Saturday 27 February 2016

Troon to Irvine Beach Walk. Ayrshire.

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Another beach walk as the forecast at the weekend around a month ago was dull with showers inland, but a chance of seeing blue skies and sunshine at the Ayrshire coast. So it proved once again. I used to get this beach walk to myself 10 or more years ago but the internet has changed many walks where you would see an occasional beach walker or dog lover into a fashionable outing taken up by hundreds. Being a nice winters day it was a busy walk across the sands from Troon car park to Irvine via Barassie. It's a classic of its kind.
This is us heading for the massive Ballast Bank, seen here, a natural curving arm-like protection for Troon harbour that was raised and extended to form a sheltering buffer against the often fierce winter storms. Great panoramic views from this raised embankment over the harbour and the seas around. A large ship was just passing on its way towards the Firth of Clyde, heading north.
This is it here. Not close enough to read the name but a large one. If you can read the name you can look it up on Ship Finder.
The top of the Ballast Bank returning in the direction of Troon. On this walk you can visit this panoramic viewpoint then retrace your steps slightly to the bottom of the slope at Troon, cutting up into the busy main street and rows of shops to reach Barassie on the other side where you pick up another expanse of beach again ( You can park on the shore front grass in Barassie if you want a shorter walk ( 8 km one way from here to Irvine Train Station or return along the dunes path for a higher level return instead of the beach you came along.
A beautiful sunny day again with miles of sand exposed at low tide. Very popular and pleasant walk this one and my companion Alan and his faithful hound really seemed to enjoy it. Fresh air, the tang of sea breezes laced with sailors spit and flat stunning horizons The Ardeer Peninsula walk we did half a dozen posts ago is not as popular, being isolated, semi industrial in places and rather spooky, unless you are brave or have a large capable dog as a companion. It lies 10 km further north, just across the River Irvine.
Birdlife at Barassie beach. Oystercatchers, curlews and various gulls in an I.D. line up here.
Curlew, or possibly a large whimbrel. My bird book has disappeared again :o(
More beach folk making nice silhouettes. I like the LS Lowry effect here and in the top photo.
Wide Horizons.
Low tide satisfaction. Easy walking on a firm surface.
Looking back from Puff the Magic Dragon ( stone sculpture of a dragon in Magnum Centre Beach Park) in the direction of Troon. It's around a 12 km walk in total one way from Troon to Irvine train Station with loads of variety and highlights. Looks a long hike here back to Troon in this photograph. Train takes you back in two stops in under 10 minutes for a couple of quid. Around a 4 to 6 hour day at an easy pace, depending on stops.
On the way to Irvine we passed this. There is always some rubbish lying in the dunes along this stretch but with the number of large storms we have experienced this winter the problem was magnified and someone had turned it into a modern sculpture statement on our throwaway, junk addicted society.
As modern art goes this hit the nail right on the head and it was impossible to ignore as every beach walker had to pass it. Well done that artist. A Turner Prize exhibit and none so worthy. As well as junk from ships and fishing gear, numerous throwaway plastic holiday stuff left by the general public was on view. The drawback of producing items very cheaply is that they are not valued and are quickly abandoned for various reasons, (heavy rain coming on suddenly, strong wind blowing, children dropping items or throwing them into the sea)
This I can understand but the photo below I can never get my head around despite seeing it everywhere on walks.
This was the sight that greeted us walking up off the beach sands and dune system into Irvine Beach Park. A place that tourists visit and little children play in the nearby meadows of short grass. It's mainly dog poo in individual plastic bags around an overflowing small bin. I don't have a dog but if I had one, and had taken the trouble to bag its natural waste, I certainly wouldn't leaving it lying here scattered around an overflowing bin for animals or young children to discover. Instead, I'd carry it to an empty one further on as there are numerous bins around the nearby car park. This is a personal issue for me on country walks nowadays as I see it all the time now, little bags of shit hanging off branches beside paths and trails or left abandoned on the ground beside any item of street furniture, post boxes, telephone kiosks, etc...
Who do they think is going to pick it up from there? The magical shit fairy? What an advert for Scotland in 2016.
No wonder this goose was angry.Up close and personnel. Made me even more annoyed than watching " How the Rich Avoid Paying Tax." A recent TV programme highlighting the scandal of  the rich elite and how they exploit numerous loopholes in the law to avoid paying any tax on their millions while the rest of us are grabbed by the balls and squeezed hard for any pitiful earnings we might acquire. Politicians could close these tax gaps easily enough but will not do anything to hurt the well off so it's up to the "hard working tax paying" suckers on the bottom rungs to bail out the richest in society yet again. They meanwhile, use their " moral compass" to decide what level of tax they wish to contribute ... zero or maybe just a little so as not to feel too guilty when eating their 500 quid lunches. No wonder they call us "Plebs."
We deserve it.
I'm not politically motivated in the slightest and I.m also content with my lot and have never been money hungry, driven, or ambitious at any time where work is concerned as I live for weekends like most people and do not require a large income. I could keep this blog all picture postcard, light and airy but when I see or hear something that is blatantly unfair and gets me angry I will mention it. Like This. Another example of the "moral compass" perhaps. Better not use this one up in the mountains then as it seems to be faulty.

