Celtic Connections

I’ve been absent from WordPress for a few weeks – neither writing or keeping up with reading blogs I follow as I’ve been busy with work ever since Christmas. And after being glued to Zoom all day for meetings and delivering training, I’ve been less keen on spending more time in front of a computer screen during my free time. But work pressures are easing off a little so it’s time for a catch up 😉

It’s getting on to close to a year now since life has been disrupted by the pandemic. We’ve been in and out of lockdown and although I’ve been restricted to local walks for substantial periods I was able to get out to the Lakes and Anglesey during the summer. We haven’t been able to get out to concerts, the theatre, galleries and exhibitions since last March, though and I’ve certainly missed all that. I have sustained a semblance of cultural activity though, as some organisations have managed to run events on-line. So I’ve been able “attend” three virtual folk festivals, Kate Ruby’s Christmas concert and watch a few National Theatre productions . I’ve also been able to “visit” the Hay Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, the Orkney Science Festival and the Kendal Mountain Festival all of which were run online – events I’d always wanted to visit but have never had the opportunity. Watching on screen isn’t the same as being there, of course. It’s too easy to be distracted when you’re in front of the TV and you miss the excitement of being somewhere different and mixing with other people. But, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to attend most, if not all, of these events if they hadn’t been run on-line.

Another annual event I’ve always fancied attending is the Celtic Connections Festival that’s run every January up in Glasgow. The festival focuses on traditional Scottish music international folk, roots and world music artists with concerts, ceilidhs, talks, free events, late night sessions and workshops too. It always seems like a good way of cheering up the rather dark and dismal days that follow on from Christmas.

Last December I got a tip off from Anabel , the Glasgow Gallivanter that the festival was going on-line and that early bird tickets were available for a very reasonable price of £30 that allowed access to all the concerts. So I snapped one up and was able to keep myself entertained during the dark January evenings.

There were plenty of traditional Scottish and Gaelic bands, playing jaunty music with fiddles, pipes and the like. I was able to watch concerts featuring some familiar musicians like Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton and Julie Fowlis.

The Transatlantic sessions is a project that brings traditional musicians together from, as the name suggests, both sides of the Atlantic – from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the USA in particular. I’ve watched some programmes on the BBC over a number of years, so it was good to see them performing “live” – with a number of performers on stage in Glasgow with video links to musicians over the other side of the water.

The concert of Quebecois music – Quebecfest – featuring Vent du Nord, De Temps Antan and Grosse Ille was another highlight

But there were new discoveries too – from other traditions and musical genres

Xabier Diaz from the Gallicia region of Spain, backed by a group of female singers playing what must be a rectangular Gallician version of the bodhrán 

Fergus McCreadie, a talented young Scottish jazz pianist who plays “an innovative blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music”. Many of his compositions are inspired by the Scottish landscapes, with titles such as Cairn, North, Across Flatlands, Mull and The Stones of Brodgar

Dreamer’s Circus, a Danish / Swedish trio with a contemporary take on traditional Nordic music

I didn’t watch every concert – there were too many, and there workshops too (not included in the festival ticket, though) – but certainly enjoyed the experience. It would have been better to have been there and savour the atmosphere, but that wasn’t possible. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to go up to Glasgow this January anyway so watching on my TV at home allowed me to get a taster. And it’s made me determined to get up there next year when (hopefully!) it will return to being a live event. And an opportunity to meet up with a bloggy friend too, perhaps 😉.

Street haunting in Glasgow

I was up in Glasgow on Monday and Tuesday for some meetings. I took a train up late morning and when I arrived had a few hours before my first commitment so decided to have a mooch around the city centre. It’s a city with plenty of character and interesting architecture. Here’s a few snaps I took during the short time I had street haunting, mainly round the Merchant City area.

Melrose Abbey

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It was around midday when we dropped D and J off at Morebattle to pick up their car.We said our goodbyes and then we set off to drive over to Melrose. It was a pleasant day so rather than head off straight home, and get caught up in rush hour traffic on the Motorway, we’d decided to go and have a look at the Abbey that’s the start of the St Cuthbert’s trail and which we’d missed by starting at Morebattle.  Although it would have taken a couple of days to walk between the two Scottish Border towns it was less than an hour’s drive.

