Coast and Country Nature

NATURE -- A Toast To Our Wee Bit Hill And Glen

AS we count down the days to the year's end, it's good to reflect on times spent out of doors during the past 12 months in this fine country called Scotland, writes David Carnduff.

Munro-baggers, no doubt, will sit back with a dram these winter nights and remember the adrenaline rush experienced among the country's iconic mountain ranges, the Cuillin of Skye, perhaps, or the Cairngorms. There were times in the past when I also headed for the high tops with unbridled enthusiasm but, to be honest, I was never too good on hills and have managed to slog up only a few Munros in my day.

Living in Inverclyde, however, has amply made up for my non-adventures north of the Highland fault line. In fact, walks in the area's rich patchwork of moorland and hills were highlights of my year now coming to an end.

Back in May, I walked through Kelly Glen on the well-defined path leading up to the 'cut' high above Wemyss Bay. The woods in the lower glen were filled with singing birds, warblers newly returned from Africa joining the resident species in a rich chorus of territorial song. Higher up where trees give way to open moorland, skylarks and meadow pipits were proclaiming the season, and a cuckoo was calling in the distance.

When I returned in August, birdsong had stopped, but the heather had transformed into swathes of purple as summer matured into early autumn. It was an example of how mood changes with the season in this upland corner of Inverclyde which has been enjoyed by many generations down the years.

Needless to say, winter can be bleak up there. You can walk long distances over rain-sodden ground with little reward, seeing only the occasional snipe rising from peaty poolside margins or craws picking at exposed ribs on a sheep carcass. But winter can also provide a few gems. I recall a freezing cold Boxing Day several years ago when a couple of us walked this route in brilliant sunshine, with ice-hardened snow crunching under our boots. It was an exhilarating and memorable experience.

Despite the proximity of the towns, this area still retains a feeling of wilderness. It is unchanged since the Ice Age when wolves may have hunted prey in these hills and glens. Human habitation of these uplands has been sparse, given the exposed nature of the land.

If you know where to look, you can see rock markings left by prehistoric people, ages before the Romans marched north to create far flung outposts of their empire in places like Lurg Moor. Then, in relatively recent times, men working for Robert Thom dug the aqueducts to supply water to Greenock's burgeoning industry.

Nowadays, it is part of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park which encourages walkers to come and explore. The Cut Centre at Loch Thom is a good place to start and staff there will advise on the best routes and the wildlife that might be seen.

So, let's hope for good walking weather over Christmas and New Year -- dry, bright and frosty, without the relentless rain that blighted summer.

The proximity of upland Inverclyde means you can spend a good couple of hours enjoying a winter walk and be home in time for dinner and, aye, maybe a dram as well! Sláinte!

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