Meanwhile, in an elegant street not that far away, we wandered through a lovely part of Irvine Harbour. Well worth a visit to this regenerated waterfront which can be combined with the nearby Scottish Maritime Museum. Part of Irvine Harbour below.
This is a large estuary and usually full of geese, swans and other wildfowl. A couple of nice pubs can be found along the seafront here. Irvine Harbour was once a major Scottish port and very busy with arriving and departing boats. It's mainly small pleasure craft now and a large open car park for the shoreline, dunes, park and beach. The Magnum Centre is also nearby.
Man and his faithful horse.
The Big Idea ( now closed up and abandoned so not that important an idea seemingly.) This modern building lies across the river in the Ardeer Peninsula.
Part of the Scottish Maritime Museum, part open air machinery, part indoor historical attractions and several old boats.
After a quick visit here we caught the train back to Troon and the waiting car. Another cracking day out.

Video this week is a visual feast for the eyes. For me nothing compares to the concept of Bioshock as a potential film rather than a game. There's more exhilarating ideas, intrigue and subtlety in this excellent five minute video than Jericho,(started out with promise but petered into a soap western) The new X Files (disappointing crap) and the woeful Beowulf:Return to the Shieldlands (strictly for children under five) combined. For instance... Why is the noose so slack? What keeps him from falling past the red roses? Who is getting drowned in the fish tank? Deliberate clues to be understood. There is so much going on unsaid during this or on the edge of vision it's joyful. And a great driving song to boot. Best watched full screen. For me personally this is "Modern Art"in its truest sense.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Hudderstone,626 metres, Snowgill Hill,573 metres. Southern Uplands Magic.

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Sometimes all the elements in nature combine to create a perfect day out. As the forecast was for blue skies and sunny conditions over the Southern Uplands, a rare window of opportunity in an otherwise grim winter of endless storms and rain, Alex decided it was time to bag Hudderstone. This is a remote grassy summit in the empty quarter south of Biggar, and a Donald, which looks across at the slightly higher peaks of Culter Fell, 748 metres and Gathersnow Hill, 688 metres. I had another early start to cross Glasgow then we motored down to park on the minor road where there is a tiny lay-by near Windgill. (OS Landranger Map 72 Upper Clyde Valley.
On the journey down blankets of swirling mist created a magical effect on what is an already beautiful landscape of flowing green meadows and deep valleys. The Upper Clyde Valley map is one of my favourite areas and we have both grown to love it over the years. It's so quiet, scenic and peaceful down here and away from the major summits of Tinto, Broad Law and Dollar Law you hardly see a soul. This region (the Southern Uplands) is less populated than the Scottish Highlands and it has spoiled us for repeating the Munros as we both find them too popular now compared to our own memories 20 to 30 years ago. Although I sometimes moan about not enough jaggy summits in my hill-walking menu the last few years, when we do go up occasional Munro's these days the paths always seem more eroded, slightly distracting and much more crowded than before. On a good sunny day the greater ranges are always swarming at weekends and you are lucky to find a parking spot anywhere if you arrive too late in popular locations. Funnily enough, we don't mind the Lake District crowds as it's such a special area.
Could be the back of beyond anywhere here. There's a changeling country round every new bend in the road all over the UK, which makes it so special for its size. A kaleidoscope nation.
By the time we set off the sun had made an appearance and it was a crisp and sparkling winter's day. I love days like this more than anything and seek them out with the same passion as any obsessive collector. This was a few weeks ago now before the snow arrived. Hard to give conditions like this up as the lower hills enjoy better weather more often.
We managed to find a grassy track (marked on map) leading past Cowgill Rig then left that higher up to strike out for the distant summit.
This is it marked in the distance... or thereabouts. As we climbed higher fantastic panoramas opened up  over the region and one thing you feel on these summits are massive skies above you horizon to horizon.
Big Sky Country, an atmosphere I tried to capture in my Borders chapter in the first book.
Looking out over empty summits free of other hill-walkers. In wild conditions however these "teddy bear hills" can turn very nasty as little shelter exists from the elements until you reach the valleys again. Come to think of it many of the higher valleys have little natural shelter :o)
We were sad to see yet another area under wind turbines just south of here between Rome Hill and Gathersnow Hill and from the amount of activity it looked as though more were being added with new roads slicing into this sizable upland valley. While I'm not against wind-farms in principle so much of Scotland's unique scenery is under threat or damaged already by large scale wind farm development and now they are starting to intrude on really scenic areas like this.
A view from the summit looking towards Dollar Law under a dusting of fresh overnight snow.
We descended via the 16th century ruins of Windgate House in a remote but sheltered high gill ( a term for a hill valley, also used in England) then dropped down to pick up a sheep trail above the Cowgill Upper Reservoir, seen here....
Then the Cowgill Lower Reservoir. This was a lovely stretch and Cowgill Lower is a really special spot in good weather.
At this point one of the residents down here was debating if it fancied having a go at us or not and for a few moments, as it trotted towards us, looking intent on fending off the intruders, we eyed the nearest fence just in case we had to vault over it, suddenly. A bold approach and showing no fear however made it change its mind and we passed unmolested.
Tree creeper looking for spiders and other small insects hiding under or on the bark. Great little birds but very jerky and swift moving for photographs as they rarely stay still, constantly jumping from tree to tree like a tiny brown monkey.
A large thrush in this Shangri-La of valleys.
Sheep Country.
More mist rolling over the hills.
A great day out and worth the early start.