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Just like Lindisfarne Priory, the ruined Abbey wasn’t the one where St Cuthbert lived. It’s a later Cistercian building founded in 1136. In fact, the original Celtic Christian monastery was located about two miles east of the town.

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The Abbey is allegedly the resting place of the heart of Robert the Bruce and it’s resting place is marked by this memorial

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Of course, there’s no real evidence that his heart is actually buried here.

The original building would have been Romanesque in style (like Lindisfarne Priory) but being close to the border with England the area was regularly a war zone and, inevitably, the Abbey was seriously damaged. There are some traces of the original building, such as this doorway

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but it is a Gothic structure, built after1385, with characteristic high pointed arches, large windows with ornate tracery and flying buttresses.

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The remains of the ornate stone vaulting over the presbytery

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Elaborate capitals

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A good view of the nearby Eildon hills from the roof

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There isn’t much left of the cloisters and the monks’ living accommodation.

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However, there’s a good little museum in the restored Commendator’s House, built in the late 1500s – much of it’s stone being robbed from the Abbey buildings. (Commendators were lay administrators who, were placed in charge of abbeys in Scotland)

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Yetholm

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The first overnight stay of our ‘long walk’ was spent in Kirk Yetholm, a small, pleasant village just a mile from the border with England. The days are long in late May and early June and after we’d eaten we decided to take a stroll around the village.

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The village is actually one of a pair of settlements divided by the  River Bowmont, with Town Yetholm on the other side of the river

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In the 7th century the area was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, but became firmly anchored in Scotland in the 11th century. There are various theories about the origin of the name Yetholm but the most common explanation is that it’s derivedfrom the  Old English language and probably means ‘Gatehouse Village’ due to it’s proximity to the border. Originally the centre of an agricultural community with some small scale textile production, according to the owner of the Border Inn, with whom we enjoyed a pleasant chat later in the evening while sitting outside with a drink, today the twin villages are dominated by retired people and holiday homes.

Kirk Yetholm is known as a ’gypsy village’ as it had a sizable community of gypsies who probably arrived in the area in the late seventeenth century. The local legend is that

during war with the French, at the siege of Namur, in 1695, a gypsy of the name of Young, saved the life of a British Officer, Captain David Bennet, who owned property in the Yetholm area. Accordingly, in gratitude for this deed, the Captain built cottages at Yetholm and leased them to the gypsies. (Scottish Gypsies website)

There’s a monument to the Gypsy community on the village green

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During our chat with the owner of the Border Inn, he told us that the Gypsies weren’t allowed to enter the inn but had to purchase their beer through a window while standing outside. Prejudice against immigrants has deep roots, sadly. Today there isn’t a distinct Gypsy community as they have intermarried.

There were some very attractive houses in the village

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Thatched cottages are unusual in Scotland, but there were a few in the twin villages. I think this one is a holiday cottage.

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Walking down towards the river we reached the Kirk. The current building was constructed in 1836 in blue whinstone in a Scottish Baronial Gothic style. The site has probably been occupied by a parish Church for over 800 years.

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Being the evening we couldn’t look inside, but had a quick wander around the churchyard

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Carrying on down the hill we passed the War Memorial – a Northumbrian Cross. We stopped to look and as is always the case there were a large number of local people from such a small community slaughtered during the First World War.

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By the monument there was a good view towards the hills we’d crossed that afternoon

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We crossed the bridge and walked up towards Town Yetholm. Another pleasant village centred on a village green with a very wide main street and well kept houses.

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Another thatched cottage

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and a pub

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We strolled back down the hill, cutting across the meadow past the little pack horse bridge

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returning to the Border inn to enjoy a last drink sitting outside on a pleasant evening, before turning in for a restful night’s sleep to prepare for the next leg of our walk.

A Long Walk–Part 1

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On Bank Holiday Monday we set out on a long walk. We’d been planning it for a while ever since one of our relatives in the North East mentioned that he fancied tackling St Cuthbert’s Way – a long distance trail starting at Melrose in the Scottish Borders and finishing with a walk along the causeway to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) off the coast of Northumberland. The talk soon turned into a firm intention for me and my wife to join D and his wife J to tackle the trail. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a time slot that would suit all of us so in the end we weren’t able to walk the full distance, instead, starting about a third of the way along at Morebattle. The trip was organised by D who did a good job of sorting out accommodation along the route.

