Take 2 for the Scottish Borders

We were so taken with our walk last week in the Scottish Borders that we decided to go back to the same area the next weekend.

For a (cultural) change, we started with a visit to Robert Smail’s Printworks, which was really fascinating. It’s a National Trust Scotland property, and is set up brilliantly to show you how it worked way back when in an entertaining way.

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Then it was off for our weekend hike in Cardrona Forest. This time, we were plagued by flies instead of blessed by heather. But it was still lovely when we got a peak through the swarms. (I may be slightly exaggerating.)

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The walk includes quite a lot of slopes, but you’re rewarded with some lovely views of the Tweed Valley. You can also spot the ruins of the 16th Cardrona Tower, a remnant of an era of cross-border raids – and the need for secure place to run back to!

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Now we get to the real reason we decided to come back down to the area: a return visit to Caldwell’s ice cream parlour! (Key lime was replaced by lemon meringue ice cream with similar stunning results.) And because we couldn’t go two weekends without a brew, Si also found a brilliant café, No 1 Peebles Road, where we started our day with an incredibly tasty brunch and a hazelnut-oat milk latte. It was definitely all worth the bugs in the end!

We’re continuing to work our way through Pocket Mountain’s The Scottish Borders: 40 favourite walks, so found this 7 km walk there. But if you park in the Kirkburn Forestry Commission car park (there is a parking charge), there’s also a board there with a good map of the walks in the area. For more on Robert Smail’s Printworks, see the NTS website.

And as a throwback to last week’s walk, our drive back to Edinburgh included some lovely HEATHER – yahoo! I can’t get enough of its infinite purpleness!

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Heather-tastic in the Scottish Borders

After a visit home to Canada, I was missing the summer heat. But then Si and I went on this walk, and the weather didn’t matter quite so much anymore; Scotland may not reach plus 30 degrees (or 20 most days actually), but the scenery packs a mighty punch!

This walk takes place in the grounds of Bowhill Estate, and we were taken with it right from the get go – look at these gorgeous woods. How could our spirits not lift right away?

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But it only got better. Our little walking book hadn’t mention heather, and I didn’t much expect to see much of it south of Edinburgh in the Borders. But there it was, sweeping down the hills in a soft purple carpet.

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And it only got better and better, cascading down the hill to our toes as we walked up Newark Hill. I’ve never seen so much purple. It was quite magical.

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And it didn’t end there. We still had everything our walking book had promised to come: the scenic ruins of Newark Castle; a peaceful, peaty river; and Bowhill House and Gardens themselves. (I was glad I didn’t read until after the walk that the castle, built in 1423, was the scene of a horrible massacre of 100 Irish soldiers, women and children in 1645 – by Covenanters who had promised them clemency.)

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The walk is 12 km, and you have to pay a few pounds for parking on the estate. But it’s well worth it. We didn’t go in the house because it was late afternoon by the time we finished our walk, but the gardens are pretty and there’s a great-looking play-park for the kids, as well as a café.

We, for once, ignored brews of the caffeine and beer kind for a Scotland the Best recommended ice cream stop. And wow, was that the right decision! We highly recommend Caldwell’s Ice Cream Shop in Inverleithen. A taste of heaven after a heavenly walk.

Find out more about Bowhill on their website. We found the walk in Pocket Mountain guide of The Scottish Borders: 40 favourite walks, but you can also find it on the Walk Highlands website. The reviews on this last link aren’t as positive as ours – maybe because they didn’t hit it during heavenly heather season!

The well-named Fairview Mountain

I think my headline is a bit of lie. It should really be called Stunning-View or Glorious-View mountain – but that’s rather an awkward mouthful for a mountain. But take a look at the pictures below and you’ll see the name definitely doesn’t do it justice.

I am almost exactly a year behind documenting this wonderful but strenuous hike at Lake Louise. My big bro, Alex, took Si and I climbing up this mountain last summer during our annual visit to Canada. So I thought I better get it posted before I head over again in July. It’s my first-ever walking post for a hike in my home country, but hopefully I’ll add some more soon and in a more timely fashion!

It was just like another day on the job for my brother, who is a tour guide in the Rockies, among many other roles, but it was quite a challenge for Si and me.

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But all the effort was so worth it in the end. We felt like we were on the top of the world. But it was hard work for a couple that are more used to nice river walks in Scotland. I completed lots of hikes in the Canadian Rockies when I was younger, but they were family hikes that anyone with a decent level of fitness could do. This one was up a level – or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older. (To reinforce this, a 20-something Vietnamese girl breezed up the mountain while we sat, exhausted and exhilarated to have reached the top.)

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Here’s my tall brother and the very fit, lovely girl mentioned previously (who had virtually no hiking experience, just to make us feel worse!).

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The trail to the saddleback – the viewpoint where we were standing for most of these pictures – is just 3.5 kilometres from the Lake Louise Chateau. But it’s a 600 metre elevation gain. I felt every metre of that, especially when we got to the difficult scree-filled final leg of the hike.

