Thursday, 28 July 2011

Arrangements for Wednesday 3 Aug

Meet at Cumnock Bus station at 9:30 for the 9:45 bus to Muirkirk for a walk from here to Kirkconnel (13 mile approx). Buses back from Kirkconnel at 15:45 or 17:36 or train at 16:38 (£5.20 - discount)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

20 July Luss Hills Once More

Allan, Davie, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Malcolm, Paul & Robert

We are beginning to think somebody up there has it in for us for after such a super day on Arran, the situation reverted to the norm for this year. The best that can be said for it today was that at least the rain had gone when we gathered in Luss. Not so the midges though and the wee blighters bit ravenously as we changed into walking gear. How the boys with shorts suffered, we can only guess.
The intention of the day was to travel to the Bonnie Banks and do the Luss horseshoe that we have done a couple of times before, both in conditions completely different from each other, and from today. Despite the overcast conditions and the fog hanging down the hill to around the thousand contour, it was decided that since we were here, we might as well do as we intended. ‘Anyway’, said our weather man ‘it will clear up by eleven’. So off we set over the bridge that spans the main road and onto the Luss Glen road.
A style lifted us off the tarmac and over the fence onto the open flank of Craig an t-Sailich, our first top, if top you would call it. The climb started almost immediately. Though the hill wasn’t as steep as some remembered, it was sufficiently so for the slope to combine with the humidity in the warm air to give an uncomfortably sweaty climb. Allan struggled. Despite many ‘view stops’ and words of encouragement, he continued to struggle as the slope steepened and climbed towards the fog.
No doubt there is a superb view from the ridge that runs round to the top of Luss Glen but for various reasons we have still to see it. Today was not going to give us the opportunity either. And to add to our miseries, when we stopped for coffee, the rain came. Still, it would clear around eleven. It was now five to eleven and, though the rain was brief there was no sign of the fog clearing. At this point Allan had had enough and decided to turn back. While he, probably sensibly, returned to the flat of Luss village, the rest of us sweated on upward into the clag.
The rain went but the clag stayed. We could have been on any hill anywhere for all we could see. Still we plodded upward. On top we found two chaps of our own age perched on the wee cairn that marks the summit of Beinn Dubh. They, like Allan, had had enough and were for back down the way they, and we, had come up. But we are made of stronger stuff – we would finish the horseshoe. So we left the two and walked on along the broad ridge seeing nothing but each other and the fog.
At one point there came a gap in the fog that allowed us a brief view down northward into a deep glen. But a brief view was all it was and the clag closed in again. We plodded on. Jimmy and Robert led most of the way, finding paths through bogs and across grassy slopes. We could tell only from the slight brightness that indicated where the sun was that we had turned from a westerly direction to a more southerly one. Then we turned south-easterly and found the grassy slope that took us to the top of Mid Hill, our last top for the day. (Is it not strange that in a country where all the place names are in Gaelic, only this one is named in English?)
As the ground sloped steeply away from the top of Mid Hill there came a call for lunch. Well down the slope our leaders found a wee sheltered gully out of the breeze and we settled down to take the peece. That’s when the fog cleared. Eleven o’clock, huh! Yes it cleared but only below us for the tops still held the cloud. But as it cleared, it gave us our first real view since the climb this morning. Below us Luss Glen ran down to Loch Lomond still lying slate-grey and dismal under the overcast sky. Still it was a view and we were grateful for it.
It was into this view that we descended after lunch. The slope is steep and unrelenting. We came down it, each in his own fashion; some jogged down, some walked smartly, some strolled and Davie of the dodgy knees took his own time. No matter how we came down, that slope took its toll on thigh muscles. Still, the fast waited for the slow at the fence that cuts across the hill at this point. The style was broken and it was amusing for those already over the fence to see the different techniques employed by the rest to get over. But get over they did and we continued down the slope.
The path decanted us onto tarmac at Glenmallochan farm and once again the fast waited for the slow. Now there were only a couple of miles of tarmac back to Luss. Near the village we came across a picture shop and Robert and Jimmy went for a nosy. The noise of the alarm when they opened the door reverberated up the glen. We can only hope that the pictures were worth the noise for we didn’t wait for any reaction from the house next door. While the two examined the pictures, we walked on.
There was no sign of Allan when we got to the cars. But when Jimmy and Robert came down past the school, there was Allan strolling casually along the road. ‘What was the view like from the top?’ asked Allan. ‘Wonderful’ they lied and walked on.
Thinking of the rush hour in the city, it was decided that we should return to the King’s Arms in Fenwick for FRT today.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

