St Peter’s Walking Group

The Walking Group is proving to be very popular, and all the walks to date have been much enjoyed by those who attended. Below are summaries of these walks, and more walks are planned for September and October. If you would like to receive emails about the forthcoming Walking Group walks, please just email the office! office@stpetersedinburgh.org

Friday 10th September, 2021: Bavelaw circuit, passing Threipmuir Reservoir and Black Hill. Led by Roddy Simson, report by John Smith, a participant

Five intrepid walkers met at car park at Threipmuir Reservoir, south of Balerno, to tackle the walk round the reservoir. The forecast for that day had not been promising and sadly put off a few of our walking group from attending.

However, undeterred, the participants headed off with great gusto on the path following the northern edge of the reservoir until we reached the dam between Threipmuir and Harlaw Reservoirs. The top of the dam gave us great views of both reservoirs and from there we picked up the path which then took us to the Black Springs which is the most easterly point of the reservoir.

There is no path to the south of the reservoir, so we had to jump a stile and head up what could only be classed as a mountain goat track which skirted the side of the Black Hill. The effort was well worth it and from the highest point, which would have been 100m above the reservoir, we were treated to spectacular views towards Edinburgh, Fife and West Lothian.

In due course we picked up one of the main paths which, had we turned left, would have taken us to Glencorse reservoir beside the Logan Burn. The right turn took us towards Bavelaw Castle and beyond to where the cars were parked. This part of the walk took us through tree plantations enclosed by deer fences as well as natural areas where indigenous trees had been planted. The final part of the walk took us along the imposing tree lined formal drive of the castle and over the dam between Threipmuir and the Bavelaw Marsh.

While part of this walk was challenging, the views made it all the worthwhile. As a bonus we had no rain and when the sun poked through the clouds, which was often, we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

Many thanks to Roddy and Lenore for leading the group on such a lovely walk!

Tuesday 10th August, 2021: Harlaw Reservoir to Flotterstone, By John Smith, Leader

On the 10th August, five intrepid walkers met up at the Harlaw reservoir car park to trek to Flotterstone. From here, our route took us through farmland with a gradual climb. Looking back we had an uninterrupted view towards Livingston to our left and Edinburgh to our right. In between, we could see the three bridges, the Forth and Fife in the background. The path took us between Harbour Hill and Bell’s Hill before starting our descent towards Glencorse reservoir. Unfortunately this part of the walk was hard going as it was a steeper decent and the path was badly eroded in places so we had to tread carefully.

Thankfully we all reached the reservoir unscathed and we followed the tarred road beside the reservoir before skirting off to a path that followed the burn to Flotterstone. The group headed to the Flotterstone Inn for a light lunch.

Another walk with no rain but a bit cloudy – perfect walking conditions.

Friday 30th July, 2021: East Lothian: Haddington to East Linton, along the Tyne River. Led by Duncan McKinnell, report by Chris Martin, a participant.

On Friday, July 30th, four of us met at Haddington, the traditional capital of East Lothian, to walk along the river Tyne to East Linton. The walk started close to St Mary’s Church, crossed the historic Nungate Bridge, and passed through a short residential/industrial area before settling into a well-surfaced cycle path on the north bank of the river. It is a gentle walk by the river, though a bit muddier after Abbey Bridge.

The most spectacular feature is the ruins of Hailes Castle, which comes abruptly into view on the other bank. We crossed the river on a foot-bridge to double back for a picnic lunch in the castle ruins, followed by the obligatory group photo. From there it was an easy walk under the elevated concrete bridge carrying the A1 into the historic village of East Linton. Two of our group made a bee-line for the pub, from where they were retrieved in time for the short bus ride back to Haddington. Another enjoyable church walk. It was just a shade over 10 kilometres.

Many thanks to Duncan for his confident leading of us.

Friday 16th July, 2021: Elie to St Monans, East Neuk of Fife. Led by Rev Nick Wills, report by David Gibbon, a participant.

The St Peter’s Walking Group walk from Elie to St Monans along the coastal path took place on one of those memorable summer days when the sun was blazing hot and the sea was Mediterranean blue. Not a challenging walk, but an easy saunter. Thirteen walkers left from Elie High Street and admired the view from the harbour before walking up to the Lighthouse nearby. Nick, who was leading the walk, had all sorts of interesting and fun historical information to tell us during the walk. One stop was the ruin of Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower, built in the 1770’s in Ruby Bay, on the East side of Elie. Incorporating a vaulted chamber as a changing room, the story goes that a servant would ring a bell to ensure the locals stayed away while Lady Anstruther bathed naked in the water!

Next we passed the ruinous Ardross Castle. Built by the Dishington family, it was sold to Sir William Scott of Elie in 1607, before being passed to Sir William Anstruther at the end of the 17th century. Although a ruin, the vaulted basement is visible above ground, as are the ruins of a later extension.

