Why choose to walk in a town or city, rather than the
wonderful Scottish countryside?
It isn’t as weird a decision as it might sound. As gales
lash Scotland at this time of year, plans to get up on the high mountains are ruined
but that doesn’t mean walking is ruled out completely.
Urban walks are not only more sheltered than a ridge in
Glencoe or the Cairngorms, they can also throw up a few surprises.
The delights of the Water of Leith in Edinburgh are a prime example. Here, there are otters (yes, really), kingfishers and heron. I’ve seen them and if you pop into the Water of Leith visitor centre the nice people in there will confirm regular sightings of all sorts of wildlife.
A walk from Roseburn to the visitor centre gives the counter-intuitive feeling of being out of the city even though you are right next to it. While bustling streets, offices and houses are all around it is the trees, shrubs and river which envelop you.
The peace and tranquillity was enjoyed by more than 40 folk
on a Scots Mag Hike at the weekend. This was one of the most popular outings of
the year, I think because of the good conditions underfoot.
Some run the route we took (returning to the city centre by
the Union Canal towpath) but the idea of charging through the scenery, while
good for fitness, makes me think much of nature in the city would be missed.
So, if you look out of the window and don’t fancy a trip to
the wilds, or even semi-wilds, think about what might be on your doorstep.
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.
Foraging is cool – it used to be the preserve of
hippy-ish PHD students or high end chefs looking for poncey mushrooms and weird
Now it seems it is for everyone from those looking to improve
their spag bol (use the water you soak dried mushrooms in, according to cookery
guru Wendy Barrie) to people wanting to find sea capers on the shoreline
(go and find Jayson at East Neuk Seaweed).
All things foraging are being brought together at Foraging Fortnight which
begins next week (Saturday, August 31) across Scotland. I went for taster session
yesterday – and there was a lot of great food to try as well as interesting
people to meet
The festival programme has been designed to encourage all
ages to get out and forage in beautiful locations from woodlands to seashores,
hedgerows to back garden plants (Cambo Gardens in Fife are good for this).
There are loads of sessions on offer – free and paid for – and they are going
to repeat it in May next year.
Yesterday, I went to Bowhouse in Fife, a great place
for foodies who like things natural and local, and there were the familiar
things you would expect at this kind of event – lots of smiling people and great
food. But there also a genuine vibe of positively looking at what Scotland has
to offer for the dinner plate.
And that doesn’t mean spending a fortune in expensive
delis – you can grab a feast of salad from hedgerows as you make your way to
the seashore to find seaweed and molluscs. Add in a few berries and you have a
really posh dinner which food snobs in north London would admire.
Don’t be snob though, just go out and give it a try –
people have been doing it for years and much of it has its origins in the way
the less well-off gathered their food down the centuries.
And, for any cynics out there: I wasn’t paid to write
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 appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Scots Magazine
“The sea has inspired people for eons. It has been the
source of myth and legend – sea monsters and kelpies – and has inspired song
and music. Because whales and dolphins are from this seemingly mythical place,
when you do see one it takes your breath away.”
Karl Stevens is trying to explain why whale-watching has
become such a phenomenon in Scotland. Practically unknown 25 years ago, it’s
now estimated to be worth around £7.8 million to the economy of the west of
Scotland, drawing in around 240,000 visitors a year.
Dozens of boats operate around prime spotting sites in
waters which are home to around a quarter of the world’s whale and
dolphin species including bottlenose, Risso’s and common dolphins, harbour
porpoises, minke whales and orca. But this
summer, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has launched a new trail to give
visitors a different way of looking out for these sea creatures – from the
Standing at Ardnamurchan Point, one of around 25 stopping
places for the new land-based trail on the West Coast, Karl, the Hebridean
Whale Trail manager, explains: “A lot of people think this is something you
can’t do on land, you have to be on a boat. Yes, there are definite merits for
being on a boat but from an accessibility perspective and getting more people
involved, land-based is a lot easier. It also means you get to some spectacular
“With heights you get more distance so if you are on top of
a sea cliff, you are going to get a better view over a longer distance than if
you were on a boat.”
All that makes the trail world class. Karl adds: “In terms
of the combination of wildlife – whales, dolphins but also seals, seabirds,
plants and so on – and then the landscapes and seascapes you could argue it
could be one of the best places in the world.”
One of the key things about the whale trail is that it is as
much about seeing whales and dolphins as the culture that surrounds them, and
the Hebrides is rich with that culture. “Every place you go to there are thousands
of years of stories and tales going back to Celtic and Norse legend.”
Karl also says more modern stories such as those of
fishermen and lighthouse-keepers will be retold on the trail, as well as the
“slightly darker” history of whaling from the 19th and early 20th century when
boats would head as far as South Georgia to harpoon the mighty creatures.
The trail is aimed at “anybody who is in the area” with Karl
pointing to research saying 40% of people come to Scotland for wildlife. A
significant number come for culture and the landscapes, and the whale trail
“ticks all those boxes”. He says: “Anybody who is even remotely interested in
those three things will get something out of the whale trail. We are trying to
add to what is already there and bring the whale and dolphin stories into
Karl describes whales and dolphins, and the watching of them,
as an “unknown attraction” which has really only been done (aboard boats) for
about 25 years. Karl says: “People think of charismatic species in Scotland;
red deer, salmon, seals and so on. Then there are the mythological species –
you have the Loch Ness Monster. People still come knowing that the Loch Ness
Monster is likely to be non-existent and go out in the vain chance that they
might catch a glimpse of the beast.” Whales and dolphins, he points out, are
Visitors can hope to see “a breaching humpback jumping out
of the water” because they have already looked at clips on TV or the internet.
“You may see that and be incredibly lucky. But for the most part it is those
special moments when you are looking out and catch a glimpse of a fin or
something moving in the water. That might hold your attention a little longer
and you realise that fin is attached to a porpoise, or a dolphin, or even a
minke whale. It is to try to get more people to spend more time looking out to
the sea to make the most of what is out there.”
Karl says awareness of the sea and what is in it has been
rising in recent years, particularly after the BBC’s Blue Planet documentary
series. As a result, he hopes that a spin-off of the whale trail will be that
people report incidents of pollution, whether that be a patch of oil, something
floating on the surface, or even something entangled in an old net.
“The ethos of the whale trail is to tap into the
connectivity between the sea and the land that has been there for thousands of
years, and because of the Blue Planet effect we are starting to reconnect.
People are more aware of the stuff that is floating and what to do about it and
that is very important.”
The trust, and other organisations, already survey the seas
to try to gauge numbers of whales and dolphins but the picture is currently
unclear, according to Karl. And he hopes with more reports of sightings,
already possible through the trust’s Whale Track app, there can be a greater
understanding of any issues and problems.
He says: “It is a mixed picture, for example last year we
got more common dolphins but other species seem to be doing less well. The past
couple of summers have not been great for basking sharks but we don’t know if
that’s because they are not there or that we have just not seen them.
“That is a key element of the whale trail – if we can get
more people out there we will get a significantly better understanding of what
is out there.”
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
It is the time of year when hillwalkers, mountaineers and climbers need to batten down the hatches as the “ban this sort of thing” brigade take to the airwaves and newspapers.
As snow descends on the mountains and rescues are highlighted it unfortunately leads some (often in offices in towns and cities far removed from the outdoors) to call for a reduction in access to the hills at a time when conditions are potentially dangerous.
This is wrong for many reasons, not least because it falls against the now widely accepted principle of land access and also that mountains are always risky for the unaware or ill-prepared. Equally, we don’t ban Sunday morning football because players sometimes break their legs, or drinking in case someone gets dangerously drunk and needs and ambulance.
One claim often made is that rescuers’ lives are put at risk helping people trapped in precarious positions. What should be remembered is that most of these rescuers are volunteers who go out because of a love of the outdoors and a desire to help fellow enthusiasts.
However, that does not mean we should ignore the tragedies and near-misses because accidents do happen and it is the responsibility of everyone who enjoys being out in the wild places of Scotland to make sure they are as safe as possible.
