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Another post from the winter months I never got around to putting up until now. Arthur's Seat from the Edinburgh suburbs showing its steep western summit edge of vertical cliffs. I had decided to visit the Pentland Hills on Edinburgh's outskirts and an area I'd not walked before. Normally in the past I'd always visited the Pentlands, a shapely hill range of grassy peaks running from Edinburgh's south western suburban edge to the higher Border Hills around Biggar, by car. Most hill-walkers stick to the 20 or so summits closest to Edinburgh, and these are the most popular, but hanging around with Alex, a lifetime bagger and list ticker, I also got to know the other hills further away that few walkers frequent. These might not be as visually dramatic as the Pentlands closer to the capital city but these separate, more individually distant, much quieter, wilder peaks have their own distinct charm, especially in winter. (that will be part two.)
To get there by bus meant three separate bus rides. One from my house to Glasgow City Centre. One from Glasgow to Haymarket in Edinburgh. One from Haymarket up to Hillfoot and the edge of the Pentlands. Around six hours total travel time there and back so an early start and a late finish during the shorter daylight hours of winter. I hoped it would be worth all the effort. I had a good book, Syndrome E by French writer Franck Thilliez to pass the time during the boring middle section of the trip, city to city. (On local city buses I'm always interested in my surroundings, as big cities always change so fast, year on year.) Swanston Village, seen above, is where I got off the local bus and I've been keen on visiting this place for decades as it occasionally popped up in photographs looking very pretty each time. You should never meet your heroes though... Maybe at one time in the past I might have liked it, with a different, more old fashioned ambiance, but nowadays, I have to confess, I was very disappointed in it. Maybe it was the day, or the long travel ride, or too high expectations beforehand but there was not much to it at all and it was now an upmarket enclave of the type I,m very familiar with all too well. Trendy in fact, with all the usual accoutrements of that genre. So no pleasant surprises awaited me apart from an ice covered road as there was a hard morning frost and no sun to melt it.
Swanston was just a posh restaurant, a riding stables, a couple of rows of admittedly quaint cottages, but with modern upmarket cars parked outside so it was very hard to avoid the current reality of the situation. In my imagination beforehand it should have been a rustic hay cart and an old horse as transport. (some creative photography was required to get these shots without automobile intrusion occurring and give it some period charm that it didn't actually have. I'd imagine the other photographers did the same, missing things out, which took me in as the viewer, years ago. Similar in some ways to old walled towns in the remote desert regions..., romantic and timeless structures only if you can ignore the often brand new spaghetti rivers of silver air conditioning/ central heating pipes and ducts running into the various homes. Probably bought with tourist money or scenic big film location revenue. A curse for visiting cameras to try and avoid but a modern necessity and boon for locals who have to live there.)
And that was about it.
This set of cottages seemed to be getting a makeover with loads of banging and hammering inside.
With nothing to keep me in Swanston I headed out along the right of way path to Bonaly along the bottom of Allermuir Hill. I had enjoyed the various bus rides and scenery from the windows but part of the reason for my current downer is that I hate grey days with a vengeance. The title of the blog is fitting as I've never subscribed to the view "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes."
My mood has always been linked to the weather since birth. I rarely enjoy myself on grey listless days. I always enjoy myself on sunny days... in thunderstorms, wild seas, big weather events. Colour- excitement- forces of nature. .. and this wasn't it. Walking along here I was really bored. Listless. What was forecast originally as being sunny all day long when I set off had changed by the time I arrived here to dull, gloomy, grey, and cold. And so was I.
Arthur's Seat and Blackford Hill (metal tower on top) from above Dreghorn. The temperature stayed around freezing and this side of the Pentlands happened to be in a winter frost hollow- so any sign of the sun and blue skies would remain hidden on the other side of the range as long as I stayed here. I had not intended to go up any hills but I was so despondent I thought I should shake off this listless ennui with a blast of hard uphill exercise. As ever, the hills in my thinking were just obstacles in the way. As ever the real prize for me here was a re-acquaintance with Ra. The sun god.
