Saturday, 24 November 2012

Scoops Reports 2012 - 24 November Loch Trool Circular

24 November Loch Trool Circular  Report by Rachel Richardson

I collected Heather and Rachel and drove them to Loch Trool where Carl had already arrived.  The others got there soon after: Richard, Andrea, Tasha and Fanny (French, from Normandy, a new arrival at Kirkcowan), Ken, Mary, Duncan, Irene, Peter Reed, Catherine, Anne, Leslie and Jim.  Irene had the boot lid of her car come down on her head and took quite a long time trying to recover from it.  After explaining that our walk was going to be a shorter one than on the programme owing to the height of the water and the flooding we had encountered last week, that part of the planned walk around the Loch would include more road walking owing to work still ongoing with the logging companies, about the possibility of encountering disinfectant provided on the route because of the recent worries about larch tree infection, introducing Fanny and telling them that Rachel would be my ‘back-up’ and THEN telling them that she would be leading and that I would be her ‘back-up’, we eventually set off on our walk!!!  
On Saturday, 17 ramblers, including two visitors, one from New Zealand and one from Normandy, met at Caldons car park, Glen Trool, for a circular walk around Loch Trool. This was shorter than originally intended. Part of the walk was abandoned due to flooding of the Water of Trool.
Setting off through the old campsite the air was fresh and crisp, the trees and undergrowth coated with frost. A red squirrel was spotted in the branches overhead.
When the new footpath along the south side of Loch Trool was reached, it was found to be a big improvement over the old one. In spite of the recent bad weather, the going was dry and clean, a welcome respite from the mud the group has become accustomed to. The walkers enjoyed the views along this part of the walk. With very little wind, the still waters of Loch Trool reflected the trees perfectly. The Fell of Eschoncan, Benyellary and Buchan Hill were clothed in the burnt orange colours of dead bracken leaves and grasses.
I was so lucky to be at the back as there were so many photos to take!  The autumnal colours were lovely despite the day being somewhat overcast but there was no sign of rain as we went along what was now a more feet and hip friendly path, aided by the fallen leaves which covered the hard surface.  Carl and I were constantly rushing to catch up, sometimes joined by Jim – he stayed with the group more often and got lots of great photos of them as well as of our surroundings.  We had a sweetie stop at the eastern end of the loch where a view point had been created – at present it is in a clear area and probably this will continue as below it is a stretch of low land which might not be a great tree planting area.
On reaching the end of Loch Trool a visit was paid to Glenhead farmhouse where walkers found the doors and windows blocked up with breeze blocks. This classic Galloway farmhouse is facing demolition if no other use can be found for it soon.
Pausing to admire the Gairland burn in spate, and the waterfall at Buchan Bridge the group arrive at Bruce’s Stone for lunch. This monument was erected in 1929 to commemorate Robert the Bruce’s first victory over an English army in the Scottish wars of independence.
The forest road was followed all the way to Bruce’s Stone but we had a long stop at the bridge over Gairland Burn which was in full spate, unsurprisingly, and Carl and I stopped at what he now knows as one of my favourite places for a photo-shoot.  I told him I would have to ‘make-do’ with him as my perspective and foreground ‘interest’ and got a good photo of him between two trees with the wonderful hills in the background.  Thank you Carl. 
We did what I hate in others – stayed at Bruce’s Stone a long time eating, taking over the view which other photographers would now find ‘blighted’!  However, we did not encounter any later visitors.  The road walking back to the cars was lovely as it was mostly downhill and the views which surrounded us were mostly good.  It is horrible seeing the destruction where the recent logging has left behind the remnants of branches and the chewed up ground.  We had hoped that the new pathway would have been formed by now but that possibility seems distant.
The path along the north side of Loch Trool was closed due to logging. Larch trees in this area have been infected by the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum which can kill a tree in one growing season.  Once the disease has been detected felling is essential to control the outbreak and stop it spreading to our native trees.
Walkers made their way down the road to reach Caldons car park, where rucksacks were stored in cars. A visit was then made to the nearby Martyrs Tomb which marks the place where six covenanters were killed while at prayer in 1685. From here the group continued to the Water of Trool, pausing to admire bracket fungi on  the trunk of a dead tree, before returning to their cars.
Tea, scones and a roaring fire were enjoyed at The Galloway Arms Hotel in Newton Stewart by most of the walkers.  We had been lucky to have had this venue made available to us in lieu of the Belted Galloway.  The owners hope to re-open this establishment on Tuesday following the mopping up and drying out process after its recent flooding, along with most of lower Newton Stewart, when the banks of the River Cree were overwhelmed after continuous rain earlier in the week.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Scoops Reports 2012 - 17 November Stranraer – Portpatrick

