Monday, 25 January 2010

20 January - Brown Carrick Hill

When working people fill the street
and couthy Ooters, Ooters meet,
as Wed-nesday begins to dawn
an’ folk can scarcely haud that yawn,
while we sit sipping on our coffee
in Rex’s splendid little bothy,
we think na on the lang Scots miles,
the waters, mosses, slaps and styles
that lie ahead from Rex’s hame
where sits oor Bluey’s lovely dame
watching o’er the plumbers’ work -
who, from their travails, mustn’t shirk.
Distance: 15.6 km
This truth fand oor eight Early Ooters
as they tae Ayr toon took their motors
Auld Ayr wham ne’er a town surpasses
For traffic jams and exhaust gases.

Oh Ooters had ye been sae wise
as tae listen tae Allan’s guid advice,
ye wouldnae hae gotten aw wet through.
Instead ye could hae gotten fou,
for he had said instead of walkin’
we could hae stayed chez Rex, jist talkin’.
Or sent out one man wi’ his dog
and he could just hae penned this blog.
But naw, ye went tae Greenan Shore
which Ronnie had heard of long before.
Quite why this was I can’t report,
but t’was some kind of outdoor sport.

And here young Bob did don those goggles
to frighten off the sprites and bogles
that lay between us and our quest -
Brown Carrick Hill – braw Ayrshire’s best.

But to our tale – along the beach
Craig Tara Park was soon in reach,
having passed auld Greenan Castle
which did but cause us little hassle
Because yon Neptune’s tide was oot –
No need to deviate our route.
In olden days t’was Butlin’s Camp
But then came many a full revamp.
The chalets they are all long gone
though Happy Campers’ ghosts live on
Now, split-new caravans abound
But noo in Januar, there was not a sound.

Ian provided news, quite kosher
That in the War this was HMS Scotia
For this rhyme, I do regret
That it was the only one I could get.

Then off we strode, all of us in line
along the side of the A719.
The cars sped by at fearful pace
as if it were a diabolic race.
We left the road at Genoch Mews,
pausing, to take in the views
of Fisherton and old Dunduff
when the going got too tough,
as upwards we began to climb
o’er ice and mud and muck and slime.
T’was as though we rose into the vera heaven
But first a break – it was ten past eleven.

We sat a while sipping up our coffee
As Allan and Johnny passed round their toffee
And Ronnie tauld his queerest stories
Our raucous laughs were ready chorus.

Back on the road, and Ian was last
as we approached the aerial mast.
O’er stiles and wires we made our way
though this time, I am pleased to say,
oor Davie didn’t feel a shock
from fences built to hold livestock,
which give them just a little tingle
should they wish, with other beasts, to mingle.
And so it was the trig point beckoned
jist about half past twelve, we reckoned
“A wondrous view”, I’d like to say,
but sadly, all we saw was gray.

Upon the top we didn’t linger
though Johnny pointed with his finger
to islands, seas and sandy bays
which alas were hidden in the haze.

And so returned the jolly bunch,
stopping just for a bit of lunch;
for the weather was now getting worse
which caused the company to curse
the sleet and rain which assailed them all.
And yet a sadder fate was to befall
young Holly who was all forlorn
having stood upon a wayward thorn.
But her valiant master came to her aid,
and mindful of the last vet’s bill paid
did pluck right out that painful prick
and Holly ran off to find a stick.

T’was then we saw an unco sight,
enough to gie a man a fright.
An unlikely looking hairy mammal –
from far Cathay, a Bactrian camel!
“Jings, whit’s that!” said Ian (who likes a drama)
from Andes hills a long-legged llama!
“And look o’er there” said Ian,( ‘cos he knew)
“That ugly looking bird’s an emu!”
Oh Jimmy, Jimmy if you had only heard
what was said by us when we saw yon bird!
Whilst you were laid up with your gammy knee
we did some proper ornithology!

