"It's going to be busy," I said, and it was. Flotterstone car park on a fine Sunday afternoon was hoaching. As we set off, a ranger doing a survey asked us a few short questions about our thoughts on the Pentland Regional Park. Somewhere at the back of my mind a memory stirred. The regional park was detested by gangrels back in the 1980s when it was created, wasn't it? Where had I read that? We set off up Turnhouse and Carnethy.
Carnethy from Turnhouse Hill:
It was an absolutely glorious day. Setting off earlier would have been preferable (Chris Highcock had been up the same hills the same day at sunrise and captured these amazing photos) but I was glad to be out at all, despite the crowds. This was, I think, only my second time on Carnethy Hill, and I was looking forward to seeing the prehistoric cairn at the summit. It was long ago largely remodelled into a number of summit shelters, their shadowed northern sides still frost-covered, the wind biting savagely despite the sun.
We were perhaps a little too late starting, as the sun went behind a cloud as we dropped to Loganlea reservoir from Carnethy Hill, and it was a chilly, shadowy walk back down the glen road to Flotterstone. We surprised a heron just a few feet away on the Logan Burn, which took off in that ungainly, prehistoric way and settled a few yards further upstream. Happy hunting! High above, a line of about twenty ramblers could be seen, descending Turnhouse Hill. Whenever I see a line of walkers silhouetted on the horizon, I can't help it - I am always reminded of the final scenes of The Seventh Seal.
Shortly after, I was in the library and took out Jim Crumley's 1991 paen to the Pentlands, Discovering the Pentland Hills. Aha! Here was the fellow who disliked the Regional Park and its signposts, bulldozed paths, car parks and increased numbers of visitors.
The Pentland Hills Regional Park... is unloved and unwanted by farmers, landowners, shepherds, local residents, hill wanderers, the great mass of Edinburgh people, in fact by every strand of relevant opinion other than the handful of local authority officials who are paid extravagantly to manage them... It is inappropriate, committee-minded, ineffective, expensive, wasteful, and utterly useless. Mercifully it plays no part in the Pentlands beyond Cauldstane Slap...Not sure I follow Jim, do you like the Pentland Hills Regional Park or not?! Jim has more to say about my favourite short walk near my house, Allermuir from Castlelaw:
Castlelaw is a sacrificed hill, complete with rifle range, danger zone and bulldozed road to the summit... Is the army presence really appropriate, in a landscape of such value? Does its presence within the boundaries of the regional park not demonstrate the futility and irrelevance of the park?Yet I confess I love this walk. On short or lazy days, the easy-angled, bulldozed track from Castlelaw provides an unintimidating route to one of the best viewpoints in the area, Allermuir Hill. We were up again recently, drinking in the views.
Caerketton from Allermuir summit:
It was incredibly clear, the Highlands sharp, and do you know what? I did not feel that pang of unfulfilled desire at not being up the Highlands on such a beautiful day. I was content with Allermuir Hill. Its secret is that it feels like a real hill. Allermuir Hill always leaves me fresh-cheeked, lung-filled, invigorated, endorphinated, and today was no different.
Allermuir Hill from Castlelaw:
On the way back, we crossed over to Castlelaw, Jim Crumley's sacrificed hill. He has a long history with the Pentlands, and will have resented the intrusions of the army and bureaucracy in the 1980s. I did not come here until the latter half of the 2000s, the hills already changed. I love them anyway.
Distant walkers and more distant Highlands from Castlelaw:
For all the bulldozed roads, crowds and signposts, the hill tops have not changed. The sunrise, sunset and weather has not changed. The wildlife - may be less, but it is still here. And I prefer not to call this the Pentland Hills Regional Park. Just the Pentlands.
Pentland Panorama from Castlelaw: