One of the things which makes Edinburgh such a great place to live is the relative ease of access to the great outdoors. The Friday evening weather forecast told us that the following day was to be the last day of the current run of fine spring weather, so we decided that after several weekends of DIY a trip out was overdue. After a quick review of the options we settled on taking a train to Perth and cycling out along Glen Almond. This meant catching the 09:41 train from Haymarket, however after a rather restless night we got up late and decided that we didn’t feel like rushing off to catch a train from Haymarket.

Over a typical weekend breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs followed with toast and marmalade, we discussed our options, a wide range of local cycle rides or a range walks in the Pentland Hills, which lie just to the south and west of the city. The Pentlands aren’t big, but when viewed from some angles give the impression of being a mini mountain range. From a walking point of view they offer over 100km of paths. There are no roads running through the Pentlands, so they are a great place to escape to for that sense of remote wilderness. There are bus routes running along the roads on either side which provide easy access, this gives a great deal of flexibility. Unlike taking a car, which you have to come back to, thereby restricting you to a circular route, using the buses there is the option to walk point to point and you can change your mind, lengthen or foreshorten your walk as you please.

So we caught a 44 bus to Balerno, then walked up Mansfield Road past the howling and yapping of the SSPCA Animal Welfare Centre, and on to Red Moss. Then crossed Redford bridge over Threipmuir Reservoir and up the hill following a long avenue of trees. Hidden in a policy wood at the top is Bavelaw Castle, but it is well hidden and only a glimpse can be had once you are out on the hill. Here the road ends and a well made path leads up into the Pentlands themselves. It is a route popular with walkers, runners and mountain bikers alike. We followed the path to the start of the Green Cleugh, here we decided to turn off and walk the less visited western hills, starting with Black Hill. It is currently living up to its name as a large area of the heather has recently been burnt. As a result of the recent dry weather it is currently firm underfoot, but to judge by the amount of hare’s-tail cotton sedge (Eriophorium vaginatum) and Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus which was in flower) it is normally a lot softer underfoot. There were skylarks (Alauda arvensis) everywhere, but surprisingly we only came across one grouse (Lagopus lagopus).

From the top of Black Hill (501m) there should have been fantastic views out across the Forth, but the wind had shifted to the south west and visibility was limited, we could only just see the Fife side. If the wind had stayed in the north east as it had been for the past week, we would have had views across Fife, to the Ochils and beyond. I remember standing on the top of Allermuir one January, the air was crystal clear and it was possible to see Ben Macdui, Scotland’s second highest mountain, about 150 miles to the north. We then followed a track leading north east from the top towards Den’s Cleugh and down a line of grouse butts. Once across Den’s Cleugh, we climbed up onto Bell’s Hill (406m), stopping to watch a pair of ravens (Corvus corax) displaying.

We then descended to Maiden’s Cleugh, from here we had a choice of return routes, go back to Balerno or northwards to the Poets Glen and on to Currie. Instead we carried on up Harbour Hill (421 m) then down to Phantom’s Cleugh. From here we could have continued to over Capelaw (454 m), Allermuir (493 m) and Caerketton (450 m) before descending to Hillend to catch a bus home. However, as we were both getting a wee bit hungry, we decided to take the path past Bonaly Reservoir and down into Bonaly its self. From there it was a short stroll to Colinton and the Cafè Knight where we tucked into a well deserved high tea, before catching the bus home.