Monday, 22 June 2020

What Hill Will You Climb After Lockdown?

It won't be long now until the coronavirus lockdown is over. We will still have to socially distance, but we will be permitted to climb hills, which will be lovely. It has been the longest period since foot & mouth disease that the hills have been closed to visitors, and it has been difficult to stick to the rules. One or two (or a dozen) visitors won't have any negative effect on the nation's health, but we stay away because we know that otherwise, there will be massive crowds and unsustainable parking in Glencoe, Coire Cas, Linn of Dee, Rowardennan, Glen Nevis, and anywhere else that immediately comes to mind when people think of going up a hill.

My friends want to climb Suilven. Like the lead character from the film Edie, Suilven has become a totem of freedom, of escape from a life poorly lived.


For me, I prefer the idea of going where nobody else is. This requires a cunning reversal of the normal question, "where do you fancy going this weekend?"

What, instead, is the last place you would expect to encounter people?

I've already written about what may be the most boring hills in Scotland, the conveniently nearby Moorfoots. But when we get the chance to drive further afield, it will be hard to resist doing so. And with the net cast further, what really, echoingly empty places can we go? To be truly off-putting for enough people, the approaches have to be laboriously long, the payoff on reaching the top a massive sense of anti-climax.

Could that be a reasonable description of the Monadhliath? These hills are brimming with wildlife and views over to the Cairngorms and North-west Highlands, but to most people they are a purgatorial high moor devoid of interest.

The Monadhliath - MAMBA country:

And while the Monadhliath may be prime MAMBA (Miles And Miles of Bugger All) country, I think the real prize goes to Caithness. In the Caithness backcountry there's nothing but bogs and water, a place you can guarantee you'll meet nobody. So for me, it's Ben Armine or Ben Alisky, a long drive and then a depressing trudge from the nearest road-end.

Can't wait.

But we'll probably have a crack at Suilven.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

A Local Walk

How are you all doing in coronavirus lockdown? I hope things are going OK for you. I can work from home and my family haven't been infected. Many of you will not be in that position.

At least we can still get out for a walk.

The playparks closed, a permanent sabbath:

And in that sense we are fortunate again. Our house is at the edge of a conurbation. Head in one direction, and it is pavements and people-dodging on the cycleway. Head in the other though, and we go deep into rural Midlothian. It's a direction we rarely explore. But we are glad of it on our doorstep now!

Quiet area beyond Whitehill House:

We explored paths we'd never been on before, encountering almost nobody. Between the towns of Midlothian and the Moorfoot Hills is a secret area of farmland, the Pentlands and top of Arthur's Seat visible, furloughed cruise liners moored in the Firth of Forth, neatly tilled fields and statement oaks.

Eventually we reached a bridge over the River South Esk, and a side of Midlothian we were already familiar with: the riverside gorges of the North and South Esks and their tributaries. But this particular stretch of the South Esk was unknown to us.

This is the domain of redwoods and roe deer, and we walked with delight along a path strewn with wood anenome and celandines. The sun finally came out and had us blinking in its brightness. 

The South Esk passes Dalhousie Castle, and we were less than a mile again from Edinburgh's growing conurbation. We'd managed almost the entire route on quiet paths, and seen far fewer people than on the more popular greenways that connect the towns.

Dalhousie Castle:

This is just one of the quieter routes around us that we are fortunate to have. So what is your local walk?

Saturday, 7 March 2020

John Tullis' Big Munros Question

A chap at Edinburgh University called John Tullis asked himself a question recently: which city is better for Munrobagging? Glasgow or Edinburgh?

Having lived in both, the answer is pretty obvious. Glasgow of course! But John's data visualisations give an answer that is both definitive and engaging - quite a feat. I encourage you to click on the link and watch his animations. I personally could watch for hours the wee cars driving around the Highlands.

And he's giving a talk on it on Thursday 12 March 2020 in Edinburgh, a must for any hillwalking geeks.

Because John will reveal one further piece of information his analysis has uncovered. Based on minimum total driving time, what is the best location to live to bag all the Munros? Is it Fort William? Dalwhinnie? Find out at his talk! I intend to be there - perhaps I will see you?

Get free tickets from: