BEN A’AN, TROSSACHS

ScotRail use a pic of the top of Ben A’an as a way of enticing folk to travel to the mountainous areas of Scotland, despite the fact that the nearest train station is more than 20 miles away. But you can see why; this is a proper pointed little mountain in miniature with views from the rocky summit down Loch Katrine to the Arrochar Alps in the east. Ben Venue is across the head of the loch and the huge bulk of Ben Ledi is to the east. South are the Campsies and to the north are the mountains above Crianlarich.

Take your time to enjoy this view, it is one of the best in Scotland.

Good path work means the way up is easy enough, even one very steep section is really a staircase of rock and enveloped in a gorge which means there is no feeling of exposure to height. I took my daughter up here when she was in P1 – one of the best Friday afternoons I have ever had.

Do remember to make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions; if you are not allowed to travel, don’t – even a walk in beautiful countryside is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 3 miles / 5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft / 380m.

TIME: 2 to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 57.

PARK: A couple of miles west of Brig o’Turk on the A821 there is a Forestry Commission car park for Ben A’an, on the left.

If travelling over the Duke’s Pass from Aberfoyle, the car park is on the right a few hundred yards after the turning for Loch Katrine.

THE ROUTE: Cross the road from the car park and go up a wide track on the other side. When the track bends left go straight on, up steeply on a newly built path.
The path veers left as it nears the tumbling waters of Allt Inneir then continues steeply until a gratefully-reached flat section, before you cross the burn via a wooden footbridge. 
The path then continues uphill a short way before levelling out as Ben A’an appears ahead. Don’t be daunted by its pointy appearance, the way up is a lot easier than it looks.
The path carries on across clear-felled ground then enters a band of birch woodland below the crags around the summit.
After a small clearing the path climbs steeply again, by a small burn which you cross, before levelling off and doubling back to reach the summit.
After spending time exploring the summit rocks most return the way they came and this is the easiest option. An alternative is to head to the north and west to reach the shore of Loch Katrine. This, however, is pretty rough terrain and can be very wet underfoot.

MEALL A’ BHUACHAILLE, CAIRNGORMS

Meall a’Bhuachaille is proof that a “proper” mountain in Scotland does not have to be a Munro. The top is a fantastic viewpoint of the rugged northern ranges of the Cairngorm mountains which form a wall of corries and ridges above Loch Morlich.

The way up is steep-ish but there is nothing technical to worry about. In Winter, it can be icy enough for ice axe and crampons to be needed but if you choose your day correctly most fit walkers will get up with no problem!

Remember the Covid restrictions currently in place; the walks will still be there when all this is over so for now, if you have to stay put, do so in the knowledge you are keeping yourself and those around you safe.

DISTANCE: 5½ miles / 9km.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,600ft / 490m.
TIME: 4 to 5 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 36.
PARK: Take the B970 from Aviemore, then go through the Rothiemurchus forest to Loch Morlich and park at its eastern end in the Glenmore visitor centre car park.

THE ROUTE: Behind the visitor centre, take a steep path – signed for Meall a’ Bhuachaille – up through the trees. The burn should be on your left. After about 250 yards the gradient eases and another path is reached. Go left, and continue up, to emerge above the forestry plantation with Creagan Gorm to the left and Meall a’ Bhuachaille to the right. The obvious path continues up to a ridge. Turn right here and follow the twisting path up to the summit at 2,657ft (810m).
The path leaves the eastern side of the summit, quickly going to the right.  The route drops down to the Ryvoan bothy and a walk through the valley back to Glenmore. Turn right at the bothy and follow the track down for half a mile, to An Lochan Uaine – it is worth dropping down (where safe to do so) to see the turquoise waters close up.
Continue down the main track, ignoring a path to the right. After another mile, ignore a track on the left. Then, at a green metal gate, take the track to the right, past the Glenmore Lodge outdoor and mountain rescue centre.
Follow the track above a minor road and at its end go right to return to the visitor centre.

