West Fife Witches’ Trail

Torryburn Bay where Lillias Adie was buried

The Witches’ Walk

Lillias Adie was an elderly peasant woman, possibly with learning difficulties, who was accused of witchcraft in 1704. She died, probably after being tortured, in prison. To stop her being reanimated by the devil and returning to the village, she was buried between the high and low tide marks at the bay in Torryburn, a village in Fife.

The site of her grave was rediscovered just a few years ago. A plaque in her memory now sits in the shore opposite her grave. Two more plaques were put in place to commemorate those killed as witches during the period 1563 – 1736 and these make up the West Fife Witches’ Trail, below.

You can miss out the second plaque and instead walk around the ash lagoons and the now landlocked Preston Island, which also avoids some of the road section. This does make the route longer.

The Details

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible

TIME: 1.5 hours

MAP: OS Landranger 65

PARK: Car park on the right at the end of Torryburn village. Also car parks in Culross if you wish to do the walk the other way

The Route

Turn right (west) from the car park at the west end of Torryburn to follow the shore. On reaching a pavement, continue in the same direction and look for a plaque on the left, just before you pass below a railway bridge.

At a marker post for the Fife Pilgrim Way, bear left to follow a path between houses to reach a small playground and then continue along the coast (which is the other side of a railway line).

At a playing field, bear left to continue along the shore. After passing Delta Cottage, take a path on the left, with another marker post at its start.

After passing a short way though woodland, go right at a litter bin to reach a main road, where you go left.

Once you have crossed a bridge over Bluther Burn, cross the road (carefully) to find a second plaque – below an information board at the entrance to Valleyfield Wood. Re-cross the road, go right and keep left at a junction, following the route of the Fife Coastal Path.

At a sign marking the start of Low Valleyfield, leave the road on a path to the left which swings right then follows the train line again.

At a junction just before a car park, go up steps to the left, turning left at the top.

Cross the railway and follow the path down to a junction, where you go left.

At a junction, stay on the main track by the railway to walk through woodland to the shore.

Go right at a junction to go over a pedestrian level crossing, following a surfaced path going left on the other side. This leads to the centre of Culross – on the other side of a small football pitch is an information board next to a bus stop, below which is a third plaque.

Extras

CHILDREN:  Three playgrounds passed on the way. The first is by the car park in Torryburn, the second on the route in Torryburn, the third at Culross. Some sections walking along a main road. Pedestrian level crossing.

DOGS: Some sections alongside a main road. Off-lead potential through the woods. Multi-use litter bins along the way. Pedestrian level crossing.

The Best Autumn Walks

This is one of my favourite pictures of autumn, taken above the Falls of Clyde at New Lanark. Below I have listed five of the best routes to enjoy the annual display of brilliant colours. But where is your favourite place? Please share your hidden gems, local beauty spots or national treasures in the comment section below.

FALLS OF CLYDE, NEW LANARK

DISTANCE:  6 miles / 9.75km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 820ft / 250m.

TIME: 3½ to 4½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 71.

PARK: Reach the main car park for New Lanark World Heritage Site by following brown signs from the A73 in the centre of Lanark.

IN SUMMARY: New Lanark, is one of the most interesting industrial sites in Scotland. This World Heritage Site preserves the cotton mills of the 18th century. Beyond it are the Falls of Clyde, surrounded by huge trees currently displaying an array of vibrant colours. Many just walk up one side of the river and return the same way but it is possible to make a six mile circuit.

RIVER NORTH ESK, EDZELL

DISTANCE:  6 miles / 9.75km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED:140ft / 45m.

TIME: 2½ to 3½ hours.

MAP: OS Landrangers 44 and 45.

PARK: You should find a space on Edzell’s High Street, near the Post Office. Otherwise, head for the north end of the town to find a car park on the left, just over a mini-roundabout.