The 60 mile route links several sites associated with St Cuthbert who was a 7th Century monk, bishop and hermit, in the kingdom of Northumbria which at that time covered a large part of the Scottish Borders as well most of Northern England (including modern day Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire). He began his monastic career at Melrose Abbey 650AD, and later became the Abbot at Lindisfarne Priory. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of Northern England, with a cult centred on his tomb at Durham Cathedral.

The route is well waymarked throughout. We hardly needed to refer to a map to find our way (although it would not be advisable to tackle any route like this without one).

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The walking itself was very varied.  We started in the Cheviot hills and during our two half days and two full days of walking, walked over rounded hills, along riversides, through forests, over bleak moorland, through pastoral scenery and over a causeway across the sea.

We took the soft option of getting a company to transport our bags, only needing to carry a day sack with coat, fleece, food and drink (plus maps, guidebook, compass etc.) The main problem was sorting out how to get to the start and then back home at the end. It is possible to use public transport but that wasn’t that easy for us. However, D managed to make arrangements for us to leave a car at either end. So on a grey Bank Holdiay morning we drove from Sunderland (where our relatives live) up to Lindisfarne, stopping for a brew at the Beal Barn, just before the causeway,and then over to the island where I left my car at the hotel where we’d be staying at the end of our walk. We then loaded ourselves and our gear into D’s car and set out to Morebattle, an hour’s drive away. On the way, we dropped our bags at the Border Inn in Kirk Yeltholm where we would be spending our first night.

Morebattle is a small village in the Scottish Borders, seven miles south of Kelso. We set off shortly after midday. The weather was better than at the coast, but there was a threat of rain.

We passed the old church which is being renovated by a dedicated couple. They have a café where walkers (and motorists) can stop for refreshments.

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Initially following the quiet road out of the village heading towards the Cheviot hills

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we soon had to start climbing up towards Wideopen Hill, the highest point on the route.P5291503

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It was a bit of a grey day, and we had a couple of showers, (although they didn’t last long) but there were great views of nearby hills

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After a short, steep stretch, we reached the summit of Wideopen Hill

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We stopped for a short while for refreshments and to take some photographs and then set off again – it was mainly downhill from now on towards Kirk Yeltholm.

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Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and after a short stretch on a quiet road we headed down a track

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that took us to the path along the river heading for our first destination.

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After crossing the bridge that separates Town Yeltholm from Kirk Yeltholm

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Not far now, through some pleasant riverside meadows

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Past the old narrow packhorse bridge. There used to be a mill race running under it at one time, but now it looks a little odd stranded above dry land!

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Past the old schoolhouse which is now a hostel for walkers

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across the village green was our destination, the Border Hotel, where we had rooms booked for the night.

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As well as being on the St Cuthbert’s Way, the hotel and pub is the official end of the Pennine Way.

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A relatively short stretch of walking, but challenging in it’s own way as we had to climb up to the highest point of the route. So time for a bath for some of us and a shower for me to get ready for a tasty evening meal in the restaurant.

Hi Jimmy!

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I saw this sculpture towards the end of my walk along the Clyde and back through Anderston during my recent visit to Glasgow. Made from plasma cut sheet steel, a technique that’s used in the traditional local industry, shipbuilding, he three figures represent “local heroes” – Tom Weir (a climber, writer and broadcaster), James Watt, of steam engine fame flanking a modern figure representing former communist and shop steward Jimmy Reid.

Born in the Gorbals in 1932, Jimmy was one of the leaders of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in which took place between June 1971 and October 1973, a  response to the decision of Ted Heath’s Tory Government to shut the yards.

In a speech to the shipyard workers he said

We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity.

The campaign was successful and the Government backed down, keeping the yards open. Alas, few are left today.

Jimmy left the Communist party, joining the Labour Party. Later, disillusioned with “New Labour” he defected (sadly) to the SNP. He died in August 2010.

Art Nouveau in Anderston

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Heading back to my hotel after my walk along the Clyde, I spotted this very distinctive Art Nouveau style building in amongst the modern housing blocks, so I wandered over for a closer look.

It’s a solid almost fortress like building – a strong Scottish Baronial influence – but with a number of decorative features, including sculpture and mosaics, very typical of the Art Nouveau style on the front of the building. The side elevation is plainer, no doubt as they would have been less visible when it was built as I expect that it would be hemmed in by other buildings across a narrow street.

