Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Twa Brigs

As I lay half asleep on Sunday morning listening to the rain drumming on the car roofs out in the street, I was contemplating where to go today for a walk. Being stuck for a fortnight in the cleanrooms at work was driving me stir crazy. I needed to get out in the fresh air and feel the elements on my face. I had my new Haglof’s Oz to try out but planning to go up to summit height in the deluge outside would just be daft. I like to see the landscape I’m walking in. I couldn’t face driving far or anywhere that involved motorway’s so that left me fairly limited. I mulled it over brunch and at the last minute decided to go for a wander round the Muirkirk moors but intending to go somewhere different. I decided to follow the old Drover’s road out to Sanquhar Brig over the Garpel river then follow the water back to Tibbie’s Brig but on the ‘wrong side’ before heading back to the car.

During the short drive out the weather went from bad to worse then I spotted the sun peeking out between the clouds. By the time I’d got to the walker’s car park it was actually quite warm. I stuffed my waterproofs back into my sack, tied my laces and set off listening to the roar of engines and the squeal of tires from the local race track. My mood was good and the unexpected window in the weather put a bounce in my step. Straight from the off there was stuff to see and things of interest. I tried to get a few snaps of the racing cars but they were so quick I don’t think I was very successful. I’m better at mountains and scenery, it generally stays still when I point my camera at it.

It wasn’t long before the noise of engines screaming began to fade away and I was met by a friendly horse. I gave him a pat while enjoying the views beginning to open up towards the familiar Cairn Table.

A short distance later you come to the site of Springhill House. I like walking here for a number of reasons. There’s the feeling of personal connection to my Grampa. The moors contrast nicely with the usual mountain fare for the occasional change. The lack of tightly packed contour lines and features make moorland great for brushing up on navigation skills. Another is that walking here is never boring, the area is absolutely steeped in history. Every time I come up here and poke about I discover something else interesting to go and research. I’m starting to get like PTC* and his Kilpatricks!

The old road I was walking on was one of the first “Macadamised” roads built by John Loudon Macadam or “Tar Macadam” who owned the tar works in Muirkirk. The road was where he experimented with different building material but not tar. “Tarmac” is named after him but he didn’t invent it. That was a later development. The tar that he produced was for weatherproofing rope, not for constructing roads. What he did do though was rebuild roads with crushed stone bound with gravel on a firm base of larger stones. He also introduced the camber so that water would drain off the road rather than penetrating it and ruining the foundations. There were several houses built during the height of Muirkirk’s industrial prosperity to accommodate the town’s various ironmasters and pit managers. The first of these was Springhill House and was built for Alexander Cochrane, the tar work’s manager. It later became the home of John Loudon Macadam. A short distance from Springhill House you pass by Macadam’s Cairn which was erected on the site of the old tar kilns.

From here the views start to open up out across the moors. There are splashes of colour along the road to provide constant interest and break the monotony of the landscape’s gentle undulations. The sun was quite pleasant now and I felt relaxed and peacefully aware of my surroundings. The only noises in my outdoor world now were the swish of the long grass in the wind punctuated only by birdsong and the occasional bumble bee. So much for testing out my water proof top.

Ambling along I arrived at Sanquhar Brig and instead of following the way markers back along the riverbank I crossed over the bridge and followed the water course on the other side. It looked wilder with more to interest. Besides, I was tiring of walking on tracks and wanted to be “off road” for a little while.

I meandered along mostly at the water’s edge and occasionally having to push my way through the undergrowth. The going was never very hard as there was obviously traffic of some sort through here. You could see the way the long grass and ferns had been pushed over. That realisation made me instinctively un-holster my camera and carry it as I made my way downstream listening to the gurgle of water and the call of the local birds. Suddenly there was a crashing and blundering through the ferns in front of me! A young deer! It stopped on the top of the embankment half hidden in the ferns and gave me a dirty look before disappearing out of view. I probably deserved it.

Continuing on and feeling slightly guilty at scaring the young deer I eventually came to Tibbie’s Brig. It was originally just called Garpel Bridge and was built in 1793 to provide a safer means of crossing Garpel Water en-route to Muirkirk. Before the only way to cross the Garpel was by a ford which could be dangerous if the water was in spate. The Bridge was renamed after lsobel “Tibbie” Pagan. She spent her childhood in New Cumnock and moved to Muirkirk in 1785 settling in a cottage on the banks of Garpel water. Lame from birth with a deformed foot, a squint and a large tumour on her side she made her living writing verses, singing and opening her cottage as a howff where whisky (probably illicit) and strong drink were served in a convivial atmosphere. According to local folklore she was a friend of our national bard Rabbie Burns. She is credited as the original author of Ca’ the Yowes tae the Knowes, although there is some dispute over this. There appears to be no doubt however that the Burns’ version is a modification of the original, retaining the original chorus.

From ‘The Poets of Ayrshire’ John Macintosh, 1910.

'Isobel 'Tibbie' Pagan is remembered as the authoress of the sweet pastoral lyric 'Ca' the yowes to the knowes'. She was born about four miles from nith-head in the parish of New Cumnock, where she lived till about fourteen years of age. Being lame from infancy she was unfitted for laborious work of any kind , and passed the greater part of her life in a cottage romatically situated on the banks of the Garpel Water (parish of Muirkirk). She did not live as a recluse, but was at all times ready to receive visitors, who frequently spent their evenings there singing and carousing, making her house the favourite "howff" of all the wits and drouthy neighbours in the district.

