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.

BEINN DUBHCHRAIG, NR TYNDRUM

This is another great walk for those looking to walk their first Munro, or bag a relatively easy one! It is a little longer than the last one I posted (two Munros above the Glenshee Ski Centre) but good path work by the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland has transformed the lower reaches of the route, making the going much easier. (There used to be a huge amount of boggy ground to negotiate which could put off the most determined of hillwalkers.)

This means pinewoods and birch woods higher up can be enjoyed to the full and at this time of year you may be lucky enough to hear the call of the cuckoo.

As you gain more open ground a wonderful burn is followed – the Allt Coire Dubhchraig. If you don’t linger along here to admire the pools, falls and layers of rock then you must have blinkers on. I have set off late and ended up having a long lunch here before continuing up to the top. The views are stupendous, with countless mountain tops to be seen.

A lot of people include Ben Oss but the fine weather on a recent visit meant it didn’t feel like the sort of day to be rushing up and down too many peaks so I lingered again – letting the sun begin to slip down before making my way back down.

DISTANCE:  9 miles / 14.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,640ft / 805m.

TIME:  5 to 6 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 50.

PARK: 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: Continue down the single-track road you drove in on, go through a gate and then over a bridge above the River Fillan before turning right, up a track which rises to follow a railway line.

Further on, cross another bridge, over the railway line, and immediately bear right, on a new path being built by the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland. You reach a new wooden footbridge which is a vast improvement on the old, ramshackle crossing over the Allt Gleann Auchreoch. Go left on the other side, along a good path which used to be something of a bog festival.

It does become boggy for a short while before bearing right, into pinewoods. The path eventually leads out of the woodland, through more boggy sections and up the Allt Coire Dubhchraig. A series of rocky gorges, waterfalls and pools are passed before the top of a corrie is reached, next to a couple of lochans with views of Ben Oss and Ben Lui.

Turn left to go up the broad ridge to reach the summit of Beinn Dubhchraig – it is the second of two – with more views; down Loch Lomond to the Arrochar Alps and across to Ben More, above Crianlarich. Retrace your steps to the start.

THE CAIRNWELL AND CARN AOSDA FROM GLENSHEE SKI CENTRE

Here’s the latest route for those starting to discover the joys of climbing Munros! Like the previous route up Meall Chuaich near Dalwhinnie this is a relatively easy walk and the way is obvious, meaning getting lost is difficult unless it is cloudy – and why would you want to go to the top of a mountain if there was no view?

This was the first Munro I took my daughter up. Although only six, she managed it easily (with the encouragement of a bag of sweets) and earned a bottle of J2O in the cafe at the bottom!

The A93 rises to the Cairnwell Pass, five miles north of the Spittal of Glenshee, on “Britain’s Highest Road”. Therefore, relatively little effort is needed with a start point of 2,133 ft. And although there is a lot of metal construction connected to the Glenshee Ski Centre, the walk offers great views over the Grampian mountains and beyond. You can add the summit of Carn a’ Gheoidh but if this is among your first forays up Munros you may want to leave that for another day.

Distance: 5.5 miles / 9km.

Height climbed: 1,390 ft / 425m.

Time: 2.5 to 4 hours.

Map: OS Landranger 43.

Park: At the Glenshee Ski Centre by the side of the A93.

The route: Go past the ski centre building and turn left, up a broad track. After reaching the top of a steep rise, go right and pass a round, green building which houses a cafe during the winter. The track continues round to the right past a number of ski lifts before bearing left, uphill and across the ski slopes. When the track forks (just before it drops down slightly) go left and follow it around a final ski lift then through a gap in a fence.

The route becomes boggy here as it passes a hut made of orange corrugated metal and reaches another fence marking the boundary of the ski area. Once past this fence Loch Vrotachan comes into view and you should turn left on reaching a track. Follow this along a broad ridge as it crosses the fence and reaches a col.

After the col the track turns right and becomes steep as it goes up to the top of The Cairnwell and its incongruous telecommunications mast at 3,061 ft.

The views are extensive. To the south lies the Spittal of Glenshee with Perthshire beyond, east is the bulk of Glas Maol and north are the high Grampians. To the west, across a wide corrie is Carn a’Gheoidh. (At this point you can cut the walk short by going down by the one chairlift which stays open in the summer, at the col near to the bottom of the steep section leading to the summit of The Cairnwell.)

Retrace your steps to where Loch Vrotachan first came into view but instead of going back down to the right continue straight on. The track veers round to the right and crosses more ski slopes. When it starts to go further right, along a man-made terrace, look for a small path up the scree to your left. This leads the short distance to the top of Carn Aosda. From the rocky 3,008ft summit which has a distinct lack of vegetation there is a good view down Glen Clunie towards Braemar. Retrace your steps for about 50 yards until you have passed a fence on your left. Turn left here and follow a track down in a straight line before turning right and zig-zagging down to the track you came up on. Go left and drop back down to the car park.

MEALL CHUAICH, NEAR DALWHINNIE

We are all allowed to travel around and re-explore the hills, mountains, glens, coast and lochs of Scotland – brilliant! But where to start, especially if going up hills is a relatively new thing. Well, the Munros are always popular but to get started on them you don’t want a perilous scramble along a knife edge ridge. Meall Chuaich is a great introduction to the mountains over 3,000ft/ Apart from some huffing and puffing on the south west slopes this is a walk for anyone of moderate fitness. Saying that, don’t think it is not worth doing. Just because climbing a particular mountain does not entail risking life and limb does not mean it shouldn’t be tackled.

This is a good mountain to start children off on Munros. If the steep bit is taken slowly with plenty of stops to admire the view, look for birds such as ptarmigan on the ground, or even the odd hare, they should manage to reach the top.

At the top the views are superb, encompassing Ben Alder, Creag Meagaidh, the Monadhliath and the Cairngorms in the foreground. Further afield you can pick out the distant summits of Perthshire, Lochaber and the more north western Highlands.

At the top the views are superb, encompassing Ben Alder, Creag Meagaidh, the Monadhliath and the Cairngorms in the foreground. Further afield you can pick out the distant summits of Perthshire, Lochaber and the more north western Highlands.

Even on a wet day it can be interesting; a few years ago I was fascinated at the array of lichen growing on the flat rocky summit, and grateful for the shelter of the large cairn at the top.

However, if you are going to introduce family

members to the enjoyment of hillwalking it is best to save this for a fine day, and enjoy the views.

DISTANCE: 9 miles / 14.5km.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 2,000ft / 610m.

TIME: 4 to 5 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 42.

PARK: On the A9, just over 2½ miles north of the Dalwhinnie junction, park in Layby 94, just south of Cuaich on the east side of the road.
THE ROUTE: Walk north along the A9 a short way and after about 102 yards go right up a track and through a gate. On the other side of the gate go straight ahead, up a track to reach an aqueduct used to create hydro-electric power.
Once by the aqueduct go left and follow it to a small power station where you bear left. Go left again at a fork in the track, just after a bridge.
Further along the track keep left after crossing another bridge. Go straight on when another track cuts diagonally across it as you get close to Loch Cuaich. Then, go right at a fork, along a slightly less distinct track.
After passing a locked bothy, cross two low wooden bridges then go left, up a steep path through heather onto the broad south west ridge of Meall Chuaich. This is the toughest bit, up unremittingly steep slopes. But take your time and stop to enjoy the views opening up behind.
Follow the very wide ridge, gradually bearing right until you are heading east, eventually reaching the large summit cairn. Enjoy the 360 degree views before retracing your steps to the start.

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.