IN SUMMARY: A riverside stroll amid huge, gnarled trees in the the Angus Glens culminates in the dramatic rapids and waterfalls of a deep gorge. The poetically named Rocks of Solitude is a good place to watch salmon – but do watch out for the drops if with young children. Red squirrels can also be seen scurrying about as they prepare for winter.

BIRKS OF ABERFELDY

DISTANCE: 2 miles / 3.25km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 600ft / 185m.

TIME: 1 to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 52.

PARK: From the centre of Aberfeldy, take the A826 Crieff road. After a few hundred yards you reach a stone bridge where you should turn right to enter a car park for the Birks of Aberfeldy.

IN SUMMARY: Immortalised by Robert Burns, the Birks of Aberfeldy have inspired countless visitors. Again, a mix of burn and a wooded gorge provides a great sight and keeps the legs working as you ascend to a bridge over a waterfall which throws water straight down below you. The recent wet weather means this walk is at its very best because the Moness Burn is running high, making plumes of spray from its waterfalls billow up into the sky.

PUCK’S GLEN

DISTANCE: 1¾ miles / 2.75km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 400ft / 120m.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 56.

PARK: About 6 miles north of Dunoon on the A815 there is a Forestry Commission car park for Puck’s Glen, on the right.

IN SUMMARY: This glen is named after Shakespeare’s character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and no wonder. Even the most unimaginative cannot fail to be impressed by the magical character of the rich vegetation clinging to the rocky walls of a deep chasm, covered in a canopy of trees. The way down from the top of Puck’s Glen offers views over the hills of Cowal and if you wish you can make the route longer or combine it with Benmore Botanic Garden.

POLLOK COUNTRY PARK, GLASGOW

DISTANCE: 2¾ miles / 4.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 115ft / 35m.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 64.

PARK: From the country park’s entrance on Pollokshaws Road follow the main drive all the way to the end to reach the Riverside Car Park, near Pollok House.

IN SUMMARY: This beautiful wide expanse of open space is covered in deciduous trees, creating a vibrant show at this time of year. It is also a good place to find conkers, meaning little ones can be occupied as you head up an avenue of limes and round to a wood and pond which once formed part of the Old Pollok Estate.

Vane Hill, Loch Leven, Fife

Vane Hill is actually more of a viewpoint than a hill in that it is somewhat dwarfed by Benarty Hill and its broad ridge behind. However, it is a great place for a walk with fantastic views.

A short, but fairly steep, climb is needed but there are lots of benches along the way on which you can rest if necessary. This also makes this good family route ideal if you want to give those unsure of uphill walks the confidence to give it a go.

Once through the woodland above the RSPB’s Loch Leven nature reserve you can look across the loch and a 360 degree panorama of lowland hills.

At the bottom it is well worth visiting the bird hides near Loch Leven – this autumn 20,000 pink footed geese are expected to arrive from Iceland. DISTANCE: 1½ miles / 2.5km.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 450ft / 135m.
TIME: 1 hour.
MAP: OS Landranger 58.
PARK: The RSPB’s Loch Leven reserve car park is just over two miles east of Junction 5 of the M90, next to the B9097.
THE ROUTE: Pass the visitor centre (you don’t have to pay to go up thehillbut you do to enter the reserve and its hides – it is worth it for a close up view of the wildlfie) and turn right to reach a picnic area. You can do the circular walk in either direction but I think it preferable to take the steeper path on the way up – meaning less stress on the knees on the way down.
Go to the left of the picnic area and take a grass path with some wooden steps at various steep sections.
The path reaches woodland and then twists up to a more level section. At a sign you can make the walk even shorter by going straight on but to reach the top go left, up more steps.
The path then makes a wide, clockwise loop to the top of the hill where you will find two wooden benches and a small cairn. Before continuing do take time to enjoy the view of Loch Leven in front of you with the Lomond Hills to the right and the Ochils to the left. You can also see Bass Rock and North Berwick Law away over the Firth of Forth.
To start the way back, cross straight over the top and take a path downhill which bears to the right, back into the woodland. At a junction go left and drop to a well-surfaced path lower down, where you go right to return to the picnic area.

