This, we got. Yet Bob struggled on this last ascent, his holiday in France taking the edge off his fitness, but he made it to the top. We all made it to the top and sat down for an afternoon break.
The descent from this last top to the dam was through rank, tussocky grasses and hidden boulders and proved hard going. But at least it was down and didn’t last too long and it took us to the face of the dam. Then it was a gentle stroll down the service road to the fishers' car park, complaining once again about the neglect of a once delightful place. Twenty five minutes from the top of Steyamara to the car. And the midges! The wee b*****s bit mercilessly at naked skin as we changed out of damp walking gear.
This turned out a better walk than we thought it would be when we set off this morning. *Perhaps it should be recorded that Holly picked up a stick on the road to Blackcraig Farm and carried it the whole distance back to the car even though some of us tried to throw it away. Some sort of record?