Monday, 30 December 2013

Bathgate Hills. Linlithgow. The Kelpies. Grangemouth. Cockleroy. Cairnpapple hill.

I was going to call this post 'The Beauty of the Bathgate Hills' but I know from experience, search engines dump a poetic title to the end of a long queue and fewer curious visitors are the result.
Mention 'The Bathgate Hills' to any hill walker  and they either give you a blank stare before saying "What Bathgate Hills?" or they dismiss them with a smirk without knowing anything about them or even where they are. I first discovered them cycling through this area and although they are not high [ Cockleroy is 278 metres and Cairnpapple Hill just over  300 metres or 1000 feet ] they can form a delightful and interesting walk...or a challenging bike tour with many spectacular ups and downs starting from the handy base of Beecraigs Country Park.

Ron had never walked in this area before and as I had only discovered this route myself a couple of seasons ago I was keen to go back again. We parked in Torphichen village which lies tucked into a fold of the Bathgate hills where there is a choice of parking, next to the ancient Preceptory. From here a farm track heads north to Wester woodside and Craigend then along past Lochcote reservoir to Cockleroy.
This is it in the photograph. Although surrounded in the distance by Falkirk, Grangemouth, Linlithgow, Bathgate and Livingstone it's a surprisingly wild and beautiful area as for most of this walk these towns are all hidden from view, and only partly visible from the summits themselves. Also, surrounded by lower flat lands, with higher mountains briefly glimpsed in the distance occasionally, they can seem much higher than they are. The line of dots above Arthur's Seat, an ancient and much studied volcano, in the photo below, are actually geese flying past.

 It does feel like walking across the rooftop of Central Belt Scotland up here, yet sheltered enough if you pick your day to be warm in bright sunshine even in the winter months. A hazy view over towards Arthur's Seat, the City of Edinburgh and 'Shale Mountain', a man made pit Bing formed by red coloured waste hills dumped here after shale oil extraction to make paraffin, among other products, in high demand worldwide a hundred years ago. Scotland's very own Uluru when sunset or sunrise falls over the slopes. I met a local here a few years ago who had been out to Ayres Rock and he claimed this was better! Far easier to get to- no tourist's- no cars and bus parks or hotel chains to deal with- less flies, dust and heat :)
This area is famous for its Bings and some of them are spectacular mini summits in their own right. I've covered several of them already in this blog in previous years, including 'Shale Mountain'. I also notice that a couple of them are disappearing fast due to their commercial worth as road and infill products, presumably used in construction. The Bing near Philpstoun beside the canal is a diminished shadow of the one I explored years ago so see them all now before the lesser ones disappear by the truck load.
Binny Craig 220 metres, a steep sided volcanic plug above Uphall.
A zoom of Sheildhill ( Near the village of California, which lies just below it) and the mountains of Perthshire, Munro summits covered in fresh snow. A bitter day on the higher mountains with a strong wind chill factor but sunny and not too windy lower down on these hills which is why I suggested them as a good alternative outing. You've all heard of a comfort zone? Well, I prefer these days to find ways to walk within one if its possible rather than seek out the worst aspects of the weather. In my view, sunny days in Scotland are there to be savoured to their full potential and I try my best to do just that.
Linlithgow with its historic Palace, loch and iconic eye-catching spire, Fife hills in the distance.
A panorama of the Avon Gorge with the last of the autumn colours.
Cockleroy again, seen from Cairnpapple hill. Unusual hill names in this area and probably very ancient, named by the inhabitants who stretch all the way back into prehistory. Good links to the areas extensive past here and its buried treasures.  Cairnpapple Hill is one of the most important ancient sites in Scotland and a fantastic viewpoint with a hundred mile panorama. One of the interpretations of its name might be 'Cairn of the People' as it was used for important rituals and as a burial site through the Neolithic period then into the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages.
A view of the numerous bury pits, graves and post holes.
The path to the summit where the most important graves lie. In summer it costs money to reach here but it winter it's free:) You also feel closer to the past when its like this, empty and serene.
Ron and I reached here by descending Cockleroy to the visitors car park near Beecraigs then waking along the fairly quiet road to the Korean War memorial and then up over the Witches Crag.
A view of the huge Grangemouth petrochemical plant which supplies Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England with essential fuel. Seeing the gas flares in the distance I immediately thought of Andy Scott's latest project rising on the Forth and Clyde canal bank near Falkirk which we passed on the motorway on the way in. 'The Kelpies'. Two giant metallic water horse creatures from Scotland's mythic past. A fine work already, but just imagine if you were to connect one of the gas flare lines from nearby Grangemouth inside the horses. What a tourist attraction that would make.
 That sight would put even Smaug the Dragon's gas at a peep I think. Imagine the heat off that fiery breath over the top of tourist's alarmed faces and they could also cook their own hot dogs and burgers underneath simply by holding them skywards. A good video and all the details of one of the largest art projects in Britain here. (The Helix park and access to the sculptures up close opens to the public in Spring 2014.)
The new Korean war Memorial. The last time I was here I took a photograph of the original structure. Although this one is larger, more substantial and a nice piece of art I'm afraid to say it does not have the charm or the impact of the smaller enclosed pagoda. Although only a small garden shed affair it had atmosphere and real character about it and, more importantly, when you closed the door you came face to face with the Korean war, in loads of simple facts, scattered groups of poppies, little hand made wooden crosses and a list of the huge number of countries that took part in this frequently overlooked large scale war. This new monument, although nice as an actual artefact had no soul for me personally and contained only a third of the information of the smaller structure.  Probably cost a lot more too. I presume the reason for replacing the old one was that it could be used for sleeping in by the odd unfortunate without a bed for the night but that was one of the reasons it worked so well, as you could close the door and enter another world by doing so.
This open plan structure left me cold in more senses than one as it was freezing inside this wind tunnel and you didn't want to linger around it anyway as there was not much to read on its walls, compared to the old one. A real shame. Maybe they could put the old one inside the Helix Park if they still have it? Or somewhere where it can be supervised or locked up at night?
Farms, fields and mountains viewed from the Bathgate walk.
We returned via the obvious, almost traffic free, minor road that leads back to Torphichen by way of Gormyre. Even second time around it's a cracking walk that can also be extended to include a drive to Linlithgow followed by a canter around Linlithgow Loch. The beauty of the Bathgate Hills indeed.
In the photo above Torphichen Preceptory rises from the trees surrounding it. Former home of the 'Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland'. Try saying that after a few drinks at New Year. A brief history of these crusader knights in here who eventually transformed themselves through the ages into the St John Ambulance Association and Eye Hospital we know today.


