Our original plan on Wednesday was to drive down to the other side of Girvan and then climb the nearby coastal hills which we understood afforded some wonderful views of Arran and beyond. Unfortunately, when we got there, we discovered that getting from the parking to the start of the walk, along a main road, would be too dangerous, especially with two dogs in tow. So we gave up on our original plan and continued down the road to the coastal village of Ballantrae.


The harbour (of sorts) at Ballantrae.

Cottages and fish crates on the sea front.

The beach at Ballantrae with driftwood (very arty).

The grey smudge on the horizon in the next photo is Northern Ireland.

We were hoping to go for a walk in the hills behind Ballantrae, but unfortunately the post office and general store had run out of walk leaflets long ago and the owner had never bothered to replace them. The tourist industry in North and South Ayrshire is half hearted to say the least. They could take a leaf out of the book of East Ayrshire whose tourism staff are much better organised and efficient.

So, we meandered inland looking for something to do with the day, ending up at Glen Trool in the Galloway Forrest Park. This was to be our third visit to this beautiful valley in fifteen years and every time we visit we find that the Forestry Commission have made the experience even more attractive. This time we had new toilets, better paths, a new bridge over the Water of Trool which meant we didn't have to brave the stepping stones (which are scary enough when it hasn't been raining for weeks on end), and lots of pretty pictures of the night sky. This, far south western, area of Scotland has the darkest skies in mainland Britain at night (very little light pollution) and the Forestry Commission have made a major thing out of this at Glen Trool. However, we hoped to take a jaunt round the lower slopes of the Merrick (the highest hill in this part of Scotland) and then make our way back to the car along the riverbank long before nightfall. This plan, unlike all our previous ones that day, actually came together and a great time was had by all as they say.

A lot of Northern England and Scotland is covered in fir tree plantations. The government insisted on doing this back in the 1920s (I think). But immediately the trees were planted the cost of foreign pine plummeted and all the forests, which had become a monotonous eyesore in some of the most beautiful parts of Britain, were made uneconomical to manage commercially. So for decades they just sat there, rows and rows of boring foreign fir trees (not even our native, majestic Douglas pine, which didn't grow straight enough or something like that). Fortunately the Forestry Commission are now removing whole swathes of these trees and bringing sunlight back to the hills. This exposes the trees that had spent the last eighty years or so protected by thousands of other trees to the elements and, as they had not put down deep enough roots, at the first puff of wind they fall over. The exposed roots of the fallen tree in the next photo are about forty feet across.

Babbling brooks and waterfalls on the slopes of the Awful Hand.

Looking up the glen (valley).

After descending from the hills at the bottom of Loch Trool we crossed the river and took a refreshment break at the site of the Battle of Glen Trool. The details of the battle given on a board where we sat down is mostly hogwash, and doesn't mention the fact that the only reason the English king was hammering the Scots at the time was because the Scots kept crossing the border in great numbers and attacking the north of England. They Scots make themselves out to be hard done by but they started it. No way did the English kings want to own Scotland. It was a wilderness inhabited by homicidal maniacs. the following account from Wikipedia is far more accurate and actually mentions the fact that Robert the Bruce was a murderer before he was anything else.

The Battle of Glen Trool was a minor engagement in the Scottish Wars of Independence, fought in April 1307. Glen Trool is a narrow glen in the Southern Uplands of Galloway, Scotland. Loch Trool is aligned on an East-West axis and is flanked on both sides by steep rising hills, making it ideal for an ambush. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.

Robert Bruce had been involved in the murder of John "the Red" Comyn, a leading rival, and one of the most powerful men in Scotland, the previous year 1306. This led to a bitter civil war between the Bruce's faction and the Comyns and their allies, notably Edward I.

After his defeat at the Battle of Methven and subsequently at the Battle of Dalry in the summer of 1306 the recently crowned King Robert was little better than a fugitive, disappearing altogether from the historical record for a number of months. It wasn't until the spring of 1307 that he made a reappearance, landing in the south-west of Scotland with soldiers recruited, for the most part, from the Western Isles. It was an understandable move; for he came ashore in his own earldom of Carrick, where he could expect to command a large degree of local support. Perhaps even more important the countryside itself was well known to Bruce, and there were plenty of remote and difficult areas to allow cover and protection for his band of guerrillas. But it was also a move bold to the point of foolhardiness. The English border was not far distant; many of the local castles were strongly held by Edward's forces; and, perhaps most important of all, the Lordship of Galloway, the old Balliol patrimony, was adjacent to Carrick, and many of the local families were hostile to Bruce and his cause. When his brothers Thomas and Alexander attempted a landing on the shores of Loch Ryan, they met with disaster at the hands of Dungal MacDougall, the leading Balliol supporter in the area. Against all the odds Bruce managed to establish a firm base in the area; but it was vital that he made progress against the enemy if his cause was to attract the additional support that was so clearly needed. An early success came with a raid on an English camp on the eastern shores of the Clatteringshaws Loch. This would have brought in fresh blood; it also alerted the enemy to his presence. Aymer de Valence, Bruce's old opponent at Methven, received intelligence that his enemy was encamped in at the head of Glen Trool. This was a difficult position to approach, for the Loch takes up much of the glen, and only a narrow track led directly to Bruce's camp. It was arguably best not to attempt anything too dramatic, but Valence sent a small raiding party ahead, perhaps hoping to catch the enemy offguard, in much the same fashion as Methven. Things were otherwise this time; making effective use of the terrain, and the knights lack of mobility, Bruce drove them back with seemingly no loss-apart from some horses-but much humiliation. Bruce not only survived but went on the following month to win his first important engagement at the Battle of Loudon Hill.