Video this week is to make folk aware of a smashing series that I've watched from the start. "Great Canal Journeys" explores Britain's waterways by canal boat and is just a delightful gentle series combining travel, history, wildlife and interesting places. Presented by lifelong canal narrowboaters Timothy West and Prunella Scales ( well known UK actors) it follows them on their adventures. I'm not interested in travelling the canals by boat myself ( too slow for me  plus boat hire costs) but I've had loads of great cycling  trips on the canal network throughout Scotland's Central Belt and always enjoy the experience. Canals are interesting to explore and you only need to watch the first 10 minutes of this video to see that. A canal journey through modern day Birmingham then the English countryside that is a real treat. Most are scenic rural affairs but the one shown this week through the heart of London was also amazing and a real highlight.Some of the trips are available on You Tube and the current series is running on UK TV. Well worth a watch.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Mount Hill. Hopetoun Monument.Hill of Tarvit. Ceres. Dura Den. Fife Tour.

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Another smorgasbord of Scottish hills, interesting villages,and history... this time from central Fife. Above is a little statue which I assume to be "Pan" the animalistic god of the woods who lived in Arcadia. Note cloven hoof instead of feet and playing pipes position. Ever wondered why Peter Pan had that surname? ( a free spirit who never grew up- delighted in games-lived outdoors- did what he pleased.)
This was taken in the gardens of Hill of Tarvit, a grand Edwardian mansion deep in central Fife once owned by the wealthy Sharps family from Dundee from the early to mid 1900s and now looked after by the National Trust for Scotland and open to the public.
I digress however, as we were drawn to Fife mainly for its hills, not its stately homes. Many people think of Fife as rather flat but the spine of the lesser Ochills runs down through it creating a beautifully wild and rolling landscape as seen in the photo below.
Although most are under 300 metres, 1000 feet high they are numerous and we still have loads to discover here. Paths are faint or non existent and people few in number on the actual hills. Little villages dot the roller-coaster terrain, many hardly altered in centuries and I love it here in "The Kingdom." Is this a modern day Scottish "Arcadia"? It does resemble the classical paintings hanging in galleries. A secret northern Cotswold's perhaps but one without the milling crowds.
Mount Hill near Cupar was our first target at 221 metres according to my well used OS Landranger St Andrews Sheet 59 map. A guide to many wonders over the years. The second photo is our group of Alex, Graeme, Bob R and myself (the shy photographer) heading off to bag Mount Hill. On its summit sits the Hopetoun Monument, a companion to the tower mentioned a few posts ago over in Lothian district. This one is locked and needs permission and a key to get inside. It also requires a torch as it's much darker than the other tower with very narrow slits for light and air.
Our second hill of the morning was Hill of Tarvit at 211 metres. This is a lovely grassy crown which enjoys better panoramic views than the first one. A weak sun just starting to burn off the early mists.
It also has a distinctive monument on top and a trig for Alex. Looking at the night before forecast Fife was where the sunshine was in an otherwise rubbish day. It was sunny and dry but only just. Grey clag and drizzle on the higher ranges but a weak winter sun and misty views below 1000 feet here. Which is why we picked Fife of course.
Another view of rural Fife.
On the way down through a lovely deciduous beech woodland it did strike me that even old men like us still have the spirit of "Pan" in them as we couldn't resist a go on the swing we found here.
It was still in good shape when we left it. The oldest swingers in town.
Next up came an exploration of the Hill of Tarvit gardens reached through this elaborate back gate. Reminded me of "The Secret Garden" entering from this angle. We had parked in the mansion house car park for the hill above and were now looking forward to a slice of history.
PS. I did look around for something other than wiki here but most of the other links to this mansion were promoting weddings, corporate events, etc instead of a concise history of the house and grounds.
Luckily, being winter, the house was closed to the public and the car park was free to use. The gardens did look as if they would be transformed in summer with colourful flower displays but we had to make do with a winter visit.
Hill of Tarvit mansion and rose garden in January.
A sundial on the front wall of the house. The inscription is a popular one on more elaborate sundials. Rough translation... "I do not count the hours unless they are 'sunny.'" ( Also serene or tranquil in other interpretations depending on use) Could be the life motto I live by and a good one for my headstone if I wasn't a fiery furnace candidate.

