Tuesday, 27 October 2009

21 October Darvel to Whitelees over the moor.

Some said it couldn’t be done, the logistics were too complicated for us oldies to cope with. To get nine or ten Ooters across the moor from Darvel to the visitor centre at Whitelees Wind Farm with transport at each end was a task beyond our capabilities. Ha! We laugh at the scoffers! It was done.
Usually, before we depart for our week in foreign parts, we opt for a short walk. This was to be a short walk; Davie told us it was so and he has done this many, many times before. We believed it was to be a short walk. And it would be easy for it was mainly on roads of varying description.
Unusually for this year, a full compliment of eleven Ooters gathered in Davie’s place in Darvel. Kay supplied the pancakes and Davie the coffee as we waited for the Killie contingent to return from dropping cars at Whitelees. But by ten o’clock all were gathered, coffee’d and raring to go.
The morning was dull with rain falling at seven and the forecast wasn’t good. Yet, as we sat in Davie’s, the sky brightened and a touch of blue came at one time. Despite the gloom of Met Office, our weatherman promised us a fair day and we trust in our weatherman. But waterproofs were carried, just in case.
We set off up the Burn Road. The sides of the Irvine Valley are steep, no matter what road you take out of it, and the climb up the Burn Road was warm and tested legs not quite loosened off yet. A view stop was called as the slope began to ease. That touch of blue had gone now and the sky was a pale grey. But a blink of watery sun broke through and spotlit Darvel lying in the valley immediately below us. Yet the rest of the landscape, from Loudoun Hill to the coastal plain remained dull under the grey sky. We walked on
The slope eased as we gained the high ground. We strolled up to join the Astonpapple and turned right. We would follow this road up past the remains of the old Loudoun Moor School (only the house remains as a private dwelling), up to the Darvel Moor, past Lochfield where Alexander Fleming of penicillin fame was born, to its end at High Overmuir. The crack was good, the pace was easy, the weather showed signs of improving and the miles flew in. One Ooter thought that Dyke Farm was where they bred lesbians but he was soon brought back to political correctness, Holly renewed old acquaintance with the barking collies at the Old School House and a young woman on a horse turned onto the road some fifty metres in front of us.
As we approached the bend in the road above Mucks Bridge, Holly, well in front as usual and out of our sight round the bend, started barking furiously. Davie thought she might be barking at the young lady on the horse and called her back. But Holly, most unlike herself, remained out of sight and continued barking and when we rounded the bend, we saw the cause of this un-Holly-like behaviour. The corpses of four foxes hung over the roadside fence, shot and left hanging there as evidence for some doubting farmer. Whether Holly understood that they were dead, deceased, departed, ex-foxes, or not we couldn’t say but she continued to bark at them even as we stood there. And they had been there for some time according to our amateur pathologist who examined the maggot activity in the wounds. The ghouls would have their pictures (including maggots) before we moved off again.
The turbines of Whitelees wind farm were seen even before we stopped for coffee, appearing on the skyline through a gap in the forest. But we lost sight of them as we dropped down to Pogiven Bridge and stopped for coffee.
The tarmac ran out on the bridge but the road continued as a track. We walked up towards the ‘windmills’ growing ever larger on the skyline. Then the track ran out and we took to a pad through the remains of a recently cleared forest. This pad was not so much a path as a series of indentations in the rank grasses, and brashings lay where the trees had been cleared. Progress was difficult and tiring. Fortunately, the ‘path’ was marked by a string of taped canes or we might never have found our way through for there were many gaps in the indentation and many cul-de-sac diversions. Rex, Peter and Jimmy led us like they knew where they were going and we followed slipping, sliding and stumbling up to a road, a forest type road, a road oozing with wet mud but a road that provided some relief for some tired legs.
But what road? According to the wind farm blurb there were ninety-four kilometres of road scarring the moor. Which were we on? And Where? This was new territory even for Davie for the wind farm roads have destroyed the old path and upset Davie’s sense of direction. The rumblings of an approaching lorry were heard and we flagged it down. It was a log transporter and the driver could assure us this was the Spine Road (marked on our map) and we should go ‘that wey and follow the signs’. We went that way, down to where we could see more lorries loading logs. And we found a sign; at least Ian found a sign for the rest of us, engrossed in debating some philosophical point or other, had walked past. The sign said ‘Timber operations. Footpath diversion’, and pointed us off the road and into what would have been a forest ride before the trees on one side had been cleared. Again, we stumbled on through rank grasses.
Ian’s ears were suffering as abuse was hurled in his direction. Why Ian? Because he was the one who had noticed the sign. If it hadn’t been for him we would still be on the mucky road in blissful ignorance. Now we were up to the knees in rank grasses and doogals with no obvious ending. To relieve the pressure on legs, we found a wee burn, not a very wide burn, but a burn sufficient to cause the hydrophobes some concern. We had hopes for some amusing accidents here but, sorry to say, all came safely over and the rough grassy travail continued.
A wind turbine loomed before us as we rounded a corner of the wood. And where there was a turbine, according to the map, there was a road. We made directly for the turbine, found the road and at a place by the foot of turbine nineteen, we sat out of the breeze for lunch.
During peece-time we had a chance to see the scale of the wind farm, ‘windmill’ upon ‘windmill’ filled the skyline over to the east and away to the north. Alan consulted his map. ‘That’s only a fraction’ he said ‘most are over the hill’. Now, if that was just a fraction some wondered, how far have we to go on this short walk. But no matter how far it was, or how many tussocky diversions lay in wait for us, it looked like we would do it in fairer weather for brightness could be seen approaching from the west.
Alan had obviously studied his map well for he told us that we would be on the road for the rest of the way. So after restoring energy, we set off down the road from turbine nineteen, down into the forest and down to the grotty Spine Road again. According to Alan, this would take us close to Lochgoin Reservoir, which was very much on our route, so we stuck with it and it took us out of the trees on to the open moor.
The day was definitely brightening and turning pleasantly warm for the time of year. We walked casually down the Spine Road, over the moor festooned with waving ‘windmills’, towards the reservoir. Just as the water of the reservoir appeared, a road joined our one from the right. Alan directed us along it and, sure enough, we found ourselves on a road above the waters of the reservoir. It was clear to us all then that this would take us to the visitor centre. What wasn’t clear to anybody except themselves was why Rex and Alan turned off the road trudging through the rank grass again heading down to the water. We followed, wondering and cursing and mumbling, especially when feet got wet in a bog near the water. But the two heroes knew where they were going and why. A land bridge of sorts, rather a fabricated barrage, cut the reservoir in two here providing us with a safe crossing point and a short cut to the centre. And the exertion was worth it. Half way along we stopped to look across the reservoir to see ‘windmills’ silhouetted against the brightening western sky and reflected in the calm water. The photographers were in raptures as they attempted to capture the scene. It will be interesting to see if there are any original pictures.

