Tuesday 26 September 2023

The Knock. A Small Hill Above Largs.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.

Another week and another walk. We were going to Largs but we went via Port Glasgow, which now has a tourist trail, of sorts, one of the highlights being this colourful mural of shops from the 1950s which used to be here. Only problem of following it is that Port Glasgow is a vertical town built on a steep hillside so some of the attractions involve steep ascents and as we were already planning on doing a hill this low level mural was as far as we got.

We plan on coming back though to do the rest of it as a further day out, which would class as a hill day in its own right. We being myself and Alan, my usual hill walking companion these days.

It's good to see Port Glasgow getting a minor revamp as I've always found it an interesting place with good features if you look for them hard enough.


This is the view looking north towards Greenock from the summit of the Knock. I'm putting this in here to show the route of the scenic single track road running over the high moors from Greenock to Largs, a huge area of empty ground covering Inverclyde , Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, and part of Cunninghame. It always surprises people visiting when you take them over this wild section in a car as it could be anywhere in the remote Scottish Highlands, yet it's not.


It's not all sweetness and light however as it is bordered on the coastal edges by several deprived districts with the usual problem of drugs, crime and bad behaviour.


Mostly though it's very scenic and this is our first glimpse of our chosen hill, The Knock, from the high moor road.



And one from Fairlie Beach showing it's truer profile. On the OS Landranger map Sheet 63 Firth of Clyde it does not have any name just a spot height of 217 metres or 712 feet. I was up this way 12 years ago and back then a path led from the outskirts of Largs near the park boating pond up the minor road past Bankhead. Only a short way up this minor road a stile and a metal pole denoted the path running up through green fields, roughly following a line just below the skyline running left to right. I was looking out for this stile and pole but couldn't see it. Thinking we had missed it due to either talking or high summer vegetation obscuring it I realized we were going too high up the minor road and crossed into the field system at the next gate to find that path. 

 This was a mistake as no path exists now and several barbed wire fences had to be crossed. Long gone are the days when I could jump over most fences without touching them or leap over one handed on a solid post. An ageing tree kangaroo has replaced a champion show-jumper so I picked the easier option of crawling under several fences rather than clambering over them. The last one had a sting in its tail however as it caught my head as I was sliding under, leaving a half inch rip in my scalp. 

 For a small cut I hardly felt at all it bled profusely, within seconds pouring down my face and into my eyes. Doctor Alan came to the rescue however and stuck a wad of toilet tissue on it with compression until it stopped. I was beginning to think the Largs hills had turned against me as that's several times now I've almost came to grief following routes/ paths that used to be there for many decades but alas are no more. It's like learning them all over again... from scratch in this case.


We did get to the summit this way but I would never recommend it. Fields of livestock and more barbed wire fences, several doubled with a five foot space in-between further impeded progress but we were committed now having passed the Rubicon, as it were. The correct way up is to follow the minor road past Knock Castle and Home Farm to link up with the Ayrshire Coastal Path, ascending the hill from its north side then down via  Brisbane Mains. It's a longer route and having a dog with us I was wary of going through farms as they usually have dogs there, sometimes loose in the yard. Lost count of the number of times I've been barked at and occasionally charged at by sheepdogs in farms only doing what they are there for, protecting the property. But it does make you wary going through or passing close to unfamiliar farmyards. I'd imagine most folk climbing this hill would do it from Largs but it's longer and harder now with that northern ascent.

Brisbane Glen hills. Not sure if it occurred during covid lock-downs or just the passing of time but we have noticed that decades long established paths we've walked years ago many times have simply ceased to exist. In this case probably superseded by the long distance Ayrshire Coastal Path dominating and eliminating any other routes that used to be there.

View from the summit looking north west.

And back down to Largs. Golf Course view.

 Rural hinterland above Largs. This looks a very similar scene to childhood wanderings near my old house in Nitshill. Rolling green hills and cattle country.... and sliding under any fences with ease in a much smaller body back then.

Loads of summer flies around the trig but 10 feet away having lunch we were fine. Different story if it was a swarm of midges this thick.

Determined to find the correct way down, but one heading for Largs, instead of north, towards Greenock, we followed an obvious good path down the side of a golf course but this too petered out. We then descended into a small deep wooded gorge beside the golf course which was magical, full of large 50 foot high mature beech trees that seemed out of scale compared to the minor V shape of the gorge. A path had existed here but many of the large trees had topped over in winter gales so this too was an awkward obstacle course of jumping over or crawling under fallen trees.


