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Dalkeith Country Park – Walk Report – July 2021

With one thing and another, it had been a few weeks since our last family outing. We made plans to visit Dalkeith Country Park last weekend with our extended family.

Dalkeith Country Park is laid out over 1000 acres to the south of Edinburgh. It has a brilliant adventure park for the kids, a variety of trails and walks through some incredible woodland – they claim that some of the trees are 900 years old – and a lovely shopping/restaurant area in the old stables. www.dalkeithcountrypark.co.uk.

We arrived in the late morning and after the usual faffing about getting boots/wellies on and the dog sorted out we headed out on the Old Wood Walk route. There are several routes to choose from, varying from about 20 minutes in length to over 2 hours and 8km. We thought we would try the Old Woodland walk as it has the option to extend the walk part way through and we wanted to keep our options open.

Route Map of Dalkeith Park
Dalkeith Park Route Map

We set off from the Restoration Yard, which is kind of the main hub for the shops, café and things and headed loosely north east towards the river. Knowing that this route was colour coded in purple, it was nice to see a purple way marker at the less than obvious start of the walk. We took the path into the treeline and contoured around the hill following the trail. It takes you under some of the high ropes course, which looks awesome. I think the cost for that comes in at around £20-£30 if that is your thing.

Dog walking in the woods
Max leading the way into the woods

Watching out for anyone dropping anything on our heads, we turned left and climbed up the small bank, giving a view out over the campsite. To be honest it didn’t look like much, but I think campsites never do! Its all about what you make of it once you’re there. We moved on and the trees started getting older from here on, mainly oak trees (funny that, considering the name of the chosen route).

Through the gaps between the trunks, we could see open grass lands on both sides, however the eye catching features were the trees themselves. Many were split in incredible positions, hollowed out or had been struck by lightening. It was great to see. So much so in fact that I forgot to take pictures of some of the more impressive ones.

We followed the marked path through the trees, undulating with the terrain and taking it all in. I remember thinking it was much quieter than I had expected, only meeting two other groups with their dogs. Following the course of the river to our right, we eventually ended up at a corner where two rivers meet. This is where the River Esk forms from its two tributaries, the North Esk and South Esk, its known as “The Meeting of the Waters”.

It was really interesting to see the way that the two different streams of water interacted with each other. It was helped that the South Esk – the river that we have been following to this point – was a brown colour, whereas the North Esk was much bluer in colour, meaning you could see, for a short time, the two different streams of water running together.

Again, we moved on following the path to a bridge across the river. This was the point at which we could extend the walk by crossing the river or continuing back to the central part of the park.

We decided to head back towards the kids park and Restoration Yard as we needed to pick up the kids and rescue Gran who had stayed with them. We passed by the ruins of an old stone bridge crossing the river, which quite cool to see. The pillars that were left were massive, I can only imagine how impressive that bridge would have been back when it was built and functioning.

The path twists and turns its way southwards, keeping the river to your right through a variety of woodland terrains. There are quite a few grassy sections through tall ferns, and some steeper sections that are more gravelly. All of this leads you right back to the river side before gently climbing as you move forwards.

Montagu Bridge towards the end of the walk.

Towards the end of this section of the walk, you pass by Montagu’s bridge, which I guess is the replacement for the aforementioned ruined bridge, that was built in 1792. Its really quite the sight from through the trees. If you skirt to the right of the path here, you can actually walk through the bridge and come out on the lawns of the Palace. However, the true route calls for you to keep left, climb up a steep slope, turning to the left when you reach the road and follow this past Dalkeith Palace, then left back to the car park and amenities.

I quite enjoyed this short little walk, Max had a blast too. I would recommend for little legs as apart from one short (15m) section there are no steep inclines and there is a fair bit of interest in the flora and fauna to keep minds occupied. We will definitely be going back to tackle a few of the longer loops in future.

How to Plan a Hiking Route in the UK

How to use a route card

The best way to plan a hiking route is to use a route card. This is a short summary of your planned walk, key points and times that allows you to plan effectively and easily share your route with others. In this post, we will look at what a route card is, how to complete one and why creating and sharing a route card is important.

To complete your route card, you will need a map of the area you are planning on going to – I always use an Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map as that is what I am most comfortable using – and a compass.

What is a route card?

A route card is simply a way to log and note your hiking route, the direction, distance and time for your route on one table. To do this, you split your route into legs; short sections of your route that are analysed individually. Each leg is then taken in its own right and the required information calculated and filled into the table.

Once it is complete, the route card will serve several purposes. Firstly, it will be useful to you on your walk to help keep you on track. You can measure your progress along the sequential legs, track your overall time against the estimated time and use it to help navigate in real time. The second purpose is its use a safety feature. You can leave a copy of your route card with someone that is not on the hike with you, leaving instructions that “if I have not been in contact with you after X hours, then try to contact me. If you cannot get into contact with me, contact Mountain Rescue and hand them this route card.”

Handing a route card to Mountain Rescue will be an invaluable tool for them to know roughly where you should be or where you have been. I would think that being told that they are in the general area of Rannoch Moor (about 50 sq miles of featureless moor land in Scotland) is a much harder challenge than “here is their planned route, they set off 8 hours ago and planned to go in this direction” which should mean they can find you and help you much faster.

What does a route card look like?

A route card will usually fit onto one piece of paper, depending on the length of your route and number of legs. At the top of the page it contains key information such as the route name, the target hills, the starting grid reference and start time. All key things that set up your walking trip.

The route card itself is a simple table with specific headings within it. The headings I use for my route cards are: Leg Number, Grid Ref and Description, Bearing, Distance (km), Time for Leg, Height Gained (m), Time for Height Gain, Total Time for Leg, Escape Route detail.

Route Card Headers

We will go through these headings in detail to explain what goes in each column.

Leg Number

This column is just used to make sure that the legs are in order and a the legs run sequentially. You wouldn’t want to take the bearing from the wrong leg when you are trying to navigate on the hill. When I am using a route card, I sometimes cross off the legs as they are completed.

Grid Reference and Description

Try and be as accurate as you can with your grid references here as they will help keep your bearings accurate and you on course. I tend to use 8 figure refs on my route cards as I am completing the card at home and that is accurate enough to keep me where I need to be.

