Friday, 11 June 2021

County Tops: Roxburghshire

 A while back I wondered how many historic county tops I still had to visit. There are 33 of them, and it turned out I had done most of them: only Morven (Caithness) and Rona's Hill (Shetland) required anything more than a daytrip, so they seemed a great project as we slowly moved out the levels of lockdown.

Craig Airlie Fell:

Blackhope Scar (Midlothian) was beautiful in unseasonably hot March weather: Innerdouny Hill (Kinross) and Craig Airlie Fell (Wigtownshire) in April and May were more perfunctory, bagged in pishing wet weather. South of the Tay only West Cairn Hill (Roxburghshire) remained, so I set off, confident it would not take long. How wrong I was!

I arrived in glowering weather, the promised rain never quite materialising, but something about the day felt heavy and sluggish. I parked at Sourhope, where a notice described two border terriers that had been stolen. We were about to get a dog ourselves, and I was outraged on their behalf. The spirit of the Border reivers lives on in this quiet backwater, the last human habitation before England.

On the England/Scotland border:

The way from Sourhope up to Auchope Cairn on the Anglo-Scottish border was hard going, boggy terrain and a lack of sleep the previous night slowing me down. I couldn't help thinking of Pennine Way ultra-runners reaching this point and maybe throwing in the towel! I poked my head around the door of the Auchope mountain refuge and recoiled. I wondered if the smell of human waste had anything to do with the odd-looking man I had seen earlier in the day wandering around Town Yetholm. The Pennine Way is a tough route, and doesn't attract the dilettante.

Annoyingly I had already almost done West Cairn Hill years ago: it lies high on the shoulder of The Cheviot, which I'd previous walked over from Wooler, visited Cairn Hill half a mile from today's target, and headed back to the car, leaving West Cairn Hill unbagged. But as The Cheviot was so close, I decided to revisit, a line of paving stones making the route across the bog easy. This would be very tough terrain without them!

On The Cheviot:

I decided to follow the Pennine Way for a bit along the ridge of the Cheviots, England on one side, Scotland the other, high, boggy country that did not feel very welcoming on this gloomy day. It was here I saw the only people of the day, a couple of Englishmen who asked if The Cheviot was the highest hill in the massif. They were three weeks into a long distance walk across some of the most infamous bogs in Britain and looked fairly discontented. It was not surprising they didn't seem particularly full of bonhomie. 

I headed back down towards Cocklawfoot, surprised at how long the walk had taken me and how much effort it had felt like. The Cheviots are not terrain to mess with.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

The Cairngorms Lyric

Browsing Merryn Glover's website, I came across the concept of the 'Cairngorms Lyric'.

The Cairngorms from the North:

Merryn's an author and educator who lives near the 'gorms, and her Cairngorms lyric is a poetry form of fifteen words, at least one of which must not be English. Oh, and it must feature Cairngorms nature in some way. Examples on her website include:

Spring rises from her kip to find her bed filled with snow.
Winter willnae go.
      Merryn Glover

Redpolls and siskins upside down in the birkin branches; 
In the forest many lifetimes deep. Carolyn Robertson

I'm a sucker for novel poetry forms (see 'Thingabouts'), so decided to have a go of one myself!

Thick soups of clouds
tastes of moss and mineral
sustenance for ghosts
on Beinn Macdhuibh.

Why not have a go of a Cairngorms lyric yourself, and post the results to Merryn?

On Braeriach:

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Beach and Brae

For the first time in 2021, we're allowed out our local area!

Aberlady Bay:

I've been having video catch-ups with fellow hillwalkers, and assumed my first trip would be to the Highlands. But it's hard to describe how important the seaside is to me. On Saturday morning we set off for Gullane and Aberlady in East Lothian, entranced by the clear air and sunshine, sandy beaches and rockpools, links soil and fascinating rocks. The great sweep of Aberlady Bay, looking like something out of the Med. As we approached the beach and smelled the salty air, I got a bit emotional.

I love the hills. It's where I go to escape. But the sea is where I go to come home. ❤

That did not mean the hills were going to be neglected!

On Càrn an Tuirc, Glenshee:

The next day brought a contrast weather-wise, but a return to familiar things I'd missed. The companionship of a good friend. The smell of a damp ham sandwich made the night before. The sight and feel of a lichen-covered piece of quartzite, set in a bed of heather.

There was so much wildlife! Ptarmigan, mountain hares, red grouse and the occasional field vole scurrying into a hole in the grass.

A rare moment below the cloud, looking into Coire Kander:

Sunday was a bit blowy with low cloud and sleet/snow on the tops east of Glenshee. Still, it was great to get out of Midlothian after four months!

Monday, 5 April 2021

The Weekend Fix, Take Two

It looks like we might soon be allowed further afield again, and I can't wait.

In the meantime I've got news for you! The second, improved edition of my hillwalking book, The Weekend Fix, is coming out on Thursday 8 April 2021!
I'm doing a launch event on Twitter at 1pm on Thursday with the hashtag #TheWeekendFix, and you're welcome to pop along. If you can't wait till then, you can buy a copy from the following places:

* Order on Amazon
* Order on Blackwells
* Order at Portobello Bookshop (support your local independent bookstore!)
* Order on Waterstones

Perhaps I will see you on Thursday and in the meantime, take care!

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Confessions of a Tump Bagger

Lockdown has lead to some desperate measures.

A friend confessed he was bagging the Tumps of West Lothian, all the 'hills' with a 100ft all-round drop. This is a man who once did a first route in the Andes! ­čśé

But then it got me thinking. How many Tumps are there where I live? So here I am on Arniston Colliery bing, wondering what on earth I am doing.

This post was going to be highly derogatory about the Tumps, the hillwalking equivalent of skip-diving bottle banks for dregs off discarded alcopops.

But in fact it has led to a couple of lovely days. Skylarks and brown hares, lapwings in the Moorfoots, snowdrops in farmyards, the kind of lowland countryside I would never normally visit on a hill walk. The Tumps may be pretty obscure, but there are over 17,000 of them in Britain. No matter where you are stuck for lockdown, there are some Tumps nearby.

Still, let us up the Highlands soon please. Because after the Tumps, there's nowhere legal to go.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Boring Hills and County Tops

This is the tree guarding the path of adventure, the path that leads at last to the wilderness of the foolish cry.

(a.k.a. Blackhope Scar, highpoint of Midlothian county, a slight rise in the middle of acres of quaking bog.)

I have maligned the Moorfoots before as the most boring hills in Scotland. But no more. The day started early morning at Gladhouse Reservoir, a mass of honking geese and a little ice on the water where the sun had not yet reached. I breathed in fresh spring air and walked up the secretive glen of the upper River South Esk, a fresh mountain burn this far upstream, full of latent promise.

What a cracking day out in sunshine and moorland. Skylarks, stonechat, grouse - I even saw a mountain hare! It was the first I knew they lived in southern Scotland.

A great daytrip despite all the bogs higher up, and as Blackhope Scar at 651m is the highest point in Midlothian, I've finally bagged the top of my local county!

Wonder how many more county tops there are to do...

Monday, 8 February 2021

Castles of Midlothian

Still stuck in our local county with lockdown...

Borthwick Castle:

It was out with the Midlothian Core Paths maps as we stayed local again yesterday. Disappointed beforehand not to be up the Highlands but had a fantastic walk, and you can see why!

Crichton Castle:

This route between Crichton and Borthwick castles was the way less travelled. No human prints in the snow, but rabbit, deer, squirrel, fox, and plenty birds...

Visiting the Highlands would be great, but the Lowlands scrub up not bad themselves, eh?