Last week it was the turn of yet another beautiful area, that, for one reason or another, is often overlooked, few people apart from locals willing to explore its delights. That is the great walking publics loss as it has a wealth of history, great landscapes and a network of paths stretching over a wide area.
If the newly created Dams to Darnley wants to succeed as a proper country park however it really needs to
develop a better park infrastructure like toilets and safe access car parks to encourage folk to visit and explore this area properly. Compared to the welly booted crowds descending on Mugdock Country Park above Milngavie every weekend (admittedly an affluent area with more money available to it) this place is a ghost town. Which is a shame because it is just as scenic and has great potential.....or is it only rich people that bother to go walking these days?
It`s a semi serious question ...in Glasgow and the West of Scotland at least. Mugdock above Bearsden...heaving every weekend with families. Barrhead, and Paisleys braes, Darnley's open fields, woods and dams ,Robroyston Park, Balmore and Kelvin walkways, Havoc grasslands and Levengrove Park. Overtoun Estate. The Kilpatricks. Great areas for walking but all lie largely empty. Its always puzzled me this.
Maybe they are perceived as being rough and unsafe somehow though the number of times I`ve been close to injury by being knocked down by speeding mountain bikers, galloping horses or had my prize assets stomped on by muddy pawed dogs in crowded Mugdock suggests otherwise. Maybe its the lack of facilities needed to attract family groups in numbers.
All I know is the only person liable to attack anyone in these areas is that person themselves as they will be the only ones in the vicinity at present.
There are several scruffy small laybys used by fishermen on the minor Aurs road leading up through the dams between Barrhead and Newton Mearns and a large purpose built car park on Balgraystone road above high Barrhead.(this is always empty ,desolate and forlorn looking any time I`ve been there and would need to be busy with other cars and walkers before I'd leave my own vehicle there for any length of time.
Luckily ,knowing the area well, I parked at the large retail outlet complex on Nitshill road right beside the Darnley. They are also building a Dams to Darnley car park at the Newton Mearns entrance (2012) which should really put it on the map as a walking venue.
Setting off, first stop was a short distance along Nitshill road, right opposite the Ashoka restaurant operating in what used to be the Old Darnley Mill.
Across from this is the object and history that presumably gives the Darnley its name.
The famous (but ironically almost unknown to the public at large) Darnley Sycamore. Now surrounded by a fence. How its survived the gangs, troubles and traffic over the generations is a complete mystery. I remember climbing it as a boy when it was just another big tree to have an adventure in.
When I was growing up around here it was all a wonderful if dangerous playground for children. I remember a still working fire station on the corner of Nitshill road and Parkhouse road; a set of abandoned tramlines which used to run past South Nitshill to nearby Barrhead; another abandoned rail line just behind the Darnley hospital(still open as a Nursing home) the crumbled remains of Arden lime works; deep tar filled pits which we used to dare each other to jump across; lime spoil heaps which made your eyes burn like anything (weeping, red eyed boys were good for playing zombies with!) a flooded, abandoned quarry which was rumoured to be bottomless until several drowning victims proved otherwise: two coal bings opposite the Niaroo pub (reverse it) which we used to slide down happily on bread boards into the oncoming traffic: a brick works down towards Nitshill where a feared and bigger rival gang lived (our numbers kept dropping due to the tricky surroundings) :and best of all the ruins of a large estate house slowly disappearing into the woods of the deep, swampy and special Waukmill glen which we loved. Nearby was what we assumed to be a curling pond of the big house but I've recently found out it could have been used for other purposes.( a bleaching pond) At the time it was a wonderland of constant surprises. Like the day we stumbled on several deep concrete trenches hidden in a forest nearby. What could they be we wondered .They were around eight to ten foot deep, six wide and ran for a good distance across the stunted woodland.Someone said they had found a gas mask and old gloves. Hundreds of large, green glass marbles were discovered near here which made a satisfying thud when you hit anything solid with them, including rival gangs. Thereafter we called this area 'the lost world'. We didn't know what it could be but in our childish minds we knew something important had happened here. It took me a long time to figure out what they were really for. There were a lot of puzzling structures, half buried, all over this fascinating wooded landscape. Each slowly removed by the authorities as more and more of us intrepid young explorers discovered the dangers involved in simply finding them.
