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The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick


Postby DonnyW » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:31 pm

Route description: The Merrick via Loch Valley, from Glen Trool

Corbetts included on this walk: Merrick

Donalds included on this walk: Merrick

Date walked: 20/02/2010

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 15 km

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I have never been a Munro bagger, I have never wanted to be, nor do I ever think I will feel the need. For me, its nothing but a numbers game. Nothing magical happens once you cross the three thousand foot mark. I have experienced more exhilaration scaling a hundred foot cliff than plodding up many of the munros. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. It means that I’m selective in my choice and have climbed some hills dozens of times and by a different route each time.

I could never see the point in clag climbing either. Rushing up a munro in the mist and seeing nothing on the way, just to claim another number, sounds as appealing to me as working out on a treadmill. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking munro baggers, it must be a great achievement to say you have done them all, its just not my cup of tea.

For me, reaching the summit is not as important as the journey. I like to pick my walking routes and the weather for maximum interest and enjoyment. Some walks are far more interesting and varied than others and that is what appeals to me.

For this report, I have chosen one of the classic walks in the south of Scotland and I confess it is one of my favourites. Hey … It doesn’t even qualify for munro status

The Merrick at 2766ft is not that impressive a hill on its own, but include a descent to Loch Enoch, visiting the Grey Man, traversing the rig of Loch Enoch, pass the Murder hole and a whole host of other lochs and return to your car will covers nine miles of splendid wilderness and isolation that can equal any part of the highlands. Don’t believe me ? Then read on and hopefully … enjoy…


The route starts at Bruce’s Stone on the northern end of Loch Trool where there is ample parking space because the loch walk is very popular. On Saturday 20-2-10 I was the first car to arrive at 8am. This photo shows the early morning sun warming the frozen monument erected in memory of Robert the Bruce’s defeat of the English at Glen Trool. His band of warriors rolled huge rocks down the hillside on his foe who far outnumbered his army. It was a great victory for Bruce.

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Following the signposts for the Merrick walk you will find a well made path. It winds its way along the side of the babbling Buchan burn which cascades down the hillside into Loch Trool. Ahead you will capture glimpses of Benyellary and beyond to the Merrick. In this photo, the Merrick summit is still covered in snow while Benyellary (to left of the Merrick) is clear.

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A photographer may find much entertainment snapping photos of the many waterfalls beside the path and the weary walker will find them cool and refreshing on a hot summer’s day. The water was still half frozen on Saturday but I was enjoying the sun on my back in the early mornings freezing temperatures

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The walking was easy along the burn and in a clearing stands the old Calsharg cottage. It’s now a bothy for anyone who wants to do that kind of thing. Me ? I would prefer a tent in the wilderness than a party with stranger in an old ruin ..but that’s just me. It had dry floors and a separate compartment for open fires. The roof had recently been repaired and looked watertight.

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Leaving the bothy, follow the signs at the forest road junction. Its clearly signed for the Merrick. A short steep walk in the shade of the trees then brings you onto the open slopes of Benyellary. As I walked up the open slopes, I turned to close the sheep gate behind me and was disappointed to see the mist creeping over the hillside.

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It had been such a nice morning, it was a shame the views could disappear under a blanket of mist. Although the air was still, the mist kept coming and thickening. I started to run towards the top of Benyellery hoping I would see the views before the clag overtook me.

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I was sweating buckets as I puffed my way to the summit cairn. The rolling mist seemed to exert no energy as it steadily devoured the views behind me. Was I going to get to the top before the mist ? I took a chance and stopped to take this photo showing the summit cairn and the Merrick beyond. I couldn’t help but wondered if it would be the last photo of the day ? The Merrick’s summit was also under attack by a smaller clag cloud.

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The mist seemed to hesitate before coming in for the kill and I just had time to take this photo showing the Neive of the Spit ridge that connects Benyellary to the Merrick. I took a compass bearing on the Merrick summit just as the mist engulfed everything.