Use the romers that are on your compass to get accurate grid refs for each way point. Your way points are the beginning and end of each leg. An example entry into my route card in this column might be:

4824 5376 – base of steeper slope at path junction

Always put your first way point in the first line. You will be standing at your start point anyway, so you wont need that in the first line of the route card (the starting grid ref will be above the table in the sheet anyway).

Bearing

A simple notation of the bearing you need to walk on to reach the waypoint grid reference in the previous column. When calculating your bearings at home, you will be using your map and compass (I like to use my Silva compass for this – you can get yours here) and taking grid bearings. Be sure to convert these to magnetic bearings before you write them on your route card. Remember grid to mag – ADD; mag to grid – GET RID!

My advice here as always is to be as accurate as possible. Navigating on a bearing is easy enough if you are accurate. Inaccurate bearings and sloppy route planning has been the undoing of more than one hiker over the years.

Distance (km)

Measure the distance using the ruler on your compass from the start of the leg to the end of the leg. The convert this using the scale on the map to the overall distance for the leg. For example, on a 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map (my preferred map type) 1cm on the map equates to 250m on the ground. One grid square (4cm) is equal to 1km in this mapping format.

Time for Leg

It is now time to break out your primary school maths (or use a calculator 😉 ), To work out how long it should take me to cover the distance I use Naismiths Rule. This states that on average people will cover ground at around 4km/hour. You can add and subtract time for climbing and descending – but we will look at that in the next two sections. In this column, we are only interested in getting a base line time for the distance covered.

If we accept that 4km/hr is our average speed (mine is slightly quicker than that) then we will cover 1km in 15 minutes and 100m in one and a half minutes. I will then calculate the base line time for the distance of that leg and enter that time into the route card.

Height Gained (m)

The brown/orange lines that run all across your map are contour lines. They (on a 1:25000 OS map) denote a vertical height gain of 10m. Be sure to check the key on your specific type of map to ensure that this is the case on the map you are using. Orienteering maps and maps of a different scale can be different.

To work out the height gained or lost, simply count the number of contour lines that your leg crosses. Be careful to understand which direction you are crossing the contour, either uphill or downhill, and account for both. You will end up with an overall height gained or lost figure to the nearest 10m, enter this into your route card.

Time for Height Gain

Naismith’s Rule stated that you should add on 1 minute of time for every 10m of vertical height gained. That’s easy enough to apply when you think about it. However, on a mixed route where you are ascending and descending at different gradients it can become a little more challenging.

Walking down a gentle gradient will probably speed you up a bit, however, walking down a steep gradient will likely be slower than walking on flat terrain. There have been several extensions to Naismith’s rule that try and allow for this, however, in my route card, I tend to apply the 1minute per 10m for ascent and the same for descending on steep ground where the contour lines are packed close together.

In this box on the route card, total up the additional time you calculate for height gain/loss over the length of the leg.

Total Time

Enter the total of the time for leg column and the time for height gain column. This is the time is should take you to walk from the grid reference at the start of the leg to the grid reference at the end of your leg using the route you have selected.

Escape Route

I don’t fill this is in on every line, but I do fill it in when there are obstacles (such as river crossings), steep ground (both ascending and descending) or cliffs/crags near to that leg.

What you are looking to in this column is a ready to go route out of danger should something happen on that leg. It helps you when on the route, as should something happen, an injury for example, you will already know which direction to turn should you need to get off the hill and back to civilisation quickly.

An example entry in this column might be “Head north east down hill towards the river, use bridge to cross river at grid 1234 5678 and then walk on bearing 240 to reach land rover track. Turn left at the track and follow.”

Summary

A route card is really important, especially if you are walking alone or the route is particularly challenging. I would not fill one in for a walk with my kids in the hills as we would not be going far, high or long and I would be confident in my ability to get them out of there if I needed to.

However, I would definitely fill one in for a multi-day or solo walk, leaving a copy with the wife with clear instructions on what to do should things turn sour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief run through of how I plan my routes, please let me know if there is anything different that you do or something I could add to my route cards to make them more useful.

Thanks

Dave

This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

How to Lace Your Boots Correctly

Tying your boots correctly is an important factor in ensuring your boots stay comfortable throughout your hike as well as helping to prevent hot spots, blisters, and blackened toe nails. Changing the way your boots are tied can relieve presure points and give your feet space to carry you effectively through your walk. In this post I am going to cover some common ways and some less common ways to tie your boots and why you might consider using these methods to tie your boots.

Despite being a minor issue, getting the lacing perfect will make a big difference in the overall comfort and support of your boots. If you are considering changing the lacing pattern in your boots, first think about the problem areas for you. Do you always get blisters on your heels? Or do your toes slip forwards on descents? Or even do you get sore balls of your feet during a hike? All of these issues can be helped, if not solved, by changing the lacing pattern of your boots to alleviate the specific issue you are experiencing.

I’ve spent a bit of time researching and trying each of these lacing styles to make sure they work and I have grouped them under the problem that they best alleviate. I used these techniques boots on my Karrimor Mount Boots (link to the review) all with differing results.

Heel Slipping

Having your heel slip up and down whilst you are walking becomes increasingly uncomfortable and can lead to hot spots or even blisters if left long enough. Try this lacing technique to help avoid it.

Lacing Pattern for heel slippage

Between the final two eyelets, bring the laces directly upwards to the final eyelet. The run the lace under the opposing loop that you have just created. This creates a snug and secure fit for your heel and holds it firmly in place around your ankle. As someone with quite skinny ankles, I found this a really useful and is definitely something that I will be implementing from here on.

Toe Pain

Black toe nails are sometimes seen as a bit of a badge of honour amongst hikers, but using this technique, you can open up the toe of your boot, giving more space to the toes and preventing them from impacting the front of the boot, relieving the cause of black toe nails. Having your toes un-constricted is a really important way of walking efficiently and without pains in other muscle groups and joints too.