27 July: Pinwherry to Ballantrae via Stinchar Valley

Meet at Girvan Harbour at 1015 for MV Glorious 1030 bus to Pinwherry (Newton Stewart bus operated by King of Kirkcowan (is that Johnny?)). Arrive Pinwherry 1057.

Easy walking - 11 miles.

Return bus from Ballantrae is at 1604. If we miss this we will have to find something to do in Ballantrae until the next bus at 1800.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

13 June Arran – Laggan Cottage Walk

Alan, Allan, Davie C, Davie Mc, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Malcolm, Paul, Peter, Robert

Despite the seeming chaos surrounding arrangements for today’s outing, eleven of us turned up at Johnny’s for bacon rolls and coffee before heading to Ardrossan for the quarter to ten ferry for Arran. And even on the ferry there was a bit of debate about what walk we would actually do when we reached the island.
The day had dawned unpromisingly; the overcast skies that scattered overnight showers, still hung about in the morning and dark clouds to the west didn’t promise too much for the day ahead. But, by the time we sat on Johnny’s decking enjoying his hospitality, - for which we thank him once again - the day had turned pleasantly clear, sunny and warm. That was the cause of the debate on the ferry; some were for the high tops on such a glorious day while others preferred a level and less exhausting day in the sun. The debate ended with the decision to be first off the ferry, get the bus round to Lochranza and have a leisurely walk over the hill to Laggan cottage. (See 09/09/2009) So that’s what we did. We took the bus round to Lochranza.
An incident occurred even before we left the bus, an incident that involved us only as witnesses. When the bus drew up at the Lochranza distillery to let the tourists alight, it drew up at the wrong entrance; it drew up at the car entrance, the one with the cattle grid, and not the pedestrian one. An Aussie woman who had ‘Ooohed’ and ‘Aaahed’ at the scenery all the way over in the bus was still taking it in as she approached the cattle grid. Looking skyward at the surrounding hills, she never saw where she put her feet. Her first step saw her left foot slip into the space between the round spars and her weight thrown forward bringing her shin into harsh contact with the metal spar. We last saw of her was being lifted out by companions, an ugly bruise already apparent on the injured limb, for that’s when the driver chose to drive on. We could only hope for her sake that the leg wasn’t broken.
We got off the bus at the golf course much to Davie Mc’s surprise for he had expected a visit to Lochranza Castle. But we did get off the bus there – sorry Davie, no visit to the castle today – and started walking along the tarmac that lead to the other side of the river. As usual, deer grazed on the golf course though more distantly than on our last visit. But the cameras were busy anyway while the non camera men strolled casually on. We turned right off the tarmac at the sharp bend, took to a farm track signposted for ‘Laggan Cottage – 3 miles’ and climbed the glen side with it. At another sign pointing out the path to Laggan Cottage we stopped for coffee for this, after all, was to be a leisurely stroll in the sun.
The path rises gradually up the side of the hill and affords splendid views into the high northern hills of the island. Pangs of regret stirred in the hill men as we climbed for these hills looked splendid today. We looked into the northern face of the Castles ridge, rocky and serrated and looking splendidly inviting against the blue sky. But we were on the path for Laggan Cottage and we continued to rise with it.
Near the top of the climb we came across a young lady from Aberdeen University, a geology student doing a six week field study on the island. In days gone past her rucksack would be full of samples but now sample collecting has been stopped and the best the soul could do was photograph anything that she found interesting. We left her to it and came to the top of the rise, a shallow col between two hills.