The rest of our story is best left untold
for we were wet and soggy and cold
when we returned to Greenan Shore.
We really couldn’t take much more!

And after the walk there was no pub!!
We all went home to wash and scrub
and then to Ronnie’ we did scurry
to tuck into our well-earned curry.
And then there was the sloe gin test
where Gordon’s was proclaimed the best.
And after that a Buckie sample.
Just one glass proved to be quite ample.
There was Absinthe, Mad Dog, beer aplenty -
all was there for our cogniscenti.
So much drink yet no one was blotto.
We all took heed of Rabbie’s motto.

Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

13 January Portencross Circular – Fourth Time

At Jimmy’s insistence, we went the ‘wrong’ way round the walk today. Perhaps this is an attempt to shake us out of our ‘sameness’, a sort of New Year’s resolution imposed on the group. Whatever his reason, and despite the ‘We always go this way’ brigade, Jimmy set off in the ‘wrong’ direction, back toward Seamill and we followed, though some did reluctantly.
We had gathered at Allan’s place in Irvine this morning and slipped and slithered our way along his still iced-up path. We suspected that the ice might still be lying on our proposed walk and dreaded another Auchincruive escapade. And a raw wind blew making the day feel cold. It seems since the big freeze finished and the temperature’s risen, it’s got perishingly cold. However, we are nothing if not adventurous (stupid, some would say) so we set off, car sharing, to the car park at Portencross castle for what we call our Portencross Circular.
No ice lay on the Portencross peninsula and the only hint of the previous week’s snow lay on the hills behind West Kilbride, and in the cold wind that blew off these. It was into this wind that Jimmy led us the ‘wrong’ way round. And it was a lazy wind, one that couldn’t be bothered going round us, it just cut into us. Jimmy was getting his blessings from those who would rather have gone the other way and had this vicious wind on our backs. But he, and we, plodded on into it, taking it in the face like men. Well, the front of the group did but the sensible like Jimmy walked in the middle of the group and were sheltered from the brunt of it. On the plus side for everybody, we hadn’t encountered any ice yet.
A few hundred yards of the cruel wind and Jimmy was feeling justified. As we turned off on a wee road for Thirdpart Farm the wind was on our backs and walking with it proved relatively warm. The road is deteriorates after a while as the council has relinquished maintenance, and ice-filled potholes pitted the breaking surface. These were easily negotiated, though, and hardly hindered our progress. Then we found real tarmac at Thirdpart and that was the last we saw of any ice. And the wind was still on the back and appeared to be dropping as we came into the shelter of the hills.
For some reason, the pace was brisk and we covered the ground to the main A78 in good time. Poor Holly was leashed, a thing she thoroughly detests, for this is a busy road. But she wasn’t tethered long for we turned off the main road on the old drive for Hunterston House.
It was then we heard the geese. At first a small skein of around twenty caught our attention. Then as we stood and watched, more and more drifted in from the south, cackling to maintain contact with the flock. ‘Barnacles, by the look of it’, said our expert, ‘They’re probably coming to feed on the stubble fields here’. We watched the geese, hundreds upon hundreds of them, turn and wheel and honk their way into the fields beyond the trees and out of our sight. Then we walked on.
By now, we were approaching Hunterston Castle. And, by now, the clock was approaching eleven - coffee time. Some of our Ooter ‘sameness’s’ are that for very good reasons. The best place for coffee on this walk is where we always stop. That is just to the south of Hunterston Castle for it is here that we are sheltered from any wind, there is a reasonable view to the heights of Goldenberry and there is a low drystane retaining wall for us to sit on. It was here we sat and had coffee.
(Hunterston Castle, Doors Open Day 2005)
A lot has been said of Ian’s capacity for food. He was still eating when the rest of us had long finished and were ready to walk on. But we promised him another food stop further round so he packed up and walked on with us.