Lacing pattern for toe pain

When choosing this lacing technique, run one side of the lace from the bottom eyelet directly to the opposing top eyelet. Do this first, so that it is not over the top of the other laces. Then take the other half of the lace and run it across the shoe and up one eyelet, then directly across to the corresponding eyelet on the other side. Repeat this process up the shoe until the final eyelet.

Sore toes or black toe nails is not an issue that I experience too often, only on long steep descents. When trying this lacing technique, I found the additional space in the toe cap quite odd, but I do think that if you normally feel constricted in this area, it would be a great way to solve it.

Wide Feet

Having too narrow boots for people with wider feet can be a real challenge. You can cause sever discomfort along the ball and sides of you feet, making walking painful. It can also lead to infections as the skin on the underside of the foot creases, trapping sweat, dirt and other contaminants next to the skin. One to definitely be avoided. This technique will allow for your feet to spread and make maximum use of the space within the boot.

Lacing pattern for wide feet

For this technique, take the lace out of the boot completely. Re-lace, missing out the retaining sleeve at the bottom of the shoe. Ensure that the lace is running across the bottom two eyelets.

Cross the laces and use the next set of eyelets – this give a solid point across the top of the boot. Cross again, but this time, miss a set of eyelets. This lets you foot make the most of the available space – and repeat this process to the top of the boot.

I found that there is all sorts of room that you would not expect when using this technique. As one who does not have wide feet at all, its not a technique that I will be implementing, however, I can see for those that have wide feet, that it would make so much difference.

One Area Too Tight

This technique is the one that I can see the most benefit in using. Its is flexible and can be combined with more standard lacing patterns throughout your walk. I know that I have found on some days, for some reason that I feel a little discomfort in a particular area. Using this technique can quickly allow you to alleviate some of that pain.

One Area too tight lacing pattern

To use this technique, lace as normal from the base of the shoe, up to the point at which you feel the boots are too tight. Once you get to that point, run the lace up to the eyelet directly above it and then continue on as normal. I tried lacing these over the boot material (i.e. you can see the vertical link whilst wearing it) and under the boot material and found that having the lace under the boot material was more comfortable for some reason.

I also think that having these vertical links (that can turn into loops when your foot bends, depending where they are on the lacing grid) exposed might lead to catching them on any brush or low vegetation. Definitely something to be aware of, but again, something that I will be using going forward if I start feeling my feet getting tired in one area or any discomfort.

Swollen Feet

I think we can all appreciate the moment you take your boots off after a long hike. The weight and pressure during a long walk can make your feet swell, not to mention the heat an potential pressure points too. Being able to alleviate that pressure due to swollen feet will feel like taking your boots off after the walk, a relief of pressure, making it easier and more enjoyable to complete your walk, before actually taking your boots off at the end.

Lacing Pattern for Swollen Feet

Start this pattern by removing the laces and threading through the bottom eyelets from behind. On the right hand side, take the lace up, missing an eyelet and feed in from the front. Take the lace across to the opposite eyelet and then up again missing an eyelet.

On the left hand side, take the lace from the bottom eyelet, directly up to the next eyelet and across to the opposite side. Then, up two eyelets on the same side before coming across to the other side. Repeat this to the top of the boot.

I don’t often feel my feet swell too much when walking, it is usually afterwards when I am wearing a comfy pair of trainers. However, on those times that I have felt them swelling, I wish I had known this. It is super easy to do (even though my explanation is a little convoluted) and will really help alleviate the pressure.

Conclusion

Sore feet need never be the bane of the hikers and hill walkers again. Buying correctly fitting boots, using the correct lacing technique should solve most foot problems. Clearly, getting your feet wet will impact this, but generally speaking, many of the more garden variety issues we face can be stopped or improved by well fitting boots and lacing up appropriately.

A point to note is that some of these lacing techniques use more lace than others. You might want to consider buying slightly longer laces to help. You can pick them up pretty cheaply from Amazon – like this set here – for under £10.

The other thing to look at are insoles. Coupled with the right lacing technique, a good well fitting set of insoles can make them seem like a whole different set of boots. I don’t use insoles, but you can get some half decent ones pretty cheaply – like these.

This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

What to Drink When Hiking

A good guide is to drink 500ml of water per hour or moderate intensity exercise in moderate temperatures. This will very considerably if the weather changes, the activity becomes more/less strenuous or you are stopped for a break.

First things first, I am not a doctor or a medical professional. The limit of my expertise in this area is a few sports science modules at university, common sense and personal experience. Please take all of the below as relatable advice, rather than medical gospel.

Hiking and specifically hill walking is usually classed as moderate exercise, during which, you will lose water through increased sweating and an increased breathing rate. This is above your usual rate of water loss of you were sitting at home or in the office. The amount of water you lose is really difficult to estimate as it will vary on the intensity of exercise, the outside temperature and what you are wearing. There are also about a million other factors to consider as well but those are the main 3 we will look at in this article.

So, knowing that whatever we do in terms of hydration is likely to be wrong, we have to approximate and estimate based on a rule of thumb that gives us a rough ball park for our water consumption. I use the rough guide of drinking half a litre (500ml) of water per hour whilst hiking in moderate temperatures.

Once I have that as my base line, I can then think about the hill intensity, I’ll try and drink more going up hill rather than down hill as the exercise is more intense. Also the outside temperature, if it is a baking hot day, clearly I will increase from the 500ml per hour water intake.

What should I Drink?

The most basic thing you can drink that is easily consumed and readily available is water. Water is the majority of your body weight, and is critical for your body to function properly. I always drink water when I am hill walking. However, there are other options you can look at. Sports/Isotonic drinks are water based but also contain a combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates as well.

I tend to choose water because I can easily refill my bottles on the walk and I don’t like the overly sweet sports drinks. However, replacing lost electrolytes and increasing your carbohydrate intake can be advantageous if you struggle to eat enough during the day. Other options that I steer away from are fruit juices, fizzy drinks and any milk based drink. Keeping these cold is difficult, and fizzy drinks will get shaken up in your pack, potentially making a bit of a mess.

I use two bottles to drink from on the hill, that are the same size (0.5 litres) as well as sometimes carrying 1 litre extra in my pack. I will then look to refill these bottles at every opportunity to keep as close to 2 litres in total as much as I can. Mine are similar to these bottles , which are leakproof and BPA free. I also like the size of these so that I can easily drink and refill from them on the move.

Before your Hike

It’s a good idea to ensure that you are sufficiently hydrated before you start your walk. If you aren’t, you will be constantly chasing your water requirements and start off on the wrong foot, so to speak. A good rule of thumb for drinking prior to your walk is to aim for 250ml per hour prior to your walk. The way I manage this is that I will work out what I should drink during the drive to the hill. Let’s say that it is a 4 hour drive to the start of the walk, I will pack an extra 1 litre (4x250ml) water bottle in the car and aim to finish it when I arrive taking small sips throughout the drive.

During your Hike

The rate of your water intake will vary a lot depending on the weather during your hike. A moderate temperature would require you to drink 0.5L per hour during the walk. At warmer temperatures, this can increase to 1L per hour or even more. Clearly if you are drinking 1L of water per hour and plan to walk for 6 hours, you would need to carry 6 litres of water for one days walking.

Personally, with the other equipment I carry, this would put my rucksack weight over what I feel comfortable carrying for a day out. The way that I reduce this weight is to, during my planning time, is to identify possible water refill points during the walk. I’ll recap what to look for in a refill point later in this post.

If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. It is really important to keep on top of your hydration during the day, dehydration can cause headaches, joint pain, muscle stiffness, vomiting and eventually death in extreme circumstances.

After your Hike

I try and drink 0.5 litres of water immediately on finishing my walk. I will have a bottle of water in the car that I can use separate to the water I have with me on the walk itself. This just makes sure that any shortfall in my water intake is covered off pretty quickly afterwards. I will then sip on water all the way home to keep me topped up until I get back.

One other pleasant thing to do is to stop at a nearby pub at the foot of a hill and have a cold refreshing beer (other drinks are available). One thing to note, is that alcohol is a diuretic and you will lose water, even though you are drinking another drink.

How to Find the Perfect Water Refill Point

Map showing how to select the right place to refill your water bottles.
Selecting the right water stops

During the planning phase of a trip I will think about my water plan and, if I need to refill my water bottles, where I might be able to do that during my route plan. When looking at the map, I am looking for streams and rivers that I will cross or pass nearby, ideally on steep ground. I will discount any standing water such as ponds/lochs, instead looking for the point where the water might flow into the lake.

When you are on the walk, I will be searching for running water that is above human habitation (almost always on hill walks), ideally white water where the water is running quickly and away from any livestock or animals that might contaminate the water supply. If the water ticks all of these boxes, I am comfortable drinking without treating the water.

If I cannot easily access clean, flowing water, I may need to consider purification of the water to make sure that I do not have any gastro-intestinal issues or feel unwell on the hill. Water filters will take out any of the larger contaminants, but I also carry purification tablets that you can add to the water to ensure there are no chemical or organic contaminants that a filter might miss.

The other option, is to purify your water using UV light. This is not something that I have done before but looking at a UV water pen, you stir the water in your bottle with the pen for about a minute, purifying it in the process – certainly something that I would use if I am ever lucky enough to get one.

In Conclusion

Plan ahead. Look out for water refill points on your route. Before your hike, aim for 0.25L per hour prior to starting off on your hike. During the walk, your water requirements will vary on the level of exertion and outside temperature, keep on top of your hydration to ensure you do not become dehydrated. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. After your walk, continually sip water to cover any shortfalls in your hydration strategy.

I hope that this has been useful, let me know what else you want me to explore in my future posts!

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

Devilla Forest – WALK REPORT – June 2021

The next instalment of our family adventures, we spent a day last weekend exploring the delights of the Devilla Forest in the Kingdom of Fife. There is a lot to see in the Devilla forest, but we decided on the smaller loop of the Red Squirrel Trail. Red Squirrels are known to inhabit the forest and seeing them in the wild is a big draw for many visitors. Clearly, you are not guaranteed to spot the squirrels, and taking a walk around the trail is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so even if they are not spotted on your walk.

The walk starts from the carpark just off the A985 to the east of Kincardine. There is space for about 30 cars or so here, which even on a hot June day seemed to be enough. It was busy, but not completely packed. Once we had got ourselves sorted out, the whole crew headed into the treeline to begin the walk. We had the baby in his carrier again on this walk – its certainly something that I would recommend having if you are thinking about taking small children into the countryside as it keeps your hands free to do other things, they are also comfortable for you and your child. Check out our family picture later in the post to see how comfortable. Here is a link to the one we use as I really like ours and it has given us the ability to get back out and away from the places that are pram friendly.

Walking path in the woods
Heading off on the start of our walk

There is a relatively large sign at the start of the walk, detailing not only the Red Squirrel Trail, but also the various other pathways, ponds, lochs and point of interest in the forest. There are about 8 or 9 things listed here, but we didn’t take a picture unfortunately. Plenty of things to keep us interested on this walk and potentially many others in the coming weeks/months. The walk is listed as a moderate walk online, but to be honest I think this is quite a harsh grading. The path is good and well maintained (as you can see in the picture) and relatively flat. It is also less than 2 miles from start to finish, which is not that far all told. I would grade it as an easy walk overall, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Well maintained path in the forest
Path threading through the trees

The path winds its way through the old pine trees and low bushes of the forest, crossing many small culverts and dry stream beds, using a short section of board walk at one point. The path was dry and a little dusty, Max loved it, bombing up and down and running all over the place. I am sure the smells of the wildlife, were fun for him.

Overall, we were heading in a westerly direction into the sun. However, the shade of the pine trees and the temperature of the air (the car was reading 24 degrees C when we left) made for pleasant and easy walking. Everyone was already feeling the calming influence of walking in the forest, its great when you can get to unwind like this.

Child hiding in a log shelter
Exploring the log shelters

After a few stops for pictures, we started coming across shelters that people had built, leaning logs and sticks up against the trees. The kids thought this was great and wanted to explore them all, which of course they did at high speed and volume – they probably scared off all the squirrels!

