Remembrance Sunday in Easy Ayrshire

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.

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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. 

One of many replacement bridges on the railway track

One of many replacement bridges on the railway track

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 summit cairn

The summit cairn

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. 

The memorial to John Loudon McAdam near Kames

The memorial to John Loudon McAdam near Kames

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.

Tinto Hill from the summit of Cairn Table

Tinto Hill from the summit of Cairn Table

A visit to the North West

Seven Club members enjoyed a return visit to the bunkhouse near Ullapool. A weekend of mixed weather awaited us: some sunshine, heavy showers and occasional low cloud, but certainly nothing to keep us indoors (apart from the dreaded midge!)

Dave travelled to the area on Thursday so that he could climb An Teallach on Friday. It was too windy for him to undertake the full traverse of the peak, but at least he managed to bag both Munros.

On Saturday Jim left early for a solo trip to Ben More Assynt and Conival.

The rest of us opted for the shorter journey to the Fannaich Hills, starting from the car park near Loch a’Bhraoin.

Looking towards the bealach

Looking towards the bealach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A boggy walk up to the bealach at the head of Allt Breabaig was followed by a steep walk up the wet rocky hillside onto a grassy ridge leading to the summit of Sgurr Breac. We were rewarded with fantastic views in all directions – but the eye was drawn in particular to An Teallach, the Fisherfield peaks and the Torridon hills to the south.

After a descent and reascent to Toman Coinich and a much longer descent to a col, we were soon climbing towards the summit of our second Munro, A’Chailleach, where we took some photos and enjoyed the wonderful views.

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We retraced our steps for a short distance and then followed a line of broken fence posts steeply down onto the Sron na Goibhre ridge from which we would descend into the coire below – at this point we were suddenly enveloped in low cloud! This soon cleared and we were able to pick our way down the hillside towards the burn issuing from Loch Toll an Lochain.

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The less said about the soggy and steep descent from here to the bridge at the end of Loch a’Bhraoin the better, but in the end despite the midges and the many traps for the unwary we all reached the track and returned to the road feeling satisfied with our day in the hills.

Jim too had mixed weather conditions - the summit of Conival was cloud covered on the way up, but clear on the return. Two more hills in the bag for him.

On Sunday Lynn, Mike and Dave went for a coastal walk beside Little Loch Broom. Jim explored Corrieshalloch Gorge before heading for home having decided not to climb Ben Wyvis on this trip.

Lee, Liz and I went back to Loch a’Bhraoin to climb the three hills forming a ridge to the west of Allt Breabaig. This time we located a bridge over the river – not marked on the map – and followed a boggy ATV track across the moor. Leaving the track, we headed steeply up the slopes of Meall a’Chrasgaidh – the first Munro of the day – which is completely overshadowed by the mighty cone of Sgurr Mor Fannaich beyond and the steep slopes leading onward to Sgurr nan Clach Geala.

Saturday’s hills from the ridge

Saturday’s hills from the ridge

he cairn on the summit of Meall a’Chrasgaidh with Sgurr Mor on the left

he cairn on the summit of Meall a’Chrasgaidh with Sgurr Mor on the left

Crossing the large flat area between the hills we were surprised to find a tent pitched near the lochan – maybe a bird watcher or deer watcher. Onward and ever upwards we followed a steep and increasingly narrow path round the rim of the coire.

 

The rocky face of Sgurr nan Clach Geala

The rocky face of Sgurr nan Clach Geala

Finally we reached the broken trig point and cairn on the fine peak of Sgurr nan Clach Geala – fitting reward for all the effort expended. The peak is only a few metres lower than the triangular cone of Sgurr Mor Fannaich – they form a commanding pair above the huge Coire Mor.

After a short stop to take in the amazing views we descended a long way to the next bealach before starting the short climb up a curving ridge to the top of Sgurr nan Each – its summit cairn perched precariously on the cliff edge.

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Then we headed for the bealach above the Allt Breabaig and followed a fine stalkers’ path back down the glen. There were midges around but back at the car there was enough of a breeze to keep them at bay.

On the way home we stopped to buy delicious fish suppers from the new chip shop at Bruar – highly recommended – and it is open till 10pm.

An enjoyable weekend in great company. We haven’t conquered all the hills in this area yet, so we’ll be back…

A Circular walk round Loch Leven An excellent start to 2017

Monday 2 January 2017 dawned clear and bright – a superb day for any activity in the outdoors.  Driving towards the Forth Bridge my eye was caught by lovely pink clouds above the Pentland Hills presaging the sunrise – I didn’t feel I could justify stopping on the hard shoulder to take a photo!