A few minutes later, we were off the barrage and into those damned doogals again. The mumbling started again.
But it was only a hundred metre climb through the horrid stuff to find the road again. Once we had found turbine fifty-six, we knew we were almost home and dried, barely a mile to go. That’s when the silliness started. The infantile upped the pace. First Rex, Robert and Johnny pulled away but were caught on the hill by Ronnie and Jimmy. The latter group then kept the speed up. But, I am sorry to say, we have cheats in the Ooters. When the leading pair kept to the road, the cheats cut the corner. To save embarrassment, the cheats won’t be named but now Robert, Davie, Alan and Rex had a good lead. Davie dropped off the pace as Ronnie passed him. Now Ronnie joined the leaders with Jimmy and Davie just behind. The final uphill push produced a photo finish only because Davie and Jimmy cut the corner. With all the infantile claiming victory, it is best if we call it a dead heat. Anyway, that last mile was covered in record time for old boys like us – ‘Whaur’s yer Roger Bannister noo?’
Meanwhile, the sensible took their time and finished a few minutes behind.
No matter whether we were one of the infantile or one of the sensible, all agreed that it was a good walk. And, at just over eighteen kilometres, it was a good, long short walk before our sojourn in foreign parts.
Now all we had to do was get back to Darvel and partake of a small refreshment on the Black Bull there.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Darvel - Whitelee Windfarm

Whitelee Windfarm


A Big Yellow Truck


Ronnie - Tackle intact?

