Exploring the Esk Valley: A Hewan Wood Wander

I enjoyed a gentle woodland walk through Hewan Wood along the River Esk this morning and am now enjoying my post-exercise relaxation. Indeed, given that I ran a half marathon yesterday afternoon, the relaxation is even more enjoyable! It also means that I am feeling that oddly wonderful exhaustion that comes from pushing your body a bit.

The River Esk starts as two rivers (North and South). The North Esk starts in the Pentland Hills whilst the South Esk begins in the Moorfoot Hills. They both run quite near my cottage as part of the larger Esk Valley, and converge into one river a few miles away near Dalkeith. I have enjoyed countless walks along the water over the years, but this is the first time I’ve explored this section of the river.

As I said, today’s walk along the water took me through Hewan Wood. The route was selected not for the woods but rather for the geocaches as I like to use caching as a motivation to explore new places (or new nooks and crannies in old places). I am pleased to say that I managed to collect five caches, although I was unable to get a couple of others because they required another human’s help (safety first!). But that just means I’ll have to go back with a friend. In fact, there were several options of routes to take through the Esk Valley, each one leading to potential geocaches. So, I have made a couple of notes for future adventures with the aim to grab all the caches by the end of summer. It’s always good to have a goal!

I set out just before 10 o’clock and walked through the Roslin Moat and along the Kill Burn towards the Bilston Viaduct before heading into the Hewan Wood. Along the way, I stopped to smell the roses flowers and grabbed a couple of geocaches.

The Hewan Wood is home to the Hewan Bank, which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its geology of glacial deposits and its resident colony of sand martins. Sadly, the bank is unstable resulting in several landslips and erosion meaning that the footpath used to cross the top of the bank had to be diverted (thanks to teams of local volunteers).

I decided to stop for a picnic lunch along the bank to listen to the ripples of the water whilst I scanned the area for wildlife. It was a peaceful spot and I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face as I refuelled for the second half of my walk.

My peaceful picnic place

I then carried on towards the site of the former Maiden Castle. The “castle” is the site of an Bronze Age and Iron Age hillfort. There probably would have been a couple of round houses and smaller structures “back in the day” but today there are only a couple of mounds and evidence of defensive ditches (if you know what you’re looking for). This area is also believed to have been the site of the third skirmish of the Battle of Roslin in 1302, leading to the wood’s name as the casualties were so horrendous that the area known as “The Hewing” or “The Hewan”.

After leaving the castle site, I carried on along the path heading towards the Roslin Glen, past Hawthornden Castle. The sun was feeling very warm by then and I was feeling the energizing effects of the fresh air. And then, about 7 miles into my walk, my mood changed! That’s because the ground became extremely boggy and I was too far along the path to turn back. Of course, I also didn’t want to risk the bog being worse than it looked. But an adventurer must plod on. In the end, there was no way through but to hop a fence and walk to walk in a nearby field. This, sadly, brought two problems: (1) getting to the fence meant navigating through ankle-deep mud and (2) hopping the fence meant I got a tear in my ugly purple walking trousers. But I made it, and that’s the important thing.

Once I was through the muck, I found myself back on dry ground not far from the Rosslyn Castle. So I took a break to enjoy what was left of the tea in my flask before carrying on for the last (nearly) three miles home.

I am considering doing the West Highland Way Walk with a couple of my nieces next summer. So, as I walked, I found myself really paying attention to how my legs and feet were feeling (especially having run 13.1 miles the day before). And whilst my legs felt tired by the time I got home, I felt strong throughout the day and could feel that my legs were happy enough with the miles they were asked to do. I also feel that I will get stronger over the next year as I increase my walking and running miles. I will definitely be planning some longer walks over the summer including some multi-summit, all-day walks in the Pentlands to help prepare me for the task!

As always, the photos from the day’s adventure don’t do the area justice. But I hope that they inspire you to get out and enjoy a bit of nature up close. Stay tuned for my next adventure…

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