One of the most significant aspects of volunteering at the Greenock Cut visitor centre, apart from the evident value of learning new skills and interacting with like-minded people, is without a doubt the close connection with Nature.
Set on the shore of Loch Thom, the centre is miles away from any concentrated habitations. It stands almost alone among the vast expanse of the Scottish moor, a few scattered fields, half abandoned farms and groves. It is flanked, on its northwest side, by Dunrod hill whose culminating point, once one has laboriously climbed up the steep path to reach it, is an arresting place as it offers to the viewer such magnificent vista of the whole region on all sides as to stir his emotions and make him forget the long and taxing ascent.
There is a choice of scenic trails available for those who like to explore the surroundings and indulge in hiking. The most remarkable walk and, perhaps, the dearest to my heart is the Nature trail starting from the dam near the visitor centre. It follows, for a while, the Greenock cut path that overlooks a small stream and is bordered by oaks, ashes, rowans and silver birch, among others. At one of the turns, there stands a pecular gnarled ancient oak that appeals to hikers, especially children, as they rejoice burrowing themselves in the hollow base of its trunk.
At reaching the world war II gun emplacement, which is located a few yards from Shiehill farm, The path, now covered with gravel, goes down a sharp incline hedged with birches, rowans or hawthorns which are intertwined with growth of bushes and saplings such as brambles, brackens, ferns and hazels before diving, a few yards further, into the mixed woods of Shiehill Glen. A wooden boardwalk cuts a tortuous way through various underbrush under the emerald canopee that filter the sun, joining the bank of the wider bed of the stream whose water dashes forward in a loud roar and bridging over it now and then, crossing small meadows blanketted with wild flowers whose variety changes accross the seasons, penetrating deeper into the woodland, running along stone walls whose base shelters carpets of moss and wood sorels, skirting large outcrops of limestone.
It eventually comes out of the woods and, after a gradual climb among shrubs of heathers and blueberries, and clumps of reeds cluttered with cotton grass, it terminates at the junction of the Kelly cut. One can then walk through the moorland on the the final stretch of the trail leading back to the visitor centre.
The nature trail is bursting with activity; a vast array of animal species live in its midst, some visible, others hidden to the naked eyes unless one knows what and where to look. It is home to a variety of butterflies, dragonflies, ladyflies and bees that skitters from one crop of flowers to another, colonies of ants dwelling in the soil, cuckoos, skylark and other birds whose melody can be heard from the intricate network of branches above, frogs and toads hiding in the grass or under rocks, common lizards emerging from between the stones of a wall to bask in the sun, foxes sheltering in thick weeds, rabbits or brown hares speeding through paths to hide in thickets, roe deers lurking in the shade.