Monday, 10 September 2012

Wilsontown. Auchengray.Tarbrax.Forth.The Sky Lands Bike Ride.

This is an area I've had my eye on for ages for a bike tour but until recently I'd not worked out a place to park. During the last couple of years I've enjoyed my trips to the highlands but they have always seemed busier and more crowded in summer than I remember them from my own Munro bagging days 20 years ago. I don't mind crowds but only in places where I expect to find them. When I go to a wild remote area that's exactly what I like to find. This place certainly fits the bill.There is hardly anything about it on the Internet. It sits at 1000 feet on a flat windswept plain in central Scotland and I've never explored here and know little of its history. It was a complete blank on the map for me that needed a visit. I loved this place as it still has a real frontier feel about it.
Wilsontown itself is the remains of a large Ironworks, the first in Lanarkshire. It ran from 1779 to 1842 and at its height employed around 2000 workers. This area was rich in Ironstone, limestone ,coal and shale  deposits. Workers dug  garden sized bell pits here by hand ,hundreds of them, to unearth huge lumps of ironstone which were then dragged to the nearby furnaces. Not much remains now above ground except for the ruins of the old pub, one of the few places in this still remote area where the workers could spend their hard earned cash. Few got rich and there were boom and bust cycles here where people starved between upturns. A bleak eerie place on a grim day but on a nice day there are several  circular walks around here several kilometres long, some sheltered in woodland. A lot of work has gone in to creating display boards and pathways.
More importantly for me it has a car park near the main gates. Space for around 8  to 10 cars in an area with few laybys or other parking spots unless you are a local resident. I could now explore the high plain surrounding it. This is Tinto by the way, seen from Wilsontown, near the ruined walls of the old inn.
As I set off I took this zoomed shot of  the hills around Broughton. I couldn't find sheet 72 Upper Clyde Valley until a week later so it's been harder to match the photos of hills to the terrain on the OS map afterwards. Normally I line them up when I visit. The thing that stood out on this trip as I peddled through Auchengray then Tarbrax was the sense of space and sky. Being so flat the sky dominates every view here. Luckily I picked a nice day with fluffy teddy bear clouds and my customary deep blue ceiling above me the entire trip. These zoomed hill pictures don't really give any impression of what this area is really like though .I just took them for some contrast.

This Gives you a far better idea of the surrounding landscape. I've always wanted to visit Tarbrax and I wasn't disappointed. Its an amazing place. The residents could claim the title "Kings and Queens of the Wild Frontier" no problem. The bing is even bike friendly with a red dirt track leading right to the summit. This is the waste left over from shale oil extraction and ,as I suspected ,a great viewpoint/playground and nature walk for the locals. Found this good video of a local high plains man strutting his stuff on a mountain bike up here. Good camera work.
This gives you a real look at the area. The same guy seems to be multi talented as his music is on here as well on a separate video. Worth a visit. Good songs.
This whole area reminded me of my holiday visiting my sister in  South Australia. It's very similar both in landscape and mining background. Oz mines are still highly productive though. Here's the story of Tabrax. It's very interesting with great vintage and up to date pictures of the place. It has a map and details of the 1920,s starvation march when the mine closed down.
I love going to places like this and finding out about them. They always surprise you with a rich back history.
The view looking east across the plain from Tarbrax bing. The Pentlands can just be seen in the distance. A real wilderness feel here. This  high ,almost empty, plain stretching between Glasgow and Edinburgh that so few visit is the true rooftop of Scotland for me and it feels it. 1000 feet up and a great cycle ride under a big, big sky, horizon to horizon.

Looking south from the bing.

View from the summit with bike. Great place for a lunch stop.

An extreme zoom of the Pentlands looking almost Cairngorm like. This is West Cairn Hill I think. A cracking wild day out in a part of the Pentlands fewer people visit. Alex's not been very well recently but hopefully he'll be up for that (hint, hint).We've already done East Cairn Hill in the depths of winter. What a day that was. Felt like the high arctic walking into it over a frozen crust of bog at minus 10 below. Posted it on here back in February 2010.
Next up was Forth. 3500 folk live here. Named either because it was the forth stop on the overland horse coach carrying the mail in the bad old days or from an ancient term meaning "The open air". As it sits on a broad ridge looking over an already high plain it fully deserves its title.
All through my bike ride I passed farms and houses with wind or view in the title. Mountainblaw, Fairwinds, Viewfeild. It certainly has both.
Pick a good day to visit.
A zoom of Forth with the wind turbines at Climpy looking like they are installed along the main street.
You see some strange sights out this way though. There is a network of minor yellow roads all over this district so you can work out your own route from the map, short or long.

A field of wicked sheep. Hebridean variety. Wouldn't like to be charged by one of these wee beasts.
Meet the Flintstones. A  very colourful garden that's also wind resistant. Really enjoyed this cycle ride. New area on a great day. Feels like Summer is here at last!


The Glebe Blog said...

Hi Bob, it's amazing how the internet has become such a mine of information. In years to come when we're buried 'neath the clay, Alex and Bob`s Blue Sky Scotland will still exist as a travel guide.
I believe at the moment that Google have no plans for any future restrictions on old blog posts. I don't think they'll ever run out of space, do you remember buying your first One Gigabyte S.D card. Not so long ago was it, and each year they're finding they can miniature even more.I'd never have believed I'd see 32 Gigabytes on a mini S.D card, but that'll double by next year (if it hasn't already)
Terrain and access will change, but the original guide will still be Blue Sky Scotland and others like it.l

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Jim.
That,s good to know but its not earning me anything in the meantime.I have a new project on the go now which hopefully might.

Carol said...

Enjoyed that Bob! Was wondering where Alex had got to - he hasn't blogged for a while. Hope he's okay?

The Hebridean/Soay sheep are generally very jumpy and timid so I wouldn't worry too much about the horns.

Fancy a 'slag-heap' (as we call them around here) with a bike track up it! We could do with more tracks up our local ones but, to visit ours, is trespassing. They're good for practicing descending scree though and we used to play on them a lot as kids. We once rolled a huge tyre down the biggest one and completely uprooted a tree at the bottom - vandals!

blueskyscotland said...

Bloody Cheek Carol :)
I,ve never been worried by a sheep yet just mummy cattle with big horns.I,ve stood my ground against 30 bullocks charging towards me as well.Never flinched.
You Munro baggers have it easy.Wait til you start doing the smaller,wilder hills covered in livestock.
I used to slide down coal heaps near my house on a breadboard.Great fun.

blueskyscotland said...

Bloody Cheek Carol :)
I,ve never been worried by a sheep yet just mummy cattle with big horns.I,ve stood my ground against 30 bullocks charging towards me as well.Never flinched.
You Munro baggers have it easy.Wait til you start doing the smaller,wilder hills covered in livestock.
I used to slide down coal heaps near my house on a breadboard.Great fun.

Carol said...

On a breadboard? LOL We used to slide down our stairs at home on a tea-tray - was great fun as it had a door at bottom of the stairs and we pretty much wrecked it eventually ;-)

Neil said...

Fascinating stuff Bob. These are areas that I usually just travel through to get to somewhere else. I suppose that when I am too old and weak to climb hills I might pay more attention to exploring these areas! You are providing a host of ideas for that time when it comes

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Neil.
You're a cheeky bugger as well:)
I,m still one of the fastest uphill Munro baggers in the club I,ll have you know.I just prefer the lesser hills these days.

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