Even more blue sky

The day improves as we walk through the forest

A long and winding road

The foxes are dead Holly.

Leaving Darvel down in the valley

11 Ooters and Holly

An attempt at a £250 clip - failed!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

14 October Is There Such a Place as Hill Of Stake?

There are some places on this planet just fated not to be visited. As far as the Ooters are concerned, The Hill of Stake on the Ayrshire/Renfrewshire border is such a place. Three times we’ve tried for this top and three times, for different reasons, we’ve failed. Twice we have gone from Muirshiel (7/5/08 & 11/6/08) and once from Largs (18/2/09) but all were abandoned for one reason or other and the top remained unvisited. But in our euphoria (some would say drunkenness!) after last week’s super walk in Nithsdale, we decided that this would be the time for Hill of Stake.
Johnny’s house in Irvine was the meeting point and nine of us gathered to sample his usual hospitality. The nine included young Davie Clunie, our junior section, released from the chalk face for a week of freedom and deciding to waste it by coming with us. Johnny’s scones were good and such was the weather outside that it was some time before we stirred ourselves for the journey to Muirshiel and the start of the walk.
The weather was driech and the omens were poor. A heavy sky accompanied us to Lochwinnoch and a thick mist closed in as we climbed to Muirshiel Visitor Centre. Already there were mumbles of discontent. ‘Have we no’ had enough walks in the clag for one year?’ ‘We’ll no’ see a bluidy thing’ ‘Ma mammy says Ah’ve no’ tae get wet again’. But the father of the group, Old Rex, reminded us of the resolution of Cairnsmore of Fleet and encouraged the falterers to don boots and follow. Aussies are stout-hearted fellows. So, armed with a new resolve and a waterproof map, we set off up the track towards the barytes mine.
This was new territory for some but familiar ground for most, which was just as well for we could see no landmarks through the gathering mizzle and the terrain we would travel through was featureless and it would be easy to get lost. But we had a track to start us off. We came through a gate telling us that the old mines were four kilometres away, four kilometres for the weather to clear or the mutineers were for home, four kilometres of seeing nothing but each other.
The track split and the newcomers were unsure of which branch to take. The old heads pointed them down to the bridge and up the other side of the shallow glen to a large sycamore tree. This was the last major feature we were to see until we reached the old mines some time later. The way now ran through featureless rough heather and grass moorland and the clag blocked out anything beyond a hundred metres or so. We were grateful for the track. The area is famous for its nesting hen harriers (so the naturalist says) but nary a bird could be seen; nor a hilltop; nor a tree. In fact, nothing could be seen except each other and the four kilometres of track running before us.
We knew we were approaching the mines only when the road started to turn pink with barytes chips but it was a few minutes yet before the remains of the workings were found.
All the old quarry buildings are demolished now but a metal hut of the shipping container type stands in their stead. It was thought that this might provide some shelter from the mizzle and, since coffee was suggested, we approached to see if it would. The door stood open, and our hopes for shelter were raised. Two fellows were already in residence, seated at a table but the sight and sound of nine noisy Ooters seamed to terrify them and they readily gave up occupancy to allow us in. Only six seats sat around the table. The mathematician calculated that nine into six doesn’t go - we really don’t know how he does this but he is good at it - and proceeded to unfold his own chair from his rucksack. So seven of us sat and two stood round while we took coffee in a ship’s container in the middle of a foggy moorland wilderness.
We met two fellows when we left the hut, two fellows we had seen leave the centre before us an hour or so ago. They were local Renfrewshire men and during the course of conversation told us of another walk taking in the Greenock cut and Skelmorlie. This was added to our ‘maybe’ list for next year. In return, we gave them a blog card to look us up. Then we walked up towards the quarry.
We had promised Peter, whose interest in things mineral is well known in the Ooters, a rummage around the old quarry. But ‘Health and Safety’ rules, even in these remote regions. High metal gates now bar the way into the quarry and a fence topped by barbed wire, runs round the perimeter. Signs attached to the gates informed us how dangerous the steep sides and loose rocks of the quarry were, as if this wasn’t already patently obvious. ‘Nae wonder there’s nae money for important things like schools and hospitals if they spend it all on bluidy useless things like this!’ Jimmy’s dander was up. While we agreed with his sentiments, there was nothing we could do about it right now. So Peter had to forgo his poke around the old pit and contented himself with picking up bits of barytes from the track. But he promised he would be back some other time.
Now came decision time. The weather hadn’t improved and the waverers were at it again. Would we go up the hill into the damp fog or find the dry warmth of a welcoming pub? Memories of Cairnsmore of Fleet came flooding back (flooding being an appropriate word) and fears of more of the same conditions coloured our judgement. An informal vote was taken. The result was – Wimps 1, Foolhardy 0. We would return the way we came and Hill of Stakes would remain unvisited.
We trudged, defeated, back down the track towards the centre, our only consolation being that the others we had met had done the same. And we saw only the same things we had seen on the way up. Or did we? The fog lifted; only slightly did it lift but it was sufficient for us to see the other side of the valley and the craggy tors on the skyline. We knew from the map at the centre that a walk went up to this ridge and it looked an interesting walk, but not for today. We had had enough for the day and made our way back to Muirshiel Visitor Centre.
Lunch was taken on the picnic tables and a quick wheech round the Visitor Centre was made. It was only one-thirty and some thought we might have another short outing from the centre, perhaps through the wood. But most had had enough for the day and we came back to Lochwinnoch and the Corner Bar for FRT
At around 9Km, this must be one of the shortest walks in Ooters history and we are now at the point of doubting the very existence of Hill of Stake, thinking it a figment of some cartographer’s imagination. Or like the rainbow tempting us through the rain, everybody can see it’s there but nobody can quite reach it. Still, some day............
We hope for better conditions for next week. At least we know that Darvel and Eaglesham do exist.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ode to the Hill of Stake

