Hitting the Heights (of West Lothian)

For this walk, we feature a trip out of Armadale along the old M8 – no, not that one. The road we’re referring to is the original road between Glasgow and Edinburgh, that was built in the 1640s and was the first road in Scotland of more than a metre wide.

There are two loops of different lengths, about 7 – 8 km and about 10 km, which form a figure of 8. If you feel like an even longer day out, you could miss out the track that joins the two loops and tackle a circular walk of 12 -1 3 km, starting at Barbauchlaw Mill, and going round by Gowanbank and Blackridge.

Barbauchlaw Mill is now a garden centre and you can leave your car in the upper car park. The road wends downhill along the route of the old drove road to Woodend Farm.

From there, a fingerpost sends you on the middle distance route, through kissing gates and gradually out to wilder and higher countryside. The climb is very slight and hardly noticed. A slight deviation up Eastcraigs Hill takes you up to the trig point at 249 feet, from where you have a good view to the south and the Pentland Hills.

Should you choose to continue north from Woodend, you will find a surprisingly pretty loop. The moorland is wild and you will see plenty of grouse and other birds, depending on the time of year.

The Wildlife Trust have seen to it that the grass verge here is only cut once a year to preserve the varieties of wild flowers. Shelter belts of beech and birch line the road and Scots Pine can be seen on the eastern horizon.

The towers and vents of the Gas Board’s Compressor Station at Easter Rigghead loom out of the forestscape as you approach Gowanbank. This gas pressurising plant is one of three in Scotland which form a vital part of the gas grid network covering Britain. From St. Fergus near Peterhead, gas is distributed south in 3′ diameter steel pipes through Kirriemuir, Bathgate and Beattock to the south of England, picking up supplies from Blackpool and Norfolk to the divided east and west coast routes on the way. The enormous vents you see release carefully controlled emissions from the RB211 jet engines which compress the gas as it heads south. Enough cubic feet to satisfy the needs of 10 million households pass through Easter Rigghead each day.

Spare a glance at the exceptional gate posts as you go by, turning left and following the road , eventually south past the farm of Heights. From here the views to the north are of the Perthshire monros, Stuc a Chroin and Ben Lomond.

As the road bends, you join the route of the shorter walks at Eastcraigshill. You can take the longer loop by the road down into Blackridge, or the shorter route west of Craigs Cottage, coming out at the park.

The only way from here to avoid the A89 is to catch a bus but at least there is a pavement all the way. The disused railway which would make a pleasanter return to Woodend has been taken into agricultural use, but you can cut down to Barbauchlaw Burn and back to the Mill through kissing gates just before the new housing development.

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