After a while, we happened upon the loch that you circumnavigate on the walk and found ourselves a picnic bench. I’ll be honest, even though our youngest is only 8 months old, he is bloody heavy! It was nice to sit by the loch side let Max take a dip whilst the kids played, ate and refuelled. We took the chance to feed the baby whilst keeping an eye on proceedings.

After our food stop, we followed the left hand branch of the walk, looping around the loch in a clockwise direction. Here, the path rises slowly to the top of the ridge line, giving you a view, through the trees, southwards towards the firth of Forth and across to Grangemouth and Falkirk. The kids decided they wanted to explore this view and went off track through the brush to the edge of the tree line to get the best view.

View of the Firth of Forth
View south towards the Forth, with Grangemouth in the distance.

After taking in the views, we returned to the track and followed it around the loch, meeting several other walkers, dogs and bikers on the way. If there was one thing that I were to complain about on this walk is that having walkers and bikers on the same path network could be potentially problematic. We didn’t have any issues, but I can foresee a time where children/dog and bikes collide due to the speed of the bikes and the lack of speed of the rest of the path users. I have nothing against mountain bikers, I think it is a cool hobby that I would enjoy if I ever get the time/chance, but I think that the pathway planners could consider segregating the two types of traffic. Clearly, this is my observation from one afternoon, but it must be worth considering?

Family by the carved totem pole
Even Max behaved for this one…

We looped around back towards the picnic bench, where there was a carved totem pole which had three local animals carved into it – an owl, a woodpecker and a squirrel, in case you were wondering – and we stopped for the obligatory family photo.

After the photo stop, it was a quick march back to the car to pack all of the stuff and the kids back in. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable walk for the kids (and the adults) with good weather, lovely countryside and fresh air. Devilla Forest is definitely on our list of places to visit again as there are loads of other paths and trails to explore, not to mention that list of 8 things that we saw at the start.

Thanks for a great visit – we will be back!

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

What to Wear when Hiking or Hillwalking

What we wear when we are out in the hills is incredibly important. It is our first barrier against the weather as well as protecting us against other factors in the environment through which we are travelling. What you wear will vary with the season, the time of day and general conditions, and the activities that you are planning to undertake. There is such a variance, that to cover every clothing choice for every eventuality would take a post longer than I care to write.

In this post, we will look at what I pack and wear for a single day walk during the British summer time. Clearly, the worse the weather gets, the more gear you will need. In some instances it can also get rather technical and provide rather more than just protection on the hills, but can for part of your safety equipment too.

Layering is the key word for outdoor clothing, and it essentially means combining different pieces of clothing to combat the conditions and keep you comfortable during your walk. Layers can be added or removed as the conditions change throughout the day, giving you flexibility to deal with a wide range of weather, temperature and terrain.

Upper Body

Closest to the body, I always wear a long sleeve technical t-shirt. This is similar to what runners wear and is designed to remove (or wick, the technical term) sweat away from the skin, to help regulate my body temperature. On hot days, this is all I will wear as it helps keep me cool. I can also roll the sleeves up if I need or want to. The t-shirts are quick drying too, so if it gets wet, it is usually dry in about half an hour. I usually go for a lighter or brighter colour here as black clothing attracts the suns heat, which is not really the point of this article of clothing. I would avoid woollen or cotton clothing for this layer as they will get wet with sweat and stay wet, cooling your body and making you feel the cold.

Black Men's Fleece Jacket

On top of that I will wear a fleece. My current favourite fleece is the Karrimor KS-300, which I have reviewed in a previous post, and is great for walking on cooler days. A good snug fit with a fleece is important as it helps retain body heat. Layered with the long sleeve top, this is the basis of my walking clothes for almost all my walks. By combining these two layers I can be prepared for any weather or temperature that is dry and above about 12 degrees centigrade.

The last layer that I will usually pack in my rucksack, and use on top of the fleece, is a softshell or rain jacket. You can pick up a decent waterproof jacket for a reasonable price on Amazon. This is my waterproof layer for when the skies open and will always have a hood to keep the rain off my head and the back of my neck, which I hate. I always pack my waterproof jacket near the top of my bag so that I can grab it if the weather changes unexpectedly. Sometimes I will leave the fleece later out, climbing in a base later and waterproof jacket if it is wet and warm out, or if we are climbing a particularly steep section of hill and I am already warm. I generally only use this combination in late spring or summer rain storms.

Lower Body

The big question with your choice of clothing for your lower body is shorts vs trousers? I am firmly in the trousers camp – but if you prefer shorts, you’ll get no judgement from me. Trousers offer better protection from scratchy grasses and heather, as well as discouraging ticks, midges and other beasties that want to get at my skin.

Two colour lightweight walking trousers
Montane Walking Trousers

Shorts offer a greater cooling effect as they expose more of your skin to the air, aiding in cooling, but the more you expose, the higher the risk of those midge bites! My lightweight summer trousers are a bit of a compromise in that they actually have vents in that run on the outside of each leg from knee height to mid thigh, aiding cooling. I also have a pair of heavier weight soft shell trousers that I use in winter that are much warmer and don’t have vents to conserve heat in that case. I will select which weight of trousers I wear based on the expected temperature for the day on the weather forecast. It’s really important to base many of your clothing choices on the forecast weather, I covered this in a previous post about weather forecasting.

I will also carry a set of waterproof trousers in my rucksack to layer over the top of the chosen days trousers. I try not to use these unless absolutely necessary, because I don’t really like wearing them. Both my summer Abby winter trousers are water resistant anyway so will cope with quite a bit of rain. However if the forecast is for heavy rain all day, I will add this layer on to minimise the risk of getting too wet.

When looking for waterproof trousers I’m looking for ones that I can easily get on and off with my boots on and are quite slim legged so that they will fit under my gaiters. That’s another item of lower body clothing that you can choose to wear should the ground look particularly boggy or wet. The ones I currently have have full length taped zips down both legs so I can open them right up to get them on in a hurry if I need to.

Feet

Looking after your feet is really important for hill walking. They are your mode of transport and emergency escape route if things go wrong. You can choose between boots and shoes, coupled with a good pair of socks. Here is a link to the boots that I currently wear on most of my hikes – I think they are great. Personally, I prefer the ankle support of a full or high boot, rather than shoes, but many people swear by them for long approaches. They are certainly lighter on your feet and potentially more comfortable too.