We came quickly to Hunterston Castle. Davie, the linguist memorised the Latin motto on the clock there, promising, for once and all, to find the definitive translation. We wait with baited breathe. (Ed: LATET ULTIMA CURSUM PERFICIO -the end lies hidden I complete the course. Could be the motto of the ooters!)

By the time Davie had committed the Latin to memory, the non-linguists (and the non-interested) were past Hunterston House and approaching the road for the nuclear power station. Here, they waited for the classicist to catch up. Then we all walked down to the shore of the Fairlie Roads at a place called on the map Gull’s Walk, part of the Hunterston Sands. This, apparently, is a super place for bird watching and our birders were in ecstasy. Wee broon birds were separated into, redshank and dunlin; big broon yins were apparently curlew; what looked like to us like ducks were, it seems, widgeon, mallard, teal and shelduck. We think they just make it up at times. However, it kept them amused as we walked along the shore to the power station.
As we walked along the road through the power station complex, people with bright yellow jackets came and went through a door that we suspect led to the cafeteria. Ian suggested that if Davie had worn his yellow jacket, he might have been able to pruch a free meal. He reckons it’s something worth considering for the next time. And the talk of food reminded Ian that we had promised another eating stop. His call from the rear brought us all to a halt, and just where the road gave out onto the raised beach of Portencross barely a mile from the cars, we sat down for lunch. It wasn’t a particularly long lunch stop and once again we were ready for the off before Ian had finished eating. He needn’t have worried though; he could have eaten on the hoof for we took our time on the last stage.

We sauntered along the raised beach under the Ardneil cliffs, the birders watching for movements on the crags. We were split into two groups, the saunterers and those who were even slower. When we came to the village of Portencross, the advanced party were for keeping to the road but were shouted back by the others to leave the road and come round to the castle. ‘We always visit the castle’, said they. Oh dear, here we are reverting already. So much for resolutions, imposed or otherwise. But they leaders returned to the fold and we all walked round to the castle.

Portencross Castle, December 2009

The castle was covered in scaffolding and men in yellow jackets and hard hats came and went into it. We stopped a pair who came in our direction to make inquiries. (Not that we are nosey, we just like to know.) It seems that the castle is being restored to its former glory and will house conference rooms, function rooms et al. The money comes partly from the public purse and partly from a French donor with local connections. The public money, European as well as Scottish, is because of the historical importance of the castle. The French oak beams are part of the contribution of the private individual. The whole project is due to be finished by the end of February so we look forward to seeing the results. Bet the advanced group were glad we called them back now.
It was only a five-minute walk from the castle to the car park. Another short walk to start the New Year but and interesting one.
The Merrick in Seamill was chosen for FRT today but the place has lost its attraction. Perhaps we will try somewhere else in future for we are beginning to change our ways.

