After the detour to Galston and hacking through the overgrown undergrowth to reach the walk that isn't a walk and it's fairie dell, we reached Darvel. Another out the road corner of Ayrshire. Phil and I parked up on the main street, East Main Street to be exact. It's split in two east and west but it's basically just the A71 that runs throught the middle of the town. There's plenty of parking to be had. Once settled we opted to leave the packs this time and take just take the cameras. We headed off out of Darvel to Loudoun Hill. Along the main road talking about Darvel; heading for the hill, Loudoun Hill.
Darvel like most of Ayrshire has an industrial past, most famously lace making and the associated mills but also coal and iron, that is now long gone and some very interesting history. Stretching back to the mists of time; standing stones, Romans, William Wallace(supposedly and probably), Robert Bruce as well as the Bloody Killing Times with the Covenanters through to it being the birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming. Not that he discovered penicillin there but was born at Lochfield Farm on the outskirts of the town. Once an Ayrshireman always and Ayrshireman.
From Alexander Fleming back to the Covenanters holding their conventicles, field meetings in the surrounding muirs and mosses. The most famous run in with King's men; the Battle of Drumclog, a couple of kilometres to the east of Darvel on the other side of Loudoun Hill, where a group of 200 or so Covenanters under the leadership of Robert Hamilton routed the army under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse also known as Bluidy Clavers. There is a monument that you can visit out at Drumclog itself.
Then we have in May 1307, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland another Ayrshireman born out at Turnberry on the coast giving it good guerilla style to King's men (Edward I of England) this time under the command of Amyer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Erse kicked, coupon burst and sent fleeing to Bothwell Castle. Again a superior force met it's match. Back a few years further and we have according to Blind Harry the minstrel; now believed to be a little fanciful story telling, William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. Another Ayrshire boy. It's just not true what those Renfrewshire folks claim. Lies, lies and lies. Anyway Wallace according to the wise old sage Harry give the English a good kicking and a slapping over on the main road into Darvel. The Winny Wizzen, again next to Loudoun Hill.
Loudoun Hill seems to be a favourite spot out by Darvel, maybe because it's noticeable for miles around. Even the Romans built a fort next to it. I think it's the only actual verified Roman fort in Ayrshire. They left some of their roads, that fort and not much else. Now sadly no longer there having being dug up at the quarry but we know the Romans didn't hang around long in Ayrshire and Scotland for that matter having buggered off, back south of the wall, once they built it. What did the Romans ever do for us? Is it me or is there a pattern here?
And finally the Dogon Staine a possible prehistoric unhewn monolith that some local Blacksmith decided to add an iron bar with a round sandstone ball on the top of it. Beggars belief. There is a few local traditions and superstitions regarding the stone. Supposedly the markings on 3 of the sides match astronomical bodies or it lines up with midday sun on the summer solstice. Nobody seems to know where it originally stood but it has been moved a couple of times in the last few years. Now it sits in the centre of the town next to a bust of Sir Alexander Fleming in Hasting Square.
We walked along the main road until we reached Cemetery Road and then turned up hill and underneath what was an old railway bridge and almost immediately at the other side of the the bridge pillar we picked up the path for Loudoun Hill. We followed that path up and onto the old railway line. Obviously no longer used as the sleepers and rails have been lifted. Another line that fell under the Beeching axe. It didn't take us long to find ourselves back in familiar territory for the day. Seriously overgrown undergrowth. Not really a problem for the friendly giant Phil but for me, the dwarf, it was. Stinging nettles as tall as me. Hands above the head stuff again trying to avoid getting stung. Luckily it didn't last long. Having cleared Darvel the countryside opens up to fields and moors.
It's a very simple and easy walk out to Loudoun Hill. We generally just followed the railway line. It makes for a very pleasant and level walk. Especially on that fine dry day. A couple of times we had to leave the line either to cross old sidings or on one occasions we were funnelled between two fences because the deck of a bridge that crossed over a farm road was no longer there. That was when we were starting to think it was easier to just walk a long the railway instead of following the local diversions. Up and over stiles and fences. Look what thinking nearly done. Could have been a nice 18 foot plunge down to the road. I've been living in the city too long. Big city ideas.
