Range of the Awful Hand - Part 2

Merrick in Cloud Photograph courtesy of tigerweet on flickr

It's been awhile. Not that I haven't been writing just that I haven't posted. I've been nervous about posting this. Especially after the last being somewhat well received. We all like to please people and I always worry that people won't like what I write. I suppose we all look for validation from our peers?

If you haven't you may want to go and read the first part or if you have you may want to refresh your memory. You can do that here.

Well the last one ended with my dad and I building up our energy reserves for the next day. The walk of walks. Not that I told him. I didn't want to put him off. My plan for the morning was the Range of the Awful hand. From the car park up through the forest past the old bothy onto Benyellary down the col up and onto The Merrick, then Kirriereoch and Tarfessock then finally Shalloch on Minnoch. With a long walk back to the car park at Loch Trool. Now you know why I hadn't let him know. It sounds daunting. It's a long day but I knew once we were out 'in country' we would be fine. Or so I hoped.

I remember it being a beautiful clear night and the stars being so bright in the sky. My dad and I going through the constellations that we knew. We are not astronomers not even amateurs by along shot but we went through our favourites, Orion and his belt, The Seven Sisters, The plough. I always look for Orion in the night sky, not sure why. It's what I do. It always amazes me the effect that town lights have on the night sky. Even growing up in a small place like Cumnock, they dull the sky but nothing like what I'm used to now in East Kilbride but when your out in the wilds, miles from anywhere the sky is alive and bright. I almost find it perverse that I like being out in the wilds in the dark. I'm scared of the dark. Proper scared as well. Fear. You know that black dark, pitch black, can't see your hand in front of your face stuff but I digress.

We were sitting there having a laugh and a beer or two. Good times.

The sun is up, the tent is glowing green. Well glowing might not the correct term but we've all been there in a stuffy tent when Dawn shows us her face. It was time to fire up the twin burners once more. These ancient twin suns were getting their best work out in years. A full cooked breakfast. Square (Lorne, sliced or whatever you know it as) sausage, bacon, eggs and toast. Did I mention that the camp cooker also had a furnace to burn the bread. It was like the De'il's front room when everything was set to burn. Roasting. Not much beats a great breakfast before venturing out into nature.

All packed and ready we jumped in the car up to the car park at the loch. It was a cracking September weekend weather. Which is to say that the sun was out and it was dry. For those that know that's rare for the west of Scotland, especially at that time of year. Strangely there was another car in the car park. Someone was keen to be out and about.

Hi Ho Hi Ho and off we went like a couple of Dwarves. Lead on. Up the track through the forest we went. When I say forest I don't some great ancient Caledonian wood older than man his-self and Jesus was a boy but rather the more common and utterly sad Forestry Commission forest packed tighter than duck erse. Void of light and happiness. It's only ray of joy this path that cuts a swath up through it.

It was stuffy hot on that path through the trees. Out of the light breeze and with the lovely sun in the sky the sweat was beginning to trickle down my back and my dad had already unzipped his fleece. Remember them, a fleece, polartec and that was the best. The shoftshell was only a flash of a thought in the corner of someones dream then. Off came mine by the time we had reached the Culsharg bothy and we continued on. Listening and hearing only the occasional bird.

I remember learning later on that experienced walkers call this part of the walk or that path even, the tourist route. Maybe cause you start in the car park? On we sauntered

We broke through the stifling forest and into the open. It would have been like a breath of fresh air if the lovely breeze I mentioned earlier hadn't turned into gale and blown both of us on our erses, not the aforementioned duck's one. It was like one of those you hear on the shipping forecasts. North of here, south of here. The temperature had also dropped some what. Back on went the fleeces. It was chilly.

Now on the shoulder of Benyellary proper the view started to open up. To our front and left was the Firth of Clyde and views of Ailsa Craig or Paddy's milestone and to the right Loch Enoch and the other Galloway hills hanging above the forestry plantations.

From the top of Benyellary we looked down onto the Spit of Neive and up onto The Merrick. Highest of the hills south of the Trossachs. Majestic. I love the way the dry staine dyke runs up the middle of the col splitting it in two. I think my dad was more thankful. This was the first time I had experienced my dad's proper fear of heights. I think up until that point I thought he was only joking. This was the first time I seen the fear in his face. You might not think that unusual, many people have a fear of heights. 'We have to fuckin' walk up that?', 'Your fuckin' kidding me', 'Eh naw', 'No chance'.

I shall explain. Auld Tooky nae knees has a weird employment history for someone scared of being higher than two feet off the carpet. He started at 16 as a plumber/heating engineer and added roofer and slater to his many skills. As you all no doubt know these professions involve being up on a ladder at some point. He has also in his time renewed slates on church steeples. In Cumnock there's nothing higher than the Crichton West's steeple.

It doesn't end there, he was at that time a LF, Leading Firefighter Bunten with over 25 years experience with Strathclyde Fire Brigade and having to climb ladders weekly if not every other day. FFS. He goes white at the drop off on col where his feet are anchored on the Terra firma? Beggars belief. Looking at it, is making him feel dizzy and go wobbly at the knees. At this point the jackets were going on. The temperature was getting even colder due to the wind increasing a couple of notches. He's having second thoughts. At the is point I hadn't realised an error in my packing. No hat and no gloves. That was to come later.

