Thursday, 28 February 2013

65 birthday

Ooters at the birthday party

Glad you all enjoyed your valley walk yesterday in the sunshine. Even although Holly and I have done that walk many times, I enjoyed it too.

I had a fabulous day yesterday. Thanks for all the cards and presents and special thanks to Allan for his epic poem.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

20 February Muirkirk – Cairn Table – Glenbuck Loch - Muirkirk

Andy, Allan, Davie C, Davie Mc, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Paul, Peter, Rex & Robert

            Muirkirk in the eastern extremity of Ayrshire is a fascinating place; geologically, historically and archaeologically fascinating. Today we would explore some of these fascinating aspects of Muirkirk. (For an introduction to Muirkirk see Stuart Thomson’s webpage at
            The town and parish of Muirkirk date back to the twelfth century when the monks of Melrose founded an outreach at Mauchline. They built a chapel of ease on the moors of that part of Ayrshire known as Kyle. This came to be known as the Muir Kirk of Kyle (Moor Church of Kyle) hence the name of the township that grew up round it. But we were not to explore this part of the parish today instead we would turn our attention to the southern part and to the top known as Cairn Table.

            Rex was late, mistaking the time of departure, but we waited patiently – well as patiently as we wait for anyone – at the walkers' car park at the ironworks institute at Kames for him coming before setting off along behind the institute to take the road signed for Sanquhar. The ironworks institute is all that remains now of the once thriving industrial centre that was eighteenth and nineteenth century Muirkirk, having been built as a recreation centre for the workers in the ironworks here. These Ironworks were established in the late eighteenth century and continued through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth. Nothing now remains of the works themselves only the institute and the place names - Ironworks Row and Furnace Road – to remind us.
The tarmac gave out after a few hundred metres but the old road continues as what was once a shooters road. This marks the old turnpike road that was built in the late eighteenth century as a short route from Glasgow to England and to take the produce of Muirkirk Ironworks to the centres where it was needed. Only the section of the turnpike north of Muirkirk is maintained as the public road to Stra’ven, the southern end having been abandoned early in the nineteenth century. It was along this southern section that we walked, waiting for Rex to catch up.
The reason we didn’t stop altogether and wait was the bitter east wind biting into exposed flesh and chilling even through layers of outdoor clothing. We wandered on slowly. We did stop eventually, in the lea of McAdam’s Cairn. This cairn marks the site of the British Tar Company’s works. The tar works was established here by the Earl of Dundonald to exploit the abundance of surface level coal around the town – coal that was suitable for tar extraction. The works were managed by, and eventually owned by, one John Loudoun McAdam who later made his name in England as a civil engineer and road builder. McAdam was a Trustee in the Cambuslang and Muirkirk Turnpike Trust that had the Sanquhar road built. He must have learnt his road building technique from James Finlayson, the engineer on the old road, a technique he was to refine in England and patent under the name macadamisation. There is nothing left of the Tarwork to remind us of its existence now only some bumps in the ground and this modern cairn.
Rex caught us up at McAdam’s cairn and we walked on. Evidence of early coal workings is dotted all over the moor here. The self-same monks who established the Muir Kirk of Kyle found coal easy to extract on this moor, the seams running close to the surface. The remains of medieval bell pits can be seen even from the old road as strange circular hollows in the ground where the old pit has collapsed and formed these weird-looking depressions. We noted some in the passing as we walked on round the Whisky Knowe – a conical mound by the side of the road in which, as legend supposes, casks of smuggled whisky are buried – and on to the Sanquhar Brig.
The old brig as no more, having been washed away on a flood of the late twentieth century but a modern footbridge takes its place and allows the pedestrian to continue the walk to Sanquhar. Our self-appointed guide for the day, Jimmy, pointed out the Minister’s Well on the other side of the burn, a green patch on the otherwise brown heather-slope and told us we could find other springs all around here, a result of some weird geology. We would be told more later.
We didn’t continue along the road to Sanquhar. We left the turnpike here and took to a path on the left-hand side to start our climb of Cairn table. Not so very far above the old road we crossed an artificial cut in the ground. This, explained our knowledgeable one, is the lade used to carry water to the tar works and the ironworks in the eighteenth century. And as our attention was drawn we could see the scar of it running across the hillside just above the track we had come along. But it wasn’t day to hang about and we set of again, upwards through the heather. Now we found the strength of the wind as well as its temperature. We kept moving.
We saw our first deer of the year as we walked above the cut and started on the hill proper. Allan hasn’t been feeling too well recently and this showed as he struggled upward. Eventually he had to call a halt and retreat. Johnny and Peter offered to keep him company and left us to climb on while they went for a lower level walk. We await a report.
The wind was chilling so the progress upward was constant. No time for hanging about getting cold. Davie Mc in his usual manner was well to the front and by the time we were half way up, he was nearly at the top. Still we plodded upwards in his wake. Near the top of Cairn Table the old red sandstone of the Devonian era outcrops. Trickling from this is another of Muirkirk’s springs. At around the 1900ft contour, it is higher than the surrounding hills. ‘An artesian spring’ announced our self-appointed guide ‘The water apparently has the same chemical constituents as Loch Katrine in the southern highlands.’ Whether it is the same water which by some freakish geology makes its way from there to here, he wasn’t convinced but this is the story that’s told about it. The spring does run at the same temperature summer and winter indicating a deep source but where the source is nobody is quite sure. Ian sampled the water and pronounced it tasting like - water! An excellent recommendation for your dram.
Another forty feet of climbing brought us to the frost-shattered boulders and native old red sandstone outcrops of the summit. The county boundary between Ayrshire and Lanarkshire crosses the summit with the highest point, a bronze-age burial cairn, being on the Lanarkshire side. Not to be outdone, the striking miners of 1926 erected a huge war memorial on the Ayrshire side. This is the cairn that can be seen from the town. Rising some twenty-odd feet above the natural level, it is now the highest point on the summit. To build it to such an excellent standard needed skilled men and equipment. These were brought to the summit in a lorry driven by a local man. How he managed this we can only guess but it was some feat of driving not one that we would relish.
On the summit we hunkered down in whatever shelter from the cold wind we could get and had a bite to eat.