No matter how often you come this way, the first sight of the sea is always superb and for those doing this walk for the first time this was a dramatic and awe-inspiring change from the green of the glen we had just left a few minutes before. We came through the gap in the hill and stood high above the blue firth, looking north-eastward over the sun-drenched Isle of Bute to the hills of Dunbartonshire and northward along Loch Fyne to the blue distant hills of Argyll. Landscape features were pointed out and named but, try as we might, none of us could remember the name of the wee island off the west coast of Bute, the one with the old monastery on it. (Inchmarnock – Ed.)
The view over the sea was to stay with us, changing subtly as we dropped down the path towards the cottage. Below us, on the shore, a larger party of geology students could be seen examining the rocks. We would meet them later. But for now we continued to drop down to sea level at Laggan Cottage.
We chose to lunch at the cottage – it’s as good a place as any and better than most. The author (see 09/09/09) was in residence in the cottage and stuck his head out to acknowledge our presence but was unable to interest us in his book. The group of young students we had seen earlier came by with one or two older folks that we took to be lecturers and leaders. Two minutes later they came back by and asked us if we knew the whereabouts of a path over to Lochranza. Being obliging souls that we are, we set them off on the right path. There you go ,wives; we old boys come in handy for some things.
We spent some time at the cottage while Jimmy sloped off with his new camera and Davie Mc entertained Holly with sticks in the sea. Such antics looked far too much like exertion to the rest of us though and we were content just to laze around in the sun. It’s not often we’ve had the chance to do that this year. But the time came as it invariably does, and we had to move off.
The walk was now along the raised beach and in keeping with the day we set off at a leisurely
pace examining the landscape, the flowers, the birds and the butterflies and blethering about nothing in particular. But leisurely strolls seem to be anathema to some of us and the pace was gradually picked up. The group split once again. Peter and Jimmy and Robert and Allan and Johnny seemed to have the smell of ale in their nostrils already and shot off at a fair old lick leaving the sensible to come on at a reasonable pace. By the time we reached the fallen Rocks they were a hundred metres in front and by the time we came into the forest at Sannox they were out of sight completely. So much for leisurely stroll in the sunshine!
When we reached the car park at Sannox bay we fully expected to find the fast lot having another break for coffee but there was no sign of them. We walked on. There is no direct route from the car park to the path on the other side of the river and we know from experience that the river can be high here so we took to tarmac and crossed the water by the road bridge and took the path down the other side. This path took us through the trees, under the old sea cliffs, over the ‘steppies’ in the river and out to tarmac at the bus stop. That’s where we found the fast lot waiting for the bus.
We had fully twenty minutes to wait for the bus and when it came it was nearly empty. It carried us as far as Mac’s Bar in Brodick where FRT was taken outside in the sun for the first time this year. Here we must thank Davie C for in gratitude for his recent retirement and now becoming a full member of the Ooters, bought the first round. Thank you DC.
In the summer time Calmac lay on extra ferries and it was the six o’clock one that brought us back to the mainland.