17 November Stranraer – Portpatrick  Report by Gordon Phillips

Saturday November 17th Wigtownshire ramblers met at Stranraer to walk 10 miles to the lovely village of Portpatrick on the Southern Upland Way (SUW).  Fifteen walkers, including two visitors, one from New Zealand and the other from the U.S.A., left from the Breastworks car park on a clear, cold and sunny morning to climb up past the cemetery to join the SUW at Gallowhill Farm where our leader showed us two Belgian Beef Cattle grazing in the field.  These are a rare breed to this area.
Two young women who are working at Kirkcowan to earn their board and keep – Tasha who comes from NZ and Estelle from California joined us today.  Tasha was well equipped for the day while Estelle had on cut off leggings and trainers with tiny socks!    She was told what the walk would entail but this did not put her off joining us.  It was decided that Mary would drop them off at their hostel later, on her way home.  With these two women, we were a party of 15.  The other walkers were: Duncan and Irene (leader and backup), Gordon, Audrey, Margaret, Mary (x 2), John, Florence, Carl, Claire, Christine Sloan and me!
On reaching Knockquhassen reservoir two latecomers joined us swelling our numbers to seventeen. Passing the water a gaggle of pink footed geese were feeding until they heard us and took off with a very fine display of their ability to fly without crashing into each other.  This section of the SUW to the cairn on Broad Moor is extremely muddy which made it very challenging finding a way through the bogs and peat.  Everyone was disappointed that the authorities have allowed the path to deteriorate into this condition.  Some duckboards could be put down to help walkers pass through without resorting to wading in the standin g water. The leader is going to get in touch with the group’s paths officer and report the condition of the SUW at this point and hopefully something can be done to save this valuable asset that brings thousands of visitors to the area every year.
When we had finished the seemingly endless trek uphill, along the road, we reached our turnoff point to go through a double gate and it was here that Steve joined us.  He and Dawn recently moved to a cottage close by.  Leslie had also joined us along the way.  Before too long we were bogged down on a track which had deteriorated drastically since Duncan and   Irene had done the recce, last week and there were squeals of alarm and surprise as we tried to navigate our way through some pretty bad terrain!  The person who found it the most difficult was, of course, Estelle who gave up trying to keep the water and mud out of her trainers and just headed through it all without a murmur!  
This section was at last left behind as we went through the new gate and climbed the hill from where we got good views of the reservoirs and of the wind turbines.  It was certainly windy enough today to keep them turning!  Coming down from the top we encountered another boggy section caused by animals using the water trough but this area was soon passed and we had more road walking to do.  Sweets helped to raise our blood sugar levels – very necessary as it was after noon and lunch time was not expected to be had until we reached Killantringan.  We met Jacqui and her dog, as we got closer to the coastline.  When we got close to the bay, Duncan veered off to the left but I walked with Tasha and Estelle towards Killantringan so they could get a glimpse of this lovely part of the coastline and take photos.  Irene also went that way as she knew there was a gate through which we could go.
Once we reached the hard road Knock and Maze the leader pointed out a fine example of a standing stone before we arrived a Killantringan Lighthouse for a lunch stop sitting on a hill overlooking the sea with its fine views over the channel to Northern Ireland.
Duncan came back towards us to let us know that they were having lunch behind the hill, the summit of which we usually reach after seeing the lighthouse.  It was windy where they had sat but a bit more sheltered where Jacqui was sitting with Tillie, her lovely little boxer dog.  It would have been harder getting going again after lunch but we were fairly keen to move as we were getting colder!
I kept back with the  ‘girls’ as they took more photos so the group had moved on too quickly for me to get another photo with everyone in.  Before long it was obvious that Estelle was suffering from the cold and I stopped with them while Tasha took off her socks to give to her.  Estelle really struggled to loosen her trainers’ laces enough to put this thicker pair of socks on and then struggled into Tasha’s over trousers. 
She also got Tasha’s gloves and my ‘buff’ – I was happier that she now had something on her head to stop the heat from leaving her that way.  I had waved to Irene to keep moving but Florence came back to us and gave Estelle some ginger tea to warm her inside.
The next part of the SUW is a cliff walk on excellent paths past Dunskey Glen and the old coastguard station before a steep flight of steps took us down the village of Portpatrick from whence the local bus took us all back to Stranraer for a well-earned cup of coffee with fresh scones in the warm comfort of Stir It, a popular local tearoom.
The four of us moved on, Florence and I trying to set a pace for them to keep up to get their circulation moving – Tasha was perfectly alright having been prepared for the weather anyway and she was enjoying the walk.  Estelle kept asking how much further we had to go and I could not tell her without depressing her further.  Once we came down into the first of the bays she was happier as she had more photos to take but Florence was trying to get us to move more quickly so that we could catch the bus due to leave at 3pm. We got there just in time for 14 of us to board it.  A dozen grateful walkers went to Stir It where Beth and her staff had started to clear everything away!  For one awful moment I thought all the scones had gone!  However, I was in luck along with 4 or 5 others and I enjoyed my fruit scone with my strong tea.  
The others were spoilt for choice with the other cakes on display!  Gordon had been able to join us as his bus was not due until later.
Our leaders were thanked for their efforts today as the appalling ground conditions experienced by the group on the SUW had made the walk a great deal more challenging than had been expected.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Scoops Reports 2012 - 10 November Castramont