This ironwork beside Routenburn Farm however at the start of the gully convinced us that it had indeed been a regular path up the hill in past decades. Yet another lost route up this hill.



Back in Largs again at the boating pond. For such a small hill of 712 feet it did not succumb to our efforts easily. Once back in the house I looked at an online satellite map but even that zooming in to full close up did not show any paths leading down in the direction of  Largs other than the Ayrshire Coastal one already mentioned, and even that was hard to pick out from above, zoomed in. Even though I've been walking hills for 50 years it's taught me that you can't ever count on past memory of walks nowadays as many landscapes have transformed completely since I last enjoyed hill walking five years ago. Only The Cut above Greenock remains the same.

Friday 15 September 2023

The Cut. Scotland's Best Balcony Trail?

                                                   ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.

 Shipyard Workers sculpture. Port Glasgow. Another trip where Alan and myself found our way back to Port Glasgow and Greenock. This time to do........ The Cut.

 Numerous mills, shipyards and factories covered Greenock and Port Glasgow during the Industrial Revolution and all required an increasing level of plentiful fresh water, both for drinking and for industry. By the early 1800s demand was outstripping supply from the various small hill dams originally there so civil engineer Robert Thom, who specialized in this UK wide problem, designed and enlarged what became Loch Thom and marked out the line of The Cut... a long level aqueduct running along the sides of several small hills for 5.5 km, carefully angled at a very slight gradient so the water would be delivered to the thirsty towns below year round. Later on another large body of water, the Gryfe Reservoir, got added on as well. He designed a smaller but similar set up for the town of Rothesay on Bute. Both of which I've visited. Several of the mills, warehouses, and factories still stand to this day in Port Glasgow and Greenock, some converted into upmarket apartments, like this one, above. 

The Cut Walk starts from Cornalees Bridge where there is a large car park and visitor centre next to Loch Thom, a tiny section of which is seen here. This path leads gently uphill then descends to Overton and the start of the cut, a Scheduled Ancient Monument. People can walk along the cut but bikes are not allowed. Ok on this stretch though and along Loch Thom and The Gryfe  Reservoir ( rough landrover track)

The descent into Overtoun and the start of the cut, to the left. It is a circular route.

This leads to fine views over the Firth of Clyde, Port Glasgow, Greenock (seen here) and Gourock, which all run into each other without obvious gaps between them. Greenock's docks often have large cruise ships coming and going year round as the Norwegian fjords and towns, Greater Scandinavia, The Scottish West Coast, Ireland, The Isle of Man  and The English West coast are all easily reached from here.  This ship is the Island Princess.

A closer view. This ship is roughly the same height as the hi rise blocks beside it. Length 294 metres or 964 feet. If placed vertically it would be higher than the ancient volcano Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh at 823 feet. That puts into perspective the size of cruise ships and this is only a medium sized example. It is currently heading for or already in Iceland I believe which is another destination not that far away from here.

As well as the three towns below  to look at you also have the backdrop of Argyll's mountains to gaze on, which in winter covered in snow, are spectacular, looking far higher than 2000 to 3000 feet as they rise up, often abruptly, from sea level. The large building is Inverclyde Hospital.

I personally think the best way round is Overton to Sheilhill, walking east to west, for the finest views. 

The other great thing about The Cut is that it's flat, no steep inclines, so all your energy is saved for the views instead of panting uphill... only to come back down again. A big bonus for the elderly... like me! Some might offer Arthur's Seat, The other Edinburgh hills, The Binn above Burntisland etc as Scotland's best balcony trail but having done them all and many others besides this is the only one, in my opinion, that qualifies as a proper balcony route, following a level line around a slope on the same contour line. I have done balcony trails in the Alps decades ago and this is the nearest equivalent to them in Scotland. Equally spectacular in winter under snow.

For those without a car Drumfrochar Train Station in Greenock is the closest to the start of the route at Overton or a bus to the town centre from Glasgow. Firth of Clyde here.

Another view from The Cut  with a small reservoir. All three towns have bags of interest in them yet cruise ship passengers rarely if ever see them.


A container ship at Greenock docks. Always something of interest to see on this walk.

Greenock Prison. When I took this I was thinking ruefully, comparing the prison inmates with the cruise ship passengers. Ostensibly world's apart yet both equally confined in boxes except for exercise periods. On a previous trip years ago Alan and I had a walk around Greenock Prison, several town reservoirs, and then Greenock Cemetery. A very varied trip I enjoyed. Not so sure Alan did though.


He did enjoy the cemetery though, seen here, with many beautiful mature trees, including monkey puzzle trees and ornate old gravestones.