A lot of interesting information about the big house and details about the trenches here. at /www.damstodarnley.org/index.php?id=72 On the dams to darnley site click on rifle ranges down the left hand side.
Anyway, I set off again on my trusty bike ,taking the back path behind the Ashoka where several old bridges sit half buried in trees just off the path, some dating to the 1800,s. A couple of reedy ponds were passed ,offshoots of the brock burn (an old name for badger) before I reached the white bridge and the halfway point on Corselet road.
From here the walker has two options. Straight ahead up the tarmac ribbon of Corselet road to the Dams ,or, trend diagonally right on a broad grass path towards deciduous mature woodland with the burn still on your right hand side.
Not far from here, on the edge of these woods ,at an old iron gate, the curling or bleaching pond still sits, invisible under a thick coat of brambles. A large flooded quarry used to be here as well, a favourite haunt. Full of newts and tadpoles it were. Steep muddy sides made it very easy to fall in and never get out again but the newts were a powerful attraction. Hundreds of them lived here. Although very deep in places it too wasn't exactly bottomless and captured its fair share of drowned youngsters until it was filled in after parental protests.
The bike was rolled and carried along through a canopy of beech trees and memories until I regained the minor road again not far from the water chute overflow for the dams.
Its always a great sight after the steep, deep confines of the glen to pop out onto the flat open world of water, seen above. High summer and I had it all to myself, just one local boy and his father fishing near the upper waterfall. A world of scented clover, skylarks, butterflies and bees.
From here a flat tarmac strip leads under the red railway viaduct to Neilston, curving between dams to reach the Aurs road. On the other side of this a good track bends round the largest Reservoir, Balgray, taking you to that empty, purpose built, facility free car park mentioned earlier.
I was still feeling fresh so decided to keep going round the side of Balgray then up past Glanderston mains with the volcanic plug of Duncarnock looming above, ancient fortress home of a celtic tribe. A good brief history of the area here for anyone interested. .http://www.mearnshistory.org.uk/Overview.html .
The Barrhead Dams history is also contained in here under Gorbals Water Works. Its a fascinating account of the Victorian construction of this huge catchment area supplying half of Glasgow with fresh water up until fairly recently. It also highlights the grim drinking water in Glasgow which killed thousands in the 1800,s.
Kirkton road and Dam were passed before I rolled into Neilston (a former cotton and textile town as was Barrhead) then a spin out across the high plateau towards Uplawmoor, all on quiet minor roads with great views across to the table top summit of Neilston Pad, one of the highest summits in the area and a distinctive landmark from far afield, seen from many parts of Glasgow.
Legs were starting to tire now however, so reluctantly I headed back, still along a network of minor roads via Barrhead, Parkhouse road and the Darnley.
A fairly hard day out but plenty of shorter options available for the walker. A hugely underrated and underused area in my humble opinion. No rain here though I could see the higher mountain ranges around getting a liberal soaking from time to time. Hint of thunder in the air too at times.
Barrhead Museum..... and below, a close up of the tower
Update. For the past two years I have been writing a book. It is set in Pollok/ Nitshill, where I grew up, with chapters on Arrochar, Arran, Loch Lomond and Glencoe, and many other scenic and unexpected parts of Scotland. Part autobiography, part novel, part travel guide, part unusual love story it concerns a Glasgow hillwalking club and their humorous adventures over three decades. Relationships, love affairs, falling outs and weekends in caves, up mountains and rolling ups and downs to reach Scottish islands in kayaks and boats.
If you like the style the full book is £1 .85. Cheaper than a scratch card but with greater odds of a laugh. It is full of surprises, just like life itself.