Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Thursday, 13 June 2013

A line on a map

I've previously mentioned my role as a volunteer path surveyor for the Scottish Rights of Way Society (Scotways). In my enthusiasm to be helping out I asked for something a bit more local that I could hit in an easy day from home. I was assigned a path marked on OS Landranger 71 heading south-east from the village of Muirkirk. I followed my standard of searching google and then looking on any aerial photographs I could dig up. That proved to be a bit hit and miss. There were clearly some sections of existing path that matched the OS line but also some areas where nothing was obvious. Still, if it could all be done that way there would be no need to get out and walk it!

The start of the route was obvious enough, turning off Muirkirk High Street and through a little lane towards some farm buildings. One of these had a warning sign about accessing the poultry units further on. That explained the strange structures I'd spotted on the aerial photographs. I called in to the farmhouse to explain where we'd be going and had a chat about the route I was taking which caused a little surprise as the owner had no idea there was supposed to be a path there. 

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Upon reaching the poultry units we had to navigate around the back of one as it had been plonked down right over the supposed track. From there it became a matter of trying to join up any sheep trods we could find to keep us heading in roughly the right direction. The GPS was a god-send here on the open moor to stop us wandering off too far. Upon reaching a second gateless fence we spotted a bit of path going exactly where we wanted and made directly for it. However, even this petered out far too soon and we were faced with a heathery truckle up to the col for what was, in any case, an excellent viewpoint. 
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One small section of path can be seen heading uphill just beyond this lone marker pole

The pathless terrain was proving to be very hard work on what was a warm day and the planned  turn-around spot was looking very far away but after a short break for food and drink we headed down towards the forest edge, on the lookout for a clearing that would take us through to the forest track. Again, the GPS kept us right and we were able to scramble over another fence and gain access to the forest. 
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Forest break dead ahead
While it was wet underfoot, at least we had no midges and after 500 metres or so the forest track appeared and we were able to make better progress. However, this didn't last long as the OS line veered off at a corner through another break. Once again, there was little sign of anyone passing this way and this actually led us to the wettest part of the whole route. 

Not long after, we spotted the ruins of a building at North Bottom and managed to take a few photos of what must once have been a pretty substantial house. 
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North Bottom with Cairn Table in the background
Some quad bike tracks around here suggested that the local farmer had been up tending to his sheep. 

Still some distance short from our planned end point we decided that we'd had enough for the day and turned up to the forest track to retrace our steps. Before reaching the col we'd had lunch at we headed further up hill towards the summit of Cairn Table. This option had two benefits (a) it was a summit with a likely good viewpoint and (b) I knew there was a substantial path heading back to Muirkirk, thereby avoiding the heather-bashing we'd need on the way up. Despite the need to put in an extra bit of ascent, this was very definitely a good decision with great views over to Arran and Galloway in particular, plus some great cairns on top and an obvious, wide path snaking it's way back down hill. 
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Large cairn on with Arran to the right

The Co-op in Muirkirk was relieved of some ice creams and cold drinks before we headed back to the car for the drive home. 

On reflection, it's easy to see why the old track has now all but disappeared. What would once have been a relatively minor route for a few farmers has decayed as those farm buildings have. Meanwhile, "townies" are hitting the summits that would once have held little attraction causing substantial erosion. It's a pattern repeated throughout Scotland.