Nine Ooters met at Chateau Bank Street
Still traumatised by the Cairnsmore of Fleet
The day was dreich but the welcome was good
Fresh scones and coffee made up the food

‘Young’ Davy was met with great affection
Founder member of the junior section
Rex was there without his fruity Merlot
Peter had made it two in a row

Johnny’s sloes were in his gin
Jimmy’s old gaiters were in the bin
Ronnie was seen to open his purse
Had he enough to entice a nurse?

The cars were loaded, we decided on three
Muirshiel was reached with no stops for a pee
A strange thing happened as we put on our boots
Ooters were discussing alternative routes

For the weather was against the Hill of Stake
To try it today might be a big mistake
It’s not like the gents to act with sense
This change in mood was indeed immense

We marched up the track and into the glaur
Allan’s mantra ‘Whit we daein’ this for’?
The container was reached at the Barytes mine
For coffee and a biscuit this was just fine

Fellow walkers were welcomed and tales exchanged
To try the hill would be deranged
The choice was: the rain and the mist
Or the pub and an early chance to get pissed

Was there a choice?

The visitors’ centre was soon regained
A picnic table for us was retained
Peter’s joke is now part of folk lore
Unfortunately, for most of us, we’d heard it before

Five crows, a gun and a boy with a wink
Well Peter, we like the way you think
But this was not the only wheeze
Pepper they say can make you sneeze

Lunch was over too soon by far
A wee walk or go to the bar?
The Corner Bar was the place of choice
A decision without a dissenting voice

The Bar was empty but the beer soon flowed
The patter was great and never slowed
Davy Senior was in his element too
Sitting adjacent to the ladies loo

Big Davy would give the ladies a fright
By leaving the seat standing well upright
Wee Davy was looking awfa’ drawn
After his story about tasting the prawn

By 3.15 it was time to depart
Before the drink its effects did impart
For if one of us got truly blotto
The rest would simply remember the motto

Maybe this should be an annual event
For some it would be heaven sent
A short walk and some beer to partake
The day we don’t do the Hill of Stake

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Merrick photos

The Merrick with loch Enoch taken from Carlin's Cairn today

Loch Doon

Thursday, 15 October 2009

14th Oct 2009: Attempt on the Hill of Stake

All ready at Muirshiel.
Holly way in front.

