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.

A grave stroll in Edinburgh

When I was a teenager, I remember being impatient and  embarassed as my mother wandered around a English cemetary, enthralled.  I couldn’t understand the appeal at all.

But now I find them intriguing. Cemetaries are usually so beautiful – wonderful, peaceful places for walks. (And a little spooky too, of course, which adds an extra something.)

The book, Scotland The Best 100 Places, obviously agrees, as we found Warriston Cemetary among their list of top spots across the country, among other historic Edinburgh cemetaries. It may seem like a rather odd choice, but as the book says Warriston has an “overpowering atmosphere of romantic melancholy.”

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We never would have thought to go there on our own, but we were thoroughly taken with the creeping ivy, lovely trees and falling-over gravestones.

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The cemetary was Edinbugh’s first garden cemetary and  is now a haven for wildlife, including songbirds, squirrels, foxes, sparrowhawks, an occasional owl – and appropriately, bats.

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It’s an Victorian-era graveyard and was privately owned, until Edinburgh city council bought it in the 1994. It has been cleaned up in recent years by the Friends of Warriston Cemetary – Si and I could only imagine how ivy-covered and in disrepair some of the tombstones were before they did their work, as it is still quite wonderfully topsy-turvey. Hundreds of the gravestones had to be laid flat because they were considered unstable.

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It was designed by city architect David Cousin in 1842 because wealthy Victorians wanted carefully groomed burial places to reflect their status. He designed it with space for lavish monuments, large family tombs and ornate stones all set in carefully landscaped gardens and walkways. It was the first of its kind, it became a model for several other Scottish cemetaries.

Below is The Red Lady, who was originally in ensconsced in a large tomb with a red glass roof, casting a glow over her and giving her nickname. Her tomb was vandalised in the 1960s, so all that remains now is this figure of a reclining lady.
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As you’d expect in a cemetary with mostly 19th century tombstones, there were many tragically early deaths, as shown in the below photo. You can’t help but wonder about all the stories behind the few details etched in stone as you wander around.
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Buried here also is James Young Simpson, who discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in 1847. His family turned down the offer to have him interred in Westminster Abbey. We didn’t manage to find his gravestone though – maybe next time.
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You could easily combine a walk around the cemetary with a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens or along the Water of Leith, which are both nearby. We did the former, but it was a quick stroll, after the unexpectedly long time we spent wandering around the cemetary.

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We walked there in January and the bare trees added to the atmosphere, but I imagine the foliage will make it a gorgeous spot in spring and summer, so we’ll definitely be back for another look.
We finished off our walk with a visit to Printworks Coffee on Constitution Street – also definitely recommended. (That carrot cake is as good as it looks!)
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A Scottish winter wonderland

One thing I certainly wasn’t expecting on our recent long weekend to Dumfries & Galloway is what’s pictured below – blinding white snow and a brilliant blue sky. Not a usual Scottish combination!

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Ah, it was heavenly. And it gave me my dose of winter snow for the year, which I sometimes don’t get living in Edinburgh. As we walked up a long hill, I said to Si that what I was feeling was just pure joy. That definitely means something if I say that while being vertically challenged!

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The walk started in the charming village of Moniaive, where we had heard there was a good tea room. Unfortunately, it was closed because it flooded the week before during all the unending rain. But we had a lovely lunch in the local pub, and then headed up Bardennoch Hill.

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Our little guidebook, The Pocket Mountain guide to Dumfries and Galloway calls it a ‘gentle ascent.’  I’m not sure I agree, but I was so chuffed* to be walking in the snow with the sun shining that I barely noticed the incline.

(*’Chuffed’ sounds silly with my Canadian accent, but I can’t resist using some British words in writing. ‘Gobsmacked’ is my absolute favourite – you can’t get better than that! You’d think Roald Dahl had invented that word if you didn’t know otherwise.)

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To make the walk even more picturesque, there were sheep! The ‘gentle ascent’ definitely gave way to a ‘steep ascent’ in my humble opinion, as we rose to the pinnacle. But it was well worth it.

