Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dumgoyne route (approximate!)

Distance: 10.5 km

24 June Dumgoyne Hill

The Mediterranean weather returned this week producing blue skies, bright sunshine and temperatures touching the eighties. When we gathered at Ian’s in Kilmarnock at nine o’clock this morning, it was already into the high sixties and the forecast was for another hot day.
The target for the day was an easy ascent of the volcanic plug of Dumgoyne at the northwest end of the Campsie Fells. We looked forward to a warm climb and excellent views in the clear summer air. Yet, when we arrived in Blanefield, we must have driven into the only place in Scotland to be overcast. Fog hug on the top of the Campsies and a general haze restricted the viewing to a few miles. But it was still hot and shorts and liberal lashings of sunscreen were the order of the day.

Ian led us today for he had been here once, and he had read a book. (Education is a wonderful thing.) It’s maybe a good thing he did, for none of us would have thought of walking the private road up which he directed us. He chose Blanefield as a starting point in preference to the traditional one from the distillery for, he suggested, this would give us a gentler climb and super views down Strathblane and Strathendrick to Loch Lomond as we climbed. We thought he was just lost but we started walking anyway.
Robert had to be reigned in right from the start. In the absence of Davie and Rex, we were to have a relaxed walk at an easy pace. When Robert got to the front, he was told unambiguously that we were not racing today. But it was OK. Robert was just getting to the front to slow everybody up. So he said, and we believe him, don’t we?
So, at our new relaxed pace, we came to the end of the tarmac and found a continuation of this as a track – The Water Road, Ian called it. This track undulated slightly but mainly held the contour and Ian was congratulated on finding an easy route.
But this all changed when we left the track and took to a grassy path climbing the side of the hill. Though the path wasn’t too steep by mountain standards, it raised the breathing and tested the legs. ‘Coffee!’ was called from the rear. But Ian knew the perfect place for coffee some five more minutes up the hill so we continued the climb, some with tongues hanging out in desperate need of caffienation.
Coffee was taken on a group of outcrop rocks beside a wee glen and looking back through the haze to Blanefield. In the overcast, humid conditions, it didn’t take the midgies long to find us. Johnny sat above us in a slight breeze. ‘There’s no midgies up here’ he gloated. Jimmy moved up beside Johnny. Robert followed Jimmy. The midgies followed Robert. Needless to say, we didn’t spend too long over coffee.
The path continued to rise steeply for a while yet. Then it eased to slant gently up the flank of the hill toward our destination. And the zephyr we felt at coffee freshened into a breeze in the tail. We hoped this breeze would disperse the clag on the hill and drive away the miasma from the valley. But it didn’t, yet. It drove away the midgies but the haze remained.
We walked easily, in Indian file, as the narrowing path lifted us gently up the hill. Well, most of us walked easily. Allan tried hard to add to his bruises of last week by twice stumbling on the narrower parts of the path. We think he is playing for the sympathy vote now but he came to no harm this time. (On the subject of Allan’s fall last week, a grazed forearm and an almighty yellowy-purple bruise from elbow to wrist was the trophy he showed us. He has another on his ar posterior but we declined the offer to view this. He received the usual Ooters sympathy.)
Despite Allan’s efforts to injure himself again, this was a pleasant part of the day and might have proved even more so had we been able to see a view. As it was, the haze limited the viewing but The Kilpatrick Hills and Mugdock Loch could be seen in the west and Loch Lomond could just about be imagined in the north-west. But was that the sun making an appearance over the Campsies? Was the fog clearing from the hill? We had hopes for our breeze. Yet the haze remained in the valley.
Then our path joined the main drag and steepened. Minds were turned away from the view and to the climb ahead. Steep it might have been, but it wasn’t too long a climb and we found ourselves on the rounded top of Dumgoyne almost before we knew it. Lunch was called here. It was to be a lengthy, lazy lunch today for it was a day for taking it easy. The sun shone now and the breeze kept the midgies away. And we hoped that if we hung about long enough the haze would also be blown away. We live in hope.
As we sat, a head appeared over the lip of the rise. A body followed this and a woman joined us on the top. Two men followed her. Then more, both women and men, appeared. Then more. Before they were finished, there were around twenty of them gathered on the top, all chattering noisily. Johnny was volunteered to take the group picture for them and Jimmy, ever the shy one, made enquiries. They were a group from Glasgow Metropolitan College, Catering Section out on a team building day before breaking up for the summer. And they could supply us with a chocolate biscuit if we wanted. We didn’t refuse. It was suggested that the Ooters might try one of these team-building days but, for the life of us, we couldn’t remember what a team was, far less how to build one. And who would supply the chocolate biscuits? Nah, we’ll just guddle awa’ the way we are.
The ‘Team’ left the top before we did. We lay still and enjoyed the quiet. But, ‘Nae man can tether time nor tide, The hour approaches......’ and we were force to move on.
The hour that approached was the hour of the tour of the distillery at the foot of the hill. We had talked each other into a free tour and free dram so we set off downward. Jimmy led the way and made a line for the path we had come up, a path that would take us to the main one to the distillery. Ian, the local expert, took a steeper more direct line and waited for the rest further down the path. He was to continue his steep descent and Johnny went with him. The rest were for the path on the gentler down-slope. This path gave out on the same grassy slope that Ian was on but further north and not quite so steep. Robert was the one who started the jog. Jimmy went with him. Though Robert had the sense to stop after a while, Jimmy jogged on. The silly auld bugger has learnt nothing from his escapade on the Luss Hills and jogged on. We suspect it was the thought of the free dram that motivated him. Eventually he ran out of steam and waited for the rest of us where the path crossed a fence and a wee burn. Half an hour after leaving the top, we were all gathered at the same spot.
Now the slope eased and an easy stroll brought us down a grassy path and through a wood to find the road some hundred metres to the north of the distillery.