Container in the Mist.

Outside the Corner.

Who's wearing new Gaiters?

14th Oct 2009 - Not the Hill of Stake - Again!

Early to FRT - Allan(designated driver) pours
Scotland's other national drink.

Early to lunch

Autumn colours

Arteeest at work

Not up to Paul's standards (9km return)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

7 October The Scaur Valley 4 or Sloe, Sloe, Pick-pick, Sloe

Eight Ooters gathered in Jimmy’s place in Cumnock. No Bacon rolls this morning but scones (Tesco’s finest) and coffee was more than welcome. Had Rex stopped gallivanting abroad at the drop of a hat, and Alan had taken a rest from playing builders and Paul remembered that he had bare feet when he kicked the garage doorpost, there might have been a full complement. However, Ian was returned from abroad and Peter returned to the fold after a long absence – it was nice to have him back again – so eight of us gathered in Jimmy’s place. Then we left for the long drive to the start of the Scaur Water walk.
The weather picked up as we drove down Nithsdale, the morning cloud breaking and the sun showing through. Davie’s car with the sensible group stopped in Penpont at the start of the walk but Ronnie, at Robert’s insistence, drove through the village and on to Moniaive. Why? Well, last week Robert was given the task of intimating the proposed walk on the blog, but mistakenly put Moniaive as the starting point and, either by neglect or intention, those who knew better failed to point out his error and he had Moniaive fixed in his mind. Robert and his companions ended up in the latter village before realising the mistake. It should be noted for future reference that there is no mobile phone reception in Moniaive so, despite our valiant efforts to contact them, we had to wait for a sheepish Robert and his companions to make the six miles return journey before we could start the walk.
By the time the lost boys rejoined us, the sun had come out. It was to stay with us for the rest of the day and give us a pleasantly bright and warm autumn day.
Only for Ronnie was this new territory and the rest looked forward to an enjoyable flat road walk for a change, and in superb country. It was suggested that we do the walk in reverse for this is our fourth visit here and we have always gone clockwise round the walk. This was agreed but for some reason everybody started walking in the same old direction. Nothing much changes in the Ooters and it would appear that memories are short.
It seemed that the purpose of our being in Nithsdale today was to gather sloes for another sloe-gin competition. Johnny loves his competitions and is still fair miffed that he lost out in the last one due to a technical error. No prizes then for guessing whose idea the new competition was. We were barely started the walk when we were stopped picking sloes.
We had come along the Moniaive road and turned up the minor road designated Scaur Valley and immediately found a blackthorn bush hanging heavy with sloes. ‘Not very big berries’, said the knowledgeable one, but this didn’t deter the avaricious sloe pickers who were determined to fill their plastic boxes right reason or none. Ten minutes picking and the plastic ice-cream tubs, margarine tubs and Tupperware boxes were almost full and it was time for us to move on.
Given where we were, the time of year, the nature of the day and the absence of Rex, this was to be a relaxed walk at an easy pace. We walked on, chatting away in one group, allowing Robert to dictate the pace from the front. And he set an effortless pace.
We thought Robert was lost again when he overshot the path down towards the river, but the wee man refuses to get lost twice in one day. (He says!) He knew where he was going all right, for he found an alternative entrance a bit up the road and joined the rest of us on the path a few yards inside the wood. We walked down to the side of the river.
The Scaur cuts a gorge for itself through the whin-stane here and the water roars and rushes spectacularly through it. And we stood above this gorge for a while, mesmerised by the white water roaring through. Metal fishers' ladders, anchored to the naked rock of the gorge, led down to natural platforms above the torrent. Robert volunteered to test the solidity of one of these and climbed down into the gorge. We would have left him there but the ladder was fastened to the rock too securely for us to move. Robert managed to escape and joined us as we walked on through the wood.
