CALLANDER CRAIG AND BRACKLINN FALLS

Falls higher up the Keltie Water near Scout Pool

A version of this article is in the September 2019 edition of The Scots Magazine

CALLANDER CRAIG AND BRACKLINN FALLS, TROSSACHS

By Nick Drainey

Length: 6.5km (4 miles)

Height gained: 320m (1,050ft)

Time: 2 to 3 hours

OS Landranger 57

Parking: Arriving in Callander from the direction of Stirling turn left off the A84 just after a sign for the Roman Camp country house hotel. Bracklin (CORR) Road then leads up out of the town, past a car park on the left and up to one for Bracklinn (CORR) Falls, on the right.

The route: As a teenager I took a friend to the Lake District in an attempt to convert him to the joys of hillwalking. Striding Edge seemed like a good place with plenty of wow factor and as we sat on the rocky ridge the view was astounding.

What sticks in the memory, however, is what happened after I had greeted some fellow scramblers with a cheery “hello”. When they had made their way to the summit of Helvellyn my friend asked if I knew everyone on the mountain as I had said hi to each of them and they had replied equally politely.

Fast forward a decade or two (or maybe three) and my children have asked the same question, and again been told that is just what you do in the outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of streets and pavements.

But what is the etiquette when it comes to talking to other folk walking by a burn, on a hill, mountain, or even a ridge?

On a walk to Bracklinn Falls the other week a quick hello, or nod of the head, was all that was needed for a coach party from Germany – if I had tried to start a conversation I may have been linguistically challenged, as well as at risk of being thought of as odd.

As I followed the Keltie Burn upstream and stopped to admire more falls near Scout Pool it seemed I could have started a conversation but the couple who had reached the little bridge from the other direction decided to head off with a “lovely day, isn’t it”, I think to leave the viewing spot to me – a very nice gesture and high on the scale of politeness.

As the steeper slopes of Callander Craig were reached one of the great etiquette conundrums faced me as I approached a chap descending. Do I gasp out a breathless “hi” or try to give the impression I was in no way out of breath. I shamefully went for the latter, even if it was a little strained.

I stopped at the wonderful summit cairn – built in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Cairn and rebuilt 100 years later. The view from here is excellent, especially the imposing bulk of Ben Ledi to the west.

As I picked up my rucksack to set off, a middle-aged guy appeared and despite my best, most jovial “hello” I only received a weak smile and a little grunt on reply. Worrying I may be in trouble for excessive jollity I scuttled down the ridge but soon realised the reason for the gentleman’s taciturn nature. In front of me was a lady, presumably his wife, loudly telling a child to “stop complaining about everything, daddy has brought us up here so the least you can do is try to look happy”. I thought better of saying anything and just gave a consoling sort of smile which probably made me look a little unwell. Thankfully, for the rest of the way down I didn’t see a soul – sometimes a walk on your own with no human distraction can be the best thing.

Having a whale of a time

A version of this appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Scots Magazine

“The sea has inspired people for eons. It has been the source of myth and legend – sea monsters and kelpies – and has inspired song and music. Because whales and dolphins are from this seemingly mythical place, when you do see one it takes your breath away.”

Karl Stevens is trying to explain why whale-watching has become such a phenomenon in Scotland. Practically unknown 25 years ago, it’s now estimated to be worth around £7.8 million to the economy of the west of Scotland, drawing in around 240,000 visitors a year.

Dozens of boats operate around prime spotting sites in waters which are home to around a quarter of the world’s whale and dolphin species including bottlenose, Risso’s and common dolphins, harbour porpoises, minke whales and orca.  But this summer, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has launched a new trail to give visitors a different way of looking out for these sea creatures – from the land.

Standing at Ardnamurchan Point, one of around 25 stopping places for the new land-based trail on the West Coast, Karl, the Hebridean Whale Trail manager, explains: “A lot of people think this is something you can’t do on land, you have to be on a boat. Yes, there are definite merits for being on a boat but from an accessibility perspective and getting more people involved, land-based is a lot easier. It also means you get to some spectacular locations.

“With heights you get more distance so if you are on top of a sea cliff, you are going to get a better view over a longer distance than if you were on a boat.”

All that makes the trail world class. Karl adds: “In terms of the combination of wildlife – whales, dolphins but also seals, seabirds, plants and so on – and then the landscapes and seascapes you could argue it could be one of the best places in the world.”

One of the key things about the whale trail is that it is as much about seeing whales and dolphins as the culture that surrounds them, and the Hebrides is rich with that culture. “Every place you go to there are thousands of years of stories and tales going back to Celtic and Norse legend.”

Karl also says more modern stories such as those of fishermen and lighthouse-keepers will be retold on the trail, as well as the “slightly darker” history of whaling from the 19th and early 20th century when boats would head as far as South Georgia to harpoon the mighty creatures.

