Here's how I did it. In fact, I ended up finding two lost villages, although one was a lot more lost than the other.
Leave the car anywhere in the East Ayrshire village of Patna and head for the hill to the north of the A713. From the Old Brig spanning the River Doon, cross the main road and turn east following the pavement for a hundred yards passing a couple of single-story miner's cottages and a bus stop. Just beyond the next pair of houses is a small timber clad building with a wood burner chimney set back from the road.
Ascend the rough concrete steps to the side of it and go through the gate beside the old railway line. Don’t worry, the trains are long gone and the line has been decommissioned although the Stop, Look, Listen signs remain. Cross the tracks and through another gate onto the old Doon Valley golf course from which the path continues up the hill.
You won’t hear any shouts of fore as the course closed a few years ago, although the local sheep still keep the greens and fairways trimmed. Head straight up the hill, hugging the boundary fence to your left for about a hundred yards, until you come to another gate. This leads you into a field with a steep sided burn to your right and a walk of a similar length and direction to a low section of fence which can easily be scaled thanks to a pair of concrete blocks acting as a makeshift stile. The farmer has even added a dog flap for good measure.
Once you are over the fence, turn right. The track follows in the footsteps of the miners and their families who made this trek to their hilltop communities high on the Knockkippen plateau nine hundred feet above sea level. It is level walking until you reach a cattle grid from where the route climbs for half a mile towards the schoolhouse, now a residential bungalow. As you gain elevation it is worth a look back over your shoulder to the west where the distant peak of Goat Fell, on the Isle of Arran, is visible in clear weather. It is a magnificent view and worth the walk if only to this point. A little closer, lies the village of Patna, dissected by the glinting waters of the River Doon.
The open fields either side of the track support flocks of sheep and cattle but this pastoral landscape was very different during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the Dalmellington Iron Company began to exploit rich seams of iron ore from open-cast surface workings and constructed railways and inclined planes to transport the minerals to the smelting works down at Waterside. At ground level the shapes of their industry lurk dormant beneath the grass. The view from the air reveals a hillside tattooed with strange geometric patterns etched into the Ayrshire soil.
Beyond the schoolhouse the track bears right towards two massive cubes of rock dedicated to the people of the twin mining hamlets of Burnfoothill and Lethanhill whose cottages inhabited this exposed site. Their settlements clung to the hilltop for over a century before the residents abandoned their homes at around the same time that the Dalmellington Iron Company began to scale down their operations in the 1950s. The people may be long gone, but a memorial to those who served during the two world wars ensures that they are not entirely forgotten. It stands sentinel further up the trail, close by a pine plantation, and can be accessed via a style.
The site of Burnfoothill lay a few hundred yards to the north east of the schoolhouse bungalow although nothing survives today other than a name on the OS map. Further to the east, the trees have cloaked the site of the Lethanhill mining settlement. A few brick ruins can still be seen just inside the tree line and further up the track some more remnants lie to the side of the path emblazoned with the words Long live the Hill reminding us that this place was home to a busy community of working people.
If you have the weather with you, it is worth proceeding beyond the ruins of Lethanhill towards the TV mast situated at the top of the hill. At its perimeter fence head east, following a sheep track through a broken dry-stone wall, and continue until you reach the firmer ground of the foundations of one of the many railways which crisscrossed this landscape. Walk east from here for just a couple of hundred yards to be rewarded with panoramic views of Bogton Loch and the hills of the Galloway Forest Park in the distance. On your return, Arran, the Kintyre peninsular and the distant Antrim coast may be visible to the west.
Head back to the style by the war memorial, but before heading down the track to Patna turn left around the southern edge of the woodland and make for a large brick structure lying a couple of hundred yards to the south. The red brick walls once housed the winding gear used to lower trucks of iron ore down an inclined plane to the iron smelting works at Waterside. The vast slag heap in the bottom of the valley, on the banks of the Doon, is evidence of the scale of their labours. From the winding house either retrace your steps back to Patna or follow the inclined plane down the hill toward the Doon Valley Industrial Railway Centre.
Ⓒ Robin Redfern 2022