Sunday 27 January 2013

The Forth Coast - Hopetoun to Cramond

In the last post, we walked to Forth Coast from Bo'ness to Abercorn. This post continues the route to Cramond. Immediately after Hopetoun, the Forth Bridges draw near at Queensferry. South Queensferry is a historic burgh, its narrow, cobbled main street today choked with cars, the ancient Hawes Inn sitting directly beneath the rail bridge. This is the starting point for an interesting boat trip to Inchcolm.

Forth Bridge:

We carried on under the Forth Bridges, to a pleasant beach at Hound Point. On this particular day, crowds of strollers were taking to the track through Dalmeny estate, yet the more beautiful beach was deserted. Perhaps the facility for tankers to unload oil just offshore puts people off exploring the beach. It was still far more interesting than the track.

Bridges from Hound Point:

Around the next corner, the rugged islands of the Forth came into view, as did Edinburgh and Leith, plus some strange wooden stumps at the edge of low tide. What were they? There are similar stumps off Port Glasgow, the only remains of 18th century shipbuilding industry.


Investigating these stumps took us to the waters edge, and the way back was muddy and squelchy, the saturated tidal mud full of gaping ragworm holes, Barnbogle Castle on the shore above.


Barnbogle dates from the 13th century, but was rebuilt as a Victorian fancy by the local laird, the 5th Earl of Rosebery - who went on to become the Prime Minister of Britain and Ireland. Barnbogle is just a folderol, compared to Rosebery's massive main residence, Dalmeny House. This remains the home of the Earls of Rosebery to this day.

Cramond Island and distant Edinburgh:

Finally, our walk came to the River Almond and on the opposite shore, Cramond. Cramond is the site of a long-gone Roman fort and is terminus of Dere Street, the Roman road from York. A few years ago, an impressive Roman sculpture was found in the mudflats here. For a long time I have wondered if it was possible to take to these mudflats and ford the Almond at low tide, but there was far too much water here, even at what looked like stepping stones. It would be possible to wade across, but wet legs would be guaranteed. If I were walking the coast and the tide was out, I still think I would prefer this wade to walking a couple of miles inland to the footbridge.

Inaccessible Cramond:

Perhaps it would be possible to follow the tidal edge and cross the Almond at Cramond Island? Unfortunately we had run out of time, and I was unable to confirm. The tearoom in Cramond, crowded and bustling with weekenders, remained unreachable from our deserted, wildlife-abundant western bank. We turned around, and headed back to South Queensferry and transport home.

Sunday 20 January 2013

The Forth Coast - Bo'ness to Abercorn

Years ago, when I lived on the west coast, I would not have given the Forth coast a second thought. This was the area designated by Cllr Billy Buchanan as the Bonnybridge triangle (corners at Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow), an area so devoid of interest that UFO sightings had to be invented to reduce its sheer mundanity.

That was, of course, before I moved nearer the Bonnybridge triangle, and my horizons became less distant. Unlike other estuaries such as the Clyde or Wigtown Bay, there is a path or track a good portion of the way along the Forth - and at low tide, the sands can be taken to.

So what about a walk from Bo'ness to Cramond?

This 22km walk starts near Bo'ness Railway Museum, where steam trains still run towards Grangemouth. A medieval church at Carriden provides interest at the edge of Bo'ness industrial estate, before the pleasant track through trees towards Blackness.

Carriden Kirk:

When the tide is out, a large expanse of mud is revealed, corrugated by wave action and littered with worm casts. It is less hopelessly oozing than the tidal muds between Stirling and Grangemouth, but welly boot territory all the same.

Yachts at Blackness:

The most prominent landmark in Blackness is the castle, built in the 15th century, the first purpose-built artillery fortress in the country. In 1592 at Donibristle in Fife, the young Catholic Marquis of Huntly murdered the Earl of Moray, a man known as the 'bonnie earl o Moray' for his good looks. The earl's dying words were "you have spoiled a better face than your own!" James VI put Huntly in Blackness Castle for a short time to protect him, and the Protestant nobles of Scotland were furious at the lenient treatment being doled out to a murderer, claiming that the king was favouring Catholics. However, the king may have had good reasons of his own to protect Huntly, as there had been rumours that Moray was sleeping with the king's wife Anne...

Blackness Castle:

Wooded Forth shore:

Beyond Blackness the wooded south shore of the Forth curves attractively to the next point at Abercorn and Hopetoun. The medieaval church of Abercorn is built on the site of Bishop Trumwine's 681 church, though all that remains from the 7th century is a cross-slab. There may be few traces of the old church, but it marked the historical high water mark of the expansion of the Angles up the east coast, a launch pad from which the Picts were to be evangelised - but was abandoned soon after when the Angles were defeated by the Picts at Dunnichen in 685. Hopetoun, on the other hand, now that Hamilton Palace is no more, is perhaps the grandest private house in the whole of Scotland, and can be visited by tourists.

Midhope, near Abercorn and Hopetoun:

The whole area is thick with the homes of aristocracy, Edinburgh being the centre of power before it vacated to London. A mile inland from Hopetoun is Midhope Castle, and there are more stately homes in the short stretch between here and Edinburgh - but that will have to wait for my next post.