Away with the dreary grey of Edinburgh skies... upwards and over to the sunshine. I took out my map, took off my woolly hat ( as my ears were freezing when walking fast) and had a drink and something to eat. My new plan was to go up the Howden Burn by a steep uphill track, then over the summits of Woodhouselee Hill, Castlelaw Hill 466 metres, Capelaw Hill 464 metres, Harbour Hill 421 metres and Bell's Hill 406 metres. In doing so I hoped to shock myself out of lethargy.. or die trying.
Halfway up the track, and 2/3rds of the way up the hillside I looked back down, gratified to see I'd done the steepest part of the incline... and was puzzled to see a small black dot on the grass beside my lunch spot. It was with sudden horror that I realized it was my best black mountain bunnet, the one I'd used to keep my ears warm. Any other bunnet (hat) I'd leave behind but this one was special and I'd never get another one like it. ( I had two inferior spares already, left in the house.) So with a heavy heart and a curse I trudged back down to retrieve it... losing almost a km of hard won uphill track in the process....
Then all of a sudden some weird alchemy occurred. A Gurdjieff moment. Slogging up the same track and incline a second time I started to enjoy myself.... and that coincided, moments later, with a weak sun appearing. I was happy again. The shapely peaks of West Kip 551 metres, East Kip, 534 metres and Scald Law 579 metres (1,899 feet) appeared across the central plateau. Did the sun appear because I was happy or was I happy because the sun arrived? Do you believe in magical thinking? I am a demigod after all :o)
Open views and a touch of honeyed sunshine was all it took. Western Pentlands here in this one.....- individual separate broad summits, Caringorm like, instead of the multi peak switchback ridge lines of the eastern group. No more grey lands.
Off I went, battering over the named summits as if height and distance seemed a nonsensical concept. Not applicable in any way. I had regained a sense of purpose again. Rocket fuel for any brain.
Pre- Covid 19 days so on this occasion I enjoyed empty hills and summits, only two other hill-walkers encountered the entire day. Sweet solitude was mine to savour.
And the company of savage beasts enjoyed.
An un-frozen Bonaly dam on the long descent.
Wandering down to Bonaly Country Park off the Pentland summits I encountered a mountain biker coming up the track, Wester Hailes and Sighthill in the background. I was impressed as the track gradient was relentless, covered in ice in places, and didn't even have a logical easy through route to anywhere else. Requiring Tour De France levels of energy and commitment. Even walking up it would be hard... on a bike... desperate. Yet just as tricky on the descent with all that ice to avoid.
Yet there appeared two of them... Even at my physical peak on a bike I would never dream of cycling up this track ( this was an easy section, most of it was really steep)
Bonaly Country Park was nice though. a series of scenic paths through rugged little hills and several dams. A place to come back to sometime. I didn't realise until I looked closely at these photos that what I thought was ordinary farm livestock in sheds was Llamas or Alpacas. Too far away to tell and I was getting tired by this time. I also wanted to get back into Edinburgh City Centre before it got dark with three bus trips still to negotiate back to my house.
George Street Edinburgh. These days I don't mind wandering about in the dark in areas I know but I've found in totally unfamiliar parts of cities I've never been in before it's just an extra level of navigational stress I can do without. I always carry a torch now as sometimes extra lighting just to see bus stops, numbers, maps, or street names is often required in the dark. I got lost at night in Perth several years ago and went round in circles, almost missing the last bus back to Glasgow as the bus station there was well out from the city centre. I quite like getting lost... but not at night when I'm really tired with a long journey still to come.
St Andrew Square. Central Edinburgh.
Illuminated Gardens. Edinburgh at night.
Multrees Walk and Edinburgh Bus Station in sight at last.
And over an hour and a half later back in Glasgow city centre. George Square in the rain. Christmas lights. Six different buses in total.
Royal Exchange Square in freezing winter rain. Glasgow at Christmas. A bit of an epic but a trip that should live long in the memory.
The colours, the night-time wanderings through strange darkened streets and alleys in that far east coastal city...then back here.... the pleasure of coming home and resting up at last. Warm and fed after a 14 hour winter journey.
And if you want to experience the tropical version in a few brief minutes then here it is. Another world of colour and strange allure.