Sunday, September 17, 2006

Muirshiel Country Park

Another rainy Sunday and with the Australian Moto GP finished on TV, we had to get out for some fresh air, rain or no. Anyway, for a change we headed southwest towards Lochwinnoch and Muirshiel Country Park, which is part of the larger Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park that ranges from Greenock in the north down the Clyde coast and inland to Lochwinnoch.

It's less than 20 miles from our door so it's ideal for a few hours away from the city. Getting to Lochwinnoch is easy - straight west along the M8 and take A737 just past the airport and the turn off is well signed. From Lochwinnoch it's a bit more difficult - the signage isn't great and once you find the right road, it's three miles along a single-track road that doesn't have a lot of passing places.

There's plenty of parking and we parked right in the visitor centre as it was pretty empty what with the rain but I imagine it's much busier on a good day. Apparently the main visitor centre is built on the site of a Victorian shooting lodge, once the home and estate of one of Glasgow's nouveau riche in the mid-nineteenth century. But now entry is free to the public so we picked up some guide maps from the centre and headed for the first walk.

Muirshiel Waterfall

This is only a short walk along a dead-end path from the centre but it's a wee bit of a letdown. It's quite a nice stroll along the riverside path and it looks like it'd be a nice looking waterfall but you simply can't see it from the path. The only viewpoint you get is from the top of the falls and, while the view down the River Calder and the surrounding countryside is nice, you just can't see the falls. You'd have to cross the river and walk round the to lower side to get the kind of view we were hoping for but you're actively discouraged from doing that. Fair enough, there's no bridge or ford and you could fall in but the addition of a little footbridge and fenced walkway would certainly make it a better attraction.

Windy Hill

This looked the best walk of the lot - a kilometre long stroll through a conifer plantation and out onto the hillside to Windy Hill, an old volcanic plug with some good views over the surrounding landscape.

The lower part of the walk is up through some replanted native woodland so it'll be quite nice there in a few years. The conifer plantation is another story altogether - dark and densely packed, you can't see very much at all as you pick your way along, trying to keep your eye on the track. There were loads of fungi out, ranging from loads of little white toadstools up to the huge mushroom-capped giants. We also came across a reconstruction of a Hut Circle, dwellings used in the Stone Age (3,000BC).

Once out of the woods, it's a plain walk to the summit (316m) of Windy Hill. Most of this track is on a double path of old railway sleepers, which help keep your feet dry, as it's a pretty soggy looking area. The view from the top is quite good and you can see across the rocky top of nearby Craig Minnan to Kilmacolm and Bridge of Weir with Glasgow beyond. I'm told you can see Ben Lomond from here as well but the low rolling clouds kept that mysteriously hidden today.

We had a bit of detour through the woods on the way back and got slightly lost in the dark forest tracks (or lack of them) but not for long and then it was time to head home.

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