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When we hiked at Lake Louise when I was younger, we always went the more popular paths on the right of the lake – in turns out they’re probably more well-used because they’re easier. And they’re fantastic hikes too. I was always particularly taken as a kid by the trip to the Lake Agnes teahouse, which was built by CP railways as a hiking refuge. (Fresh supplies are carried in by staff almost every day and dry goods, propane and bottled water is flown in by helicopter once a year.)

It’s about the same distance away as the Mountview saddleback, but it’s just a 400 metre ascent – though I remember that being quite challenging when I had shorter legs! I was always so excited to reach the teahouse, which is quite funny, considering I don’t remember my mom ever letting us buy anything there. It was always a packed lunch and mountain mix for a family hike!

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But back to the amazing Fairview Mountain. The picture above shows my brother way ahead on the way down – even though he was going VERY slow for him, with Simon in the foreground, listening to me moan about it being even harder going down (that damn gravity) . But it was well worth it, both ways!

Lake Louise Chateau is a stunning Canadian Pacific hotel that’s definitely worth a stop to look around and have a drink – though you may want to do that pre-hike while you still look presentable. For a great treat after a hike, head to the Trailhead Café & Bakery in the little strip mall in Lake Louise village. And you’ll definitely deserve a treat after this challenging but beautiful hike!

New vistas in East Lothian

This was a different walk from than the usual for Si and me, but it was unexpectedly wonderful surprise. The mix of industrial, coastal and forest scenery added up to feel quite unique and magical somehow – like we were travelling through a story.

The walk is called the John Muir link path, as it used to  be the end of the John Muir Way (when the JMW was just in East Lothian, rather than a coast-to-coast path across Scotland). Now it links the two pretty towns of Dunbar and Cocksburnpath, as well as linking up to the Berwickshire Coast Path and the Southern Upland Way.

After leaving Dunbar behind and a brief walk on the edge of the golf course, we were soon on our way along the East Lothian coast. There are great views, even with the concrete plant behind you and the power plant to come.

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The Barns Ness lighthouse provides some drama (as did the ever-changing sky!). The lighthouse is one of the many designed by a relation of Robert Louis Stevenson – this time his cousin. (RLS fan/nerd side note: five members of the Stevenson family designed over 80 lighthouses in Scotland, and RLS’ father was apparently disappointed that his son didn’t become a lighthouse engineer – lucky for us Kidnapped fans, he didn’t listen to his dad!

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Next, it was on to the Torness Power Station, which we didn’t think would be a highlight of the walk, but it was eerily cool (see above and below pics). There was no one else about; we felt like we were in some apocalypse film set. It was somehow really fun – who would have guessed?

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Then it was back to the beautiful East Lothian coast, with beautiful blue skies and lovely sand.

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Couldn’t resist this attempt at an arty picture!

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Heading inland to Cocksburnpath next, we came across a lovely wooded glen, and were surprised by this gorgeous waterfall. (There are advantages to not reading ahead of time about the walk!)

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Then we had another unexpected vista. The walk takes you under a A1 motorway bridge – not a part of the walk I was really looking forward to. But there were three bridges – two lovely and one okay – and lots of stunning scenery right below all three. We’ll never drive down south again without realising all the beauty just below!

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We made it to Cocksburnpath just in time for the last bus home – luckily, as we hadn’t checked the schedule or anything clever like that. So no time once again for a brew reward of any kind – sigh! We’re saving them up…

You can find more on this walk on Walk Highlands site at http://bit.ly/2m8dg It’s just over 10 miles long (we’re trying to get fit again!).

 

Conquering Criffel

Here’s to a late new year’s resolution to get writing my blog again….  I’ve got plenty of walks in the bank: from a couple of highlights this autumn to a walk Si and I did with my brother in Canada way back in July.

But, first up, a walk we did this month up Criffel hill in beautiful Dumfries and Galloway. We’ve done it a few times before. The first time we had to abandon ship, so to speak, as the last bit was too snowy and icy. The second time was wonderful (and snow-free). This time, it was somewhere in between. It’s beautiful every time though – the sky was just otherworldly.

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The beginning of the walk gave us a false sense of security: good, well-marked paths that were just a touch muddy here and there. But soon it got downright boggy. Then icy and boggy. Then icy, snowy and boggy (that is, if you broke through the foot of snow and ice, you got to bog).

But as you can see, the view at the top was worth it – or in retrospect anyway. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that….

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We should have known – even the Scottish walkers wonderful website, Walk Highlands, says this about Criffel: “The route is rather spoiled, however, by the exceptionally boggy gound on Criffel, particularly on the descent” – then later, “this section is … a real trial so don’t say you haven’t been warned!” To have that warning in Scotland is really to say something!

To go up Criffel, there’s either a longer, more gradual circular route, starting at New Abbey, or a shorter, steeper path, starting at a car park south of New Abbey. The first is about 7.5 miles, and the second about half that. We, shamefacedly, must admit we did the latter – and I was still sore the next day!

To end with my usual quote from an author from the area, I’m going to be predictable and go for Rabbie Burns – can’t go wrong there!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever. 
-From Tom o’Shanter

 

Repeat performance

We’ve done this walk before. Sort of. And I’ve blogged about it before. Sort of.

