One of the wonderful things about the Icestation is the proximity to great walks and cycle routes. We don’t explore Muirsheil Country Park as much as it deserves, but we have found some cracking routes. I wanted to try the Hardridge Farm Track route as it would bring us back near the village.
We walked the route last year having parked at the visitor centre. It’s quite different from the mines route; much more rugged. After a while you come across the remnants of the old grouse railway, built to transport the local worthies and their pals round the moors for shooting.
That day we got a couple of fields away from the exit to the road. The field was full of Highland cattle and calves, and they were crowded round the gate. Discretion was called for, so turn round and back to the car.
But we decided worth trying again by bike. So off on the mountain bikes from home. It’s a hard slog over the hilly access road on the Lochwinnoch side. And I always forget how long that road is. We turned onto it and it’s an upwards 4km or so to the visitor centre. Being off road novices, we then started with the mine track. 4km of path out to the disused barytes mines and back. A few puddles on the way, a few loose stones but nothing too tricky. Then back to the main route and left along the Hardridge track. Today wasn’t the day to try picking our way over the bog and moor to get from one to the other.
The first obstacle was a padlocked gate, but JT lifted the bikes over and off we went. The full track can’t be much more than 5km, but it was technical, full of deep puddles where your feet got wet even at the top of the pedal stroke. And for good measure a couple of streams to ford. But once your feet are wet there is a sense of liberation. I’ll just wade through then… there were a couple of emergency foot down moments on the way. I’m glad I’ve ditched the clip in shoes, but the quick release laces on my trainers nearly meany losing them in the mud.
I was having a blast, JT was slightly unhappy at his dirty shoes but enjoying the technical challenge and managing better than me! We stopped for a quick snack as the old engine shed came into view. We had done about 25km, and I knew that all things being well we were about 5km from home. I did admit though, that if we got turned back halfway along the last bit I might just cry. This wasn’t exactly what the osteopath ordered for my wrist tendon recovery programme. I’m sure she said even surfaces…
But, hallelujah, no coos to be seen and a straightforward trip through a couple of gates which helpfully weren’t padlocked. Then onto the road and we could navigate by sight of our local landmarks back home. A total of 33km with almost 500m of climbing, so not a flat route either. And the classy look of stripping to underwear and bare feet on the doorstep!