I had itchy feet and was looking forward to a day in the hills somewhere, however after a few 12 hour shifts I couldn’t find the will to drag myself off somewhere at dark o’clock in the morning. A lie in was in order, yet this would be my only chance to get away somewhere for at least a week. The Pentlands sprang immediately to mind, the new line linking Airdrie and Bathgate meant that Edinburgh was under an hour away. I had spent many days in the Castlelaw area with the Territorial Army, either on the shooting ranges or on exercises. Many times I had looked down towards Glencorse Reservoir, but I’d never had a chance to actually visit the area properly. I decided that as this was just on the outskirts of Edinburgh I could have my lie in and have a reasonable day out as well.
Next morning saw me head off at the horrendously late hour of 1030am! The 1047 express from Drumgelloch deposited me in Edinburgh for a connection to Slateford. At just after 1130 I was pedalling towards the outskirts of the city, and within 10 minutes I was off the bike and pushing it up Craiglockhart Avenue! I was laden with my gear for the day and sweating like mad, and the route, constantly uphill, with seldom a flat part to catch my breath, was hard going. Finally I crawled over the City Bypass and headed out of the city. Within a short while I was again climbing sharply on the A702. I had never paid too much attention to how much this road climbed before, I wish I had. As I puffed and panted I noticed numerous bus stops along the way, and made a mental note to use the bus next time. This was murder!
Almost 90 minutes after leaving Slateford I had locked up the bike and was heading uphill towards Castlelaw Fort and the shooting range. As I arrived at the top of the hill I could see various notices about the range and immediately noticed the red flags flying, a sign that live firing was taking place today. Had I missed the flag the bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam of the 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns would have given the game away anyway.
There is a signposted path leading to the left of the army buildings, and I took this through the trees, around the back of the range control office, to the edge of a strip of trees. The path diverts here, with my route dropping steeply downhill.
I was glad of my gaiters as this part was a right old muckhole. Within a few minutes I was on the road, turning left to the signposted junction at NT 229 631, where I took the path for Scald Law.
It’s a well defined path, crossing a bridge and then climbing up towards a prominent copse of pine trees. There’s a battle site marked off to the left here. In 1666 an army of around 900 Covenanters was routed by over 2500 troops of the Scottish Royal Army at the battle of Rullion Green. Unfortunately I’ve no time to visit it today. Last light is at 4pm, and it’s almost 2pm. I took a break in the shelter near the trees as the wind was getting up, driving the rain in my face. Waterproof trousers on, and a quick lunch break, and it’s time to head upwards.
The path climbs steeply, but not for long, and soon I was on the ridge, leading to Turnhouse Hill. The skies weren’t the clearest so long range views are out of the question, but there are great view from here across to Castlelaw, down to Glencorse Reservoir, and across to Black Hill, where I had visited earlier in the year, and caught sight of the two hills I’m most looking forward to today, East and West Kip. Not the highest of hills by any means but from afar they are quite impressive little peaks. I can’t see them from here though, and I began to drop along the snaking ridge towards Carnethy Hill. Off to the north I can see the road along Loganlea Reservoir- my return route.
This ridge isn’t long, but the drops and ascents are steep, and you do work up a sweat, even in the high winds.
Soon I was on Carnethy Hill, with its rubble strewn summit, and its hotch-potch of stone wind-break shelters and by 3pm I was on top of Scald Law, where the high winds meant the usual summit photo was out of the question. A few snaps of the trig point had to suffice. The ridge curves of towards South Black Hill, but there is a clear path off to the bealach at the foot of East Kip. From here I could see the path down towards the valley, and made a mental note of it for the return.
For all they are very steep, East and West Kip aren’t big hills, in fact from the bealach to the summit of East Kip is only around 60m, and 30 minutes after leaving Scald Law I was on the top. With only thirty minutes until sunset time was of the essence. I ditched my bag and took the GPS and camera and headed for West Kip.
Down below, at Eastside I could see a turbine working overtime, and if it was windy down there it was worse up on top. As I climbed up West Kip I was buffeted and thrown around, struggling to retain my balance. My hat was ripped from my head, and I struggled to put it back on. Even with the support of my walking poles I felt that any time I was going to be ripped from this precarious peak and dumped somewhere off below. With such a wind in my face I felt I couldn’t breathe, and I lurched along to the summit, and then dashed down onto the north side of the hill, thankful to be free of the wind and able to breathe again. It was 4pm. 3 hours since I had set off, I now had to get off the hill and my target was to be on the track to the reservoir before darkness fell. With the wind at my back I was back on East Kip in no time. I had a quick pause to measure the wind with the anemometer. I climbed up and faced the wind, and the impeller whirled and the display began to blur- just over 70mph! I don’t think I have experienced such a wind before, truly scary, I was glad to be out of it.
Back at the bealach, I took the path leading down and north east, just skirting the edge of the plantation at NT 188 616, before negotiating a few fences and picking up a tarmac road at “The Howe”.
Darkness was just about upon me and I dug out the head torch and set off along Loganlea Reservoir. Travelling in the dark can be slow, but this was in the main a decent road, and I jogged downhill for some of the way. At Kirkton Farm a sign told that in the reservoir is the ruins of St Catherine’s Chapel, once the focal point of local life, lost when the reservoir was created. In this darkness there could have been a whole village there and I wouldn’t have seen it. I rounded the reservoir and decided that I would follow the line of the trees up the hill to pick up the path back to Castlelaw, and was glad to find that there were gates and a path there. I had envisaged having to climb a fence or two. At the top of the hill I came across a wide track which skirts around the danger area. There were no red lamps showing, which meant no live firing. I wanted tp confirm that and tried calling the Range Office, having obtained the number from the public information board. No reply, and no red lamps, definitely no live firing, however the range was being lit at regular intervals with Schermully flares. As I approached the training area I could hear voices in the trees, the clang of mess tins, and I could see the green glow of cyalume lights, and decided to check with them that the coast was clear, and was reassured to find that it was only a minor exercise, an introduction to life in the field for new recruits. Happy that I wasn’t going to run into any live firing exercise I carried on, the path meeting up with the junction behind Range Control, and I picked my way along the perimeter and was soon back at the bike, a total time for the walk of 4hrs 45 minutes.
The cycle back to Edinburgh was quick, gravity, my enemy on the way out, now assisted me, and with a good tail wind I was soon passing through the bright lights of the city, the heavy evening traffic crawling out towards the bypass while I zoomed in in the other direction, and in around half the time it had took me to cycle out from Slateford, I was at Haymarket, bound for home. This line has made the Pentlands a great option for a short day, and I’ve some more hills to visit here, but in future I’ll be leaving the bike at home and taking the bus from the city.