Weekend wanderings – part 1: Finnich Glen

This weekend (Easter in the Christian calendar) my partner Neil and I went walking.  Saturday morning was full of the usual weekend chores plus one or two extra bits but the afternoon was clear and I suggested visiting Finnich Glen.  Neil had been there a couple of times before and been very impressed with the area although also warning that it is not easy to get down into the Glen.  I wanted to see this area for myself so off we went armed with waterproof trousers and wellie boots. It’s about a half hour drive away from our home so not a long journey to get there and you park on the road near by.

Once parked we put on our wellies and headed off down the road, over a short bridge to climb though a gap in the wall.  You have to watch out for the barbed wire fencing too.  Then it’s a tramp across a field onto a worn path through the trees growing along the sides of the glen.  There are three aspects of the glen that are possible to access.

Beside the area the burn leaves the glen there is a bit of wooden fence you can clamber over and from the bank you can easily step down into the burn and start to walk upstream into the steep sided glen. Either side of you red sandstone cliffs rise up draped with mosses, ferns and trailing ivy. Trees thrust roots down and along the cliffs leading them to grow out from the sides in weird contortions.  This area of the glen gets a fair amount of light and where the sides are less steep wild primroses and lesser celandines have taken root and were blooming in the spring sunshine.

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On top of a chimney style platform in the cliffs was a messy nest of small branches and twigs. From the signs underneath I could see that it was being used but wasn’t sure by what at first.  I thought it could be a raven or possibly a smaller bird of prey.  A little later we first heard and then saw one of the occupants and it was a raven. Ravens are special to both of us and it was wonderful to see a nest and hear the raven’s call.

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I was pulled this way and that, caught in wonder as I explored.  Carefully picking my way across the burn I reached out to touch the mosses, to feel the water dripping down from above like gentle raindrops, to stand gazing upwards at the patterns in the rocks.

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After a while spent in this area we climbed out and over the fence back onto the path. We walked back towards the middle section of the glen accessible only via a narrow, steep set of stone stairs known as Jacob’s Ladder.  Getting down these stairs is not for the faint of heart, frankly I sat down and went on my bum for part of it.  At one point there are a couple of ropes tied to a tree that lies beside one of the steepest sections, you need those ropes!

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This section of the glen is darker and there’s less area you can reach without something like waders. From the bottom of Jacob’s Ladder you can hear water falls.  There was someone else there when we climbed down, a photographer complete with waders taking photos from the other side of the burn on a small bank.  He told us that we would be able to see the waterfall from that point, he’d tried to get closer but had problems even with the waders as parts of the burn were very deep in this area. We were able to cross and see the waterfall as well as look at a few other views from that side of the burn.  Neil takes a lot of photographs with different exposures, angles and focal points so while he carried on I sat for a while and let myself feel the atmosphere. The other photographer left after a while and I was moved to start singing.  I thought my song would come out soft or somber given what I was feeling at the time but it didn’t. My voice rose with wordless song, the tune rising and falling growing in volume and power. Not long after I began I saw a heron fly overhead.  I watched a pair of robins exploring the ferns and roots on the other side from where I sat and sang.  As I continued to sing the atmosphere began to feel lighter to me, I felt spirits welcoming my song, reaching for the energy rising with my voice.   Then I was moved to stand and to move out into the water turning to each side of the cliffs enfolding this area singing out to them, singing up to them. I returned to the bank and my song died.  As my voice stilled a blackbird sang out.

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I had not expected that song or the changes I felt around me as I sang. When I first entered that area of the glen I had felt much less welcomed than I had felt at the far end of the glen. Now as we turned to begin climbing out I felt accepted and thanked for the use of my voice.

Climbing out was easier than climbing down but it still wasn’t easy.  At the top we returned to the path and walked back across the field (now with several heavily pregnant looking sheep at that end of it) and back to the gap in the wall by the road.

The entrance into the glen is on the other side of the road down slope towards the bank of the burn.  The burn flows along to a series of tumbling waterfalls down into the glen that begin just at the edge of the road bridge. The burn here felt playful to me as it bubbled along. The water at the start of the falls is shallow enough to walk out into so you can stand at the top of the series of falls and watch the water tumbling down, bathed in the sound which changes depending on which direction you face as the sounds resonates back across from the sculpted sandstone walls.

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Again I was drawn across to the other bank which rose to a gentle slope and into light woodland. Again in this area there were primroses and lesser celandines blooming.  There is a rotting stump with a couple of saplings beginning to grow out of it.  I felt pulled towards it and as I came closer I was filled with wonder and the beauty of what I was seeing.  The stump was decorated with the most beautiful fungi I had seen (since identified as Turkey Tail fungus).  The colours were subtle but so lovely.  I called Neil over so he could see and he took several photos.  If I knew more about developing knitting patterns I think I’d try and turn the striped pattern into a shawl, it would make a lovely one I think.

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Eventually we left that area of the glen and walked back up to the car.  We’d been much longer than we had realised and had a wonderful time but we were now tired and hungry.

(all photos copyright Neil Pitchford)

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