Birnam Hill, Perthshire

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth the witches said the king would only be safe until Birnam Wood moved to Dunsinane. Much blood and gore ensued but the story still endures and the places mentioned do exist.

Birnam Hill is a great hill to enjoy views of the Perthshire mountains, with the Grampians further off. The ascent is surprisingly steep and your lungs will know they have been on a hill walk. The once arduous slog near the top has been made slightly easier in recent years, however, thanks to some good work restoring paths.

DISTANCE: 4 miles / 6.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,150ft / 350m.

TIME: 2½ to 3½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 52.

PARK: There is parking at Dunkeld and Birnam Railway Station but it is for ScotRail customers. If not travelling by train, park in the centre of Birnam and walk to the station to start the walk.

THE ROUTE: Go to the end of the station car park and follow some steps down.
Go left at the bottom to pass under the railway line. Follow a path up to some cottages and turn left along a minor road. After passing some large houses the road turns into a track and passes through mixed woodland. As the track gains height and starts to pass through rhododendrons, take a path on the left, by a marker post. The path leads into a clearing, where you should ignore a path to the left and continue ahead, passing a bench.

The path rises then falls to reach a track. Go left by a marker post and follow the track for about 200 yards. At a wooden signpost, go up a path to the right and follow it through the trees. The path goes up and round to the right, climbing fairly steeply – go straight on at another signpost.

When the path levels out there is a diversion to the left which leads to the “Stair Bridge Viewpoint”. From here you get a good view over Perthshire, south east lie the Sidlaws which includes Dunsinane, mentioned by Shakespeare.

Return to the main path and follow it uphill to reach a fence on the left. The route then goes up to the right and drops down before rising to another marker post where you go left, up a narrow grass path. At a wider path go left and follow it as it zig zags to steps which lead to the tree-clad top of the hill.

A muddy path leads through trees and heather to the cairn on the top of Birnam Hill, a promontory known as King’s Seat. At 1,325 feet the views are extensive; south are the Lomond Hills of Fife and north west is Schiehallion. To the north lie the Grampians.

Because of the steepness of the descent it is probably more pleasant to return the way you came but to make a circular walk go past the cairn and down through the trees. After passing a large boulder on your right a view of Birnam opens up.
From here the way down is very steep all the way to a t-junction of paths above the Inchewan Burn, go right to reach the cottages near the start of the walk. From here the path to the left goes back under the railway line where you turn right to reach the station car park or go straight on to return to the centre of Birnam.

River Avon and Union Canal, Linlithgow

This is one of my favourite walks. As I live nearby I would say that but in the last year I have done it countless times with our dog (who is just over a year old) as the river is great for canine frolicks.

The walk takes you along the river, then back along the canal, passing two 19th century bridges still being used nearly 200 years after their construction.

Keep an eye out for flora and fauna including buzzards, kingfishers, goosanders and a variety of flowers.

It is a fairly level walk with the exception of one bank next to the river. It can be muddy in places so good footwear is needed.

DISTANCE: 3½ miles / 5.75km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible except for a steep bank of
about 100ft / 30m.

TIME: 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 65.

PARK: There is parking on Mill Road at Linlithgow Bridge, to the west of Linlithgow. Or, you can start the walk in the centre of Linlithgow, this adds a couple of miles to it.

THE ROUTE: From Mill Road (between the A803/Main Street and a railway bridge) walk down Burgh Mills Lane (signposted to the River Avon Heritage Trail).

Just before the bottom of the hill go left, through a wooden gate – again signed for the heritage trail.

You then pass under the Avon Viaduct. Built in 1840 by the North British Railway Company, it still carries trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The path then drops down to the side of the River Avon and over a small wooden footbridge. Follow the riverside trail upstream through a small wood.

After about two-thirds of a mile you cross a small wooden bridge and emerge into more open countryside. A little further on you pass some holly bushes and cross some duckboards before climbing a relatively steep bank – the only really strenuous part of the walk.