Friday 11 January 2013

In the Pentlands Again: Cauldstane Slap

I mentioned Jim Crumley's book, Discovering the Pentland Hills, in my last post. This book is a little gem, full of the joys of nature and solitude and dripping with the misanthropic scorn of a genuine naturalist for the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

After reading the book, I fancied going somewhere different to my usual walk up busy Allermuir Hill or Turnhouse from Flotterstone. Perhaps a through walk from Balerno to Logan Burn? No, something wilder. The southern half of the Pentlands lack the distinctive outline of the northern half, is a few miles further from Edinburgh, and probably gets five percent of the visitors. This is real connoisseur country, country where you can stride out and not see anybody. We headed up the Thieves Road from West Linton, aiming for the pass of Cauldstane Slap, an old drove road: cattle in the 18th century would have been brought this way by drovers heading for the English markets. A herd of Highland cows stood on either side of the track, shaggy beasts more similar to the hardy drove herds of the 18th century than today's larger, more ponderous animals.

We walked higher, bright sun and cold wind scouring our faces, filling our lungs, the surroundings acres heather moor rather than the northern Pentland's grazed grass, a cheerful gurgling of burns draining the moss, occasional small outcrops bursting out the heather, crowned with the droppings of predators. At the top of the pass a view opens up to West Lothian, the Ochils and Highlands - but we had an appointment to keep, and no time for a wander up either of the Cairn Hills. Instead, on the way back down, we made a detour for a particular spot. This is mentioned in Crumley's book as his favourite place in the entire Pentlands to stop for contemplation, a small outcrop with a wide view of nothing but rolling moorland, and not another person in sight. A delightful spot to wedge yourself in a nook out of the wind, look out over the landscape, and just sit, and think, and say nothing at all.

Looking down on the Thieves Road from Crumley's seat:

This wide and desolate land is the antithesis of the shaplier northern Pentlands and their weekend crowds.

Friday 4 January 2013

Simple Minds and the Castle of Gloom - Part 2

In my last post, I told you about Simple Minds and the Edinburgh Hogmanay concert. We went home full of anticipation, for the forecast for New Year's Day had been good for a week. This was shaping up to be the only decent, sunny day in the entire Christmas holiday. We were going to make the most of it with a walk in the Ochils!

Castle Campbell:

We parked in Dollar and headed up Dollar Glen, Castle Campbell perched on its eyrie high above. Before it became a Campbell property this used to be known as Castle Gloom, and the burns running down the ravines on either side and into Dollar Glen are still known as the Burn of Sorrow and the Burn of Care. These burn names are perhaps newer than the castle, named for glòm, abyss or chasm in Gaelic. Today this gorge was beautiful, full of families and dogs out for a Ne'erday walk. To head up the walkway through the gorge, past the waterfalls, and pop out at the castle is one of the finest short walks in the country. Today it was just the warm-up for the hill.

And what a day it was! The hills were unexpectedly snow-covered, adding drama and brightness to the day. We headed up King's Seat Hill and saw dozens of other folk, people glad to be out and about on the first decent day for a month. The lands of Mannan lay flat astride the Forth to the south.

Looking south:

But looking at the view north from near the summit of King's Seat, would you credit this is, officially, smack in the middle of the Lowlands?

North from King's Seat:

Suddenly the hill was empty: and we walked down in the last of the light, one sole fell runner passing us, the need to climb a hill satisfied.

Whitewisp Hill and distant Lomond Hills:

Happy New Year!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Simple Minds and the Castle of Gloom - Part 1

There's a first time for everything - and the other night, for two reasons, was the first time I'd been to Edinburgh's Princes St Hogmanay party. One reason - why spend a freezing night outdoors, bursting for the toilet, surrounded by a crush of strangers and every pickpocket north of Manchester, when you can be at home with a good malt staring at the flickering flames of the fire? Another reason - by temperament I find the bells a sobering moment, totting up the year's achievements, losses and failures, as the ringing in of the new year heralds another year closer to death. Somebody with this outlook on Hogmanay is going to take a bit of persuading over the merits of a street party.

The persuading came in the form of tickets to see Simple Minds.

Waiting for Jim Kerr:

I must confess that I like live music, but have never been to a major concert - (unless Ray Charles doesn't count, or eh, the Wickerman Festival). I've never been to a huge venue, crushed full of fans smelling of perfume, sweat and marijuana, to see a distant figure belt out songs I'd already heard five times that day on commercial radio. I much prefer live music small and obscure, where you've never even heard of the venue, never mind the bands, and I know half the punters there. The kind of gigs where members of Franz Ferdinand or Frightened Rabbit aren't playing - they're in the audience.

But Simple Minds appealed - they aren't Motörhead, but quality lasts, and stadium-fillers Simple Minds had some amazing tunes in the early 80s. They kept my favourite, New Gold Dream, till the end.

And how did my preconceptions of drunks and pickpockets stand up to reality? We wandered round the street party as well as the gated concert, and it was all very good natured, overcrowded only in front of the various stages, and with far fewer paralytics than I expected. That so many folk were foreign probably helped in that respect. Woolly hats and gloves kept the cold out rather than beerjackets. A fair smattering of more mature folk as well. For once, driving home, I did not feel like the only sober man in Scotland.

And sobriety was allied with anticipation - as you'll see in my next post!