Corstorphine Hill

Autumn seems to have arrived while we were away. The plums on Jesus’s tree have been turned into jam, the brambles in the local hedgerows are all but gone, and the rosebay willowherb has blown spectacularly to seed. It seemed the right sort of time to ascend Corstorphine, which has, perhaps, the most woodland character of all of Edinburgh’s hills. Corstorphine is really more of a ridge than a hill proper – a glacial fold to the West of the city. The lower slopes of the ridge house the zoo, and the sprawl of housing created as the city expanded over the last century. The upper slopes are home to the remains of a neolithic settlement, and a stone tower of much more recent construction, dedicated, as so many things about these parts, to Sir Walter Scott.

Scott is an appropriate figure to think of on Corstorphine Hill which, with shady nooks of beech and fir, giant slabs of bare dolerite, and brief, tantalising views, is just the sort of place that the folk of his generation might contrive for a picturesque ramble. And like many picturesque spots, Corstorphine can also seem to invite a certain mis-reading. While the woodland looks relatively wild, it is a managed landscape, and until relatively recently, a working one as well. What you see to the right might seem to be the ivy-covered ruins of ancient structures, but are actually stones rejected from the quarry which used to operate on the hillside.

There is an orienteering course set up around the hill, and you can see one of the controls to the left of this obligatory Bruce obedience photo. The last time I came walking on Corstorphine was several years ago after Tom insisted that I do something to improve my navigation skills. I have no sense of direction — that is to say, I suffer from the mistaken and often unshakeable belief that I am going the right way, without doing what one should when there is any doubt at all, viz, consult the map. Tom has become exasperated with this on more than one occasion — I think the final straw was when, in poor visibility on the top of a munro, I absolutely insisted that we follow some footprints I could see in front of me in the snow. After this, he was (understandably) concerned at the prospect of my getting lost on an independent expedition, and I recall that I, grudgingly, and not with a very good grace, managed to find my way about Corstorphine’s woods with a compass and controls.

Today the challenges of Corstorphine were of a rather different kind. I was very grateful for the walking poles — there are lots of steep inclines, and several places in the woods where one has to pick one’s way over slippery rocks and tree roots.
I doubt I’d have been able to manage such manoeuvres even a couple of weeks ago. I think that the swimming has improved stroke-leg’s strength and control considerably. At some point, I shall video myself walking — I’ve not had the gumption to do this so far, as I feel so damn wonky and ungainly — but, as with the swimming, I imagine it may help if I can actually see any small improvements in my gait.

In the dark of the woods, the turning beech leaves seemed almost luminous. . .

. . . and you emerge from the shade to bright glimpses of the city beyond.

The interesting cone that you can see on the horizon to the right of this photo is North Berwick Law — the first hill I intend to ascend after completing Edinburgh’s seven. Anyway, we all had a fine ramble about Corstorphine on a lovely early-Autumn day, and Bruce, as you can imagine, absolutely loves the woods.

Five down, two to go . . .