The Merrick, Galloway

Robert the Bruce liked the isolation of the Galloway hills – above Loch Trool he was victorious over the English in 1307 using guerrilla tactics seven years before Bannockburn. It is still a wonderfully out of the way place, a feeling enhanced by the names given to the landscape such as the Awful Hand Range (which The Merrick sits on), Curleywee and the Rig of the Gloon.

The Merrick is the highest point in the Southern Uplands at 2,766 feet, and the route up is a good hill walk – perfect for those who want to go a little higher but without the concern of scrambling on rocks or along narrow ridges. It was once something of a bog festival but good path work makes it far easier, nevertheless it is often wet underfoot higher up, even in dry weather so a good pair of boots is needed.

Do remember to make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions; if you are not allowed to travel, don’t – even a walk in beautiful countryside is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 8 miles / 13km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,500ft / 760m.

TIME: 4½ to 5½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 77.

PARK: Turn off the A714 about 9 miles north of Newton Stewart and follow a minor road for two miles to Glentrool village. Just after it, turn right to reach the Glentrool Visitor Centre. Bruce’s Stone car park, the start of the walk, is just over three miles past the visitor centre at the end of a single-track road.

THE ROUTE: At the end of the car park, follow a stone path going off to the left, next to an information board about the Merrick. The path climbs up through ferns and then runs parallel to the waterfalls of the Buchan Burn.
After passing through a wooden kissing gate, the gradient levels off for a short while, before a sign directs you left to the “high” path up the Merrick, and the route becomes steep again.
After bearing right, the path levels off and follows the edge of a felled forestry plantation before going left through the discarded trunks and branches of the trees, as well as some new growth.
The path then drops down and reaches Culsharg bothy. Go past this to the left and follow the path up to a forestry track, where you turn right and cross over the Whiteland Burn.
Turn left almost immediately afterwards, off the track and on to another path signposted to the “Merrick Climb”. It is very steep going as you climb up through the trees, but after a few hundred yards, you reach the edge of the forest and open moorland. An obvious path goes up and veers to the right, reaching a wooden kissing gate – this is just over halfway.
Carry on up the stone path which bears right before a wall and then becomes grassy and muddy. It is then not far to the cairn at the top of Benyellary – just after the path and wall bear left.
Ahead, the path drops along the broad grass ridge called Neive of the Spit, above the Scars of Benyellary, before rising up. About 150 yards further on, the path goes right, away from the wall, to cross the Broads of Merrick and reach the summit itself, with its stone shelter and trig point.
It is worth walking around the broad summit to look down the surrounding glens, as well as enjoying the distant views.
You can descend via Loch Enoch, but it is far easier to retrace your steps to the car park.

POLKEMMET COUNTRY PARK, WEST LOTHIAN

This is a time of lockdowns and restrictions and it is important to keep within them if we are to stay as safe as possible. For those of us in West Lothian it means any walking has to be done within the county boundary, so this is a walk for us! It is great for all the family from tots to grandparents with the route on flat ground, if a little rough underfoot in places. The work of 19th century plant hunter David Douglas is there to be seen in the grand fir trees which line the burbling River Almond at Polkemmet Country Park. But as well as the woodland, river and birdsong, man-made enjoyment can be had, especially for children – there is a great playpark as well as the Polkemmet Horn, used by many parents driving along the adjacent M8 to indicate to their offspring where Teletubbies live. It is actually an art installation which was erected in 1997. So, enjoy!

DISTANCE: 4 miles / 6.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible.

TIME: 1 to 1½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 65.

PARK: Leave the M8 by junction 4A west of Whitburn and follow the B7066 towards Harthill. Polkemmet Country Park is on the right, after the series of roundabouts next to the junction.

THE ROUTE: Go to the left side of the country park’s reception (just beyond the car park) and follow a track going to the right – not straight on to a golf driving range. The track drops down by the side of a golf course then swings right. At a junction go left then go right at the next junction to enter woodland.

