/ Scotland2016

Sun - ensuring harmony

Orkney was great, NW Scotland is a very special place, Mull was a disappointment although the weather didn't help, Islay was wonderful and as friendly a place as we've ever been too.

The universe needs to maintain a balance. We didn't like Arran and only seemed to meet it's less courteous citizens, and now here in Muirkirk we are having just an "OK time". Nothing bad, just nothing particularly to write home about (which, of course, makes life difficult for a blogger)

What do I mean? Well yesterday's trip to New Lanark was OK and it was fascinating to see the spinning mule in action but as far as we could see the only things that had changed in the 22 years since out previous visit were a new roof garden and improved café and shop! And the shop didn't have a single book on "King Cotton" or the industrial revolution, other than specific ones on New Lanark or Robert Owen.

Today we went to Culzean Castle an 18th century stately home for the Scottish Kennedy dynasty designed by Robert Adam. It's a nice house with huge gardens but, nothing stood out. There were no individual pieces of architecture, furniture or art that produced the "Wow!" response. Still the weather was nice and despite parts of the gardens being a little disappointing it was a pleasant enough few hours out.

It's Sunday and a nice Sunday dinner would be good, driving back towards Muirkirk in pleasant agricultural scenery it was soon obvious that we wouldn't stumbled across a wayside tavern offering a huge Sunday roast. The only largish town en route was Crummock but apart from Asda shops weren't just closed but shuttered against real or imaginary vandalism. Again the welcoming hostelry was both unlikely and undiscovered. A quick check of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and there's an inn in Sorn, good beer and a bit of a gastro-pub. Might be expensive but let's go, have a pint and take a look at the menu. Hmmm, a note to Ayrshire CAMRA is in order, no real ale. Being thirsty and Tennant's lager being the best choice (even the Guinness was ruined by being served through "extra-chilled" dispense) our mood was not inclined to peruse the menu. The Egon Ronay sticker on the door didn't help either, that alone probably bumps the food prices by 50% and reduces portion size by a similar figure. Oh well, dinner in the van.

You grumpy old git, surely the must be some redeeming points to the day. Well there were two. Firstly between Ayr and Culzean we drive through the "Electric Brae". I'd heard of this, possibly as a school kid but forgotten it was here. Basically if you stop on the road and release your hand brake you start to roll uphill. Actually if you stop on the main road you will almost certainly cause an accident so the council have provided a short length of layby to experiment with this phenomenon. Originally it was thought to be some strange magnetic anomaly or something, hence the " Electric " name. In fact the road runs very slightly downhill (1 in 86, so the information board says) but the surrounding hillsides trick the eyes and mind into thinking it is actually significant uphill. And yes it really is weird, you stop, you know which way is uphill but the car rolls that way for a couple of feet or so, a most bizarre illusion.

Secondly Muirkirk is just 3 miles away from the now non-existant village of Glenbuck. Non-existant, partly because this is an area in decline but more directly because open-cast mining has claimed most of the space where the village used to be. So why is Glenbuck famous? It was just a tiny village but for some reason produced many top-flight professional footballers; way, way more per capita than anywhere else in the world. The most famous of these, Bill Shankly, went on to be one of the most famous football managers of all time and the tiny 200m no through road that once would have been the village's main thoroughfare now terminates at a memorial to him.

This is a fairly run-down rural area but it has been the home to many a household name. As well as Bill Shankly and the other footballers of Glenbuck, Muirkirk itself was the home to John Loudon McAdam. Who? Well if I mention he had a foundry that melted tar would it help? In fact the road this campsite is on, foundry road used to lead to his workshop and was the very road on which he first experimented with tar and stones to create a durable road surface. My sister also tells me he invented the concept of a camber to allow water to drain off the surface of his new flat roads. Curiously Wikipedia tells me tarmacadam wasn't patented until 1901 (by Edgar Purnell Hooley) despite Muirkirk's claim to fame a century earlier.

Remember me mentioning Crummock - it's the birthplace of James Keir Hardie, leader of the labour party just before the first world war. 2 miles up the road is Auchinleck, home of James Boswell (the bloke wot wrote a about Sam Johnson). Considering this is middle of nowhere, rural Scotland it's amazing how many people came from here!