Thursday, 29 January 2009

Walk for Wednesday 4 Feb

Walk for next Wednesday - Coran of Portmark from Woodhead lead mines
Poor weather alternative - Ness Glen.
Meet at the Loch Doon in Dalmellington, 9:30

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Jimmy's Birthday Curry

The Rupee Room in Ayr has been booked for Jimmy's bus pass do on Wednesday 11 Feb.

21 January Endurance on Lowther Hill

Cauld blaws the wind frae east tae west,
The drift is driving sairly,
When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,
I’m sure it’s winter fairly.
R. Burns

A great debate ensued when we met at Jimmy’s house in Cumnock: some were for the Lowther hills as planned and some were for an easier local Cumnock walk. The Lowthers contingent kept reminding us that the forecast was good and we should get great views and some snow today. The locals were wary of snow on the road on the climb to Wanlockhead and were for staying low. Rex had the deciding vote when he arrived for we were tied at four votes each. Unsurprisingly, the Lowthers it was to be.
We travelled to Wanlockhead with anticipation or trepidation depending on your viewpoint and encountered the first snow on the climb out of the Mennock valley. The road was clear but snow lay all around us. The lower hills that we could see were white and we knew that snow lay on the higher summits we were heading for. When we reached the village, snow lay deep and ploughed into ridges at the side of the road. All the car parks had snow too deep to allow entry so we were reduced to parking at the side of the road.
Even before we had left the cars, we picked up a companion in the shape of a champagne coloured poodle-type canine who took a fancy to Holly. He was to stay with us for the entire walk and was to give Holly plenty of exercise loupin’ sheughs and sklimmin’ hillocks in the snow - ‘Twa Dogs that were na thrang at hame’ enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps he thought he was into the squirrel dance but Holly was for none of it so they just ran through the snowdrifts together.
The cloud hung over the hills we were for but we knew the forecast was for brighter weather so were undeterred by this. We started walking. When we left the road, we came into the snow immediately. This was ankle deep to start with but deepened as we climbed. And as we climbed, we came into the fog. When we left the hard surface to come onto a path designated Southern Uplands Way, we were into a world of deep snow and thick fog. And a breeze began to stir. This was not a day for sunbathing.
The path was now fairly steep and was made to feel even steeper by the underfoot conditions. The climb was strenuous. And we tackled the climb smartly to build up a heat against the cold conditions. The effort and the speed were too much for the inexperienced Allan and he felt ill. While we agreed to slow the speed and encouraged him with the news that the service road for the ‘football’ was only some two hundred metres away, Allan decided he didn’t want to hold us back and decided to return. Johnny went with him. (We await a report on the walk they did at the lower level.)
Reduced to seven now, we continued to follow the Southern Uplands Way, each taking turn to break the path through the drifts. Red grouse whirred away into the greyness, telling us who invader their white world to ‘G’back, g’back, g’back’. With the snow deepening and the wind strengthening, we should have listened to them and gone straight back down to the pub. This was also Peter’s opinion and he persisted in frequently telling us how the sun was shining in Cumnock. But we ignored both birds and Peter and trudged on, heads tilted into the wind.
Jimmy led us into the cleugh through two foot of snow. We knew there was a burn to cross and nervousness started to grow in some. But there was no need to worry for this is an official long distance way and there is a wooden bridge over the burn, albeit with a covering of two or three inches of snow today. Jimmy, going before like a latter-day Moses, led us boldly over to the other side. Then came the problem. The drift on this side was deep - three feet at least - and Jimmy’s wee legs just disappeared into it. He was up to the a*** in snow. Yet, like a hero, he ploughed on before, breaking a way for us to follow. (Would you just stop boasting and get on with the narrative!) Once the drift was cleared, we were onto firmer footing with heather poking up through the four inches of white. And the posts marking the route of the road appeared out of the fog some twenty metres in front. Jimmy took a beeline for the nearest post and we found some relief from the deep snow.
Relief from the deep snow it may have been but it was hardly easy going yet. The road had been ploughed, throwing ridges of frozen stuff to the sides and leaving two or three inches of brown sugar on the surface. Every step involved some sort of slip back. It was energy sapping to trudge upward through this stuff. Then the snow hit - tiny pellets of snow, driven on the wind and stinging into every bit of exposed flesh. What should have been a pleasant walk was turning into an endurance test. Yet the Cumnock proposers said nothing. We trudged upward with only the banter to relieve the effort and counting the bends in the road to see how far we had to go for shelter.
Eventually, the ‘football’ solidified out of the fog and we knew this would be the extent of our endeavour for the day even before it was spoken. We found shelter from the wind by a garage door and took an early lunch.
Most of us ate standing up but Ian had the perfect solution to the conditions. He produced a narrow, one person, orange bivi-bag and proceeded to wriggle his way into it. By his gyrations, we suspect the bag has shrunk since it was last used. It was a tight squeeze. After lunch, we were for leaving Ian inside his bag for he struggled unwrap himself from his orange sausage. Alan took pity on him though and helped pull him out.
We were just about to set off again when the garage door opened and a blast of heat hit us. Two workers stood inside. ‘You must be off your f***ing heads’ said one and promised a deterioration in the weather for the afternoon telling us that the weather changes quickly in the hills. Davie kept his own counsel but we knew that he knew these hills better than the speaker did and was well aware of the vagaries of the hill weather. However, we had already made the decision to return by the road.
The decision to abandon the walk at this point was a relief to us all for we didn’t fancy stumbling and slithering through the deep drift that we suspected lay further on. We stuck to the road. It was a lot easier going down the way and, forty minutes after leaving the summit, we were walking out of the fog into Wanlockhead.
Holly’s new friend deserted her here for it saw its own folk and made a joyful beeline to join them - without even a thank-you to us for taking it a walk.
Here we met the other two who had just returned from a lower level and sunnier walk than we had.
The B-team report.

