CHRISTMAS week and your mind might just be more focussed on festivities other than fresh-air, but come Boxing Day you might well be looking for somewhere to stretch your legs and work off the annual gut-bash. I’ve chosen a handful of comparatively easy walks – you might find time to drag the family out with you before the Hogmanay bacchanalia begins…
Oh, and lest I forget – once you’ve stretched your legs and cleared your head on Boxing Day and on the 27th why not sit down with a dram in front of the telly and watch our Christmas offerings from the Adventure Show. This year it’s a long 250-mile route from Iona to the Tarbat Peninsula near Tain. We’ve called it The Pilgrims’ Trail, and I’ll be following in the footsteps of Columcille, soldiers, drovers, poets and vagabonds across the highlands. I’ll also be using to walk to try and challenge my own perceptions about wild land. What is it, and are our empty lands truly wild?
The programmes are on BBC2 Scotland and Sky Channel 970 (Virgin too) at 6.15pm on Boxing Day and 6.30pm on the 27th. Both are hour-long shows.
Hope you enjoy them but for now, here are the Christmas walk suggestions…
1) The Campsie Fells
The high moorlands of the Campsie Fells have introduced generations of folk to the delights of hill walking. The plug of Dumgoyne, at the western end of the Campsie Fells, is a prominent landmark and Earl’s Seat, at 578m, is the highest of the Campsie hills. This walk, taking in both these landmarks, gives a fairly straightforward hill walk with wide views to the south over the urban skyline of the city and contrasting views to the north towards Ben Lomond and the jumble of hills that mark the highlands.
The Campsies are made up of layers of lava flow and Dumgoyne, the fort of the arrows, is an ancient volcanic plug whose name suggests that it was once a defensive site. Neighbouring Dumfoyn could be the “hill fort of the wart”, which probably best describes its appearance. Earl’s Seat is probably named after the Earl of Lennox whose lands once extended on the south side of the Campsie Fells.
Map: OS Sheet 64
Distance: About 7 miles
Time: 4-5 hours
Start/Finish: The A81 Blanefield to Killearn road in Strath Blane about a mile and a half west of Blanefield near Craigbrock Farm.
Route: Take the private road past the farm and follow it towards the cottage called Cantywheery. Just before you reach the cottage cross over a bridge, go through a gate and take a grassy track which runs up the hill towards an obvious black crag which sits clearly above Craigbrock Wood. Pass to the NW of this crag and find a stream which runs downhill on the left. Cross over it, cross a drystone wall and follow rough tracks in a WNW direction, contouring round the slopes of Dumfoyn. Another stream is crossed and it’s now a steady climb up a sheep track which runs across the S slopes of Dumgoyne to reach its broad SW ridge. Easy grass slopes lead to the summit. From the top, descend in a NE direction to a shallow col and continue over the broad grassy ridge just north of Drumiekill Knowes. Continue along the ridge in a NE direction to the grassy bumps of Clachertyfarlie Knowes. Descend gently, cross some wet and boggy ground and climb the final grassy slopes directly to the summit and trig point of Earl’s Seat.
Descend in a SW direction across the groughs and bogs of the infant Ballagan Burn, climb gentle slopes and cross a fence just before Graham’s Cairn. Follow the burn in the Cauldhame Glen on its S side and eventually you’ll rejoin your earlier uphill route just above Cantywheery cottage. Follow the private road back to the A81.
2) Callander’s Woods
There are a number of fine walks to be enjoyed in the vicinity of Callander, ranging from long hill routes to shorter riverside walks. This route lies mainly in the south west of the town, making the most of the wonderful natural woodlands that surround the town.