I met up with Shay and Caroline at the car park at Findatie and we set off towards Kinross, walking into a chilly wind.   Shay was only joining us for part of the route so she would be walking back to the car park with the wind behind her.  On a previous visit the Club walked from Kinross to Vane Farm but now there is a designated trail all the way round the loch which Caroline and I would follow. 

Initially there were not many people about – a few joggers and some serious cyclists.  Later the route became much busier with family parties with shiny new bikes, buggies and puppies, the busiest spots coinciding with paths from the half dozen car parks that provide access to the circular trail. 

There were plenty of opportunities to watch birdlife – a charm of goldfinches flitted alongside the path, stopping to enjoy thistle seeds in the field, a large flock of fieldfares and some starlings picked over the grass in another field and a group of whooper swans flew overhead towards the loch.  At one of the bird hides we watched a variety of ducks, some geese and a cormorant – all of them noisy.   Later we saw several herons standing above the River Leven Cut which drains the loch at its eastern corner.

This heron was standing in the water – several others sat on the bank enjoying the sunshine

This heron was standing in the water – several others sat on the bank enjoying the sunshine

Conditions were also good for the gliders which took off regularly from the airfield at Portmoak.  We were intrigued to see the launching gear being winched back in following take-off: it seems these days you don’t need a powered aircraft to tow the glider up to a suitable height.   Rather more effort is needed to reach the edge of Bishop Hill above Scotlandwell in order to launch a paraglider – we spotted a couple of these too, though we didn’t see them take off.

 

The Ochils were clearly outlined to the west and the Lomond Hills to the east, while behind the RSPB reserve at Vane Farm the escarpment of Benarty Hill provided a green and brown backdrop with rocky outcrops.   A visit to any of these locations would have been rewarding though probably less sheltered than our low-level circuit.

 

What better way to start the year than a satisfying 20km walk on a fine day?

 

Thanks Caroline and Shay for your company.

Winter afternoon light on the loch

Winter afternoon light on the loch

A Misty Christmas Meet in the Monadhliath

Preparations for Christmas were well under way when members of the Club set off for the seventh annual Christmas meet – just one week to go...   This time the venue was the comfortable SMC owned Raeburn Hut situated between Dalwhinnie and Laggan. 

Twelve members attended the weekend, though unfortunately Alan was unable to stay for the festivities on Saturday night.

The bag for the weekend was one Corbett and five Munros.   

Dave and Colin started off on Friday with a cloudy, wet and windy day on the Fara, the Corbett above Dalwhinnie.  Drying facilities in the hut were pressed into service to ensure their kit was ready for another outing on Saturday.   This time they headed for Carn Liath – one of the Creag Meagaidh range – where they encountered the only snow of the weekend.  

Lynn and Mike and I went for the single Munro just north of Dalwhinnie, Meall Chuaich – a straightforward walk but low cloud deprived us of the extensive views of Badenoch that its solitary position promises.   However, we were lucky enough to see a Golden Eagle and a number of mountain hares, as well as ravens and buzzards and lots of red grouse.  Sadly, the mountain hares in their white winter coats were very conspicuous in a setting totally devoid of snow.  At least the temperature did not sink to the ‘minus 113 degrees’ predicted by the Mountain Weather forecast (typo!), though the wind was bitterly cold.  We were glad to shelter in the lee of the substantial summit cairn while we ate our lunch.  

On top of Meall Chuaich – where’s the view?

On top of Meall Chuaich – where’s the view?

The remainder of the group – Jennifer, Heather and Dave, Jim L, Jim J, Dave W and Alan – headed for the Monadhliath and successfully bagged Carn Sgulain and A’Chailleach, but decided to leave Carn Dearg for another day.

On the summit of Carn Sgulain

On the summit of Carn Sgulain

The summit cairn on A’Chailleach

The summit cairn on A’Chailleach

As is traditional on the Christmas meet, members each brought and prepared a contribution to the communal evening meal.  Expectations were high and we were not disappointed.   The oven was filled to capacity, necessitating some ingenious rotation of dishes, but miraculously everything was cooked and ready at the same time.  The beautifully decorated table was soon groaning with food.  There was delicious home-made soup, turkey with gravy and stuffing, pigs in blankets (drizzled with honey – slrp!), glazed parsnips, carrots, sprouts, peas and broccoli and roast potatoes.  

