Climbing Castlelaw

For my Boxing Day adventure, I decided to revisit one of my favourite “quick” walks: Castlelaw Hill, in the Pentland Hills by way of the Castlelaw hill fort and souterrain. The walk is nice because I can knock it out in about two hours (including time to stop for photos) and it doesn’t kill my energy for the rest of the day.

No matter how many times I’ve been, I always start my journey to the top of Castlelaw with a visit to the Iron Age hill fort at the base of the hill. The fort is also home to a souterrain that is built into one of the fort’s ditches. The souterrain (or “soup tureen”, as I like to say) was used for agricultural storage in the middle of the second century AD. The underground (simple) complex is lit by three groupings of (modern-day) “skylights” set into the earthen mound above.

Once inside of the souterrain, there is a simple corridor the dead-ends with an entry to a larger chamber about halfway along. The entry into the chamber is quite low and requires a bit of crawling or walking in a squatted manner. (There tends to be a wee puddle of water in the middle of the passage whenever I visit, so I’ve developed an interesting duck-walk to make it through.) Once inside, there is plenty of room for even the tallest of people to stand.

Sadly, the inner structure is home to a wide smattering of graffiti carved into the stonework and masonry. I’m often conflicted when I see this, especially in a scheduled monument. Although when you think about it, ancient graffiti is now a valuable archaeological find. So maybe in two thousand years, the Pentland Markings will be as important as the petroglyphs in the Columbia Gorge. But I digress…

After leaving the hill fort, I continued my ascent towards the top of Castlelaw. The path is a road of crushed rock and is quite easy to follow. It starts as a fairly mild grade, but the final climb is quite steep and requires a bit of work. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, the views from the top (and indeed, the views from the climb itself) are well worth it!

Once at the top of Castlelaw, I fought against the winds to enjoy the views. There was a bit of a haze over Edinburgh and across to Fife, but the panoramic landscape was still quite breath-taking (and not just because the winds were choking me!). Then, after a few obligatory selfies, I began to climb down off the hill. (And be warned: That really steep bit at the final climb up can be a bit challenging on the way back down, so be careful to watch your step.)

Castlelaw Hill is also home to the Castlelaw Firing Range, as part of the Glencorse barracks complex. The firing range is marked out with fencing, posts, and signs alerting people to the dangers of live fire when the range is in use. There are also a series of red lights and flags to let you know when the range is in use. As I can see the top of the hill from my kitchen windows, I always check to see if the light is flashing before I set out. (You can also check the firing times on the Home Office website.)

When I set out, I thought that I might stop off at the Flotterstone pub on the way home. However, I remembered that I had some prosecco left from my Christmas feast last night, so I opted to head straight home instead. By the time I arrived home, I was very pleased that I decided to skip the pub as my legs were feeling a bit weak. After all, I am still re-building my strength after November’s downtime and hill-climbing uses a different set of muscles than I use for running!

In the end, I racked up about 5.5 miles on the walk, starting from my cottage. There is a carpark just below the hill fort which would make the walk about 2.5 miles. (For those on public transportation, add a mile or two for walking to and from the A702.)

With one week left of my Christmas holidays, I am hoping to knock out a couple more adventures. At this rate, I will be glad to get back to the office just for the rest!

[Other visits to Castlelaw Hill are blogged about in these posts: “Castles and hillforts” and “Happy hills”.]

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