With a run of sunny, crisp days over the festive break, what better than to get out for a few hours fresh air and a walk? We have four dogs – two greyhounds, one elderly greyhound-saluki cross and one Pomeranian, and they do love a walk in the country…
Our favourite spot has to be the Barony A-frame at Auchlineck – a place so special that it needs a blog entry of its own, and will get one (eventually).
The restored pit-head is probably the most photogenic piece of industrial history in Scotland and the site has been cleverly landscaped to incorporate information boards, a very touching memorial board, woodland walks and a BMX track! There are 0.5 km (I measured it as we also run there sometimes!) of accessible paths, and if you continue down the paved area to the rear, it takes you on a (muddy) but enjoyable walk past the old bing and eventually through the grounds of Dumfries House and back on to the main road (around an 8 km circuit).
We’ve used the holidays to venture further afield and we’ve found some interesting new walks though. Mrs A picked up a leaflet on ‘Sorn walks’ at the award winning Sorn Inn when we visited for our anniversary dinner (three years!), and we went back the following day to walk off some of the delicious grub. Parking near the cemetery, we picked up the Woodland Walk which took us up above the village, coming back down to join the River Ayr Way. We followed this for another 45 mins or so before impending darkness brought us back – a beautiful and well maintained path, and I intend to explore this further at a better time of year.
My absolute favourite walk (I only found it last week, with the wee dug, and returned today with Mrs A and the tribe) has to be up to Lethanhill in the Doon Valley. Park at the road end - easily missed as you reach Patna from Ayr, it’s the very first road on the left as you enter the village, before you reach the cake-shop-garage (if you need to ask, you’ve never been to Patna…) From there, it’s around a 5 km round walk to the abandoned village, most of it on a reasonably tarmacked road. The road is still used, so be careful not to block it when you park!
Following the road up the hill, you get stunning views of the valley and of the village of Patna down below. You pass an electricity substation, some sheep, and then, unexpectedly – a house. This is the old schoolmaster’s house for the villages of Lethanhill and Burnfoothill, known collectively as ‘The Hill’.
I’d known of this village for a while but hadn’t had the chance to visit, and when Mrs A bought me Dane Love’s ‘Lost Ayrshire Villages’ for Christmas, I knew I needed to see for myself. The first houses in Lethanhill were built by the Dalmellington Iron Co in 1848 for ironstone miners (replaced by coal mining as the ironstone pits were exhausted and the Ironworks at Dunaskin closed in 1921), and the last inhabitants moved to council housing in Patna in 1954. Conditions in the village were incredibly harsh – stone miners’ rows with dry closets, no running water (and a notoriously bad water supply, with villagers in the 19th century relying at times on water pumped from a nearby pit) and until the 1920s, no road links to the outside world – children walked along the railway line to school at Waterside.
The village is gone now, but the war memorial still stands, along with a stone that reads ‘Long Live the ‘Hill’. Looking carefully into the tree planation on the site of the old settlement, you can see walls and ruins, and two walls of the old school house still stand on the hill. It’s an incredibly evocative site, and stunningly beautiful. Walking the length of the old village, a neat grass roadway unexpectedly opens up – this is the old mineral train line. It once ran to Corbie Craigs and Benquhat (Benwhat) before going down into Dunaskin, but open cast mining has obliterated much of the hillside. We’re planning a future walk from Dalmellington up towards Benwhat, and will report back on whether it’s possible to walk right along. In the meantime, get your wellies on and get out there!