If you look very, very closely at your OS map of the Campsie Fells and in particular at the little wood to the east of the monumentally tiny Skea Craig above Loch Coulter, you will see the pale green shape of Shippytrouty Wood marked by the standard symbols for a conifer forest. Unfortunately the number of little green trees on the plan more or less represents the actual number of trees comprising the wood. The rest of the pale green area is gorse…2m high jaggy gorse, a continually shifting dark green maze of hopeful grassy clearings and frustratingly spiky dead ends. The Fatdog and I had faced many types of obstacle on our travels but this was something new…and it wasn’t good…
Last weekends cold had more or less disappeared but with stiff(ish) winds forecast on the hills I bottled it and opted for a far less strenuous wooded glen walk. Less than a 15 minute drive from the house the Fatdog and I set off for a leisurely stroll, following the course of the River Carron westwards, beginning at the small village of Fankerton on the B818 Denny to Fintry Road.
Just before the onset of autumn decay and the annual change to the more sedately fashionable collection of browns and golds, the narrow gorge was still lush with the last days of summer greens. The fast flowing River Carron was mostly invisible from the path as the Fatdog and I followed the river along the path from the new timber bridge.
The trail climbed high on the north side of the gorge, then gently eased back down to river level. The Scottish Wildlife Trust had barricaded the path for reasons listed on the warning sign as “Path Erosion” but which looked suspiciously more like “Closed Due to Remote Possibility of Litigation”. Whatever their reasons for closing this 10m section they were, following a quick inspection of the “problem” area, summarily discounted and we charged through regardless. Someone was running scared of their own shadow. I could almost smell their fear on the token wooden barrier as I squeezed below.
Ironically a short distance further on they had half-heartedly placed logs over a boggy section of path…round, slippy logs, the sort of logs on which people lose their balance and split their heads when they fall. Maybe I should give them a call and see if I can panic them into cordoning off this section as well.
Irritations behind us we pressed on. As we strolled through the woods next to the river I noticed that its normal happy rushing sound had turned to a deep ominous roar.
Its days like today I wish I had brought the tripod for the camera. Instead I had to make do with a peculiar hunkered pose with my elbows locked onto my knees. The results may not be perfect but it gave me a chance to play about with the shutter speed settings on the camera.
But it was now time for myself and the Fatdog to leave the sheltered jungle of the glen and climb the steep wooded north slope. Clambering up the slope proved to be the easy part. Beyond, the ensuing battle with giant bracken and treacherous ankle biting briar proved a wee bit more tricky. The briar had really hacked off the Fatdog and more than once I had to stamp down on an offending straggly branch before she would deign to pass. We had now reached the gentle pastureland above the gorge, a dry stane dyke leading our eyes to a clump of trees and our first destination, the long abandoned farm of Stoneyinch.
From the 1940’s aerial photograph this building looks to have been inhabited at that time…well to be more exact it had a roof then, something which is now well and truly a thing of the past. It’s such a shame no one lives here any more as it’s an idyllic spot with a cracking view to the south to Myothill and Meikle Bin.
But for us the views could wait for a wee while…it was geocaching time!
The Fatdog and I went off to demolish the garden boundary wall in our quest for a wee plastic box of lucky-bag dross. It took a while longer than anticipated as the GPS co-ords proved to be some 5m out. Following the regrettable collapse of a couple of teetering sections of masonry we eventually found the Tupperware tub lurking a few metres away from the centre of our spectacularly unsafe working zone. The Fatdog trotted back to the pack with the unused Semtex.
From the logbook I discovered the last person who visited the cache was one “Robert Burns”, his log-in name not his real one, and he had recounted the story of his walk up to the old farm in April of this year. It had been over 5 months since the last visit…that’s a long while! What was remarkable about his log was the main subject matter. The highlight of his trip was…meeting myself and the Fatdog!!!!
I can already hear disbelieving gasps of amazement…and total puzzlement.
Some months ago I had to look at some vandalism to the new footbridge at the start of the walk and had taken FD along with me. “Robert Burns” appeared as I contemplated a method of repair that had the potential to seriously injure any future miscreant bridge-basher. We chatted for some time discussing our respective reasons for visiting the glen and soon got on to the subject of geocaching. I had forgotten all about the encounter until the strange experience of reading his account of that meeting almost 6 months later.
Our first objective met we headed along an old farm track to find a way to Shippytrouty Wood but between us and the old pines lay a sea of dark green razor sharp gorse. We were lucky, or so I thought. Next to an old 1.5m high dry stane dyke was an upward trail of a dirt trampled cattle track. Beside the old wall we climbed. With every upward step the gorse edged closer and closer, closing the gap between us and the solid stonework. I was on my knees by now crawling below the dangling spikes of the lower branches. The Fatdog looked incredibly pleased with herself as she sauntered unhindered below the trouser shredding canopy.
The wood itself was far more treacherous than anticipated. The angelic looking long grass sward between the pines hid a terrain of lumpy tussocks, boulders and ankle threatening holes of teeth jarring proportions. Each step was a lottery. Then there was the maze of gorse.
Between us and what I hoped was the open grassland of the ridge was a circlet of dark green organic razor wire. We explored a number of promising grassy inlets only to be turned back each time by a stubborn barrier of spikes. Eventually we outflanked the hill’s first line of defence and reached the haven of the ridgeline.
The battle was worth the effort. To the east we could see all the way to the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh and to the north the renovated Great Hall of Stirling Castle gleamed in the afternoon sunlight.
The ridge took a dip down to yet another exceptionally well maintained dry stane dyke. The Fatdog was beginning to look nervous as I climbed over. Walls 1.5m high are not generally in the Fatdog’s repertoire. Gamely she launched herself at the wall, paws birling frantically as she tried to get a grip. I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and the fur on top of her rear end, then hauled her over behind me. The Fatdog glared. I wasn’t looking forward to going back.
Another 10 minutes and we had reached our final destination Skea Craig. From here we could see Loch Coulter below and in the distance the mountains of the Trossachs and Loch Earn.
It had been a slog getting here but it was worth it. For a hill of some 255m it packed a punch in terms of its views and our chosen approach did have a certain entertainment value.
Our return was somewhat easier as most difficulties were avoided by following the line of the old walls. Other than the taking down and rebuilding of a section of dry stane dyke (as the Fatdog refused to clamber back over) and the unorthodox descent from the pastureland back into Carron Glen, where young saplings were used to abseil down through the vegetation to the path below, our return journey was thankfully fairly uneventful and gorse free.