Turnhouse Hill - 506m
Carnethy Hill - 573m
Scald Law - 579m
South Black Hill - 563m
East Kip - 534m
West Kip - 551m

Saturday 27th February 2010

Weather/Conditions: Wintry weather, but few snow showers. Snow has fallen all the way to sea level and the hills were well covered with bare, icy summits and drifted lower slopes. Fairly cold day with plenty low cloud around, although it cleared towards the evening with blue sky making an appearance.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 16.2km / 750m / 7h 10m
Accompanying: Ian

This was my first trip to the Pentlands, hills which I had read a lot about but never visited. The Highlands had been my Plan A, but those hills were dangerous places at this point. With Scotland having not seen a winter like this in my lifetime, new snow was falling onto existing snow or ice in large volumes. Ice hoar was forming and creating weak layers in the snow, conditions more akin to North America and the Alps than Scotland. Once again, the snow had fallen to sea level and since the avalanche forecast wasn't looking too good, Ian and I decided to stay close to home, keep to lower altitudes and walk in the Pentlands instead. Probably a good thing, since on this very day two skiers were involved a 2000 foot slab avalanche on Meall a' Bhuiridh. It is incredible they both survived, apparently relatively unscathed.

Turnhouse Hill and Carnethy Hill

It took a while to get across to the east from Glasgow but we arrived at Flotterstone in fairly good time. The weather wasn't good. These weren't big hills, but conditions were looking close to whiteout on the tops. Heading up Turnhouse Hill, the first summit on route, trees on the hillsides were all that could be seen and the white hillsides merged into the white cloud above.

When we finally climbed into the clouds (passing the woods, which looked fairly attractive in the fog and snow) the situation wasn't as bad as perhaps first thought. The wind had scoured most of the hillsides, and where the snow had gathered and drifted, footprints of previous walkers guided the way. The top of Turnhouse Hill was marked by a low, broad cairn, but in the middle of the cloud there was nothing else to do but to move onto Carnethy Hill.

As we could have expected, we descended Turnhouse Hill in near-whiteout. But although obscured by the mist ahead, we got onto the path leading to Carnethy's summit. Following the trail broken through the snow, we were guided up to the summit, this time marked by a larger cairn. I also spotted a mouse scurrying about near the summit in the open, exposed in an environment where it looked more than out of place. It must be have been a tough wee beast...

The summit is marked by a large broad cairn, apparently an ancient burial chamber, I'm told. It's been disassembled to some extent by walkers to build windbreakers around about, in the process taking apart a structure older than they may have guessed. But for us, there was nothing to see. The cloud was still down, so headed off in the direction of Scald Law, the highest hill in the Pentlands.

Scald Law to the Kips

We headed down Carnethy Hill in a whiteout, wading through the drifts on this side of the hill. No snow fell and the wind hardly blew, but the ground was usually indistinguishable from the sky. The summit is quite broad, so we took a quick compass bearing before concluding that we were heading off in the right direction.

On the way to Scald Law, the cloud began clearing and as we made our way there, the base gradually lifted until it was merely licking the summits. It then lifted all together and we headed up the side of Scald Law with no with some views to reward our effort. The wind was beginning to pick up too though and the summit itself was wind-blasted and unpleasant. Sure we had views, but similarly to the first hills, we had to move on.

The plan had been to go straight onto the Kips, but when I saw South Black Hill seemingly so close by, it seemed odd not to nip out to it's summit. A short detour brought us to it's top, again cold and windswept. A substantially sized cairn crowns this Top, although it is not very deep and it meant that it was impossible to keep out of the wind. I became cold quickly, although we paused for a break anyway.

Onwards to the Kips, they required little effort to get across and we were on West Kip, the last summit of the day in no time. Having only seen these Tops on the map, I'd have thought they were narrower and perhaps rockier than they'd turn out to be. They were grassy hills, lacking in crags, but pleasant in form all the same. Once up on West Kip, the next decision was to pick a descent route.


I suggested we head in a beeline for Logan Burn. One of our thoughts was to contour the head of the glen and meet up with a track taking us down, but that looked like too much effort. In retrospect, the best choice may have been to backtrack beyond East Kip and follow a good track down to the glen. But we went in a straight, trackless line towards Logan Burn. With boggy ground and soft snow, the result wasn't pleasant. The initial steep descent was enjoyable, I got my feet stuck in the snow while running down, went over on my arms and head, then my head stuck in the snow which sent my feet flying over the top. I saw stars and got a couple of cuts, but it was pretty harmless.

It took us a long time to get down Logan Burn, but when we arrived, we were following the stream down through the thick snow with the intention of meeting up with a path below. Walking was laborious, but I enjoyed the evening, the peace and isolation of this place. The late afternoon sun was appearing to show through the cloud at this point too and cast impressive light across the Kips.

As we made the final descent into the head of Glencorse, these hills seemed to change in feel. I felt remoteness in them and seemed surprised that a city such as Edinburgh was just on the other side of the hills. With the snow caped, wind-scoured hillsides and evening light, these hills felt more like the barren Cairngorms, not accessible hills. The walk back to Flotterstone was long, but enjoyable. We made slow progress alongside the reservoir, but spirits were always good and we arrived back at the car just as it got dark.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 11.10am Flotterstone
(1.40) 12.50pm Turnhouse Hill
(2.30) 1.40pm Carnethy Hill
(3.20) 2.30pm Scald Law
(3.35) 2.45pm South Black Hill
(4.15) 3.25pm East Kip
(4.30) 3.40pm West Kip
(7.10) 6.20pm Flotterstone

Written: 2010-03-01