Wanlockhead – Cumnock? What a debate! People changing their minds! Paul! Sixty year olds behaving like six year olds – wanting to play in the snow. We B-teamers were certainly outvoted, and so it passed that democracy prevailed (there being no executive to make wise decisions for the time muddled drink befuddled masses) and so it was that we set off for the snowy heights of Wanlockhead. Allan made the attempt to keep apace with the whippets and testosterone loaded but heart and mind did for him as his honed logic and advanced reasoning bid the question “ whit the f…. are we daing here?” So Allan and his faithful friend decided to seek an alternative to this heart stopping climb.

Leaving the Magnificent Seven to explore the cold misty snowy top, Allan and yours truly returned to the level that was Wanlockhead. This splinter cell, now recovered in spirit and body, decided to walk the railtrack to Leadhills station. This was not a walk in the park! A driving wind and foot deep snow gave enough excitement to cheer us. On our return we made a circuit of the village of Wanlockhead. It was here that a local chronicler spotted us and sought to capture our image. We obliged. Well exercised we retired to the comfort of Allan’s carriage and partook of a welcome lunch. Just as I drained the last from my second cup of coffee Allan spotted the Return of the Magnificent Seven(not as good as the original IMHO). All, Brothers in Arms once again, retired to the Crown in Sanquar. No need to debate right or wrong, good or bad decisions – all just glad to be able to be here to ‘decide’ next Wednesday’s outing.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

14 January Mugdock Country Park

Eight of us turned out for today's outing - Robert was recovered from his 'man flu' and Paul and Peter were the missing two. Ian took us northward to Mugdock for a walk around the country park there, a walk that would provide new territory for most of us so we looked forward to it.

The weather was typical of mid January. A fine frosty morning soon gave way to a build-up of cloud and rain was forecast for the afternoon. When we left the cars at the visitor centre thin wisps of mist skirted the flank of Dumgoyne and touched the tops of the Campsies but we were assured that the rain would not arrive before late afternoon so were hopeful of a dry walk despite the gathering cloud.