The trail is aimed at “anybody who is in the area” with Karl pointing to research saying 40% of people come to Scotland for wildlife. A significant number come for culture and the landscapes, and the whale trail “ticks all those boxes”. He says: “Anybody who is even remotely interested in those three things will get something out of the whale trail. We are trying to add to what is already there and bring the whale and dolphin stories into that.”

Karl describes whales and dolphins, and the watching of them, as an “unknown attraction” which has really only been done (aboard boats) for about 25 years. Karl says: “People think of charismatic species in Scotland; red deer, salmon, seals and so on. Then there are the mythological species – you have the Loch Ness Monster. People still come knowing that the Loch Ness Monster is likely to be non-existent and go out in the vain chance that they might catch a glimpse of the beast.” Whales and dolphins, he points out, are actually there.

Visitors can hope to see “a breaching humpback jumping out of the water” because they have already looked at clips on TV or the internet. “You may see that and be incredibly lucky. But for the most part it is those special moments when you are looking out and catch a glimpse of a fin or something moving in the water. That might hold your attention a little longer and you realise that fin is attached to a porpoise, or a dolphin, or even a minke whale. It is to try to get more people to spend more time looking out to the sea to make the most of what is out there.”

Karl says awareness of the sea and what is in it has been rising in recent years, particularly after the BBC’s Blue Planet documentary series. As a result, he hopes that a spin-off of the whale trail will be that people report incidents of pollution, whether that be a patch of oil, something floating on the surface, or even something entangled in an old net.

“The ethos of the whale trail is to tap into the connectivity between the sea and the land that has been there for thousands of years, and because of the Blue Planet effect we are starting to reconnect. People are more aware of the stuff that is floating and what to do about it and that is very important.”

The trust, and other organisations, already survey the seas to try to gauge numbers of whales and dolphins but the picture is currently unclear, according to Karl. And he hopes with more reports of sightings, already possible through the trust’s Whale Track app, there can be a greater understanding of any issues and problems.

He says: “It is a mixed picture, for example last year we got more common dolphins but other species seem to be doing less well. The past couple of summers have not been great for basking sharks but we don’t know if that’s because they are not there or that we have just not seen them.

“That is a key element of the whale trail – if we can get more people out there we will get a significantly better understanding of what is out there.”

Putting the boot in

A version of this article is in the August 2019 edition of The Scots Magazine.

BEINN DUBHCHRAIG, NEAR TYNDRUM

Length: 9 miles

Height gained: 2,640ft

Time: 5 to 6 hours

OS Landranger 50

Parking: Turn off the A82 at Dalrigh, a mile south of Tyndrum. There is a car park a few yards down the single track road, on the left.

The route: Taking off your boots at the end of a walk is usually accompanied by a sigh of relief that the strains of the day are done and the hiker can be satisfied they have had a good day on the hill. But coming off Beinn Dubhchraig I had a sense of sadness; this would be the last time I would unlace my faithful footwear.

At the start of the walk, by bubbling burns in a magnificent wood of pine and birch I had snagged the toecap on the end of a protruding tree root, leaving a gaping hole.

Now I do get through quite a lot of boots, being a regular walker, but this pair were special – they were the best I have owned. (At this point I could bore the reader with tales of Brasher’s, Meindl’s and Mammut’s but suffice to say these Salomon boots were the most comfy and hardwearing I have ever had.) They were maybe not the most technically made but were definitely an overall good fit and sturdy sole which had done me proud on everything from the Cuillin ridge to canoeing on Highland lochs with the children.

I continued with the walk, out of the woods and by the beautiful waterfalls and pools of the Allt Coire Dubhchraig – a geologist could have a field day, literally, along this stretch of burn with its layers of different-coloured rock covered in crystal clear water.

The hole in my boot had got slightly bigger but the boggy ground, gradually being overcome by brilliant path work being carried out by the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland, meant I was only getting a wee soaking on my toes.

Then the Munro’s corrie was crested and a magnificent view of Ben Oss and Ben Lui greeted me. Once at the summit, Loch Lomond and the Arrochar Alps were laid out like a topographical map while closer to hand were the Crianlarich hills dominated by Ben More. To the north the myriad peaks of the Central Highlands were strewn out in a fantastic panorama – what a place to linger.

Thoughts of including Ben Oss on the route, as many do, were abandoned over fears my boot’s hole may widen to the point of complete ruin.

So, an amble back down made me think of the other great places this footwear had taken me – I am not one for too much romanticism but it was almost like taking a pet for a last walk before the vet puts it to sleep, or saying goodbye to an old friend. Eventually, inevitably they were taken off and placed in the car for one last time.

However, they will make a nice couple of plant pots for the garden.

Four brilliant summer holiday walks

This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday on June 30, 2019.

