Pentlands: Kirk Burn Circuit

Bell’s Hill (NT 204643, 406m)
Harbour Hill (NT 207653, 421m)
Capelaw Hill (NT 216659, 454m)
Allermuir Hill (NT 227661, 493m)
Caerketton Hill (NT 235661, 478m)
Castlelaw Hill (NT 224647, 488m)

14.8 kilometres
685m of ascent

North Pentland route
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

I’ve been meaning to get back to the Pentlands since my previous trip, last year. This time I wanted to make a northerly circuit, starting from Flotterstone again. My route would take me on to Castlelaw Hill, which hosts the Castlelaw Firing Ranges and their surrounding Danger Area, and my heart sank slightly when I heard the sound of volley fire wafting into the car park as I tied my boot laces. That decided me on my direction of travel—I’d leave Castlelaw for last, in the hope that firing practice would have ceased by the time I got there.

I headed off up the tarmac beside Glencorse Reservoir, and then took the path towards Maiden’s Cleugh. I wanted to get to Bell’s Hill first of all, but there was a bracken-stuffed valley between the path and the hill, so I followed the path upwards until the ground to my left levelled out and the bracken disappeared, and then cut across to climb steeply through short heather on to the shoulder of Bell’s Hill, which afforded a fine view down towards my starting point.

Glencorse Reservoir from Bell's Hill
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Glencorse Reservoir from Bell’s Hill

A path ran along the ridge here, heading in the direction I wanted to go—towards the low pass at the top of Maiden’s Cleugh. On the 392m bulge just to the northwest of Bell’s, I found a small group of teenagers lying in the grass, staring at the sky, while a supervising adult inspected his watch, apparently timing whatever it was they were doing. Something involving mindfulness, I suspect.

From this viewpoint, my planned route was laid out on the sky line for me, circumnavigating the little valley of the Kirk Burn.

Valley of the Kirk Burn from Bell's Hill
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Valley of the Kirk Burn from Bell’s Hill – my route goes left and then follows the sky line

In Maiden’s Cleugh I encountered another party of teenagers with another adult, climbing the slope towards whatever fate had befallen their comrades.

The climb on to Harbour Hill was enlivened by a flock of wheatears, and then by another group of teenagers, this lot strung out across the hillside and being shouted at by another adult. (Gad, being a teenager was just rubbish, wasn’t it?)

Wheatear
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Down into Phantom’s Cleugh (got to love these Pentland toponyms) and then on to Capelaw Hill, with a strange iron sculpture on its summit.

Capelaw Hill, looking towards Allermuir Hill
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Capelaw Hill, looking towards Allermuir Hill

The climb on to Allermuir Hill (the highest of a not-very high bunch) was full of distraction, involving at least three little hawks, hovering with wings motionless in the stiff westerly breeze, just a couple of metres above the tussock grass. They’d drop suddenly into the grass, evidently miss their prey, and then rise again, shifting position here and there across the hillside too fast for me to train my camera on them. From a distance they had the colouration of kestrels, but I’ve never seen a kestrel hunt like that.

Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat from Allermuir Hill
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Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat from Allermuir Hill

Allermuir had a view indicator, a sprawling view of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, and an uncommunicative hill-runner who made a circuit of the summit and then headed off towards my next hill, Caerketton. Caerketton was a lovely complicated, craggy little thing, etched by multiple paths, very different from its rounded grassy neighbours.

Caerketton Hill from Allermuir Hill
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Caerketton Hill from Allermuir Hill

Then I had the exercise of getting across to Castlelaw. The obvious route was to reascend Allermuir and then walk off southwards down the ridge towards Fala Knowe. But I’d noticed a traversing path that linked Allermuir’s east shoulder to that south ridge. This was unfortunately on the far side of a barbed wire fence from the main path, but at a strategic point the top barbed wire strand had been snipped and folded back, leaving an easy step-over.

The traverse path itself was odd—deeply rutted, but bearing only cloven hoof prints as far as I could see. It got me across to a stone wall and the main track linking Allermuir and Fala, though.

From here, I could see that a red warning flag was still flying on the summit of Castlelaw—but the track took me all the way to the summit before I ran into the boundary fence of the Danger Area. It’s a nice viewpoint from which to appreciation the hills of my previous circuit, around the Loganlea Reservoir.

Warning flag on summit of Castlelaw Hill
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Then just a steep descent down the side of the Danger Area to reach Castlelaw farm and the way back to my car at Flotterstone. Halfway down I met two men in a white van, who were coming up the hill, taking down the red flags one by one. If I’d been ten minutes slower in my circuit, I could have avoided the flags altogether.

3 thoughts on “Pentlands: Kirk Burn Circuit”

  1. Lovely photos as usual – and I know now what a wheatear is.

    That iron sculpture certainly looks unusual – I don’t think I have seen photos of anything like it in any of your previous reports.

    I have had a couple of re-reads and can’t spot what time of year this was – the weather looks very nice.

    1. Wheatear was originally wheatears, which derived from “white arse” – you can get a hint of the bird’s white rear end in the photo, which is quite startling when it opens its wings to fly.
      That walk was done at the end of August – these walk reports tend to appear quite some time in arrears, depending on what else I’m writing about.

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