It has taken me four days to cover the 70 miles between Peebles and Glendevon, and during this time I’ve crossed one of Britain’s main urban-industrial belts. Apart from a noisy and grim hour on the outskirts of Falkirk, it’s mainly been peaceful and surprisingly scenic. I’m pretty tired though, as I’ve done quite a lot of marching alongside the Union canal, and other tarmac bashing. I find that harder than hillwalking. My quads are aching, my feet are stiff, and I think a rest day is needed fairly soon.
Here’s how the last few days have panned out.
On Monday I walked from Peebles to West Linton. This was my last day in the Southern Upland hills, and was very enjoyable. Around Peebles there are miles and miles of well marked trails, called Tweed Trails. I followed an old drove road over the hills to the village of West Linton which nestles into the south side of the Pentland Hills. (South of Scotland Countryside trails is a really useful online resource for walking in the area).
The following day was exciting. I was eagerly anticipating new views – the Edinburgh and the Central Belt. The first couple of hours were so peaceful – slowly gaining height in hot sunshine past a beautiful estate and a resevoir. Finally I reached the wonderfully named Cauldstane Slap. It’s a gap between two Pentland peaks over which cattle were herded from Scotland all the way to London for several centuries. What tough men those herders must have been. As I walked in their footsteps I thought of them, how they slept each night on the ground, wrapped only in the thick cloaks they wore. What would they think of me, with my rucksack packed with things like footcream, trainers to wear in the evening, spare trousers?
And so at the Cauldstane Slap, came the view. The Firth of Forth – the sea, practically. The first time I’ve seen coastal water since crossing the Severn Estuary on 21st April. I could see Ben Lomond and Ben Lawyers, faint ghosts in the far distance. The Campsie Fells, the Ochils, the bridges across the Firth of Forth were all clearly visible. Below me, Livingstone, Falkirk, Linlithgow, and to the east, Edinburgh and the unmistakable profile of Arthur’s seat. Quite a view.
It’s hard to explain just what a delight it is to walk a long way in my own country, and to earn views such as this through my own physical effort. The fact that I’m familiar with places such as Edinburgh doesn’t detract at all from the feeling of accomplishment at seeing the new vista. It somehow looks altogether different from the vantage points of my walking route. The fact that I arrived at this new chapter by walking for a day and a half along an ancient drive road, during which time I met not a single soul, made it all the more special. It feels like arriving by stealth, secretly, rather than whizzing along a busy road with everyone else.
I descended from the Pentland hills, knowing I now had the built up Central Belt to cross. I was intrigued as to how this part if my walk would pan out. Mainly the day from West Linton to Broxburn was great. I walked through Almondell County Park, which was full of happy families picnicking in the sun. And then came the highlight for me. It looked like nothing on the map – following a 1 metre wide canal feeder channel. It turned out to be a very special wild flower lined piece of heaven. To think that the busy M8 was just close by. Very strange.
My charming feeder channel – there was no one in sight – met up with the Union canal. This canal runs from Edinburgh to the Falkirk Wheel, and was restored 13 years ago. No one seems to have told narrow boat owners as I saw only two boats during the many hours on Tuesday and Wednesday that I strode along the footpath.
On Tuesday evening I stopped at Broxburn. Maybe not the most salubrious of stops. But convenient in terms of mileage. Wednesday morning saw me make an early start for a long day ahead – about 22 miles. But right at the start I was delayed by…..a swan. Mrs Swan had decided to take up residence on the canal towpath. Snoozing beside her were 6 fluffy grey cignets. There was no room for me to pass. I tried asking her politely to move. I tried suggesting that she take her babies for a swim. I tried gently walking passed. All my efforts were met with a fluffing up of her magnificent wings and a fierce hiss. After a 15 minute standoff and a FaceTime call to Denmark (for niece and nephew to see my Swangate problem), I retreated. Mrs Swan was victorious in The Battle of Broxburn Towpath. I found a way around using some backstreets.
I left the canal at Falkirk. From
this point on I am following my own route, not one described in a book or on a website. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Mainly I’m stringing together the paths of the Scottish Rights of Way Society, which exist throughout Scotland.
I skirted around Falkirk, initially through a wood, but then along some noisy A roads. Finally I walked under the M9 motorway. The last motorway I will walk under or over on my journey. And then a short while later I crossed the river Carron and turned into quiet lanes beside fields abutting the Firth of Forth. Admittedly, the belching towers of Grangemouth were right nearby, but it was marvellous not to have artics thundering past.
It’s never good to have a navigational issue at the end of a long day. A path marked on the map, and signposted on the ground, came to an abrupt halt. My way was barred by bushes and thistles. I backtracked, morale leaking a bit, across a field. The final couple of miles to my abode for the night near Kincardine Bridge seemed to go on forever. Luckily I was helped by some encouraging texts from home.
The next day I had a few miles of busy road as I walked over the bridge. I was now in the Kingdom of Fife. I walked through Kincardine town, then found myself in a sweet smelling forest, with birdsong for company again. It felt good. I proceeded north along quiet lanes to Dollar, which lies at the foot of the Ochil hills.
It’s a posh little village, is Dollar, as it is home to a smart private school. The benefit for me was a gourmet sandwich for lunch, and a few other goodies for my rucksack, purchased from a well stocked deli.
Now it was finally time to go back into the hills. The Ochils run from east to west – from Stirling, eastwards. I followed a lovely old pedler’s route over a pass high up above Castle Campbell, with great views south, all the way to the Cauldstane Slap in the far distance. It’s really satisfying to look back and think, ‘I walked from there’.
I will post a video of these four days separately. (Having a technical problem!)