8 miles 4h 30m ascent 185m
Black Linn-Minniwick Woods-Bargrennan-Braes of Barmore-Cree Woods
Our walk began at Stroan Bridge where the Water of Minnoch cascades through a rocky gorge. The Glentrool visitor centre here once nestled among tall conifers but the forest north and east of the small wooden visitor centre and car park has been felled recently, completely changing its appearance. It is now open to the sky with the rocky tops of Bennan and Buchan Hill as a backdrop. The car park is pay and display so don’t forget your pond coins.
First on our itinerary was Black Linn with the Glentrool Rosnes Benches. We set off past the carved squirrel, ignoring the sign for walkers and taking instead the Pulnagashel (Poll na gaiseail, stream of the fort or castle) MTB trail. A wooden footbridge took us over the burn and being far enough away from the road we could let the dogs free. The trail followed the burn but soon turned, with the burn, away from the river. I knew we needed to be walking with the river which meant I had chosen the wrong path, not a good start. I had not seen a path by the river but thought one might exist so we headed back, cutting across the felled forest to the visitor centre building. Ah, the joy of picking one’s way across uneven ground strewn with the remains of tree felling.
There was indeed a faint trail heading along the river bank and we were soon at the benches by the Black Linn Waterfall. The Rosnes website says the benches are reached by a short scramble down the river bank. There is a ledge immediately above the thundering waterfall, but the benches are not on the ledge. I presume that someone has re-thought the positioning of the benches and set them higher up. I would have climbed down to get a better photo of the falls but I thought the dogs would follow me and if they fell in, getting them out with the steep sides would have been impossible.
After the usual photos at the benches we headed back to Stroan Bridge, hearing a cuckoo on our way, crossed the river and headed across to the edge of Minniwick Woods. Having heard what I thought were chaffinches, I was pleased to see one flitting about near the black cycle route sign by the road. It proved a bit camera shy though and flew off when I got the camera up. Opposite the cycle sign is a footpath into the the woods signposted, Footpath Glentrool Village 3/4 mile”. This path runs parallel to the road but is far enough in the woods that the road is not visible.
The ground in the woods was covered in bright green mosses reflecting the underlying peat, but with large areas of blaeberry just coming into leaf and flower. A small beech still retaining last year’s leaves was a single splash of gold amongst all the greens. It is interesting to see that the larger beeches do not keep their leaves.
There were some muddy areas for Eddie to dive into and small clear pools more to Sweep’s liking. Eddie felt the need to jump into the mud then try to burrow into it, whereas Sweep prefers to stand in water. They enjoyed themselves while Audrey and I stumbled over naming the numerous white flowers as wood anemone; a pronunciation problem rather than one of recognition.
We emerged from the woods at Glentrool Village and had a choice of walking along the road to Bargrennan or trying the forestry track. I was not sure the track would not be a dead end so we opted for a mile and a bit of road walking. This meant having the dogs on their leads and they decided to do bloodhound impressions, straining forward and breathing loudly, like bloodhounds out of Cool Hand Luke, pulling us along and draining out the birdsong. Our choice took us past a line of bird cherry trees coming into blossom, and a campsite with a carved owl. Here, Audrey and I juggled dog leads to each other while trying to photograph the owl and pack away our fleeces but still managing to get entangled in the leads.
Bargrennan means “hill of the house” and though grennan is sometimes given as meaning palace, its original sense may have been more like “a sunny place”. The sun was certainly out when we got there and as we passed the House o’ the Hill pub I reflected that the new laws now prevent me having a shandy before driving home. Probably a good thing.
An old church was just glimpsed through the trees when we reached the A714 and there is also an SUW information board here. We turned left and soon after this saw an SUW sign. Eddie was slim enough to squeeze through the stile but Sweep was too portly and had to be manhandled over. Then we were back in woodland and could release the dogs again.
This section of the SUW, among conifers beside the Cree then deciduous trees beside the Minnoch, is one of my favourites, perhaps the favourite. In the Braes of Barmore we had soft ground underfoot, dappled light through the canopy, the River Cree audible below us, birdsong all around and the sound of lambs carrying from the far side of the river. We were last here in late September 2013, when we were walking the SUW, and it has changed somewhat. This was Spring rather than Autumn so the ground was not yet covered with bracken and there were no toadstools, but the difference was more than that. Much of the forest on the higher ground above us had been felled, allowing more light into the woods and views of the now denuded knolls to our left.
We crossed a very minor road near Bught Hill, passing a lady with a large Spaniel (literally, not a euphemism). No doubt the dogs had more interesting sniffing after that. The SUW then turns away from the Cree following a wall over a small rise. The oak trees to our right were still standinding but to the left all had been felled. On the far side we joined a tarmac covered forestry track. Here as well the trees to our left had been felled but a stand of conifers on a small knoll had been left. They must once have been within dense trees since their only greenery was at their tops. I wonder how they will fare in a storm.
At the top of the rise, before we joined the track the dry stone wall had some very substantial rocks sticking out which may once have been a stile but there was no sign as to why the wall would have needed crossing at that point.
Across another minor roadway and we were walking beside the Water of Minnoch. There are many rocky outcrops within the river, but as with our last visit, the direction of the sunlight made photographs difficult. The water was certainly higher than at our previous visit so more rock was underwater this time and the place where we had previous walked out onto rocks was partially submerged. The OS map has three “wiels”, whirlpools, marked along here: Cashnabrock Wiel, Quaking Ash Wiel and Mc.Kie’s Wiel. There were certainly plenty of sections with turbulent water but I can’t say I noticed a whirlpool.
