Turnhouse Hill (NT 212626, 506m)
Carnethy Hill (NT 203619, 573m)
Scald Law (NT 191611, 579m)
East Kip (NT 182608, 534m)
West Kip (NT 178606, 551m)
Black Hill (NT 188631, 501m)
960m of ascent
I’ve looked down on the improbably pointy Pentland Hills from aircraft approaching Edinburgh airport, and I’ve looked up at them from the Edinburgh bypass road, and I’ve always felt I should visit them—but I never have, until now.
This far south, the Gaelic influence on place-names is slight, and it feels like walking into a different landscape—a place that seems more connected to the Borders and northern England in its toponymy. In the Pentlands there are cleughs (ravines) and knowes (knolls), rigs (ridges) and of course kips (pointed hills).
I parked at the Flotterstone Information Centre (which was closed ) and followed the path markers that indicated the way to Scald Law. The path (in places broad and eroded) takes you up the shoulder of Turnhouse Hill, from the top of which you’re confronted with a typically pointy Pentland—Carnethy Hill.
From Carnethy to Scald Law, from Scald Law to East Kip, from East Kip to West Kip … it’s a motorway path and a switchback ride along the old volcanic spine of the hills, with the town of Penicuik to the left, and the lovely steep-sided glen of the Logan Burn, with its two reservoirs, to the right.
I met plenty of people (including a young German couple high-fiving each other and doing a little jig on top of Scald Law, for some obscure reason) but encountered no wildlife— unless you count the world’s most phlegmatic herd of cattle, lounging around and chewing the cud in the dip between Carnethy and Scald Law.
It felt like I’d been too much on the beaten track. So I hunkered out of the wind just below the top of West Kip, and dug out the map. My plan had been to let down to the head of Loganlea reservoir at The Howe, and then to follow the road back down to Flotterstone. But with a bit of time to spare I thought I’d make a bit of a circuit of it, and go up and over Black Hill, too.
The Harvey’s 1:25000 map showed a path hooking around below West Kip and heading back in the direction I was looking for. I found it at NT 175604, a grassy vehicle track branching off to the right just before the main path reaches the gravel track that crosses through the pass between West Kip and Cap Law. This took me easily across curlew-haunted sheep pasture, and then deposited me at a bridge over the Logan Burn.
Parties of people were tramping down the path from Green Cleugh towards the reservoir, and they looked a little alarmed when I crossed the bridge and then started straight up the steep heathery slope on the south shoulder of Black Hill (disconcertingly named The Pinnacle). I’d decided on the dirrettissima approach as I walked towards Black Hill, since the map showed no paths, and I couldn’t pick out any less steep lines on the side facing me, apart from a couple of bracken-stuffed gullies.
It wasn’t so bad—a hundred metres of ascent at forty-five degrees, across heather and rock. But, just after I started, a couple of sparrowhawks showed up, circling above me and emitting a continuous stream of alarm calls. I couldn’t for the life of me work out what I was doing to disturb a couple of tree-nesting birds on this treeless slope, but they kept at it until I was not only at the top of the steep stuff, but a few hundred metres on to the flat ground beyond. Stressed by their evident agitation, I suspect I made a much faster ascent than I might otherwise have done.
Black Hill itself produced some splendid views out over the Forth estuary towards the railway bridge and the two road bridges, new and old. Then I descended eastwards (steep heather again) to pick up a vehicle track in the col below Gask Hill. This took me down to the farmland at Logan House. Although the maps show this track terminating at the field boundary, it continues as a farm track down through the fields, and eventually gives access to the road via a rickety gate at NT 207632. (The fields were full of sheep, so this probably isn’t a good line of descent in lambing season.)
Then it was just a matter of following the road around Glencorse reservoir. Shortly after passing the dam, I turned off to follow a woodland path signposted to Flotterstone. Before linking up with my outward route, this took me past the site of some old settling ponds, and a rather intriguing circular building that I haven’t been able to find out anything about, so far.