It's a good job Ian knew where he was going for paths led off from the visitor centre toilet* in all sorts of directions and these even split later if the experience of ours was anything to go by. Still, Ian knew the way and we followed. We walked away from the centre in roughly a north-westerly direction and through a gate into a wilder section of the park. Holly, who had sat patiently in the car for more than an hour and who had just been let off the leash, was leashed again for we came to tarmac and Ian turned us left along it. Holly's curtailment didn't last for we were only on the road for a hundred yards or so before turning right onto a temporary diversion of the West Highland Way. The scribe had now totally lost his bearings.

We came to a section with a plantation of mature conifers on the right and a clearing where these had been felled on the left. Who spotted the deer first is difficult for the scribbler to say (No doubt he will be informed in due course) but top marks to he who did. There it stood, amongst the brashings and long grasses of the cleared wood, fully alert to our, probably noisy, passing. As we stood and watched, another appeared out of the vegetation, only its head showing with ears attentive to our movements, especially Holly's. We watched them for fully five minutes and considered it a great start to our wildlife spotting for the year.

The huts of Carbeth came in sight next, scattered on the far side of a shallow valley. Their history was told by the ones who knew it. (At this point, would it be fair to say that we have probably learnt more about our own small part of the world in the three years of the Ooters than in thirty-odd years at the chalk face?) With the Carbeth Huts duly discussed, we found ourselves on Tarmac again and this time we were to stay on it for some distance. Davie was lagging behind and concern grew for the state of his blistered feet. However, Holly seemed to have caused the delay this time. Davie was trying to pick from her coat all the burrs, sticks and general debris that she had picked up in the wood. What he couldn't clear from her was the muck she had picked up from the quagmires that our leader took us through telling us this was the right track. Black marks to our leader. (We suspect Ian hasn't quite grasped the complexities of being an Ooter. At one point today, he called for an executive decision assuming we might have an executive capable of making a decision. We don't do decisions, Ian. The boy has a lot to learn.)

At the end of this road we came to a main road and turned left. The scribbler realised that we were now turned southward for we were following a sign directing us back to Glasgow and a weak sun tried to break through the cloud cover directly in front of us. When we reached Carbeth Inn, there came a shout from the rear for pints or at least coffee, but the pleas fell on deaf ears for those at the front ploughed on. Ian had a picnic spot in mind for coffee.

A picnic spot it might have been but it was of the primitive type - a well-trodden grassy area with two small logs and a car wheel balanced on the burnt stones of an extinct fire to provide seating for four. The rest of us used the ground. Remains of previous picnics - beer cans, plastic bottles and poly-bags - littered the ground, another sad comment on our society. The saving grace for this coffee stop was the view. Over the road was a bracken-covered slope rising to the horizon: to the south the greens and fairways of a golf course could be seen but no golfers today: behind us, more brown bracken clothed the slope up to a stand of dark conifers on the skyline. Not a bad view considering the proximity to the city. And, through the bracken behind us, the scar of a path could be seen slanting up the slope.

It was this path we took after coffee, slanting uphill with it. We didn't rise high, only high enough to come to the edge of the skyline trees. Many of these had been felled and the scent of fresh-cut timber hung in the air. And there had been warnings of timber operations along the route so it was no surprise to hear machinery grinding away in the distance. The logging machine was heard before it was seen approaching us from the other side of what proved to be a low ridge, twin caterpillars dragging it over the cut branches and soft ground. A huge, heavy beast of a machine it was and looked as though it would crush anything it took a fancy to. But we were safe from any such event for our path followed the outside of the wood, down the ridge to find another track.

Now we were on the West Highland Way and we kept to it, still travelling southward beside a wee burn. And we weren't alone on this section. Dog-walkers, cyclists, joggers and folk just out to enjoy a dry January day passed us, exchanging greetings. Then there came a split in the path.
Our confidence in the leader was shaken when he produced a map to find out which way to go. The way he pointed us was uphill. It was not a steep uphill, just sufficient to raise the breathing, and the effort was rewarded by a view over Milngavie. While we were content to view the scene from our path, Robert thought he would get a better view by going along a different path. Was his view better? Nah! So we continued on the path we were on. This brought us out of the wood to Mugdock reservoir.

