Thursday, 27 August 2015

Sorn, Catrine and beyond 26 August

Allan, Davie C, Davie Mc, Gus, Johnny, Malcolm, Paul, Rex, Robert

The rain had been pelting down as we made our way to the meeting point in Sorn for the scheduled Blacksidend walk, but, given the conditions, a decision was soon made to postpone this in favour of a shorter walk up to Catrine and back. Judith, aka Paul, proclaimed that the rain would soon pass, but once a decision is made, it is made. An hour out and an hour back, and home by lunchtime was the agreed agenda.
As we set off back up the tarmac towards the side road into Catrine, the rain intensified and we were glad we were not on the way up a hill. However, by the time we reached the war memorial, the conditions had eased considerably, and we were to be blessed with ideal overhead conditions for the rest of the day. Paul and his rainfall radar had been right.
Continuing on the road we entered Catrine via Chapel Brae and cut across at the Green before crossing the river and taking the familiar path towards the bridge at Howford. Coffee was taken at our ‘usual’ spot below the road bridge, and given the ever brightening sky, the decision was taken to continue on up to the Ballochmyle Viaduct and take stock there.
Having reached this engineering masterpiece, Davie Mc suggested proceeding a bit further and doing a wee loop which would bring us back to the bridge. Most thought that this meant we would loop back to the viaduct, but the path that we took led us up to Kingencleugh where lunch was taken on a series of steps leading down to the railway line. Malcolm, in particular, enjoyed the rest as he was struggling to get over a recent bout of illness. All good things come to an end though, and we took the side road down to the A76 where we found the path leading to the old road and back to the old bridge at Howford, hence completing the loop.
We retraced our steps back into Catrine stopping briefly at Peter’s house so that arrangements for the evening could be confirmed. Interestingly, we were in awe of the scaffolding that Peter had built up the side of a very tall tree to enable it to be cut down. G’on yersel’, Peter!
Continuing up past the voes, we took the riverside walk back to Sorn and arrived back a full four and a quarter hours after setting off.
Given the fact that we were going out at night, we did not indulge ourselves in FRT but headed home after what had been an unexpectedly good day out.

Twelve of us, the nine named above plus Peter, Ronnie and Jimmy, assembled at the Jewel in the Crown in Kilmarnock in the evening for a multiple celebration i.e. the tenth anniversary of the Ooters, Peter’s 70th, and Paul’s 65th. Peter had baked a carrot cake in celebration of the event and the restaurant contributed with a complimentary drink. The assembled company then adjourned to Wetherspoon’s where we enjoyed Paul’s hospitality, and then some more.
Good times indeed!
The rain had stopped by now

Sunshine indeed!

The plaques on the viaduct

Step brothers

Davie gives us a song, we soon moved on!

Sorn Castle in the sunshine

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

19 August Muirkirk to Sanquhar – Tenth Anniversary Walk

Davie C, Davie Mc, Gus, Jimmy, Paul, Peter & Robert.

On the third Thursday of August, 2005 (the eighteenth, if memory serves) three newly retired teachers from Kilmarnock Academy went for a walk. Little did they know that ten years later they would still be walking together for this was the genesis of the walking group known as The Early Ooters. The walk they chose was the old turnpike road from Muirkirk in Ayrshire to Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire. Ten years almost to the day we decided to commemorate the birth of the Ooters by doing the walk that led to its creation.
It was slightly disappointing to note that only seven turned out for what is a long but easy walk but those who did turn up were treated to an enjoyable day out. The walk has been described in these pages at least once before and really needs no further description here. It follows the long abandoned eighteenth century turnpike through the wild moorland of east Ayrshire to the more verdant pastures of Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire. We find that it is always better to walk from Muirkirk for the sign there says that Sanquhar is twelve miles away whereas the sign in Sanquhar says that Muirkirk is seventeen miles away and we object to walking further than we need to. So, Muirkirk was our starting point and we took the bus from Cumnock to Muirkirk.
            We set off along the old road passing the usual landmarks - McAdam’s Cairn, The Whisky Knowe and the Sanquhar brig. So far the old road has been well maintained and the going easy. But beyond the Sanquhar Brig, on the climb to the head of the pass, the road has been abandoned and nature is taking over again. The going was reduced to good sections of road interspersed with rutted, wet bits. The pace was slowed accordingly.
Half way up the climb we came across a new landmark: A shiny, new metal seat has been placed here in memory of Bert Bradford (1955-2015). That Bert was a fisher was clear from the fretwork of the back but why his seat should be placed here, well away from any fishing water, is a source of speculation to the imaginative amongst us.
At the top of the brae we came to the part of the old road that has been a long time abandoned - nigh on two hundred years abandoned - and exists now only as a level section through the moss. Only where water has cut across it can the surface of the road be seen; the rest has been returned to the moss – the soggy and wet moss. We squelched through this for the next mile and bittock, avoiding the worst of the wet as far as possible though wet feet were had by the unwary. At the cleft known as the Ra’en’s Cleugh we settled down for our first coffee of the day.
On the other side of the cleugh the going was considerably drier and the road more obvious again and we could look around us instead of constantly watching where we put feet. There was a suggestion that we take in the Deil’s Back Door while we were her but this was rejected by six votes to one. (Actually we didn’t take a vote: It was simply said to the proposer ‘Awa an’ bile yer heid’. Or words to that effect.) We walked on to the edge of the forest where we left Ayrshire and entered Dumfriesshire.
The last time we came this way the path through the trees provided some difficulty being wet, muddy and overgrown. Surprisingly, given the wet summer, this was dry today and not as overgrown as we remembered. We found the forest road without difficulty, the forest road that follows exactly the line of the old turnpike. A sign here told us that Sanquhar was eight miles way and Muirkirk seven. We would follow this road downward for the next three miles to Fingland. A mile or so later another sign told us that Sanquhar was eight miles away and Muirkirk seven. Eh! A third sign giving us exactly the same information would be found further down the road. A couple of red deer hinds were startled by our approach and took off down the road in front of us before taking to the open hill. (Unfortunately the pair at the front who stopped to remove jackets missed them.) The path up to the Blackgannoch conventicle stone was noted in the passing but there was no visit today. Then we arrived at Fingland and a lunch stop was called.
As has already been said, this was an anniversary walk and Peter, one of the original three, dug into his rucksack and produced an anniversary cake. Unfortunately it was too windy to light the candle but the cake was appreciated and devoured with relish. Thanks Peter.
We found the tarmac at Fingland, tarmac we would follow all the way into Sanquhar. We also found the second and probably the longest climb of the day. And the rain came. It was a hot steamy climb to the top of the Bale Hill pass under waterpoofs. Then the rain went and waterproofs could be dispensed with. And now it was downhill. We could see Sanquhar lying down in the valley some two to three miles way but no matter how far we walked the town never seemed to get any closer. Down we walked. On the other side of the valley a great swathe of drizzle obscured the hill but yet we were in the dry. Sanquhar never got any closer. Another mile down the road and Sanquhar didn’t get any closer. This state of affairs continued until we crossed the railway bridge and suddenly we were crossing the Crawick Water and entering Sanquhar.
The feeling was that we should get the next bus back to Cumnock for FRT. So we headed for the nearest bus stop, the one at the police station, and waited ten minutes for the bus to arrive. FRT was taken in our usual howf, The Sun, in Cumnock.
Now, for our twentieth anniversary ...............................

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Arran 12 August

Alan, Allan, Davie C, Davie Mc, Gus, Ian, Jimmy, Johnny, Rex, Robert

For the first time in a while the weather was forecast to be dry and therefore ten of us set off for Arran. The ferry was busy so, in anticipation of the bus also being busy, we made sure we were at the front of the queue to disembark. We had already decided that there would be two walks today with Davie Mc, Gus, Jimmy, Rex and Robert going high, and the rest doing the familiar Lochranza to Sannox via Laggan Cottage walk. The former group left the bus at the car park at the bridge on the Sannox to Lochranza section and headed off for the ridge(s).

Lochranza to Sannox
Coffee stop

The ‘low’ group made Laggan Cottage in about fifty minutes where we met a group of ladies who were doing a charity walk round Arran. We also had the chance to look into the cottage as it was unlocked and uninhabited – nothing to write home about. Lunch was taken quickly as the midges were gathering and before long we were on our way again. As, to be expected, after all the rain the path had been wet in places with sections on the original path on the uphill route covered in running water, and so it was on the path alongside the beach, soggy, but nothing drastic.
The benches now look forlorn
When we reached the end of this path we were surprised to see effect that tree-felling had on the road ahead. What had been an attractive walk under the shade of the trees now looked like devastation, and they hadn’t finished yet. Nonetheless, the camp site at North Sannox was reached, by this time in bright sunshine, and whereas the front markers marched on up the road, the two A’s diverted across the grass to the stepping stone and crossed over there, affording them the opportunity for a wee sit-down before the rest caught up.
Approaching Sannox
The bus stop was reached at half-past three, not enough time to go up to the hotel for a refreshment before the bus was due, and when it did, exactly on time, it was standing room only.
The boys must be up there somewhere
Alan and Davie adjourned to the Douglas to await the arrival of the high boys whilst Allan, Ian and Johnny took the four-forty ferry back to Ardrossan.
Davie hesitates about coming back for a photo