The distillery was a disappointment. Contrary to our thoughts of freebies, the tour was to cost £3.50 and, being meanies (stingy auld b******s, say some), we reneged. We use their facilities though, partly because we had to and partly because they contain original Crapper toilets. Robert was so taken on with these that he had to photograph them, and show us the photos. Toilet jokes should be e-mailed to Robert, not inflicted on the rest of us. The best one could appear on this blog beside his photos.

But we left the toilets, left the distillery and, relieved but disappointed, we moved on.
Our route took us back up through the wood to find the Water Road again and this was followed back to Blanefield. The breeze had now done its work and the haze was gone. Not that this was of great interest to us now, for we were far too low for distant views but the strength of the summer sun could be felt and it was turning a pleasantly hot afternoon.
Halfway along the Water Road Ian was discovered missing. We waited for him to catch up, suspecting a comfort break. But he didn’t appear. Paul volunteered to go in search of him. Allan offered to hold himself in reserve in case Paul disappeared as well but he wasn’t needed. Five minutes after Paul went out, he returned with the missing Ian. Ian had stopped to replace the energy he had used up on the steep descent and now appeared devouring what must have been his tenth roll of the day. Like the Prodigal Son, he was welcomed back amongst us and, if we had a fatted calf, we feel sure he would have devoured this as well. Not that we are saying anything about Ian’s appetite but you should see the size of his lunchbox.

The Water Road brought us back to the cars around two o’clock having had a good, easy day on a hill that was new to most of us.
Note to Messrs Porter and McMeekin: This is what walking should be like on a day like this, easy paced and with plenty of time to lounge about.

We returned to The King’s Arms in Fenwick for FRT.

Since Robert will be missing for the next few weeks, we take this opportunity to wish him well and a speedy recovery from his operation.

