Saturday, 9 April 2016

Dirrington Great Law. Abbey St Bathans. Edin's Broch. Cockburn Law. Abbey Hill. Lammermuirs.

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A visit this time to the Lammermuir Hills, a sweeping upland region of high moors, rolling cultivated farmland, and empty summits, the highest just under 2000 feet. They lie in Lothian District to the east and south of Edinburgh running into the Border Hills and together with the neighbouring Moorfoot Hills form the north eastern portion of the Southern Uplands. Many people assume that the Scottish Highlands are the remotest large area in the UK but these days it's actually the Southern Uplands due to a lack of Munros, likewise Corbetts, not much in the way of rugged terrain or really spectacular scenery, and a widely scattered population.
Lammermuir is derived from 'Lamb's Moor' and this area has been gradually stripped of its natural forests then cultivated by farmers and large estates for many hundreds if not thousands of years. Even the high summits, like Dirrington Great Law, 398 metres, seen above, have been managed by people for profit and gain over many generations.
In this instance it's a productive grouse moor with the typical patchwork quilt mosaic of different plant colours carefully managed by estates with shooting rights. Old tough heather for cover from predators and shelter from the elements, interspersed with dappled squares of young green shoots in spring for juvenile grouse to feed on. Medicated grit and water, seen above, is left out at intervals to help the birds digest and grind down their unpalatable fodder and it's laced with a treatment to kill intestinal worms and parasites.( Many wild birds and animals swallow small stones, gravel, or sediment to aid digestion of tough plant materials in their stomach and this is just a refinement of that.
The team this time consisted of myself, Alex, Graeme and Bob R. We parked below the hill on a minor road near Henlaw Wood and a good track soon had us on the summit in just over an hour of walking. On the journey up we noticed a variety of traps set out to catch crows and other animals that prey on the grouse. I have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand the large estates provide employment for locals in an area devoid of other occupations, apart from farming and limited forestry. Also, we wouldn't have large estates or cultivated grounds to visit, preserve for the nation, or simply look at in the landscape without a source of income provided by the hunting, shooting, and fishing fraternity supporting their continued existence.
On the other hand they do kill large amounts of wildlife just to preserve a few chosen species which end up getting shot and killed anyway. Not for the first time I found myself thinking that where you end up on human's judgement list of animals is all about power, money or whether they taste good. Fauna that do our bidding, make us a profit, are easily domesticated or controlled, or are just happy to see us and can demonstrate that fact are deemed "good" and become our friends, subjects, or simply dinner. Horses, Dogs, Cats, Cows, Pigs, Sheep, Deer, Grouse, Chickens etc are all "good guys" but may experience a wide range of endings.
Rats, Mice, Foxes, Crows, Magpies, Seagulls, Mink, Stoats, Weasels, certain Birds of Prey etc are traditionally classed as "vermin" because they compete with us for food or damage profits. Because it's so ingrained in our culture it seems very wrong to eat them and being predators they might not taste as good or carry disease.
If the figures given below in this link come from just one estate, then you multiply it by hundreds of other sporting estates around the UK you get some idea of the numbers of wildlife destroyed each year to protect a few species destined to die anyway. Just a thought.

A remote village in the Lammermuirs.
Next we visited Edin's Hall, an ancient Broch and the remains of an adjacent hill fort sitting above the Whiteadder Water gorge a few miles from the out of the way village of Abbey St Bathans. All of us were keen to visit Edin's Hall as it made an intriguing circle on the Duns, Dunbar, and Eyemouth Sheet 67 OS map that had caught our imagination years ago. It's a pleasant walk in its own right over several fields and stiles on a good grass path, boasting extensive views of the surrounding landscape.

A view down to the "Retreat" a distinctive circular house near Abbey St Bahans situated in a beautiful lush semi wooded valley surrounded by higher treeless moors. A lovely place but it is quiet with no distractions apart from nature and the isolated but pretty hamlet nearby. I presume this is it below. A lovely spot in nice weather but a long way from any shops or entertainment, hence the appropriate name.

