Ben A’an, Trossachs

A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on August 21, 2016

BEN A’AN, TROSSACHS
Despite being only a little over 1,500ft high, from the pointed top of Ben A’an you can look down Loch Katrine to the Arrochar Alps. Ben Venue is closer, just across the head of the loch, while Ben Ledi is to the east. South lie the Campsies and north the mountains above Crianlarich.

A new path leads up to the top, via a fun clamber up by the side of a burn. Once at the top, take your time to enjoy the view, it is one of the best in Scotland.

DISTANCE: 3 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,250ft.

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. (£3 charge)

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.

IN SUMMARY: 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.

Loch an Eilein, Rothiemurchus

A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on March 3, 2009

LOCH AN EILEIN, ROTHIEMURCHUS

This is one of the most popular low level walks in Scotland, and rightly so. Nestled among the Caledonian pines of the Rothiemurchus Forest, Loch an Eilein makes an enchanting setting, completed with the ruins of an ancient castle.

This area is home to some fantastic wildlife. Red squirrels would be a highlight, as well as Scottish crossbills and Osprey in the summer. These magnificent fishers once nested on the castle but were driven away by egg hunters about 100 years ago.

The castle has a history dating back as far as the 13th century and was once said to have been home to the notorious Wolf of Badenoch. In the 1770s a causeway to the ramparts disappeared when the water level was raised by a sluice gate built to allow timber to be floated down to the River Spey.

At the top of the loch a narrow path takes you to Loch Gamhna. Right on the edge of the forest, it sits like a Highland oasis, dwarfed by great, bulky mountains.

The return takes you back along Loch an Eilein then through forest before returning to the shore and a last view of the castle ruins at the end of one of the best short walks in Scotland.

DISTANCE:  4½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Undulating but about 500ft in total.

TIME: 1½ 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 you will find a car park another mile further on.

IN SUMMARY: Go to the far end of the car park and take a path to a notice board where you go straight on to reach a small visitor centre and some toilets.

Walk the few yards to the edge of the loch and go right, following a good path.

The main path follows the loch shore, although slightly above it, and passes the castle – after this look out for a path on the left which drops down to a bench offering good views of the ruins.

At the top of the loch ignore a track going right and follow the footpath round to the left.

After a few hundred yards (after the path has veered away from the loch and gone up a slight incline) take a smaller path on the right which leads to Loch Gamhna. Follow the path round the loch to reach the main path again, where you go right.

Ignore smaller paths going off to either side and follow the main path as it veers away from Loch an Eilein, before swinging round to the left and returning to the shore and visitor centre. Go right here to retrace your steps from earlier back to the car park.

Bennachie, Aberdeenshire

A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on December 12, 2009

BENNACHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE

Bennachie makes for a short but energetic winter walk.

The popular hill has a number of tops and this route visits the highest, Oxen Craig (1,733ft), before reaching Mither Tap (1,699ft). This pointed rocky peak, with a Pictish fort below the summit, is what most people think of when Bennachie is mentioned.

The views are extensive with the Cairngorms to the south of west, Lochnagar to the south west, Mount Keen (the most easterly Munro) is further south and going round to south east is Aberdeen with the North Sea beyond.

DISTANCE: 5½ miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 1,590ft.

TIME: 3½ to 4½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 38.

PARK: Drive about six miles north of Inverurie on the A96 and turn left, onto the B9002. A mile and a half later you pass through Oyne and half a mile further turn left, following a brown sign for the Back o’Bennachie car park which is a mile down a single track road.

IN SUMMARY: Follow a path at the top of the car park, entering woods. After a couple of hundred yards go right at a track then, 20 yards later, turn left to follow a path further up into the woodland.

A little further on ignore a path going off to the right, then two going left and continue up through the woods. The path leaves the trees and goes right before zig-zagging up to Little Oxen Craig. Just after a level section of the path you can go right and follow a signpost to visit the old quarry at the top of this outlying summit. For the main route, continue straight on, ignoring a path going left.

Once at the base of Oxen Craig go straight along a path over rocky outcrops past a signpost to reach the summit.

Return to the signpost and go right, down stone steps and along an obvious path. Ignore a path going right and then one to the left. At a junction go right and then right again on reaching another junction.

Ignore a smaller path going left but a little higher go left at a signpost, on a path which bends around the base of Mither Tap. Go right at a signpost and then go up stone steps to the top.

Retrace your steps to the signpost and go left, then go right at the next signpost. At the next signpost go straight ahead ignoring the path on the left, taken earlier.

At the next junction continue straight on, ignoring a path to the right. The path swings left to Craigshannoch – you can make a short detour to the top by taking a path on the right.

Otherwise, continue round to the left and down to a signpost where you go right. The next junction (next to Little Oxen Craig) was passed earlier. Go right to retrace your steps back to the car park.

