Bishop Hill (NO 185043, 461m)
370 metres of ascent
Bishop Hill is a prominent ridge on the far side of Loch Leven for anyone driving on the M90. Together with West and East Lomond, it encloses an area of tilted terrain, dotted with reservoirs, northwest of Glenrothes.
I parked at the Holl Reservoir car park and set off to the northwest, picking my way along the branching network of tracks that provide access to the reservoirs and farmland. I was walking in cool February sunshine, but Bishop Hill to my west was shrouded in dense orographic cloud.
It was possible I was going to end up climbing into cloud; but as I watched a similar cap of cloud clear from the summit of East Lomond, I wondered if I might get lucky as the day grew warmer.
The tracks took me past the big grassy dam of Harperleas Reservoir and through the trees on its southern shore, before turning into a narrow path. By the time I reached the little footbridge over the Lothrie Burn, I was out on open moorland. And the cloud was still low on West Lomond (in the background of my photo below).
Things got boggy for a while, after which I encountered this modern marker stone:
It’s dated 2006, and the engraving reads:
at this point
It’s obviously a companion to the modern commonty marker stone I encountered when climbing West and East Lomond. I suspect these are the work of the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership, but at time of writing their website has become inaccessible, so I can’t check.
The path then carries on in well-maintained condition, across the moorland to the head of Glen Vale.
Above Glen Vale, there’s a sudden choice of routes. One strikes off along the north side of the glen, guarded by a fairly fierce warning notice (of which more later); a more substantial path follows the south side of the glen; and one heads off uphill, eventually reaching the ridge of Bishop Hill.
I took the middle way—in part because I wanted a better view of the glen, and in part because making a more circuitous approach to the hill would give the persistent overhead clag more time to clear.
Glen Vale is a pretty glen, but it wasn’t looking its best, with its winter crop of dead bracken looking drab under the overcast.
The crag in the middle, above, used to house an overhanging outcrop of rock called John Knox’s Pulpit, though there’s no evidence that John Knox (the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland) ever preached from it. It was, unfortunately, blown up by Fife Council in 2004, because it was deemed dangerous—certainly, as the warning sign suggests, the crags are prone to rockfalls.
Geograph offers a “before and after” pair of images taken by Ian Bruce, which I’m allowed to reproduce here:
The upper photograph dates from 2003, the lower from 2006. You can follow the links in my copyright notices to see them in their original context.
I walked on a little beyond the crags, and then followed a path that strikes steeply uphill on the north ridge of Bishop Hill. This took me into cloud at about 350m, but just before the view vanished I walked a short distance to the west to obtain a dim view of Loch Leven below.
As I was lining up the photograph, a low, thrumming swoosh-swoosh-swoosh sound started up behind me, for all the world like a nearby wind turbine. And then it started to get closer. I flinched and turned, to discover a raven flying past at shoulder height, cocking its head to eye me suspiciously. I’ve never been close enough to a raven to hear its wingbeats, and it was the best wildlife encounter of the day; indeed, of the year so far.
Then it was just a matter of following an obvious path running alongside the remnants of a once-substantial boundary wall, until I arrived at Bishop Hill’s little summit cairn. Here’s the view:
Pushing south through the mist towards the little outlying summit of Munduff Hill, the navigation got a little harder—the path became fainter and developed a tendency to divide and reconnect for no obvious reason. I then arrived at a busy little crossroads in the middle of nowhere, with a group of young people suddenly appearing out of the mist to my left, chattering merrily, before disappearing into the mist to my right, apparently oblivious to my presence. After which a solitary mountain-biker popped up from the left, gave me brisk nod, and then disappeared off behind me.
More braided faint paths ensued, until I got to the summit of Munduff, which is marked by a flat rock bearing a curious incised pattern:
I’ve no idea of the significance of this. It looks for all the world as if a passing Nazi suffering from constructional apraxia had attempted to engrave a swastika. (But I presume that’s not what actually happened.)
Having never visited Munduff Hill before, I was in some doubt about my route down. I anticipated following the line of the forestry fence for half a kilometre to the northeast, to pick up the main track descending to West Feal and my route back to the car. But the map also showed a track branching off the West Feal track and coming up through the trees to terminate at some sort of building just inside the forest fence, right next to the Munduff summit. Whether or not I could get to it was another matter, since I’d no great desire to climb a deer fence and push through dense conifers, should that be required. But I thought I’d take a look at the potential access before heading down to my default exit.
My first surprise came when the “building” loomed out of the mist ahead:
This proved to be a Met Office weather-radar installation. And next to it was a gate in the fence, with a short path leading down past the tower to the service track beyond. There was only one hitch, in the form of a tree that had been downed by the recent series of storms:
It was, however, easy enough to just walk around through the grass on the other side of the tower.
Then it was just matter of descending through the forest (which was, rather spookily, still retaining some ground mist here and there) and then following the broad track to West Feal, and then beyond to the road and the car park.