Further round The Cut green fields and farms replace urban views as the three towns fade out. This concrete patch is all that remains of the large IBM complex, once a major employer in the town but now flattened. It had its own train station and employed thousands from the 1950s onwards.... over 5000 workers at its peak.



The Waterfall Near Sheilhill. We deliberately picked a dry sunny day for this walk  but heavy rain had fallen previously so the water in the cut was half full. I have seen it bone dry in summer although it is no longer used as drinking water, replaced by more modern pipes underground. 


All the water did make for a plethora of flying insects however with bees, butterflies, and dragonflies spotted all the way round. A large hawker here on an old wooden bench.


Obviously a very common sight Europe wide for thousands of years to humans observing them closely. Is it just a coincidence that dragonfly wings look like stained glass windows in churches and cathedrals? Inspiration from nature perhaps.... yet again? Note the one stained or coloured window on both wings here.

Dung beetle doing what dung beetles do best. Rolling dung from the path into the long grass to lay its young in and produce the next generation. Spotted several here.

Sunday 3 September 2023

Largs. Castle Hill. Gogo Water.

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.

Cosmos flowers. Alan wanted to do a hill walk this time so I suggested Largs with it's backdrop of scenic green hills rising behind the town and as he had never done them before he was keen to give them a go.

 We parked in the quiet back streets just up from the seafront as I knew two small but attractive parks nearby which would be good for colourful borders at this time of year. Instead of Rudbeckia, another attractive late flowering ornamental plant, we had Cosmos, both photos above. An easy flower to remember as it has big showy flowers but feathery candyfloss foliage beneath, albeit green in colour, not pink. After six decades of walking outdoors I find that knowing flowers, animals, trees, insects, etc, just adds extra interest to any walk with more things to find out about and get into other than simply hills you are ascending. Either that or I just get bored easily as trudging up hills is not enough on its own these days for mental stimulation.

 Really nice decorative benches as well, donated by locals, presumably in remembrance of loved ones.

 in a range of different styles.


Also a small area dedicated to a famous Scottish poet. Easy to guess which one...


Man and faithful nag. A before and after tail... maybe an original example of that...

 It had been raining heavily overnight but the forecast was good for today and it started to clear up once we arrived. This path up Castle Hill starts close by and we were soon climbing up the slopes on pleasant green paths where the views opened up.

Great Cumbrae ( an island containing the small town of Millport.) and part of Largs from Castle Hill.


What looks like the new Largs Secondary School, replacing the old Largs Academy, that site now demolished and turned into low level housing units.


The enjoyable path up Castle Hill.


From the summit we could see Largs marina, Fairlie, Southannan Sands and Goldenberry Hill.

And looking north west another fine little hill above Brisbane Mains.


Also the Waverley Paddle Steamer on one of its last Scottish trips before it departs down to the English south coast for the autumn/ winter season. It can be ten degrees C warmer down there so following the better weather and the heat in other words before coming back up here next spring/ summer. That way it attracts more paying day trippers around the UK and people are usually pleased to see it arrive, rather than taking it for granted if it stayed in one location all year.


A closer view of it leaving Largs. You might think a paddle steamer would be slow and sedate but this one can really move through the water at speed.



At this point I made a bit of a blunder. Instead of continuing up on an obvious green path, seen here to Rigging Hill, still way off in the distance, I decided to do a shorter circuit straight down from here to the series of waterfalls, the other big highlight of the area. I'd done this in the past and it was fairly easy but they have now planted trees on this steep slope, the grass is much thicker with no grazing sheep to keep it down and the path that used to run on the other side of the river is no longer there. I find that on a lot of walks nowadays... either Covid lockdowns or just  the passage of time means many paths I used to know well have altered considerably since I last walked them. The descent was something of a nightmare with deep hidden holes, thick grass hiding them, boggy underfoot, and very slippy. Then we had to wade the river at the bottom of this gorge, swollen with overnight rain. The beautiful path up the river on the other bank to the waterfalls is no longer there, obscured by tall grass and spreading bramble patches. Gone forever. It was a challenge and  an adventure admittedly but one we could do without. It did make us fully appreciate paths  though when we eventually found one again... and stayed on it this time. Lesson learned!


A good walk overall though and excellent views, as always. The town of Largs above.


And an example of what I was talking about earlier with plants as I spotted these Grass of Parnassus flowers on the nightmare descent. Not a grass at all but so named after Mount Parnassus in Greece when local herders there noticed the livestock eating these little delicate flowers with obvious relish as well as the surrounding green pastures, hence the unusual and memorable name. Now isn't that interesting?