Tuesday, 3 January 2017


Another walk as the holidays draw to a close - the weather was a more typical overcast and chilly January day today, and by the time we'd been to the shops in Cumnock we'd abandoned the original plan of a walk from Muirkirk and headed instead for New Cumnock.

I'd been keen to revisit New Cumnock (see here for a previous post about the swimming pool, now demolished and being rebuilt by Prince Charles!). I'd cycled to the village and came across the intriguingly named Knockshinnoch Lagoons last summer, but hadn't had time to investigate - I had a vague notion that Knockshinnoch had been a pit and that there'd been a disaster there. Then later last year I came across Ian McMurdo's Knockshinnoch: The Greatest Mines Rescue in History . You know how people say 'oh, I couldn't put it down?' Well, this was literally an 'I cannot put it down' read, Mrs A had to drive the car that weekend so I could continue reading en route to Tescos.

I won't spoil the story too much, but the basic facts are that geology combined with a series of human errors - and the drive to have a profitable pit - meant that the miners at Knockshinnoch were working dangerously close to the surface. A period of exceptionally bad weather in 1950 led to the collapse of the peat bog above them, with disastrous results - 129 men trapped, 13 of whom died. The men who got out did so after an incredible three day effort to rescue them, using incredibly heavy breathing apparatus which was never designed for underground use. The book is a testament not only to the bravery of the miners but also to the dedication and heroism of the Mines Rescue Brigades.

There is a memorial to the disaster on the edge of New Cumnock - a path leads off to the right beyond the cemetery, and this path eventually rejoins the road close to the Knockshinnoch Lagoons. It's such a desolate and moving place that it put me in mind of Culloden.

 Walking back along a rather muddy path (part of the excellent New Cumnock pathways) you come out onto the main road at Leggate, and the Knockshinnoch Lagoons. This is a nature reserve shaped out of the old bing and - I think - the old pit head, atlhough there's very little to indicate this now. There's a fascinating information board which does tell you about the bird life and the 'lagoons' - the area is a flood plain for the River Nith, drained in the 19th century for agricultural use, but quickly taken over as coal mining reached the area.

An unintentional consequence of mining was that ponds and wetlands were created through subsidence, coal washing and water being pumped out of the pits, and the area became hugely important for wild birds. With the loss of industry in the 1980s the habitat was lost - so it's now been recreated artificially, with an excellent network of well signposted paths and even a bird hide.

Another wonderful Ayrshire winter walk!

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