Date: 4th June 2021, with Clare and Joe.
Weather conditions: Dry, with sunny intervals at first although it clouded over. A reasonable day for walking.
County Top bagged: Corse Hill, which is 1,234 feet/376m above sea level and is the highest point in the Scottish local authority of East Renfrewshire. The summit is marked by a trig point and stands at grid reference NS598465.
Formerly this was part of the county of Renfrewshire, and not the Top of it (that being Hill of Stake, at 1,731 feet), but as with many other places in Scotland this historic county was buggered around with and sliced up. Since 1996 East Renfrewshire has been one of three authorities, along with Inverclyde and (what remains of) Renfrewshire, which now cover the territory of the historic county. It all lies to the east and south-east of Glasgow.
Start and end point of walk: The point at which the access road for the Whitelee Wind Farm meets the minor road just north of Ardochrig, at NS638468. There is parking space here. This cannot be reached by public transport, though is not too inaccessible in a car — see the notes below. The walk took us two hours and twenty minutes.
Pub at end: Nothing at the terminus nor particularly near it. The nearest pubs are at Auldhouse or Chapelton, both a few miles away, though I have no reports to offer.
Distance walked: 6 miles/9.6km approx.
Feet of ascent: 460 feet/140m approx. The starting point is already 1030’/314m up and the walk has no particular gradients to it, although it undulates.
Difficulty: ★. The walk is all done on dry, hard-topped forestry roads. It can easily be completed in trainers, so has to be a one-star award.
Ease of access: ★★. The starting point is definitely not accessible by public transport, though it’s not too far away from junction 8 of the M74, about 15 miles south of Glasgow. It took us just under four hours to get there from home in West Yorkshire.
If you do insist on doing all this by public transport, the nearest convenient terminus is East Kilbride; the summit is about 5 miles south of the edge of that town, although the walk from there would be largely on tarmac roads.
Scenic qualities: ★★. Much of the walk takes place in woodland and, as always in those circumstances, it is unexciting although the forests are not too oppressive. It should be noted that, going on how things vary across different editions and scales of the OS maps, the extent of the tree cover has varied over time, as planting and felling of the plantations has occurred. At the time we did the walk (summer 2021) the summit area was free of trees, and this redeemed the day considerably, with the views from the top being pretty good. But this may change.
You also really shouldn’t do this walk if sensitive to the presence of wind turbines — for reasons that the photographs make obvious.
The area: East Renfrewshire has to be one of the most obscure of all the 196 counties and local authorities in the UK. Its only global claim to fame is that this is where Rudolf Hess landed during World War 2, in order to spend the rest of his life in jail. The main town is Barrhead, of which the great majority of Britons will not have heard, and most of the rest of its population live in suburbs of Glasgow. But nevertheless, in 2007 it was, apparently, voted the second best place in the country to raise a child. So clearly there are benefits to this relative obscurity. It can’t be said that this walk offers any kind of introduction to the place, either, seeing as almost all of it takes place over the border, in South Lanarkshire.
The route lies entirely within the confines of the Whitelee Wind Farm, which is the biggest onshore wind farm in the UK, and second in Europe only to one in Romania. There are over 200 turbines across a vast area of land of which this walk explores only the eastern part.
Map: OS Explorer 344 East Kilbride, Galston and Darvel covers the walk. I would bring a copy with you in some format or another, as although the route was easy to follow, should you take the wrong track for any reason, I imagine the wind farm might become a maze, as all you really see are turbines and trees and navigation would be difficult. You wouldn’t want to get lost up there with the weather coming in.
On this summary map, the walk starts at the eastern (right-hand) side, and we did the northernmost bit of the ‘loop’ on the way there, the other on the way back.