The summer holidays are here – packed lunches can turn into picnics and bags can be packed for a day in the outdoors. Wherever you look, there is plenty to explore across Scotland and if the weather is kind there at least one of these great walks will give you a day to remember.

TINTO, LANARKSHIRE

DISTANCE: 4½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,550ft.

TIME: 2½ to 3½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 72.

PARK: About four miles south of Hyndford Bridge along the A73 turn right at the old Tinto Hill tea room. The car park is about 250 yards down the road, on the left.
IN SUMMARY: Tinto is a great hill for anyone to walk up. An obvious path leads all the way to the top, from where the views are excellent – from the west to the east coast, north to the Highlands and south to England. It is said that the 2,320 foot hill had Druidic significance and that Tinto – Hill of Fire – was used for ceremonies honouring Baal, the sun god. I would just take a picnic.

WEST SANDS, ST ANDREWS

DISTANCE: 5 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible.
TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 59.
PARK: There is a car park behind the R&A Clubhouse, next to the British Golf Museum.
IN SUMMARY: West Sands, just next to the famous R&A Clubhouse, is one of the best town beaches in Scotland. It was used in the Oscar winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire and anyone who can remember that far back can often be heard singing “Da-da da da da-da!” A nature reserve around the Eden Estuary follows before a walk by St Andrew’s famous fairways, ending with the Old Course.

PAP OF GLENCOE

DISTANCE: 5 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,390ft.

TIME: 3½ to 5 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 41.

PARK: Take the minor road which goes through Glencoe village to the Clachaig Inn. About 300 yards after passing a national speed limit sign on the edge of Glencoe turn left into a car park – just after an electricity substation.

IN SUMMARY: The Pap of Glencoe is a mountain in miniature. Despite the challenging Aonach Eagach ridge next to it and the huge buttresses of Bidean nam Bian across Glencoe, it packs a punch and some fantastic views. Take your time, it is steep on the way up, and linger on the top – preferably with a camera.

CAMUSDARACH, MORAR

DISTANCE: 2 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible.

TIME: 1 hour (but allow plenty more to explore rock pools and dunes).

MAP: OS Landranger 40.

PARK: About 3½ miles south of Mallaig turn off the A830, following a sign for Tougal, down the B8008. About 1 miles further on park on the right in Camusdarach car park.

IN SUMMARY: Just down the road from the Sands of Morar is a quieter beach which is just as stunning. Camusdarach looks out to Skye and the islands of Rum and Eigg. It was used as a setting for Local Hero and the filmmakers definitely knew something about picturesque settings.

Raven threat to lambs

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Post on April 30, 2017

By Nick Drainey

Lambing season for farmer Selena Swanson has become a time of fear as the growing number of ravens prove a deadly foe for newborn lambs.

At the family farm near Halkirk in Caithness, Selena said: “I have just taken in a lamb who was still alive but its eye had been pecked out and we didn’t manage to save it.”

Selena, and her husband John, have lost dozens of lambs to ravens, forcing them to move pregnant ewes into sheds, rather than the natural environment of the fields outside.

Selena said they would prefer to be outside but after losing 50 newborn lambs last year they had no choice but to go indoors.

Even then, the lambs are still at risk when they go outside. Selena said as well as the dead lamb she found one injured nearby. She said: “I have another one which I managed to save – it has part of its tongue missing.

“We have to leave them inside longer now – we keep them in for four to five days if we can and we have built some pens outside so they can get that bit stronger before they go into the field.”

Selena is unsure why the birds attack as the carcasses are often left untouched once the lamb is dead. She said: “They don’t always peck them to death – their eyes and the tongues are the main bit, but they will go for the back end as well.

“It is just an enjoyment, there is a little bit of hunger but it is not all for hunger. If they were hungry they would just be eating the weak ones which you expect and is part of farming.”

Selena, whose 350 breeding ewes produce more than 500 lambs a year, has a joint Scottish Natural Heritage licence with five neighbouring farms to cull 50 ravens, up from a single licence to kill 5 last year.

But she said more needs to be done and is hoping SNH will come up with a better solution. She said: “It certainly helps but it is not going to make a big enough impact. They are going to need to come up with some ideas; we don’t want them killed outright but we want them controlled because they are getting out of control.

“SNH have been helpful, they have stepped up this year. They have said they will come up with other ideas depending on feedback – it is not a problem that is going to be fixed straight away but if we can start do something then that has got to be a bonus.”

Selena, who has also tried scarecrows, bags on the ends of poles, kites and even motorbikes to scare the birds away, said: “We are trying to preserve a life and the ravens are taking away the life – we want our animals to live and survive, we don’t want them to be lying, suffering.”

Raven numbers have increased by more than 40% in the last 20 years and there are thought to be up to 3,000 breeding pairs in Scotland. While some would see this as a success story it has led to flocks of the birds being seen in areas where previously there would only have been a handful.