Friday, 19 June 2009

17 June The De’il’s Back Door – Third Visit

Since it takes eight pints of water to make one pint of whisky, I console myself by thinking ‘The more it rains, the more whisky they can make '.
Jimmy’s philosophy for life
The rain came in the night and put an end to the dry spell we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks. When we gathered at Jimmy’s in Cumnock, it still poured down and the forecast was for a wet day. But our weatherman had consulted his seaweed and predicted that the rain would go by eleven o’clock so, while not fully trusting our weatherman’s prediction and despite Allan’s protestations, we set off for Muirkirk and the De’il’s Back Door. (We felt this was a far better alternative to looking at more of Robert’s holiday photos)
Logistical problems were overcome the same way we overcame them on our first visit to the Back Door (26/4/06) by leaving two cars at Dalblair, though we had to prevail on Jimmy’s good lady to get all of us to the walker’s car park at Kaimes, Muirkirk.
Still the rain came down.
Waterproofs were worn from the outset and we set off, heads down, into the weather. The rain came down and a wind blew but it wasn’t particularly cold and sweat built up under the waterproofs with nowhere for it to evaporate. It was to be a wet day one way or the other.
We took the old Sanquhar turnpike road, past McAdam’s Cairn and the Whisky Knowe, to the Sanquhar Brig, Rex and Robert setting a good pace. There was to be no hanging about to examine silly things like cairns, flowers or stones today. And no looking back for the view either for in that direction blew the wind. We walked on with heads down.
Still the rain came down.
But the fast pair did ease the pace as the slope steepened and the track climbed to the highest point of the day at the Black Gitter but there was still no halt to look at things and the only time we looked back was to check on those bringing up the rear. We waited for them at the gate at the Gitter. ‘The walk hasn’t been too bad so far’, said the novice.
‘Just wait till we get to the dougals’, said Rex.
It was now ten past eleven and still the rain came down. And the wind had freshened as well. We were beginning to loose faith in our weatherman.
The old road degenerates after the fence. Having been abandoned some two hundred years ago, it is now being claimed by the bog around it. Normally this is continuous sphagnum swamp but the long sunny spell had dried it so that, despite the day’s rain, some relief could be found in drier sections. Yet, we had to take time to loup the many sheughs that cut across our path. And by dint of walking and jumping and plunging through bogs, we came to the Ra’ens Cleugh.
Coffee was called for, for it was now well after half past eleven, and in as much shelter as a grassy bank could provide, we sat down for a bite. And still the rain came down.
‘That was slightly harder’, said the novice, ‘but not as tough as I expected’.
‘We’re not at the dougals yet’, said Rex and passed round the Aussie soft liquorice before comment could be made.