Closer to St Monans is yet another third dramatic ruin, Newark Castle, which is in a magnificent situation overlooking the North Sea. Hidden from view are vaulted cellars. It is thought building began during the 13th century, a time when the Scottish King Alexander III spent some of his childhood there. The Kinloch family began building the current castle during the 15th century, before it was passed to the Sandilands of Cruivie. Bought in 1649 by David Leslie/Lord Newark, a prominent figure in the English and Scottish Civil wars, in 1682 it was passed to the Anstruther family, and finally to the Bairds of Elie. In between these historical buildings, there are some equally dramatic geological formations, which 14 year old Tom conquered with ease.

Some of the group walked back to Elie. I got caught on the phone in the pretty village of St Monans and lost those who were catching the bus. On the bus back to Elie was another walking group member who had missed the start and walked on her own all the way to Anstruther. It was, however, a glorious day for walking, and the views were stunning.

Thank you to Nick for planning and leading the walk, and for sharing such interesting information during it.

Tuesday 6th July, 2021: Torphin area: Lower slopes of the Pentland Hills By Roddy Simson: Leader of the walk

Despite an unpromising forecast we had an excellent turn out of 12 walkers for our walk in the Torphin area. In the event, the weather was far better than had been predicted and even though we had some rain, we were rewarded with beautiful scenery. Starting from Torphin, we headed across the former Torphin golf course to Torduff Reservoir. This was built between 1848 and 1851 by the Engineer James Leslie as part of the Edinburgh Water Company’s response to the drought of 1842 that had left Glencourse Reservoir completely dry. In the following years 5 more Pentland Hill reservoirs were built to feed the growing population of Edinburgh: Harlaw, Threpmuir, Bonaly, Clubbidean, and Loganlee.

Before construction began, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1847. It was innovative in as much as it required the Edinburgh Water Company to provide a constant water supply to homes, a concept that had been championed by the sanitary reformer Edwin Chadwick. Prior to this time Edinburgh’s water had been described as ‘extremely deficient both in quantity and quality’. The entire scheme was achieved despite the cities burgeoning population.

Torduff reservoir is one of the most picturesque in the Pentlands with steep rocky slopes on the South-eastern side and many wildflowers on the North-western side where the road ran. After reaching the top of Torduff, we soon climbed the short steep section of track to Clubbidean Reservoir, now used largely for trout fishing. Stopping for a welcome drink at the far end of the watercourse, we got clear views of late prehistoric earth mounds marking the site of an ancient defensive settlement, showing the area to have been inhabited for many centuries.

Next, the walk crossed level farmland with lovely views over the Pentland Hills before turning right to Easter Kinleith Farm and returning to the car park. The walk ended with a stunning clear vista across the Firth of Forth, West Lothian and Edinburgh.

Thanks to everyone who came and made it such a pleasant and social morning,

Blackford Hill & The Braids, Friday 4th June, 2021: By Lenore Simson, a participant

We had a lovely walk around Blackford Hill on the evening of 4th June. We met at the Observatory car park and walked over the hill, down into The Hermitage then over the road to Braid Hills Golf Course and back up the hill to the car park again. The weather was warm and sunny late on in the day and the views across Edinburgh were fantastic, across to the Castle, the Firth of Forth and the Pentland Hills.

Gloria has great knowledge of the area and was able to give us lots of different options for routes to take, so we made it up as we went along. The walk was from 6pm to 7.30pm and we arrived back at the car park at exactly 7.30pm thanks to Gloria keeping us on track! There were five of us on the walk which was a good number to be able to talk to everyone; it was a very relaxing, enjoyable time. 

Aberlady Bay, Tuesday 1st June, 2021: By Duncan McKinnell: Leader of the walk

Six hardy St Peter’s souls met up at Aberlady Bay on the first day of meteorological summer – and a fine summer’s day it was too, with the haar thankfully staying out to sea. 

Aberlady Bay has the honour of being Britain’s first local nature reserve, having been designated way back in 1952. We started off over the mud/sands on a wooden trestle bridge to take us onto a broad area of coastal heathland full of wild flowers and bird sound – easier to hear than to spot the musicians. A short stiff climb over the dunes led us to the vast expansive sands of Aberlady Bay and a good beach walk admiring the proliferation of shells.

Reaching the eastern headland we had a choice – round it and get wet, or scramble up the rocks onto it. Inspired by Pat’s mountain goat skills, we chose the latter. That led us on to Gullane Point where we stopped for lunch and to enjoy the stunning views – west to Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands, east to North Berwick Law and north into the mist to Fife and the Isle of May.

After lunch we continued east to Gullane Bents, looking down on a busy beach, before turning round and heading back, this time skirting the renowned Gullane golf courses and returning to the bridge and car park – a bit hot and sweaty and in need of some refreshment. Duck’s in Aberlady was just the job – tea and cake in the garden.

All in all a lovely day. Just don’t ask the organiser for directions!

