Bringing the muirs back to life
Published at 21:45, Wednesday, 04 February 2009
THE morning was wet and cold but by noon it was dry, cold and misty so I decided to have a longer walk but not to go very far afield.
The result was, of course, Whita. The Kirk Wynd was just as steep as ever it had been but the way levelled out a bit once I was past the golf course.
At the Whita Well I dropped down a few feet to follow the horse trod heading round the shank of the hill, like the Common Riding horses, to the Castle Craigs and up the old, long, disused gully.
It always attracted a lot of interest but nobody seemed to know much about any reasons for the cut in past times.Did it carry stones from the quarries or did it carry water?
It was good to walk on clean rocks, although there were numerous patches of glutinous glaur to adhere to my boots.
By now the path was steep again and I had passed two cairns – one to Alex McVittie and a quarter of a mile later an older one to Matt Ewart.
There were a few sheep around who seemed to have such a large area of grass to eat that I counted about 40 but more were to put in an appearance. I passed the second seat before I crossed the road leading to the Malcolm Monument and heading onwards through the gate to the Castle Craigs.
The rocks along this trod are scored with more than two centuries of hooves and scratches from at least 120,000 horse hooves.
There are another four unnamed cairns along this stretch or just off the track and I was betwixt two of them when I saw a large black shape downhill from the track.
It was in the middle of a very rough area near Little Tarras but it was too large for a sheep or even a horse; besides it never moved.
The haze lifted a wee bit and a glimmer of sun struck the object causing something to shine; it was a windscreen.
The light improved until it revealed a car that simply should never have been anywhere near the spot where even walking in such terrain was hard enough.
As the light grew brighter I saw it was, in fact, a hill vehicle as used by gamekeepers and other such folks. I went on along the rocks and climbed onto the Castle Craigs and the last cairn and seat.
But soon it was time to turn back only to find that the vehicle apparently called an “Argo Cart” was now on the move and was festooned with all kinds of tools and equipment.
It jolted and rolled over the peat and heather on its large soft tyres until it finally halted on a wee knowe about 200 metres away.
Two men got down from the cart and proceeded to unload various bits of equipment. Then a voice called out my name. What had I done wrong?
I walked across where I soon realised that it was an old friend Andrew Johnstone, from a family of gamekeepers. He introduced me to his head keeper Simon Lester from Norfolk.
They proceeded to give me a potted history of their group, The Langholm Moorland Project, formed by a number of associations and companies, including Buccleuch Estates and the RSPB to promulgate and encourage grouse and other wildlife of the muir.
They were placing trays of grit at appropriate spots and marking their position by means of a GST. I think Simon said there were five other members employed in their group. It was very pleasing to find the muirs gradually coming back to life again.
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