As I crouched on the semi circular boardwalk trying in vain to capture the light on the surface of the icy pond, I heard an ominous creaking sound just out of my line of vision. Given the fact it wasn’t me who made the ominous creaking sound, that particular noise could only mean one thing…
I opened the rear passenger door of “The Tank” at the compact Doune Nature Reserve and experienced a “Ya Numpty!” moment. No boots. In the battle to get out of the house before the end of the universe came and went I’d forgotten to pack the outdoor footwear. Here I was, ready to hit the muddy trails, in a pair of thin carpet slipper trainers. Thank god for freezing overnight temperatures. What would have been a mudbath on a normal Scottish day of grey cloud and drizzle was crunchingly solid after a couple of days near zero degrees. Today’s wee hike was a 8km wander on the outskirts of the village of Doune, a few miles from Stirling. Our first port of call was the local ponds which would no doubt be stuffed full of birdlife…nope… stuffed full of impenetrable ice and a big zero count on the burdz front.
The Fatdog was busy making her own entertainment as I attempted to photograph the ice covered pond, as she lurched across the slippery surface to the groaning and cracking of overstressed ice, splitting suddenly beneath her paws. Thankfully she was only a couple of metres from the bank, but I still didn’t fancy trying to haul 35kg of non-swimming Labrador out of the water.
Beyond the ponds lay our first geocache of the day. Unfortunately my approach through the nature reserve was direct, but ill conceived. I was less than 100m from the cache site but in between us and glory was a 1m+ high stock-proofed fence with a strand of barbed wire on the top. I looked at the fence then turned to look at The Fatdog, who by now had worked out the possibilities and was legging it at speed in the opposite direction. We diverted.
Our diversion did however give us a great view of Ben Ledi and a squandered opportunity to photograph a low flying buzzard. My pathetic inability to quickly prise apart the Velcro fastening on the camera case led to a lot of naughty words and a fast retreating buzzard. On the plus side we discovered our first geocache of the day which put me in a better humour. Next stop the “Commonty Walk”
A Thank You
I have to thank the Scottiedogz ( Jacqueline and Dave ) for providing the Doune geocaches around which today’s walk was planned. We were chasing 8 of their caches of various shapes and sizes on our circular walk. In the past I have been fairly critical of micros (small caches – eg 35mm film canisters) but the inventive use of hideaways and gently cryptic clues by “The Dogz” brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. I have to say I’m a bit of a convert.
The Commonty Walk
Relaxing would be my summation of the Commonty Walk. Taken from the name for the common grazing land around Doune this tree lined path took The Fatdog and I alongside the woodland known as Black Park towards the Argaty road.
OS maps from the 1890’s show the path and the wood as being in existence then, but sometime since the woodland changed to more commercial planting. On the opposite side of the path open fields ran downhill towards the old town of Doune. Perhaps it was these fields that were the “commonty” of the track name. The sun was bright and strong, filtering through the tree branches brightening up the winter colours along the remarkably straight path. I could have strolled miles under these conditions such was the incredible feeling of peace on this centuries old section of country track. Part way along, an old three-trunked tree held our second geocache of the day.
We crossed the Argaty road and disappeared into a small wood. From here it was only a few hundred metres to the old disused railway line which was our destination. The “Dogz” had found a cracker of a hide for our third cache at the southern edge of the wood. Utilisation of an “in full view” hiding place is the mark of someone who thinks about and really enjoys their hobby. First I rummaged. Then I stood back and looked again. I knew I was staring at the correct spot but it still took me a minute or so to realise what those clever “Dogz” had done. Think I’m going to tell you what? Think again…go and find it yourself!
The Dunblane, Doune and Callander Railway (1856)
“This was the only railway in Britain to include all of the stations that it served in its title.” -Wikipedia
It had been a quiet walk up until now but our proximity to the old disused railway line, now a tarmac surfaced walkway, was heralded by the appearance of swarms of locals out for a Sunday walk or cycle. Maw, paw, weans, granny, the dug…you name it, they were there! The remaining 5 of the “Dogz” caches would have to be rummaged for in an exceptionally surreptitious manner, probably involving a lot of lurking and skulking.
Our cache setters provided a real mixture of hiding spots for the remaining 5 geocaches. Unexpected locations involved dead trees, rocks that were not quite rocks and the counting of ironwork protuberances, all adding to the afternoon’s head scratching.
It’s hard to get excited about walking along an old railway line. If you’re like me and have a short attention span, there’s nothing worse than long straight paths. Worse still this long straight path was infested by cyclists, but thankfully only one eejit. With tow along toddler transport fixed to the rear of his bike he obviously thought it would be really clever to approach at speed from behind and not warn us. The Fatdog, near panicked by his unexpected arrival, came close to taking out the whole lot as the silent well oiled assembly lurched worryingly past.
Thankfully the whooping of long necked burdz came as a distraction to my inevitable tirade about numpties on bikes. The pack was ditched and the camera hauled out in a hopeful effort to capture something on “film”.
I find since my 55-200 lens packed in I have been severely hampered on this front. The wee Fuji is a nightmare with moving subjects with its ponderous autofocus and, for a supposedly low light camera, I haven’t yet taken a decent shot in low light. In fact it’s the worst performer in that category of all my cameras past and present. I fear I must be missing something in the set up for low light shots! It does take some cracking shots though in normal light…and when you give it a few extra seconds to focus. It did however take the photo of the red kite on max zoom which astounded me.
The red kite was a bonus. Frankly, it could have been one of any number of big burdz with curved beaks as far as I was concerned. My knowledge of flappy feathery things ain’t very good and The Fatdog’s knowledge of burdz extends to that of M&S Roast Chicken…which the thing up in the sky quite clearly was not! It seems the RSPB have released a small number into the wild just north of here with a view to establishing them in the area.
Over in the west the Gargunnock Hills were coming into relief with the winter sun beginning to ease down towards sunset. We strolled back to the car, picking up the last “Dogz” cache of the day at the old railway bridge.
“Who Dares Wins!”
“One for the road” I thought, as we drove back through Doune on our way home. The clouds were beginning to glow bright orange as the sun dipped towards the horizon, a rare opportunity to catch a sunset. I picked up the B road that would take us past the Sir David Stirling (founder of the SAS) memorial, sitting on a rise in the Keir Estate, with its view to the Ben Ledi, Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich.
The light on the statue was incredible as the sun dropped. The statue posed…The Fatdog posed…and the camera shutter clicked.
I met David Stirling once, before he became a “Sir”, at my then site office near Tyndrum. 1982 I believe it was. The whole workforce had apparently breathed a big sigh of relief when I said that he didn’t have to pay for the use of the phone. I didn’t care that he phoned London for an hour and that I was going to be grilled on a hot rack about the office phone bill when it was gleefully presented to my boss by our contractor. My supremely honed instinct for self preservation was determined to stave off nightmares of black hooded men crashing through the site office windows on ropes looking to retrieve the wads of cash he offered by way of payment. Being handed cash was almost as big a nightmare for a Council employee as thwarting the wishes of the founder of the SAS. He may have worked out devilishly clever ways to wage war but he had difficulty comprehending that we had no system for dealing with cash…especially ad hoc payments in cash…especially ad hoc payments in cash not protected by the anonymity of a brown paper envelope.
From here it was a quick dog walk up a track to discover our ninth, and final, geocache of the day. The sun had now gone down. It was time to go home.
Map of the Walk