Interesting to take a walk up on the Clints of Dromore above the Gatehouse viaduct yesterday afternoon in the low clouds. The viaduct was a favourite family spot for bike rides and exploration twenty five years ago, and this relic of lost transport history is just as impressive today as it was to a three or four year old boy. It’s hard to imagine what the “Paddy line” must have been like when it carried passengers from Dumfries to Portpatrick and Ireland for over a century, but some surviving scraps of film footage taken from the steam train reveal vast blue expanses of bog myrtle and heather as far as the eye can see. Since Dr. Beeching put paid to the railway line in the 1960s, the Forestry Commission has changed the landscape beyond all recognition, and while there are still extensive areas of breath-taking moorland in the southwest, you have to take it with a pinch of sitka.
Up on the steep Clints themselves, I was interested to see what evidence there was of grouse. Scottish Natural Heritage owns and manages the steep ridge of heathery stone, which sticks out on the southeastern corner of the massive Cairnsmore of Fleet. It is not hard to imagine that there are indeed black and red grouse on the Dromore end of the property, and a commendable amount of heather management has been taking place on the sharp ridge line of the Clints. Some cutting served to mark a track through an area of disastrously rank, leggy heather, and elsewhere there were some fine carpets of regeneration. This resurging heather was approaching seven or eight years old, so it was difficult to see whether it had been cut or burnt, but a leaflet in the car-park not only confirmed the presence of blackgame, but also explained that some burning does taken place on the site. This is encouraging, and worth looking into.
While there was no sign of any grouse of either species on the hill, a stunning abundance of wild goats kept up an almost constant mutter of bleating. Despite the fact that there is something quite appealing about the Galloway goats, I am quite pleased that it has been a few decades since the last ones were seen on the Chayne. They really are having an appreciably impact on the regenerating heather, and much of this year’s flower has already been nibbled off. Combined with sheep, blue hares, red deer and roe deer, the heather in this part of the Galloway hills has quite a tough time of it.
With a threatening view onto the cloud covered top of Cairnsmore, we headed back down without having seen anything more remarkable than a raven. I’m sure that there are red grouse in the vicinity, but I’d like to find out more about the black grouse situation in the area.