Hunger had been calling for some time now but a cold breeze blew over the water and we had to find a spot sheltered from it before we could eat. We sat down on the metal covers of service shafts by the old waterworks and ate.

After lunch we came round the reservoir to the Victorian inlet tunnels. While most of us examined the skill of Victorian engineering, Jimmy was more concerned with the coins lying at the bottom of the water. Had it not been the middle of January, we feel sure that the boots and socks would have been off and the Ooters coffers would have been healthier. As it was, the water was too cold even for Jimmy so the money remains untouched.

The return to the visitor centre was by way of the service road from the new waterworks and the main Aberfoyle road. This offered little in the way of landscape or historical interest though Alan spotted a third deer, bounding through the bracken above us and to the right. It was the Ooter's banter that was the main appeal. It was suggested we recruit another Ooter and form a football team. We could challenge old-folk homes and pensioners groups. We might play in the Senokot League or the Crematorium Cup. Suggestions for positions should be mailed to Robert before the end of the transfer window but Jimmy Johnstone has an obvious place on the wing. Ian 'Jimmy' Hill could play centre and Johnny 'Stanley' Matthews on the other wing. And, at our age, we should all be good at dribbling.

We came up the main road in Indian file as the traffic brushed past us. When we got to the entrance to the country park, the pace was raised by those who should know better. The groups was split into two with the fast some fifty metres in front and going away. Did we care? Not a bit did we care for we had the leader with us and, when we got to the first car park, we turned off the road and were for Mugdock castle. Some were for letting the fast speed on but Ian hailed them and they were forced to turn back with much muttering and mumbling.

They were glad of the diversion though for Mugdock Loch and Castle were worth the visit. A heron stood among the reeds of the loch edge and another flapped lazily down into the water, a single shoveller floated on the shallows and a male goosander fished the middle of the loch. We spent a few minutes examining what remains of the castle (including the old kitchen range) and reading something of its history. It was a seat of the Graham family with ‘Bonnie Dundee’ probably its most famous owner. The ruins are still fairly substantial. As are the ruins of the mansion house built some three hundred metres eastward to replace it. It was past these newer ruins that the path back to the visitor centre toilet led us.

An interesting day in new territory and one enjoyed by all. But we feel that Ian should lead more walks until he gets the mind-set of an Ooter and learns the spirit behind our motto ‘Who cares, just go’.

*Do we really need to mention why we started walking from the centre toilets?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

7 January Durisdeer 5 - Morton Castle Circular

'Far up into the wild hills there's a kirkyard lone and still,

Where the frosts lie ilka morning and the mists hang low and chill.'
Durisdeer by Lady John Scott