High top walking boot
One type of walking boot

Always try and get boots/shoes that fit well. If you are going to spend big money on your hiking gear, then a good pair of boots is the place to splash the cash. Boots that rub can lead to blisters and hot spots which are uncomfortable at best and can be quite serious if they become infected. I plan to do more posts on foot care in future as it is so important.

It is essential that whatever combination you choose, provides you with the right support, confidence as well as protection from sharp rocks and good grip on slippery surfaces. Most boot manufacturers go overboard on the amount of grip that is offered by their product, but do ensure that there is good deep tread for muddy sections as well as the ability to combine with gaiters or crampons if you walk in winter. I’ve reviewed a couple of the cheaper options on the boot front should you be looking for that sort of thing.

In-Pack Clothing

On top of the items of clothing described above, I always also carry a set of spare socks, which I will keep in a waterproof bag. So that I can always either change my socks on the hill should mine become soaked (on a river crossing for example) or at the end of the walk. There is no finer feeling than changing into cool dry socks at the end of a walk in my opinion.

I will also always carry a sun cap and a woolly hat as well as a pair of gloves. The hats are because, unfortunately, I am starting to loose my hair (which sucks) and a cool breeze is enough to make me feel the chill. You also lose a larger percentage of your body heat through your head, so if I need to stop for any length of time, I will pop that on. Equally, I am not great with sunglasses, I lose them all the time, so a cap is better to keep any sun out of my eyes – should I be so lucky to actually walk on a sunny day.

Lastly, a thin pair of gloves is a constant in my bag, as with the woolly hat, if I need to stop for any length of time, I tend to get cold hands and fingers, so its useful for me to have a way to combat that, especially if I am map reading and need to use my compass. I have reviewed the current pair of gloves that I use in all but the worst weathers in a previous post, in case you are interested.

Summary

I hope you can see that your clothing choice is a very personal one, but an important one to get right. The layering flexibility offers is definitely the way to go and allows you to deal with and be properly equipped for many of the types of weather and terrain that you will face during a typical hill day. As always, these are my opinions, please feel free to let me know what I missed or whether you agree with my assessment.

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

How to Hike Solo in Scotland

Hill walking in Scotland is an amazing experience, either in a group or on your own. There is a stark difference between the two though. When walking in a group, you can rely on each other, your skills and awareness to share the burden. There is a sense of security when walking in a group, that means you are more likely to tackle things you may shy away from on your own. In many cases, this is a false sense of security, making you think you are safe, when in fact you are just as responsible for your own safety as when walking alone.

Walking solo means you need to become entirely self sufficient, have a plan and the skills to back that plan up should things go awry. It will give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment and competence, giving you access to the remotest parts of the country, all with nothing more than the kit on your back and the brains in your head to keep you safe. Here, I share my key learnings to think about when considering going solo. I’ve included my top tip for walking solo at the end, so read on and see what I think is the number one thing to do when walking solo.

Planning

Learn to love the planning phase of a solo trip. So often group plans consist of “who fancies mountain x this weekend?” This simply won’t cut the mustard if you’re planning to go solo. The planning phase is incredibly important to any trip or hill day, I’ve covered it before in another post, but without it, you’ll find yourself struggling or even enduring a day in the hills rather than enjoying it. All of the other sections of this post start in the planning phase, you can consider the equipment you’ll need, the route, your own skills and fitness and plan for the likely conditions all from the comfort of home.

When considering a solo trip, the planning phase is as important, if not more important, than when walking with others. Without anyone else to rely on, you need to know everything about your trip. You need to know the route and escape routes should something go wrong, you need to have all the equipment you need and you need to know that your skills are up to the challenge you are setting yourself. Your first solo over night camp is not the time to test out your new tent. In my opinion, even when walking in a group you should still know all of this – it is no good to rely on others in these situations – however, there will not be anyone to bail you out should you forget something or get lost along the way.

Skills and Navigation

The list of technical skills you need to hike in the UK is pretty low. You need to be a competent navigator and you need winter skills if you are out in winter weather. There are very few places that require full on rock climbing (but you can find them if you want to) and apart from that, there aren’t many other skills that everyone needs to have. Many people chose to pay a professional guide for this, some go with experienced friends to learn from. Some go out without these basic skills (the less said about that the better). However, if you are planning to go out on your own, you need to have the ability to navigate and operate in the conditions you are facing.

As of right now, I would not feel comfortable in full winter conditions out on my own. I therefore don’t plan any trips for that time of year. I will walk with others in the snow, as I know how to use an ice axe for self- arrest and crampons and I can navigate reasonably well. I would not be taking on pitched winter climbing and I certainly would not be doing any of that if there were winter storms in the forecast. I would, and do, feel comfortable in the spring, summer and autumn navigating in challenging terrain, fog and poor weather. Which is why much of my walking is done in these months.

If you are considering going out on the hills solo, make sure you can navigate without an electronic device (should the battery fail) and that you have any additional skills needed to tackle your choice of route. You can pick up maps and compasses from a wide variety of places, here are a couple of links to the ones that I use.

Silva Expedition Compass

OS Maps

Equipment

Linked to your planning phase, you will need to make sure you are carrying everything that you might need for your trip. I have been part of groups in the past where we have split up heavier equipment between us, so that the load was shared. There will be no such niceties on your solo walk. If you are camping for a night or two, you are the only person who can carry everything that you need for your trip.

My advice here is to travel light, but not at the expense of your safety or comfort. I have seen full sets of pyjamas carried to a one night camp; large heavy frying pans and crates of beer carried out too. During your planning phase, put together a kit list of all the equipment that you think you will need. You’ll probably be surprised how much is on the list. Carefully consider each item and its uses. Do you really need that crate of beer? If you think you do, be prepared to carry it all yourself!

If you do start camping on your own, it may be worth investing in new lighter equipment. There are loads of different ways to save weight whilst camping, and I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in this side of lightweight or ultra-lightweight camping. If you look online there are lots of professionals, experts and enthusiasts that can offer better advice than me on ways to save weight in your pack. I have however written previously about the sorts of things that should go in a rucksack when planning for a day out in the hills.