Shaun Roberts, the principal of the National Outdoor Training Centre at Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, has told me that if you have a doubt about going out somewhere in the hills you should treat it as a “red flag” and consider your actions.
Planning and preparation is key and courses run by places such as Glenmore Lodge can be invaluable. For example, taking an ice axe and crampons is not enough if you don’t know how to use them and a map and compass are useless in a storm if your navigation skills are not up to scratch.
Common sense also means weather and avalanche forecasts should always be taken account of and turning back if the conditions deteriorate must be an option at the forefront of your mind.
So, rather than talking of bans we should all be doing everything to reduce the risk of going out in the hills and mountains and then get on with the serious business of enjoying it.
In To a Louse, Robert Burns wrote: “Oh, would some Power give us the gift, To see ourselves as others see us”.
But we don’t need a power, spiritual or not, to tell us, we only need look at the tourists who keep flocking to this wonderful country.
Everyone seems to like Skye, we know that – and despite all the doom-mongers, surely it is a bit of investment which is needed to solve the overcrowding (although rural spending is something the Scottish Government seems averse to).
But it is people wanting to visit other parts of Scotland who interest me. A lot come from across the world and want to see Scottish castles and distilleries, as well as the scenery.
One thing that strikes me is the number, especially from the US and China, who still want to go to Loch Ness and hunt for the monster. Now, I’m not knocking it and have done it myself in the past but in this modern of age of being able to tell if a rock has rolled over on the far side of Mars, surely the monster myth should be well and truly burst by now?
Seemingly not, and when it comes to visitors and fiction, the Outlander effect is still going strong. Historic Environment Scotland has said there has been a 27 per cent increase in tourists from North America visiting Scotland’s castles associated with the TV series. And at other locations such as Midhope Castle on the Hopetoun Estate near Linlithgow – Lallybroch in Outlander – there are now visitors where none existed before.
So does fiction mirror history and help shape how others see us?
Steve Spalding, CEO of Timberbush Tours, which takes tourists on trips across Scotland, said: “As much as Outlander is a compelling story, many of Scotland’s castles featured as the backdrop to the television series are steeped in real history and have links to some of the most beguiling tales that are woven into the tapestry of our country. Tourists coming to Scotland from the US and Canada will be amazed at just how much Outlander mirrors our glorious past.”
What is it about children’s boots and dog muck – do they actually have a kind of magnetic attraction which means a lovely walk can be tarnished by the need to clean off the excrement.
The stomach-churning stench is actually the least offensive part – the dog doo can cause blindness in youngsters if they manage to get any on their hands which then come into contact with the face.
Now I know many, many dog owners are fastidious about cleaning up and I am by no means anti-pooch (it is regular family discussion/argument about whether to own one) but the problem is there for all to see.
In pretty much the way it has always been in my 40-odd years, the sides of a path, especially in the first few hundred yards of a walk, are often used as dog toilets with the deposits left behind. Hidden by tufts of grass or small shrubs they become the target for little feet going off to explore.
Many things which were once seen as normal are now rightly seen as anti-social and seriously frowned upon by most members of society – think of drink driving or dropping litter. But dog muck appears to be here to stay.
On a walk the other day I actually saw a black labrador squat above a rock – the sort of path-side rock which is good for humans to sit on and contemplate the scenery. The dog’s owner followed up behind but she had either not noticed or chose not to notice, leaving the mess for others to discover.
This was a seemingly “respectable” looking woman of middle-age, the sort of person who would vociferously complain if a similar pile was left on the pavement outside her house. But as much as I was fuming at her behaviour, I was angered at mine – I didn’t say anything, just made a silent tut to myself and continued walking in very polite sense of outrage.
Should I have said something or is that risking an anti-social confrontation akin to road rage? Or, should I have reported the lady to a council (which would have meant following her to her car and I was out for a walk in the country, not an afternoon of detective role play)?
Maybe there needs to more official campaigning about the problem (like there was for drink driving and dropping litter) and although that would mean pictures of the disgusting mess which can blight the countryside, it could shame the owners who leave their dog’s muck behind.
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...