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Issue 47 - 10 best winter walks

Scotland Magazine Issue 47
October 2009


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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10 best winter walks

Keith Fergus explores the best 10 walks to catch the winter air.

Kippford to Sandyhills The Galloway coast offers a fantastic array of walking for everyone, but the seven miles between Kippford and Sandyhills is possibly the best of the lot. Beginning at the lovely village of Kippford, the route travels south-east along the peaceful Jubilee Path leading to the small Victorian village of Rockcliffe. Beach or pavement can be taken from here on to The Merse from where a good path extends to the Iron Age Fort of Castlehill Point which provides exceptional views, particularly of the great Lake District mountains lying only a short distance across the Solway Firth. The path then climbs steeply east along exposed cliffs towards the hamlets of Port o’ Warren and Portling, with peace and quiet almost guaranteed. A final stiff pull climbs to The Torrs which offers another incredible vantage point leaving a sharp descent down into Sandyhills and a short bus journey back to Kippford.

OS Landranger Map 84 Start Grid Reference NX836554 Finish NX891553 Hart Fell Moffat is a great base to explore the several mountains nearby and Hart Fell rises a short distance from the town. Apparently Hart Fell used to be the home of the wizard Merlin whilst the small well of Hartfell Spa, with its supposed healing properties sits at her base. The route begins near Ericstane with a good path travelling north-east to Hartfell Spa. A steep ascent climbs onto Arthur’s Seat, but with the hard work done, a gentle stroll is all that lies between you and Hart Fell’s 808 metre summit. A path descends steeply south-east past Hartfell Crag and then climbs south to the broad plateau of Swatte Fell.

Wonderful views extend across Nithsdale and The Borders whilst the neighbouring mountains of Broad Law and White Coomb are equally alluring.

From Swatte Fell a short descent leads to Blue Cairn before steep slopes head back to Hartfell Spa and the path to Ericstane.

OS Landranger Map 78 Start/Finish GR NT075104 Campsie Fells The Campsie Fells are a conspicuous landmark to the north of Glasgow providing excellent walking and views across the city and much of the Southern Highlands.

The most interesting route begins at Glengoyne Distillery (which offers its own excellent walking tour) and climbs the steep volcanic plug of Dumgoyne, a good track leading all the way to the summit. Once you have caught your breath then an easier gradient carries onwards onto the Campsie Fells proper with a distinct track climbing over the wonderfully named Clachertyfarlie Knowes and onto the Campsies’ highest point of Earls Seat. On a clear winter’s day the views are extraordinary - Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps, Ben More, and Ben Lui are all on show. To return to Glengoyne (and a well earned dram?) simply retrace your steps although real care must be taken when descending Dumgoyne’s precipitous slopes.

OS Landranger Map 64 Start/Finish GR NS527826 Pentland Hills Like Glasgow, Edinburgh has its own mini range of hills. The Pentlands rise from the outskirts of the city and extend south-west towards the Scottish Borders presenting fantastic walking for the shorter days of winter from several starting points.

One such walk begins at Lothianburn Ski Centre from where a good path ascends steeply east of the ski slopes towards Caerketton Hill, the steep climb meaning views open out quickly across Edinburgh to the Firth of Forth. From Caerketton the path descends west to an intersection of paths. Keep on the same path as it climbs onto Allermuir Hill and then enjoy the sublime views of both the Forth Road and Rail Bridges and the Fife coast. To return retrace the path from Allermuir east back to the col between Allermuir and Caerketton and follow the route northeast then north to Swanston and back to the Ski Centre car park.

OS Landranger Map 66 Start/Finish GR NT248669 North Berwick & North Berwick Law Coastal walking is fantastic during the winter months where strong winds can add to the walk rather than be a hindrance, and the beaches of North Berwick are wonderful for walking. Yellow Craig, a short distance west of North Berwick, is a good place to start with views of Fidra which is said to be what which Robert Louis Stevenson based Treasure Island on. It is an easy walk across the soft sands towards North Berwick and its harbour. A visit to the Seabird Centre is recommended before walking south along the B1347 to the base of North Berwick Law. A track traverses around the hill and it is only a short (yet sharp) ascent to her summit. Although less than 200 metres in height, the views are incredible to Bass Rock, the Firth of Forth and the long ridge of The Pentlands. You can either walk back or hop on the bus to return to Yellow Craig.