10 November Castramont    Report by Cath Birkett

Frances, Cath, Thomas and Rachel drove to the car park at Knocktinkle where we found Robert there before us.  Soon afterwards Ken arrived with Peter, Jim with Mary, Audrey with Margaret and Susan. A ‘new’ walker whose name I was told was John but which was in fact David Pride, came with Carl and Leslie – a total of 15 walkers.  Rachel was to be our leader, Cath having passed on this job to her as she was a quick walker and could keep others who wanted to surge on, in check!
On Saturday, 15 ramblers met at Knocktinkle car park, Gatehouse of Fleet, for an 8 mile walk over moorland, hills, and woodland and farm tracks. The weather was bright, but showers were forecast.  The car park is dedicated to the memory of the late Betty Murray-Usher, who, along with the Stewartry Drystane Dyking Committee, founded the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain. 
Setting off over moorland towards Benfadyeon the group crossed a part of the lade made to transport water to Gatehouse-Of-Fleet.  In 1790 the water power scheme started to supply the new mills in Gatehouse as the Fleet did not provide enough. It cost £1400 and supplied 4 cotton mills, 2 tanneries, a brass foundry and brewery. The water came from the end of Loch Whinyeon through a tunnel and was canalised down the burn to two mill ponds at each side of the village. The system was extensive, originally 6.4 km long and there are over 4.6 km remains. 
Our first obstacle was a dyke which had an electric fence beside it – we were not sure whether it was live or not but could not take the chance!  After removing a number of stones from the dyke we had a good space through which to scramble and were guided under the wire – great photos!  Quick repairs were made to the dyke after we had all got through and the fields were enclosed once again.  We were led through a marshy area which we had avoided on previous walks there but we got through it quickly.  
The climb up Benfadyeon was rewarded with 360 degree views over the surrounding area which included Gatehouse of Fleet and the Solway with the Wigtown peninsula just visible. To the west threatening clouds loomed above Ben John and Cairnharrow.  Loch Whinyeon, a popular fishing destination, well stocked with brown trout, could be seen for the first time.   
This brought back memories to David who had fished there many times during the period when he lived in Gatehouse with his family from the age of 13. 
The descent from Benfadyeon disturbed a well camouflaged snipe and a couple of grouse.  On reaching Loch Whinyeon, the end of the lade tunnel and sluice gate for the water power scheme were explored. Today water is extracted from the dam at the opposite side of the loch and is now used as the local water supply.
After leaving the shore of Loch Whinyeon a short steep climb led to the summit of Craigtype where ramblers paused just long enough to don waterproofs before a heavy shower encouraged them to head downhill and back up to the highest point of the walk, the Fell of Laghead at 292m. 
After descending and crossing the Lauriston road, the forest road led to a footpath following Castramont burn. Due to the recent weather the path here was very muddy.  Lunch was taken close to waterfalls with a red kite circling above.  The burn was followed down to Culreoch farm road with a pause to admire a beautifully patterned new dry stone wall.  
The track down through the glen, sometimes around small trees, their branches low and often rooting into the ground which was usually boggy, sometimes giving us glimpses down onto the waterfall littered burn, always through orange-red bracken and always with fabulous views with autumnal colour, was littered with duck boarding and bridges – either side of which would be surrounded by almost impossibly traversable ground!  Boots disappeared often below what had been thought to be a stepping stone and trousers and gaiters became the universal colour of brown!  I was keeping close to a dyke and trying to make the most of stones alongside it to get through a particularly muddy bit, followed by Robert when I suddenly heard the sound of one stone hitting another behind me and felt some of the grungy stuff hit my legs!  I squealed and Robert couldn’t have apologized enough!  I just thought it was funny and assured him I was fine – he had thought I was out of range of his stone throwing action.  Even funnier was Cath’s response, offering my body to be lain down in front of him so that he could walk over it!