A depiction of Ceres presumably as she has a cornucopia in her arms. Hill of Tarvit mansion.

Next we visited Ceres itself, an ancient Fife village and like many in this district, full of oddities and quirky surprises. Ceres is of course the Roman goddess of Agriculture and crops and a devoted mother. Known as Demeter in Greek mythology, the Goddess of the Harvest and mother of sweet Persephone, my companion each spring. This harvest in Fife appears to have been a poor one?, grain wise, as we passed field after field of haystacks sitting forlornly. Many had been burst and scattered open to reveal rotten, moldy insides with all the rain and storms. This is normally the dry east coast and fertile bread basket of Scotland so hay bales should have been sun dried, lifted and stored away months ago for livestock fodder. It was a cracking golden autumn in Glasgow so you would think the bales would have been ready for collecting. Couldn't find anything on the internet so it's a puzzle.Unless October here was so bad September sunshine could not help the stacks dry out fast enough?
Many Fife villages and towns are loaded with history and Ceres is no different. The link above explains the curious hob- goblin figure adorning a gable end building in the main street overlooking the inhabitants.
No wonder I love Fife. Great for cycling, interesting history, walking and tourist trails.
Church Graveyard. Ceres.
Ceres Inn. Around since 1721 according to the sign. Ceres may have had a different spelling and meaning but over time this has been lost or altered and the classical link may have gained approval judging by the mansion house statues and numerous old biblical place names in the surrounding district.
Part of Fife Folk Museum. Ceres.
Next we visited Dura Den, A deep wooded gorge with several small burns and waterfalls running into the Ceres Burn, a tributary of the nearby River Eden. (classical inspiration behind landscape features are never far in Fife). A curious collection of houses sit in this picturesque gorge but we wondered why this linear human development enclosed by small cliffs seemed to have houses missing and new walls in places where you would not expect them to be.
When we asked a local if you could still do the short walk along the riverside here past the waterfalls ( mentioned in a 20 year old tourist book Bob R had) the women seemed unsure and muttered "so much has changed, it might be gone now?"
We just assumed she was new to the area after a long absence and had a wander along the minor road that carves through the gorge instead.
As you can see it is a sizable body of water flowing down this hidden gorge with a few nice waterfalls. It was only when we got back to Glasgow, Alex found this on the internet.
Dramatic photos but I didn't remember reading about this or seeing it on the Scottish news as there is so much annual flooding in the UK every year now only the large scale events get full coverage and it may have slipped past my radar if I was away somewhere. Also a good link for a collection of fantastic autumn photographs showing this season UK wide. Britain is a very special place sitting between complex and competing weather systems which gives us such a unique climate. If we still want the seasons to mean anything here or keep animals alive on our planet in the future outside of zoo and wildlife parks......
No money available? Well, we always manage to find that from somewhere to wage our various wars. Mind you, if we all lived in peace how would the international arms dealers and the "good guys" in the west ever make a profit selling guns to IS and all the other "bad guys" scattered around the world. Income is income and the moral high ground is never where you think it is
150,000 penguins dead in one colony alone. When is enough enough? Maybe this wee guy knows something after all. Where is he/she going? To find a different world free of humans perhaps?