post Walking in the Pentlands

March 4th, 2008

Filed under: Scotland — mat @ 4:09 pm

Saturday we had dinner with our friends David and Karen at their home on the Oxgang Road, out on Edinburgh’s south side. The southern rim of the capital city is neatly proscribed by the M8 motorway: a bulwark against which the tide of Edinburgh’s suburban sprawl crashes and abates. David, Karen and their three children live close enough to this barrier to be considered sentinels, their windows looking out to the grassy hilllands beyond.

Those hills are the Pentlands, Edinburgh’s answer to San Francisco’s Marin headlands: a government maintained green space within easy reach of the city.

Sunday morning Orla and I resolved to work off some of David’s yummy fondue by making our first proper excursion into the Pentland hills. I say “proper” as we had visited the area a couple weeks earlier on a trip to Roslin Chapel (recently famous through its connection to The Da Vinci Code). We wandered in the forest which abuts the chapel, but had yet to take on the hills.

Bus access to the Pentlands is a little sketchy, particularly on a Sunday: Lothian Buses, the main local service, have nothing which goes by Flotterstone Ranger Station, one important entrance. Another service (Edinburgh has several) called MacEwan seemed to have a bus, but details on this were hard to come by, especially as I couldn’t find their web site. In the end, we picked up a Lothian bus that dropped us at Milton Bridge, about a mile from Flotterstone. The walk to the park was lovely, notwithstanding the driver who felt her right to a fast left turn onto a country lane infringed upon by our right not to be mown down on that same country lane.

We entered the park intending to cut across its Northeast corner, skirting a boomerang-shaped reservoir and following a trail between the peaks. Hardly a quarter-mile in, though, we were struck by scattered sunlight playing off hilltops painted with grass, gorse and heather, and shifted plans, hoping to improve our view by summiting some of these.
The park is a curious mix: though government maintained, it seems to serve several purposes: agricultural (mostly sheep farming), military and commercial. We passed through a golf course, and even saw a ski slope (operating at least for now on artificial snow).

Having packed for rain, we were a building up a good sweat as we went, the sun appearing fairly regularly through scattered clouds. As we neared the ridgeline and began to contemplate lunch, however, we became suddenly aware that the sky was darkening quickly. Into our waterproofs just in time, as the wind beat up, followed by rain, and then driving sleet. Needless to say, we were a touch annoyed at the interruption of our picnic plans, but were almost as quickly cheered by the realization that despite the inclemency we were both warm and dry. Stumbling along in the sleet, we marveled at the roiling beauty of the ever-cahnging Scottish sky.

The ridge line brought us through several vistas and past the remnants of a bronze-age fort. At last the weather lifted, the rain subsiding thought the wind continued to howl. We spotted our picnic site: the lee side of a drystone wall afforded us perfect protection while we ate and drank. Orla lamented the oversight of not adding a flask of tea into our provisions. I had a flask of something stronger in mind.

Swept away in the fun and beauty of the day, we decided to rope in some friends, so we texted our pals in Zurich. “Having lovely picnic behind drystone windbreak in pentlands. Rain, sleet, freezing wind. Wish u wuz ‘ere!” The texted back. “Sounds divine but will have 2 make do with delights of german homework.” Ah well. We tried.

After lunch, we summited our highest peak of the day, Allermuir, a mere 500m above sea level, but offering unobstructed panoramas of Edinburgh, Fife, East Lothian and of course the Pentlands themselves. We took several random turns on the downhill side, passed through an impossibly cute village of thatched, white-washed cottages, and then stumbled out of the park, back over the M8 and into the suburban surf of southern Edinburgh.

Having no quite idea where in town we’d ended up, we stopped some passers-by and asked the way to the nearest bus stop. One of the gregarious foursome of middle-aged ladies pointed up the street: “That’s the Oxgang Road,” she said. Orla and I glanced at one another.

One hundred or so feet up the road, we stood, stared and laughed. We knew this spot. With miles and miles of parkland to chose from, all our random turns has washed us up on Dave and Karen’s doorstep!


  1. Any bunnies?

    Comment by Peter — March 4, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  2. [...] while she and I were purchasing our rides at the Bike Station. We have since gone hiking in the Pentland Hills, but had yet to meet up for any actual cycling. That changed yesterday, as she invited us to join [...]

    Pingback by fog & whisky » OK, who are you and what have you done with Scotland? — April 27, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

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