Friday, 15 July 2011

6 July Cairnsmore of Carsphairn

Allan, Davie, Jimmy, Johnny, Malcolm, Rex & Robert

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

Cairnsmore of Deugh, now known as Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, is one of those hills that are part of, yet separate from a range. As such it gives magnificent views in 360o, views that we looked forward to. The range it is part of is the Carsphairn/New Cumnock hills of north Kirkcudbrightshire and south-east Ayrshire but it is separated from the bulk of its neighbours by the deep Clennoch valley and more or less stands as its own massif with only the lower Beninner as companion. The most direct and most popular ascent is from the Green Well of Scotland just north of Carsphairn on the Ayr to Castle Douglas road. This is the route we intended to take this morning.
Once again this year the weather was to play a part in proceedings. The gloriously summer spell that came in with July had gone to be replaced by overnight rain, a rain that lingered into the morning and some were less than enthusiastic about walking the hill in such weather. Yet seven of us dragged ourselves through the deluge to the meeting place at the Green Well. And when we arrived at the starting point it looked as though our luck was changing for the better for the rain had gone and there was a brightening in the sky and even a patch of blue could be imagined. And the morning was warm. All we need worry about now were the midges that had already started to bite as we changed into walking gear.
‘Why is it called the Green Well of Scotland?’ asked Allan. Jimmy pointed out the well beside the farm track we set off along; a deep rocky bowl some twenty metres broad with slimy looking, reed-fringed water covering the bottom. ‘That’s the Green Well’, said he ‘But why Scotland? I don’t know.’ Allan was satisfied with the little information forthcoming.
In the sheep shed further along the track, a shearer was at work. The freshly clipped ewes literally sprang and jumped and cavorted as though spring lambs – minus their heavy woollen overcoat, they must have felt a light as lambs and jumped and sprang to join the flock lined along the bank like Indians in an old western movie. A collie, nearly the same colour as the sheep, rounded up the unshorn ewes. ‘Good job he went to Specsavers’, said Davie causing hilarity (We are easily pleased!). But more of the shearer later for we had a walk to do.
The track crosses the burn by a new bridge – well new to us anyway – and climbs gradually on to the hill. As the track climbed, we met the breeze, just the gentlest of stirrings in the air but enough to let us know that it was there. ‘At least this might keep the midges away’ said one. (See03/06/2009) And with this in mind, we found some boulders near the top of the road and sat down in this gentle breeze for coffee.
The breeze didn’t quite keep the midges at bay. Before long they were beginning to bite, not many just enough to let us know they were still around. However we took no chances and set off again. Now came the steep bit.
When we reached the end of the track we clambered over the drystane dyke and down into the burn. (In retrospect this was a bad move for a new bridge is built over the burn a bit higher up but this was hidden from us at this point and we took the way we always go.) Then came the climb of the hill itself. We saw the weather coming in again and, whether it was this or something in the coffee we will never know but Jimmy set a fair old pace on the climb. Such was the pace that the group split into two even before the rain arrived. We sped up that slope to beat the rain to the top with the slow group watching the fast one disappear into the distance.
When the rain did arrive it brought the hill fog with it. This was the last straw for the slow who decided to turn back (Anyway Allan was feeling ill and discretion won the day over stupidity.) Three turned back leaving Robert to slog on behind the fast trio.
The fast lot, meanwhile, sped on upward into the fog and rain to arrive at the summit in time for a bite of peece, and in time for the rain to go. Robert arrived ten minutes later with the news of the returning trio. ‘We’ve seen better views from here’, said Rex and we had to agree for the fog still swirled around us. But it wasn’t cold and we could take our time over lunch just in case it cleared. ‘Is that a new cairn?’ asked Davie pointing twenty metres to the east. ‘Not at all’, replied Jimmy, ‘I’ve got a picture of my bike leaning against that cairn taken nearly thirty years ago. And it wisnae a mountain bike either’. We always suspected Jimmy was slightly daft but to bring a bike to the top of Cairnsmore of Deugh was stretching it a bit, even for him. Still, we know Jimmy and believe him, even without his photographic evidence.
We sat and reminisced for a while in the hope of the fog clearing. But after half an hour it was still around us so we set off for the descent.
What a difference a clear day makes on the hill. As we strolled down the Black Shoulder the clag slowly began to break up revealing tantalising vignettes of a land beyond. Loch Doon was revealed first then hidden again; then the north end of the Kells range; then south towards Loch Ken. Then the clag went completely and the whole landscape opened up to us from Criffel and Screel in the south to Loch Doon in the North-west. And the sun even shone on the distant Cairnsmore of Fleet. This was turning into a pleasant day out. We ambled down the slope enjoying the landscape and looking forward to the approaching sun.
As we dropped over the shoulder we could see the returning group making their way casually towards the top of the track. Rex tried his old aborigine ‘Cooooooooooo-ee’ and the others halted briefly to acknowledge the call. Then we carried on down to the fence that would take us to the end of the track.
We lost Holly when we reached the end of the track. The keen nosed collie had go the scent of the other group and sped off to join them (so much for faithful companions, Davie). But it wasn’t too long before we joined them as well and with the team reunited we wander casually down the track.
At the sheep shed we met the herd and, in our usual way, stopped for a blether. The herd stopped for a blether but the shearer kept going. ‘He must clip a few sheep in a day’, said one of our number. ‘He clipped fower hunner yesterday’ said the young herd, ‘He’ll dae aboot seeventy thoosan’ a year – seventy thoosan’ at a poun’a heid; no bad wages but it’s hard work’ While some left the track to have a look at the work, the rest of us took his word for the severity of it and walked on.
The group was re-united before we reached the Green Well. The day that had started out promisingly and deteriorated had now brightened up again and we reached the cars in sunshine. FRT in the usual howf in Dalmellington and we had forgotten about the fog on the top and looked forward to our next outing.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

