The Junkers JU-88 on Hare Hill

Yesterday’s walk in the Pentland Hills was a history (and geocaching) trek in search of a WWII crash site and memorial on Hare Hill. It’s a walk I’ve wanted to do for quite some time and I am pleased to have finally managed it.

This post is in two parts: (1) an account of my day out and (2) details related to the memorial and the history of the crash. Not interested in my day out? Click here to skip straight to the Junkers JU-88 information.

My day out

I set out with a friend at 8.30 in the morning (carrying my new daypack). Our primary goal for the day was to find the WWII crash site and memorial on Hare Hill, with a secondary goal of grabbing a few geocaches. We didn’t have a strict plan for how far we would walk or what route we would take on leaving Hare Hill, but I had maps and GPS points to follow at different decision-making points along the way.

Not wanting our legs to be completely shot by Hare Hill, we walked into the Pentlands through the reservoir valley (Glencorse and Loganlea) rather than across a range of hills and summits. That means the first (nearly) 5 miles were on a paved surface with a gentle incline. We also ended the walk with 1.5-miles of pavement. The rest of the 17-mile walk was up and down hills on a variety of paths and trails – and at times trekking through the heather.

Once we were past the reservoirs, we started up Green Cleugh before cutting up the path towards Hare Hill. We made our way to the summit for some lovely views before making our way down the path on the east side of the hill where there is a wide main path that runs (generally) between Balerno and Eight Mile Burn. When we got to the north-east side of the hill, we then climbed up the side through the heather to access the crash memorial (details below) then continued up through even more heather to reach the Hare Hill summit again where we stopped for lunch.

A 360° view from the top of Hare Hill in the Pentland Hills

After lunch, we walked back to Green Cleugh to link us across to Black Hill.  We walked along the side of the hill before crossing over to walk along the side of Bell’s Hill and then down Maiden’s Cleugh in the valley between Bell’s and Harbour Hills. That led us back to the paved path through the reservoir valley which led us to the Flotterstone Pub – about a mile from my cottage.

By that time, it was about 4 o’clock and we’d been walking for more than 7 hours (16 miles). We figured that deserved a visit to the newly-reopened beer garden for a well-earned post-walk pint. Well, almost post-walk as we had another mile to go!

It was the first time I’ve been to a pub since last year, and I was thrilled to be enjoying a lovely pint of IPA and a pack of crisps in the beer garden. After more than a year of isolation and shielding, these baby steps back into society are very precious to me and I am hoping that things remain safe(ish) moving forward so that I can step further into The Real World as spring and summer progress.

The stats: We were out for 8 hours and 50 minutes and walked 17 miles. The stop at the pub slowed our average pace down a bit, which averaged out to a 31-minute mile. We had an elevation gain of 1,981 feet with a top elevation of 1,464 at Hare Hill. I also managed seven geocaches along the way and had a total step count of 32,289 by the end of the day. This puts me closer to my 2021 goals for miles walked, geocaches cached, 5,000,000+ steps taken, and more Pentland summits reached. Yay, goals!

Here’s a list of the geocaches I logged:

  1. Mint Imperial #2: A spot I’ve passed by countless times but only just managed to cache.
  2. A Pentland Seclusion: A well-camouflaged cache.
  3. A hike (or cycle ) in the Pentland Hills: Oh, but wasn’t that a steep climb!
  4. The Mint Imperial #1: Another steep climb, but thankfully not all the way to the top.
  5. Black Springs: Off the main track and along a sheep path.
  6. Epiphany: If you’re a geocacher, you will spot the hiding place quite quickly!
  7. A Pentland Dash: A quick dash for a final cache, hidden in the heather.

But enough of that. Let me tell you about the Hare Hill site!

The Junkers JU-88 on Hare Hill

As I said, yesterday’s adventure was a visit to a WWII crash site and memorial on Hare Hill in The Pentlands. I was drawn to visit the memorial because of its history as a forgotten place, found by a dedicated amateur historian, Kenneth Walker. His work to rediscover the lost site resulted in this poignant story of human kindness and compassion being shared with around the world.

The story began on 24 March 1943. That’s when a crew of four German airmen made their way across the North Sea in a Junkers JU-88 to bomb the Leith Docks in Edinburgh. But it was too foggy for them to find the docks, leaving them to return without succeeding in their mission.

Before making the return journey, the crew dropped their bombs over farmland and then, in the darkness and fog, they crashed into the side of Hare Hill, killing all four men. By now, it was 45 minutes past midnight on 25 March 1943. (Check out this website for commentary on what might have happened that night.)

After the crash, members of the local community gave the four men a burial at the local Kirknewton graveyard. Later (1959), the British Government created a special site for German graves at the German War Cemetery in Cannock Chase (England) and the men’s remains were re-interred there. And to this day, there remains a plaque to the memory of the airmen at the Kirknewton graveyard. (I will add a photo of the plaque after I visit the site.)

Kenneth Walker spent several years researching the crash and searching for wreckage and other evidence of the tragedy. He then erected a small memorial with a plaque bearing the names of the crew in 1999. The memorial is a small cairn created by pieces of the wreckage with a wooden post in the centre (the larger pieces were removed shortly after the crash). There are also a couple of other small debris piles, but I did not seek them out on this visit.

Memorial cairn for the 1943 German Junkers JU-88 crash on Hare Hill

Thanks to Mr Walker’s dedication, this once lost and forgotten site was found. And as word of his efforts got out, the family of the pilot heard of the memorial, prompting his son (80 years old at the time), along with four generations of the family, to travel from Germany to visit the site and to meet with Mr Walker. I imagine they must be very grateful that someone took put in so much time and effort to show respect to a group of men who were trying to destroy a valuable part of the country’s infrastructure.

As Mr Walker noted, some people question the appropriateness of a memorial to Nazi airmen. And whilst I agree that we never want to memorialise the horrid, vileness of Nazi ideals or glorify war, these men were humans with family. And I am pleased to know that they were treated as such by other humans. Indeed, since the memorial was erected, local Scottish service people have made visits to the spot to leave memorial crosses and poppies. A touching sight to see.

“If you strip away the horror and nastiness of the war, you realise that four men died at this spot. That’s the important thing we need to remember.” (Kenneth Walker)

The crewmembers of the Junkers JU-88 Bomber who perished that day were Fritz Foerster, 30 (pilot), Horst Bluhm, 23 (wireless operator/air gunner), Heinz Kristall, 21 (wireless operator/air gunner), and Willi Euler, 21 (air gunner).

If you find your way to the site, I hope you’ll find it as moving and peaceful as I did. The site serves as a reminder of the tragedy and horror of war, but it also reminds us of the kindness and compassion of the human spirit.

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