By Lewis McLean
As part of our project Sustainability, Heritage, Health (SHH), I have had the pleasure of investigating, planning and piloting our three planned walks in Scotland. Each walk showcases a different aspect of this beautiful country. This description of the routes is a step towards populating the app we are developing with our partners. Enjoy the tour.
Walking through a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The first walk I was lucky enough to experience was through the capital, Edinburgh, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety. Starting on the far side of Duddingston Loch, I re-entered the city overlooking a quiet nature reserve in the shadow of the imposing Arthur’s Seat hill. The natural and green slowly gave way to the urban, though was never truly absent. Crossing through the Meadows, a park brimming with the vibrancy of Edinburgh’s youth, into the historic Old Town highlighted the duality of the city. It has often been referred to as two cities built on top of each other, which one can see as they walk towards the Royal Mile over the sides of the many bridges over the streets below. Here is where the tourists congregate; street performers fill the approach to the mighty castle and the sound of bagpipes is ever in the air. Around every corner the rich history of Edinburgh burgeons, and there is far too much to take in on a single visit. In the view of the castle, I began to exit the centre of the city, looking up at the majestic facade with the sun on my face and the fading sound of bagpipes behind me.
After narrowly avoiding Edinburgh’s inevitable shopping district, I found myself going down a tiny path next to a grand bridge, not knowing the hidden oasis that awaited me below. By the side of a tiny river, an 800 year old milling village, with modern additions and restorations, sits inconspicuously and easily missed. As a resident of Edinburgh, this was my favourite surprise while planning the route. The walk carries us down the Water of Leith, past galleries and striking memorials. It is truly a treasure in the midst of the city it cuts through. Finally, I exit the city proper and walk briefly through a residential area towards the walk’s terminus on Corstorphine Hill. At its summit, a single stone tower sits amidst the trees, and on the descent, I was greeted by the stunning view of the Forth Bridges, illuminated as if by a complicit sun.
On the trail of the industrial revolution, Roman occupation and engineering wonder
Moving slightly out from the urban centre, the next route took me through some unlikely places over two days. Some people may say that starting a walk in Cumbernauld industrial estate is a bad idea. I don’t. Central Scotland is an area with a long history of industrialisation, deindustrialisation and disparity. Starting in an “ugly” urban area, I take a path weaving through Scotland’s industrial history along the very canals that propelled it. I see power stations that are rapidly approaching redundancy alongside the distant wind turbines that will replace them. I see the remains of long past Roman attempts at quelling the wild, ever-changing landscape. And I see what the Scottish people have built while preserving the incredible natural beauty just beyond our doorsteps.
The Roman wall and hill fort of Rough Castle were impressive given what remains - just earth having been moved for purposes long abandoned. Seeing them and taking in the weight of their history is, I’m sure, something that everyone will react to differently. Shortly after, the contrast of millennia is exemplified by the incredible Falkirk Wheel. “A lift for canal boats” is one way to describe this engineering and artistic marvel, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. The canals themselves were truly welcoming, with boatmen travelling along them for work or just a lovely day out, all willing to greet walkers warmly. It felt like a secret route; central Scotland is the most populated and industrial area of the country, and yet you could hardly tell such have the canals been forgotten by all but an eclectic few. The Avon Aqueduct marked the end of my time by the canalside and my lingering memory of it is one of fear. The aqueduct is really, really high. I’d like to tell you more about it, I’m sure it’s beautiful and an impressive feat of architecture, but mostly I just remember how high it is, 35 metres! Luckily for my acrophobic self, the rest of the walk bore me gently through the woods to Linlithgow, its rich history and many pubs.
A breeze of coastline stories
The third route abandons the urban side of Scotland almost entirely. Only a short bus ride from Edinburgh, the coast of Fife presents some of the most beautiful walking I have ever done. It presented a bit more of an escape for three days through historic fishing villages, each with their own local stories and personalities. The local history is told through countless information boards, and the efforts to conserve the coastal wildlife is espoused on signs throughout. Local farms put up honesty boxes to sell their products, which always make me far happier than they possibly should. There are a number of golf courses on the route which one must navigate, but one can hardly blame them for setting up here; the views out to sea are absolutely staggering. Distant tiny islands boast their own stories and beckon curiosity, just as the views up and down the coastline itself draw you further along with the promise of further beauty. More than the other routes, this one is peaceful. A quiet meal with a harbour view is a memory that I will cherish, especially because I was lucky enough to share it with someone special.
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