The birds peck out the eyes and tongues of young lambs, often working in pairs with one distracting the ewe while the other attacks her offspring.

There has been a huge increase in the number of licences issued to control them but farmers say more needs to be done to stop the carnage in the fields which the National Farmers’ Union say is increasing.

NFU Scotland’s Deputy Director of Policy, Andrew Bauer said: “Raven predation has serious animal welfare implications, causes huge emotional distress to the livestock keepers as well as a financial impact on the business.

“In recent times there have been some graphic demonstrations of the dreadful impact that ravens can have on young lambs and, in some cases, calves. Sadly, raven predation isn’t a new problem but around the country some farmers and crofters are seeing the raven population increasing in size and range.”

Raven numbers have risen in recent years after many decades of persecution by farmers and gamekeepers came to an end.

However, the numbers are causing problems and there were 162 licenses to shoot ravens issued by SNH in 2016, twice as many as in 2014. They led to the shooting of 690 birds.

But Mr Bauer said more work was needed to understand how may ravens there were “because our members believe there are a lot more than the official figures”. He added: “There is also an issue about people being able to shoot as many ravens as they are authorised to because ravens are a difficult bird to shoot and there are not as many farmers with the right type of rifles anymore, and it is time consuming.

“We need to get a balance between conservation and the protection of lambs.”

The intelligence of ravens is well known among farmers and landowners and research has found they are among a group of animals second in brain power only to humans. In experiments which involved animals finding food, carried out at Lund University in Sweden, scientists found that despite having tiny brains ravens were as clever as chimpanzees, the smartest primate.

A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said licences were necessary “to protect livestock under the Wildlife and Countryside Act”. He added: “A flexible licensing system is the answer to the problem, and many other problems of predation in the countryside. The ability to control a set number of ravens at lambing time is not going to affect in any way the conservation status of the raven but it could make a huge difference to the economics of the farm operation. It is a win, win situation.”

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s wildlife operations manager, said research was being carried out “to get a better understanding of what is happening with raven populations in Scotland and how we can strike the right balance between conserving the wider populations of ravens and minimising the impact that they can have on other interests”.

He added: “We acknowledge the damage that ravens can cause to livestock and the impact this has on farmers. We issue licences to control ravens to those who are suffering or likely to suffer serious damage to their livestock where there is no other satisfactory solution. These licences permit shooting of birds that are causing the damage, with the aim of removing problem birds and deterring other ravens. It’s important to note that preventing serious damage caused by ravens isn’t just about licensing, but also about ensuring that there is good animal husbandry, and employing other scaring techniques to deter birds. If someone is experiencing damage to livestock from ravens then they should contact SNH licensing team.

“We’re working with farmers to look at different approaches in areas where there are particularly serious problems to better help them to address issues.”

Cademuir Hill, Peebles

A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on May 07, 2017

CADEMUIR HILL, PEEBLES

The Forestry Commission has been doing quite a bit of work at Cademuir, just to the south of Peebles. What was once a nice stroll now includes the top of the hill and although the cleared forestry is not the prettiest, more trees are promised and the lack of branches mean excellent views are to be had of the Tweed Valley and Southern Uplands.

All of this made me head off to try the new route – named the Pilot’s Trail like its predecessor, after two German pilots who hid in the woods here in after their plane came down nearby. They were caught when smoke from their campfire was spotted.

But, as good as the trail was, it was something completely different which I most enjoyed, and it happened right next to the car park – a group of four young roe deer were feeding on the edge of the woods. Maybe it was their juvenile age but they seemed rather less afraid than deer would usually be. I enjoyed a joyous five minutes watching them before they decided that the fellow with a rucksack was becoming annoying and sauntered deep into the forest.

DISTANCE: 3½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 730ft.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 73.

PARK: Head over the Tweed on the B7062 from Peebles’ High Street then take the second right, up Springhill Road. After about 400 yards turn right into Springwood Road and just before the High School go left, down Bonnington Road. There is a Forestry Commission car park about a mile and half down the road, on the right.

IN SUMMARY: Take a path on the right at the top of the car park to walk up through woodland. (You are following marker posts with red flashes on them throughout the walk.)

This is a steep-ish start but it means you reach views more quickly. The path turns sharp right and continues to a picnic bench at a junction, where you go left.

A path leads downhill slightly before becoming a track and crossing an area of felled forestry. When the track has turned right go right, up a stony path which takes you round to the right and up to the top of Cademuir Hill, with another picnic bench.

Enjoy the views then follow the path over the top of the hill and drop down before bearing right, away from a wall with a field beyond. The path continues all the way down to the picnic bench passed earlier (at a junction). Go left here and drop down further through the trees to a junction almost on the edge of Peebles. Turn right and follow a wider path which becomes a track, back to the start.