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Half way across the Neive of the Spit , I stopped and spat, then turned and shot this photo of the darkness that was descending around me. Incidentally I love the names given to things in the Galloway hills. I can relate to them, unlike the Gaelic names in the north, but then.. I guess I’m a lowlander by heart.

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The silence engulfed me as the mist turned out the lights. There was not a breath of wind as I felt the mist slowly twist and turn. I imagined the sun above trying to beat its back into submission. I felt the mist was winning because it was turning very cold and getting darker by the moment

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I followed the footsteps of the army that had walked this way during the winter months, knowing that they would lead me to the Merrick summit. I didn’t bother referring to the map as I doubted if they would all have become lost souls in this grey wilderness

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Then suddenly, without warning, I guess the sun got the better of the clag. It’s heat began to melt the gray and it started to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. That’s when I heard Bruce’s warriors roll the stones down the hillside again. The battle was over before it had begun.

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I reached the summit trig point of the Merrick in perfect sun shine. I filled my lungs with the clear cool air and shouted “Freedom”

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Looking to the north I could see the white dome of the subsidiary ridge called the Spear. Beyond was Loch Macaterick and Loch Doon then the whole of Ayrshire and Glasgow beyond, the land of the free

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To my left was the great gash of the Black Gairy and the Kirrireoch hill, all these sights and names were like music to my ears. I first climbed the Merrick on a school trip. That’s when kids and teachers were allowed to do such activities together. I guess it was in the late sixties ?

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Because the report is more of a “journey” than a hill walk, I have taken a lot of photos to illustrate the walk. The best are yet to come and I will post them in this report later. It will take some time to sort them and resize them. So if you have enjoyed the journey so far.. look back in a day or so and I will introduce you to an old friend of mine .. the Grey Man of the Merrick .. a murder hole and a lot of other watery places

Thanks for reading this far …..
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby walk aboot » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:28 pm

An old grey man and a murder hole you say :shock: ...next installment please! :D
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby malky_c » Sun Feb 21, 2010 9:37 pm

Looking forward to the rest of this. I like the Galloway hills. I've not spent much time in them (3 walks pretty much), but they are very rough lower down, and somewhat neglected, which I find appealing. Unfortunately I don't have any worthwhile photos, so I'm not going to write up any reports on them.

Incedentally, while I prefer bothies to camping on the whole, last time I passed Culsharg, it was a smelly pit which I would have no desire to sleep in. New roof can only be a good thing, but it still appears to lack windows and doors, which means I won't be adding it to my list of places I want to stay anytime soon!
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby DonnyW » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:13 pm

Thanks for looking in Walk Aboot and malky_c and without any further ado here is the next instalment.

Crossing the neive of the spit it’s the views on the right that really catch your attention. The valley below is peppered with lochs and lochans with a rugged backdrop of hills with such imaginative names as The Wolf Slock, The Dungeon, Craignaw, Rig of the Jarkness, Craiglee etc. Even the redcoats of Bruce’s day could easily pronounce them, not like our highland hill names. Unfortunately the mist was down as I crossed the spit so I didn’t get the aerial views I had hoped for but I wasn’t too concerned, I would see them when I descended into the valley

This photo is looking north east from the start of my decent off the Merrick. Although there was a fair covering of snow, I didn’t bother with crampons or ice axe. The route down follows the Redstone Rig and its quite a gentle slope. I had great fun running then sliding for miles on the hard snow sending clouds of hoar frost crystals high into the air behind me.

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Far below I could see the frozen surface of Loch Enoch white with hoar. There is actually a loch within a loch on Loch Enoch. The island in the middle has its own loch. How is that for a piece of useless information.

The clag clouds rolling around Mullwharchar add atmosphere to the winter scene. It was in the 1980’s that some folk wanted to drill Mullwharchar and fill its granite core full of radio active waste. Fortunately it never materialised as a nuclear dump and Im glad to say the Silver Flow boglands are now a protected area of scientific interest.

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This is a view of loch Enoch from valley level. Mullwharcher is the hump hill on the left at the head of the loch.