After coffee we crossed into Lanarkshire, crossed the burial cairn and started our descent toward the young Douglas Water. It was on the descent that we encountered our first snow, hard as concrete and great to walk on. It wasn’t until Robert found the softer stuff and sunk up to his knees that we left the snow patches and took to a quad-bike track alongside the fence. Then, much to the irritation of some of our number Davie Mc took us along another set of tracks that he said was a better way. We all trust Davie Mc, don’t we? So we followed. And to everybody’s surprise these tracks brought us to the end of the shooters' road in the Douglas valley.
We kept to this for a while now, stopping only once for a lunch break at the bridge over the burn. As the road climbed away from the Douglas, we met a four by four pick-up bouncing down the rough track towards us. In it was a young man, a keeper on the Douglas Estate. He warned us to keep an eye out for Holly for he had just set some fox traps by the side of the road bated with choice leg of hare. We kept an eye on Holly for the duration. Good job as well for when she caught smell of the hare leg she was nearly in the trap after it. We caught her in time.
Then we crossed over from the valley of the Douglas to the valley of the infant River Ayr. The snowdrops were not quite into full flower on the high ground around Parishholm farm but there was enough there to suggest a superb show later in the spring. Then we crossed the road, climbed a fence and came to the shores of Glenbuck Loch.
Glenbuck Loch is totally man-made as can be noted from the dams at each end. It was created in the late eighteenth century to provide a constant head of water for the mills at Catrine amongst other things. Dams were constructed in the valley and the natural springs and runnels filled it up. It is now part of Glenbuck estate and is managed by Muirkirk Angling Club as a trout fishery. By its nature and situation it attracts wildlife and a hide has been built overlooking the fishery. It was in the hide that we chose to stop for another cuppa.
Glenbuck village no longer exists, the opencast mining of the area seeing to this, but a memorial to one of its greatest sons sits by the side of the road. This was of course Bill Shankly of football fame and something of a latter day saint to Liverpool supporters. It was at the instigation of the Liverpool Supporters Association with money from the opencast fund that this memorial was built. Some of our number can remember meeting with Liverpool supporters at the monument when we did this walk before. They had made a pilgrimage to Glenbuck just to see where Shankly was born and we can well remember the reverence with which they spoke about him.