Portencross Castle, September 2005

Thursday, 14 January 2010

6 January Cumnock to Ochiltree

The Arctic type weather of the last couple of weeks continues with snow and ice blanketing the country. A fresh snowfall yesterday had Jimmy phoning round to suggest an alternative meeting place and an alternative walk. The plan was for all to meet in Jimmy’s in Cumnock and travel to Wanlockhead for a snowy walk on the Lowthers. But the recent snow made Jimmy’s hill treacherous, almost impassable, so a quick phone round to suggest we meet at the Cumnock Swimming Pool car park and have a walk along the river to Ochiltree was accepted.
Only four of us met in Cumnock, a small but select band, for the rest had other matters to attend to but the four who did turn up were treated to a superb winter walk. The compensation for all the lying ice and sub-zero temperatures of the night was a morning of breathless air, cloudless blue sky and a low winter sun that accentuated every bump and hollow in the snow-bound landscape – a perfect day for a winter walk. And we set off into the perfect day.
We climbed the main road towards Auchinleck, yesterday’s snowfall providing traction on the iced-up pavement, and as we climbed, the landscape behind us opened out. We looked out over snowy Cumnock to the Glen Afton Hills gleaming white against the blue. But we didn’t have too much time to look behind us for Jimmy set a good pace up towards Auchinleck and Holly, desperate for freedom from the lead, pulled at Davie to be getting on.
The Auchinleck Burn forms the southern boundary of Auchinleck town, running under the main road in a deep gully. It was here that we left the road and took a path down the side of the gully. Now Holly could be released to run on ahead, Davie could relax for a while and the pace could be eased. We wandered down the path above the burn, through a wood of pine trees that still carried snow on their branches, snow that fell before Christmas and has lain long in the still, sub-zero air. A halt was called where the path came close to the bypass; not that we wanted to look at the bypass. No, we stopped to look at a winter wonderland of snow coated spruces and fields of pristine white. The low sun refracted on each icy crystal and sent back sparkles of blue, green and red. Davie used the first of his superlatives for the day. ‘Fabulous’, said he. We agreed.
For a few minutes, we stood and discussed the scene but eventually tore ourselves away and walked down the path into the living Christmas card. The path took us down through the spruces – ‘Planted in the bog that used to be here’, said Jimmy – and down to the side of the Lugar Water. The river was partly frozen with only the midstream running liquid, looking quite black in contrast to the surrounding snowy landscape. But we didn’t stop to admire the frozen river. Without halt, we turned downstream, came under the bypass bridge and into the policies of Dumfries House. The fresh, powdery snow crunched under the boots and provided good footing on the frozen under-layer, the walking was level and the pace was easy. We took our time through the old gravel works, through the woods and on to the main drive to the ‘big hoose’ enjoying the winter sun on our backs and the light on the snow. Davie used his second superlative. ‘Superb’, said he. We agreed.
Davie thought we were going to Adam’s Brig (see 4/3/2009) for coffee but Jimmy and Peter had other ideas. We turned away from the river and took the track for the old walled garden. It was Peter’s idea to visit the old garden. What he expected to see, he wasn’t quite sure, but the garden is derelict now with only the surrounding wall and a few ruined buildings giving a hint of its former use. If he was disappointed, Peter didn’t show it too much, instead he turned his attention to the ruined buildings on the outside of the wall.
A few minutes of nosing around were enough to satisfy everybody and we started off again. We had to retrace our snowy footprints for a bit for in our enthusiasm to visit the walled garden, we had overshot the path that would take us the rest of the way to Ochiltree. But the path was found easily enough, being picked out from the surrounding snowy fields by parallel fences.
Though we weren’t the first people to use the path during the snowy spell, we were the first on the fresh stuff. We weren’t the first creatures though. Tunnel-like runs showed where mice or voles searched for food through the frozen snow; heron prints came up from the wee sheugh and crossed the path, parallel scratches in the snow showed where it had clawed at something; hare prints crossed and re-crossed our path, the long rear legs making sausage-shaped indentations in the snow. It’s a good job we had the naturalists with us to point out the various prints. And, just to prove them right, a hare loped across the face of the old Barony Pit bing as we walked towards it.
The old bing is being reclaimed by nature and an open scrubby wood of birks, sauchs and alder covers its flanks and it was through this scattered scrub that the path climbed the side of the bing. Now from a higher vantage point, we looked backwards up the valley of the Lugar to its parent hills – to Aisyart Hill (Avisyard, on the map) above Cumnock, to the southwest of our watercourse, to Cairn Table at Muirkirk and to Pepper Hill where our river has its source. And downstream, Ochiltree seemed very close. But did Jimmy let us stop here for coffee? Did he heck! He walked on.
We left the official footpath and followed a track to the site of the old Barony Pit. The pit closed ages ago but apparently, it had a unique ‘A’ frame, the frame that was used to hoist and lower the cages in the pit shaft and it was left standing when the pithead buildings were demolished. It has been restored and the site turned into a visitor attraction complete with picnic tables and children’s play area. Information panels detail the mining heritage of the area through this one pit and an audio station lets real people tell their stories of the pit. It was on the seats of the audio station that we sat for coffee, for the picnic tables, like the rest of the world, lay under many inches of snow. ‘I’m glad you brought us here’, said Davie, pressing another audio button, ‘It’s awfie interesting’.
Coffee took a wee while for the sun beat on the information panel that we leaned against and warmed our backs nicely. Then we had an investigation of our surroundings to make before making our way back down the track we had come up.
We came back down and found our path again, at least we found the compacted icy footprints that showed where the path was, and turned down it into a wood and towards the river once more. A brick shed was noticed through the trees standing beside the water some twenty feet below our path. ‘Contains some sort of pumping gear’, said Jimmy who had made an investigation in warmer days. We were inclined to take his word for it for the slope down looked treacherous and the icy water lay below. ‘We’ll come back and have a look some other day’, said Peter. It was then that he noticed the man on the ice on the other side of the water.
The man seemed in no danger; he seemed to know what he was about. A tripod stood in front of him with a long lens attached. But whether this had a camera on the end or whether he was ‘twitching’, we don’t know for none of us shouted to him for fear of cracking the ice or bringing an avalanche down on our heads from the snow-covered branches. We just left him to whatever he was doing and walked on.
Another halt was called at the foot of a slope for we were now at the riverside and we stopped to look at the frozen water. Now the river was frozen from side to side and last night’s snow dusted the ice. More animal footprints marked this snow and we stopped for a look. Our attention was pointed the way we had just come. ‘Who could ask for a better view than this?’ said one. The view backwards was indeed super with the bare tree trunks of the wood standing almost black in the surrounding snow and the branches traced in black and white against the deep blue of the sky. Davie used a superlative again. ‘Fabulous’, he said. We nodded.
We came to a holm where, Jimmy said, the made path runs out for a few hundred yards by Mill Affleck farm. Whether it did or didn’t, didn’t matter for all was lost under the blanket of snow. We followed the icy footprints around the loop of the frozen river. A rusting millwheel stood in isolation in the middle of the holm to make where the old Parish Mill, the Mill Affleck, stood. Sadly, it seems that it’s being left to rust and rot away. Perhaps some day somebody will restore it as they’ve done with the ‘A’ frame. Until then it’s being left to decay. After the budding archaeologists, Jimmy and Allan, had discovered the course of the mill’s lade and tail, we walked on.
The river was frozen solid now for we were nearing the mill dam of Ochiltree and the water here runs deep and slow. We walked the few hundred yards down the side of the frozen river to find the main road and the end of our walk in Ochiltree.
We took the bus back to Cumnock and took FRT in The Mercat there.