We left the old road at the sheep bucht and took to the open hill. One thing we have come to expect of a Jimmy walk is that, it may not involve a lot of climbing, but it is never easy. This section was tough. Feet had to be lifted high over the tussocks, reeds had to be skirted round and sheughs had to be louped. Every step was a different length and at a different height. It was tough. The group split into two, Rex, Jimmy and Johnny making up the first and the rest taking a sensible pace, as we contoured the flank of Connor Hill.
And still the rain came down.
Only two things took the mind off tiring legs. The first was witnessed by all. A deer, some distance away, stopped its grazing to watch and listen to the noisy bunch of men getting too close to it before bounding effortlessly over the stuff through which we struggled. We envied it its grace and energy.
Only Jimmy and Johnny saw the second thing. The skylark showed exactly where her nest was by flying off in a panic as a foot got too close to her. And in the nest were two mottled brown eggs. ‘A second clutch, at this time of year’, said the expert.
They left the nest to allow the adult to return and tried to catch up with Rex who had marched on oblivious to the pair nosing about in the grass. The rest trailed on behind.
Rex was carried away by his enthusiasm for the rough stuff and overshot the gully we should have gone down. The rest followed him only to have to turn back over the flank of the hill to find the top of the stone-chute that dropped us down to the base of the waterfall known to the locals as the De’il’s Back Door.
And the rain stopped!
The rain stopped and the wind dropped. Lunch was called. We settled down on a grassy island in the burn to eat our lunchtime sandwiches. The novice could contain his curiosity no longer. ‘OK, Rex’, said he, ‘What on earth are dougals?’ Rex let him in on another piece of Ooter-speak. ‘They are the tussocks of grass we have just come through.’ Only in the short upland summer do these show green shoots. For most of the year they are covered in long, brown trailers of dead grass, each tussock looking for all the world like the dog, Dougal, from ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Hence, Rex christened them ‘dougals’, and dougals they have remained.
The rain had stopped, the wind had dropped and the midges took full advantage. Fresh blood was on their lunch menu. They bit cruelly and bit often. And there were many of them. We never thought that we would wish for the rain to come again. Now we did. The rain did come again, but not until the midges had driven us away from our island and down the burn towards Glenmuirshaw.
We had to cross the burn to avoid the Connor Crags that dropped directly into the water. Once across we decided to stay on this bank rather than risk watery accidents. (Remember, we had Paul and Jimmy with us.) This was a bad move. Two rocky outcrops that hung above the burn had to be negotiated. The adventurous hung close to the burn and swung precariously round the rock. Those who think themselves more sensible opted for a higher route and a scrambled descent. They thought this would be the safer route. More fool them! It was on the second descent it happened.
Allan, spread like a stranded crab, searching for a foothold on the wet rock with his left foot, lost traction with his right. Down he came, the full four feet to the grassy ledge above the burn. Fortunately, he stopped there but not before bashing himself about a bit on rocky spurs. With nothing but a large graze on his arm to show for his misadventure, a rather paler and quieter Allan walked down the side of the burn. But he had recovered his colour by the time we came to the bridge at the sheep fanks at Glenmuirshaw.
And still the rain came down.
At Glenmuirshaw, we picked up the track that we would stay on for the rest of the walk. The abandoned farmstead of Glenmuirshaw had to be examined, mainly to get us out of the rain for a while but the rain hardly let up at all so we went back out into it and continued along the road. It was now a four-mile walk along the road to Dalblair.
And still the rain came down.
Three miles form Glenmuirshaw there was a brightening in the sky and a cooling in the wind. Was this an indication of the warm front passing through and bringing and end to the rain? Yes, it was, but by the time the rain went, we were only half a mile from the end of the walk, a dry half-mile for a change.

Somewhere else in these annals, it has been said that some of our walks will be remembered for a long time while others have probably been forgotten about already. Today’s walk might have fallen into the second category – it ticked all the boxes – but, for some reason, was quite enjoyable. Or is your scribe showing his masochistic tendencies again?

We returned to the Coach House Inn in Muirkirk for a pleasantly dry, warm and convivial FRT today.

17th June 2009: The Deil's Back Door

Lunch at the Back Door

Allan's Trophy

The Twins

Refreshments at the Coach House Inn.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