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Christmas pudding (thank goodness for a microwave oven) with brandy cream, Tiramisu and fruit salad were followed by mince pies and shortbread – no-one had room for another crumb, but there were plenty of snacks to nibble later in the evening.  A variety of bottles was also in evidence.  The crackers with racing Santas and reindeer were a source of great amusement.  After a huge washing up session (thanks, Dave) we settled down to play one of the most non-PC games I’ve ever come across.  Who won?    I did 😀 .   Well done Lynn for providing the decorations and entertainment.

 

 

An early departure on Sunday saw Colin, the two Jims and me setting out with head torches on the long walk in to Carn Dearg, the highest of the Monadhliath.  Once we left the track above the bridge over the Allt Fionndrigh much of the terrain was boggy and there were slippery rocks to contend with on the way.  Visibility was poor.  It was a relief eventually to reach the well-defined ridge to the north of the summit - hitherto unseen due to the low cloud.   The wind was cold so we did not linger in the mist – just a quick photograph to record the moment - then we set off following a compass bearing for a quick descent to Loch Dubh.   It was a long walk out down Gleann Lochainn but we kept up a good pace and were back at the car in record time.

 

 

Nil chance of cloud free Munros on the summit of Carn Dearg

Nil chance of cloud free Munros on the summit of Carn Dearg

The remainder of the group opted for a lie-in and a less strenuous day on Sunday; coffee stops and some retail therapy and perhaps a walk to the ruined village of Drum an Aird near the Falls of Pattack were mentioned.

 

Thanks to Mike for stepping in to coordinate another successful trip.  Thanks to the drivers for taking us there and to everyone who attended for their contribution to another great WLMC weekend in Scotland’s mountains.  

 

I look forward to more adventures with you in 2017.

A Walk on the Wild Side!

At the start of the week the stark white cone of a snow-topped Ben Lomond could be clearly seen from my window in Bathgate.  Now the weather had changed and the view of the hill as we travelled west from Stirling was obscured by low (and very wet) cloud. 

Six hardy Club members set out along the WHW path from Rowardennan.   The vegetation was predominantly brown; the loch was grey but we were glad that initially at least we did not need our waterproofs.

This being Remembrance Sunday it was fitting that we stopped briefly beside the modern War Memorial at the lochside.  As we traversed the hillside above Ardess where the waterfalls could be seen in full flood we were climbing into the clouds and soon had to stop and put on our waterproof jackets.

Calum beside the lochan

Calum beside the lochan

The little lochan near the summit of Ptarmigan was partly ice covered but the air was still relatively mild.  

As we climbed round the rim of the corrie and onto the more challenging terrain leading steeply to the top of the hill gusty winds threatened to blow us off our feet – just when we most needed our balance among the rocky bluffs.   Jim’s photo nicely captures the mood – though you’ll have to imagine the wind.  Thankfully on the summit it seemed to have abated to some degree.

 

 

Approaching the summit

Approaching the summit

All that remained of the snow was a couple of compacted patches on the path and some small sheltered pockets – it was now raining and there were some large puddles accumulating on the path.  Pretty miserable in fact!

 

 

A refreshment stop at the top was not an attractive option - no view, no shelter - we simply gathered round the trig point for a photo and then hurried on.  We were now heading down the ‘tourist path’ that is traversed every year by countless visitors to what is one of the most visited hills in Scotland.   Sunday was no exception, even in the uninviting conditions we met dozens of people – a couple on the top, several individuals with damp dogs, a couple of hill runners (who seemed to be carrying very little in the way of equipment), a party of about 18 youngsters and other small groups.  We weren’t the only people mad enough to venture out on such a day after all!

 

After a quick stop for half a sandwich beside a large rock that offered a degree of shelter, we continued down the path, moving as quickly as we could.   A sign-posted diversion, which everyone apart from Tim and me appear to have ignored, took us down some pretty disgusting terrain beside a new fence – our boots were covered in boggy mush – but we soon rejoined the main path through the woodland and before long emerged again at the visitor centre (which was all locked up) and the welcome sight of the cars – the car park was much busier than when we set out in the morning.   After removing our boots and changing into dry clothes we all repaired to the pub for a drink and a chat in the warmth of the bar.

 

Wildlife sightings were almost non-existent on this trip – a roe deer on the road near Balmaha, some ducks on the loch, a few jays in the woodland, a very tame robin beside the path above Ardess and a couple of ravens giving an aerobatic display at the top: I think they were enjoying themselves in the wind!