Close to the start of the walk is a prominent mound called Tom na Cheasaig. This commemorates St Cessoc and an old statistical account claims that this same spot was where: “the people upon Sabbath evenings, exercised themselves with their bows and arrows, according to an ancient Scotch law for that purpose.” Above the A821 road lies Bochastle Hill, once the site of an iron age fort, Dun Bochastle. Very little of it remains today although Bochastle Hill still boasts its Samson’s Putting Stone. This great round boulder is a glacial erratic, dumped here on the hillside by a glacier many, many thousands of years ago. Near Kilmahog, the walkway was formerly the route of the Callander to Lochearnhead railway, which was closed in 1964. It’s now part of a walkway and cycletrack that runs through the Pass of Leny to Strathyre. Soon after, as you approach Callander towards the end of the walk you’ll pass a field with some curious low ridges in it. This is the site of an old Roman camp.
Map: OS Sheet 56
Distance: About 5miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Start/Finish: The Meadows car park ppposite the Dreadnought Hotel
Route: Head E beside the River Teith, go through a children’s playground adjacent to the mound of Tom na Cheasaig and leave it onto the A81. Turn right, cross the bridge, and continue past some houses as the road swings to the left. Once round the bend look out for two stone pillars on the right. Pass the pillars into woodland and follow the path uphill, through a gate, and continue slightly uphill with the woodland in your sights on your left. Maintaining the edge of the woodland on your left look out for an old stone dyke running off to your right. Follow the path that runs alongside this wall, deep into the woods, until you reach another wall running at right angles to the original one. Go through a gap in the first wall and continue straight ahead for about 30m before turning left again on a very faint and often muddy path. Follow this path until it meets with a double rutted forest track that leads to a car park at Coilhallan Wood. Turn left out of the car park and follow the road past some cottages to the bridge over the Eas Gobhainn. Follow the minor road to the junction with the A821. Turn right onto the A821 and follow the footpath on the north side of the road. Just before reaching Kilmahog, you’ll come across a signpost indicating a picnic site. Adjacent to this site is the walkway that will take you back into Callander and The Meadows.
3) The Queen’s Drive, Braemar
This is a short circular walk below the slopes of Creag Choinnich, which stands above the lovely Deeside village of Braemar. The latter part of the route follows the old carriage road which Queen Victoria often enjoyed, often according to local legend, stopping to give money to any children she happened to encounter.
Braemar is probably best known as the venue of the Braemar Games, or the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering to give it its full name. This event is held annually on the first Saturday of September and dates back some 900 years to when Malcom Canmore summoned the clans to the Brae of Mar for contests in strength which would enable him to choose the best men as his soldiers. Invercauld House dates from the 15th century. This is the ancient seat of the Farquharsons and it was from here that the Earl of Mar called out the clans on behalf of the Old Pretender in 1715. The Mound, on which the Earl of Mar raised his standard of rebellion was flattened to make way for the Invercauld Arms Hotel. A plaque in the hotel marks the spot.
Map: OS Sheet 43
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 2 hours
Start/Finish: The east side of the A93 close to St Margaret’s Church.
Route: Behind the church a stile crosses into woodland with a track running through it. Follow this broad track until it becomes a footpath. Continue on this path climbing steadily upwards until it emerges from the woods at a signpost and meets another track. Turn left onto this track and follow it gently uphill for about a kilometre to a prominent cliff known locally as the Lion’s Face Crag. You really have to use your imagination to see any resemblance to a Lion’s Face and possibly the origin of the name comes from the shape of the crag when seen from Invercauld below. Indeed the view from this point down to Invercauld is its redeeming feature. Return to the earlier junction and continue on the wide track known as the Queen’s Drive. Follow it all the way down to the gate on the A93. Go through the gate and turn right onto the road, which is then followed back into Braemar passing the house where Robert Louis Stevenson stayed when he was writing Treasure Island in 1881. Follow the road through the village passing the remains of an old church and graveyard where the remains of Peter “Dubrach” Grant lie, the last of the Jacobite rebels. He died in 1824 aged 110. Continue back to your starting point at St Margaret’s Church.
4) The Birks of Aberfeldy
These are the woods that inspired Robert Burns to pen his famous tribute, perhaps not his finest piece of work, but lines that go a long way to reflect the glory of this wooded, rocky chasm.