10 June Greenock Cut

They say it’s third time lucky. This was to prove true for us today as, for the third time as a group, we set out to tackle the relatively short (7.5 miles) walk of the Greenock cut. The sun shone, the air was clear and the forecast was in our favour. Only a light westerly breeze kept the temperature down and stopped us from overheating. It was a perfect day for walk on the high moors.
We knew the day was to be an improvement on the last twice we had been here when we left the car park at Cornalees, came round the shelterbelt of trees and found the sun still shining, shimmering on the water of the lower loch.
Skylark sang on the moor above us as we walked up the tarmac beside the loch towards the dam of Loch Thom. Already the naturalist had binoculars glued to his eyes though why he couldn’t see that it was a buzzard was beyond us for the rest of us could see it clearly without binoculars. But the bird then swung away over the dam and the binoculars were dropped. We continued the walk.
We came up the slope of the dam to find Loch Thom to the right of us, sparkling in the sunshine as the gentlest of breezes stirred the surface. This is where the tarmac ran out and the way continued as a track that climbed gently over a low rise beyond the loch. This was a delightful part of the walk. Butterflies, mainly whites, flitted from heather clump to heather clump and skylark sang overhead. The naturalist was in his element and the rest just enjoyed the feeling of the open moor. And the sun continued to shine.
There was a call for coffee at this point but the veterans of this walk, i.e. those who had done it twice already, said that, just over the rise, there was a pond with wee jetty and that would provide a seat for our coffee break. We walked on.
We never made the jetty. Just over the road and slightly higher than the pond was a collection of flat-topped boulders, boulders that we hadn’t seen through the rain the last time we came here, but boulders that would provide a good seat for our coffee stop.
Not only did our boulders provide us with a seat but their position on the hill provided us with a remarkable view of the Clyde Estuary and the Dunbartonshire hills. Our moor sloped down towards the blue waters of the Clyde. Helensburgh lay on the other side of the water and the Dunbartonshire hills formed the skyline behind this. What a superb view this was for so little effort on our behalf.
A peculiar shape lay in the water and Ian pointed it out as the upturned hulk of a sugar boat wrecked on its way into Greenock. The naturalist was encouraged to stop looking for moorland birds and turn his binoculars on a boat making its way upriver. According to Ian, who seems to know this kind of thing, it was a pilot boat escorting submarines upriver in a specially dug channel. We knew there was a reason we bring Ian along.
It was during the long coffee halt that the idea of the nude Ooters calendar was brought up. Jimmy refuses to be Mr. January citing reasons of shrinkage in cold weather. Paul didn’t fancy getting sunburn on tender parts so preferred to be Mr. September. Davie didn’t mind what month he was but needed the biggest picture. No, we don’t know why either!
It was noted that there are twelve months in the year and only eleven Ooters. Johnny, our mathematician did a complicated sum and found this doesn’t equate. ‘We could use Holly as a twelfth man’, said he, ‘but we would need to shave her’. We suspected Johnny’s fidophilia* was reappearing so we ended the conversation and moved on quickly before he got overexcited.
The track lay downward now so down we went down with it, towards Greenock and the Cut, still admiring the northward prospect.
The Cut was found easily enough for the track crosses it beside the keeper’s cottage. Now our walk was to be almost level, Alexander Thom’s engineering skills ensuring a minimal drop in the cut between Loch Thom and the cottage, and it was to maintain the height above Greenock, the Tail o’ the Bank and the Firth of Clyde. We enjoyed the views, changing subtly as we walked westward.
We stopped above Greenock for a look at the town. Ian pointed out the various landmarks. Here was Ravenscraig sports ground where the local athletics team train and the junior football team play; that is Greenock jail where the Lockerbie bomber is living out his final months; there was Ravenscraig Hospital; and that was the Academy where some poor souls are still chained to the chalk-face. This is probably the best place to view Greenock from for we know what would happen to strangers who ventured into the town. We kept on walking.
They say we are never too old to learn and we, at our advanced age, are proving this maxim to be perfectly true. Today’s lesson on Platonic solids was beautifully and enthusiastically delivered by the mathematician. The learning support group (Davie and Rex) exhibited disinterest but the clever amongst us know that questions will be asked in future so paid particular attention. (For the sake of Davie and Rex, the answers are A) Polyhedron, B) Tetrahedron, C) Octahedron, D) Dodecahedron, E) Couldnaecarelessahedron, F) Ba’, but don’t tell Johnny where you got them.)

