Thursday, 7 December 2017

Straiton. Blairquhan Woods. Craigengower Hill.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
On our bothy trip to Tunskeen, Carrick and Galloway forest districts we had to pass through the pretty village of Straiton to get there. This was created as a model village in the mid 1700s , a pet project by a local earl and it shows in the neat street layout and uniform style of the white washed cottages. As many of Ayrshire's inland villages were built to serve long gone coal mines where money was needed for day to day essentials rather than improving the surrounding scenery this area and village has a very different vibe when contrasted with nearby Dalmellington, Bellsbank or Patna- former coal mining community's now surrounded by bleak scarred hillsides or blanket pine forestry. Strictly utilitarian housing and landscaping resides here, although, as a mere visitor, I've always admired the open plan bleak honest austerity of these other villages as well and have enjoyed walking around them over many years. Interesting industrial mining relics around Waterside and a coal heap park/ bing in Dalmellington. Very reminiscent of my own happy childhood during the 'good old days' in the pub heavy, hard punching, hard drinking, former old mining village of Nitshill in the 1960s or indeed any other similar communities worldwide during current bleak times or future bleak times to come. Not pessimism just cold reality.
Anyway, its a lovely golden bubble this area around Straiton, in an otherwise unremarkable rural or small scale post industrial landscape and largely left behind inland village economies. From numerous trips I believe that to be a fair and accurate assessment of this inland district of Ayrshire as an outsider to the area looking in, but if I'm totally wrong feel free to correct me. I always try to get it right in my musings and travels and present an unvarnished but hopefully balanced view. In the 50 years or so I've been around to observe them, former industrial areas, ex- coal mining villages and many coastal towns do not usually experience much of an upswing in fortunes once the industry or tourist numbers evaporate. Not in small places like this anyway. However, lovely hills surround and shelter Straiton village and on one sits a tall prominent monument to an Ayrshire MP and dead solider from long ago. This is the hill we intended to climb.
As it is such a noticeably beautiful area, every time we passed here as a passenger in a car I've always been keen to get out and explore the surroundings further but I've always been with hill tickers who had other ideas and larger hills in mind further into Galloway. I like company on the hills but it is always a compromise with others wishes and desires and we've always raced past despite any hints on my part to stop and look around properly. I've always been determinedly out of step in some way or another with the marching ranks of hill- walkers around me for the last 40 years. It's just the way I'm made.
 Finally, without being prompted, John was keen to climb this modest 1000 foot pimple... albeit because he had a temporary injury to his leg and the larger hills were out for now. At last a chance to get up there presented itself. Everything, eventually, comes to he or she who waits, apparently. If not it's a solo mission.
A popular area for modest hill walks and low level valley rambles there is a small car park in Straiton village and an info board detailing local walks you can do from it. Most of the folk I go out with,  now or in the past, have had no interest at all in wandering around country estates...or anything other than hills for that matter.  ( Belinda and Anne apparently love country estates. Yippee!) Say it quietly but some key location scenes in the Helen Mirren film 'The Queen' were set here, not the Scottish Highlands as you might expect, presumably because the woodlands and estate grounds were more attractive, much quieter to film in, and less well known.
Rather than park in the village we parked half a km outside where an obvious signposted path leads up the hill. A lovely walk followed, a bit muddy in places, but not too bad, to the summit.
And really nice panoramic views from the top. Beautiful autumn colours in Blairquhan woods, obviously hand picked for scenic impact as a castle, in various forms, has stood nearby in the estate grounds since the 1300s. This is more a bespoke, elaborately stitched, brightly decorated quilt, rather than the dark green uniform blanket of trees found in the other areas nearby. Like the Lake District or any other golden bubble landscape you really need big money over many, many years and top landscape managers to create something as nice as this. Another example in inland Ayrshire that comes to mind is the Stinchar Valley between Ballantrae and Pinwherry, full of old castles, grand estates, attractive woods and farmlands. Another really scenic 10 or so mile long oasis not that far away from this one in otherwise ok but rather nondescript surrounding landscapes.
A view of the village... not much in it but what little there is down there is attractive and well laid out to the original plan.
Here's a very good local link to the walks and cycles in this area, an interactive map with photos and a proper history of the district. Worth a look.

A slightly misty view of Ailsa Craig, a thousand foot monolith of stubborn granite marooned in the Firth of Clyde nine miles off the Ayrshire coast. The island of gannets viewed from the hill of the goats.
A big sheep in a local field.
The monument. Incidentally, the protective lightning conductor for this monument is badly broken.
A set apart cottage row.
Stunning deciduous woodlands in late autumn.
Surrounding hills. Very scenic little hill ranges in this area and you can link some of the walks together for a longer outing easily enough. Really nice area and very different from the nearby expanse of the Carrick Forest. The UK is often like that though- an amazing variety of scenery packed into a small area. Ten miles or so west from here and its all change again into delightful coastal towns and sandy beaches on the windswept Ayrshire seaboard.

