I love mince pies. It’s as well they have a very small window of availability or I might end up with a bum as wide as the path up Ben Nevis. What I needed to cure my over-indulgence was to unwrap on Christmas morning one of those expensive vouchers for a pampering spa treatment. But, as Santa seemed to overlook this, I had to make do with the full body mud wrap, currently on offer in the boggy trails of the Pentlands Hills.
When the first day of 2013 promised blue skies after a week of wet and windy weather, I was up, out and cycling along the Union Canal before the sun had even risen on the new year. In the darkness of pre-dawn all I could see were the illuminated lines of “cat’s eyes” that laid out a narrow passage along the towpath, like emergency lights down the aisle of an aircraft, to prevent night time cyclists from veering off into the freezing, inky depths of the canal. At Slateford I switched to the quagmire that is the Water of Leith walkway and acquired my first splattering of mud before I’d even chained up the bike and started my walk to the Bore Stane on the old route over the hills to Carlops.
It was a beautiful morning as the low winter sun struggled to get above the Pentland peaks. It sent out faintly warm rays to melt the thin crust of ice on the puddles and drench the hills in soft morning light. I barely lifted my eyes to enjoy the view though as I was so engrossed in squelching, slipping and sinking along the mud bath of the path. Some spots were so boggy that I imagined I might sink completely without a trace. Then in thousands of years’ time, I would be dug up by scientists who would note that I was below average size for the humans of the day before examining my stomach contents to work out what I had eaten for my last meal. They’d probably be a bit surprised to see mince pies under the microscope.
Happily a mud-splattered me did make it safely to the Bore Stane, a large rock feature that sits at the top of the pass and today marks the boundary between the districts of Midlothian, the Borders and the City of Edinburgh. It’s a pretty spot with shelter from the wind and a little copse of trees. Views north opened up to the blue waters of the River Forth, the pointed Lomond Hills of Fife and the snow-dusted Ochils. Unfortunately you can also see Livingston from here! I peered south into the low sun but all I could see in the golden haze were more layers of hills and the sun-reflecting waters of Baddinsgill.
After a short breather, I complemented my mud spa by having my face exfoliated by the wind on top of East Cairn Hill. Beauty treatment complete, I retraced my boggy boot marks to the bike and cycled home. With a 20-mile round bike trip and a few hours of rough tramping on the hills, I’d fair worked up an appetite so … there was room for one more mince pie!
Start/finish: I cycled from home but there's a regular 44 bus from the city to the terminus at Balerno.
Map: OS Landranger 65.
Route: From the terminus continue south on Mansfield Road. At the junction for Red Moss turn right onto the single track road and continue to the start of the right of way to Carlops at Grid ref NT149 632 which is signposted. Follow the very muddy path southwest then turn south when you join the main track near Listonshiels. At the Bore Stane strike west up East Cairn Hill.
Tip: Gaiters at the ready!