Skerrow Halt (yet) Again

9.65 miles 4h 15m 161m ascent

Stroan Loch-Skerrow Halt-Little Water of Fleet-and back

It’s a year since I blogged a walk. The last few months can be put down to lockdown, and the last couple of weeks due to a swollen ankle. But I haven’t been idle. I’ve entered grandfather-hood, lost slippers to new puppy, visited Monino (one off the bucket-list) and skied in Bulgaria. I have embarked on a ship wearing a smile, and disembarked wearing a mask. My Tai Chi has been renewed, I’ve made toffee apples and designed a (simple) computer game. My “no more medical reading’ oath was been comprehensively broken with a recall from retirement, and my beard shaved off so I could use an FFP3. And last of all, as the last post shows, the ticks eventually got me.

This return to country-walks was planned as a team outing, if two can be called a team. Perhaps doubles would be more accurate? I had chosen to delegate, or shirk (depending on your view), the choice of walk, and had been given a short-list. I chose Stroan to Skerrow. Not particularly arduous, known to both of us, and not too far for my dicky ankle. It was a one car outing but we decided two cars would sit better with the coronavirus guidance.

The morning was a little grey, but the previous day’s rain seemed to have held off. I got my stuff together, loaded the car and wondered how to pass the next 15 minutes. Then I noticed the messages on my phone. My doubles partner couldn’t play. But the outing was already picking up momentum. I was dressed for the part. The dog was jumping about. No fool that spaniel. He’d read the signs, and guessed a walk was in the offing. What to do? Of course…

<sing>“Walk on, walk on, With hope in your heart. And you’ll never walk alone” </sing>

(I wouldn’t be alone because Christy could share a car with me – dogs are exempt from coronavirus restrictions.)

There were a few spots of rain as I drove along, but it turned out to be a T-shirt day. There were quite a few cars in the parking area but space enough for me. I got booted up, grabbed my bag and released the spaniel. He found a stick and we were ready to go. There were several tents and folk wearing midge nets, so rather than spending time at the loch itself we set off along the old railway track straight away.

We paused mid traverse for me to enjoy the views across the loch and down the Black Water of Dee. And yes, the waters do look black. I kept Christy on a short lead as we crossed the viaduct but then he was free to swap his stick for a branch.

The hedgerows were a delight of wildflowers with meadowsweet (sniffed to rule out anosmia), hare-bells (photographed because they are pretty), sneezewort (looking like bleached ragwort) real ragwort. Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, orchids, wild valerian, spearwort (that I almost missed), St John’s wort, ragged robin (said to be common but I rarely see it), marsh thistle and creeping thistles (that I often confuse), clovers and cleavers, hemp-nettle (mistaken for dead nettle at first), yellow toadflax and willow-herb, small and large. Plenty of others though, noticeably, no daisies. 

I am always stuck by the stone walls which are built over humps. I have wondered why, if the railway itself was cleared, these wee humps were left behind. A closer look showed that these walls are built on outcroppings of granite ( or possibly massive erratics protruding from the ground.

I have walked to Skerrow Halt a few times and there are descriptions here from 2011

and 2018 with more information and history.

Things have changed since that last walk. Lyons Wood is being felled by the Forestry and they have upgraded the track for their vehicles. What had been a narrow overgrown waterlogged track beyond Airie Farm is now a wider, well-drained forestry track, devoid of greenery except at the hedgerows. The track continues on a few hundred metres beyond the entrance to Lyons Wood, but after the entranceway the track has not had much vehicle use. Its rocks have not become embedded so it is like walking on scree, albeit flat. I was glad to be wearing walking boots. 

Lyons Wood

It was a weekday so there was some work going on in the woods, but only one vehicle as far as I could see. But that one vehicle made quite a bit of noise. An irregular arrhythmic bashing. Each one made Christy drop his stick for a moment and stand very still.

“Improved” Track

Once past the fresh quarry that no doubt supplied the path’s rock, we were walking once more on a grassy track. It felt better to be walking on the more ‘natural’ railbed rather than those loose rocks. Out of the woods I could see Airie Burn flowing through a wilderness stretching to Fell of Fleet. We were not far from Skerrow Halt. The old unfenced bridge over Grobdale Burn has been replaced with a high-sided bridge, its wood still untainted by weather or moss.

Airie Burn, Shaw Hill and Cairnsmore of Dee

There were burnt trees and charred fence-posts beside the path. The fire was in April three months earlier but already there is new growth covering the black bare ground. In places the underlying peat has been uncovered and has been eroded by rainfall. I had thought the growth looked a season or two old but nature is obviously quicker than I thought. Hopefully the ground will quickly be stabilised and protected. There is a different flora here. Yellow cats-ear lined the track with occasional hawkweed and a real dandelion here and there, heather, wood sage, knapweed, yarrow, bog asphodel, and fruiting mosses on rocks. And a large stand of tufted vetch among the ruins of the railway halt.