The last time we came through this wood Peter found mushrooms – ‘Bollies’, he called them – but no such luck today. Try as we might, nary a fungus could be seen. So we walked back to the road. We were to stay on the road for the rest of the walk.
The day was turning pleasantly warm and the crack was good. We ambled on. Then Robert and Ronnie were found to be missing. Nobody had noticed them go so we had no idea where we had lost them. Somebody suggested they might just want to be alone, so we wandered on enjoying the sunshine, unworried about the missing pair. When they caught us up again, Robert drew from his pocket all the sloes that they had been collecting, much larger berries this time and juicy looking, and added them to his collection. We only hope the effort was worth it.
The light on the landscape was superb, the low autumn sun picking out every detail with warm highlights and deep shadows. Cameras were used more than usual. Jimmy got some verbal treatment when he stooped to get a better composition in one shot. 'Thinks he’s David Bailey 'Just stick your bum out a wee bit further' were the more printable comments. It didn’t put our arty-farty friend off in any way though; he would repeat the posture later. But not before lunch.
Lunch was taken on the wee bridge on which we always take lunch and for no other reason than we always take lunch here. As has been said before, we are creatures of habit. Holly must have been hungry today as well for, for the first time in her life, she sat and watched us eat, devouring any morsel that was given to her. Hardly surprising that she was hungry for she covers at least twice the distance we do and at double speed. Once again, we were jealous of her fitness.
The road continued up the valley and after lunch, so did we. We wandered down by Knockelly towards the bridge on the river. The light on the hills of the upper valley was superb and the high ground looked particularly inviting. A proposal to walk these hills was made and was generally accepted but not today, today was to be an easy walk on the road and it would stay that way. We added this area to our ‘to do’ list and walked on. We crossed the river and made our way upward to Druidhall before turning back towards Penpont.
The buzzard was heard before it was spotted being harassed by crows. Then Robert, our fledgling birder, stumped the naturalist. ‘Do buzzards mate for life?’ was the question. The naturalist replied that most birds of prey do but wasn’t sure of buzzard specifically. He would find out, though, now that the question had been raised.*
We stopped beside a sign pointing into a field and telling us that the Roman Bridge was only three miles away, along a faint track. Again, if we had time enough, or energy enough, or inclination, we might have gone along to see the ‘Roman’ bridge. But we had none of the three today, we would continue on the road. So, with another walk added to the ‘possible’ list, we walked on.
We would have kept to the road for the remainder of the walk but Peter veered off into the trees. We followed and found Peter rummaging about in the fallen beech leaves. Well, we weren’t quite sure of his behaviour until he unearthed a mushroom, then another, and another. Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), he said. Most were past their best but there were enough good ones for Peter to pick and place in the box he had brought specially for the purpose. We hope he enjoys his free food and is still with us next week.
We returned to the road and now we kept to it.
The way was downward now, two miles of gentle slope that took us off the higher ground and down beside a wee burn running through some trees. The infantile started to up the pace as we approached Penpont and even broke into a run at one point, well as much of a run as they could muster at their age. There are times when we wish they would grow up. But, as has been pointed out by them, growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional. And they opted to act young again.
This is how we came back into Penpont – the childish racing and the more mature (lazy?) taking their time, all having had a great walk on a super autumn day.

