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!
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.
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.
DISTANCE: 6 miles.
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,
Undulating (about 400ft in total).
TIME: 2 to 2½
MAP: OS Landranger
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.
DISTANCE: 4 miles.
TIME: 2½ to 3½
MAP: OS Landranger
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.
A version of this article is in the September 2019 edition of The Scots
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.
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
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.
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.
DISTANCE: 4½ miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,550ft.
TIME: 2½ to 3½
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
WEST SANDS, ST
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
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.
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
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.
A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on May 13, 2007
CAMBO SANDS AND ESTATE, FIFE
Just down from the Old Course in St Andrews is Kingsbarns – a links course for more than two hundred years.
The beautiful Cambo Sands on its eastern side is a lovely place for a stroll or picnic – it is often a little quieter than other beaches in the area.
At the southern end a path takes you up a beautiful wooded glen to the Cambo Estate, privately owned by the Erskine family since 1688. This is best known for its snowdrops but it is beautiful all year round and the contrast with the stunning, windswept coast is fantastic. There is an entrance fee for the gardens but it is well worth it and children go free.
DISTANCE: 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: Undulating but about 80ft in total.
TIME: 1½ to 2½ hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 59.
PARK: Turn off the A917 at the southern edge of Kingsbarns and drive three-quarters of a mile to the end of a narrow road and a car park next to the sea.
IN SUMMARY: Drop down to the beach and look to the left at the remains of the old Kingsbarns harbour before going right, along the sands. (Even at high tide you can walk along the shoreline although you may have to clamber over some rocks to avoid getting your feet wet. If unsure or the waves are high, follow the path above the dunes with Kingsbarns Golf Links to your right.)
At the far end of the beach go up to the top of the dunes and carry on in the same direction. As a track goes away to the right, go left and follow a Fife Coastal Path waymarker.
The path leads to a green and then a broad, well-built track going right. Ignore a another track, going right, and continue down to the Cambo Burn. Go right here and after about 20yards cross a footbridge – the third bridge up from the sea.
Go up some steps and follow the path up the wooded glen, above the burn. After about half a mile you reach a sign indicating the way, right, to the gardens.
Drop down and then go up to the entrance to the walled garden. You have to a go little further to pay the entrance fee in an honesty box next to the potting shed.
After wandering around the walled garden follow the signs through the rest of the gardens to the back of Cambo House where you can make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a home made cake or sandwich (again, use an honesty box to pay). You can also buy plants here.
Go back to the front of the house and turn left, following the path out of the gardens and back down the wooded glen – on the other side of the burn you came up.
Once at the bottom retrace your steps around the edge of the golf course and along Cambo Sands back to the car park.
I am a journalist whose love of the outdoors and all things rural has seen me walking the highest Munros, eating Scottish seafood in Singapore, stalking deer with a camera and just about everything imaginable in between... Find out more...