Gullane Bay walk

Gullane Bay from the Gullane Bents car park

A version of this appeared in Scotland on Sunday on January 12, 2020.

The seaside at this time of year can be a wild place, and that is what makes it special. This has to be one my favourite family walks when the days are short but want a bracing walk with plenty occupy everyone.

A good expanse of sandy beach gives way to low rocks and a small headland before pinewoods begin the return. Throw in a bit of history and a crisp, cold winter’s day and you have a good outing.

I took the family here just before Christmas, and then returned at the start of the year – despite the cold, a bit of rock pooling meant the demands for a quick return had to be heeded!

You can extend the walk by continuing along the coast, passing sandy bays and more rocky outcrops before eventually reaching Yellowcraig, with the island of Fidra just offshore. This may prove too much for some, in which case a linger on the coast can be just as exhilarating if not as tiring on the legs.

DISTANCE: 3½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 130ft.

TIME: 1½ to 2 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 66.

PARK: Follow a brown sign for Gullane Bents from the west end of the town’s main street. At the end of Sandy Loan go left to reach a car park above the coast. £2 parking charge.

IN SUMMARY: From the shore side of the car park drop down a path which starts between a pay and display machine and some information boards. This leads to the long beach of Gullane Bay, where you go right to follow it to its end. A path then runs just above the shore and past some low dunes. Keep close to the high tide line before reaching some low ruins – this was St Patrick’s chapel and was in use until the early 16th century.

Leave the shore at this point and go around to the right in front of the ruins, then right again at a junction to walk along the edge of a dense pine wood. The path is then more of a track as it enters the trees. Just before the end of the wood go left at a fork to follow a path over open ground. This bears right and climbs a bank to reach a slightly more defined path. Go left then, shortly afterwards, turn right in front of a fence. On the other side of this are the hallowed links of Muirfield golf course – one of the most famous in the world.

At a junction of paths go left then keep on the main path, which heads further inland. The path becomes surfaced before turning right and reaching a very large grassy area. As the path (now a track) bends left you can see the car park. Leave the track on the right at this point and follow a grass path to the beginning of the walk.

Five brilliant Christmas walks

Make time to get out into the fantastic Scottish countryside this Christmas. If you are lucky it will be covered with snow. And, you will be left feeling energised, as well as having an excuse for mulled wine and mince pies!

MEALL A’ BHUACHAILLE, THE CAIRNGORMS

DISTANCE: 5½ miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,607ft.
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.

IN SUMMARY: The Cairngorms in winter may seem like a place for skiers, snowboarders and ice climbers, not hill walkers. But Meall a’ Bhuachaille is a great, popular hill which takes you up high and gives a fantastic panorama of the shattered cliffs and ridges of the Northern Corries. The Ryvoan Bothy at the bottom of the steepest part of the walk is a perfect spot to have a break, amid a great expanse of open moorland and mountain.

EAST LOMOND, FIFE

DISTANCE: 2½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft.

TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 58 and 59.

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

IN SUMMARY: East Lomond is only 1,391 feet high but you will need to fill your lungs to clamber up its steep upper slopes. Usually grass covered but perfect for sledging in snow, they lead to a great viewpoint taking in both the Southern Uplands and the Highlands to the north. The walk starts in the pretty village of Falkland which itself is Christmassy enough to visit in itself, with a Renaissance palace and little shops, tearooms and pubs.

BEN VRACKIE, PITLOCHRY
DISTANCE: 6 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,100 ft.
TIME: 4 to 5 hours.
PARK: Turn left at the Moulin Hotel, about a mile from the centre of Pitlochry along the A924, then go right a couple of hundred yards later. The car park is at the top of the single track road on the right.
IN SUMMARY: Not a Munro but a proper, pointy mountain, Ben Vrackie dominates Pitlochry and offers a great way to burn off the Yuletide excess. The views over the central Highlands are superb and made even more memorable if you finish the day in the cosy inn at the Moulin Hotel near the start.

LOCH AN EILEIN, CAIRNGORMS

DISTANCE: 4½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Undulating (about 400ft in total).

TIME: 2 to 2½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 36.

PARK: Take the B970, Cairngorm road, from Aviemore. Turn right after about three-quarters of a mile, following a sign to Insh. Just over a mile down the road go left, following a brown sign to Loch an Eilein, and a car park a mile further.

IN SUMMARY: Loch an Eilein is a picturesque spot all year round but in winter a silence blankets the surrounding Rothiemurchus Forest, whether there is snow or not. The fairytale setting is completed with a castle out on the water, dating back to the 13th century. It was once said to have been home to the notorious Wolf of Badenoch. A circuit of a second loch – Gamhna – adds a sense of wilderness to the walk, below the high mountains of the Cairngorms.

BIRNAM HILL, PERTHSHIRE

DISTANCE: 4 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,150ft.

TIME: 2½ to 3½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 52.

PARK: You can arrive by train at Dunkeld and Birnam Railway Station but there is also parking in the centre of Birnam. IN SUMMARY: Birnam Hill is tougher than it looks with steep going, especially towards the top, but it is ideal for winter because it does not usually get covered with deep snow and a walk up and down only takes a few hours. Shakespeare used it famously in Macbeth and the stunning views do indeed include Dunsinane in the Sidlaw hills.

*Versions of these walks have appeared in Scotland on Sunday.

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.

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.

Top five winter walks with children

Autumn is turning into winter, the last leaves are dropping off the trees, snow is falling in the hills and early morning frost has become the norm. But that is not a reason to pack away walking boots and wait until the return of spring before enjoying a walk.

Winter conditions can mean ice axe and crampons are needed on the higher summits but lower down the winter wonderland on offer across Scotland is stunning.

VisitScotland close many of their dwindling number of visitor centres at this time of year which is amazingly short-sighted, even for city-based decision-makers. The outdoors is still there to be enjoyed and the conditions can be great to enthuse children, whether it is smashing up icy puddles, sledging down a slope or building a snowman.

Here are five great walks to take little ones on:

BENNACHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE, stands high above Aberdeenshire with views stretching down from the Cairngorms, over rolling farmland to the North Sea. The tors and tops on top of the hill are easily explored from a network of waymarked paths.

LOCH AN EILEIN, CAIRNGORMS, is a good place to look for red squirrels, deer and pine martens. The water often freezes giving a 13th century castle just offshore a magical appearance – even if it was once said to have been home to the notorious Wolf of Badenoch.

BEN A’AN, TROSSACHS, has a proper pointed summit with views over Loch Katrine to mountain but it low enough to escape the severe ice coating which can hinder progress on higher mountains. A relatively new path leads up to a steep and exhilarating, but safe, clamber by a burn to the rocky top.

BEN VRACKIE, PITLOCHRY, is another pointy mountain which dominates Pitlochry and offers a great way to burn off any Yuletide excess. The views over the central Highlands are superb and made even more memorable if you finish the day in the cosy inn at the Moulin Hotel near the start. This is the most arduous of the five walks and in very wintry weather, crampons and ice axe may be needed.

CAMBO SANDS AND ESTATE, FIFE, is a wonderful place at the end of winter when the snowdrops are staring to emerge. Beginning the walk below Kingsbarns, you can enjoy a bracing winter’s stroll along a great stretch of sandy beach (and maybe a wee sandcastle), before enjoying the flowers.