But all this education was tiring and hunger-making so, when we came to a sheltered wee cleugh, we stopped for lunch. Ronnie discovered the climbing abilities of Sherpa Holly as we sat, throwing a stick well up the steep bank of the burn and watching Holly scrambling a way up to get it. Though he said he enjoyed watching Holly learn a new skill, we feel that there must be a deep-seated psychological reason why he took pleasure in torturing the poor dog like this. He needs to consult a psychologist.
Whilst Johnny’s knowledge educated us, it’s more than can be said of the botanist’s. When, after lunch, we came to a patch of white flowers growing in the shallow water of the cut and asked for enlightenment, he was unable to identify them. Poor show, botanist, we expect better. Further research by the scribe has identified them as Bog Bean.
Apart from the mysterious flowers, the northern hillscape held the attention as we walked on. From the hills of Cowal through the Arrochar Alps and the Loch Lomond Mountains to the Campsies and Ben Venue in the Trossachs, the view was superb in the sunshine. We came round a bend and the Clyde islands came into view with Arran looking magnificent as usual. Some were regretting not being on its mountains on a day like this. But we were on the Greenock cut and we had today’s walk to finish.
Another form of wildlife that couldn’t be identified accurately were the small fishes that Paul spotted swimming in the cut. Due to the recent spell of dry weather, the water didn’t flow in the cut today but lay in long, isolated pools and puddles and it was in the deeper of these pools that the fishes swam. We wondered what are their chances of survival if the dry spell continues and the pools shrink even further. Then we found the tadpoles.
Great black shoals of tadpoles swam in a shallow pool. At first we wondered what the heaving black mass at the edge of the pool was for no single creature could be distinguishes from its neighbour. Then, as our eyes isolated individuals, we saw they were tadpoles. They were in even more imminent danger of succumbing to the dry weather for their pool was shallow. Yet they strove and clambered over each other to get to the very edge of the pool. Why they did this was beyond the naturalist but he suggested that the water would be warmer there and amphibians need the heat. Nobody, even Davie, speaks Frog or we might have asked them. As it was we left them to their fate and wandered on.
Cornalees car park came quicker than we expected and we returned to the cars around two o’clock. This was another superb day and easily our best visit to the cut.

At Rex’s insistence, The Merrick in Seamill was the chosen venue for FRT today though why he insisted we go there isn’t known to us. We were almost as disappointed as Rex to find that it was a barman on duty today and not the eye candy we have become used to.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

10th June Greenock Cut

Near the end of the cut

Davie fetching a stick for Holly

But what is it???? Jimmy!

Oh - that football park!

Great views along the cut

Can the day get any better?

A bomber's prison

The Greenock end of the walk - starting back.

First leg of the walk completed

Holly ignoring the great views - where's ma stick?

Setting out on the first stretch from the car park

Friday, 5 June 2009

3 June Cairnsmore of Carsphairn

There’s Cairnsmore o’ Fleet,
An’ there’s Cairnsmore o’ Dee,
But the Cairnsmore o’ Deugh,
Is the highest o’ the three.
Traditional Galloway rhyme

Eight of us gathered at the Green Well of Scotland just north of Carsphairn, where the Water of Deugh cuts its gorge through a ridge of hard whin rock. Our objective for the day was the ascent of the highest of Galloway’s three Cairnsmores, Cairnsmore o’ Deugh, now known as Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, at 2624ft.
The hot, Mediterranean-type weather of the last two or three days went in the night. It was a cooler, fresher morning that greeted us when we woke: cooler and fresher but still sunny and warm enough for some to sport shorts. Yet, when we arrived at the Greenwell, it seemed that this shorts wearing caper might have been an imprudent impulse brought on by too much sun over the week-end, for thick cloud had now gathered over the hill and a cool northerly breeze stirred. Most donned woollies. Only Jimmy carried on stoically with the short gear.
The walk was to be short – ‘Three miles in and three miles back’, said Jimmy and we all trust his judgement of distance, don’t we? – so the pace was to be casual from the start. Davie led the way through Brigend farm to find the track that would take us to the base of the hill.
Sheep, not yet loosed on the hill, scampered out of our way as we passed and a single oystercatcher ‘peeped’ an alarm above us. ‘Must have a nest nearby’, said the naturalist. Others were surprised to see such a bird inland but were happy when it was explained that they come inland to breed. And happily we walked on toward the hill now lowering in front of us under the heavy sky.
We came to the burn that defeated us the last time we came this way (25/06/08) but the water flowed much calmer and lower this time and boulders that would provide stepping stones rose high above the stream. Paul and Jimmy were advised to be careful for we wanted no unexpected sit-downs in the water today. But cameras were readied just in case. It’s slightly disappointing to note that all crossed the burn without mishap.
The track climbed gently now as the river valley gave way to the easy hill-foot slopes. And, as it climbed, the western landscape opened up for us, the broad Carsphairn valley giving way to the tree-covered steeps leading up to the ridge of the Rhinns of Kells. And Loch Doon began to show to the north of this. But we didn’t stop much to admire the view, only enough to open and close the few field gates that the track passed through.
But the climb was out of the breeze and the day was turning warm. A slightly longer halt was made as woollies were removed and we returned to lighter gear. And was the sky beginning to clear? Were we to get a decent day after all?
Eleven o’clock beeped on somebody’s watch and coffee was called for. Davie suggested we wait a wee. There was an ideal place for coffee in a few minutes time. We waited. The track came to an end and the hill proper was taken to. We climbed round a wee slope and above the valley of a burn, with our backs to a drystane dyke, we sat down for coffee. The conversation was as you would expect from the Ooters. Only Allan sat in silence staring at the hill rising in front and savouring the thought of the climb.
Yes we sat, but we didn’t sit long. Nobody had noticed the midges before we sat. Everybody noticed them now, clouds of them now, each with a voracious appetite for blood, for our blood. The words of the inimitable Alastair Mcdonald came to mind when he sang:-
The Midges, the midges, I’m no gonnae kid ye’s
The midges is really the limit.
Wi’ teeth like piranhas, they’ll drive ye bananas
If ye let them get under yer simmet.

