On the way from Greenock, just a few miles short of Lochwinnoch, when turning left and getting on the narrow Calderglen road, the ground gets higher and travelers become sparse.
Natural hedges take shape on the side of the road; a luxurious array of brambles and rasberry shrubs, nettles and tall grass, splotched with the vivid colors of wild flowers that grows in their midst: Foxgloves, yarrow, wild carrots, tufted vetch or rosebay willowherb. Here and there, on the left edge, belts of woods obstruct the view from the surrounding landscape of rising hills, naked but for wild grass and heath that suffer the constant assault of the ever changing weather, their top adorned with jagged formations of granite.
Isolated farms are disseminated along the way, sitting under the shades of copper beeches. But one stands out dismally from the others as its broken walls of grey stones with slitted holes as windows, fallen into ruins where weeds reign, only remains from what was human habitations and animal shelters; its fate of desolation heightened in the proximity of huge trees that have been uprooted by a tremendous elemental force. the winds plays whimsically with rusty corrugated metal sheets whose vibrations creates a hauntingly shrill dirge and one can only surmise what the effect would be on the human soul in the hours of the night; a dreadful experience, to be sure, for the traveler who would find himself stranded in this place.
Finally, through a thick network of oaks, ashes, alders, birches, beeches, hazels, horse chestnuts and Scots pines, the road leads to the Muirshiel Country Park Visitor center, a wooden cabin style building, housing the ranger’s office, a cafe and a shop, and situated on a promontory at the heart of the country park, where the broadleaved woodland stretches next to a forest of pines on the sheer slope of the hill and where one may chance upon a roe deer or a squirrel, among other animals living there.
I had arrived there, on a Saturday morning, with a group of other volunteers from the Greenock cut for our annual day at the park. The bracing wind welcomed us. There was a faint drizzle, harbinger of rain showers to come.
We spent the most of the morning helping with controlling the Rosebay Willowherbs from around the Scot Pines sapling as, if left unmanaged, this invasive plant deprives the trees of nutrient, water and sunshine.
The drizzle changed into heavy rain which abated as quickly as it started, leaving the vegetation around us dripping with water. Once in a while, the clouds in the sky would part long enough and the land would momentarily be bathed in sunlight. Swarms of midges swirled over us but the cool wind mostly protected us from their bite. There were raspberry shrubs growing among the flowers or on the road side and, to my delight, they bore plump bright scarlet fruits. A sweet treat for the palate.
Our conservation task was over faster than you can say “Cat in a hat” but the day was not done. We had barely come back to the visitor center and, already, the smell of cooked meat wafted through the air, carried by the soft breeze.
After having enjoyed a barbecue meal, we wandered along a track that hugged the bank of the river running near the Barbecue site. Speckles of colors dotted the grass that with dampness from the last rain shower; there were blossoms of Eyebrights, Bog Asphodels, Tufted Vetch, heathers.
What could be a more propitious end to a good day than to wander amidst the peaceful realm of nature ?