Si and I plan to do the Mary Queen of Scots Way this year in our usual piecemeal fashion. The Way is an of unofficial coast-to-coast path created by a walking enthusiast from Callander. I don’t think the route had any funding and it definitely doesn’t have any signs.

So last time we tried this walk – and I emphasize tried – we were walking a bit blind from Callander to Dunblane. We thought we could pick up the guide to the Way in a local bookshop or the tourist centre, but it was not to be found anywhere. So, after a bit of general advice from the tourist office staff, off we went.

And off we went in quite a few wrong directions, it turned out….

But this time we had the guide, as well as a great start to the day with brunch at the Buttercup Café in Doune (highly recommended), and a brilliant, sunny day. We left the car in Doune, took the bus to Callander and off we set.

Our first view was of the gorgeously green Callender crags, which rise above the town. We knew it was going to be a good day right then!

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From the town, it’s an easy walk down a cycle path – well, in fact, pretty much the whole walk is quite easy and mostly flat. But it is 13 miles long, so it’s literally not a walk in the park (as I was to find later).

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It was one of those absolutely magical days. There were flowers growing and birds calling everywhere. We saw some raptors flying high – and even heard the amazing sound of a cuckoo!

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It’s a walk that has it all: expansive views, woodlands, rivers, and even a bit of boggy farmland which hosted a whole host of lovely waterbirds.

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Closer to Doune, there’s a peaceful walk by the river, where we enjoyed watching the sheep and lambs crowd into the shade.

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Then it was back into some woods, with a lush carpet of bluebells.

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Finally, what Scottish walk is complete without a castle? Doune Castle filled the bill very nicely, thank you very much!

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But I have to confess that although the walk goes on for another three miles after Doune to Dunblane , I didn’t take a single picture more. I was hobbling a bit by this point, and saving every iota of my energy for walking. The last three miles between Doune and Dunblane aren’t as photogenic as the rest fortunately – although it’s a nice, easy and open walk for most of the way.

We then found our way into Dunblane. While I limped my way in, Si strolled like he’d walked a mile, not 13. We caught a cab back to Doune and headed home, still basking in the sun (with me much happier once I’d taken ibuprofen!).

There seems to be something wrong with the Mary Queen of Scots Way website at the moment, but you can find out more about the route on the Walk Highlands site .

Chance walk in Fife

Si and I didn’t really plan this walk. It planned itself (okay, with a little help from Si) around meeting for brunch with Simon’s parents on a recent windy Sunday morning. The Clockwork Café in Limekilns is about halfway between where Si and I and Mike and Isabel live, and it looked lovely.

And it was. So after some pancakes and maple syrup for the girls, and scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for the boys, we braved the bracing winds of the Firth of Forth.

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The little village of Limekilns has long lost all its industry and is a charming spot. In fact, we all wanted to move there immediately after wandering around for a while!

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Our seven-kilometre walk took us from the Limekilns harbour to the neighbouring village of Charlestown – also a gorgeous village – and through the Broomhall Estate.

Not surprisingly, as you can tell by its name, at one point Limekilns was known as a centre for producing lime. There is little to show that today, except the ruins of the massive limekilns themselves (pictured below). They were quite spooky and atmospheric, and Si and I both enjoyed a quick run around inside.

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Heading out of Limekilns, the walk went along an old railway line with lots of lovely foliage, finally winding its way to Charlestown.

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I somehow managed to forgot to take a picture of the lovely little cottages in Charlestown. It’s a picturesque place – but you’ll just have to take my word for it in this case!

Then it was on to Broomhall Estate, with lovely views over to the Firth.

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They don’t let you get too close! Below is Broomhall House off in the distance.

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There was lots of variety in this walk, including this field of lovely sheep and lambs – though they were none to happy to see us . A stern look from a mom ….

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The only part of the walk we didn’t enjoy was a brief (maybe one kilometre) section on the A985, liking the estate back to above Limekilns. The traffic was roaring past and we had to keep crossing the road as the pavement ended on one side or the other. In the future, we’ll probably just walk from Limekilns through Charlestown to the estate and back again.

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Here’s a last look at Limekilns itself. And in the spirit of finding a connection to a writer whenever possible, it was from Limekilns that David Balfour and Alan Breck were carried across the Forth in a rowing boat in Kidnapped. I think Kidnapped is one of the finest and most beautifully written characters studies – and adventures, of course! – ever written. (If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?!) Here’s how it all begins, when David remembers his first sight of the the Firth:

You are to remember I had lived all my life in the inland hills, and just two days before had my first sight of the firth lying like a blue floor, and the sailed ships moving on the face of it, no bigger than toys.

So simply put, but so perfect. And it describes what we enjoyed looking at our ourselves during this walk as well!

Limekilns also has a lovely pub, the Ship Inn, which we all warmed up in after those bracing winds. Si found the walk in the Fife Pocket Mountain Guide. Parking is easy on the street and there are some car parks on the waterfront as well.