Neil said...

Happy New Year Bob.
That looks a cracking walk. I've done a bit of it but haven't really explored fully. I must go back. Beecraigs country park is a nice walk in itself, and not too far from home. There are quite a few country parks around that are ideal for walking Ben and not too crowded if you choose a weekday.

Robert Craig said...

Been meaning to see the kelpies, looking forward to the park opening.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
Happy New Year. I use Beecraigs for handy parking then go cycling or walking in the surrounding area. This walk is far more open and enjoyable though with few trees blocking the views and its never busy at any time as I don't think folk know about it. OOOPS:)

blueskyscotland said...

Happy New Year Craig,
Never mind the Kelpies. I'm absolutely gutted to have just found out about Gulliver,the Gentle Giant sculpture by Jimmy Boyle in Niddrie and Craigmillar in Edinburgh. Opened by Billy Connolly in 1976 yet I'd never even heard of it until the Lothian geo link on here. That's the type of thing I love visiting and now its been removed. WAH!!!!!! Gone forever!
Did you ever get to visit it? It looks huge! Surely they could have saved it or re-built another one somewhere else- like the Helix Park?

Carol said...

Nice zoom of Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich - I've got fond memories of those Munros :-)

I had a similar fascination to the 'bings fascination' when I was in Cornwall - I just couldn't take my eyes off the China Clay spoil heaps and just wanted to visit and climb them all the time - I'm pretty sure it was because it's so flat there though and I was going mad without any hills! The family certainly thought I was nuts anyway...

Looks a pretty interesting walk that anyway,

blueskyscotland said...

I've been down to Cornwall and Devon exploring a few times Carol,once with Alex and a climbing team from the club where we bagged 'classic rock' ticks on the sea cliffs. I loved it down there. Also managed a large section of the Devon And Cornwall coastal path. Didn't miss the hills at all as I stayed for a while in the 'Devon Alps' around the 'Valley of Rocks' district. Fond memories of Watersmeet, Lynton and Lynmouth,Devon Cream teas and strident peacocks at the Hunter's Inn in the Heddon Valley. Magical place. I'd rather live down there than Skye,Mull or any of the west coast islands. Sunny all summer long down there:)

Carol said...

It was sunny when we were there that June - just it was so b****y cold, I nearly froze to death and ended up getting sick! :-( I have to say that, although the coastal walking was good, I wasn't too bothered about Cornwall myself. I quite like the coastal walking in Dorsetshire though...

The Glebe Blog said...

Happy New Year Bob,all the best for 2014.
Now I don't know why but Torpichen has some meaning in my family, maybe a distant relative or something but I just can't remember. I'll have to talk to my Glenrothes aunts.
It's certainly geese season, our weather doesn't seem to have put them off.
Love the bings, growing up we'd see them around the Fife and Lothian counties coal fields and other mining industries. (It's sad that Scotland's an industrial wasteland now)
You've some great views here, Cairnpapple sounds like a place I should visit on my way over to Glenrothes. Happy wanderings.