Friday 24 June 2022

Lowland Hills and Highland Hills: the Highlands

Three summer evenings, three hills, three geological divisions of Scotland.

Across the Firth of Clyde from Tom na h-Airidh:

Twenty-five years ago I searched for the best viewpoint of the Firth of Clyde, visiting various points like The Saddle on the Ardgoil Peninsula, Lyle Hill above Gourock, Dunrod and Hill of Stake.  

A strong argument can be made for Haylie Brae above Largs, but my favourite was Tom na h-Airidh, an obscure but glorious spot above Helensburgh, defended by bogs and a disorietating conifer plantation.

Time to revisit!

In my last two posts I wrote about an atmospheric Friday sunset on Windlestraw Law in the Southern Uplands; and a windy, sun-flooded Saturady evening on Turnhouse Hill in the Central Belt. On the Sunday it would be a Highland hill. How would they compare?

Glen Fruin from the top:

Tom na h-Airidh is only just in the Highlands, the first hill after Ben Bouie on the Highland Boundary fault. It's the lowest hill of the three, yet I knew not to underestimate it thanks to the difficult approach. But things have changed since I last visited. In summer the bogs have largely dried out, and some of the conifers have been felled, making it easier to see where you are going. 

The other change is that today I was using the Strava app on my phone. I am an old school navigator who prefers a map and compass, but I've never been comfortable in forests. They can be so easy to get lost in! Strava shows you a map overlaid wih the ways others have gone. It feels like an unfair advantage, a window into the secret local routes, and I went a shorter and less boggy way than if I had relied on my own initiative. I would have missed at least one turning without Strava.

Coming out the trees:

As we approached the edge of the trees near the summit I prepared to get my dog on her lead. (One advantage of forest walks: no sheep.) But coming down from the top were three healthly, happy women and their three dogs. No sheep about, they said, so my own dog stayed off her lead.

The views from the top were as good as I remembered.

Tom na h-Araidh summit outlook:


But something had changed. In quarter of a century the trees have grown, obscuring the bottom of the view. One day this lot will be felled, and I fancy returning. 

View from near the top of Tom na h-Airidh, late 1990s:

We headed back down via some obvious mountain bike trails. It was heartening to see the local kids had turned this forest into their resource. Lower down, we met a couple of boys pushing their bikes up the hill. 

So how did these three hills compare?

The Highland hill had the best views. The Central Belt hill was the most convenient. And the Southern Upland hill had the most atmosphere.

 But there's one thing they all share: there isn't a corner of Scotland where you can't find a great short walk.

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