Our fist walk of last year was rearranged from the Lowthers to the Morton Castle circular. At our Christmas curry, we arranged our first outing of this year to be the Lowthers but, for some reason or other, this was rearranged for the Morton Castle circular. So exactly a year to the day we gathered at Durisdeer to repeat our opening to last year. Deja vu or what?
Nine of us gathered this morning - only Robert was missing, having a bout of the sniffles - and, apart from Davie, Jimmy, Paul and Rex who did this walk last year, this was to be a new territory for us. It had been suggested by the veterans that we do the walk in reverse but this idea was soon abandoned when we turned on to the Durisdeer road and found it coated with an inch of crunchy, frozen snow. We opted for the same route as last year in the hope that this snow might be thawed by the time we gained tarmac in the early afternoon. Not that there was any sun to aid this thawing for a thick mist closed around us and anything beyond a hundred metres or so vanished into the whiteness. This mist was to stay with us for the rest of the day, in varying thicknesses and occasionally combined with drizzle and we could appreciate Lady Scott's word today.
In the village, the mist was more of a smirr so waterproofs were donned immediately. Peter might have donned his waterproofs as well if he had remembered to lift them from home. But the Ooters are nothing if not sympathetic and Peter was soon furnished with a spare waterproof jacket.
We left the kirk square around ten-thirty and crunched our way down the brae to the track along the side of the cemetery. However, we are gentlemen of a certain age with pressing biological needs so the old ruin beyond the cemetery saw our first halt of the day, the first pee-stop, barely five hundred metres from the start.
A bit lighter now, we continued along the track. This was not as icy as we imagined it might be and the walking was easy. Our next halt came at where the burn crossed the track. The burn was running fast but not particularly deep and the water was crystal clear so clear in fact that every stone on the bed was as obvious as if there had been no water there at all. But we have among us those who are allergic to running water (perhaps there is some black magic gene in their make-up for it’s a well known fact that witches and warlocks can’t cross running water - ‘A running stream they dare na cross’.) However, with a little judicious placing of feet and careful transfer of weight, all were safely across the burn with dry feet and we turned our attention to the climb ahead.
The climb is still on the track and is not greatly difficult but it is steep enough for the exertion to build up a sweat inside the waterproofs, a sweat that failed to evaporate in today’s smirry mist. And this mist thickened as we approached the head of the climb. We were quite happy to reach Kettleton, remove the waterproofs, sit in the bothy for elevenses and hope that some of the sweat would dry off. Even so, Allan changed into a dry shirt and felt the better of it. We all felt the better of the coffee.
The first quad-bike passed us as we came out of the bothy and the next a little along the track. The third drew up alongside us for the driver, a chap of our age or slightly older, was for a blether. They were looking for any tups left on the hill. No, there were no sheep where we were heading. Yes, it was ok to let Holly run. No, there was no chance of the mist lifting. Yes, we seemed to have made the right decision to stay low. Five minutes we stood blethering to our newfound friend before the chill of the fog drove us on, he to look for tups and we to climb slightly higher into the fog on the flank of Par Hill.
The gin traps were spotted nailed to planks laid across the burn. The expert was asked what they might be set to catch. He wasn’t sure what they were meant to catch but they would catch anything that tried to cross the burn by the planks. He said that these things weren’t designed to kill but simply to hold the animal by a leg smashed by the gin until shock or starvation killed it. Cruel, indiscriminate and completely illegal traps these. We should have destroyed them there and then but apathy on our part has probably condemned some poor creature to a painful, lingering death. Shame on us that saw them and did nothing.
On a cheerier note, when we reached the high point of the day, he who knows these things pointed out the landscape features. Kettleton reservoir lay below us, Drumlanrig Castle was to the west and lower Nithsdale stretched away southward. This would have been a superb view but for the fact we could see nothing but whiteness beyond a hundred metres or so. Even those who had come this way last year couldn’t confirm what he said was true for the same conditions prevailed then. We will need to come back on a clear day to see if his description is accurate. Until then we will have to take his word.
The track dropped quite steeply now and deposited us on Tarmac at the waterworks. Our decision to do the walk in this direction was justified for the icy snow had now gone from the roads, the fog had thinned to a mist again and the walking was on the level and easy. It was to stay easy for the rest of the day. We kept to tarmac and came to Morton Castle.
Morton Castle sits on a promontory high above a loch of the same name. It provides historical and archaeological as well as scenic interest for those who make the effort to get there. Today, the inside provided another pee-stop for those with old bladders and the outside a good place to sit for lunch. We leaned our backs to the castle wall, looked out over the frozen loch and ate.
Post-peece, we kept to tarmac - only three miles left said Jimmy. These ‘three’ miles were occupied by setting the world to rights as is the habit of GOO’s (Grumpy Old Ooters). After four miles, Peter was asking how far we had to go. And asking. And asking. Eventually he was told politely to stop complaining. ‘I’ll just shut up then’ said he. Johnny timed his silence at forty-five seconds, something of a record for Peter, before he returned to his loquacious self.
The five road miles from Morton Castle to Durisdeer were passed in banter for there was very little to see through the mist and very little of interest on this stretch of road. At Gateslacks, Jimmy asked the same question he had asked last year and got the same response. He warns us all to be prepared for the same question next time.
When we reached the road for the village, the juvenile amongst increased the pace and started the race for the finish. This tested legs that have been inactive during the festive period, especially when the slope steepened to the kirkyard. The burn set in rapidly and some were dropped off the pace. Most flagged. Johnny won the race, the big wean that he is! We weren’t really trying anyway.
For one, the adventure was not finished with the walk. Peter, who had come in Davie’s car with Jimmy and the dug, was somehow left behind when Davie drove off. It was a mile and a half before he was missed. (The two in front though he had fallen asleep!) Fortunately Paul, Johnny and Allan rescued him and carried him safely to the watering hole in the Crown in Sanquhar .
A good day despite the weather and a fine start to the new year.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Darvel, Loudoun Hill, Hogmanay 2008