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Going down was good fun to start with, as well, as it seemed it was just us and the hares which had been obviously using the path as well – their tracks criss-crossed everywhere.

Then we reach a paved road and had a two-kilometre walk up another ‘gentle ascent’ (not!). That was alright though; I could convince myself that was at least good for my fitness level.

But next… we reached the icy downward portion of the road. The problem with Scotland in winter is that it often hovers around zero degrees, and then gets colder overnight. So it melts and freezes, melts and freezes, and then melts and freezes again. This combination on an paved road going down, down, down (after the ‘gentle ascent’) is definitely not a good thing. Simon and I probably spent twice as long going down as we did going up, as we tried to edge down the road without killing ourselves – okay, perhaps an exaggeration – without seriously injuring ourselves.

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This picture does not do the icy road justice. But we made it, so I stand by my original observation. It was a walk of snowy, fun joy – just slightly spiced by fear!

The walk is 7.5 kilometres long, and there’s a free car park in Moniaive. I highly recommend the walk, but perhaps bring a sledge if there’s a chance of ice….

Isle of Whithorn and Burrow Head

I am a bit ashamed to say that this is me still catching up with Si and my walks – this one is one of our first from way back in October! As you may remember if you were in the UK – or can see if you’re elsewhere – it was unseasonably warm and green in October. So there’s no fooling anyone. Sigh.

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My next few walks will mainly be from Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland. Si and I spent a week there in October in a tiny holiday cottage in the middle of nowhere. We’re back to Dumfries and Galloway for a long weekend to celebrate Si’s mum’s 75th birthday shortly – but luckily you can’t get too much of a good thing! (I mean both birthday celebrations and Dumfries and Galloway.)

For our autumn visit, it was quiet, peaceful, and filled with brilliant walks like this one around the cliffs near the Isle of Whithorn.

The Isle of Whithorn, despite its misleading name, is a quaint wee seaside village. It once was an island, but a causeway was built in 1790. The village was first a port for pilgrims to make their way to the town of Whithorn, home of Scotland’s first saint St Ninian. But now it’s more known for being near the headland from the the cult film, The Wicker Man. (Worth watching to see a young Christopher Lloyd and much more.)

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Before we started off, we had a quick visit to St Ninian’s Tearoom, which has huge picture windows overlooking the harbor and lots of tasty baked goods. The sugar gave us some energy and the view gave us the enthusiasm to get exploring!

We made our way out of the village and up along the cliffs, following the green and yellow footpath signs. It’s a stunning walk along the tops of the cliffs, although it does feel a bit precarious at points, particularly with a strong wind – which we certainly  had.

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Pictured above is one of those precarious bits I mentioned!

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Even the warning sign had succumbed to the elements.

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We skipped the tour of the many Wicker Man filming spots, as we’ve visited them another year on a different walk, but they’re well worth a visit as well.

Instead we headed over to the other side of the peninsula for a walk from the village of Monreith up to the summit of the Fell of Barhullion.

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The first part of the walk skims along a beautiful coastline, as well as this sweet sculpture of an otter in celebration of local writer, Gavin Maxwell. The walk between the coast and the fell is unremarkable (except for being scared to death by two ear-shattering barking dogs). But the view from the top of fell is lovely.

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There’s a cairn, and on a clear day, you can see the Isle of Man to the south, the Mull of Galloway to the West, as well as the Cumbrian coast and Lake District peaks. Apparently anyway. As you can see, it wasn’t a clear day for us – but it was still a lovely view.

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To round off this blog: I can never resist taking a shot of a picturesque stone wall – one for my sis, who shares the (slight) obsession.

Both of these walks are the Pocket Mountain guide, Dumfries and Galloway: 40 Coast and Country Walks. The Isle of Whithorn walk is nine kilometres long, and you can park right in the village. The Monreith Walk is six kilometres long, and you can park at the public car park at the Back Bay of Monreith Village.