Mental and Physical Fitness

This section of the post refers to both mental and physical fitness. Being physically fit enough to carry out the route you have planned is a given. Lots of people use hillwalking or the outdoors in general to lose or maintain their weight – in my opinion there is no better way. However, the difference to this walk is that you don’t have the support of others to help push you through when the going gets tough. Are you physically able to handle the situation without that support? Most people will answer that question in the affirmative – which is fair enough – however it is worth considering that you will not have the others pushing you on.

Mentally, hiking solo can be challenging. Having the mental strength to push on when you are already tired is one thing, but in many instances, lots of people haven’t had the experience of being properly alone. The mental strength I am talking about here is being comfortable in your own company, knowing how to deal with lengths of solitude and loneliness or being able to continue assessing the situation ahead whilst dealing with things in the present.

Many people say they crave the solitude and peace and quiet of the mountains. Personally, I love being out alone, with only my own breathing for company. However, until you really experience it, you wont know how it will make you feel to be that far from others, or help should you need it. It can be a humbling experience, but you’ll need to be prepared for it.

And there you have it, my thoughts on walking solo. There is no doubt in my mind that going out in to the hills alone has lots of benefits. It is an empowering experience to survive and accomplish the goals you set yourself. Being self sufficient, even for a day, is a real confidence booster for me. I plan to do more solo walking in the weeks and years ahead, it gives me the time and space away from the rush of daily life that I need. There is always space in my diary for a walk with friends or family though, the camaraderie and banter on the hill is hard to beat. For those reasons, I will continue to do both as much as life allows.

Oh I did promise…

Dave’s Top Tip

As advertised, I said I would give you my top tip for walking solo. Well here goes…my number one thing that I encourage everyone to do when I speak to them about walking solo is to take the time during your walk to enjoy the solitude that the mountains can provide. Take the time to sit, relax, enjoy the views (if you get them) and just be. Just exist for a while. Up in the hills, when there is no one else around, the breeze can be loud, the dripping ice melting can be a drum beat and the views can be appreciated to their fullest; but only if you take the time to do so.

I like to lay back for a short while and just listen to the sounds of the wilderness, but I cannot achieve that if I am on a busy hill or walking with others, I need to be on my own to give my brain the chance to slow down and just be.

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HEAD TORCH REVIEW: Pathfinder 21 LED Headlamp

You’re out in the hills, the walk has taken longer than anticipated and the light is fading fast. The sun is setting over the skyline to the west and its getting harder to see clearly. You are struggling to ready your map in the gloom and your footing is becoming un-sure. Its time to reach into the bag and pull out the headtorch. Which model do you pull out?

Let’s face it we have all been there, and your choice of head torch is really important to ensure you can continue to be safe as it gets darker. With the lack of ambient light in most wild places, this can happen quite quickly and if you are unprepared you will get caught out. Not only is it important to carry a head torch on every walk (see my post on a rough packing list for a hill day here) but also spare batteries for that torch. You just never know when things are going to take longer than you think and you will be caught in the falling dusk.

I have used a Petzl headtorch for quite some time, and I’ve been quite happy with it overall. However, I was gifted a new headtorch recently and now I have had a chance to use it, I thought I would review it for you all to give you my opinion.

Pathfinder Head Torch 21 LED Packshot
The Pathfinder 21 LED headtorch

Overall Rating 4.2 out of 5. Buy your Pathfinder Head torch here.

Pathfinder Head Torch Review – Packaging

At first look, the Pathfinder Head Torch comes well packed in informative and kind of cool looking packaging. The front of the packet refers to the 21 LEDs, 100,000 hour lifetime (I have not tested this claim…), adjustments that can be made, light modes and water resistance.

The rear of the packet has more the more technical information, battery operation and changing procedure. The torch itself comes in the really hard to open blister packaging that I find incredibly frustrating. Not to say that this impacts on the torch itself at all, but hey, you wanted my opinion. Overall, the packaging is solid, preventing damage and informative.

Pathfinder Head Torch Review – First Look

On opening the packet (the less said about that the better), the first impression I had is of its weight. Its a bit lighter than I anticipated. There was no battery in it at this point, so I will have to factor that in, but it was still lighter than I was expecting. The torch face is nice and big and the straps look comfy.

I have read a few online reviews for this product that say that the straps are useless and come apart really easily. I cant see any evidence of this and now also having used it, I can say that I have had no real issues with the straps at all. Once, did one strap escape its clip, but it was easily sorted in a matter of moments. They are wide, comfy and easy to get a good fit. I had a bit of a play with the straps and the adjustable angle on the torch itself, everything looks as you would expect. One thing I have found in the past with previous head torches is that the battery compartment is really difficult to open – this one is very easy, a quick twist of the shaped bevel and it pops right open.

Pathfinder Head Torch Review – Usability

Whilst the opening of the battery compartment is quote easy, putting it back together is quite fiddly. I can imagine that with cold fingers, this could be quite challenging. Just something to bear in mind if you plan to use the torch a lot in winter (and lets be honest, with the length of the days in summer, we rarely need head torches here in Scotland).

Wearing the head torch is as comfortable as the first look suggested. I did find that the horizontal strap twisted itself when pulled tight, but it is easy to sort out to avoid any discomfort when wearing the torch for long periods. Tightening and loosening the straps is easy both on and off your head so you can adjust as you go and make changes on the fly.

Pathfinder Head Torch Review – In Use

Lastly, the road test. The torch functions well, the low light setting is perfect for around a camp site or in a tent if you are camping out and want to avoid glare. I’m not sure why the medium and high light settings are set differently, I think I would have been enough to have a low abs a high light setting, but both perform well for those high powered tasks such as looking for a navigation point or a feature in the dark. It would also help being spotted or finding your way in foggy conditions.

The flashing light setting would be great for attracting attention if the need arose too. It’s high powered enough to be seen from quite a distance. The on/off/toggle button is easy to reach whilst on your head, so if you needed to switch functions on the go this would be easy to do. It is placed on the right hand side, so perfect for a right handed person like me. Potential to cause some issues if you are left handed, but I cannot test that being a righty.