Ignore a path going right and keep straight ahead to reach a pond. Keep going right, around the pond, to reach a surfaced track, where you go left.

Walk past a bridge over the infant River Almond and continue on the track to see the Polkemmet Horn close up. Return to the bridge and cross it, following an obvious path on the other side to a junction, where you go right. At the next junction go left to walk up the side of the river and past a mausoleum for the Baillie family who once owned the estate.

After going up steps you can turn right to shorten the walk and return to the car park. To keep striding out go left to follow a track which skirts the golf course. The track swings right (keep right at a junction) and continues as you cross a burn. After swinging right again the track makes a loop to re-cross the burn before reaching the country park’s main drive. Go right to return to the car park.

EAST LOMOND, FIFE

East Lomond is only 1,424 feet high, not even as big as its near neighbour  – West Lomond, but the walk up will give your lungs a wee workout and the views from the top are excellent, west to the Ochil Hills, south to the Southern Uplands and north to the Highlands.

DISTANCE: 2½ miles / 4km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft / 380m.

TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 58 and 59.

PARK: There is plenty of parking in the centre of Falkland.

THE ROUTE: Leave the centre of Falkland by going up Cross Wynd, which starts at the Bruce Fountain. At the top of the road follow a track into woodland, keeping right when a track goes left to a cottage. Shortly after this go left, up steps which lead you to a path past a Scottish Water plant.

Keep going uphill and at the next junction go straight ahead, following a sign for “Footpath to Lomond Hills.” After a few hundred yards a series of steps lead up to the top of the woodland and a gate. Go through this to reach open hillside and follow a path to the right which heads straight for the obvious dome of East Lomond ahead.

The path leads to a gate and on the other side a steep clamber awaits. You can go straight up the hillside in front of you or head left before turning right for an easier gradient. Either way leads to the view indicator at the summit. And the views really are excellent – from Arthur’s Seat, across the Firth Forth, to the south, to Highland Perthshire and Angus, across the Firth of Tay, to the north.

There are many paths around here but if the aim of the day is a short, winter walk up to a great point then the best option is to return the way you came.

Facebook beckons!

So I’ve set up a Facebook community page (you’ll find it here). It’s designed to help anyone who likes getting out for a good walk in the great outdoors of Scotland. Big day hikes to short strolls, Munros to glens, lochs to seashore, we will cover it all. The idea is to get everyone enthused and involved so they can enjoy the landscapes we have on our doorstep (or at least not very far away).

Each week I will post a walk for you to try and a mountain of the month (although this will be a higher walk, it should be accessible to anyone of a normal fitness level).

If you like bagging as many Munros as you can, that’s cool, but it is also cool to only want a one hour stroll – let’s face it, a clifftop walk can be more exhilarating than a soggy day up a mountain. As member numbers grow this will be a place to share tips, walk suggestions, or to ask for help in choosing the right route, from Galloway to Shetland. So get involved – share your best scenic pics of Scotland, or suggest a good walk for beginners. In fact, share what you like – as long as it is related to walking.

Keep checking back here as I’ll be sharing the walks on this site, as well as anything else worthy.

At the moment, Covid restrictions are affecting us all so please make sure you keep within the rules so you, your friends and family and the whole of Scotland can stay safe.

All the best, Nick

RE-THINK AND UNDERSTAND THE ENVIRONMENT

The Victorians liked to knock about in the mountains and glens of Scotland. However, to be made welcome you really had to be looking after huge numbers of sheep or shooting some of the wildlife. Early climbers, for example, were often banned from what are now popular routes unless they were from the right part of society; and that right part of society wasn’t the part that worked in mills or even on a farm below the rock faces.

By the early part of 20th century access was still restricted, and not just by landowners, many early pioneers in the Arrochar Alps cycled from the shipyards of Glasgow to get to the high hills.