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My walk now continued along the ridge back of Craig Neldricken in a southerly direction. I wanted the height to let me look around for an old friend. I had almost forgotten where he lived amongst the many rock crags in the area. When I did find him, he hadn’t changed a bit in the 30 years since I first saw him. I wish I could say the same about myself.

Anyhow… let me introduce you to the Grey Man of the Merrick. I sat and shared my lunch and a few tales before saying my goodbyes. I wondered if I would ever see him again. I know he will be around for many years…but will I ?

The snow hill behind him is Benyellary… yup.. not a bad walk for this old grey man for I was up there an hour or so ago.

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Plodding along the Rig of Loch Enoch, I then turned to take this photo of the Merrick. The clag cloud was still pestering its summit

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The advantage of walking along the Rig of Loch Enoch is it is high enough to keep you out the bog lands below. Its hard going down there. There are no paths and the grass grows in lumpy tufts making walking quite difficult. Sometimes your feet will disappear into a deep shuch and you end up covered in mud, so take care and watch every step.

I had to leave the relative safety of the rig to reach the shores of Loch Neldricken. I wanted a photo of the infamous Murder Hole. It’s the round pool to the right of the loch in this photo

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Legend has it that many years ago weary travellers were robbed and their bodies dumped in the hole never to be seen again. In summer there is a ring of reeds growing around the hole but none grow in it. Its also rumoured that in even the coldest winters, the centre never freezes. This panorama of three photos joined together seems to back up that legend ?

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This photo is looking north across Loch Neldricken towards the Wolf Slock and Craignairny. Don’t you just love those names.

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Now this looks a great place to wild camp. Far better than the doorless and windowless bothy at the start of the walk. That’s Craignaw on the other side of the water. Its another favourite walk and I hope to feature it soon on a walk report

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Before leaving loch Neldricken and heading for Loch Valley I turned and took a photo of the last view of the Merrick from this walk. What a lovely hill it is. Not spectacular in a shear way to climb over but a shear delight to walk over. If you know what I mean.

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Between Loch Neldricken and Loch Valley I took this photo. It’s the only tree that I have seen since I left the forest on the slopes of Benyellary. I have not seen a single person the whole day. Granted there are one or two that will walk the tourist route to the Merrick summit, but only hardy walkers will venture into the bog lands.

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This is the last of the lochs in the wilderness of this walk. Its called Loch Valley and that is the Rig of Jarkness on the right hand side and the Snibe hill on the left. It almost felt like spring as I sat in the warm sun resting my tired legs. I wanted to recover a little before the next section down the Gairland Burn.

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I didn’t take any photos going down this section. I was tired and I will admit the rough path was a muddy mess. Three times I filled my boots with slime but at the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay for such a fine walk over the other sections.

My camera next came out when I emerged on the dry slopes of the Black Gairy Hill
The photo is looking across the Gairland burn towards the snow covered hill called Curlywee


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Soon after, I’m then on the home stretch back to the start at Bruce’s stone beside Loch Trool. Perhaps now you can see why I call this walk a “journey” rather than a hill walk. It’s a classic ..in my eyes anyway.. and I will be back to walk more of the Galloway hills soon.

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I will now try and work out how to upload a map of the walk
Thanks for your interest in my report. 8)
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby DonnyW » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:36 pm


merrick.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts



Yeah...I have cracked the wonders of modern technology ..this analogue man has moved into the digital age with a gpx file :lol:
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby walk aboot » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:46 pm

Great report DonnyW :) , and thanks for not keeping us in suspense too long :thumbup: ...brilliant names, and the old man really does look like himself (didn't have to screw my eyes up to make it look like an actual profile or anything).
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Caberfeidh » Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:20 am