 ‘Football is not a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that.’- Bill Shankly

We would now follow the River Ayr Way back to Muirkirk. Leaving Glenbuck, we came to the old railway – Ayr to Edinburgh – at the platform of Glenbuck Halt. Only some rotting sleepers holding back a bank that used to be the platform remind us that these ‘halts’ were once a common feature of country railways. But now even the railways that served these outlying communities have gone only to remain as level tracks across the open country. And the ‘halts’ are no more than grassy banks beside the track.
Not that we were in particularly ‘open’ country. No, for the first two or three miles we were in the valley of the infant Ayr, a burn that ran through the moss beside our track. There is not too much to be seen in the first two or three miles of the Way, only old railway tracks coming from long forgotten mines and quarries. The blethers of fellow Ooters were the only thing that provided amusement on this section. Then we came to the Muirkirk Canal.
In the early nineteenth century a better, more efficient way of transporting the produce of Muirkirk’s works to the customer was sought. Taking a leaf from the midlands of England, the works owners decided that if a canal could be made to the harbour at Ayr, much more could be exported at a greatly reduced cost. So began Muirkirk’s canal. It was never finished. No sooner had they started to dig than the railways arrived and the scheme was abandoned. No more than half a mile or so remains of the Muirkirk’s canal, no more than a waterlogged ditch beside the railway track.
We continued to follow the railway track back through the site of the ironworks to Kames and the waiting cars. This must be the longest walk of the year so far – around twelve miles and a hill taken in as well. Not too bad for old blokes.

Muirkirk is a fascinating place and we had just explored half of it. We look forward to exploring the northern part of the parish some other day. 

FRT was taken in our usual Muirkirk howf, The Coachhouse where an enjoyable hour or so was spent.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

6 February Edinburgh – The Museum of Scotland

Alan, Allan, Davie C, Davie MC, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Malcolm, Peter, Rex & Robert

We went to Edinburgh today. No, we didn’t do our usual climb of Arthur’s Seat for this was to be cultural visit. Instead, when we gathered at St Margaret’s Loch car park, we turned immediately for the Royal Mile. (It should be noted here that while most of us gathered at St. Margaret’s Loch, the Irvine contingent in their wisdom decided to take the bus and so arrived in the city at St Andrews Square.)
The polis on duty at the parliament building looked absolutely funert (frozen for the non-Scots) standing there for, although the sun shone brightly from a near cloudless sky, a chill breeze blew off the Forth and kept the temperature down. But we kept up a good pace to ward off the chill. Up the Royal Mile we went, up the Canongate, up the High Street to the South Bridge. When we turned the corner on to the bridge the change in temperature was dramatic; no longer were we in the shade and the breeze, we were now in the sun and sheltered from the northerly. It was really quite mild. But we didn’t have time to appreciate the warmth – well, warm for Edinburgh in February – for Rex led us on at a fair old pace.
It was on the corner of the bridge that Robert and Peter decided that they would go in search of the Irvine lot so left us and made their way further up the mile. We continued to Chambers Street and the Scottish National Museum and The Museum of Scotland. We found the Irvine lot where we half expected to find them – in the tearoom having coffee. But where were Robert and Peter? Aren’t mobile phones wonderful things? Within minutes of our call, the missing pair joined us for coffee.

An arrangement was made that we should meet again at a specified time which has escaped the scribe at the moment and at the Chambers Street entrance. Then we went our separate ways to explore the museums.