It was only about here that I noticed that I had bounced the ISO button on my dSLR. It was now at ISO 3200 and in some cases 12800! Instead of the 100 I had set it at over in Straiton. Woohoo, night time shooting in the daylight. For the past how many photographs I had been wondering why my shutter speed was so fast and it wasn't that bright. Spot the newbie. I was maxing out the shutter speed at 1/4000 and 1/1600 of a second at f/32 aperture for some because the ISO was set so high. Cranking down the aperture to correct my exposure. Hadn't even thought to check the settings to see why I had gone from 1/125 of a second at f/16 at ISO 100. I just thought the sensor must be picking up some light I couldn't see. It's got a built in micro chip, It must know better. You would think I would no better. SISO; shite in, shite out. Felt like a right fud when I noticed, finally checking the settings and correcting them. Dick. Lesson learned though. I hope.
Eventually we came to another railway bridge that has been removed and were directed via a signpost down a set of wooden stairs in need of some repair as the rails were a bit on the shoggly side of shoggly. Having come down the steps I was confronted by a wall and stile. They don't make it easy for small people. Even with the stile the dugs baws were resting on the coping staine. Never the most comfortable position to be in, astride a wall. I'm sure Phil had no such bother.
After scraping my nether regions off the wall we were back on the road. Turning right then left on to a steep winding road that starts to curve around the old volcanic plug. I remember that this didn't look familiar. It had been a while since I had climbed Loudoun Hill. I think I may even had put some doubt in Phil's head, so luckily there was a older gent tending his veg, digging in his garden. We stopped and asked. Kindly he pointed out we were on the correct path with just a little further to go. Look out for the car park and there is a fence with a sign on it.
We continued up the road, skirting round the western edge of the hill. It's now, looking back at my notes and having spoke to a few people that I realised that we always walked round Loudoun hill from the eastern side and the Winny Wizzen. That's why I was confused and unsure. It doesn't matter now, we reached the car park and followed the sign.
Climbing the gate into the field we followed the marker posts. They're white and not all that obvious having been weathered for so long and not replaced. Anyway it's not too difficult, make like the crow flies for the trees at the base of the hill. That would be straight ahead for those not in the know. Another wall to be crossed then we were on the hill proper. We circled round to our left and made our way up. There's plenty of tracks to follow to the top. The yowes and tups are not daft when climbing for the grazing. It's a steep yin, almost 400 metres pretty much straight up. It gets the legs pumping and if your like me, the heart beating hard. I'm now starting to believe Phil was a mountain goat in another life. It felt like he took a hop skip and a jump to reach the top. I really need longer legs or something.
Once I caught up with Phil we were greeted with great views again. Ayrshire unfolding below us again. All green and pleasant. The usual landmarks clearly visible to the eye, Arran away out in the Firth of Clyde and Tinto in the opposite direction in Lanarkshire. Panoramic views like most of the bigger hills in Ayrshire. Having enjoyed the vista with the naked eye, it was time to get the recently reset camera. I removed the lens cap then proceeded to juggle the camera like a poor version of Coco the Clown with both hands tied behind my back. Luckily I managed to catch the camera before it went lens first into the ground. However it did include me smearing a big thumb soaked with sweat and sun lotion over the glass. Things were not going good in the camera department today. Not at all. Looking through the view finder everything was a blurry mess. Insert expletives as appropriate. Having left the rucksack in the car, I had no cleaning cloth. Enter stage left, the hem of my merino top but to no avail. It cleaned most of it but there was still some residue. More expletives and then some more again.
I was beginning to think that was it for the photographs today until Phil came back along the summit. He had been off exploring the top while I was doing my circus performance. He had his Lowe Pro camera bag for his Sony NEX and in that wonderful little bag was a stitched in lens cloth. Saviour. It did the trick, the lens was spotless. I was snap happy again as usual.
On his exploration of the summit; Phil found another path down, less steep. If that was possible. We made our way back down and to the road for the walk back to Darvel along the dis-used railway line. This like so many other walks left me thinking among other things, why does the walk back to the car seem to be shorter than the walk out...