Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dumbarton.The Mud Walk.An Unexpected New Experience.

The first real walk I managed after getting knocked down by a van was this one a few weeks ago.Dumbarton has a number of good walks and one I have not done for a long time is this one starting at the large free car park on the left hand  bank of the River Leven.Its the one on the same side as Levengrove Park but there is another car park on the opposite bank for visitors and main street shoppers.Look for the  three orange and white hi rise buildings seen  in the picture above and turn left at the traffic lights beside Dalreoch train station.This takes you  right down to the car park beside the last bridge over the river.This is also a good walk to do by train as this train station,Dalreoch is an  Ideal starting point.Another walk /cycle from here is to go upriver along the Vale of  Leven Walkway to Loch Lomond side and Balloch park but the Vale although it has green parts is much more Industrial in places and not as scenic a walk  for a casual visitor.
On a beautiful sunny day walking along the Leven here downstream  is a delight for the eyes.These little boats take a hammering during bad storms though as the Leven is one of  Scotland,s fastest flowing rivers.It,s the only exit river draining mighty Loch Lomond into the sea so it carries huge volumes of water down its short length in wet weather.The Vikings managed to drag their long boats up it though and pillaged Loch Lomond,s communities and Islands gaining them access to a chunk of Scotland,s interior that had thought itself safe from sea raiders..Very determined boys the old Vikings when it came to bagging and bedding new lands and women.
Seen this guy looking for a meal over Levengrove Park, a lovely Riverside and shoreline park with lots of
 large mature trees and open meadows.Usual story throughout the Central belt this year though with loads of mature trees here snapped in half or blown over.I hope such severe storms aren,t a sign of things to come each winter or wind turbines and man made trees might be the only structures left sticking up in the landscape.When you leave the car park the best route is to walk straight down beside the River getting good views of Dumbarton Castle and the great  volcanic plug its built around. From the 5th Century onwards this was the power base of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. The feared Alt Clut .Rock of the Clyde, known in  later Gaelic as Dun Breatann."Fortress of the Britons" from which Dumbarton gets is name.As I,ve said before It has possible links to King Arthur and Merlin and there are a few folk who have explored this in some detail,Welsh surprisingly having been a language spoken here at that time in a sprawling kingdom that reached down that far. Its not impossible that he was a real person based in this area and later became the legendary figure adopted throughout Britain.Several regions lay claim to them both without much actual proof of existence.There is certainly no  factual record of  a "King" Arthur anywhere,be it here,Cornwall or Wales.But this detailed theory does suggest a possible ruler that fits the bill.Well worth a mouse click.                          

This is one of The Castle from Inverclyde showing parts of  the rampart walkways and the twin towers of the white flagpole peak summit and the  Gun Armoury.
 Another link to the remarkable  and stunning blog by someone who really knows this stuff well enough to comment on it.For anyone who couldn,t give a toss about King Arthur and Merlin  though and is only  interested in  a quick history of the castle this is also here below :)
This is the Flag pole Summit.The path up to it is fairly steep and rocky and goes up the ridge in shadow from left to right.A few years before he died I took my dad up here as a Birthday surprise when he was approaching 80 years of age and he loved it with a few rests on seats and a helping hand.He was really into the history of places and enjoyed it although he did complain he was starting to lose his head for heights.
Also took my sisters all Australian grandson up here when he was over on holiday a few years ago and he loved it too although as a teenager who has seen both The Lord of the Rings and 300 it was the imagined fighting, biting,stabbing and battles that inspired him with blood and bodies spurting and tumbling across the cliffs no doubt. Its around £5 pounds each  adult to get in,£3 for kids and concessions and well worth while if you haven,t been and can explore it fully on foot.It is steep in places but the paths have guide wires on the hardest, most exposed sections.I used to rock climb occasionally here at Dumbarton Rock years ago on the gloomy and seriously intimidating north facing cliffs and could never get off the ground it was so desperate with a friction free natural polish.Some of the hardest rock climbs in Britain are here on  these vertical and overhanging black walls.Its considered very bad form to belay off the cannons at the summit though no matter how tempting  or how much trouble you are in.:)
I never got up that high but luckily there are some great traverse lines around the rock lower down and the famous giant boulders full of classic problem test routes to grunt and struggle your way up.
Right.. Enough history. On with the main event.There is a walk in  some local Guide books called the Havoc Grasslands which I intended to do.From the western end of Levengrove Park It runs along a tarmac flat walkway past Kirktonhill,a Bearsden like suburb of Dumbarton full of  old Victorian mansions  sitting in spacious grounds with  stunning views over the Firth of Clyde.It then cuts up inland at the havoc football pitches through a tunnel under the railway then back through Dumbarton,s outskirts along Cardross road. The above photo was taken from Inverclyde as I still visit Greenock sometimes to see old friends. It was sitting with them on a hillside high above Auchmountain one day that first gave me the idea of a possible new walk when I noticed how shallow the bed of the Firth Of Clyde looked from this vantage point.(I know technically its still a river here though seven kilometres across at this angle)
This was taken at high tide above Greenock.The crosses roughly mark the route I,m about to do.The Mud walk,a low tide exploration on the bed of the River Clyde itself. As far as I know this has not been in any guide book I,ve read and its a wild and unusual experience.A mid estuary walk of great scenic beauty, in places walking almost two kilometres out from the shore line on a sand bar with snow covered mountains in the distance all around.
From  the western end of Levengrove Park I limped off the path and straight onto the beach.There was a new housing development  getting built beside the walkway and I didn't fancy walking beside reversing dumper trucks and guys hammering on the roofs anyway.
The tide was almost out and I walked across the wet mud straight towards the edge of the deep water channel I could just see in the distance in the middle of the Clyde.At first glance this walk looks as if it would be impossible to do.It doesn,t look like sand here. It looks like thick brown mud and as I know from my recent adventure on the opposite bank near here"The lower River Clyde" posted a few weeks ago that,s exactly what it is on that side.Deep, stinking and sticky.
Still ,God loves an ever willing heart and a bold approach to life.I limped off cautiously expecting to sink without trace at any moment. Near the shoreline you do tend to sink in a couple of inches,maybe too much for trainers to cope with but boots or wellies if you have kids with you should be fine.Further out what still looks like mud is actually firm sand underfoot with the mud just a very thin film on top.Not even reaching a quarter of an inch deep anywhere.The further out you go the better the actual sand gets.
You,d think there might be some quicksand out here as I,ve found plenty of that in the past around  other river estuary's elsewhere in Scotland but out here its just a new magical kingdom of big skies and wide horizons and a fantastic walk full of  assorted  busy waders,multicoloured shelducks,gulls and terns.
According to Chris Packham on Winterwatch recently British Mud is some of the world,s best for the amount of tiny creatures living in it, feeding vast numbers of migrating birds who come to these Islands for an annual winter feast.