The Crown in Sanquhar provided the FRT today.

PS Note to Robert: Buzzards do indeed mate for life though ‘divorces’ have occasionally been reported.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Penpont - sloe-ly at pace

Wine - decanted and half pound of sugar in solution
added - ferment slower now --
Sloe gin - getting close to 'drinkable' - 9/11/2009

18 hours on - pulp removed and topped up with
sugar 2 and a half pounds so far - air lock added
- note the the gin - deeper colour

Sloes - Slow and Quick
Fermenting sloes and sloes flavouring gin.
6 months for the wine, 6 weeks for the gin.
Bring on the competition.

Slate me!

Why are you down there Robert?

Traditional lunch stop, end grouping has the look
of an American civil war picture ;-)

Doesn't get much better

Monday, 5 October 2009

3D route map - Cairnsmore of Fleet

Distance (return): 12.4 km

30 September A View From Cairnsmore Of Fleet

What would life be if once bereft,
Of wildness and wetness? Let them be left.
Oh, let them be left, the wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Jimmy’s Caravan seemed crowded. Roomy though it is, with eleven of us (nine Ooters and two wives) sitting round, tucking into bacon rolls provided by Elizabeth, and all blethering at the same time, the living room definitely seemed crowded.
We were to meet Jimmy and Johnny at Jimmy’s Galloway hideaway and had driven down to Newton Stewart through a mixture of blue skies and a claggy drizzle that occasionally brightened the valleys but kept the hilltops hidden in blanket fog. The objective of the day was the summit of Cairnsmore of Fleet, new territory for all but Jimmy. We had chosen this particular Cairnsmore because somebody had heard of the remarkable views from it and Jimmy confirmed this to be the case, having been on its summit more times than he cared to remember. But our leader was well aware of the hill conditions this morning and had thought up alternative low-level walks, walks that greatly appealed to Allan. And by the time the Killie contingent arrived, the decision had been made. Are we not men, men of considerable calibre? Yes we are. Are we terrified of a bit of weather? No we’re not. We would conquer that mountain despite anything nature threw at us. Yet we sat long in Jimmy’s caravan and enjoyed our bacon rolls.
When we did start walking, it was already half past eleven and the fog was still down on the summit. But we had a twenty minute walk into the base of the hill for the new car park is much lower than the old one, so there was time yet for the clag to clear. We set off up the Cairnsmore House road full of the joys of living, Davie and Jimmy at the front setting a good pace. Up through a wood showing signs of autumn colour we went, round Cairnsmore Farm we went, and up to where Jimmy pointed out the old car park. He hadn’t got us lost, so far.
At the end of the track was a gate into a field. There was no sign of a path here. Our leader wasn’t lost, was he? But Jimmy opened the gate and strode purposefully across the field. Whether he had noticed the cows lying in the middle of the field before we got into it, we don’t know but he made a line that would take us right though the middle of the herd. And we followed. It wasn’t until we were nearly on him that we saw the bull, barely twenty feet from us. He raised his head, gave us a look, realised we were no threat to his harem and went back to his lazy rumination, much to the relief of some of our number who were already eyeing up escape routes. And Jimmy’s line took us through the herd to the far corner of the field where we found the path for the Cairnsmore.
The way steepened now but not excessively so and the walking was comfortable. We were in a mature conifer plantation so the views were limited; only behind us could we see the grey-green grass of the merse and equally grey water of the Cree meanders. Ahead of us, the path rose into the mist. Now Robert got to the front and set a fair old pace on the upward. Sweat built up with nowhere to go, damp air congealed in globules on fleeces and a few spots of rain were felt. It was a soggy group that stopped to don waterproofs. Perhaps Jimmy had the right idea. Rather than pull on an extra layer, he stripped off his fleece and walked in his cool-max shirt for, despite the damp, the day was far from cold and the climbing was hot. Sweat built up inside waterproofs.
We crossed the forest road, examined the stone seat commemorating Rosemary Pilkington and continued the climb in the trees of the plantation, totally unaware of the wind springing up. But when we cleared the trees, we became aware of it rather quickly. Even the hardy Jimmy was forced to get into waterproofs to cut the bite of the damp blow. Then the rain came.
Wind driven rain battered into us for a few minutes but went again before we reached the style in the fence. The waterproofs remained though, as we climbed upwards to the remains of a drystane dyke. We stopped here for the view. According to our leader the view of the windings of the Cree from here is superb. We had to take his word for that for the view today was limited to the thirty yards or so we could peer through the fog and, given the fog, wind and smirr, we didn’t linger to listen to his description of the view we might have seen. We walked on into the clag.