Ah, Galloway, me old stamping ground! Nice to see the old place again, I haven't been back for years. I remember passing around the shores of Loch Enoch and finding parts of the bomber which crashed there during the Second World War, tragically killing all the crew. It is a very atmospheric place. And the Merrick in winter, where I first used an ice axe. I used to fish the lochs there, very good brown trout fishing but terrible midgies.
In Glen Trool, and scattered throughout the Galloway hills, there are isolated graves from the 1600s, where Covenanters were buried where they fell. The Killing Times were at their worst there, where troops hunted down those who would not be dictated to regarding religion, and chose to worship in freedom on the moors, They were shot like animals and left there. During the late 19th Century a memorial was built to commemorate those killed - when the foundations were dug, bodies were discovered, preserved in the peat. The church door and belfry-shutters in Dalmellington are still painted red, to symbolise the blood of the Covenanters, in remembrace.
Excellent photos. You've brought it all back!
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Caberfeidh » Tue Feb 23, 2010 6:57 pm

I just remembered ~ that murder hole at Loch Neldrichen; it was only labelled so in a novel. The real murder hole was beside the old inn at Rowan Tree Toll, now just a ruckle of stones on the moor where the road comes over from Barr to join the road from Straiton to Glen Trool. People really were murdered and their bodies dumped into the bog there. A young lad narrowly escaped the same fate, running barefoot all the way down to Glen Trool to escape and raise the alarm, after seeing a fellow traveller have his throat cut by the evil innkeeper and his wife. This was probably around the eighteenth century. It is a very atmospheric place... :shock:
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby DonnyW » Tue Feb 23, 2010 8:41 pm

Yup..there is a lot of history down that way Caberfeidh, although I was born in the far north ..I spent most my life as an Ayrshire man. I had many mates from the Dalmellington and Bellsbank area. We often went walking and fishing from the Doon to the lochs over the hills but sadly there are no fish left in the likes of Loch Enoch. The acid rain sorted them out :( but Loch Doon has one or two left :-D

There is a monument at the Barr to Straiton Junction and it’s a copper relief map of the Galloway hills in memory of David Bell .. “The Highwayman” of the Ayrshire post. He used to write cycling articles for the local rag and was possibly the first mountain biker in the area to cycle up the Merrick and beyond. I also believe you are correct in that’s where the murders took place. :shock:

The local landowners were Kennedys and were a ruthless bunch. Another legend tells they robbed and murdered many travellers over by the coast road near Ballantrae before throwing their bodies over the cliffs into the sea. An old hermit and his family lived in a cave on the shore. The Kennedy’s blamed the disappearance of the travellers on this poor man and his family. They said he and his family ate them. Eventually they were rounded up and hung drawn and quartered in public. The name of the family ? Yup you got it …. Sawney Bean. I have been inside his cave and wow..its a creepy old place. :shock:


I didn’t always walk alone in the hills. I enjoyed the company of these two on my walks a couple of years go. They were not too keen on the Gairland burn section either and this was in a dry spring time.

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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby gaffr » Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:56 am

Many thanks for the Galloway images...and with Caberfeidh for the historical input. Those lochans pictures are a joy in themslves alone without even going near to a slippery summit....walking is walking no matter where it carries us to...see the report of a coastal walk recently....just as valid and well within the compass of this sight. Last autumn when sneaking past Loch Skeen in the Borders to reach a Corbett....several folks had come up the path beside the Waterfalls to simply enjoy the feeling of remoteness beside the loch. There is always something for all to enjoy in Scotland. Your images should inspire folks to travel a little further from the road.
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Caberfeidh » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:50 am

DonnyW wrote:sadly there are no fish left in the likes of Loch Enoch. The acid rain sorted them out but Loch Doon has one or two left


You don't still believe that do you? It was nonsense then and still. I was fishing those lochs while all the world seemed to be wailing about their demise. It fuelled a whole industry of miserableness and even debate in the House of Commons, but it was nonsense. It started with Archie Venters in the Ayrshire Post claiming that no-one had caught fish from Loch Enoch for a hundred years (how would he know?) and eventually he claimed that acid rain had wiped out all the lochs in Galloway, then in Scotland. It was and is nonsense. I suspect Global Warming is much the same ill-informed mass-hysteria.
When did this David Bell write? I knew a chap by that name who loved the Galloways, that was in the early eighties. Didn't know if he wrote for the paper. Or that he expired. :-( .
I remember the tales of Sawney Bean; he was used to scare us as kids - go to sleep or Sawney Bean will get you! Sounds about right that it was really the Kennedys (from whom were descended the Kennedy Presidents of the USA ). They tortured the Abbot of Crossraegel Abbey to make him sign over the Abbey lands to the Kennedys, by roasting him over a fire pit in Dunure Castle. Charming bunch.
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Paul Webster » Wed Feb 24, 2010 1:03 pm

Brilliant report Donny!

I suspect the environmental comments from Caberfeidh might be best moved into General Discussion? :D
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Stretch » Wed Feb 24, 2010 3:30 pm

Great report here Donny! The Covenanters are central to my PhD and I hope to tour southwest and central Scotland soon to visit areas where field meetings were held and were many were killed, including Bothwell Bridge and Airdsmoss. I'm actually giving a paper next weekend to the Institute for Scottish Historical Research about the apocalyptic overtures found in sermon literature of Covenanter field preachers, exciting stuff!
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby Caberfeidh » Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:25 pm

Stretch wrote:Great report here Donny! The Covenanters are central to my PhD and I hope to tour southwest and central Scotland soon to visit areas where field meetings were held and were many were killed, including Bothwell Bridge and Airdsmoss. I'm actually giving a paper next weekend to the Institute for Scottish Historical Research about the apocalyptic overtures found in sermon literature of Covenanter field preachers, exciting stuff!


Have ye checked this out ? ~ http://www.sorbie.net/covenanters.htm . There are graves and memorials dotted around the Galloway hills which would make an interesting, if slightly morbid, hillwalking/visiting project .
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Re: The Old Grey Man, A Murder Hole, and the Merrick

Postby DonnyW » Wed Feb 24, 2010 9:06 pm

Thanks to all for your interest in my walk report and to Caberfeidh for adding some history to these hills of Galloway

Agree with it or disagree with it…bloody or bold …we have a very deep and varied past hidden amongst our hills. There are many treasures to be found in our old books and folk lore that can only enrich our walking experiences once we learn to use our eyes to see into our invisible past. I hope this walk may interest some into clearing the clag a little and perhaps research into the past lives and peoples who walked our hills long before we set foot on them. I think those that rush blindly to the summit just to increment a number, miss so much …but hey…that’s only this old Gray Man’s opinion

I leave this report with a poem by Partick Scott Hogg



The Twa Margaret’s Frae Wigtown Toon

Auld Merrick views o’er Bladnoch burn
That weaves as silk tae Solway’s shore;
Thru fertile lands it twists an’ turns -
It’s flowin’ burden, aft and fore.

Meg Wilson frae Glenvernoch came,
The highest Covenant tae swear;
A virgin blesst in Jesus’ name:
Her will strong, like her flaxen hair.

And Meg McLaughlin’s aged years -
Knew love’s proud veneration;
She faced oppressors without fears,
Refused the Oath of Abduration!

Come wind doon frae the highest bough;
O come surf frae waves o’ the sea:
Carry them up tae Heaven now;
And in peace, lay their souls tae be.

At Grierson’s hand their fate did fall -
Bound tightly on a lowtide stake:
Both bold an’ true tae their call -
As waves o’er them, did rise an’ break.

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust;
When Truth is Treason Freedom dies;
Immortal wings tae a’ things just:
We remember.... when the wind sighs.

Here westlin’ winds, o’er Wigtown blaw
Here spirits haunt the morning mist;
And when Maytime rains do fa’,
They are seen, where the shore is kisst.


Paul Webster wrote: I suspect the environmental comments from Caberfeidh might be best moved into General Discussion? :D


Hi Paul … feel free to tidy any of my reports as you see fit. My only interest is to try and encourage others to see the beauty of our countryside we walk through ..and to try and return something for your work and dedication invested here… my thanks are to you
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