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The decoration above and around the front doorway was particularly elaborate, as was the cast iron gate (I assume that this is original).

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The writing above the door revealed that this was originally a branch of the Savings Bank of Glasgow and some research on the web revealed that it was built between 1899 and1900, and was designed by James Salmon, junior and J Gaff Gillespie (Salmon, Son and Gillespie), with sculpture by Albert Hodge.

The sculptural elements and mosaic above the door are particularly fine.

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There’s some information about the building, which is Grade A Listed, here and here.

It’s always a pleasure to come across something unexpected during a walk.

Modern Buildings on the Clyde

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My hotel in Glasgow was just a short distance from the Clyde and on Monday evening I decided to get outside for a walk.

Not that long ago the banks of the Clyde were thriving as a major centre of shipbuilding, but not today. It’s hanging on by its fingernails at the Govan yard owned by BAE Systems but other than that there is little evidence of the industry which employed thousands of workers.

Walking south from my hotel following the M9 I reached the Clyde where the motorway crossed the river and turned right to follow it downstream towards an area that has been regenerated in recent years.

There was some evidence of the area’s industrial past.

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The Titan Crane , on the north bank of the river, is now a visitor attraction

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The giant 150-ton cantilever crane was erected around 1907 on the west side of the fitting-out basin of the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank. The refurbishment has been carried out in time to celebrate its 100 anniversary. The crane was used to lift the engines and boilers into numerous warships, as well as vessels like the Lusitania, Queen Mary, Britannia and the QE2.

I crossed over to the south bank via the Clyde Arc, better known as the “Squinty Bridge”

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I walked past the BBC Scotland building (I’d seen the local news broadcast from here during the morning on breakfast TV). The architect was David Chipperfield who also designed the Hepworth in Wakefield.

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A little further south, on the former Prince’s Dock, is the Glasgow Science Centre, designed by the Building Design Partnership. Standing next to it is the Glasgow Tower  designed by Richard Horden, with engineering design by Buro Happold and an IMAX cinema.

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On the north bank the Clyde Auditorium, better known as “the Armadillo” is probably the best known of Glasgow’s modern buildings and something of an “icon”. It’s distinctive design is meant to represent a series of interlocking ships’ hulls, commemorating the Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage.

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It was designed by Foster & Partners and opened in 1997

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Nearby is the most recent of the buildings, the SSE Hydro arena, also designed by Foster and Partners. It’s a 12,500-capacity arena used for major concerts and sporting events.

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To the Lighthouse

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No, not a review of the novel by Virginia Woolf, but a report of my visit to the Lighthouse centre in Glasgow last Sunday. I was up there for a Conference that started on Monday but had to travel up the day before. Arriving and checking into my hotel around 2 p.m., I had a few hours to explore the city centre.

I’m an admirer of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and have visited most of the main buildings he designed in the city. The Lighthouse

Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, is a visitor centre, exhibition space and events venue situated in the heart of Glasgow, just off the Style Mile. The Lighthouse acts as a beacon for the creative industries in Scotland and promotes design and architecture through a vibrant programme of exhibitions and events.

It’s located in the former Glasgow Herald building the first public commission worked on by Mackintosh. At the time (1895) he worked as a draughtsman in the architectural practice of Honeyman and Keppie . They were responsible for designing a warehouse at the back of the printing office of the paper in Mitchell Street. He is unlikely to have been responsible for the whole of the building, but probably designed the tower – a prominent feature – which originally contained a water tank holding 8,000-gallons of water to be used in the event of a fire. A little ironic, perhaps, given the major damage caused to his most important building, the iconic Glasgow School of Art, which was very badly damaged in May 2014 when a fire broke out.

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It’s a tall, narrow building with office and exhibition space. There’s a shop selling Mackintosh related merchandise on the ground floor with the main exhibition spaces being on the next couple of floors.

I started by making my way up to the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre or ‘Mack’ Centre, which “celebrates Glasgow’s most famous architect and explores his life and work”  which is located on the third floor.

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It’s a relatively small, but informative and interesting, exhibition that tells the story of Mackintosh’s work with examples of furniture and other objects he designed and photographs, drawings and models of his buildings around Glasgow and it’s environs.