Whether they were into our undergarments or not, the wee blasties were certainly driving us bananas. We didn’t sit long for coffee.
We left the scourge of the Scottish uplands in a hurry, nearly running down the slope of the wee burn and up the other side, to avoid their irritating bites. Now we started the climb of the hill proper. And, as we were into the gentlest of northerly breezes, we left the midges behind.
Davie led the way up the hill with Allan, savouring every upward step, bringing up the rear. (Oh, how he is enjoying these climbs.) Somewhere in between were the rest of us.
The climb was just as steep as Allan expected it to be and old legs were soon burning. In an effort to relieve the pain, the naturalist pointed out the upland flora; insectivorous Butterwort; Milkwort, which if eaten by nursing mothers, increased the milk production; Tormentil, the only cruciform yellow flower native to Britain; Lousewort with the drop of nectar at its base; all were pointed out to those interested. The assessment sheet was promised for when we next go to the hill so, as an aide memoir, Johnny photographed each plant.
The climb was hot, even more so when the cold front passed through taking its associated cloud with it and leaving us with sunshine for the rest of the day. We climbed in many groups, each stopping as the need arose. And, as we climbed, the western hillscape was opening up. Many were the view stops taken to admire it. Immediately below us lay the broad Carsphairn valley giving onto the forested lower slopes of the Kells range. (Once more, the superb day we spent on that ridge (10/10/08) was brought up.) Then the trees gave way to the broad ridge of the Kells which filled most of the western skyline. Behind this and slightly to the north, the Awful Hand range filled the rest with Merrick standing proudly above them all. And between the two ranges, the north end of Loch Doon showed. Those who know these things pointed out the various hills in each range and Allan was desperately keen to know the names of each ‘bleeping’ hill he would have to climb. But first he had to finish the climb of this one.
We came near to the rock-strewn summit and Paul recollected something about an aircraft crash near here. When a peculiarly artificial-looking rock formation was spotted some hundred metres to our left over the boulder-field, it was thought that this might mark the site. Johnny was dispatched to investigate. What did he find? He found a peculiar artificial-looking rock formation. We were glad we sent him.
When we arrived at the top Davie and Rex were found ensconced behind the summit cairn, out of the fresh northerly that swept the summit, and already half way through their lunch. We joined them to eat for it was now twelve thirty. We had taken a little over two hours for the climb.
What a remarkable view is had from this summit. Though the day wasn’t as clear as could be, there was still a range of some fifty miles and a compass of three-sixty degrees. From Tinto and the Pentland outliers in the northeast to Cairnsmore of Fleet and the Solway in the southwest, from Skiddaw in the south to the extent of the Ayrshire plain in the north the view was superb. Only in the northwest was the view restricted – no Arran today. But the panorama of hills in our immediate circle made up for any distant disappointment. Windy Standard just had to be pointed out to those who had been on it but had not seen it (See 11/03/08). And the high Galloways filled the western skyline.
Jimmy was asked to name the lochs we could see. This he did with his usual confidence but we suspect he made up some of the names. Loch Ken we could accept for we have all heard of this one. Earlston and Carsfad? Maybe. But Loch Urr indeed! And Lochinvar is a poem! Still, the view was remarkable and we might have stayed there much longer to admire it but the cool northerly was beginning to chill. We set off downward.
Down the broad ridge of the Black Shoulder, we came. The rarefied air of the high summit must have affected Ronnie’s brain in some way for he started on his repertoire of jokes. (If the scribbler was being perfectly honest, on the ascent Ronnie had no wind to speak let alone tell jokes but now we were on the descent, he was in full flow.) One story followed another and kept us amused as we dropped down beside the drystane dyke on the Black Shoulder.
We heard the splashing as Holly found the wee lochan in which to cool off. We had lost the breeze now and the sun was hot and the afternoon turning pretty warm. Holly had the right idea. What wasn’t right, though, was that she should come out and shake herself all over the legs of those with shorts on.
Then we came onto a top that Jimmy and Davie, the experts on this area, called Willieanna and halted for a drink stop. Many, but not so varied, were the comments made about all of us men being on top of poor Willieanna, and at the same time. No need to worry, dear reader. Further research, i.e. looking at a map, showed that Dave and Jimmy don’t know what they're talking about. The top on which we halted was in fact Dunool. We won’t let either of these two tell us anything again. Black marks, boys.
Now there came a steep descent to the col between Dunool and the real Willieanna. This was taken in as many groups as the ascent of the Cairnsmore this morning, and for the same reasons. But the slope was short and all were down without mishap or undue exertion.
We never made the top of Willieanna. Instead we turned down from the col to find the road we had travelled this morning. The fast waited for the others on the track. Now, a casual stroll in the afternoon sun down the last mile or so had us back at the cars by two-thirty, suntanned/burnt and sweaty and badly in need of FRT.

