Birnam Hill, Perthshire

Birnam Hill is a great walk with loads of history, some real, some fictional, and superb views. If it is out of your area I would save it up for when we can travel again.

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, including the wood on this hill.

The way up 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: 2½to 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, following a sign for the “Birnam Hill Path”. 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 red waymarker. 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 right and drops down before rising to another marker post where you go left (really straight on), 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 car park.


Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan

Where’s the most out of the way place you’ve been on a walk? Ardnamurchan is pretty remote at the best of times and at the moment it might as well be in Patagonia for most of us, amid the travel restrictions. Still, it is always good to plan and this is one coastal walk to bookmark, hopefully, for the coming months.

White sandy beaches backed by dunes, rugged coastline and views to Hebridean islands – this has to be a perfect coastal walk. Take your time, and a picnic, then linger and enjoy. But do keep to the travel restrictions at this time – it is not worth the risk to go beyond your local authority area.

DISTANCE: 4½ miles / 7.25km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 600ft / 180m.

TIME: 3 to 4 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 47.

PARK: About five miles from Kilchoan, just after a cattle grid as you enter Portuairk, there is a parking area on the right.

THE ROUTE: Continue down the single track road, enjoying great views over the bay to the islands of Canna, Rum, Muck, Eigg, and even Skye in the distance on a clear day. At the bottom of the hill go right at a junction in front of a little sandy inlet to pass some white cottages. Then, go left in front of the last cottage, following a sign for Sanna.

At a burn head a little way upstream to cross a wooden bridge then go downstream to follow another sign for Sanna, up a coastal path. Once through a small gate drop past an isolated cottage and head inland a short way to cross a burn via stones. On the other side go inland a little further before following a path going round to the left, ignoring a path going left again after a few yards.

At a junction turn right to go up a fairly steep, rocky path. This gradually bears left as you gain height and reaches a signpost, where you go straight on. The path bends further left to reach a stunning view of white sandy beaches and the Hebridean islands beyond. Drop down towards the beaches and at the bottom follow a bath going right – it is best to take this route if the tide is high. Go through a gate, turn left then reach a stile, on the other side of which are the beaches.

Follow the main beach along and round to the left before taking a path to the right, over dunes. To the south west you can now see Coll and Tiree. Follow another beach to a white house standing alone. Go up the side of a sizeable burn to cross an old wooden bridge then follow an indistinct path round to the left, behind the house. There are now views of Ardnamurchan Lighthouse as the path begins to bear right.

You continue right to pass a series of cairns from where there are great views, making a large loop which finishes back at the bridge near the white house. Re-cross the bridge and retrace your steps to the start.

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.