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After looking around I made my way up the stairs to the top of the tower which is now a viewing platform. It was a serious climb up a long spiral staircase. This what it looked like from the top

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From the narrow outdoor balcony there was a view out over the rooftops of Glasgow. It’s not exactly Paris, though.

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In the other part of the building there’s an indoor viewing gallery, only accessible by lift. So I made my way down the spiral staircase (easier than going up!) and took the lift up to here. There was a similar view over Glasgow but I was also able to get a good look at the water tower.

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Mackintosh type style and ornamentation were certainly discernible in its design.

Then I went to have a look in the exhibition galleries. The main exhibition showing at the moment is Weather Forms which

presents art and architectural works that challenge the popular idea that ‘people make places’ by demonstrating that they, in fact, make us.

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There was also a small exhibition on one of the landings, Weaving DNA

an immersive textile exhibition borne from a collaboration between Icelandic product designer Hanna Dís Whitehead and Scottish textile designer Claire Anderson. Together they re-appropriate traditional Nordic and Scottish textiles, examining the ways in which these represent and shape aspects of national identity.

I thought it was interesting with the exhibits imaginatively displayed, even if the space was a little cramped

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Off Piste in the Ochils

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Last week I was up in Scotland combining business with pleasure with friends who live near Edinburgh. We’ve been talking for some time of getting out for a walk together so it was good to take the opportunity to take a day off, put on our boots and get out into the hills.

My time was limited but H and R had worked out a route in the Ochil hills, less than an hour’s drive from where they lived which would involve some climbing but also would enable us to take a break and a meal in a pleasant pub in Glendevon on . A slight navigational error led to the route being rather longer than intended but it was a very enjoyable day.

The Ochil hills are a range of steeply sided, grass covered, round topped hills, stretching 25 miles from the Firth of Tay to Stirling. A number of the hills are higher than 2,000 feet so they could, technically, be regarded as mountains, although they don’t have the rugged look of the Highland peaks. Our route took us to the top of two of these. It’s not a particularly well known area. Most visitors to Scotland rush past on the way to the Highlands.

We drove over to the pleasant village of Dollar and parked up near the commanding Castle Campbell which is perched high above the town. A characteristic Scottish late medieval tower house fortress, it used to be the lowland stronghold of the powerful Campbell earls of Argyll, it was also known as Castle Gloom. We didn’t have time to visit as we were keen to get up into the hills. Next time, perhaps.

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Our first destination was King’s Seat at 648m / 2126ft.

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On reaching the top there were good views over the surrounding countryside

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We took a short break – the chance for a welcome cup of tea, and then set off. We were now going to have to use our navigational skills for although a number of paths criss-cross the area many of them aren’t marked on the OS map. We took a path along he ridge that began to descend into the small valley between the hills. We took a path which started to climb again. It was at this point we made a mistake as we ended up climbing Andrew Gannel Hill (670m / 2198ft)DSC06456

Again there were stunning views down to the River Forth

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and across nearby hills (and wind farms!) to the Highland mountains on the horizon.

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We now had difficulty locating a proper path heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we ended up having to go “off-piste”, cutting across the moorland – rough and uneven under foot, so not easy walking.

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We eventually made it down to a track which ran along the Glendevon reservoirs. Not an unpleasant route but some miles to the west of where we originally intended.DSC06474

We eventually hit the Gleneagles road and had a few miles walk to our destination, the Tormaukin Inn in Glendevon village, several hours behind our schedule. The rain that had been threatening had started while we were walking down the road and was beginning to get heavy. Looking forward to some food, we realised we’d arrived just at the time they were due to stop serving to prepare for the evening menu. Fortunately, the staff were very accommodating and said they’d be happy to cook anything off the afternoon “snack” menu for us. A snack here wasn’t just sandwiches, but included full meals such as fish and chips which we decided we deserved after burning up the calories on our trek.

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Well fed, and grateful to the staff at the inn, we set off again. We still had about 5 miles to go to get back to the car.  It was still raining heavily, but it soon began to ease off as we headed down Glen Quey along the low level route. A well marked path with plenty of sign posts!

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that took us past a small reservoir

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and four miles later we were greeted by the sight of Castle Campbell

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Our deviation meant we’d walked a total of 17 miles so we were glad to get back to the car. A longer walk than anticipated, with an unfortunate few miles along a road, but nevertheless a very enjoyable day walking through some beautiful countryside.

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