It’s a nice spot here, the sort of place to enjoy a picnic and I suspect it’ll be popular with the locals. From here I simply crossed back over the Garpel and rejoined the track close to Macadam’s Cairn and wandered back to the car.

Ca' The Yowes To The Knowes

Chorus.-Ca' the yowes to the knowes,
Ca' them where the heather grows,
Ca' them where the burnie rowes,
My bonie dearie

As I gaed down the water-side,
There I met my shepherd lad:
He row'd me sweetly in his plaid,
And he ca'd me his dearie.
Ca' the yowes, &c.

Will ye gang down the water-side,
And see the waves sae sweetly glide
Beneath the hazels spreading wide,
The moon it shines fu' clearly.
Ca' the yowes, &c.

Ye sall get gowns and ribbons meet,
Cauf-leather shoon upon your feet,
And in my arms ye'se lie and sleep,
An' ye sall be my dearie.
Ca' the yowes, &c.

If ye'll but stand to what ye've said,
I'se gang wi' thee, my shepherd lad,
And ye may row me in your plaid,
And I sall be your dearie.


  1. I like that song, it's on a Dougie MacLean CD I bought when I was over in April. Interesting to know a bit more about it. :-)

  2. Good wee story!
    Its funny, we have a road here into my village, it goes up a big hill and its called Tibbie's Brae, wonder if its the same one? as there are some links with Burns here too in the street names. I've never really known why, maybe i'll investigate! :o)

    Oh aye and I love that picture of the thistles. You could use that on something..

  3. The heather's starting to colour I see. The seasons are moving along at a fair pace.

  4. I do like a wee bit of Burns every now and then too. I know it's a cliche but Haggis, Neeps and Tatties really is my favourite dinner.

    Ange, you should have a wee look into it. It can be surprising and interesting what you find out. Cheers, the full size version of the thistles has just become my desktop pic at work.

    Dave, it'll be a purple paradise up there come the end of Aug ;o)

  5. I've had a wee look on the web and you know what, i think it might be the same one! The more i think about it the more i realise there's a lot of Rabbie Burns influence in this village (in street names): Armour Avenue, Burns Terrace, Mount Oliphant, Tam O'Shanter Avenue, Brig'a doon, Alloway Drive, Mossgeil Avenue... hhhhmmm interesting!

    PS Haggis? nooooooo.....

  6. Haggis? oh aye. I used to get my folks to bring one back but I noticed a couple of weeks ago that Sainsburys sell it. Best eaten piping hot or you'll be scraping the grease off your tounge with a spade :-~

  7. Aye the supermarket haggis that comes in the wee kid-on sheep's stomach isnae too bad.Purists look away now ;o) It even turns out fine if you simply open it out into a bowl and fork it till it's broken up. Cover with cling-fil and nuke it in the microwave till it's piping hot.

    Here's another tip, Haggis served with baked beans is surpisingly tasty. That and big serving of mashed tatties=comfort food heaven!

    I reckon the best tasting haggis I've had comes out the wee butcher's in Dunkeld which is also handy as that's where my Aunt Susan lives.

  8. Oh aye, the haggis from Dunkeld also comes in a real wee sheep's stomach and can only really be cooked properly.

    Ange is it the taste or is it the idea of it that puts you off?

    It sounds like there's too many places named with connections to Burns in mind for there not to be any historical connection...either that or the wee man who names the streets was reading poetry when they built your village.

    If they taught proper 'local' history in schools I might've paid more attention rather than daydreaming oot the windae!

  9. The taste! oh no can't eat it.
    Mum & Dad eat it tho and then she thought she'd try my wee nephew with it.. we were sat at the table and he was eating his tatties then delved into the haggis... cue the screwed up face and the funniest thing, he said 'Ganny Ryan no 'ike this spicy rice, bleurgh'. Ha ha so funny, wee scone thought it was rice cos of the way it looked. :o)

  10. LOL did you tell him what it was after?

  11. No we just said it was spicy rice - of course :o) He will get introduced to it again at some point. Loves mince and tatties tho and all the usual Scottish fare inc 'strawbies', peas from the pod (he gets stroppy if you try to break the pod for him!), carrots, our stuff from the garden, he basically eats everything except haggis! altho i'll pass on the 'serve it with beans' tip to mum, she could try that! LOL.

  12. Thats fantastic, youngsters who eat a varied and healthy diet are a rarity these day's.

    1. I left Muirkirk for wales almost 40 years ago and came across this page quite by chance it has brought back many memories, I just wish I had taken more notice of my surroundings when I was growing up. The history surrounding Muirkirk is just facinating. I am going to send a link to my grandchildren in the USA so that they can read and learn about their families history. Thank you for enlightening me and reminding me of my childhood. PS Where is/was the toll road/house?

    2. It's a great place for exploring Nel, I find myself returning for a wander every now and then.

      Not sire abotu the Toll house but a quick search on Google finds these links. The 2nd and 3rd have a grid reference and a photo so may be of more help.




    3. The toll road house is situated on the main road, directly next the petrol garage. It is still refered to, to this day as the toll cotage


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