After the Second World War the advantages of outdoor education were becoming more of a “thing” and places such as Glenmore Lodge were established – in 1947 the Scottish Section of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the Scottish Tourist Board used the Aviemore Hotel as a base for a course involving snow and ice climbing, hillwalking and skiing.

Field sports were still the king but wildlife and the appreciation of being active in the landscape was appreciated more

Now we are in a much better place in terms of looking after and having access to the environment but maybe not so good in our urbanised life at understanding nature (there’s a difference in appreciating it).

But still arguments rage about how we treat the outdoors – a lot is viewed as black and white but even then things become muddled. Take grouse shooting and the heather moors where it takes place. If, as many call for, natural tree cover was increased on the moors the numbers of grouse would fall. Then, some of the people who wanted rid of grouse shooting would lament the decline of the birds. Those with an interest in such things could be forgiven for thinking that is an absurd way of looking at an issue but if we want to change the way we in Scotland, all of us, look at nature, it has to include everyone, not just the experts.

My children are going through the Scottish education system and have been given talks about farming – by someone from Tesco, not a farmer. They’ve also learned about climate change and the need to act, but it is taught on a global level, on a local level they learn about turning lights off or walking to school but not about land use. Imagine if primary school children in the leafy Glasgow suburb of Hyndland were being taught about a need to cull rabbits – there would be outrage. But it is that balance in how the countryside is treated which will see improvements, rather than a blinkered view that things are right or wrong. I am not particularly keen on deer stalking as a “sport” but if other people are doing it and keeping numbers down then that will have a benefit, as long as other land uses are taken into consideration.  

It is that balance in the countryside between nature, farming, and a whole host of other activity from rock climbing to deer stalking which also keeps local communities going. If one sector went too far – a gamekeeper allowing deer numbers to get too high, or someone bulldozing sub-arctic tundra to build a railway we, as a society, would be better informed to keep them in check, rather than the current attitude which seems to be “ we don’t like that, so ban it completely”. Over to you education secretary – time for a re-think in the way we are educated.

BEN CHONZIE, PERTHSHIRE

This is a great starter Munro, easy to follow tracks and paths take you up to brilliant views encompassing the Beinn a’Ghlo range to the north east, north to Ben Lawers and east to Ben More, while the Trossachs lay to the south west with the Campsies and Ochils further round to the south.

As ever at this time of year, be sure to be prepared for winter conditions and be ready to turn back – it will always be there for another day.

Also, make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions, even a walk up a wonderful mountain is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 7½ miles /12 km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,350ft / 716m.

TIME: 4 to 5 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 51.

PARK: At the western end of Comrie turn off the A85 at the Deil’s Cauldron restaurant (following a sign for “Glenlednock”). There is a parking area 4½ miles down the minor road, on the right.

THE ROUTE: To start the walk, follow a track on the right leading from the parking area away from the road. On reaching some cottages at Coishavachan go right, in front of them, and then through a large metal gate.

On the other side of the gate go left and follow a track up the Invergeldie glen. After a few hundred yards the track crosses the Invergeldie Burn before going through a metal gate and then turning sharp right to climb more steeply.

After passing through another metal gate the track drops down to re-cross the burn, below a small dam, and then climbs up again on the other side.

At a fork in the track go left and climb up onto heather-clad moorland. After fording a small burn via stepping stones ignore a track going off to the left and keep straight on, climbing up to the broad southern slopes of Ben Chonzie.

About a mile further on (before the top of the ridge has been reached) look out for a small cairn on the left of the track – on a right hand bend.

Go left here, onto a boggy path which fords a small burn and then heads steeply uphill.

Ignore sheep tracks crossing the path and keep going up, bearing right after a while.

Eventually you reach some stone grouse butts and beyond them a line of old metal fence posts. These lead up, turning sharp right after a few hundred yards, to the summit and its large stone shelter.