“The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
the foaming stream deep-roaring fa’s,
O’erhung wi’ fragrant spreading shaws,
The birks of Aberfeldy.”
This walk follows the outward route of the established nature trail, but is extended to offer a longer descent with wonderful views up and down the length of Strath Tay.
The Moness Den was planted with deciduous trees in the late 18th century, adding variety to the natural pine woodland that had survived on the steep sided crags, but there’s a lot more to these woods than just birch trees. On the lower stretches of the den you’ll find beech, rowan, wych elm, hazel and some willow, and higher up the dominant species are oak and the eponymous birch. Robert Burns visited the Den of Moness on the 30th August 1787 and the spot where he allegedly sat and wrote his poem is marked on the outward route. As a result of his words, the route up and down the length of the Moness Falls has been a popular maintained walk for over 200 years
Map: OS Sheet 52
Distance: About 4 miles
Time: 2 hours
Start/Finish: The car park just off the Crieff road in Aberfeldy
Route: Follow the footpath that leaves the top right hand corner of the car park. Almost immediately, turn left at signposts which indicate Moness Falls and Nature Trail. Cross the footbridge over the burn and begin a long and steady climb up the banks of the tumbling, cascading burn, eventually passing the small rocky nook where Burns sat and wrote his poem. Further on, a flight of steps leaves the path on the left, while the footpath continues straight ahead. Follow the steps as they climb higher towards the top of the steep-sided gorge, combining with wooden walkways and bridges to lift you above the very impressive sight of the Falls of Moness, now seen below you. Cross the bridge above the falls, and keep going left onto a wider footpath which soon takes you to a T-junction with the road that leads to Urlar. Turn right onto this road, follow it for about 100 yards and go through a gate on the left, to trace a fine grassy track gently downhill towards the derelict farm buildings at Dunskiag. From here follow the farm road to where it runs into a tarmac road running into Aberfeldy. Follow this road steeply downhill and turn right at the bottom, back onto the Crieff road and the Birks car park.
5) Historic Allean Woods
A short walk with a superb reconstructed Clachan and an even older ring fort, thought to date from the 8th century. Forest Enterprise, along with Scottish Enterprise Tayside, have re-constructed the main clachan buildings and have provided some excellent interpretive facilities. Around you lie the remains of an 18th century shieling – the walls, buildings and small fields would have been used for agriculture and the people would have been largely self sufficient. It’s believed the tenants of this particular clachan were cleared in the mid-nineteenth century by the local landowners for activities which would bring in more money, like sheep pastures.
The circular wall of the ring fort are still in good condition. A great timber roof, like a tepee, would have been built over this circular wall and other, smaller buildings could well have existed inside. The ring is about 10m in diameter and the walls are about 4m thick. Close to the start of this walk is the Queen’s View Visitor Centre, popularly thought to be named after Queen Victoria who visited this spot in 1866 but in fact named after a much earlier queen – Isabella, queen of Robert the Bruce.
Map: OS Sheet 43
Distance: About 3 miles
Time: About 1.5 hours
Start/Finish: The Allean Forest car park about 800 m west of the Queen’s View visitor centre on the B8019 Pitlochry to Tummel Bridge road
Route: From the car park return to the main forest drive, turn right and walk uphill. This walk follows the red topped marker posts. Go through a gate and continue uphill. At the first junction continue straight ahead. The path coming in from the right is the path you’ll finish on later. Continue climbing uphill until you reach the Clachan and the short diversion to the viewpoint with views along the length of Loch Tummel to Schiehallion. Return to the main track, turn left and continue uphill until the path bends to the right. The path begins to descend now, and at the bottom of it yellow marker posts lead off to the right but the red marker posts indicate our route uphill once again. Come to a T-junction, turn right and onto a slightly more overgrown track, which then becomes a footpath running fairly steeply downhill to meet another track. Turn right here and after 200 m a short diversion takes you to the ring fort. Return to the track and continue downhill to meet the outward path of earlier. Turn left on to it and return to the car park.