This was a good walk, made so by the super winter day. That Davie enjoyed it was evident from the superlatives used. We leave the last word to him. ‘A fabulous day’, said he.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Christmas party headshots - Alpine Arran the Irvine backdrop

Arran - Irvine's Alpine backdrop 06/01/10

All present and correct for the Christmas bash.


Ronnie and Jimmy

Robert and Rex






Thursday, 7 January 2010

Annals of an absent Ooter

On Wednesday (6th) I should have been enjoying a short break in the Lake District. However, bad back pain and apprehension about road conditions resulted in us into cutting the holiday short and returning home on Tuesday (Margaret driving all the way). I was unfit for Wednesday's walk and still am unfit. I'm having to walk very gingerly about the house otherwise stabbing back pains catch me unawares. I'm sure Jimmy will sympathise.

Given a history of gall stones I was quite convinced the seasonal over-indulgence had got the better of me, but the doctor, whom I visited this morning, reckons it's a musculoskeletal problem. I hae ma doots. If the doc had looked less like he was due to sit his Highers this summer I might have had more confidence. Still we shall see what transpires.

Before I was laid low, we had a pleasant sojourn in Lancashire in my ahem second home, so being bored with having to sit about indoors, I've put together a few photos to give you a wee impression of the area and an idea of some of the walking we did.

First of all our location in Hoddlesden (Blackburn is just off the map, to the north of the motorway):

And the hoose:

On New Year's Day we did a walk, very popular with the locals, up to Darwen Tower (or the Jubilee Tower to give it its posh name). There was a little snow lying in Hoddlesden (650 feet asl) and around the Tower (1200 feet) but the ascent was perilous with ice everywhere.

Trig point at the Tower (looking north beyond Blackburn to Longridge Fell:

Looking east from Tower towards Darwen. Hoddlesden is hidden in the valley behind the long line of trees (Roman Road) in the middle distance.

Looking north to Darwen Tower

It snowed heavily on the morning of January 2 and with driving not being an option we decided to walk into Darwen from Hoddlesden. The main street in Hoddlesden was really only negotiable in a 4x4.

Walking in the snow was pleasant but as we descended into Darwen the snow became slush and it was all quite horrible. We decided to head up the other side of the Darwen valley towards, (but not as far as) the Tower and we soon found better snow conditions.

The ducks in Bold Venture Park were clearly anticipating a bread opportunity as we approached the pond.

From the park we followed a path above the town in the direction of Whitehall. This path affords a fine view of Darwen's other landmark - India Mill chimney, at 303 feet high it's a haunt of peregrine falcons.

We then headed back across the valley towards Hoddlesden. This shot of the Tower was taken approaching the Roman Road which runs along the crest separating the Darwen and Hoddlesden valleys. Between the camera and the Tower lies Darwen!

Pendle Hill (1700 feet) from the road into Hoddlesden.

Harwood Farm, Hoddlesden.

January 3 was fine day. Largely blue skies, but with a period of snow around lunchtime. We had planned to walk east to Belthorn but this walk had to be aborted. In Early Ooter style we were adopted by a dog at Pickup Bank. The dog seemed to be a hunting dog since it spent the whole time it was with us sniffing the terrain for all it was worth. The snow cover had clearly disorientated the poor lost mutt and it simply tagged along with us. Having climbed to the top of Pickup Bank we decided we couldn't really take it further away from where we had picked it up; so we doubled back. As luck would have it, a couple with a dog were making their way along another track. Our mutt spotted them and abandoned us. Amidst a lot of growling and shouting we hurriedly left the scene.

We decided to do a loop from Pickup Bank to Waterside and then up to the Roman Road and home.

Pickup Bank is a fascinating place, riddled with tracks leading to ancient hamlets, or "Folds" as they are known in the area.

A view of part of Pickup Bank from the house.

At one time Waterside had a large cotton mill. The mill lodge remains and is a popular fishing location and there is plenty of birdlife to be seen on the water (or ice on this occasion). Seldom have I seen such miserable looking birds as they sat forlornly on the ice. One Muscovy Duck had abandoned the water and was perched on the handrail of a bridge totally oblivious to us. It appeared to have entered some kind of suspended animation.

Belthorn on the skyline with Waterside below.

All offers for the house will be given serious consideration!.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tuesday 05 Jan 2010 - Irvine, Bank Street

More snow last night. Conditions for local walking made easier.
The snow cover gives a better grip than the polished ice of the last few
days. The road surface on the main roads having been the only 'safe'
place to walk with confidence. I won't be with you guys tomorrow(if
a walk goes on) the cardiology dept. are running an 'extra' clinic and have
invited me along - who knows what for? That will be my task tomorrow-
get to Crosshouse hosp. - hopefully the roads will be OK. All the best to
you and yours for 2010. Look forward to see you all soon. I dread to think
how many feet of snow Cumnock lies under!