Take plenty of time to enjoy the view before retracing your steps to the start.

RIVER FESHIE, CAIRNGORMS

This route takes advantage of two marked trails, making a figure of eight loop centred on a car park, meaning you can cut the walk short.

You also pass the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail – a series of wooden carvings made by a self-taught sculptor who wanted to reflect what it means to be human.

A perfect family walk in the shadow of the mountains of the Cairngorms.

Make sure you keep up with the latest coronavirus restrictions, even a walk in beautiful countryside is not worth the risk.

DISTANCE: 3 miles / 5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 400ft / 122m.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 35.

PARK: The Forestry and Land Scotland’s Feshiebridge car park – a quarter of a mile west of the bridge on the B970.

THE ROUTE: Leave the far end of the car park by a path next to an information board. At a track go right and shortly afterwards it is possible to detour left to see the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. Otherwise, stay on the track, ignoring a turning down to the right.

Bear right just before a field to drop down a grassy track and after about 80 yards go right, down a path towards the River Feshie. The path swings right to follow the river upstream – before you reach a small building, the “Feshie Bridge river gauging station” which monitors water flow. After this the path leaves the river and rises to the car park.

To continue the walk, go left and follow a path which starts at a yellow waymarker, on a hairpin bend at the end of the car park. Follow the path up above the river and then drop down closer to it to reach Feshiebridge – it is worth dropping down to the rocks and pools below the bridge before you reach the road.

Cross the road, but not the bridge, and follow a track on the other side which goes to the left of some houses and continues upstream. Follow it for about two thirds of a mile to a point just before a metal gate in a stone wall – go right here, up a grass path with a yellow waymarker at the bottom. The path goes up the side of the stone wall then turns right to pass through young, mixed woodland and then forestry pines.

At a track go right and follow it for about half a mile where you look for a path going into the trees on the right (there is another yellow waymarker just along it). This drops down to a minor road which you cross and bear slightly left to follow the drive taken earlier, down to the car park.

Good news at last!

Good news at last! At the last minute the Scottish government has stepped in with a support package to help outdoor education centres which have been at the risk of closure.

They found £2million to mitigate the financial challenges facing the residential outdoor education sector as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The government said the package “will include funding to help centres provide safe, impactful outdoor learning experiences to support young people’s education and wellbeing through this challenging period”.

Congratulations must go to all behind the #SaveYourOutdoorCentres campaign – this is great news because there is no doubt that the issue is about more than children getting a kick out of abseiling or kayaking. Outdoor centres have a two-fold benefit, one outward-looking, one inward-looking. The outward looking benefit is that young people learn to appreciate the outdoors – see my previous blog on why the Government needed to act here. After a summer of littering, vandalism and outdoor toileting gone wrong it’s rather important for the future of our outdoor heritage. But it also has an inward-looking benefit, a benefit to the individual. Risk-taking, teamwork and going beyond the comfort zone. Yes, you can learn some of those things in the classroom but nothing you can do sat behind a desk compares to the feeling of achievement of having abseiled down a rockface after standing wobbly-kneed at the top for ten minutes.

A couple of years ago my daughter went on P7 school camp to an outdoor centre down in Dumfries-shire and she loved it. Probably the best bit of her whole time at primary school – and that’s saying something as she loved the school. And she already knew a fair bit about the outdoors having been dragged around the countryside with her dad. But even I, an outdoor enthusiast who has spent their whole life banging on about the power of nature, was surprised by the transformative effect on the whole class.

Sadly, last year the P7s at her old school missed out on their week’s residential because of Covid. Like so much in 2020, it was cancelled and the knock-on effect means this year’s P7s might also be left without the chance to enjoy and learn on a residential trip. Hopefully, the government funding will go some way to help centres provide some of them with at least day courses.

For me introducing the joy of the outdoors to just one person who would otherwise have thought that sort of thing wasn’t for them is priceless. If you don’t believe me, watch this video made with Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre.