Sunday was a bright day but the car windows needed to be scraped before we set out on the drive to Glenbuck Loch and the start of the River Ayr Way. A pictorial map and symbolic sculpture made of cast sand from Ayr beach marked the beginning of our walk.
The route took us downhill past a monument to Bill Shankly and onto a narrow path screened from the A70 by a hedge. Soon we crossed the road to join the track of a dismantled railway which led us west towards Muirkirk.
The rounded hills above Glenbuck were topped with wind turbines which turned steadily in the wind. Where the village of Glenbuck once stood vast open-cast coal workings extended westward along the hillside. A few sheep trotted along the track in front of us but soon veered off into the adjacent damp meadows through which the infant river runs. There were lots of birds in the bushes and trees: buzzards, tits, bullfinches, thrushes; and a heron stood in the river. Big flocks of sheep populated the large green fields on the lower slopes along the valley: in one field a farmer on a quadbike was rounding up his sheep and moving them – he still seemed to be working the flock when we returned hours later.
The broken piers of a substantial viaduct across the widening valley indicated that there had been more than one railway line serving the area (though I have since found out that the viaduct was never used!) – all that remains are some heaps of dressed stone. Along the line-side there was plenty evidence of past industry – ironworks, limestone extraction, coalmining and tar-works: this must have been a busy place in its heyday, but we met no-one on the path as we walked in the morning sunshine.
Reaching Kames, we left the course of the river and took the hill path to ascend Cairn Table (593metres). Initially the path to the hill wended its way between mine shafts and industrial relics – there were warning signs all over the place – deep shaft, no smoking, danger. The hillside was very wet and Walk Highlands informed us it was not unusual to meet walkers wearing welly boots – sections of duckboard were themselves surrounded by muddy moats: it wasn’t quite cold enough to be frozen solid. We met a couple of people coming down, but they, like us, were wearing walking boots. Higher up, the path to the cairn on The Steel (413 metres) became better defined, but it was eroded and stony. After a steep pull above the cairn we reached the top where it was very windy and decidedly chilly. A view indicator, set up by the local enterprise group in 2005, featured among others: the Merrick, Arran, Ben Lomond, Tinto, the Lowther Hills and the Lake District. The views were excellent, the high tops on Arran were white, and all the Galloway hills glistened with frost in the sunlight.
The large summit cairn is a War Memorial built in 1920 to commemorate the local men who fought and died in the Great War. A poppy wreath had been laid there earlier in the day.
We did not linger long before setting off down a path heading west which took us down to a bridge over the Garpel Water where we joined the old drove road that runs between Muirkirk and Sanquhar. After a short tramp on the track across the moorland we reached a memorial to John Loudon McAdam who had a tar-works nearby; soon we passed the remains of his substantial house.
It was then just a short walk back to the walkers’ car park beside the Kames Institute (heralded by the noise of cars on the racetrack that now occupies the old Muirkirk Station), whence we retraced our steps along the River Ayr Way to our starting point at Glenbuck.
It may not have been a Munro day but it was a satisfying 15-mile walk in an unfamiliar part of the country, on a beautiful autumn day. It is only an hour’s drive away. Maybe some of you may wish to visit one day – I’d thoroughly recommend it.