Route: This is by no means a bad walk, with the dull patches in the forest being redeemed by the view from the summit, and it’s extremely easy. If you felt like it (and had one handy), you could get a pushchair along the whole route. But the photos on this page clearly reveal the dominant scenic themes. In the end I am glad I did not follow through on a plan I had at one point, to try to pick up the Top on a day trip from home, by car. That would have been at least 8 hours’ driving for a fairly short and unexciting walk. On the other hand, it was a nice way to break the car drive up to Scotland (see the commentary), and could be done safely in any weather.
This will not be a difficult route to describe. From the wind farm entrance, where there is a reasonable amount of parking space, head past the substation and take the first forest road on the right, signposted ‘Cleughearn Woods’. In summer 2021 the plantations here were being felled in the usual unsightly manner, although that was the only such section of the walk.
The first wind turbine is passed about a mile and a half in. You can see them all around, but until right up close to this one, there is no sense of quite how enormous they really are. I know opinion is divided on the subject but I don’t find them unattractive. Just as well, on this walk — as I have certainly never been near or within such a vast expanse of them. They are visible throughout, near and far.
Keep going along the same road until you pass through a gate and arrive at a signpost declaring you are on ‘Spine Road’, and pointing to Corse Hill, stating it is about 1.5 miles from this point. So it proves. Eventually, just at the point when I was beginning to feel claustrophobic, the trees thin out and the views open up to Glasgow and its southern hinterland. Corse Hill — identifiable more by the small radio mast on the summit than by its turbine, as round here, everything has a turbine on it — can be seen to the south (see picture).
The road loops round below it, where a signpost points to the summit and promises a ‘viewpoint’ (so if trees do get planted in front of this in the future, we have a right to complain). And a good view it is too, making it clear that despite its lack of prominence, Corse Hill is the highest point for miles around, as a proper County Top should be. And if it’s a sunny day and you want to do something to pass the time, count the number of turbines visible from the summit, near and far. I reckon it must be at least 150.
There is no shorter route back to the car than the way you came, and I doubt any of the longer possible loops offer a great deal of variety. So we retraced our steps as far as the gate, at least, then continued down ‘Spine Road’, which heads to the south of our outbound route. This offered some OK views, although was more up-and-down than the other path. It returns you to the substation and the car park without grief.
Turbine Commentary: This was the start of a long weekend away with the family, for the first time since Christmas (in Norfolk). We have come up to Dundee — see tomorrow — and this Friday night, June 4th, was the first one I have spent outside England for 15 months, since 1st February 2020 to be specific. Clare claims a couple of days in Fife back in September; Joe, I reckon, nothing since we went to Iceland a couple of years ago now.
I want to do all the Tops, of course, but do not necessarily view them all with the same sense of anticipation. Although a walk can always surprise, it’s usually easy enough to tell from the map what the landscape will be like — this is, after all, what maps are for — and Corse Hill never looked all that appealing from the OS sheet. Add to that the fact that I couldn’t see a useful way to get to the place by public transport, all in all I was wondering if the best thing to do would be to drive all the way up from home, get it done and go home again. However, I’m glad it was done as it was, a nice and grief-free way of breaking the journey. Not that I feel I know anything more about East Renfrewshire than I did beforehand, but I’m sure it’s a decent place to live.
So what do you think of wind turbines? Essential aspect of our energy infrastructure? A sensible way of making remote, inaccessible land productive? Or a desperate, visual blight on our landscapes, an industrial intrusion, some sort of vandalism?
Like them or loathe them you are going to get an eyeful of them on this walk and so it is a way of testing one’s feelings. I thought the Whitelee Wind Farm was interesting enough. I wondered at first why, on a day with a breeze, the turbines were all stationary, but some had started turning later on. I guess their action is demand-led; however windy it is, there’s no point them operating constantly if there is no need for the power at specific points in time. It’s certainly a massive operation, but I’d rather see these than cooling towers, coal-fired smokestacks or Sellafield, with all its electric fences and police patrols. At least we could walk among these giants, touch them even, feel like they were somehow with us, not against us.
More from Dundee, tomorrow…