Dirleton, Yellowcraig and Gullane, East Lothian

A version of this walk description appeared in Scotland on Sunday on July 22, 2012

DIRLETON, YELLOWCRAIG AND GULLANE, EAST LOTHIAN

I took my cousin (who is French) to Yellowcraig a few years ago and she was stunned to find out such beautiful beaches existed away from the Mediterranean. If it was hot as the Med the beaches of East Lothian would be even more popular than they are now.

This walk takes in a lovely stretch of coast, including sandy bays and rocky shores, backed by dunes which are filled with flowers in the summer months.

DISTANCE: 8 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: 130ft.

TIME: 3 to 4 hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 66.

PARK: There is a free car park in the centre of Dirleton, off the B1345, opposite the Castle Inn pub.

IN SUMMARY: Cross the road from the car park and walk in front of the pub, following a sign for Dirleton Gallery. Go straight ahead at a junction then bear right at a fork to pass a war memorial and reach the gallery. The road turns into a track shortly after the gallery, follow this between fields.

At a signpost go straight ahead, following a sign for Yellowcraig on to a slightly rougher track. The track bears right when it reaches a band of trees and turns into a path. Follow this as it joins a metal fence which you keep to your left. At a track near a car park and playground go left.

Ignore a sign pointing right and walk through low dunes to Yellowcraig beach with Fidra and its lighthouse offshore. Go left and at the end of the beach keep following the coast. (Note that there is a rough path above the shore but this walk is best done when the tide is out to allow you to explore the rock pools and beaches. Go to this link to check tide times.)

After a rocky section of shore a wide sandy bay is reached with Marine Villa at the far end – Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have spent time at Marine Villa and used Fidra as inspiration for Treasure Island. At this point it is easier to take the path above the rocky shore but after a short while erosion means you have to go back to sea level – not advisable at high tide. After the rocks a wide sandy bay leads to dunes (a path above the shore is now resumed). Follow the coast round the dunes and along a small bay. Another dune path leads to a view of the next section of coast, comprising of a series of sandy bays. Follow these to the end of a fairly large bay with pine trees set back above it. Climb up to some low stone ruins and follow the shoreline to the very wide Gullane Bay. Follow the beach for almost two-thirds of a mile where a gap in the dunes (next to an emergency line) leads to a path up to a car park.

Go left to follow the road out of the car park and at the top leave Marine Terrace and go right, along a road with stone walls on either side. Go left on reaching Gullane’s Main Street. You can catch a bus back to Dirleton but to follow the John Muir Way continue along Main Street, out of the town and past fields.

At a cottage look for a John Muir Way sign pointing down a path. The path leads through trees and down to a road which you cross and turn left. At another John Muir Way sign go right, on to a track – not a well-built path starting to the left of it.

The track turns into a lane and takes you back to Dirleton. At the end of the lane go right to walk past the pub to the car park.

 

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.

 

Doune Castle (Castle Leoch) and the River Teith

DOUNE CASTLE (CASTLE LEOCH) AND THE RIVER TEITH

I’m a bit late to the party but Outlander excitement has finally reached my living room.

The great story is complimented by the Scottish scenery which means much use of the pause button as locations are spotted and identified – I will never see Falkland in the same light again.

In real life, the 13th century Doune Castle, between Stirling and Callander, has long been popular with visitors and filmamkers alike. Before Outlander used it as Castle Leoch, the fictional seat of Clan MacKenzie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was partly filmed here.

It sits high above the River Teith and is a good place to start a walk before exploring the ruins.

DISTANCE: 2 miles.

HEIGHT CLIMBED: Negligible – some short banks.

TIME: 1 to 1½ hours.

MAP: OS Landranger 57.

PARK: Brown signs direct you to Doune Castle from the centre of the town.

WALK: Walk towards the castle from the car park but instead of making for the main entrance follow a brick path going to the left of the fortress.
After passing the side of the castle, a wide track bears left and leads down to some metal gates at a water treatment plant. Go left just before these and follow a path by the Ardoch Burn.
Keep left on reaching a little field and follow the burn to the point where it merges with the River Teith.
Go right here and follow a grass path along the side of the river, past the other side of the water works. Ignore paths going off to the right and follow the river upstream as a narrower path takes you back past the castle.
Go through a kissing gate and pass some small fields before entering woodland, still following the river. The path then rises up above the river before going right, between two garden fences, to reach the main A84 road.
Go right and follow the pavement until you reach Muir Hall, on the right. Go right here, past the Woodside Hotel on your left and St Modoc’s Church on your right, to follow a road over a small burn and up to Doune’s Mercat Cross. Go right here, down Main Street.
Opposite the large Church of Scotland parish church go right at an information centre, down Castle Hill. After about 150 yards go left at a crossroads. Another 100 yards further on go right and a short way further (at the end of the road) go through a wooden gate.
On the other side of the gate keep left to follow a field edge down to another gate – on the left. Go through it and turn right.
A path leads up through woodland – go left at a stone wall to pass through a metal kissing gate. Turn right after this and follow a narrow road down to the car park.