We took lunch halfway between the first two of these wiels, at a point where the Minnoch turns east and a sluggish burn joins it. I presume the sluggish burn does come awake at times judging by the detritus hanging from the lower branches of trees beside it. This was a good place for lunch, shaded by trees, a small rise to sit on, and views down the Minnoch to Larg Hill and its neighbours.
Lunch. I used my new purchase here. A giant corkscrew that I screwed into the ground and affixed the dog’s leads allowing me to have lunch in relative peace while they had a snack and some water. Not that they had not taken drinks along the way. Eddie wasn’t happy at first but settled when he found a pine cone to chew. Unfortunately Sweep is not one who likes to tarry and soon turned to barking at me. I recognise the sequence, three barks, hang head down, slowly look up with baleful eyes, repeat cycle until master shows signs of getting up, then wag tail.
When last we walked here it was a sea of bracken just beginning to show autumn yellow, but this year’s growth was yet to come. There is a section of fen to cross that would have been difficult had it not been for wooden footbridges over the wider sections of black still water.
The predominant trees here were oaks, birch and beech, with holly growing among the oaks. A recurring feature here was stands of trees, without as yet a single leaf, standing proud on a moss covered knolls. These had been fully leaved at our last visit so had quite a different appearance this time.
Beside the path we noticed a large round stone atop a pile of rocks, looking very much like a cairn though it could have been a natural rock outcrop. It is not marked on maps. The ground between us and it did not look inviting so we just mused on it from afar.
When we walked the SUW this had been our fourth section and one where we had not found the Kist. I had not forgotten this and had been examining each of the waymarker posts carefully so I was excited to I spot an Ultreia badge on a marker post. A faint track led off the SUW at the marker post so we followed it to investigate. It went back along the river bank but there was no sign of the horde there.
So we continued along the SUW track and a little further on spotted something unusual among the trees. This is probably the best way of recognising the horde kists. Anything that makes you say “that looks funny” deserves investigation. This turned out to be real thing, a hollowed out trunk topped with a broken ceramic inscribed with a web address that no longer exists, www.waymerks.org.uk. Deep inside, bright coins glistened and we eagerly took one each. This was the “Water of Minnoch – The Moors” waymerk, our tenth. Looking at the kist I can see how we might have missed it. The views to our right, away from it, would have drawn the eye, and later in the year the horde would have been hidden by bracken but for two or three paces of the path.
While gloating on our find we heard voices and a threesome of walkers with their dog came along the track and overtook us. They showed no interest in the kist. Having stepped out of their way and onto higher ground I looked back and could see the remains of the Old Bridge of Minnoch.
The next section of the walk had several boggy sections but we were able to negotiate them with dry feet, at least the humans had dry feet. A wall with a built-in stile might have been a palaver with the dogs but we were able to get around the end of the wall. This was across a bit of a drop into the river but luckily gravity chose to ignored us this time.
I stopped by one stand of trees where I could hear a faint noise. Was that a far off woodpecker I could hear? No it was the trees themselves creaking.
We were next among the mature oaks of Holm Wood. The ground here had a good covering of white wood anemone but on a background of green leaves with the occasional bluebell. Another week perhaps and the bluebells will cover the forest floor hiding the anemones. The other white wildflower of woodland that I recognise, wood sorrel, was growing on moss covered tree stumps.
At a small burn we crossed a footbridge which looked to have been designed for children or jockeys. I’m no giant but could only have reached the handrail by crouching down. I don’t often get to feel like Gulliver in Lilliput. Then there was a substantial, full size, footbridge over the Minnoch. We had then to negotiate two more stiles. Eddie needed minimal assistance but Sweep had to be lifted over showing me that I need more practice lifting squirming muddy weights while balancing on a step with binoculars and camera round my neck, a rucksack on my back and another dog jumping up at me.
Our route then continued beside the Minnoch. The path had been eroded away in one place and Audrey found herself taking the rapid route down the muddy bank but without injury. At least she didn’t end up in the river. A high-vis jacket hung from a tree here, perhaps to warn the unwary, or to distract the otherwise wary.
We had nice views across to the hills on one side and the river on the other. Sweep found his way down to the water a couple of times but thankfully didn’t jump in where the bank was high.
There were several benches along here and a more substantial bench where the Water of Trool meets the Minnoch. This bench has a plaque to say it was placed by five ageing walkers who liked to tarry a while something I can relate to. I misremembered this bench as being further along, but as it was, I think it was placed nicely for us to sit, have a rest and finish our water. Any thoughts of improprieties such as skinny dipping/lighting fires/picking wild flowers/shooting endangered species/fishing without a licence etc had to be set aside though when I noticed a sign on a nearby tree warning us we were on CCTV. I couldn’t see a camera but I suppose it could be camouflaged. Why have CCTV in the middle of nowhere?
After a short walk alongside the Water of Trool we left the SUW, crossed another wooden footbridge and joined one of the forest trails alongside the Water of Minnoch, which took us back to the start.
This was an enjoyable walk, one I would be happy to repeat. We had nice weather, visited another Rosnes bench and found a kist we had previously missed.
When I write these blogs I start by writing a list of things to include. Having written it I found there were two things I had not included. Firstly, willow warbler has now been added to my repertoire of recognised birdsong. Secondly, troll foot. This phrase must have auto-corrected as I typed. I have no idea what it should have been.
PS other flowers: meadow cranesbill, yellow wood anenome.