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.

Monday, 13 October 2008

8 October - Return to the Western Hills of Arran

repEight Early Ooter early birds rose from their nests long before the crow of the cock for a rapidly rearranged return visit to the Western Hills of Arran.

Sadly one of the number, Jimmy, fell by the wayside and had to content himself with watching MV Caledonian Isles sailing off into the distance from the quayside at Ardrossan.

And so it was that aboard ship, Davie, Rex, Paul, Alan (Sim), Johnny, Ian and Bob watched the sun rise over Kilwinning whilst consuming copious quantities of bacon rolls and fried egg rolls.

Goatfell looked magnificent, standing cloud-free in the early morning sunlight. It promised to be a great day

The bus journey around the island yielded spectacular views across the Firth and across Kilbrandon Sound in the early morning sunlight, and several photographers were spotted on the shore, along with many heron and seals.

We arrived at the starting point for the walk at around 9 am. Thundergay…or was it?. Even within the small clachan we noted various spellings on gates and doors – Thundergay, Thunderguy and even a compromise Thunderguay.

After the rains of Tuesday the burn pouring out of Coire Fhionn Lochan was in spate and our thoughts turned to the final obstacle on the walk, Allt Gobhlach, which had been a not insubstantial watercourse when we encountered it on our earlier visit.

At almost the same spot where we had seen the golden eagle in June we were treated to a close-up view of an immature female golden eagle circling and calling above our heads. Stopping for a breather on the climb to the lochan we noticed that two naval vessels sailing down Kilbrandon Sound had been transformed – when we had seen them from the bus they appeared white in the early morning sun: now they were grey. We wondered if top secret camouflage paint was being tested.

The lochan was reached by 10 o’clock so naturally we stopped for elevenses. Johnny took the opportunity to test out his cricketing arm by throwing sticks quite alarming distances for Holly to retrieve from the lochan. And although we were still in sunlight ominous clouds loured over the horseshoe of hills we were seated beneath.

Excelsior (ask Davie!). As we turned to climb the shoulder of Beinn Bhreac at the head of the lochan we were greeted by the first rain of the day. At around 400 metres we entered the clouds and that’s where we remained until we descended to the same level at the end of the walk. Occasionally we would be treated to brief glimpses of Kilbrandon Sound, Loch Tanna or Iorsa Water but for most of the day the view would be of mist.

On the way up the shoulder, those in the vanguard were treated to a view of a fine stag and three hinds scurrying through the mist. Davie, using his boy scout training, soon located their hoof prints in the mud.

We reached the first ‘summit’ in thick mist, convinced we had conquered Beinn Bhreac.

At this point Davie had a temporary navigational malfunction. He headed off west followed by the more trusting in the group – after all he had done the walk just a couple of weeks earlier! Rex and Paul had their doubts and consulted their GPSes (what’s the plural of GPS?). Having decided that a) we were not atop Beinn Bhreac, and b) even if we were we shouldn’t be heading west, the said technophiles went in pursuit of the group and halted them before they became altitudinally-challenged. After more consultation of the GPS we retraced our steps to somewhere close to the point where we had deviated from our route, and following a course dictated by the GPS we picked up the correct path again.

And so we really did reach Beinn Bhreac …even if Davie did initially think we were now atop Beinn Bharrain Lunch was taken at around midday. With the mist still down and light rain in the air we didn’t prolong our lunch break, particularly as we were mindful of the fact that we would need to push on if we were to catch the 3.20 bus at Pirnmill.

The GPS was set for the next target – the col between Beinn Bhreac and Mullach Buidhe. This was reached without incident, but as we approached the col the next summit loomed out of the mist, revealing a steep 500 foot climb up its grassy slopes.

We were all together at the col, but soon we were strung out along the incline. Tearing away in front was Rex, legs and sticks awhirr. In second place was Davie, but even he could only watch as Rex disappeared into the mist. Holly, of course, stayed with the leader.

