Hopefully Robert Louis Stevenson will forgive me for stealing his title. The first half to be exact, it just seemed apt. I have not long returned from my first overnight in a long long time. Breaking out old gear and breaking in new gear. Learning new things and remembering old things. Yep, you can still teach an auld dug new tricks.
I should point out luckily for Phil and I this doesn't end like the novel of the title, obviously I've sat here and written this and Phil is in Edinburgh, probably sitting in a corner shaking with a cold sweat and trying to come to terms with spending a weekend in my company. Hopefully he'll get over it and his ears have stopped bleeding.
I should probably add a little caveat in that this is probably not how Phil remembers the first day of the walk. It is my memories that have been processed, regurgitated and bubbled back to the surface to be committed to these here digital pages. It may not be a true reflection of the events or the sequence in which they happened. If you want a accurate and true version, speaking to Phil might be a better idea than reading this. Then again?
The plan was to walk from Ballantrae over to Lendalfoot on the Saturday. Camping overnight. On the Sunday, walking to the Maidens. It was arranged to meet in the car park on the Foreland at Ballantrae for 9:30am. Very sociable time, not too early and not too late that you don't get to put down some miles under foot.
I decided to stay in Cumnock on the Friday night at my parent's house. Longer lie in and a shorter drive. Easier driving from Cumnock to Ballantrae instead of East Kilbride. Even better after getting there, mum made dad drive me to Ballantrae. No need to worry about the car.
Driving with my dad is an experience. If you've read some of the other posts you'll know he is an experience. Being a passenger is just plain funny. Dad plays this game when driving in Ayrshire. Anywhere else he'd just get lost. Give this man a compass and he still couldn't find north. Seriously and he'll be the first to admit it. The sat nav gets switched on and the 'route' set. It tells him his expected arrival time at the inputted destination. Then it's on. White on rice and bag of potato chips. All that. Dad proceeds to drive the roads he knows. Which is to say roads without letters or even a designation. If your lucky it's B road. He knows roads I don't even ken. The result of this is; bing bing, recalculating. Bing bing. Take the next whatever. My dad ignores this and keeps driving. Bing bing. Recalculating. This happened for nearly our entire journey to Ballantrae.
Half way to Ballantrae my dad started to inform me at how piss poor the planning was for this walk. If we were walking to the Maidens. Why weren't we meeting Phil there, he leaves his car there and my dad drives the two of us to Ballantrae. Probably because it hadn't occurred to us? Shut up taxi driver and just drive, I never said that out loud; just in my head, I think. Bing bing. Recalculating. Take the next right in point 3 miles. That wasn't going to be the case.
Just as we pulled into the car park I received a message from Phil, "I'm parked here" but I had already spotted his car. Why does that always happen? Introduced Phil to my dad. He informed Phil how piss poor our planning was. Dad has a bigger gub than me and I can talk a squeaky gate into submission. Also that I was carrying enough kit for two weeks never mind one night. All that coming from the car camper.
It was an absolutely cracking morning, a bit chilly but clear blue sky. Maybe even a touch of frost. Now with my dad departed we started getting our gear sorted. Phil was lending me a one man tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. A Gram-counter Gear LiteHouse solo in a very fetching yellow (you can read my thoughts here), A Therm-a-rest Haven top bag and a Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Elite 6. I really don't have much in the way of lightweight gear where it counts, so he was helping me out. Nice chap.
Phil suggested a change. That we catch the bus and head down to the very start of the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Glenapp. By saying this I make Glenapp sound like a big place. It doesn't have a bus stop. The bus will just stop for you. Is no more than a handful of houses and an ancient church. Blink and you will miss it. It was a fine day and it would be a waste not to. I was happy with this new plan. No point in wasting this glorious opportunity. You don't always get a fine weather window like that. We made the most of it.
The bus stop is opposite the Church in Ballantrae and handily the little shop of curiosities next to it had a seating bench. After popping into the local Spar to get change for the bus, we sat our self down and waited. We only had twenty or so minutes to wait. The bus was due through the village at about 10:30am. We sat. We chatted until a guy and his King Charles spaniel sidled up. Morning, morning. If I remember correctly he was taking the dog to Stranraer to the vets? I'm thinking would it not be easier to go to the vets in Girvan, it's closer. He informed us the bus was due shortly and we wouldn't have long to wait. He was getting the bus as well. He walked off with the dog in tow. When he returned the bus was running late and we all got talking about walking. Walks that we'd walked and walks he'd walked. The bus arrived about ten or so minutes late. One Scots pounds and sixty five of the new pennies, a single to Glenapp Church.
