Monday, 9 January 2017

Fife - Mini walk on the sleeping giant

Anyone who has travelled south on the M90 towards Edinburgh will have admired the shapely outline of the long, low-lying hill that forms the south shore of Loch Leven. Its correct name is Benarty Hill but locals believe that its outline resembles a great warrior lying asleep on his back with his feet pointing east towards the Lomond Hills and his headdress stretching westwards. And so the hill is more commonly known as the Sleeping Giant. For such a wee hill in a populated landscape of fields and farms, it's got a surprising mix of pleasant approach walk, craggy ruggedness and gorgeous big views. I find myself drawn back again and again.

I climbed the hill most recently during the festive break on a crisp, breezy day in late December. My walk started in the former mining town of Ballingry whose claim to fame is to be the home town of Richard Jobson of the Skids. If you remember them then you are as old or even older than me. 

A dirt track leaves the back of town and heads out through open woodland with Benarty Hill rising steeply to the right and the pleasant waters and parklands of Lochore Meadows down to the left. From here a good path then zig-zags up through forestry. Don't be put off by the forestry. This morning shafts of low winter sun burst through the trees and in the open glades the view stretched as far as the Firth of Forth. It was lovely.

At the top of the forestry the gradient relents and a pleasant wee path makes a beeline across heathery moorland for the summit trig point. Today that same low sun picked out the contours of the hill and illuminated the shapely lines of the Bishop Hill on the other side of Loch Leven. 

From up here you can see the vastness of the loch. When you are standing down on the shore, it seems so big that you think of it more as an inland sea than a loch. Its waters were dotted with green amoeba-shaped islands and the tiny white pinpricks of swans, hundreds of swans. To the west the Ochil hills had a light dusting of snow, adding a cold, wintry edge to the view. None of these are big hills but I love the way they sit in the landscape and accentuate the open space and big skies all around.

A small path keeps close company with an old drystone dyke all the way along the top of the ridge and it's a lovely walk. I headed east along the ridge and eventually dropped off its far end to pick up a new path down to the RSPB centre at Vane Farm. It's a great place to get the loch-level view and watch over flocks of teal and widgeon in the wetland pools. In the late afternoon I trekked back over to Ballingry on the path which contours round the bottom of the great warrior's feet. The temperature was dropping and the sun was sinking way out west beyond the battle headdress of the sleeping giant above.

Fact File
Photos on Flickr.
Start/finish: Ballingry. Local buses travel every 10 minutes between the train station at Lochgelly (on the Fife circle line with direct trains from Edinburgh) and Ballingry. 
Route: Get off at the last bus stop in Ballingry at the turning circle with recycling skips. Just before here a dirt track heads west behind the last of the houses. Follow it until it meets a road. Go straight across and you'll find the obvious path up Benarty Hill. The first time I went there was a sign but there wasn't the second time. Follow this path to the trig point. The top of the cliffs is a few metres further and affords a great view across the loch and hills. Turn east on the ridge top path and eventually where the gradient of the north face of the hill eases, you'll spot a new quarry dust path below and a faint path down the grassy slope which you can use to get onto it. This excellent new path will either take you down to RSPB Vane Farm if you turn left or back to Ballingry if you turn right.  An alternative to returning to Ballingry is to pick up the wonderful Loch Leven Heritage Trail at Vane Farm and follow it to Kinross to pick up buses to Inverkeithing/Edinburgh. 

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