When I have been using the head torch, I have not needed to switch settings quickly, but the low light setting and the high powered setting have definitely worked for me. It’s comfy, I’ve worn it for about 2 hours straight with no issues. It provides light where I need it, the adjustable angle feature makes it easy to point the beam where I want it to complete whatever task I’m doing at the time.

One point to note that on one walk, I took the head torch out of my pocket and one of the straps had come loose from its clip. It’s was easy to fix, not a bother at all, but worth noting that it is possible for this to happen when it’s kept in a bag or pocket for a period of time.

Pathfinder Head Torch Review – Scoring

So to score this product, I am going to take a little bit off for the packaging as they could do better with that, let’s take off -0.1.

I’m also going to deduct points for the battery changing procedure as it is a bit fiddly and I think that could cause issues when it’s really cold out. -0.7 for that as, I think, with practice it will get easier but the design does not lend itself to easy operation.

Apart from those points, I cannot really fault this head torch, so the overall score for the Pathfinder Head Torch is 4.2 from a possible 5.

To bag yourself a Pathfinder Head Torch, click the link below.

Buy your Pathfinder Head Torch.

That’s some face…

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-baised.

How to Start Hillwalking – Beginners Series, Part 1

How to start Hillwalking – Beginners Series

So you’re here to find out about hiking in Scotland from someone who’s had a fair few hill days, some big, some small. You’ve checked out a few walk reports, you’ve seen photos of the beautiful scenery that Scotland has to offer and you’re thinking about giving it a go. You’ve searched for “hillwalking for beginners” and ended up here. So, where do you begin? Here are my top tips for things to do before setting off into the wilderness on your first hill walk.


1) Do your research

For a hill fanatic like me, this isn’t as much of a chore as it sounds. As you grow to love the hills and wild places in Scotland, you’ll start looking forward to this part of the trip and even plan multiple trips all in advance! 

Research is key to any successful hill day, it allows you to consider all the variables from the comfort of home, so when you’re making decisions on the hill, you‘re prepared with the knowledge beforehand. 

First off, you need to consider and select which hill you are aiming to bag. You’ll need to think about the distance it is from home and your travel times, safe parking spaces if travelling by car, the abilities of those in your group and the sort of walk you are looking for. Do you want a close by afternoon in some low level hills, or are you looking for a monster day encompassing multiple high level summits? Does your group have the skills to tackle airy ridge walks or are they more suited to a path or track all the way to the top? 

Once you’ve selected your hill, the next thing you want to do is look at your route. Route selection is maybe the most important key to an enjoyable walk. You can look at walk reports from other walkers (like me!) or from another site such as walkhighlands.co.uk. There are literally thousands or reports on there for all manner of hills and walks to choose from. I’ve spent many an afternoon lost in others reports envisioning walking in their footsteps. They also have a handy grading system to help you select the right route for your skill level. 

Make sure you also check your maps to identify your chosen route and that the terrain and relief is something that you can handle. Map reading and the ability to relate what is on the paper to the ground is a key skill that every hill walker should have and practice regularly. There is no point packing a map and compass if you don’t know how to use them. You can get a great starter compass here.

Once you’ve selected your hill and your route, make sure you check the weather. Weather in Scotland is notoriously fickle, and even a weather forecast from the Mountain Weather Information Service can sometimes be inaccurate. Saying that, these guys are the best in the business as far as I am concerned and my go to weather reports for all my walks. I’ve explored weather forecasts in another post for you to look at.

With regards to the weather, it is the biggest unpredictable factor in your day. If you select the right hill and consider the time it will take to cross the terrain, the only thing stopping you are the conditions in which you’re walking. Even the simplest route can be turned into a nightmare with the Scottish weather. I’ve experienced snow in August, whiteouts, gales, rain travelling uphill, freezing fog and temperature inversions. Just to mention a few of the less normal conditions that I have faced. Knowing what the weather is likely to do in advance allows you to pack the right kit and prepare yourself mentally for what you are letting yourself in for!

2) Pack your kit in advance

Once you have done your research, you can begin to pack your kit. I plan to do several posts about bags, packing and equipment, so I will cover the detail there. However, you’ll need to consider things like your clothing, how much water you will want to carry, food, first aid, navigation tools and any special equipment you might need for example. 

If you can get the main parts of your bag packed the night before you depart, it takes away a lot of the difficulties on your hill day. In my experience, making decisions about what clothing is most appropriate at 4am when you get up is not the right time to be making that call. You will inevitably forget a critical item that you will be desperate for later in the day. 

3) Plan your travel to and from the hill

Now you are pretty much ready to go, how are you going to get there? Many of the hills in Scotland are quite remote and for many the easiest way to get to the foot of the hill is going to be by car. Try and use public transport wherever possible to reduce the number of vehicles going to these remote places, but sometimes a car is the best way. Plan your route, know where you are going to park and how best to get to that point. How will you recognise that point in the dark? Is your walk a loop back to the start or do you need to consider another method of transport back to your car once you are off the hill? 

You will also figure out what time you will need to leave. My preference is to leave and walk early, so that if anything goes amiss during the day, I am not chasing the light towards the end of the day when I am tired and prone to making mistakes. That normally means an early start, which suits me anyway. 

You should also be able to make a rough guess at what time you’ll get back. It is important to leave your time of departure, arrival and return back to the car with someone who is not coming on the walk. Also tell them where you are going, your planned route and what time you will check in with them if you have phone signal. In the case that something goes wrong or you suffer an injury on the hill, you want someone to send the cavalry to come and get you. If no one knows where you are and that you are running late, getting the attention of someone who can help you could be much more difficult. 

Overall, the more you research and plan, the more enjoyable a day you will have. The biggest factor though is the better prepared you are, the safer you and your walking partners will be. 

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below if you think that there is anything that I have missed, or if this has been helpful for you planning your first hike in Scotland. Let me know how it goes! To read the next part of the Beginners Series, click here for more information on how to pack your rucksack.

Thanks

Dave

  This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you.