If you take your time,as I had to anyway due to my injury,you can get good views of bird life without disturbing them too much, causing them to waste precious energy.If you come here its worth taking binoculars.There,s certainly plenty to see. I continued northwards weaving between bird clusters and long standing pools of water inland,always walking beside the markers for the deep water shipping channel ,feeling slightly surreal like I shouldn't really be out here.My  main concern being injured and still on strong co codamol pain killers for my leg, back and ribcage was that I could only shuffle along at a slow limping pace and would not make it to shore in time before the tide cut me off if it came in at speed along these channels now behind me.
This was not the case however and even half crippled me was fast enough to make it.For this reason I would say this is a perfectly safe stunning walk even for children as long as the adults with them made sure they were not getting cut off from behind.The tide does not come in very fast here and if you use basic common sense and are always aware of an easy escape route back towards dry land you can have three or four amazing hours out here alone.Honest its easy.Would I lie to you ?
This is near Pillar Bank almost two kilometres from dry land and in places nearer the Greenock shore line than the Dumbartonshire one.I found this idea that I could be so far out and exposed on these sand bars quite breathtaking as were these views up towards the Gareloch and the Ardmore peninsula.
High tide view of the same area from the Auchmountain hills. The small cross is roughly where I was standing at low tide in the middle of the channel  walking north up the Firth when I took the preceding picture.
I ended the longest limp yet  by continuing along to Cardross Station and getting the train back to Dalreoch and my car.One of the most unexpected and delightful walks I,ve done. I Still can,t  quite believe its possible to walk so far out here yet its so easy.Forget  those hard to reach beaches up north folks.I,ve been to desolate Sandwood bay and been disappointed by the number of cars trying to drive in along the worn and rutted access track then loads of summer tourists queueing up to see one of Scotland,s so called remotest beaches.Even in winter it has groups of visitors on it most weekends.Wilderness is all around us.
There was not another soul out here all day apart from bird life and cute little mud men.Probably because no one else was daft enough to think of exploring out here.God bless full strength codeine tablets and the power of positive thinking.Some locals must have been out here though...its just too good to miss.
"where a  lone gull can walk on a sand bar a fearless human may follow."
Pillar Bank....Its out there man!  Its also marked on the OS map sheet 63 Firth of Clyde.

Also good news  is that Spring has now arrived in the parks.After a drab,dull lifeless winter the sight of the yearly crocus explosion always brings a smile to any heart.Victoria Park has one of the best displays of these anywhere in Glasgow and I always try to catch them.
The birds like the onset of spring as well and have started to sing all through the milder nights again.I even had  to seal shut my garden facing window to get a kip they were making that much racket. "I,ve survived another winter and I need a new mate." Is what they normally sing in the trees in my garden all night long.

Me too in a manner of speaking :)  Alex is a driven man  these days with his intended Corbett bagging quota for this year already worked out.Can,t blame him if he wants to finish them ahead of the coffin sneaking up behind him.
I, ll probably go along for the more exciting ones Like Rum,the West Coast and any other islands if I,m (hopefully) invited but I,m not as keen as him if its foul weather or a really dull lump somewhere just so it can be bagged on a list.Maybe those days when he,s out in the rain and wind I,ll try to finish my second round of Munro,s off or wander along the floor of the oceans instead.
"Where a starfish can shuffle a human may follow". These really are the most excellent tablets!
So much to do so little time.....


Neil said...

Hi Bob, a remarkable walk! As I can't swim I doubt if I'll be following in your footsteps just in case!!!! Cheers, Neil

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Neil.
If your two kilometres out on a sand bar and you have to swim for it I think its safe to say things are not going well.
Joking aside Its a fantastic and different new walk.Its as safe as any beach at low tide and getting the train back is just the icing on the cake.I,ll be doing it again.