28 Merry Old Souls go in search of Old King Coal

Ayrshire’s two biggest cycling clubs joined forces at the weekend for a trekking ride which had a history lesson attached writes Alan Woodison.

CTC Ayrshire and Walkers CC got together for a tour round the network of farm roads linking the sites of old coal mines and deserted opencasts around Cumnock.

Thirty riders met at the Barony A Frame monument near Auchinleck on Sunday for a 28-mile spin to New Cumnock and back, led by Alan Woodison (Walkers) and Pat Standen (CTC).

The cyclists were armed with maps of the “Old King Coal” route and a leaflet detailing much of the mining activity that took place during the last century.

They passed the remains of Darnconner, one of the early “miners’ rows” settlements built by the Baird Coal Company between Catrine and Lugar in the 1880s.

Next up was Cronberry where the man-made landscape is clear evidence of the outpourings of the old Moor colliery and subsequent opencast operations to the north of the village of just 60 inhabitants.

The tour continued along the edge of the scarred expanse that was once Laigh Glenmuir, a haven of fauna and flora frequented by nature lovers.

On and off rain storms darkened the skies on this section of the trip which was already gloomy from the views of industrial wasteland around every corner.

Crossing the main A76, the riders welcomed the more pleasant greenery of New Cumnock’s farming communities. But making for Dalgig and Dalleagles they were forced to cut out the last part of the day’s ride because the road had, at some stage, been commandeered and closed by an opencast company.

The House of Water operation is the biggest of the 64 opencast locations in East Ayrshire. A report to the local authority states that £26million will be needed to fully restore the site which extends for miles into hills above New Cumnock and the forests above Dalmellington.

The change of plan unfortunately resulted in the group turning back for Skares and omitting a visit to the Knockshinnoch Disaster monument at Connel Park.

Heading back to base on the Boig Road, and by-passing Cumnock to the right, the group were able to appreciate – from the unnatural geography and the sight of derelict workings – the extent of coal extraction there had been in the area at one time.

Coal-mining may have had its day but another near-at-hand business was able to demonstrate how, in a changing world, new commercial opportunities are always evolving.

Boswells Coach House coffee shop, a mile from the Barony A Frame in Auchinleck Estate, was already brim full on Sunday when 30 hungry and thirsty cyclists turned up to open arms from the owners.

Alexander Boswell, the 8th Laird of Auchinleck, would have been mightily impressed to know that one of the estate’s many outbuildings would someday be keeping the wheels of industry turning.

photo by David Lawrie CTC
photo by David Lawrie CTC