The Mountaineers’ Tale
Davie Mc, Gus, Jimmy, Rex & Robert
We got off the bus at the bridge in North Glen Sannox and left the rest to continue their journey to Lochranza.
The path leading away from the bridge was well made and broad and it was this path we took heading toward our first climb of the day, the broad ridge of Sail an Im. Robert showed his intentions immediately by racing off in front. We showed our intentions by taking our time and Robert had to wait for us. This was not the last time today.
The path continued, sloping upward toward our ridge. But we knew that the well graded path had to be left sometime and Jimmy, who had sussed out the approach to the ridge in his guide to walks on Arran, Google Earth and the Ordnance Survey Explorer, left the path just after it cleared the trees to find a crossing place of the burn to the pad on the other side, a pad that looked as though it would take us directly to the ridge. Davie, who admitted to having taken the hardest route the last time said we should stick to the path. So, despite Jimmy’s protestations, stick to the path we did. The well surfaced path ran out and we were on to the old, squelchy path once more. Then came a choice. It was noted that we had come too far up the path for the direct route to the ridge and a decision had to be made as to how we should get there. It was decided to cross the burn and head through the thick moor grasses towards a different ascent of the ridge. While most chose to do this, Davie wandered off on his own. The going was tough but eventually all, including Davie reached the ridge where we collapsed in a crumpled heap to have a well-earned break.
The break didn’t last long though as soon as the slight breeze died down those scourges of the Scottish mountains, the midges*, appeared. Half eaten sandwiches were abandoned to protect half eaten faces, arms and legs and we were off again. The ridge sloped gently upwards yet. The hard slog onto it had taken its toll on Jimmy and Davie who struggled for the remaining ascent. Not so Robert though, who continued to set the pace only to have to wait for the strugglers. The ridge narrowed as we approached the crags of Craig Dhubh and afforded us some spectacular views of the rock faces of the high Arran hills. At least these views gave some relief to the struggling duo for it took their minds off aching legs and burning lungs. And the view became more extensive as we rose with the ridge. In the west were the Paps of Jura, quite distinct and appearing close today; to the south Ailsa Craig and in the east the Clyde islands, Bute and Cumbrae, and the Ayrshire coast; to the north the hills of Cowal; and always the rock scenery of this part of Arran.
But any thoughts we had of a long break to take in the scenery were dashed by the onslaught of the midges. We moved on quickly. Jimmy had the intention of walking to Cir Mhor, under the ridge of A’Chir, through the Bowman’s Pass and down into Glen Rosa. But, given how he and Davie were feeling, he was quite happy to accept Robert’s suggestion of the return via the Witch’s Step. This was not so much a walk as a scramble. Great slabs of  granite with the occasional grassy patch sloped almost vertically down to the floor of the step. Scarmbling, lowering, dreepin’ , bumming, watching every step and fall, we dropped into the cleft of Ceum na Caillich, the Witch’s Step. Now we were confronted by the sheer, vertical rock face of the other side of the cleft. There was no way that we would be able to climb out of this that way. A path was spotted some fifty feet below and a vague memory of previous excursions here told us that this would avoid the face and take us back to the ridge above Coire Fhearghas. We took it and it did and here on the ridge we stopped to  recover energy and composure after the scramble.
There was a slight breeze here and that kept the beasties at bay and a longer halt was had here than we had had up till now. But tempus fugit and we had to move on. The ridge sloped gently upward onto our last summit of the day, Suidhe Fhearghas and all arrived in the wake of Robert who remained supercharged. Now we thought that the hard stuff was over but the descent from Suidhe Fheargas was steep and took its own toll on tired legs. But, at least the steepness of the slope allowed us to identify a path, a pad really, heading into Glen Sannox from its foot. This is the path, wet and boggy at times, that we took and it did bring us on to the Glan Sannox footpath. Tarmac was reached at six o’clock some six and a half hours after leaving it.
The bus was not due for another forty minutes so some time was spent in the beer garden of the Sannox Hotel enjoying the relief of resting tired muscles and the thirst-quenching beer.

*Linguistic note: The scribe is not quite sure whether the word ‘Midge’ should really exist in the singular for these wee terrors never appear singularly but always in clouds. Perhaps the word should be like scissors or trousers where the singular doesn’t exist at all. At least it shouldn’t as far as we are concerned.