Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

17th May 2024

A previous account on here described a Holy Saturday ramble around the Pentland Hills in 2019. What you find here is what I did the next day, Easter Sunday.

Prior Encounters

Completing a round of the Glen Sax hills lay in my mind for what felt like too long. The first encouragement came on a glorious sunny evening in June 2002. While there was a grey start to the day, I still ventured as far as Peebles and tentatively continued along the Cross Borders Drove Road. As I gained heights, the views opened all around me, with everything looking resplendent. Ultimately, the late start and a need to return to Edinburgh to meet with friends all curtailed things and I truncated the trot with a steep descent to the floor of the glen before returning to Peebles for a bus ride back to Edinburgh. The others were left in a little wonderment as to when I might turn up; that is the trouble when an evening turns out so well.

While the first encounter may have been a tentative affair, the same could not be said for the designs that I was having the next time around. That was on what I recall as a hot, sunny Saturday in June 2006. The original idea had been to explore some Northumberland hill country, only for a lack of accommodation availability to scupper this design. A one night stopover in Berwick-upon-Tweed allowed for a bus journey from there to Galashiels, where I dropped off part of my load at the Abbotsford Arms Hotel before continuing to Peebles.

Once there, I reprised a hike along the Cross Borders Drove Road. That took me over both Kailzie Hill and Kirkhope Law. While there was a useful, if strong, breeze, something stopped me from completing the rest of the round. Maybe, it might have been the later start and seeing how long the route can be. In hindsight, it looks as if I lost heart, especially give my later experience. Instead, I decided to descend towards Glen House to meet with a minor road beyond there, after making use of Scotland’s Right to Roam on the way. Road walking then took me past Traquair to reach Innerleithen, where I awaited a bus back to Galashiels.

After that, we come to Easter Sunday in 2017. Since that curtailed escapade has been recounted elsewhere on here, I direct you there for a fuller account. In summary, my mood was forlorn and the weather obliged with some pathetic fallacy. There had been some hope for an improvement that never arrived. Even so, I persevered past Kailzie Hill, Kirkhope Law, Birkscairn Hill and Stake Law. It was not the soggy conditions underfoot that stymied me, but the lack of visibility over what were set to be somewhat featureless hummocks. Depending on a fence as a navigational handrail is all well and good as long it does not cease to continue on you. Given that, I thought it to be best to return to the saddle between Stake Law and Birkscairn Hill to commence a zigzag descent down some steep slopes. Once on the floor of the glen, there was a crossing of Glensax Burn to reach the sheep pens before I could join the track leading back towards Peebles. From there on, progress was swift in drying conditions until I back at the stop for the next bus to Edinburgh.

The Day Itself

By this stage, it might feel as if there has been a lot of rethreading of old steps. In some ways, that probably was just as well, given how much haze was lurking on Easter Sunday, 2019. To ensure that I had enough time, I caught the first bus of the day from Edinburgh to Peebles. While a long day was envisaged, it did not turn out to be as long as that. There may have been extensions in the contributed route profiles that I read in magazines and books.

While I continued to use my camera, the open views from the way to Stake Law were troubled by the aforementioned haze. Beyond documenting my whereabouts for an account like this, I now wonder why I bothered. Accordingly, they have been omitted, though some have found their way into the Southern Uplands & Borders album that you find elsewhere on the website.

The hills that I was traipsing were more brown and yellow than green. That was not such a surprise to me, given that I was familiar with the photographic work of Colin Prior and my own explorations of Scotland in its low season. Conditions were dry underfoot, which made faster progress than otherwise may have been the case. Much like the previous day around the Pentland Hills, ascents and descents appear to have been taken in their stride. In part, that might be the rose-tinting of memory as much as the more rounded profile of what I was traipsing.

Beyond Stake Law or even before it, OS maps do not help you very much with any paths on the ground. Still, finding one’s way onto Dun Rig was no puzzle in the bright, sunny conditions. Fences did change locations, but this was no impediment. Also, the neck of land linking Dun Rig to Glenrath Heights felt broader than the map made it look.

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

Steady progress took me over Strummeadow Hill and Middle Hill. After Broom Hill came Scawd Law in Hundleshope Heights. From there, it was all downhill to the floor of the glen. Gradients were more human-friendly in the main, except perhaps for the descent from Dead End, where contour lines contract a little.

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

An eventual completion of the Glen Sax horseshoe

It was along that last stretch of the hike that the location of the sun in the sky and where I was on the ground came together to allow the capture of pleasing images. The flanks that lay before me were those that I had traipsed earlier in the day. With more distant sights now hidden from view, everything worked better. There are times when photographic composition is about what you subtract from a scene rather than what you add, and this was one of those occasions.

If there was another perturbation to the day to complement those haze-laden hillsides, it was awkward meetings with some that I may have known years before. The passage of time made the encounters non-workable, with uncertainty and unexpectedness being the drivers of this. Recalling that hurts a little now (I hate the idea of my upsetting or insulting others), even if the passage of twenty years may be too much for any accidental reunion. Add in daydreaming and a desire for solitude, and everything really can sunder.

Even with that, the day had been a satisfying one. For those wider views, a return visit could be a possibility. However, other places call out more loudly now. Nothing takes away from my completing the round after so long.

What Came Next

The next day brought more sunshine and more traipsing, this time around Edinburgh. A circuit taking in Princes Street Gardens, Calton Hill, Holyrood Park and Craigmillar Castle was another photographic escapade that suffered no intrusion, allowing some healing after any awkwardness experienced during the previous day.

Afterwards, there was one photographic composition that irritated me, bringing about a return journey to Scotland’s capital on the weekend of the Mayday bank holiday. That addressed the overly tight framing that was on my mind while also seeing me visit Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens before getting as far as Corstorphine Hill with its own Rest and Be Thankful, a spot with Robert Louis Stephenson associations and the siting of the final parting of characters in his novel Kidnapped. The skies had completed clouded by then (clouds had been intruding on photographic exertions in any case), encouraging yet another Scottish trip the next weekend.

While Stirling was my actual final destination then, it did little to stop me rambling around Edinburgh first. Corstorphine Hill was a port of call, even if the clouds in the sky curtailed lighting of what lay around me. There was some time spent in Princes Street Gardens and around The Royal Mile as well. When I did get to Stirling, it was the castle that drew me out for an evening stroll with some photographic exertions, even if there was scaffolding intruding on the views at that point. More photography followed the next day, around both Stirling and Linlithgow. Some roguish youths may have perturbed the journey between the two places for me, but that is in the past now.

My home country wanderings were coming to a close for the year anyway. The Spring Bank Holiday saw a trip to Cardiff, where revellers were focussed on a Spice Girls concert and I felt the need to get away from all the cyclists that were speeding along multi-use trails. That was found too, and some photos of Cardiff Castle got made as well.

Things were attenuated after that, not least by what lay on my mind regarding a first transatlantic leisure escapade. A week in Vancouver was in the offing to get me over any trepidations of long haul flying and hiking in places where bears may be encountered. Those were overcome, and then it was the turn of my freelancing to suffer an upheaval, with the background travails of Brexit thrown into the mix. Even then, city trips to London, Oxford and Bath came to pass.

No one could see what would come our way in 2020, so looking back on all of this is like looking back on the end of an era. With that in mind, it was just as well that my Easter trip to Edinburgh went the way that it did. Loose ends were resolved, old demons were laid to rest and life could take a new direction.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey between Edinburgh and Peebles on route X62.

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