Normally on a Sunday morning I can be found pounding round the streets (dry weather only, obviously, I’m not that dedicated), but not this weekend. No, I was pouring over the street map working out how best to get from a friend’s house to Hill End. Why? Because today was the day for an adventure in the Pentlands, the hills behind Edinburgh.
Friend A (for Anonymous, as I forgot to ask if I could name them), who will be doing the 3 Peaks Challenge this summer, and I realised that apart from a weekend at the Wriggly Tin, in the Peak District, neither of us had been near a hill this year – not including the bajillion hills in central Edinburgh – and this needed to be rectified.
Obviously doing something like fell running or serious hill walking was a bit rash, so we decided upon a corner of the Pentland Hills. These hills, which come under the ‘Regional Park’ banner (not to be mistaken with National Park), will be known to anyone who has every been to Edinburgh and looked south as they ring the southern edge of the city, helpfully sheltering us all from the worst of many a weather front.
Using the ‘nothing too rash’ approach we set off half an hour late, parked the car in the Hill End (literally where the hills end, they’re very imaginative in this neck of the proverbial woods) car park and decided that we’d start with a short intermission for lunch in the nearby pub. After a little beer (Copper Cascade, from Stewart Brewing; and don’t worry, I wasn’t going to be driving for hours after having it) and sandwiches (mature cheddar and sun-dried tomato in warm ciabatta) in The Steading we went back to the car, picked up the dog and started out.
Armed with our guide to the Pentlands (more aptly described as a glossy leaflet) we marched off with a very excitable dog. Being the sensible people that we are we’d obviously not checked the ‘route’ (totally not made up at random from a variety of existing paths) on a proper OS map and so were subsequently quite surprised by the steepness, and how quickly it began after the car park. Following the start of the ‘Capital View‘ trail we tramped up the hill pausing every so often to look back and comment on how quickly we’d got so far up before turning round again and commenting on the incline. Obviously these two things are in no way connected.
When we hit the level of the top of the dry ski slope we were faced with an option, go along the top of the ‘Capital View’ route or make a proper walk out of it and clamber right up to the summit of the hills above (an extra couple of hundred meters). Well, the defined route was only 2.5 miles, so we decided that we’d get the best view and go right to the top, bringing the total distance to about 4/4.5 miles. This was all well and good, but it meant passing some rather bored looking highland cows. At this point the dog (who I hasten to add was on the lead, it’s the end of lambing season and the start of ground-nesting season after all) would be found skulking behind a mount of grass, hoping that these big scary creatures wouldn’t see her. Highland cows (or any cows, for that matter) would appear to come in the same bracket as horses, sheep and pigs – the terrifying monster category. Our dog is such a townie. It’s hilarious.
Taking a protracted route around the shaggy monsters we reached the top and stopped to admire the view. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t that great. At this height you are quite far above and away from the city centre, so whilst it’s a lovely vista it’s literally just that. Arthur’s seat, which is such a dominant feature of Edinburgh, looks rather small and pathetic; and Carlton hill is little more than a mole hill. The canopy of dark, ominous clouds also didn’t add to the ocassion, and nor did the fairly high winds that accompanied them (I think the view would have been better in the sun). From here we decided we might as well go to the summit of the second hill as there was very little difference in height and rather that climbing two hills it was effectively a short gradient to the second.
The view from the second was pretty much identical to the first and as we could now lean into the wind without falling over it was time to seek lower ground. Winding our way down the hillside we established that we’d clearly picked the steepest part to climb up, but this allowed for more conversation (about how weird the names of BBC3 TV shows are, if you’re interested). Once you’re halfway down the path really just curls around the side of Lothianburn golf course and through the old stone cottages of Swanston, and is for the most part quite dull (but substantially less windy), so the rest of the walk was fairly gentle, without a rabbit hole for the dog to stick her nose down and very few puddles to splash in.
Once back in the car the dog decided that enough was enough and slept the entire way back into town. This gave us the perfect opportunity to end the adventure where we’d begun and stop off at a little cafe on the way home for a warming hot chocolate and a scone and jam. Pretty much the perfect day out really. Except for the wind and a few hills that got in the way.