A screeching jay announced the entry of the walkers into Carstramon Wood. Bronzed fallen leaves covered the meandering path through predominantly oak woodland with many glorious, gnarled old coppiced beech trees along the way. The remains of charcoal burning platforms from the 19th century were passed. Oak was chopped and burnt here, to produce charcoal for the iron, copper and brass industry. Timber from Carstramon Wood was also used to make bobbins in the Gatehouse mills.
We reached the road along which we walked for a short while before turning off into Castramon Wood.  Its map was perused and discussed before we had another uphill track to follow.  I knew from previous visits what to expect and was able to enjoy sharing my love of this place at this time of year with Carl who was trying to record as much of it as he could.  At one time he and I were following closely behind a walker who was trailing a long piece of grass, tucked into his boot/gaiter, having obviously been noticing it for a while when, suddenly, both of us decided to put a foot on it to remove it!  It’s such a daft thing to have thought so funny but we could not stop laughing over our instinctive synchronised response!
Photography took over again and we followed Cath’s gaze and then footsteps as she headed for a dead tree trunk which was extremely rotted, broken off in many pieces, which was covered in many different fungi.  We heard shouting from ahead and had to make a move to try to catch up with the others.  Soon afterwards we reached the tree which had double trunks through which our track took us.  Then we reached the tree with the ‘bumps’ and carvings which kept many of the walkers amused for a while before heading on to find the charcoal platforms.  These were found by most of us but Leslie, who had taken a wrong turning, was missing and Thomas went off to find him.  Cath gave a bit of information about the platforms but then we had to get a move on as we knew that from here the downhill section would be difficult.  It is usually slippery down this way but now we had to contend with slippery wet leaves overlaying slippery wet ground!  No-one actually landed on his or her own backside but it was often a close call!
As we reached the road and caught up with the quicker walkers we were joined by Thomas who had found Leslie waiting at the other entrance to the wood.  He was suitably apologetic!  
Leaving the woods the walkers continued along the road to Lagg Farm passing a field of blackface tups with magnificent spiralled horns. A farm track was followed towards Laghead Farm, before crossing some fields to the car park and retiring to Galloway Lodge for tea and cakes. 
We were met by a curious flock of sheep which held their ground for a long while before moving away from the early group of walkers and then headed for the rest of us.  Carl and I were treated to the sight of these lovely looking creatures coming our way and then making a run for it!  
I phoned the cafe/restaurant to inform them of our estimated time of arrival (about 4pm) and said that 15 of us would be there.  However, after we had been sitting there for about 10 minutes, having given our orders, we realized that Susan, Audrey and Margaret had obviously decided to go straight home.  No doubt Susan was looking forward to soaking in a hot bath to relieve her knee/ankle jarring from her fall in the late morning.  As usual, she had continued walking without complaint for the rest of what was quite a long walk!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Scoops Reports 2012 - 3 November Beneraird