Shortly after this the path reaches some steps which lead you up to the Union Canal towpath. Take a detour right to walk over the Avon Aqueduct which was built in 1820 and is one of Scotland’s highest and longest.

After enjoying the views, including Linlithgow’s skyline in the distance, re-cross the aqueduct and continue along the towpath, looking left for another view of the railway viaduct and the Ochil Hills on the other side of the Firth of Forth.

The canal takes you into Linlithgow with the Palace and St Michael’s Church dominating. The unusual spire was added in the 1960s after the original stone structure became unsafe.

About a mile and a quarter after the aqueduct you will see Linlithgow’s leisure centre to the left. Follow a path down to it and out of the main entrance. Turn left and follow Mill Road, past a roundabout. Then follow the road round to the right to pass below a railway bridge and back to the start.

Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui

From Loch Morlich the panorama of shattered cliffs and mountains is one of the best sights in the Highlands. Behind these summits lies the vast sub-Arctic Cairngorm plateau. Stretching south, it leads to Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain.

This is a serious walk, even in summer, as you are on ground above 3,000ft for most of the way. Therefore, make sure you have full mountain gear and in winter make sure you are able to cope with the conditions.

DISTANCE: 11½ miles / 18.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 3,310ft / 1,010m.

TIME:  6 to 7 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 36.

PARK: Take the B970 from Aviemore, through the Rothiemurchus and Glenmore Forests. Go past Loch Morlich and up to the Coire Cas car park, next to the funicular railway station.

THE ROUTE: Go past the mountain railway station, on your left, and walk under the track. A few yards further on go left, up a path through heather, signed “Windy Ridge Path”.

Climb steeply then bear right to reach a wooden fence marking a ski run, which you follow before crossing over it. After levelling off the path crosses back over and goes in a straight line to the Ptarmigan station at the top of the railway.

Follow the path to the back of the building, round the left-hand side, and go up a well-built path between lines of blue rope. When the rope ends a line of cairns leads to the summit of Cairn Gorm.

Head west from the summit, down a steep slope to an obvious wide path at the bottom that swings round to the left and starts to climb Stob Coire an t-Sneachda.

The path veers left of the top but runs out after a while, therefore it is better to keep further to the right, over the stop of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and down to a bealach below Cairn Lochan.

Go left, along a path towards Ben Macdui which veers right then follows a level gradient all the way to Lochan Buidhe.

The path goes left at the top of the lochan then becomes indistinct as it follows a line of cairns up and across a boulder field.

A final steep section leads to the broad summit ridge of Ben Macdui. A cairned path bears left then goes up to the right to reach the trig point  and viewfinder at the top.

Retrace your steps to the boulder field above Lochan Buidhe and pick out a path which veers slightly left to skirt the left side of Cairn Lochan, which lies straight ahead.

About two thirds of a mile further on the path forks, go right then left at the next fork to pass a cairn. At the next cairn go right and reach the top of Coire an Lochain.

Keep left to traverse round to the top of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin and descend the obvious path all the way down, north, to the start.

Ben Nevis – the Mountain Track

The highest point in Britain is a goal many find worth attempting. And the Mountain Track – previously known as the Tourist Route or Pony Track (it was built at the end of the 19th century to service a weather station at the summit) – is busy all year round.

This route is leg sapping and a degree of fitness is needed, although there is nothing technical apart from the need to keep away from severe drops at the top, especially as snow can be lying even in the summer months.

DISTANCE: 10 miles / 16km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 4,430ft / 1,350m.

TIME: 7 to 9 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 41.

PARK: Turn off the A82 at the eastern end of Fort William to follow a brown sign for one and a half miles to the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.

THE ROUTE: Leave the visitor centre and cross the River Nevis by a modern bridge. A path on the other side leads up towards the Ben Nevis Inn – go right before it to begin following the main path up the mountain.

