Saturday, 12 January 2013

2013 - 12 January Knockdolian

12 January Knockdolian  Report by Jim Deans

Twenty five walkers (Isobel, Frances, Audrey, Margaret, Shona, Peter, John, Allan, David (new, friend of Allan’s),David Pride (Crusty), Florence, Leslie, Jimmy (new, from Cairnryan), Rachel, Claire and her friend, Claudia, Forbes,  Mary, Ken, Jim (our leader), Richard, Mary, Peter, Marie and Peter) met at the Ballantrae shore car park for the walk start. Two new walkers were welcomed to the group. It was a fine but cold morning with a light mist.  I was back marker for the day.

The walk began by heading north. The first point of interest was a notice board telling the 1933 story of Johnny Hood, an Islandmagee ferry operator, who amazingly survived after drifting for 36 hours on freezing choppy seas before his boat smashed on to the rocks of Ballantrae.
Another board stated the beach has been listed by Scottish Natural Heritage as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (S.S.S.I.). The area is noted for the shingle beach, which provides a habitat to a wide range of coastal plant material, and as home to a breeding colony of birds.
Now began a two kilometre walk along the beach. A heron and other seabirds were seen.
Stopping to view the remains of a fishing boat, sweets were distributed. Reaching a point where the Red Burn flows into the sea, a path led over the dunes to the busy A77 road.
After crossing the road, a short walk eastwards along the B734 brought the group to Corseclays Farm.
Now a farm track took them onto the lower slopes of Knockdolian.  A drystane dyke alongside a barbed wire fence proved to be a challenge.  After many contortions all walkers were safely on the other side.  After crossing a short boggy section the firmer ground of the steeper slopes were reached.  A quad bike track was now followed to the 869 ft summit.
Trying to avoid the wettest part of this sometimes marshy ground, we went through an open gateway to gain the easily climbed hill, sometimes overlooked by a few sheep. It was a testing time for one walker who is 77 as, slowly but surely, we made our way up this fairly gentle side of my favourite hill.  He was determined to keep going and, with encouragement from the back markers and the loan of a couple of walking poles, he made it!

A sea mist hid the usual extensive views west. Nothing could be seen beyond Ailsa Craig.
Closer by, Colmonell could be seen along the Stinchar valley while above Glen Tig to the south the blades of Arcleoch wind farm were seen turning.

We reached the summit some time after midday and stopped for a while for many photos to be taken.  The sun was now out and the blue sky helped to make the awesome, if slightly hazy views ones to spend time in surveying and recording!  As predicted, the wind was stronger from this side and we moved on to start our descent so that we could find a more sheltered place to have our lunch.  Most of the group was ahead of Mary, David and me and they seemed to have dropped out of our view – Mary, however, pointed out a hat which turned out to be worn by one of the walkers and we headed that way.  People had spread out trying to find the best spot to sit in and we joined Audrey and Margaret who had found a reasonably sheltered place.

Dropping below the summit, refuge from a strong easterly wind was sought in a sheltered rocky outcrop for a lunch break. Directly below and owned by the family of the Duke of Wellington the mansion house of Knockdolian was in clear view. A new book by Lady Jane Wellesley entitled “A Journey Through My Family” mentions that Knockdolian was the favourite place of Lady Diana Wellesley, the late duchess.

After lunch a steep descent brought the group to a gate leading into a boggy field. The route now passed the prominent mound of the ancient hill fort of Duniewick.  Reaching the burn at the Duniewick plantation another mini obstacle course involved ducking under the fence of a burn outlet and crossing over a wooden fence. Photographs were taken.
Jim led us towards a marshy area where we had to negotiate a wire fence which crossed a small burn – easy enough for me with my being so short but not so good for others – maybe they were vertically challenged instead of me, for a change!?  With no mishaps at this obstacle we easily climbed over a couple more fences - wooden slatted ones – which we managed easily, with everyone mastering the placement of feet on the other side perfectly!

Another boggy field now led to the minor B7044 road.  Knockdolian House and the ruins of the 16th century Knockdolian castle were viewed from the road.   A short road walk led to a track down to the banks of the River Stinchar. The riverside path took them south through Finnart Holm before re-joining the road below Macherquat farm.  A pair of dippers were spotted flitting on the opposite bank.

The group was always considerate of the speed at which we, at the back, were walking and paused frequently for us to catch up.  I asked Rachel if she would mind doing her Samaritan act again and trying to get back to her car as quickly as she could to return to pick up a couple of walkers who were struggling with the distance and slippery surfaces.  We left them both heading for a nearby bench on which they could sit for a while before moving on to another one.  Many thanks to you Rachel.
The rest of us continued along the road, jumping onto its verges occasionally to avoid fast flying tractors and then returned to the riverside, slipping and sliding on the leaf covered muddy slope.  A muddy track brought us through woodland again and then along a long wide grassy area to reach the ancient bridge over which vehicles once crossed.  The ‘new’ one runs parallel to it into Ballantrae, within sight of the remains of the old castle, blocks from which were used in the building of the original bridge.  I had a wonderful time, relieved of some of my back up responsibility, taking photos of the river and looking back along the track we had taken.  I caught up with them at the old bridge.
After passing the extensive ruins of Balnowlart House they regained the riverside path which took them to the bridge at Ardstinchar. An information board gave the history of Ardstinchar Castle and the old and new bridges over the river.
A flock of curlews and skeins of geese were among other birds spotted today.
Back at the car park, rucksacks and boots were soon stowed away.
The majority of walkers now descended on Craigiemains Home and Garden Centre for tea, coffee, scones and cakes. The cream to top an enjoyable day!

We had changed our footwear and were driving towards Caigiemains when we saw Gordon and Anne, parked by the side of the road having been flagged down by others.  We were quick in joining them and hugs and kisses were shared.  Gordon looked well and Anne looked as if she was surviving the trauma of having him at home so much now, temporarily.  They had already been to the garden centre so turned down our request for them to join us there.  Get well soon, Gordon, we miss you.   John, Peter and Allan were the only walkers who went straight home. 

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