Sunday 16 November 2014

Birnam Tay Dunkeld

The Tay at Birnam:

Autumn. The time of golden trees, russet bracken, roaring stags and dark rivers. The time to take a trip to the Highlands.

Dunkeld House Hotel:

I am carrying another injury so the walk had to be short. The Tay at Birnam and Dunkeld fits the bill. We had been here before, but not in autumn.

Fiddler's Path:

A well-maintained trail called the Fiddler's Path takes you from Birnam, up the right bank of the Tay, onto the A9 to cross the Tay, then down the left bank through the grounds of Dunkeld House Hotel. It was damp and dull, but the sun occasionally filtered through the clouds.

The Tay here is dark, deep, fast-flowing. Occasional bubbles and eddies speak of strong subsurface currents. Wait long enough, and a salmon splashes through the surface to take a look around.

Dunkeld is an historic village. Its cathedral is modest and relatively modern - the current building dates from the 13th century - but it is situated on the site of an ancient 6th century church, surrounded by mature trees with the Tay gliding by. It is a peaceful, exceptionally right spot. We came out of the cathedral grounds and bought speciality cheese in Menzies of Dunkeld to eat with oatcakes on our way home.


A lovely short walk of six or seven miles. I just hope to be well enough to take to the snowy hills this winter.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Eastend and Tinto

Lanarkshire from Tinto:

There is an element of Hobbiton in the green teletubby hills and stands of mature trees that mark the rolling South Lanarkshire countryside, especially when driving along the backroad via Biggar and Thankerton on a fine day. We had come to South Lanarkshire for two purposes: to climb a hill, and to explore an abandoned house. I already knew and liked Tinto, and the grapevine told us of an intriguing derelict just a mile or so from the bottom of the hill. On a mellow autumn day, we parked discretely and headed on foot to our mysterious ruin.

Approaching Eastend:

The house is substantial and largely watertight, surrounded by trees and set in a lawn with a fine view of Tinto immediately south.

Although abandoned, the house seemed to still be in reasonable condition. We went inside.

The stairs were solid, and we spent a while wandering around the upstairs rooms, taking care not to go through any floorboards.

This house was one of many across Southern Scotland that were commandeered by the Polish Army in exile during the Second World War. After the war, many of these grand houses lacked a function. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of similar abandoned houses in Scotland, great houses built or expanded in the Victorian era, designed for entertaining large parties, whose size became uneconomical as society changed and empire and industry shrunk. Those that failed to be turned into hotels or similar viable businesses in the second half of the 20th century have often been left to ruin. It is sad to see grand houses like these derelict. Perhaps now that society is becoming more unequal, one of the side benefits may be that large houses like these could make viable family homes again, and thus be rescued from ruin.

The house thoroughly explored, we walked on to Tinto and its popular north-eastern approach. The first couple of times I went up Tinto was from the south, through the trees and boggy field above Wiston and turning the steep nose on its side. The north-east approach however had a well-made path all the way up, and other parties enjoying the day.

The path heads past an intriguing 'fort', although the defensive capabilities of the concentric structure are questionable. It is more likely that it was used for some ritual rather than defensive purpose. Tinto, after all, is a beacon hill, its gentle swelling well seen to the south from any high-rise in Glasgow on a clear day, a place where Beltane rituals were likely conducted in time immemorial.

At the top, a view south of Culter Fell and the Southern Uplands. Tinto is an outlier of this range, moated by a big loop of the Clyde. The summit boasts a 45m wide, 6m high prehistoric cairn, visible, apparently, from both the Atlantic and the North Sea. It is a windy, exposed, exhilarating spot, with views in all directions.

Tinto is a magic mountain, easily forgotten by those who favour more rugged Highland hills, but rich in old history. The fields of Clydesdale grew grey with dew as we descended and the sun's light and warmth fled.