3 November Beneraird  Report by Gordon Phillips


Frances, Jacqui, Leslie and Florence drove to the start of the walk, near the power station between Glenapp and Ballantrae where we met the other walkers.  Cath, Thomas came with John, a man who had walked with us a few times, years ago and who had rejoined us recently, Mary Sloan and Anne.  Rachel came with Claire and French Claire and a new walker, Dunlop who wore wellies which was probably the best footwear for the walk, as it turned out!  John came on his motor bike and Richard arrived with Jim.  Gordon had travelled by bus, as usual.  With Christine Sloan and Carl there were 19 of us setting off but our numbers swelled to 20 when Robert caught up with us later.
Wigtownshire ramblers did an eight mile circular route up Beneraird and Smyrton Hills which are just two of the many hills situated in the Glenapp area.  Twenty walkers met at the crossroads just off the A77 where there is ample car parking for the cars that came from Stranraer, the South Rhins and Newton Stewart. The leader welcomed and introduced three new members to the group and hoped they would enjoy today’s walk.
Setting off on a clear sunny but cold morning along an old farm road they passed the electricity convertor station which takes the power to Northern Ireland. The equipment hummed loudly in the quiet morning; more intrusive than the traffic on the nearby main road.
After all the recent heavy rain that has fallen recently in this part of Scotland the going was very muddy, slowing their progress until they reached the old road that takes you from Ballantrae to New Luce, a distance of some 19 miles. As this road once carried horse drawn traffic many years ago the ground was somewhat easier to walk on. The first stop was at an area described on the map as hut circles where we learnt that these were small dwelling places with low earth sides and a timber structure was erected above this. Today all that is left are several circles in the grass where the houses once stood.
It was cold and windy but sunny as Gordon led us along a track with which we are familiar but which was much muddier than when we last used it and we arrived at the top of Benaraird by mid-day. 
 Making their way up to Beneraird they met the farmer on his quad bike taking feed to the animals grazing on the hillside. This was a relief to some of the group as the beasts turned their attention to the food and ignored the walkers completely.  Once on the summit the leader pointed out several hills visible today mainly towards the Galloway ranges.
Heading down the road towards Lagafater Lodge the leader took the group to the remains of a Liberator aircraft which crashed on the hillside in 1945 resulting in 17 deaths out of the twenty that were on board on that dreadful day. The plane was on its way from Northern England to Prestwick when, in thick fog and perhaps due to the lack of reliable navigation aids, the plane hit the hill. One of the survivors crawled to the lodge to raise the alarm and when the rescue services finally got to the site they discovered two of passengers were still alive. This was made even more remarkable in that two days had passed since the accident happened. A lunch stop was taken there beside the wreckage whilst they remembered all who had perished on that fateful journey.
Our return to the main track became one of pot luck on the terrain over which we travelled!  Carl was lucky not to be sucked down to Australia when he fell forward after getting stuck up to his waist in a marshy, mossy section.  I was too late to record the event with my camera as he extricated himself pretty quickly!
After lunch they retraced their steps to the top of the pass and then crossed over a grouse moor to the headwaters of the Water of App.  A brace of Red Grouse took off noisily and swept down into the valley. After crossing the burn a short steep climb took them to Smyrton Hill with its panoramic views of the Clyde and Loch Ryan with the ferries making their way to and from Ireland.  From the summit it was a very steep descent down to Smyrton Bridge and the track back to the start.
John had been struggling a bit as we had gone upwards but felt even worse as we had a fairly steep descent back towards Smyrton Bridge.  Richard and I held back for him with concern – his knees seemed to be giving him a lot of pain.
The group thanked the leader for an excellent walk in the autumn sunshine before retiring to Stranraer for coffee and scones in “Stir It”, one of the many fine tearooms to be found in the town.
 Rachel had received a phone call to say that Mary had gone into labour and Rachel was needed to take care of their son, Luke, so she had to go straight back to Stranraer.  It was agreed that we would go to Stir It so that she could join us after collecting him.  The four of us went with Cath, Thomas, Anne, both Claire’s, Mary and Rachel, later, with her nephew.  Florence had phoned Ian who came to pick her up and we were delighted when he joined us with his tea and cake!  We heard later that Mary had a baby girl.