Looking west along Bank Street

Looking East

Cherry trees, Holly, Palms, Berberis, Escalonia

Brick wall

30 December Annbank to Auchincruive Circular or An Ice Day For A Walk

The snow that caused the cancellation of last week’s walk lay for over a week and, except where feet and wheels had compressed it, it lay soft and powdery. A slight thaw yesterday and an overnight frost combined to turn the compressed stuff into ice, and light rain this morning added a watery skim to the surface of this making underfoot conditions treacherous. Later in the day we were to discover just how treacherous. Still, at least the roads were clear which meant we could travel today. That saw seven of us make the trip to Annbank for the short walk to Auchincruive and back.
We gathered in the ice-covered car park of the Annbank Bowling Club. Some say that the Ooters are old and set in their ways. Today we were to disprove this theory, well at least in part. A momentous decision was made. We would do the walk in the reverse of the way we usually go. Does this foretell a change in the attitude of the Ooters? We will wait and see.
Anyway, slithering our way over the ice of the car park we came to the cleared tarmac of the main road. Walking up the middle of the road seemed the safest option and this is what we did, straggling up the main street and only stepping on to the icy snow to let traffic past. Not that we were a danger to traffic in any way for Davie had his luminous yellow jacket on, a jacket that can probably be seen from the moon on a clear night, so should be eminently visible to oncoming vehicles here on earth. We proceeded in relative safety along the road.
It was noted with some surprise by the cynics that the Christmas tree in the village square, though unguarded, still had all its lights intact. ‘Aye, but ye’re no’ in Kilmaurnock noo’ was the response from our east county man. But full credit must go to the citizens of Annbank for this.
The good walking on tarmac took us through the village to Mill Road. Now we left the safety of the black tarmac and took to the icy Mill Farm track. This runs steeply downhill towards the river and proved extremely tricky today especially to those with Vibram soles. The few spots of rain falling on the ice made it particularly slippy and feet had to be placed judiciously to avoid mishap; on the McGarry scale this was definitely a ten plus. Davie, just to prove the point, decided to demonstrate his old ice skating skills by landing on his arse on the wet ice. Not content with this, he showed us his impression of ‘Dancing on Ice’ as he tried to regain his feet. Did we laugh? Course we did. Wet arse for Davie though.
Allan was being particularly careful on the down slope and the brave/rash/stupid* waited on the more level ground at the foot of the hill for him to catch up. It was now that the rain came seriously and added its wetness to the lying ice. And ice covered the path down to the river. Great care had to be taken once more. Even on the level, feet slipped and slithered, and it was fortunate for us that there was a path-side fence to hang onto or more might have had wet bottoms. We never thought that crampons might be useful at this low level. But they might have been, if we had them.
But the rain didn’t last long and the ice eventually gave way to crunchy snow. We were now on the holm by the fishing pools of Wee Beth and Big Beth, and some decided the best option was to cut a corner and cross this holm. But Jimmy and Rex were out for a walk and kept to the longer pathway by the side of the river. We thought they might just want to be alone so left them to it and crossed the field. A cormorant stood on a snow covered boulder in the river like it was frozen to the spot. Rex stopped for a picture. Jimmy walked on to join the rest of us where the path enters the trees by the riverside. Rex joined us a few minutes later.
The path narrowed in the trees for it crossed a steep slope running up from the river and we were strung along it in Indian file. Some ice did patch the path but overall it was good walking until we left the shelter of the trees. We were now on another holm with other fishing holes. Again, the fence was an aid on the slippery ice-covered path.
Perhaps this was where Jimmy sustained the damage; we will never know for sure for even he doesn’t know where it happened. All we know is that when we stopped for coffee in one of the anglers' shelters, blood flowed freely from the back of Jimmy’s hand and dripped into the dry sand. Whether it was to celebrate the impending New Year or to ward off any shock that Jimmy might be experiencing we are not sure but Allan produced a hip flask and proceeded to fortify the coffees with Chevas Regal. Those without coffee, including the injured Jimmy, just took the crature neat. The remedy worked for the blood dried on Jimmy’s hand and not one of us fainted at the sight it. We feel that Allan should bring his hip flask more often – just in case of emergencies like this.
Now, well bolstered against the cold, we set off again.
We crossed the holm to the corner of another wooded slope. Again, the path narrowed as it crossed the slope, and again we were reduced to single file. Nothing as easy as a grassy bank this time though. Cliffs of limestone underpinned by friable shale rose vertically above us on the right, and on the left, the bank fell nearly as steeply into the river. This has never given us a problem before for the path is wide enough and the ground is stable underfoot. But today was different. The path was icy and slippery. New rock falls – the result of the prolonged cold snap?- spilled over it and these also were coated in watery ice. The going was treacherous and a slip here would surely have precipitated the unfortunate into four feet of freezing water. This was surely the most hair-raising part of the walk – so far. However, by carefully finding a rare half-inch of less frozen snow and by grabbing at tree trunks, roots and tussock of lank grass growing out of the shale, we managed to cross our hundred metres of mauvais pas without mishap, much to the relief of everyone. Easier going now brought us to Tarholm Bridge.
Some thought about turning back up the road to Annbank but Bob’s assertion that the path would be ice-free from now on, ‘because it’s through the trees’, brought them back into the fold. We all crossed the bridge to the south side of the river. Robert, with the eye of the artist, saw the watery winter sun light up the snow and reflect in the still water of the river and stopped to photograph it. We look forward to seeing the resultant picture on the blog.
Bob was nearly right in his assertion. For the most part the path was ice-free but, on the rise toward Wallace’s Seat, we came across more of the slippy stuff. This wasn’t nearly as difficult as we had encountered earlier but it was enough to have Allan scrabbling about on all fours trying to avoid a wet bum. Fortunately, most of the group were to the front and missed Allan’s antics but those who witnessed it sympathised in the usual way.
We didn’t stop at Wallace’s Seat – another first for the Ooters – but continued on the low path for Auchincruive. Davie, Robert and Rex set the pace with Allan and Jimmy bringing up the tail. Ian and Ronnie, for reasons known only to them, decided not to follow the leaders on the path but to continue along the old railway but, being hailed from above by the advance group, soon learned the error of their ways. Ian climbed the steep bank to join the rest of us but Ronnie, having nothing to do with such strenuous activity, continued on his way. The rest of us headed down toward the river again.
Rather than risk the icy path beside the river, we took to the field and came to the fishers’ shelter for lunch. Here we found the lost Ronnie. He had taken a shorter way than we had and arrived at the shelter immediately before us. We took our peece in the shelter.
From the shelter to Oswald’s Brig was a matter of fifty metres or so, but icy metres. Again, with a little care we covered the distance without accident. We crossed the brig, and turned right onto the drive of Auchincruive House and immediately found the ice again, even on the tarmac of the drive. But the worst was to come when we left the drive and took to the walkway under the gardens. Wet, rutted ice covered the path between the garden wall and the riverside parapet. It was almost impossible to find secure footing. And totally impossible to avoid the ice. However, by keeping to the edge of the walkway and finding the occasional loose patch in the ice, we slithered our way past the retaining wall and the informal garden to the garden wall. Now came the most difficult part of the entire day. The stone-built stile in the wall was coated in two or three inches of wet ice. Cautiously placing one foot before moving the other and hanging onto the wall as best we could, each took it in turn crossing the stile, being supported, and guided by the others. (Remember, ‘compassion’ is the new watchword of the Ooters) It is pleasing to note, and somewhat surprising given the severity of the obstacle, that all came safely over the stile.
We left our difficulties behind us at the style for we were now back into a wooded area and the ice was less severe; we could almost walk normally. We followed the path past the remains of the old railway, up beside a burn whose name has been forgotten by the scribe and back into Annbank.
We've done this walk many times before and it has given us no problems in the past. But, given the underfoot conditions today, it was a severe test and we suspect some stiff legs in the morning.

FRT was taken in The Tap O’ The Brae, but this time inside and not on the veranda.
*Delete as you think appropriate.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Jimmy can see again

Please stop looking everyone,
Jimmy’s specs hae jist been fun.
While we huntit near and huntit faur,
Jimmy’s specs were in Davie’s caur.