Glenbuck – Sorn(ish) (16 miles)
With the good weather coming to an end (20 plus degrees in Scotland in March!?) I had a small window of opportunity to bag a short trail, and one that was relatively local to boot.
The River Ayr Way had been on the radar for a while, the path itself has been in existence since 2006, so it is not really a “new” route as such and sports a pretty decent website and reasonable guide-book. The purchase of this a couple of weeks ago may have had some influence on the choice of walk!
With public transport to the start non-existent, the plan was to leave the car at Glenbuck, walk to Ayr, bus out to Muirkirk and walk back to the car. Fortunately I had to do none of this and instead was offered a lift to the start (thanks Dad!) which made life so much easier.
10 o’clock Saturday morning found me stood at the Lochside raring to go. A hide marks the start, and there are plenty of information boards around about the walk and the wildlife. The only things moving on the Loch though were a couple of fishermen out on their boat, enjoying the fine weather.
The Loch is as close to the source as the walker gets and the fledgling river flows out of it, heading towards the coast. A rather (in my opinion) ugly sculpture is found at the start as well, its twin situated at the finish, the two acting as a symbolic “gate” that the river flows through.
The village of Glenbuck itself has all but disappeared, an opencast coal mine virtually destroying a community that had struggled for many years. It is probably most famous as the home town of the Liverpool FC legend Bill Shankly – not only him but the place produced 50 professional footballers, seven of whom went on to International careers with Scotland. At the entrance to the Loch a Liverpool Supporters Club has erected a memorial to Shankly, which the path passes on its way to the crossing with the A70.
Once across the road the way takes to an old railway line and passes the steadily rotting platform that is all that remains of Glenbuck station.
There is a bleak and wild feel to the route here and it feels like the very North edge of the Southern Uplands. It soon becomes apparent why there are so many villages dotted around this part of Ayrshire – coal – to the North of the path (and roughly where Glenbuck used to be) is a huge opencast mine. One of the more obvious hints of the local industrial heritage.
The railway path gives a direct and fairly quick route to Muirkirk and can get a little tedious in places, but is a real eye opener in certain ways. The number of dismantled railways crisscrossing each other here just shows how important Ayrshire was to Scottish and British industry, although the remains over the River Ayr of what must have been a spectacular viaduct is somewhat deceiving.
Apparently this was built at some expense as a link to the Lanarkshire town of Lesmahagow – the line never opened and it is said that not even one train passed its length. Can’t blame Mr Beeching for that one! The piers of the bridge seem to be lying as large piles of rubble – the Army blew them up for demolition practice during the Second World War.
Once in Muirkirk there is a café a short way down the road from the walkers car park at the campsite. It had just opened as I passed, but makes a good spot to stop for lunch. There are plenty of good walks round the town, of varying lengths, and, while the town isn’t that attractive, there is some very interesting industrial history to the area. This includes the worlds first “surfaced” road (the town was the home of a certain Mr McAdam – and no his first name was not Tar), the first town in Britain to have gas lighting, and an important producer of coal and iron. There is also an audio tour of the town which follows the route of the River Ayr Way for a couple of kilometers.
A certain Tibby Pagan lived in the town. She had a club foot, but she was well-regarded – probably because she was running an unofficial “howff” – best described as a bootleg pub. She wrote her own verse (and apparently a fine singer), and is reputedly responsible for the penning of the Burns song “Ca’ the Yowes”.
Once away from Muirkirk the way finally left the old railways and dropped, for the first time to the banks of the river. The land is still has a wild feel here, and there are hints of what is to come where even now the river carves fairly deep channels through the soft sandstone. There had been a few walkers through Muirkirk, but now I was in splendid isolation, apart from the wildlife. Over Airds Moss were a large number of Curlew and Oystercatchers, not to mention the smaller birds – Pied Wagtails a plenty! Industry was never far away, with plenty of ruins having almost been reclaimed by nature, leaving just enough to hint at what had been there, including the very large and unsubtle hint of an open cast coal mine just before the Airds Moss reserve.
Something that becomes apparent rather quickly is how good the infrastructure is on the path. There has been a lot of money invested in the path, and as a result the surface has pretty much been laid down for the whole route, but the bridges provided are impressive.
Even at this stage, the river has a surprisingly large floodplain, and it makes for a green oasis amongst the rougher moorland that surrounds it. The path now avoids leaving the river, except on a couple of occasions where it is forced up high to avoid what would be impassable terrain.
As I was getting close to where I had planned to stop, I began looking for a suitable place to camp, following on from a rather impressive boardwalk that had been constructed high up the steep bank of a meander. Eventually, reasoning that I was still a reasonable distance from Sorn, and I hadn’t seen a soul all day, I pitched next to a deep pool on a quite serene spot at the river. A sign declared “no fishing”, but this hadn’t put off the Herons, with no less than five of the birds making this part of the river their home. A Cormorant even flew past, surprising me as I was getting the stove going to cook some dinner – a rather nice surprise this far up the river.
It was still fairly early, but it gave an opportunity to lie back and enjoy the gentle birdsong from the woodland opposite, a delightful finish to the day.
Day Rating 8/10
Glenbuck loch is a lovely spot, and a cracking place (if a little problematic in getting there) to start the trail. The walk along the old railway line is a little… meh… but I tend to not be a fan of that kind of walking. I probably do this section a bit of a disservice as it takes a fairly high line and gives some good views over the local area. There is a great deal of historic interest (including many bloody killings revolving around Covenanters) and there are plenty of interpretation boards around, providing some great background information on the route.
Once the route hits the riverbank the Way gradually gets better and better, and despite several ups and downs, it is very easy walking. Very enjoyable with much to look forward to!