Lemon Dream. Arran Ridge in December. The jaggy island sitting in the Firth of Clyde. Snow covered mountains viewed from still lush green fields.

Sunset melody.

Glasgow sunset. The end.

Instead of a video here's three cracking books I've read and really enjoyed that I'd imagine anyone would appreciate getting in their Xmas stocking. All have been best sellers, have won other awards, and get largely positive five star reviews.

 A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett. A young Scottish miner in the mid 1700s rebels then embarks on a epic journey against brutal living conditions and a life of slavery down the pit that will eventually take him to London then America. Well researched fantastic page turner that left a deep impression on me of life at that time.

A Tap on The Window by Linwood Barclay. Situated near the Canadian/USA border and the Great Lakes this is an excellent modern crime story in a memorable setting. I've read loads of fictional crime novels over the years as its a very dominant and successful genre for writers but this one stands out from the surrounding pack. Great story- really well constructed- moves like a galloping racehorse without any slow moments at all.

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. A successful music composer returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his childhood- buys a house there then slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the former female owner and her mysterious death. Quite simply one of the best, most haunting books out there. Haunting not in ghost terms but only that the memory of this fine story might well stay with you for life... as might all three books on this list. A no 1 bestselling crime novel and crime thriller award winner.
All three are brilliant, no rude bits or swearing in them, and should appeal to most folk, irrespective of age- around 15 to 90.


Carol said...

Your big sheep is a Blue Faced Leicester tup (ram) - very common around here but probably not in Scotland. I love them for their distinctive roman noses - not sure they have enough wool to live up there though! The Borders must be about the limit of their range really...

You've reminded me about what I don't like about walking lower areas - mud! The sign in the carpark with the available walking routes is a great idea though and the area looks very pretty.

You've also reminded me why I walk on my own so much - so I don't have to fit in with others' plans...

Rosemary said...

The contrasting colours in your last four photos are really stunning.
Culzean Castle on a clear day is a good spot to view Ailsa Craig - I seem to recall that the granite there was quarried to make curling stones.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
it was noticeably larger in size than the normal sheep around it. I have seen them before up here in the last few years. You certainly know your sheep :o)
Most paths are mud baths these days but with boots its mainly OK.
I suppose I'm used to walking with others but can do stuff on my own. I prefer company though.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Rosemary, I try my best.
Yes, Culzean Castle is a lovely spot and I've walked in there several times from the Maidens.

Linda W. said...

Beautiful hike! Love the fall colors and the sunset.

Anonymous said...

As I get older and less obsessed with "big" mountains I'm always on the lookout for smaller hills of which the UK has plenty. I agree that one of the joys of the UK is how much landscape variety there is in such a small area. I don't recall going anywhere else in the world that quite has that although I'm sure there are

Anabel Marsh said...

We’ve driven past Straitin, or at least signs to it, and never stopped. It definitely looks worth investigating. Love those last three pictures.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda W.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
I'd still like to climb big mountains but it's just too much of an effort on the knees coming down. Too many climbing trips and backpacking tours with stupidly heavy rucksacks in the past. Got to limit them now to an occasional 'big un.'
Noticed that in Australia- fantastic bursts of great scenery but insane distances apart. Also similar culture and language throughout Oz yet in the same area, size wise, you can fit in UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal,Germany,Austria, Denmark, Holland, Greece, Switzerland etc etc and about 100 different cultures and languages or more in that space. USA is much the same as OZ so I suppose it comes with the great age of European countries where separate languages and cultures have had thousands of years to develop and emerge into different forms. We sometimes take all that ancient history for granted here, having grown up with it. Americans seem to like royalty and the idea of pageantry more than the average Scot in the street does. For instance- I've never heard anyone in Scotland talking or getting excited over the Queen- ever, except on TV. :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
It is only a small village but has a range of nice lower level walks and the castle grounds are open to visitors in summer according to that info link. I can recommend E.K. Strathaven,Muirkirk, New Cumnock,Dalmellington, Straiton B roads route by car on a nice sunny day. Good straight roads and interesting scenery- not much traffic so a good and just as fast alternative to the A77 which can get really busy at times and is fairly bland scenery wise. Waterside has an industrial museum and working steam train days. Dunaskin. Ness Glen, also beside Dalmellington has a popular local walk open all year , a large wooden fort and a dark skies observatory with an easy path network so a good full day out combining them in a circular tour.
Hope this info helps.

Kay G. said...

Let's see... 15 to 90...that would be me! HA!
Those books sound good to me. If only I had time to read these days!

Kay G. said...

P.S. I made a note of the books. I live in hope that my job will become less stressful.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
I know you don't read much fiction but these three are out the top drawer of story telling and any of them would be right up your street I'd imagine. I liked them so much they have pride of place in my bookcase to read again at some point as I always hang on to the best ones. I read hardly any books at all when writing my own E- books so its good to get back to it again.