Grobdale Burn Bridge

The remains of Skerrow Halt were much as I remembered them. I think this is the first time I have seen them in sunshine. I wonder how long they will persist. Standing beside the old platform I could hear rushing water in the culvert below. No doubt it will erode the ground in time.

Skerrow Halt Railway Platform

From the Visit South West Scotland Website: “Those with an interest in lost railway will find the walk worthwhile. After closure of the line, Loch Skerrow halt was abandoned, its few houses left to decay until the Army on exercises finished the job with ordnance as a few remaining pieces of smashed equipment bear witness. Parts of the platform remain though nature is overtaking them. Water still flows from a culvert that would have fed the pumps. Standing on this desolate spot on a warm summer’s day, sufferers from railway nostalgia can perhaps visualise the sight and hear the sound of the “Paddy” on its way to the coast.”

I don’t have an interest in lost railway and I find it hard to reconcile these remains with photos of the station when it was being used. It seems so much smaller in real life. The burnt fencing adds a strangely unreal look to the place. The rocky slopes of Airie Hill beyond it call out to be scaled but I suspect the ground leading to them would be a punishing slog. Best attempted with morale-tanks fully topped-up. The sound of running water beneath me drew my attention back to the loch and I recalled it would originally have been named the rocky lake, Loch Sceireach. 

Burnt Fence at Skerrow

A small building by the lochside is possibly the ‘boathouse’ marked on the OS map. Something to investigate another day. There are several small islands within the loch, and three even have names. Blaeberry Island and Gull Island are self explanatory. But Craigaherron Island isn’t named for herons but instead is Creag a’chaorainn, rowan crag. It was too far away to tell if the trees there are rowans now. I should bring binoculars next time. It had a building on older OS maps (150 years ago)..

Loch Skerrow

I decided to press on and see if I could get across to the forestry track on the far side of the Loch. As I had done in 2011. So on I walked, past the gates that had marked the end of the easily passable path back then, but now separate two easily walkable sections. Indeed a cyclist had past me at Skerrow Halt and was nowhere to be seen, so I presumed the track was open all the way to Big Water of Fleet. 

Loch Lane, no visible track on the far side

Once the track had crossed Loch Lane I began looking for a way across. I had been able to see the track all those years ago, (I checked the photos) but now all I could see were trees and very boggy ground between me and them. I walked on and after passing through a rocky cutting, I could see Cairnsmore of Fleet. I was in the Little Water of Fleet’s glen. Devil’s-bit scabious seemed to be plentiful here.

Cairnsmore of Fleet

We came to a forestry track. A boulder and several huge tree trunks had been strategically placed to prevent vehicle access but looked to have shifted at some point. The railway track beyond here was overgrown and impassable. I tried. This was an elevated section that would have led to the viaduct proper. The viaduct itself is long gone having been was demolished by the Royal Engineers in 1987. All that now remains is this elevated ground with a small bridge spanning a tributary of the Fleet.

All that remains of Little Water of Fleet Viaduct

This is close to the place we had reached one rainy day four years earlier having walked from the Big Water of Fleet viaduct. I walked around to the track that would take us back along the north edge of Loch Skerrow, but then stopped to think. This was supposed to be a walk to ease me back in to walking. I reckoned it would be 12 miles if I did the circular route, 9 if I turned about and retraced my steps. The weather was good, but I didn’t want to overdo it, so I called Christy back, we turned about and headed back towards Skerrow Halt.

When I was walking back at Skerrow Halt I kicked myself that I hadn’t walked the extra couple of hundred metres down to the river. I hadn’t ‘linked up’ with my previous walk. I wasn’t going to go back though.

There had been a great many wildflowers along the way. I wasn’t specifically looking for them and had I been I’m sure there would have noticed others. But it had struck me that I hadn’t seen any daisies. They were here though. I spotted a single group of daisies on the path as I was walking back towards Skerrow Halt, and just after that, a single ox-eye daisy. I think my flower senses were able to relax after that.

Heading back towards Airie Hill

Skerrow Halt provided seating for lunch. A couple on a tandem cycled by and seemed surprised when I said “hi”. They obviously hadn’t prepared for such an occurrence. Christy ignored them. He had better things to do – chewing his stick.

Walking back we passed half a dozen other walkers and a dog that stole Christy’s stick. Luckily the owner (of the dog, not the stick) returned it. 

I was pleased I had chosen the shorter distance because the last mile or so was a bit of a bore.

The new quarry

Back at the car I had a drink of water and poured some for Christy. He didn’t want any but we would be home soon enough and he could have a drink then. It had been a good walk. There were a couple of flowers I didn’t recognise but I had photos and could look them up at home.

Direct Message me for the story of the after walk problems.

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