Whitelee’s Secret Forest – Valley Walkfest 2019

This was my fourth year taking part and second year leading a walk at Valley Walkfest. That’s the Irvine Valley in East Ayrshire for anyone unfamiliar! It’s one of my absolute favourite areas for walking – there really is something for everyone whether you enjoy long leg stretchers, short strolls, woodland wanders, country roads or riverside rambles. How fortunate I feel to have it on my doorstep.

This year I wanted to show people something different, a walk most probably wouldn’t be familiar with. I knew of this short circular within Whitelee Windarm thanks to Rennie Mason of the Whitelee Ranger Service. He had sent me details of it 2 years ago when they were building the trail. He said he thought I’d like it – he was right! In contrast to the Visitor Centre end near Eaglesham, this side boasts dense forestry and therefore a whole host of wildlife-spotting opportunities. Situated just off Ardochrig Road, I like to call it “the Strathaven end” of the windfarm.

The blurb for my guided walk read “Join Gillian’s Walks and Rennie Mason, Whitelee Countryside Rangers on a visit to the tranquil, scenic side of the UK’s largest onshore windfarm at Cleughearn Plantation. Walkers will be bussed to Ardochrig from Darvel and we will soon find ourselves on a mossy track through the forest. This area is home to an array of bird life and has its very own dragonfly pond. Roe deer may be spotted if we are quiet enough!

It seemed to spark an interest and on Sunday 12th May 2019, 3 minibuses and a car transported an impressive 32 people from Darvel to Ardochrig to begin the walk! We were a real mix of ages and walking abilities, the youngest just 5 years old. Interestingly, more than half of the participants came from outside of the Valley – 12 from the Kilmarnock area, 4 from Glasgow, 2 from Mauchline and 1 from Saltcoats. It is wonderful to see and proof that word is spreading about this fabulous walking festival!

We were blessed with wall-to-wall sunshine and a lovely warm morning. Rennie Mason led the way and stopped every so often to point out features of interest along the way. I must extend a massive thank you to him for the very active role he played before and during this event. Having worked at Whitelee since it opened some 10 years ago, Rennie holds a wealth of knowledge about it’s history. He knows A LOT about the wildlife and plants that can be found there and what preservation /conservation work has and is being carried out at the windfarm. It was fascinating hearing from him during the walk. Having someone there with so much specialist knowledge just brings a walk to life. My top takeaways:

  • Gorse flowers can be eaten! and taste of almonds, BUT when foraging always pick from above knee height to avoid ‘The Devil’s Share’ ie the bits dogs have pee’d on!
  • How to tell when it is blaeberry season: look for purple bird poo!
  • Along the route there is a natural pond which looks no more interesting than a big puddle would. However around July time it will come alive with dragonflies, including the largest in the species, which can have a wingspan up to 12cm!

At around 3 miles in length, we took just over 1.5hrs to complete the walk at a nice leisurely pace. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it and I received a lot of positive feedback via my Facebook page afterwards. One lady traveled back home to Saltcoats, picked up her husband and dogs and drove all the way back to do the walk again that very same day! If that’s not a sign of a good walk I don’t know what is!

For detailed information about the route, including a downloadable map please click here.

Until next year….

Gillian

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