Eventually we all gathered at the trig point, the highest point of our day at 721 metres … well all apart from Rex who had gone off ahead in search of the cap he had lost on our previous visit! Various suggestions as to the nature of the sentimental value of this headwear were made by those left behind. Rex returned, without the cap, and down and up we went again through the wind-sculptured rock formations to the top of Beinn Bharrain.

In the mist, the start of the descent was not obvious, but Davie redeemed himself by identifying it. Time was racing on, and getting the 3.20 bus was far from a certainty. The descent was made quickly and soon we were under the clouds and could savour again the sunny day that the rest of the country was enjoying. A distant ‘bark’ drew our eyes to possibly the same stag and hinds we had seen earlier. They chased across the boggy ground ahead of us and over Allt Gobhlach; our final obstacle.

Bob, knowing that Paul is a little wary of water crossings, invited him to cross at spot he had identified. Bob went first and by a miracle narrowly avoided splashing head first into the burn.

Paul was not encouraged by this. He decided to look at the crossing Davie had identified and after more than a little hesitation he joined the rest of the group on the other side.

Now it was a race against the clock. We hardly had time to admire the waterfall and the ravine as we sped down the hillside. On our previous visit we had lost our way near the end of the walk and had to cross potato fields to reach the road. This time we crossed the large stile and we were at the road in no time – ten minutes ahead of the bus.


The return bus journey was notable for the large number of deer we spotted grazing on the slopes between Lochranza and Sannox, and for Davie’s conversation with a passenger who had chosen to stay in Cumnock for his holidays!

A weary group boarded the boat for the return journey and a few refreshments were consumed. The consensus was that it had been a testing day, but satisfaction was expressed that we had conquered the beast!

Meanwhile the Ochils sparkled under a cloudless sky....possibly.

Click for route (including detour and the view you missed:

Thursday, 9 October 2008

pictures from the Arran Walk 8th October 08

These pictures are to let Jimmy see what he missed.
Hi. folks.
So I never 'mist' much then - apart from the boat.
Had a day of stripping down my rusty old bike and re-spraying it.
See you all next week.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