At the specified place, the specified time arrived and so did all of us! Then we made our way by George 1V Bridge to Victoria Street for Rex and Ian knew the perfect eatery. The Bow Bar may well get plaudits in the press for its ales but there is a distinct lack of food there. The only thing on offer was pies and they didn’t have enough for eleven of us. So much for the great eatery promised by our, now cringing, twosome. One pint of ale and we were off in search of food. This was found in Biddy Mulligan’s in the Grassmarket. Not exactly haute cuisine but it was sufficient to stave off hunger for a while.
Suitably nourished, it was decided that this would be the time to leave the city before the rush hour started. Some hope. By the time we had made our way back along the Cowgate to Holyrood Park it was closing on four o’clock and the rush hour had already started on the west side of the city. And of course that’s the way we Ayrshire men had to go. Still, despite the traffic we all made it safely back home to God’s county resolved to do something similar in the future.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Just a walkin' the dog

Davie always walks Holly no matter the weather!
(Holly says it's your turn to fetch the stick in the water.)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

30 January: Cumnock to Ochiltree

Jimmy, Davie C, Alan, Robert, Ian, Paul, Rex,  Malcolm, Peter

9 Ooters gathered at Cumnock Leisure Centre for the proposed walk to Ochiltree and back. The weather forecast was not promising, with the south of Ayrshire expected to get more rain than the north. 

Nevertheless,  the walk started with dry overhead conditions, in contrast to the underfoot conditions which, on the footpath following the Lugar Water, were decidedly muddy.

We headed towards Dumfries House, whose grounds were a hive of activity. We stopped to inspect the work going on close to the old sawmill, where skills' workshops are now housed.  Needless to say we called in for refreshments at the cafĂ©, where coffee, cakes and one bacon roll (no guesses necessary …) were consumed. 

Whilst we were tucking in, the rain started, but undeterred we sallied forth. We took a look at the Prince’s Drawing School in the newly-renovated Dimplex House (even the Duke of Rothesay needs sponsorship) which, according to the noticeboard was a youth hostel in the 1960s (your scribe can find no evidence).  Next point of call was the walled garden where very substantial earthworks were being carried out – the whole of the topsoil and subsoil having been removed.

As we were leaving  the grounds of the House we were assailed by a heavy shower of hail and were obliged to shelter and huddle, Emperor penguin-style, in the lee of a tree trunk. Jimmy managed to get the highly prized central location.
When the hailstorm had abated we made our way up the slopes of coal waste (it’s more attractive than it sounds) to our lunch spot in the shadow of the Barony A Frame. The shelter provided protection from the rain and we all managed to find a square inch or so of bench to sit on … with the exception of our benevolent dictator who was happy to stand (or at least he said he was).

After lunch we descended the slopes and followed the Lugar Water to Ochiltree, past old Ochiltree mill and along crumbling and flooded paths. A football was retrieved from the river by Peter and this provided some entertainment;  until  our member from down under, not versed in the  rules and nuances of the  kicking game, returned the ball to the river with an action which would have been more at home on the polo field.

By now it had become clear we would not be walking back from Ochiltree because of the inclement weather and so we headed to the bus stop. Finding there was time to kill, we chose to make our visit to Ochiltree a cultural one and we headed up the main street to “the House with the Green Shutters” …easily indentifiable by the green shutters attached to the house! Not many admitted to having read George Douglas Brown’s opus, and the observations of those who had read it (or at least started it) were not likely to have the uncultured ones rushing to get a Kindle download.

In no time we were back in Cumnock (Davie C being £2.50 worse off than when he boarded the bus) and refreshments were taken in the re-refurbished Sun Inn, where a pleasant hour was spent. 

"Over Fork Over": motto of Clan Cunningham

Saturday, 2 February 2013

farmer blacksidend

The numbers to phone when planning a walk up Blacksidend to check if O.K. to walk there.
01563 820314 or 07742748109.