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!

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