Season's Greetings readers.

In the absence of him whit writes (poems as well) I was bullied into writing some small account of the walk on Hogmanay, 2008. Allan, Johnny and Robert met at Davies, Darvel. Kay furnished lemon sponge and coffee which helped settle a dicky tummy (the writer of this piece trying to empty a third full bottle of Martini on Tuesday night – this is also the reason why today’s walk was changed at the last minute from Durisdeer to Darvel – cut down the long car journey – but to the tale). The day was to remain grey and cold with hardly a breeze(until the top of the hill). We set out walking up the south side of the valley out beyond the sand quarries and then turned across the main road towards the car park for the picnic area besides the monument to Wallace. From this vantage this volcanic plug impresses. Dropping down to cross the stream that is to become the Irvine the climb threatens, but guided by he who has done this thousands of times we made a quick and easy ascent – 25 minutes from the monument to the trig point at the top(Davie reckons he took 15 minutes in his prime). The remains of our pack lunches having been finished off we set off towards Darvel along the north side of the valley. Cattle have churned up much of the walk that trails the old railway line. The frozen ground saved us from ankle deep mud but made the footing tricky. It seemed no time before we had gained the outskirts of Darvel but unbeknown to us the main street in Darvel had been lengthened by about 2 'Jimmy' miles since we set out that morning – well it certainly felt that way! Eventually we made the Black Bull. A relaxing libation, bonhomie all round, crisps! Not a bad way to spend part of the last day of 2008.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


Jimmy’s New Year Toast
(when opening the bottle of Glenlivet presented to him by the Early Ooters)

Here’s a health tae us a’, boys,
Tae the ooters ane an’ a’, boys,
Though we’re nae sae young at a’, boys,
Here’s tae the boy in us a’.

Here’s tae him wha kens the paths,
An’ never gaes astray,
Here’s tae him wi’ the hoose in France,
Wha invited us ower tae stay

Here’s tae the mathematician,
Wi’ his coffee an’ his scones
Here’s tae oor antipodean freen,
Wi his funny Aussie tones.

Here’s tae Catrine’s potter cheil,
Wha potters oot the dishes,
Here’s tae the dancing angler,
May he aye keep catching fishes.

Here’s tae oor tame Englishman,
Wha’s learnin’ a’ oor words,
Here’s tae the ornithologist,
Wha tells us a’ the birds.

Here’s tae the new boys, Allan an’ Ian,
May they aye keep comin’ back
Tae enjoy oor Wednesday walking
An’ oor post-walk Ooters crack.

I'll raise a toast tae us a’, boys,
Aye, I’ll raise this toast tae us a’.
Though we’re nae sae young as we yuist tae be,
Guid health, and joy be wi’ us a’.


Friday, 2 January 2009

2008 statistics

First of all, a Happy New Year to you all. And all the best for 2009!

For those interested in statistics and because we were discussing the subject on our perambulation in the Irvine Vally on Hogmanay, the Early Ooters completed 47 walks and 2 cycles in 2008. If we include the 6 walks we did in France, the Ooters had a total of 55 outings last year! He Who Knows these things attended every single one.

See you on Wednesday 7 January at 9am chez Jimmy for our Morton Castle Walk.