OS Landranger Map 66 Start/Finish GR NT517855 Kerrera The island of Kerrera, lying a short distance from Oban, is a wonderful, unspoilt place – cars are not allowed unless you are a resident. A walk around Kerrera takes a couple of hours but such is the extent of historical interest and superb views then a whole day can be spent exploring. A short ferry ride takes you back in time, such is the tranquillity of the location. My own favoured route is to follow the track south-west from the ferry passing beautiful Horseshoe Bay and towards the dramatic ruins of Gylen Castle. The track continues along the quieter west shore with magnificent views of Mull before a stiff climb away from the road leads to the Kerrera’s highest point of Carn Breugach. The vista is simply astonishing, encompassing the delights of Oban, the Lorn Coast and the great sentinel of Beinn Cruachan. Once back on track it is a short walk to the ferry.

OS Landranger Map 49 Start/Finish GR NM830287 Mayar & Driesh I am fascinated by old drove roads and the history they hold. One example is the Kilbo path which links the beautiful glens of Prosen and Clova in Angus. The path also links the two Munros of Mayar and Driesh which are usually climbed from Glen Clova, but a walk over their summits is equally as interesting from Glen Prosen. Leaving from Glenprosen Lodge, a track runs north-west alongside the lovely Prosen Water past Kilbo and then climbs north along Kilbo Path before a short climb west will see you onto Mayar’s summit. The famed crags of Lochnagar and the bulk of the Cairngorms fill the horizon whilst all the lovely glens of Angus lie below. To reach Driesh, descend east from Mayar past Corrie Sharroch to reach a steep incline which leads to the summit of Driesh. To return, descend south by the Shank of Driesh over the curiously named Lick and back into Glen Prosen.

OS Landranger Map 44 Start/Finish GR NO291681 Loch an Eilein For many the high arctic plateau of the Cairngorms will be out of bounds during the winter months, such is the severity of the weather that can persist during the season.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of low level walks to enjoy with the circuit of Loch an Eilein being a favourite. The walk is only about three miles in length, but it travels through the magnificent Rothiemurchus Forest sheltering a myriad of wildlife. It also passes the ancient remains of Loch an Eileins’ castle which dates from the 14th century and was once home to the Lords of Badenoch. According to legend, the notorious Wolf of Badenoch resided here once.

Today, the walk offers solitude , and from the Visitor Centre, a path circumnavigates the loch which is equally rewarding in either direction with superb views up to the wild and windswept Cairngorm Mountains.

OS Landranger Map 36 Start/Finish GR NN897087 Caledonian Canal – Inverness to Dochgarroch Walking along the Caledonian Canal is never anything but flat, yet that does not detract from its beauty – the scenery is always stunning and traffic minimal. Inverness is a lovely city and therefore it makes sense to start and finish the route here. Beginning underneath the castle by the River Ness, follow the Great Glen Way south, walking along the Ness Islands and crossing the river near the sports centre.

Nearby, a flight of steps takes you up to the Caledonian Canal. The walk from here is as simple as simple can be, and because of this you can enjoy the scenery and serenity.

Dochgarroch lies about four miles from the start and is an ideal place to stop and watch the yachts and cruisers slowly make their way through the lock – to watch is very therapeutic. To return to Inverness, cross the canal and stick to it until you reach Tomnahurich Bridge from where you can follow the River Ness back to the city.

OS Landranger Map 26 Start/Finish GR NH663453 Glen Affric & Loch Affric It is said that Glen Affric is the most beautiful glen in Scotland and I would find it hard to argue with that. Certainly the eleven miles around Loch Affric makes for a fantastic walk with some exemplary views, and although the route is remote, the paths are good and the going easy.

Beginning at the car park at the head of Loch Affric, a track heads west along the southern banks of the loch and continues past Affric Lodge through the magnificent remnants of Caledonian Pine with superb views towards the likes of Sgurr na Lapaich. Once across the River Affric at Athnamulloch, the track heads north then east above Loch Affric (keep to the higher path as the lower one can be quite boggy) allowing for unparalleled views across Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin and Glen Affric. After completing this route it really would be hard to disagree with the opening statement.

OS Landranger Map 25 Start/Finish GR NH200233