Trekking through the past

An exploratory MTB ride in one of East Ayrshire’s remotest corners on Saturday revealed nothing of the area’s grim past, writes Alan Woodison.
In contrast, the half dozen members of Walkers Cycling Club and a guest rider found the landscape around their chosen venue at Auchinleck to be in surprisingly good order.
The pastures surrounding the site of the long-gone mining village of Darnconner were neatly manicured, the grasslands largely weed-free and all separated by brand new fencing that would be otherwise out of place on established farmland.
Such neatness and tranquillity hid a decade of turmoil at the bleak location between Catrine and Cronberry where opencast mining operations had savagely torn up the ground time and again. This part of East Ayrshire has always provided rich pickings for old king coal even when the many deep seam pits were eventually closed.
A mass clean-up since has left Darnconner with a contrived, man-made appearance that masks the miserable existence of the 400 villagers who once occupied the two squares of miners’ rows there.
All that survives of the old place are three dwellings – Darnconner farm, the old manse and the schoolhouse.
Not a brick or a boulder remains to indicate that just 100 years ago there was a thriving community owned by the William Baird coal company.
And perhaps there’s good reason for no memorial to Darnconner – for records show that its people lived in the most despairing and vile conditions. A book on miners’ rows explains that the houses were deep in filth as a result of poor sanitation. Outside toilets rarely worked and none of the shared closets had doors.
The history lesson provided much discussion before the seven riders continued on their way, following a network of murky tracks left behind by the coal excavators and big-wheel dumper trucks.
They headed over to Sorn where some farm lanes and singletrack paths afforded them a decent half-day’s cycling.
The adventure ended at Catrine House coffee shop where seven soaked-through bikers enjoyed cake and a cuppa on three leather sofas gathered round a log fire – a far cry from the hardships endured by those poor hard-working souls who eked out an existence just a few miles away in old Darnconner.

Mud, mud, glorious mud...
Mud, mud, glorious mud…