I'm glad Phil was paying attention as I was away in another world. Tying my boots a bit tighter and generally looking out the window but not really paying much attention to what was going on out there. Happy within in myself looking forward to good day of walking. Phil gave me a nudge at the exact same time as our newly acquired friend and his dog said, "Next corner is for you boys". The dog didn't speak it was the guy. Now that would have been something. We got up and walked to the front of the bus. I'm positive as the bus swung round the corner, I nearly took out the old lady with my rucksack. Luckily for her I was going lightweight. I apologised regardless. I plinked the bell or Phil did. I'm not sure. The driver flung out the anchors and put the brakes on like the De'il himself had stepped out in front us; eating thunder, shitting lightening, all raining hellfire and brimestaine. It's known to happen. The De'il is a regular visitor to these parts. Can't you hear the banjos? I have plenty of stories to tell about him. It probably wasn't like that but that's how I remember the bus stopping.
After jumping clear of the bus. Tuck and roll. We hurried across the road to where the sign post was indicating the direction of the path. Hoping to dodge any approaching speeding traffic or speed freak bus drivers. We took a couple photographs of the church from the relative safety of the grass verge. Settling our packs on our shoulders we set off into the Ayrshire countryside. When we turned, we saw the postman in his van making deliveries to the couple of cottages across from the church. Or so we thought. Instead of coming out of the back of his van with parcel and letters, His chocolate retriever appears. Walkies? Bizarre.
As I said earlier it was a glorious morning, a little chilly in the shade but beautiful for a days walking none-the-less. We started off down an nicely wooded, what appeared to be old estate road. Then we turned off on to what looked like an old cart road. As indicated by the sign post. The Rotary Club have done a great job marking the route. The old road started to go up hill steadily out of the glen and up through the trees. I was puffing a bit. I was out of practice. Pushing the buggy round Whitelees Wind farm is not the same. However it was a nice path to stretch the legs on and get into my stride. As we gained more metres above the glen the trees started to get thinner and finally we were greeted by a stunning view. We had great views down towards Cairnryan and Stranraer with the Ferries turning into port as well as across to the Rhins of Galloway. Loch Ryan shinning blue in the sun. We stood a bit drinking it in and taking a few photographs. A worthy reward for nice climb.
As the path turned we left the view of Galloway behind and followed the old road on a northward direction. We hadn't seen hide or tail of anyone since we left the postman way down at the main road. Then all of a sudden we came across a dog walker with her little terrier. By that time we were a good few miles from anywhere. We exchanged pleasantries. Morning, Morning. "You boys walking the coastal path to Ballantrae". Both "Yes", well maybe I said "Aye". Her reply was "Good on youse!" but I heard it in tone like. Crikey you boys are a bit keen, that's a fair old walk. You'll be lucky to get there by sun down. What did she know that we didn't? Thinking about now as I type it out, maybe she was an Ayrshire witch? She did appear out of no-where and there hus been no sign of onybudy else. No parked cars or such like and we weren't far from a set of standing stones? Aye. I'm probably reading far too much into it but you never know and standing stones always make me tingle. Ayrshire is an old place.
After we said our goodbyes to the "Witch" (read nice lady). We carried on the road this time with a great view off to the north and west a bit of the Ailsa Craig, the large volcanic plug that sits in the Irish sea. The De'il papped it there in a fit of rage. Some laird somewhere managing to get the better of him, again. The road had levelled out for a while on the cliff. It was pretty apparent that we were now within an estate rather on just farm land. There was feeding troughs for pheasants and not surprising the odd pheasant diving about and generally being skittish. You would be to if folk fired buck shot pellets in your general direction. Little did we know.
As we walked on we noticed in the distance an convoy of four by fours moving towards us. A Land Rover Defender, a Range Rover Vogue, a Land Rover Freelander 2 and a Toyota Land Cruiser. Not the usual banged up farmers choice. Well looked after and new. The clues were plain to see. We were walking into a shoot. The jeeps turned down a track before they got to us and we though we were okay. For about 5 minutes it was fine then we came to the turn they had made and Phil checked the guide, we were to take that path they had ten minutes earlier. As we turned we noticed that the Mole Catcher had been busy.
Following the road it started to descend down towards the coast and the sea. He turned another corner and came across an old cottage. It was in a weird place. We had look inside. Possibly an old estate workers house but it had a unusual configuration of rooms. At some point it had been done up but it had fallen back into disrepair again. No roof and no original fittings inside. I looked a bit like it could have once been a auld fermhoose with the byre attached but there was no obvious remains of any steadings. We walked on and turned another corner when we heard the noise of an approaching Land Rover Defender. Unmistakable. We got out the road. Phil stepped to the fence; me on the other hand, stepped into the gorse bushes. Ouch! Stupid but no damage down. It's the Beat Master. I nod in greeting. He stops. Rolls down the window and speaks to Phil. I can't hear anything I'm stuck in the gorse. The master has asked us to hang back, there about to start shooting. How long? He didn't say. However he could have asked to leave on health and safety grounds. It's also private land even although we have right of access. A hang back was fine for me. We'll I don't know about Phil but I didn't fancy picking pellets out my arse.
