My plan for today had been to share the recipe that I tried out for dinner last night. This plan was thwarted by the dismal failure that came out of the oven. Thankfully it did actually taste lovely, but that was the only good thing about it – it was an absolute pain to make, more or less fell apart before even going into the oven and wasn’t remotely presentable when it came out. Clearly some serious recipe tweaking will be required. So instead of sharing a recipe today, I thought I’d introduce a new feature on my blog, called Toothy’s travels. This will basically just be a feature where I can share my adventures in and around Edinburgh and other places that I happen to visit and enjoy. There’s a slightly more detailed explanation if you click on the link or the tab above the header.
When we lived in Norway, I often went hiking with the Guides – we were spoilt for choice when it came to mountains and scenic hikes. After Norway though, we move to the Netherlands, which isn’t exactly famous for its hilly terrain, and I haven’t really done much hiking since. I could have done plenty of hiking around Scotland whilst at university, but I never really quite got round to it. Shame on me, I know. So anyway, about two weeks ago (I’m obviously really on the ball with getting my posts up) my mum and I decided to take advantage of the wonderful sunny weather and go explore the Pentland Hills Regional Park. Well, we only really went for a little 5km hike in a small area of the park, but it still counts as exploring because, despite the Pentlands being on our doorstep, we’d never actually been walking there. I wouldn’t exactly describe my Scottish family as avid hill-walkers, so whenever we came to Edinburgh on leave, unfortunately we never really took the time to go for hikes.
If you’ve ever been to Edinburgh and looked southwards, you’ve probably noticed the artificial ski slopes, and in fact, that’s the area of the Pentlands that we explored. As you can see from the little map (which I spent far longer putting together than I should have – I discovered that you can draw routes on OS maps online. I’m easily amused…), we basically went up Caerketton Hill and back down again. It took us about 2 ½ hours (I kept stopping to take photos and we faffed around at the cairn for quite a while) and we were treated to some fantastic views of Edinburgh, though the Firth of Forth was a bit hazy. The heather was also in bloom, so we were treated to beautiful purple expanses at several points.
We parked on the main road near the turn-off for the Hillend snowsports, so we started off by walking towards the ski slopes. It’s not particularly difficult to orient oneself in this part of the Pentlands since the ski slope and Edinburgh are pretty distinctive landmarks, so we were fine with just the map provided by the Regional Park, but if you’re going to venture further into the Pentlands, I would definitely suggest investing in an Ordnance Survey map, especially since there is a military rifle range within the park.
We knew we were aiming for the top of the hill, so as the ski slope came into sight (complete with people actually skiing. In full ski gear. In July. I dread to think how disgustingly hot that would have been.), we just sort of struck upwards. There are a lot of small paths that go upwards so this isn’t exactly difficult, and you can pretty much make your own path anyway. As we were making our way up, several paragliders were taking off from the top, so it was good fun to watch them glide around on the air currents.
Once level with the top of the ski slope, you have to follow a fence for a little while to get to a crossing point, which is a good reminder that a large proportion of the park is actually used for pasture, so if you’re taking a dog with you, make sure that it doesn’t worry any livestock, particularly during the lambing season. Whilst we’re on warnings, you should also be aware that it’s currently the grouse shooting season, and will soon be the partridge shooting season, but apparently (according to the website – I can’t actually vouch for this) areas to keep away from are signposted and marked out by the rangers every day.
According to the OS map, just before crossing over the fence, we were really close to the remains of an old fort, but I don’t think it’s particularly obvious, because we certainly didn’t notice it. To be investigated next time… We then continued upwards, up a very steep slope on which we discovered wild blueberries. I love wild blueberries, but these ones were tiny and very tart, so rather on the disappointing side (I’m obsessed with food, of course I stopped and tasted them!). Oh well, never mind.
Reaching the top of the slope, and thus Caerketton Hill, affords absolutely stunning panoramic views. Not only are you treated to the sight of Edinburgh sprawled out beneath you with the remarkably pronounced mass that is Arthur’s Seat, with the Forth beyond, but there are also beautiful views of the rest of the Pentlands, stretching southwards.
A little further along the path, there is a cairn. Well, actually, I would describe it more as a haphazard pile of rocks and stones, but perhaps that’s what cairns are in Scotland. I’m not sure – I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Scottish cairn before – but if so, I have to admit, it’s a little disappointing. My previous experience of cairns consists of Norwegian ones, which are stacked up properly like a tower and usually well-maintained.
Continuing past the
pile of rubble cairn, the path continues along a sort of ridge, with the Caerketton Craigs below, although they’re more obvious and impressive from below rather than looking down. You can continue along the path and climb to the top of Allermuir Hill and its viewpoint, but we were a bit short on time, so we decided to follow a vague path down the side of the hill towards Swanston instead. It’s pretty steep, so good shoes (and knees) are recommended before going down that way.
Once at the bottom of the hill, directions to Swanston are well signposted, so off we went along the path, only to find our way blocked by a herd of hairy Highland cows with very pointy horns. So we beat a hasty retreat (you can never be too careful around cows, especially ones with pointy horns), and took a little diversion. As I said before, it’s easy to orient yourself in this part of the park, and we found our way to Swanston without any difficulty.
I’m not a huge fan of the word “quaint,” but I’m not really sure how else to describe Swanston, a small village where Robert Louis Stevenson spent several summers as a young man, on account of his health. We emerged into a a group of white-washed cottages with thatched roofs, and they were just adorable.
As we made our way back towards the main road, we followed a path that was bordered by the Lothianburn Golf Course on one side, and fields on the other. It turns out there’s a free-range chicken farm in Swanston, and they have some really nice-looking chickens. (And how fancy are their coops?) I don’t know if you can buy eggs and whatnot from the farm, but I feel it’s worth investigating next time…
So there you have it, a thoroughly enjoyable short walk in the Pentlands, and a long ramble of a blog post which is really just an excuse for me to show you some photos that, for once, have nothing to do with food (except that last chicken one. Oh and the blueberries). If you’re ever in Edinburgh and enjoy walking though, I would thoroughly recommend going for a little trip in the Pentlands!
Enjoy the rest of your day!