Much of the information we have about the Battle of Glen Trool comes from the rhyming account of John Barbour. Barbour is an important source; but it should also be remembered that The Bruce allows propaganda to walk hand-in-hand with history, hardly surprising for the time. Glen Trool is in many ways best seen as the first wave of the Bruce flag, subject to considerable later amplification and exaggeration. It only receives a passing mention in the English records of the time in reference to some horses lost "in the pursuit of Robert de Brus between Glentruyl and Glenheur, on the army's last day in Galloway." It is not in any sense the first milestone on the road to Bannockburn; and the rebel king was chased just as closely as before. It did, nevertheless, prove that Bruce had acquired an almost chameleon-like ability to change and adapt to circumstances, advancing and retreating as the occasion demanded. This is the true key to his genius as a soldier.

Just after the site of the above battle we came across a covenanter's grave.

Covenanters were very silly people who refused to do what Archbishop Laud told them to do. So Charles I got his army to kill a whole load of them.

Or, as the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association put it:

Simply stated, the Covenanters were those people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638. They signed this Covenant to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Stuart kings harboured the belief of the Divine Right of the Monarch. Not only did they believe that God wished them to be the infallible rulers of their kingdom - they also believed that they were the spiritual heads of the Church of Scotland. This latter belief could not be accepted by the Scots. No man, not even a king, could be spiritual head of their church. Only Jesus Christ could be spiritual head of a Christian church. This was the nub of the entire Covenanting struggle.

King Charles I had introduced the Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in 1637 to the fury and resentment of the populace. He declared that opposition to the new liturgy would be treason, and thus came about the Covenant. There followed a period of very severe repression. Ministers with Covenanting sympathies were "outed" from their churches by the authorities, and had to leave their parishes. Many continued to preach at "conventicles" in the open air or in barns and houses. This became an offence punishable by death. Citizens who did not attend their local churches (which were now in the charge of Episcopalian "curates") could be heavily fined, and such offenders were regarded as rebels, who could be questioned, even under torture. They could be asked to take various oaths, which not only declared loyalty to the king, but also to accept his as head of the church. Failure to take such an oath could result in summary execution by the muskets of the dragoons, who were scouring the districts looking for rebels.

The persecutions became more frequent and cruel on the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. As time went on more and more ordinary folk became involved, and skirmishes and battles took place against Government troops. In 1678 the Government raised an army of 6,000 Highlanders, who had no love for the Presbyterian lowlanders. This army swept through the west and south of Scotland, looting and plundering. They remained for many years, quartering themselves on the already impoverished Covenanters

Before you start feeling all sorry for them ask a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church what those "Only Jesus can be the head of the Church" Christians did to them when William of Orange turned the tables and gave the Presbyterians all the power after getting rid of the Scottish king and subjecting Scotland the Brave to hundreds of years of German rule.

Mrs MP and the girls walk briskly away from the Covenanter's tomb, unimpressed.

All along the riverbank.

The tea room and tourist information centre where we began and ended our walk.



  1. Wait!!! Is that *gasp* BLUE sky I see in your pictures? Looks like a lovely day!! I cannot wait to return to Scotland. I’ve visited Edinborogh (sp?) and stayed in the countryside near Invrurie. Both different and lovely in their own way. Did a scotch tour around Invrurie, but crave an island tour next time.

  2. Hardly any this year, Martha (at least not as far south as we were). However, there were lots of larger flies and millions of slugs all over the place.

  3. My mother’s side of the family were Covenanters. My maternal great-grandfather was the pastor of a Covenanter church in northern Vermont. My aunt and uncle attended a Covenanter Church near Newburgh NY when I was growing up. I would go there (actually would be taken there) whenever I was visiting them.

    From what I have learned over the years, the Covenanters were the followers of John Knox, who made Calvin look like a flaming liberal. They practiced a very austere form of Presbyterianism. In fact it was hard to tell from the look of the church that it was in fact a church. And from what I could recall their main philosophy was: if it’s fun, it’s a sin.

    My father took my mother from the “pure” church and made an Episcopalian out of her. My grandmother never forgave him for that. (Episcopalians were only one notch above the Catholics and they were at the bottom). And one of my older cousins once told me that we (the Anglicans) used to burn them (the Covenanters) and I reponded to him that who was burning who in those days depended on who was running the show.

  4. But it hardly matters now, does it; both Kirk and Church and Chapel are all shrinking away to nothing.