1 October Ness Glen 4

Nine of us gathered today, the biggest gathering of Ooters for any walk so far. Only Peter was missing. Not only had we the biggest gathering of Ooters, but this outing was to make Ness Glen our most walked route. Arran should have been the destination but a foul weather forecast and a day of rain yesterday caused a change of mind and Ness Glen was chosen as a suitable wet weather alternative. Yet, when we gathered at the dam at Loch Doon, the sun was shining and it would shine for most of the walk. A continuing theme for the day was that it would be an excellent day for Arran but we were now set for Ness Glen
Alan and Paul led the way towards the gorge for they had been here before and knew the way. However, when they came to the split in the path, they deferred to those who knew better. Jimmy pointed them along the lower path through the gorge. We were glad he did for, following the recent rains, the river ran full and the gorge was at its most impressive today. The water rushed down its channel, sometimes comparatively quiet, sometimes roaring through narrower parts making conversation difficult. And mini cataracts tumbled down what are usually dry clefts in the rock walls, adding to the din. This is the first time we have seen this. Only Johnny could be heard above the noise of the water for he was in fine form today.
There came a point where one of these mini-torrents had washed away one of the path footbridges which lay intact on the bed of the river. The burn had to be crossed. There was no alternative. The rock walls of the gorge rose vertically and the river was running full and fast so the wee burn had to be crossed. This caused some consternation for some for the rock looked wet and greasy and it was a good, wide step on to the safer ground of the path. Trepidation was the order of the day as feet searched for grip on the wet stone for each preferred the evidence of his own eyes rather than the guidance of his fellow Ooters. However, the gap was crossed without wet feet or other incident and the rest of the gorge could be enjoyed.
Our usual path under Bellsbank was taken this morning despite suggestions that we should do the walk in the reverse. And our usual coffee spot was to be our first halt. Johnny was in fine fettle on this section as he set the world to rights once again. Even the advanced group of Davie, Paul, Jimmy and Robert who were hundred metres in front, heard him. The speedy (some would suggest the selfish) four had upped the pace for they knew that there was only room for four on the seat at the coffee stop. And they were for a seat. We took coffee with four seated on the bench and the rest, with the exception of Johnny who carries his own seat, standing round making comments. The seated ignored these.
We continued on our usual route after coffee. We had hoped the new path would have been constructed beside the Straiton road but no work has been done since we were last here (07/11/07). Holly had to be leashed for this road is narrow and busy. No work has been carried out on the footpath to the new bridge either. The bridge spans the Doon in splendid isolation with no path to or from either end. Still, we had to cross it, path or no path. The river was full and overflowed its banks in places. One of these places was the south end of our bridge. Brown water lapped the end of the bridge and stretched for ten feet in front of us. How deep it was couldn’t be said for it was brown and opaque. Johnny tested it and found it to be over ankle deep. He had gaiters on and made a plunge through the water; the rest turned tail and came back to the road bridge. We met him on the Dalcairnie road.
Lunch was called at Dalcairnie Linn.
Spectacular is the only word to describe the linn today. The rains of yesterday had swollen the burn. Brown, peaty water rushed under the bridge to the lip of the cauldron, threw itself into space and dropped in a solid sheet for thirty feet only to be dashed into a white spray on the rocks at the bottom. Magnificent. Thirty yards away on the edge of the gorge we could feel this spray and, at times blinks of sun lit it making it visible to us. The same blinks of sun filtered through the autumn foliage of the beeches spotlighting the already fallen leaves on the slope on which we sat and ate. Altogether, this was an idyllic spot for lunch. Though the photographers were in action, photos can’t do justice to a scene that will live long in the memory.
We would have sat longer but the first spots of rain hit. We waterproofed and moved on but the rain came to nothing. We followed our usual route. When we reached Barbeth, we halted. The newcomers couldn’t believe we were this high above Bogton Loch for we didn’t appear to climb that high. We allowed them to take in the view before we moved on again, crossed the moor and came down to Craigengillan.
The rain came seriously when we reached the tarmac of the Craigengillan estate road. We stopped under a huge beech for some shelter. This is a route that Holly has covered as often as the rest of us but when we looked round there was no Holly. Even with many shouts, ‘coooooo-ees’ and whistles, there was no Holly. Davie went into the rain to retrace our steps. Five minutes late Holly was found. She had taken a liking to the man who passed us going in the opposite direction and had followed him back the way we had come. We can always tell when Holly is in disgrace. Gone is the carefree, bouncy demeanour. Her tail is dropped and her head hung. She makes ‘sookin-in’ gestures to Davie until she thinks she has made enough. And she felt she had enough made by the time we got back to the bottom of the gorge.
Davie was for back through the gorge but the consensus was for the high road. This is the way we went. Tracy’s bench is gone. The pillars are still there but the seat is gone. We suspect that Tracy has it as a testimonial to her prowess. Alan suggests she might even have it as a headboard. Wherever it is, it will be missed for it was situated near the top of the slope and provided a bit of a rest for weary legs. Disappointed with the loss of the bench, we continued upward.
We arrived at Loch Doon around two-fifteen. A good four hour walk. A good pint was taken in the Loch Doon Hotel in Dalmellington.
Fashion note (to keep the wives interested): Johnny was dressed in his leg-vanishing gaiters today and Bob was in fetching black. The rest were gaiterless. Davie even had shorts (we think his regression to early childhood is nearly complete for he was babbling things at Holly when she disappeared). He and Jimmy wore short sleeves today, Jimmy in pale blue and Davie in a little black number over a smart pink and navy hoop. The others wore Gortex. Faither bunnets were worn by Alan, Paul, Ian and Davie while Johnny sported an olive safari hat with a floppy brim and Rex his second favourite blue cap. We look forward to next seasons combinations.