Craiglockhart and Colinton Dell: Wednesday 19th May, 2021: By Ian Gillespie: Leader of the walk

An eager crew of 7 upstanding souls met outside Ian’s house in spite of the grey clouds. Everyone was on time – an unexpected and excellent start! We set off to descend into the bowels of Craiglockhart Dell and discussed a little history of the estate as we headed down to the water of Leith.

Craiglockhart estate was owned by the Monro family from 1773 for 128 years . Alexander Monro primus was the first Professor of Anatomy in the Edinburgh School of Medicine and co-founder with the Lord Provost of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He passed his role seamlessly to his son Alexander secundus when he was only 22yrs old and had not yet graduated in medicine – aye those were the days!! However such was his quality as a teacher that he eventually outshone his father and the reputation of the medical school blossomed throughout the world attracting many students and considerable revenue. He also did much to improve the beauty of the estate planting many trees to form ‘a pleasure ground with winding paths and shady bowers’ for the benefit of local residents. Unfortunately Alexander tertius also inherited the Chair of Anatomy and proved to be a dismal failure and eventually he resigned – a huge wave of relief to the University. One of his rivals was Dr Robert Knox, also an anatomist, whose association with the notorious bodysnatchers Burke and Hare resulted in his downfall!

We crossed one of the intact bridges over the Water of Leith to the pathway outside Redhall walled garden (there were no takers for plants) and along beside the water’s edge keeping eyes open for otters and kingfishers, but they must have seen us coming! I was disappointed to be unable to persuade anyone to join me in paddling in one of the more accessible stretches of water – perhaps it was the warning from me that St Peter’s could not be held responsible for any member of the group subsequently found floating in Leith docks! Onwards and upwards onto the old railway pathway looking down on the weir and adjacent bridge, still awaiting repair by the City Council.

The group as a whole showed no signs of flagging up the incline to Colinton tunnel and were suitably impressed by the spendid mural completed by lead artist Chris Rutterford and a team of professional and volunteer artists with local sponsorship. It illustrates the Robert Louis Stevenson poem ‘From a Railway Carriage’ (A Child’s Garden of Verses) which I still remember reading to my children at bedtime!

Stevenson had family connections with Colinton as his maternal grandfather, Revd Lewis Balfour, was minister at Colinton church – his grave is in the churchyard.

There was limited enthusiasm to detour down to the churchyard where James Gillespie is also buried, so we marched on to Spylaw Park to view the house of James Gillespie. He was a clever businessman who made much of his fortune selling snuff and tobacco and built a mill next to his house. In fact there were many mills along the water of Leith from Balerno to Slateford and a number of stations which encouraged the development of villages along the route such as Balerno, Currie, Juniper Green, etc. The special trains built for the route were called the ‘Balerno Pugs’ and were very popular with tourists and locals until the railway closed in 1967. It is now a very popular route for cyclists and joggers.

At this point we all agreed to return the way we had come, as it was mostly downhill, and took a shortcut through the old Heriot Watt playing fields on the way back to our back garden, where Morag served us all with birthday refreshments and coffee cake. John gave a short oration and toasted my birthday – much to my embarrassment!! Everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon and it is a great way to get to know people that you might not necessarily chat to over coffee on Sunday morning.

The First Walk of St Peter’s Walking Group:

Herriot Watt Riccarton Campus, Currie: 10th, 11th & 12th May, 2021: By John Smith: Leader of the walk

John Smith was the leader for the first of the new walking group treks.  This was an easy one to start with a gentle walk of just over 3 miles round the perimeter of the Heriot Watt University and Research Park at Riccarton close to John’s home in Currie. John was joined that day by Pat, David, Ian and Morag, all of whom enjoyed the delights of a circular path through mature trees, and with the smells of wild garlic and bluebells awakening the senses. 

While the university is quite new and the buildings modern, they blend into the countryside.  Much of the campus comprises trees, some agricultural land, playing fields and landscaped gardens giving the university a very welcoming feel to it.  The research park is far from being fully developed with a large number of technical and scientific firms with strong connections to the university based there.  In the past few years, companies such as Scottish Water and the Scottish Blood Transfusion Centre have also set up their headquarters, bringing employment to the area.

Our walk started and finished at the Oriam (which is Gaelic for ‘gold’) Sports complex.  This is a performance centre for several international squads and John often sees the Scottish mens and ladies rugby players, the Scottish football squads and Hearts teams all training here.  It is a massive building housing a full size football pitch as well as games halls, squash courts, gyms, swimming pool and a café, which supplied everyone with hot drinks to finish off our walk. These were enjoyed sitting on picnic benches outside the complex. 

While not all our walkers could manage on the 11th, John suggested that he could repeat the walk a couple of times that week as he has walked this route most days since lockdown.  Alex joined John on the Tuesday and Liz on the Wednesday. Except for a small shower on the Monday, the weather stayed dry and hopefully this will be a good omen for future walks.