This route is day 18 of Kat’s circumnavigation of the Greater Glasgow Green Belt and takes Kat over the hills of Clydemuirshiel Regional Park and to the very best cafe of the walk so far, discovering a geo-cache and exploring a well-defended ‘private’ estate.
Deciding where to walk for this section was entirely based on where there was a nice cafe to begin and end. And we struck gold with Kilmacolm – a picturesque and well-to-do town about 20 miles outside Glasgow – and its Cafe Cairn. It really was at the plush end of cafes (and that’s coming from someone who used to live in the West End of Glasgow). I had two fried eggs on sourdough with crispy bacon, home-made pesto, crumbled feta and a sprinkling of chili flakes with a flat white. It would have been a parody of itself if it wasn’t so utterly utterly delicious.
But this isn’t supposed to be a food blog – so let’s get to the walk.
After we’d stocked up with enough calories to do the walk three-times over, we headed up the long single-track road to the car park at Clydemuirshiel. John and Jamie had visited a couple of months before, as part of their quest to climb the Marilyns (Every hill with at least 150m prominence). As we ate brunch they recalled the relentless tussocky moorland they’d encountered.
We were starting at 230m so the path to Windy Hill, less than a hundred metres higher, was short and took us through some beautiful stunted woodland, moorland, heather and, on the summit, a stand of twisted larches. “This must be what the rest of upland Scotland’s vegetation would look if sheep and deer didn’t eat it all.” said Jamie.
I walked behind John making comment on his choice of dress for the day. Apparently his 1990s fleecy dungarees with zip bum flap (in case you were caught short on the hill) were too hot on the last walk he joined me on, so he had chosen a pair of skin-tight lycra leggings – the kind of things we might have referred to as ‘climbing tights’ back in our University days. Paired with some green wellies and a waist-length fleece, they had a comic effect that didn’t get old for the entire walk. Apparently the lycra leggings had been designated his ‘lucky trousers’ due to the success he’d found recently when hitch hiking in them.
Once we’d crossed the fence keeping livestock out, the landscape returned to the usual vegetation of purple moor grass and some heather. We headed off the beaten track to a prominent basalt plug, Craig Minnan, that would have made a fantastic miniature hill fort for a nuclear family. As we wandered up Jamie noted that the short, steep sides presented some terrific bouldering problems and suggested we put up some new routes on our way. We wandered over to a square overhang only to find that the holds already had chalk on them from, presumably, some local keen bean. Despite being attired in wellies John decided to give the problem a go, buoyed up by his climbing tights.
After I’d got a few impressive looking photos, John bent down and picked a small Tupperware out of a crevice at the base of the overhang. Inside was a tiny notebook, and some items – it must have been a geocaching box.
The last entry from a month before read
“Found by accident while sheltering from the rain. Very atmospheric landscape, the bronze age settlement near Cat Craig is well worth a look on a drier day” It was signed Dave Stone.
The only gift we could muster to add to the box was a ScotRail ticket from Edinburgh park to Linlithgow. We put it into the box alongside a badge saying ‘Do Ye Aye?’, a little pack of crayons, two plastic Doubloons minted by Pirates and a badge with the logo of a Glasgow comedy club on.
Cat Craig was only 200 m down the hill, a prominence of bedrock and a little cliff covered in heather, but we didn’t see any evidence on the ground of the homestead and five hut circles that have been found at the site.
Our route, in order to stay within the greenbelt, followed the line of some forestry across the bog and then took us north along the escarpment of the Clydemuirshiel hills. John and I were glad of our wellies.
At one point, the walk went through a field holding a rather frisky black bull which kept trotting menacingly towards us, and then tossing its head and strutting away. We decided to stay in the plantation, safely behind a deer fence, despite the more challenging underfoot conditions. It meant that we had to climb the fence eventually, but that seemed a minor inconvenience compared to the prospect of getting too close to those horns.
We managed to traverse the slope of hills mainly on farm tracks, and by cutting through a few fields but, at one point, when we reached a red deer farm, complete with rutting stags, we rerouted lower down the hill. As we picked a route carefully along the edge of a field of cows, a young buck broke out of the deer enclosures and sprinted past us, leaping high along the field edge only a few meters away.
A well-kept farm track – close-mown verges bouncy with moss – led us down to the road (and a large electronic gate that I don’t think we’d have been brave enough to climb over if we were coming from the other direction). “I bet that says ‘KEEP OF THE GRASS'” said Jamie jokingly as we approached the back side of a small sign in the grass ahead. It turned out that was exactly what it said.
The planned route was to follow an obvious track through a large wood. However it became obvious, as we approached, that this was part of an exceptionally well-defended private estate. A gatehouse overlooked two giant black gates with an electronic entry system. There was a man carrying a very shiny spade over his shoulder in the garden. We didn’t even ask if he’d be able to let us through.
We walked half a kilometre along the road following a well-made 8ft wall until there was a gap, and we headed into the wood, praising the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Twenty years ago, this landmark legislation gave us, and everyone else, the right of access to almost all of Scotland’s land and waterways. No billionaire owner of an estate has the right to stop us walking responsibly on their land. We couldn’t walk in the ‘curtilage’ of the grand house (meaning the garden immediately surrounding it) but anywhere else was within our rights.
We headed into the mixed woodland along some conveniently mown rides which wound picturesquely through the woodlands. I expected, at any moment, to meet a top hatted gentleman in a tail-coat and frilly shirt out for a hack with his stallion. We came across a lake with its own boathouse and, behind, the towering wall of the 18th Century walled garden and a semi-derelict gardener’s cottage. The aerial view on the OS map showed the gardens in good condition, and Historic Scotland’s website says listed them as nationally significant. As we passed the wall we heard dogs and people’ voices in the far distance so we didn’t try to get a peek inside and, instead, headed back into the woods, avoiding the gatehouse at the other end of the drive by cutting across a field.
The continuation of that drive had a sign welcoming us to “Milton Woods Road” which was owned and maintained by the local farm. The sign gave us a list of dos and don’ts but it also said “walkers welcome” which was a very welcome change in tone. Beeches grew each side, with branches creating a golden archway through which the road extended up a gentle hill. Dog walkers were everywhere in total contrast to the rest of the walk – they were the first people we had seen since we’d chatted with the park ranger right at the start.
The walk ended where we had started – in Café Craig – this time for tea and empire biscuits.
If you’d like to read about the other green belt walks you can do so here