29 June Return to the Mysterious Lunky Hole

Alan, Allan, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Peter, Rex & Robert
Robert and Jimmy turned up in shorts today. Well Jimmy turned up in shorts; we feel certain that Robert had just climbed out of bed and came wearing his pyjama bottoms, pale tan and stripy things they were. The reason they turned up in shorts this morning was that the recent spell of summer weather had given us a morning of gloriously clear sky and warm summer sunshine, a morning meant for T-shirts and shorts. Yet, by ten o’clock when we eight of us gathered at Kames in Muirkirk, the sun had gone, the sky was overcast and there was the usual Wednesday threat of rain in the air. Would this be another disappointing Ooters day?
Disappointing or not, since we were gathered, we decided that the planned walk should go ahead - we would seek out the lunky hole - and set off up the old Sanquhar road towards Springhill, following the River Ayr Way. That’s when the rain came. There was general rush of digging into rucksacks for waterproofs for by the look of the sky, the rain might stay for a while. But it wasn’t to last. By the time we had turned right off the Sanquhar road on the track for Tibbie’s Brig, it had gone and there was a general discarding of waterproofs and stuffing them back into rucksacks. By the looks of things this might be the pattern for the day.
We stopped on Tibbie’s Brig. The eighteenth century brig (recently restored) is named after Isabella ‘Tibbie’ Pagan, keeper of an inn of dubious repute here, and a writer of poetry of sorts. It was Tibbie who wrote the poem ‘Ca the yowes tae the knowes’, a poem that a much more famous Scottish poet took, discarded the bawdy verses, rewrote more of it, transferred the setting to Dumfriesshire and matched it to an ‘auld Scotch air’. It is Burns’ version that is familiar to us. Perhaps Tibbie’s version should be more widely sung – but not in polite company.
The site of Tibbie’s ‘inn’ is marked by a cairn near the brig. At this cairn we had a minor decision to make. The track rises up the west bank of the burn and disappears round a knowe but a pad runs down the side of the burn and rejoins it further down. We took the burn-side pad for Jimmy mentioned a fossil bank some fifty yards downstream. We think Jimmy’s whisky induced hallucinations are kicking in again for, search that bank as thoroughly as we might, we found no fossils. Jimmy’s reputation is in tatters again.
Five minutes after the futile fossil search we were back on the River Ayr Way heading towards the old Muirkirk to Ayr railway. What early summers treat greeted us on that old railway. The last of the spring flowers were giving way to summer ones. A profusion of orchids, Heath Spotted and Early Purples, and white Heath Bedstraw grew on the old track and a swathe of pink Ragged Robin clothed the bank of a cutting. Small Tortoiseshell and Argus butterflies flitted from flower to flower in search of nectar. An absolute delight for the nature lovers amongst us.
But we were to leave the old railway before long and follow the path down to the river side at Adan’s Cairn. This cairn commemorates William Adam who was shot here in the killing times of the late seventeenth century. Adam was a shepherd at Wellwood. On a Sunday morning he was waiting at this spot for his fiancĂ©e when he was approached by a party of dragoons. In their eyes the fact that he had a bible in his possession was enough to mark Adam out as a Cameronian and he was shot on the spot and his body left there for his fiancĂ© to find. He was buried where he fell and a stone was later erected over him by Old Mortality. All of this is displayed on a modern information board erected at the opening of the River Ayr Way.