Faither was wanting to chuck it and turn back. He didn't fancy having to walk across the col. It's not like its a razor sharp ridge with 200 odd foot drop off. It's flat and wide with a rather large wall up the middle. Then it has it's drop. Where's the sympathy I hear you say? Well there was none. It was time to get it richt roon him or up him, whichever you prefer. Lets be honest, if the boot in this case was on the other foot, there would have been no hesitation on his part to give me a tongue lashing of sarcastic comment and ribbing. That's love for you.

I can't remember what I said other than he got it good. It was usually always the other way and I wasn't wasting this opperchancity. However I do remember what got him moving. I was going to be a big clipe. When I was in the pub back home in Cumnock I was going to tell my Uncle Richard, my dad's best drinking buddy, brither and freend. I was going to tell him that dad was a big scaredy cat, a chicken and he wouldn't walk up a wee hill. Biting it doon was a far better option than a slagging from your peers, apparently.

The big fearty walked up the 'wrang side' o' the dyke so he and his shaky legs couldn't see the drop off from the col. It still makes me laugh thinking back on this. Especially what the other guy walking coming back down must have though about these two men nodding and saying hello from the other side of the wall. We stopped long enough for him to tell us it was really windy and the clouds would be closing in shortly. No shit Sherlock?

By the time we were off the Spit of Nieve the wind was a proper gale. My ears were frozen stuck to the side of my heed. My hands were that bright pink colour before they turn that awful blue colour and were completely numb. I was having trouble opening and closing them. No exaggeration. It was that cold. The wind chill was really bad. Yep that error was coming back to bite us big time.

Now on The Merrick with hands thrust into pockets and backs bent against the onslaught of the wind, we carried on up towards the summit. Not that it was a straight path, we zigged and zagged with the gusts. We could see the clouds coming up from the Irish Sea and they were looking black and angry. Still far enough away but not far enough away for us to complete the Range of the Awful Hand. In my mind I scratched it. No point in getting dad to push on. Where's the fun in getting soaked to the skin?

We reached the summit and the trig point and the shelter of the circular pen. In we dived out the wind. After spending the last half our nearly horizontal against the gale. Next was to eat or not to eat?

Poking our heads above the parapet as it were. We looked south to the clouds. Then north, to be greeted by one of the best views I have ever seen. EVER. It was still clear blue skies from us all up to the north. We could see all the way to the Campsies and Ben Lomond. Though it was hazy blue in the distance. Ayrshire laid bare in front of us. Amazing. I think it was at that point I forgot about the wind for awhile and just drank in that view. We both smiled.

Not sure how long we spent hunkered down, keeking over the pen. I can't adequately describe the vastness of the vista but it just held us for ages. Pointing stuff out to each other. Hills, places, roads and rivers. By the time we looked back round to check the weather blowing in, it was time to go. No time to eat. The clouds, we could now see were dropping copious amounts of water into the firth. Heading straight for us. I hate soggy pieces.

Time to hump it back to the car, hoping we could beat the rain but it wasn't looking good. Especially with the gale pushing it on. Hands were thrust back in to pockets and the horizontal posture resumed. Down the side of The Merrick we went onto the Spit of Nieve. Louping o'er the dyke tae the wrang side again. Much to my amusement and ribbing. The rain and cloud still marching on. I'm certain they dropped a gear and powered on, faster. Really.

We had just crowned Benyellary again when they came upon us. Just like it is says in the bible, rain came pouring down on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. Well not quite the 40 days and nights. It sure felt like the clouds were trying to dump that much rain down on us in one go. The tourist route soon turned to a burn then a river. We were soaked to oor baws in no time at all. No waterproof trousers either. Feet were wringing. The water from the path was up about and over our ankles as it ran past us so fast. Water finds is own level and follows the path of least resistance. That was into my boots or so it felt. I was entering blister country. Soft wet feet.

This time we welcomed the forest, at least we were out of reach from the gale. The rain was still tipping down. No rest from that. It had, though, returned to it's natural position of falling on our heads rather than the unnatural de'il's horizontal, soaking you get from the feet up on the side of Benyellary.

Wading through the river that path had become we reached the bothy and hesitated, only for a moment. Should we duck in there out of this terrible rain. We carried on. Sit wet in the Culsharg bothy for god knows how long. It wasn't really an option. The car wasn't far now. We were wet anyway. Once your wet your wet. You can only get dry. Your skin is waterproof, right?

We hammered on, ploughing a path as best we could. It would have been nice to have some help from Moses but it never came and the rain never stopped. Lashing. We managed to get to the car in half the time it took to get to the top of The Merrick. Not with out cost though. I had a blister on the side of my heal bigger than 50p piece. Small stones and grit had enter into my boot. Chewing up the Goretex lining and blistering my soft wet skin. Luckily we had a left a dry set of clothes to change into in the car, as we always do.

After that we dropped the wet gear back at the camp site and headed on in to Newton Stewart. There was nothing else for it. Sat in the pub had some dinner and chatted away. Talked about the greatest view and watched the football scores coming in. It kept us out the weather and after a while we headed back to the tent. The darkness came early that night and with no stars. The deluge continued. Never once letting up so into sleeping bags we crawled. Nothing more for it. Tired but happy despite the rain.

We woke the next morning to find ourselves on an island in the field. The only patch of dry ground. The river had risen over 12 feet, we learned from the farmer later. How fortuitous was our pitch. The others in the field who had camped were not so lucky, having to spend the night sleeping in their cars. Like I said earlier it's all in the pitching. Luck.

All that was left to do was pack up our troubles in the form of a wet tent and head for home. Well after stopping off for some breakfast. Great days and good times. Best of memories.