FRT was administered in the Dalmellington Inn where Johnny added to his collection of pictures of ‘Pubs we have known and loved’.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Spitfire called Blue Peter

In 1941, the people of Newmarket raised £5,100 as part of the war effort, towards Spitfire Vb, AD540, which was presented to
the RAF, and named "Blue Peter", after the 1939 Derby winner.

On May 23rd 1942, at 1pm, AD540 took off from RAF Ayr to provide aerial cover to the approaching vessel "Queen Mary" laden with US sevicemen. Flying her on this occasion was Pilot Officer David Hunter Blair.

On the way, Blue Peter, and a second Spitfire, piloted by Flight Sergeant Gordon "Matt" Mathers, were directed to investigate a suspected enemy sighting inland. Soon, at an altitude of 20,000ft, Blue Peter was seen to behave erratically, and then descend through the clouds. David Hunter Blair had fallen unconscious due to a fault in the oxygen system, and regained consciousness as the aircraft plunged to a lower altitude.

Unable to regain control, he baled out. However, his parachute did not deploy fully before he landed, and he died in the remote valleys of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn in South West Scotland. He was nineteen.....

The accident was witnessed by a local farm worker, and David was subsequently buried with full military honours on the family estate of Blairquhan Castle, some 15 miles from where he had been killed.

The wreckage of Blue Peter was buried on site and lay undiscovered until 51 years to the day after it crashed, by a team including members of the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Group, led by Ralph Davidson, chairman of the Scottish region of The Spitfire Society, and later covered by a team from the BBC children`s programme Blue Peter.