A couple of zig-zags are walked up before the path swings left to climb high above the Red Burn. Further up keep left to avoid erosion and follow a good path with turns sharp right to pass by Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. (This is known as halfway lochan but unfortunately you have not reached the halfway point yet.)

At a junction of paths go right to walk over Red Burn and begin walking up a series of very wide zig-zags. These gradually take you up the huge north west slopes of Ben Nevis.

Much higher up it is important to keep to the path as Five Finger Gully lies to the right and higher up the huge cliffs of the north face. At the top of the zig zags, tall cairns indicate the path all the way to the summit but you should take great care, especially if snow cornices are present at the top of vertiginous drops.

After enjoying the summit, and hopefully the view, begin the return but remember the descent is where most accidents occur. In poor visibility follow a compass bearing of 231 degrees for 150 yards from the trig point and then go 281 degrees for another 1,500 yards before continuing to retrace your steps to the start.

PRESSMENNAN WOOD, EAST LOTHIAN

There are not many lakes in Scotland. I’m not sure why but the word loch evokes much more atmosphere – maybe it is the fact that so many are so beautiful.

One of the four official lakes lies below Pressmennan Wood in East Lothian , cared for by the Woodland Trust. Its position at the bottom of steep slopes makes it a great place for a short family stroll. Children are entertained thanks to the work of Robin Wood who has carved little homes in trees for the woodland creatures of his imagination, as well as carvings of wood. Further on you can enjoy the site of the loch’s end, often with swans in residence. Finally, unless you wish to see more carvings, there is a chance to go up a little hill and enjoy views towards the Firth of Forth.

DISTANCE: 3 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 440ft.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 67.

PARK: Leave the A1 at the Thistly Cross roundabout outside Dunbar and follow the B6370 for three miles, to Stenton. Go left at the end of the village (in front of a primary school) and just less than a mile down a narrow country lane go left again, following a brown sign for Pressmennan Wood down a track. There is a car park at the end of the track.

IN SUMMARY: Below the parking area follow a path on the right which starts next to a yellow-painted stone. After only a few yards you reach a track, where you go right.

Go right again almost immediately to leave the track and take a path alongside a small burn to reach the side of Pressmennan Lake.

You pass wooden sculptures and doors in trees which are home to an array of creatures before reaching a carved post with a hole in it – the Holey Posty – next to a track.

Go left to follow the track which gradually gains height before dropping down beyond the end of the lake – which can be seen down to the left, through the trees. When the track ends (at the bottom of the hill) go left to follow a grass path over a burn and back towards the lake. The path leads to a small dam at the end of the lake, which you cross. At the other end follow a muddy path (to the left side of bench) which leads up to the track again – go right to follow it back uphill.

Just after the track has begun to lose height you have a choice to make. If you have young children with you, the best option maybe to keep following the track all the way back to the car park – once past the Holey Posty again there are more carvings to enjoy.

For a more energetic return, and views over East Lothian to the Firth of Forth, go up a path to the left which climbs uphill and swings round to the right. After losing a little height, ignore a path going down to the right and continue uphill. In a dip with a small wooden seat you can enjoy a view through the trees to Bass Rock before continuing to picnic bench with views to Traprain Law and North Berwick Law. The path then drops down, all the way to the car park.

GEAL-CHARN, DRUMOCHTER

Ever wondered why there are often a lot of cars parked near that white-washed B&B by the A9 just north of the Pass of Drumochter? Well most of the occupants are going up Geal-charn, one of the easier Munros to reach the top of and the first one for my son a couple of years ago. He got to the top easily enough but had to be persuaded the view of mountains was preferable to spotting trains down below.

The views from the top are world class; down Loch Ericht and across it to the magnificent peaks of Ben Alder and Aonach Beag with their twisting ridges, all set amid a vast area of empty, wild land. Further afield the Cairngorm range can be seen on a clear day as well as the Monadhliath and Creag Meagaidh ranges, truly a place to linger.