Edin's Hall is around a half hour walk from the village or the Retreat and is one of the best preserved examples of a broch remaining in Scotland and completely unique in Southern Scotland as most of the other examples lie in the Highlands.
Very thick walls of stone for defense and protection from the elements with several puzzling internal rooms built within the circular walls, as seen here. Stairs leading down into some of them but not with the expected connecting openings entering from the circular interior of the broch, at this level anyway, suggesting an entrance from above. A prison or a bolt hole perhaps?
This info board at the site gives a more detailed view and description. A human and an animal are both shown within the wall cavities, suggesting multiple use.
An interesting construction and worth a visit if in this area. From here Graeme and Bob R decided to go back to the car then drive to Abbey St Bathans and meet us there while dedicated bagger Alex and myself would walk over Cockburn Law, 325 metres and then Abbey Hill (inner), 278 metres to reach the village by a circular roller coaster walking route taking in several rights of way marked on the OS map.
This proved to be the longest outing of the day but also the most enjoyable for me as it was over green and fertile landscape with magnificent views over the surrounding countryside giving you a real feel of being in the heart of the Lammermuirs. We didn't meet a soul on this walk and apart from our group we only spoke, observed in the distance, or met, four other people the entire day. A common occurrence in the Southern Uplands where you could easily walk across Scotland, coast to coast over several days, and pick a route to avoid any human contact without really trying to steer clear of anyone. It is a remarkably empty land here in the modern age and still undiscovered, apart from locals.
Not wildly dramatic and no sheer cliffs or mountains but you do get a strong feeling of vast rolling uplands, big skies and wide horizons, even on a slightly hazy day like this one. In the best areas the Lammermuirs exude a special quality of peaceful tranquility and space all their own like no other hill group. Despite all this seemingly suitable habitat however there was a distinct lack of wildlife spotted, apart from farm livestock , on a nice day at the start of spring where you would normally expect to see some wild creatures sneaking around.  It may just have been coincidence but during our  visit the skies above the Lammermuirs remained empty of the usual buzzards and other birds of prey, although ironically, we did spot a few crows flying around free, as well as the other ones already trapped in cages. This is a legal method of pest control and I've noticed it on other walks in the past, mainly around the Pentlands and the Southern Uplands.

A sense of space is very strong here.
I really enjoyed this walk across green fields and rolling slopes and it would make a fine circular walk in itself of several hours duration from the village or the Retreat taking in Edin's Hall, Cockburn Law, and Abbey Hill.
Abbey St Bathans itself, when we reached it, was just a small hamlet with a sawmill, a nice church, a scattering of houses...and, in February and early March a wonderland of snowdrops, apparently planted generations ago by the resident nuns at the abbey as a sign of purity. Two long distance walks also cross and enter this little known hamlet which is rarely visited by accident as it sits well away from any main road or passing traffic in a secluded but attractive position.

A stained glass window inside the church that caught my attention.
More snowdrops on the minor road leading down into the village. An interesting and enjoyable day out.

Video today is one taken on the middle pitch of Crypt Route.V Diff. A multi pitch rock climb that starts up a vertical buttress near the summit of Bidean Nam Bian, in Glencoe, the highest peak in Argyll, then disappears deep inside the mountain via a rock fissure before re-emerging on the other side, halfway up another vertical buttress. It's a unique route and a rare experience to climb it which is why I picked it as a chapter in my humorous first book Autohighography. Anyone that's read the chapter description in question (Chapter 7 Crypt Route) might like this entertaining clip showing a more recent ascent. It looks and feels more like a caving trip and is a slightly different variation from the one described in the book although the tiny exit hole to finish looks the same. Several different options present themselves during the middle pitch of this highly unusual rock climb, all of them subterranean at some point of the journey.


Russell said...

Remains of a broch on top of Tappoch [120 metres], a nice wee wooded hill at Torwood between Plean and Larbert. Not worth a journey from Glasgow but worth a detour [its next to a motorway junction] if passing.


blueskyscotland said...

Hi Russell,
Thanks for the info. I didn't know about that one despite a few bike runs from Plean Country Park in the past.

Linda W. said...

That's interesting how the land here is "cultivated" for sport hunting. Sad to see some birds killed at the expense of other desirable prey. But in the American Midwest, pheasant hunting is big business too.

Carol said...

Going to watch the Crypt Route vid in a minute - looking forward to that - those subterranean type of climbs fascinate me and I'd love that have a go at it!

"On the other hand they do kill large amounts of wildlife just to preserve a few chosen species which end up getting shot and killed anyway"
that's exactly my view of it. Very well written points about the hunting, shooting brigade and also mankind's view of his fellow creatures.

That's a superb broch - didn't know about that. My parents used to go to Abbey St. Bathans a lot. I'll get around to it one day...

blueskyscotland said...

Evening Linda,
Yes, it's big business all over the world which makes me realise the total number of other "unfriendly" species killed to protect a select few must be astronomical when added up. A moon sized planet of little corpses. Not something that's ever mentioned though. Fortunately,it's been happening that long that nature has developed ways to fight back and you have to admire the crows, magpies, foxes and buzzards for sheer tenacity.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
The good thing about chimney and interior rock climbs is that there is not the same exposure looking down... the bad in this case is the almost 3000 foot ascent to the start. Your parents must have really liked the Southern Uplands to even find Abbey St Bathans as that's only my second visit in 50 years, the first being a cycle tour.

Carol said...

My parents did really love the Southern Uplands/Borders. Now Richard's keen to go there more too. I'm a bit like Alex though - still hung up on my mountains.

When you say there's 3000 feet of ascent to the start of Crypt Route - is that climbing or walking?

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
3000 foot of walking with a full heavy pack on as the climb lies under the summit cliffs of Bidean Nam Bian and climbs right inside Church Door Buttress at 900 metres above sea level. There's a couple of subterranean rock routes on Beinn Narnain 926 metres, as well but they are not as interesting as this example.

Next time... an example of 'Friction Climbing'

Robert Craig said...

It's a great area. I like the Whiteadder, there are some beautiful spots on it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Craig,
Yes, I'm a big fan of that entire area around the east coast.You don't need dramatic mountains to discover amazing scenery, some of it hidden away in flat farmland.