Tag Archives: Scotland

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.

Cruach Ardrain & Beinn Tulaichean – WALK REPORT – July 2021

I had a week off earlier in July and the wife and I decided to try and take one of the days off to do a bit of Munro bagging. We spent a while going over a few different routes and tried to find the most suitable day trip for us. We settled on a pair of hills to the south of Crianlarich, Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean. I’ve climbed hills either side of this pair before, so I was looking forward to seeing those hills from a different perspective. Our initial idea was to attempt these hills from the south from Inverlochlarig, however when we began to pack our kit the previous evening, we found out that the map that we had of that area actually doesn’t cover much of this approach. Back to the drawing board, we decided to keep the same targets, but approach from the north, on the A82 south of Crianlarich. It was a longer walk, but we both felt more comfortable walking a route that we have a map for.

Forest track in Scottish woodland
Rough path through the woodland

The morning of the ascent was spent wrangling the children to various grandparents and aunties and we were on the road north by about 8am. After a little faffing about, we were parked up in a layby off the A82 and booted up by 9.30. We struck out into the long grass towards a footbridge over the railway and veered right following a rough track through the woodland. After a time, this lead us to an access road that headed uphill towards our target.

Max and I posing for a photo on the access road
Max and I posing for a photo on the access road

We followed the access road, with Max the dog bounding along, taking a left and right turn at the following junctions. We even stopped for a short while for a photo! Eventually, after about 20 minutes or so we came across the walkers cairn, signalling our deviation from the road and the end of the easy terrain. To be honest, the cairn is quite small, we nearly missed it. Following the bent grass path through knee high grass, we toiled our way up the grassy hill and reached the tree line.

The next section will live long in the memory, and unfortunately not for a particularly good reason. I had assumed that with these hills being fairly far south, the amount of foot traffic would have eroded a fairly well worn path through the trees, coming out the other side to start the ascent of Grey Height, which is the first major obstacle on this route at 666m. However, this turned out not to be the case. What followed was about 20 minutes of boggy scrambling through low hanging branches of immature pine trees. The sort of branches that leave scratches on your arms, whilst trying to avoid losing a boot in the bog. It was a nightmare. Even looking back on it now, it wasn’t particularly fun although it was certainly adventurous.

After what felt like an age, we managed to escape the boggy tree line, and were out onto the hill proper. We began the ascent cursing the previous section, but still in decent spirits. These spirits were to be sorely tested from here on. With the temperatures heading north of 20 degrees and the time of year, we were almost immediately assaulted by clouds of midges and flies, which was certainly unpleasant. We had to stop multiple times on this initial climb to apply insect repellent, which we were sweating out due to the heat.

Making decent time on the initial climb (taking into account our midge repellent application breaks) we achieved the first part of the climb, reaching Grey Height and its lochan. Of course, Max thought this was great and jumped straight in for a swim.

We were now able to see ahead to the second challenge of this trip, Meall Dhamh. Sitting at 814m, this is not an insignificant bump in the road to cross. The path became somewhat clearer after this, easing the pressure on our navigation. We duly headed on and upwards starting to scale the hill ahead. As we were nearing the top of Meall Dhamh, we started to get glimpses of the first summit on the trip, Cruach Ardrain.

The path then veered westwards, taking us across the hillside, contouring along at a reasonable height. Note here, that if you are a little bit wobbly with exposure, you could find this a little difficult. Following the path and turning into the slope, it was about a 10 minute slog up to the top of the summit ridge. We met there the path running along the ridge, we turned left here towards the summit.

Summit of Cruach Ardrain

We quickly reached the false summit and then on to the true summit maybe 100m further along the ridge. This is a great spot, high, airy and with some great views in all directions. I was particularly taken by the view along the ridge to the next summit, Beinn Tulaichean. It really looked like a bump in the main ridge rather than a Munro in its own right, which is nice. I had figured that we would be doing a lot of descending and reclimbing for the second summit, but that didn’t look to be the case.

Max heading for Beinn Tulaichean

We didn’t stay long at the summit, the midge cloud descended on us and we made a hasty retreat back to the saddle where we joined the summit path. This is not the lowest point between the two hills, rather a depression in the descent to the true saddle. We pushed on down to the saddle and looked up to the next target – it didn’t seem far or too much higher than where we standing.