Some would include A’Mharconaich or the other Munros which lie next to the Pass of Drumochter but that would entail rather more exertion than this route.

Take a picnic and sit at the top to admire the view as well as looking out for wildlife – mountain hare frequent the slopes and I am reliably informed the relatively rare dotterel has been seen flying about these parts.

DISTANCE: 7 miles / .11.5km

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,615ft / 492m.

TIME:  3½ to 4½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 42.

PARK: At Balsporran Cottages, by the west side of the A9 about 2.5 miles north of the Pass of Drumochter. (Look for the big white house with “B-B” on the side but don’t drive right up to it, use a car park on the right before you reach it.)

THE ROUTE: Walk past the cottages and cross the main Inverness to Perth railway line at a gate, taking care. Follow the estate track on the other side, crossing a burn and ignoring a turning right. After crossing a second burn look for a more narrow track on the right and follow it uphill.

The built track ends and the route becomes boggier before bearing left to reach the north-east ridge of Geal-charn. As the going becomes stonier beware of a “false” summit about two-thirds of a mile from the actual one. It is, however, worth pausing here for the view of A’ Mharconaich and its prominent north ridge.

Even the real summit is confusing – the highest point is a stone shelter beyond a large cairn. After enjoying the views walk past the summit and bear left, then slightly right, to head south to a bealach below A’ Mharconaich. At a track go left and walk all the way back, below Geal-charn, to the start.

Outdoor Pioneers: Tom Weir

Pic credit: Lairich Rig / Tom Weir statue: detail, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tom Weir was a world-class climber and mountaineer who was among the first to explore the previously forbidden ranges of Nepal in the post-war years. But he also had as much enthusiasm for Scotland and his long-running STV series Weir’s Way introduced millions to the beautiful scenery, wonderful stories and amazing walks to be enjoyed just beyond their doorsteps.

It is the latter that I have most admiration for, the ability to stay grounded about everything in the natural environment and not become aloof because you have climbed arduous routes that had been thought inaccessible. Tom Weir’s contribution to the outdoors in the second half of the 20th century cannot be underestimated, and is why he is an obvious choice for this series on Scottish pioneers of the outdoors.

Weir was born in Springburn, Glasgow, in 1914 – the son of a locomotive fitter. Like many of his generation he was among the first working-class climbers and walkers to escape the industrialisation of home for the glens and mountains to the north. At first this would be in the Campsies and the Trossachs but catching a night train to the Highlands would also be on the young man’s itinerary.

One formative destination would be the Craigallion fire, a gathering place for climbers and walkers below the Campsies. This was somewhere to sit around a fire and talk all things outdoors – like-minded folk learning from each other about where to best experience the outdoors.

Weir served with the Royal Artillery during World War Two and later became a surveyor with the Ordnance Survey. But it was mountains that really held his interest and before long his ability was noticed and in 1950 he was part of the first post-war Himalayan expedition. Climbing would also take him to Greenland, Norway, and Kurdistan, among many other countries.

To supplement his income he wrote many books and in 1976 began recording Weir’s Way for STV. It ran until 1987 and won him a Scottish Television Personality of the Year Award. When I moved to Scotland in 1998 the programmes were shown on repeat and even 20 years after being made were a great introduction to the history, landscapes, mountains, glens and coast of Scotland, as well as the people who live here. I was not alone in enjoying them and feel that without his enthusiasm and knowledge many may never have discovered the hidden gems which are all over this country.

He also wrote a column for The Scots Magazine for many years, championing the environment and Scotland’s landscapes, cementing his place as one of the most authoritative voices on the outdoors.

Weir died aged 91 in 2006 near the shores of Loch Lomond, where he lived for many years, and a statue now stands in his memory at Balmaha. Many may have thought of him as “that man with the bobble hat on telly” but he was much more than his personality – he was a driving force for public recognition of Scotland’s natural environment. Read about the other Scottish outdoor pioneers in the series – Nan Shepherd, Hamish MacInnes and John Muir – more to follow in the coming weeks!