Walking into the clag might be one thing but the path ran with yesterday’s rainwater and we felt that we were walking into a burn as well. It was inches deep in some places and flowed down the breadth of the path making it difficult to avoid. And the ground on each side of it was just as watery. Feet as well as bodies now felt the wet. The joie de vivre of earlier had dissolved in the mist and was blown away in the wind. It was now heads down and plod upwards through the water and into the weather.
The path steepened now; steepened, but didn’t dry in any way, and water gushed over boots. Rex and Alan now took up the challenge of being leaders. It has been said before and will be said again, it is a bad move to let Rex get to the front on a climb. Today was no exception. Rex ploughed on, head down into the wind, fog and smirr. Alan, Davie and Jimmy went with him for a while but the rest were wiser and climbed at a reasonable rate. Then even Davie and Alan fell off the pace leaving only Rex and Jimmy at the front.
On the summit plateau, the path split and the fast thought it a good idea to wait for the rest, just in case. Bodies were counted as they appeared out of the clag. Davie came first followed by Paul then Robert. Some time passed before the trio of Allan, Johnny and Ronnie could be heard above the wind even before their solid shapes materialised. All nine of us were together again.
The togetherness didn’t last though. Rex and Jimmy took off like whippets and again we were strung out along the path. All came past the monument to the aircrews that lost their lives in crashes on this summit with barely a sideways glance, across the flat top and onto the summit cairn. Here we found the fast pair ensconced in the shelter provided by a drystane built enclosure. Two hours after leaving the cars, we ‘lunched’ here. Still the wind and mizzle persisted.
Two hours it took for the climb that Jimmy said would take and hour and a half. We are all well aware of Jimmy’s propensity to underestimate distance (hence Jimmy miles!) but now a new phrase has entered the language of the Ooters – ‘Jimmy hours’ are anything between a standard hour and two of the same.
The clag was still as thick as ever and our leader started to tell us of the view we should have had from this summit. ‘Looks pretty similar to the view from Windy Standard, Ben Lomond, Lowther Hill ...........’ said Davie, recounting some of our foggy climbs of the last year or two. But the cold wind and numbing fog had gotten to the leader for he had no response. And the cold was getting to us all now so it was time to move on.
Allan and Johnny left first, followed by Alan and Jimmy then Rex. The rest took a minute or two to gather themselves together and followed in the wake.
A few cold minutes were spent examining the monument to the airmen of many nationalities – German, Polish, British, Canadian, New Zealanders and Australians – who lost their lives in crashes on this particular hill. Sadly, none of the dead had reached their thirtieth birthday.
But the wind was chilling and there was the threat of more rain so we moved on. Jimmy set the pace to build up the body heat, and a cracking pace he set. He seemed determined to prove his three-hour round trip theory. Rex, Johnny, Robert and Alan went with him, the others had more sense. Eventually others saw sense, slowed to a reasonably fast speed and watched as Jimmy and Rex disappeared downward into the fog. There was no halt on this downward section for there was no need; the slope wasn’t too steep, there was no view and the wind was nippy. Anyway, the fast two were well in front and would hardly stop just to suit the rest of us. We followed as fast as our wee legs would take us. It didn’t take long to reach the tree level. In the shelter of the trees, there was no wind and the body temperature rose immediately. And it was in the shelter of the trees that we found the fast pair waiting for us.
We waited for the tail-enders to arrive and, with everybody together again, wandered down the path between the trees. The fog cleared as we approached the forest road and down the line of the forest break there was a view at last, stretching from the meanderings of the Cree immediately below us, to the high ground of the central Machars; away to the south, through a gap in the trees we could see the sun glint on the distant Solway. ‘See, told you the view was superb’ said our leader.
The sun shone in the south but no sun shone on us and we continued downward under the clag that topped our hill, downward at a much more sedate pace now. The cows were away in a corner of the field when we came to the edge of it, Johnny Bull amongst them keeping watch. We crossed the field without danger of goring this time and came to the track round the farm. An easy fifteen-minute stroll took us down through the autumn wood and back to the car park for around three.
Post walk, we retired to Johnny’s Kirkcowan retreat to partake of his legendary hospitality. Johnny and Helen supplied the lentil soup and bread, and Robert brought the apple crumble. The kitty provided the funds for liquid refreshment and a convivial hour or so was spent. The highlight of the visit was a tour of the Matthews' estate, an outhouse full of materials for renovation of the house and an enormous garden that Johnny and Helen, with a little assistance from at least one of our company, have recovered from the weeds.

Altogether, this was a different kind of day for us. Despite the climb in the cold clag, it was a good day out and our thanks must go to the suppliers of the food. Well done to all.