Summit of Beinn Tulaichean

Gathering ourselves, we set off once more to climb Beinn Tulaichean, and actually made it to the top in about 20 minutes. We were getting a little tired by this time, so I think we would usually do this climb a bit quicker, but as I say, we were getting a little tired by this point in the walk. Again, the midges descended whilst we were on the summit, meaning this too was a quick pitstop for the obligatory photo and then we retraced our steps, downhill back to the saddle. We had only left the saddle 30 minutes before, and were already back, having bagged another Munro!

We climbed back up to where our path met the ridge path and took the left turn off the ridge. The terrain here is steep and now we were facing the drop straight in front of us. If you’re a bit funny about that sort of thing, beware! Tracking back towards Meall Dhamh, we covered the ground pretty quickly, finishing the contouring part of the route.

Heading North to Crianlarich

Broadly following our route of ascent in reverse, we headed north back towards Crianlarich over Meall Dhamh and then Grey Height all the way to the tree line. We even bog-trotted down the hill back to the access road before using the easier going to relax and reflect on a great day out in the hills, with another two Munros in the bag!

Max the dog really dirty in the back of the car.
Max was exhausted and very dirty after our walk

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.

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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Tomtain, Hunt Hill, Garrel Hill – WALK REPORT – JAN 2021

The wife had me on the night feed on New Years Eve, which meant an early night for me. However, when life gives you lemons, you go for a walk. I spent an hour or so on New Years Eve planning this walk, you can read more about that process here in my beginners series.

Early on New Years Day, I grabbed a bag (more info on selecting the right bag here), a map and the dog and headed to the Kilsyth Hills about 15 mins from home. This travel restriction of staying in your local authority area is really messing up my plans for some big walks this winter. But it’s better to be safe, so I will stick to the small area of hills I can access and make the best of it.

I had the idea to try and see the sun rise on the new year out on the hills, so Max (the dog) and I headed out about 7.30 into the icy morning. Once we had parked up and skated across the car park, a short walk up the road led to the start of the hill path we were following. This was to be Max’s first proper hill day, so as you can imagine he was bouncing around ready to get going.

Max ready to head off

We headed off into the murky morning gloom, and made our way up what would normally have been quite a significant stream. Luckily this morning it was all frozen. Threading our way through the trees, the view behind started to open up.

Sunrise in Scotland
Sun rising to the East

Heading further up, the ground started to steepen, and Max found that the easiest way was just to bulldoze your way through the snow rather than try and run over it. Eventually the view ahead opened up to give us a view of our first target, Tomtain. It’s the highest point in North Lanarkshire, and whilst not a particularly challenging walk, the views are all out of proportion.

Ochills View
Looking towards the Ochills
View North Mountains
Looking North
Snowy Mountain
More Mountains

I could see Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh in the East, Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi to the North (other indistinguishable hills further north too) and I could also see what I think was Mull way out to the West. I’m not too sure, but it was incredible.

Max and I on the summit of Tomtain

After a brief rest for a drink and a photo we headed on west to the next target, Hunt Hill. For those of you that are used to massive drops and regains in altitude, prepare to be disappointed. Barely 10 mins later after an enjoyable scoot down the hill in the snow, we attained the next summit, not much more than a bump in the broad ridge from Tomtain to Garrel Hill. It was at this point that my phone decided that it was too cold and stopped working, so there aren’t many more pictures of this walk.

View south west
Last photo of the day looking south west

We deviated slightly from the trodden path in the snow to peak on Hunt Hill, followed by an enjoyable slip and slide back down again. However no rest for us this time as we tramped on into what, in warmer weather, would be an absolute quagmire. As it was frozen, it didn’t cause too many issues, but Max definitely got a bit mucky abs wet here. The climb to Garrel Hill is a little longer than the previous one, maybe just shy of 1km.

Max and I made short work of it though and we’re on the summit by the small cairn about 1 hour 45 mins after leaving the car. A stop at the top to play in the snow (Max, not me) some leftover turkey and a drink and we were ready to tackle the return leg. We returned pretty much the way we came, however selecting the lower route, missing the summit of Hunt Hill.

Once back on the summit of Tomtain, we started the long skid back to the car over the iced up snow and bog surface back to the road and on back to the car.

All in all, I had a blast, some great little hills with outstanding views and Max did really well on his first day out with me. We were back home for 10.30 ready to tackle the beginning of the new year with fresh air in our lungs and some miles in our legs. Looking forward to the next one Max.

Thanks

Dave