We left Adam's Cairn and continued down the riverside. The caffeine addicts were beginning to grumble that their habit needed a fix so, on a wee wooden bridge over a wee burn that emptied itself into the river, we stopped for coffee. While we sat at coffee, swallows old and young skimmed the river feeding on insects totally invisible to us. A buzzard ‘meowed’ somewhere above the Wellwood trees and brown Argus butterflies flitted. And the sun came out! What a pleasant coffee stop.
Post coffee we continued down the ‘Way’, crossed the Cumnock road (with extreme care as suggested by the sign with the River Ayr Way icon on it) and came to the unclassified road for Dalfram. This road has recently been resurfaced and the walking up it was smooth and easy. We crossed the Sorn road (no ‘take care’ signs here!) and came over a moorish tract to Netherwood in the valley of the Greenock Water. Whaups and buzzard and oystercatcher all made themselves known to us as we walked along the moorland road in search of a place for lunch. And the haunting cry of the peesie accompanied us finding a suitable place.
As we sat with our backs against a drystane dyke listening to the birds and watching the changing patterns in the sky (auld romantics, we), the sun went and an ominous charcoal grey cloud, pregnant with rain, crept over us. And it wasn’t long before the expected rain came. Waterproofs went on. But the intensity of the rain and its duration were as before. Waterproofs were on and back off before we had finished the peece and peece-stops are notoriously brief in the Ooters. The sun had returned by the time we set off again.
We left tarmac at Burnfoot Farm and took to a forest road. This took us through the forest and towards the houses of Smallburn. But we didn’t want to go there. When we found a road coming from the left we took this, came past a pond with an island full of resting gulls (seagulls!!!) and on to the Glasgow road at the cemetery. Then we crossed the road and came to a small car park.
Round this car park are built examples of different types of drystane dykes and information boards describing them. This is where we found the lunky hole. For the uninitiated, a lunky hole, according to the blurb, is a hole left at the bottom of a dyke for hares to get through but as our expert* pointed out, any form of wildlife would get through. So perhaps the blurb should reflect this.
We might have gone straight down the Glasgow road into the town but we didn’t. We found a path through the Kirk Wood and followed this to the Kirk. In the kirk-yard are buried the great and the good of Muirkirk past. Had we time to spare we might have investigated this but time was at a premium today for some had appointments to keep so we walked on down to the Douglas road and back into the town that way. That’s when Alan mentioned his Muirkirk connections. His wife, Ann, is a Muirkirk body and one of her relations was Professor Tom Symington BSc, MB, FRSE etc. etc. who is commemorated by a monument on Main Street. We admired the monument on the way past. And we admired the garden at the corner of the Glasgow Road as well, a garden commemoration the mining heritage of the town and the many famous people who were born, lived and worked here. This is well worth the visit.
Now we were only half a mile or so from the starting point. We turned up Furnace road and came back to Kames and the cars.
This is a good walk in mixed terrain, one that is worth doing again.
FRT and entertainment were taken in The Coachhouse on the corner of Furnace Road.
*The Early Ooters is full of experts on all subjects under the sun. If only the authorities would consult us, we would be able to put them right on so many things.