Walking slowly down the track we could see the beaters on the other side of the wooded glen. The side you would have to be climbing back up. I looked that they were driving the pheasants down the glen to the shooting posts. Phil asked a few questions about a pheasant shoot and I did my best to explain, having been on a few. The shotguns where soon blasting out and echoing around the glen. I think more birds were escaping than were getting shot or so it appeared. It was hard to pick out where the shooters were because of the sounds bouncing about like a rubber ball. When the echoes died to nothing and the dogs were sent into pick up the birds. We walked down to the cove where the jeeps were parked. We decided here was as good as any to take a break but as Phil was getting his stove out, the Beat Master appeared. I asked when it would be safe to continue. Now was the answer they were finishing up. Ah well, away with the stove and back on the track.
The road climbed steeply out this side of the glen as we headed back towards the cliff tops. It looked like a fairly new track. The stones were large and possible ankle breakers, not at all knocked about by estate or farm vehicles driving over them. We got to the top and were about to make a left turn back towards the sea when Phil jumped out his skin. I literally shat myself. An escapee was making another bolt for freedom. A pheasant had blasted out from the ferns at the path side. I think we got a bigger fright than the startled bird. Catching me breath we were now on a even steeper slope. I was starting to toil a bit. I'm blaming the roll and corn beef that I had inhaled as Phil got his stove out. Really it was my poor hill fitness.
It levelled out as best as nature can. In to say that it undulated like a gentle sea. A mirror of what we could see. It's not so much of a path to follow here, more of a sheep track and painted fence posts with the occasional direction marker. Not like you can go far. You have a dry staine dyke on one side or a fall off the cliffs on the other. It funnels you nicely along towards Ballantrae. We came across a funny stone on here. Weird that things like that appear where you stop. We had stopped again for me to take a wee breather. I'm out of practice remember. To our left was a rectangular stone set in the ground flush with grass. It had no markings, nothing. Wasn't on the map either. Interesting. No ideas. Just a strange place to be.
There is not much change in the terrain on this section. Steadily making your way along the cliff. Following the markings and the white topped fence posts. The view out the Irish sea is incredible on a summers day it would be magnificent. It was here on this part that I started to really started to struggle. There was a lot more up and down rather than the gentle undulating of earlier. We were also into agricultural fields that was home to a large dairy herd. I don't think falling into hoof holes with my small feet all over the soft ground was helping either. Much to Phil's credit, if the frequent breathers were starting to annoy him as it can when your continually stopping and starting. He never showed it. He is great walking company.
For the land being the same here it more than made up for it with the wildlife. Amazing sights and first for me and possibly Phil. Walking and talking as we were, pointing out views. Me asking about sailing. Phil has a boat. There was a massive FLASH out of the dead ferns and bracken. A massive hare all resplendent in it's winter coat. Pure white like the driven snow. Whiter than Snow White or some untouched Himalayan peak. Whiter even that Gandalf after returning from defeating the Balrog. It was that white. Except the jet black tip to the tail. It was off, so fast. Greased lightening. I was so happy I'd never seen a hare in winter dress before. I've seen plenty of hares. Eaten a few, there just big rabbits really. It was amazing to see and all the more easier considering there was no snow. The hare stood out like a sore thumb. Magnificent to watch it run. Then it was gone. Gone. Hidden again in a hole or the undergrowth. Not long after that we disturbed another or maybe the same one but he had decided to leave the winter coat in the wardrobe this time.
Unfortunately there is a problem when you start to get into a rhythm of following the markers. Especially when one is wrong and or just plain missing. We were now in the heart of the farmers fields and not far from the end of the days walk. We could see Ballantrae and Ardstinchar Castle clearly now. Now on a proper farm road. Which for me was good as my legs were getting a rest. No up and down, no kissing gates, stiles to negotiate. Just walking. We came across a nice big white arrow pointing up the farm road. It wasn't clear straight away that we had missed something or that something was missing. We turned another corner and were heading up when we met what can only be described as a river of shit shining with a sheen of piss. All oil slick and horrible. Black and smelly. It was a bottle neck for the dairy coos going to the milking parlour. It was stinking. It was getting deeper. Sure this is the right way? Must be, the arrow pointed this way. After much dancing, skipping and generally trying to find the high ground. Boots now caked in cow shite we make it to the top but it's a gate. Not any gate and electrical wire and we're on the wrong side of the river of excrement. The hook up point is on the other post. At the this point the beasts must have been pissing themselves laughing watching us pair louping around. Not that you would have noticed. Phil being the brave one, wades through and unhooks the wire. Pure manure. I don't think Phil liked the cows. It was enough to put you off your milk.
Once through the gate and back on terra firma we realised our mistake. We shouldn't have followed the road but skirted round the field edge. There was a kissing get in the very bottom corner out sight from the road. Ah well. Onward, stamping hard to get as much of the cloying cow pats loose from our footwear. We were on the homeward straight as it were. It was all road from here to Ballantrae and all down hill. We made our way to the bridge at the Stinchar and on to the car. Luckily it wasn't at the Maidens. Maybe just as well the planning wasn't that good? Now it was time to find a place to camp and get ready for another day of walking but that's another story in itself......