The Midges of Minnoch

7.14 miles 4h 25m ascent 166m

Phew! It was too hot for hill walking, but escaping sunstroke would mean braving meanbh-chuileag and their buzzing buddies. Midge bites won over sunstroke. Sphagnum, purple moor grass and soft rush are the midges favoured breeding grounds. We passed plenty of each and when we strayed away from such places, other flies circled us, dogs included, like the orbiting insects seen around cartoon characters. But we came partially equipped, me with my midge net, Audrey with her midge repellent spray.

Our route was simple, and one we had walked before, though it had been anti-clockwise before and clockwise now. After a short stint along a very minor road, but one on which we were passed by a google street view car – I waved and it flashed its lights in return- we turned onto a farm track signposted to “Holm”, a name suggesting it would be near water.

And indeed, we came to the bridge over the Water of Minnoch that carries the SUW to Dalane. That was somewhat annoying since we were supposed to turn right onto the SUW before we reached the bridge. We had seen no path. I rechecked the map, then rechecked the woodland beside us and there, almost hidden in the greenery, was an SUW waymarker post. And beyond it a faint path into the forest. The forest floor here was carpeted with the cow-wheat, cáraid bhuidhe, the yellow twins, much more striking in real life than on photos. The human eye must differentiate the yellow from green better than my cameras’ sensors. I wonder that I have never noticed cow-wheat before.

The track meandered between the trees, taking us past a moss covered knoll covered with oaks like a green-velvet pin-cushion. We would later pass a similar giant pin cushion of scots pine. There was a sturdy wall to cross before we came alongside the river again. Steps in it, and a handy pole for steadiness would make climbing it easy – but not so with dogs. Luckily there was a way around the end of the wall, though the path there is badly eroded and looks as if it won’t be there for long.

Beside the river the path is lined with cat’s ear and dandelion, and surrounded by dense growths of bracken. I spied the old bridge up ahead and we made our way down to the river so the humans could have a better view and the dogs a cooling paddle. The SUW swings away from the river about 200m before the bridge, but I decided to see if we could get closer. We followed a faint track through the bracken alongside the river and came to the bridge itself.

From there we had three faint paths to choose from: back the way we had come (overgrown), or two that might take us back to the SUW without retracing our steps. We chose the middle one but it petered out within 30m. So back to the bridge and onwards. No path was evident since it was hidden beneath the bracken. But Mabel, her eyes at the level of my ankles, could see the way and led us along.

As could be predicted the path became somewhat trickier as we went on, creating a perfect balance between the known effort of turning about and braving it all the way back to the SUW and the unknown that lay ahead. The further we went the worse it became yet the worse would be the walk retracing our steps. We climbed over fallen trees, made our way around obstacles and through increasingly boggy ground, Mabel tangling her lead around tree trunks and under brambles, until at last Audrey spotted a small footbridge that must be on the SUW. The rushes between us and it told of the terrain, but with the end in sight we fought through them.

Standing on the firm path of the SUW I weighed the 200m we might have walked back to the SUW and the 400m of somewhat more challenging/exciting terrain we had chosen. Now I’ve walked it I can say that the way we chose was the more exciting route. Obviously I won’t need to walk that particular route again.

It is the way with our walks that as soon as either of us begins to think that it is time to stop for a bite to eat or a rest, all tree trunks, stumps, rocks etc that might act as seats are either absent or only found amidst stinking mud. We passed a place where we had stopped on a couple of previous walks, but the air was thick with flying things, and thicker further when I stopped for a moment. Where a breeze might have saved us there was still warm air, that buzzed.

The transition between the SUW alongside the Minnoch and that alongside the Cree was not at all as I remembered it. But it had been in the opposite direction. The SUW joins a forestry road for 0.5 km and we had some breeze to keep the insects away, but yet again any places to sit were in the boggy ground either side of the track. I was wary of stopping on the track in case a car came along, though when we reached the end of the track we found a locked gate that would have kept vehicles out.

At the gate, the SUW does a dog leg across a minor road then climbs a gentle rise on another minor road. Where the road bends to the right the SUW continues straight onwards. But there was no path doing that, or so it seemed. The path is there but overhanging undergrowth hides it well, and there is on SUW sign. We did see SUW waymarker posts in other places where there was no question which way to go. I suspect the path has been little used and is less obvious than it would normally be.

The path descends beside a wall then turns to run alongside, but far above, the Cree. wooden walkways have been installed across some of the boggy areas since last we were here. We did eventually stop for our lunch, and I was able to deploy my midge net. It is large enough to allow one to get a hand and a sandwich as well as a head into it.

The woods were pleasant walking, though I found the walkways to be one plank too narrow for comfort.

There is a new footpath between Bargrennan and Glentrool village, so we only had a short section of road walking. The Bargrennan path is lined with painted stones and motivational phrases. So as well as stones painted as butterflies or ladybirds, there are stones advising you to smile, telling you you are great or allowing you to spell out messages. The Flintstones and the Seven Dwarves are there, and many smiley faces. The trees cast shadows but just the right amount of sunshine reaches the path.

The older forest path from Glentrool Village to just before the visitor centre spared us from walking that road. It was more shadowed, did not have the votive stones, but had a more ancient forest vibe. There were large areas of what I took at first to be bedstraw beneath the trees. We had seen plenty of heath bedstraw earlier in the walk. But it was mounds of dried sphagnum, a bed for giants.

This was a day to dally and a day to paddle but we had done neither, but because we had parked at the visitor centre there was at least ice cream at the end!

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