With so much to see and do, where to start? Perhaps with what’s on your very doorstep, on the farm. Then, radiating outwards, we’ll highlight some lesser known gems in our local area, West Lothian, before moving on to the cities. Although there’s no denying that Edinburgh and Glasgow are the honeypot destinations, West Lothian emphatically deserves “B” list exposure! It forms part of the beautiful countryside, the Lothians, which loop around the city of Edinburgh.
And what a city Edinburgh is! Castle, palace and soaring crags, culture, music and cosmopolitan cuisine, Edinburgh has to be one of the most exciting places in all Europe. But Glaswegians may disagree. For them the style, panache and their legendary friendliness combined with the culture, museums, galleries and superb shopping all account for the astonishing renaissance and re-invention of Glasgow.
But holidaying in this area of Scotland offers more, far more than you will have dreamt of, as you will see from the pages that follow. Hills that make the heart (and sometimes the body!) ache, skylines with castles and spires, tales of heroism on the battlefields and in the glens, fertile ground for romantics. You can find all of this in these pages which we have broken down into areas, into activities, outings especially popular with children, as well as some rainy day suggestions. We then move onto free stuff to help the pocket as Scotland does not need to be an expensive destination. Finally you’ll find our personal “don’t miss” excursions and a few useful hints and tips to help your planning and purse.
Where you see a boldfaced word or phrase underlined, this indicates a link to a website. Click on it for lots more information including opening times. Although most places are open on a Sunday, do be aware that a few attractions (particularly stately homes) do close over the winter months. If you have chosen to stay at Crosswoodhill just because it’s close to Edinburgh, you are in for a lovely surprise, and some of it comes free.
On your doorstep … and free … the Farm
Much of our 1800 acre (700 hectare) upland hill livestock farm has been designated an “area of great landscape value”. Explore our farm, the flora and fauna, follow the sheep-paths winding their way up the heather-clad hill, picnic beside, or maybe paddle in the shallow burn (Scottish for stream). We have a store of wellies for you to borrow if the terrain is muddy. On our farmland we have two sites of scientific interest, one of which is a peat bog with a fascinating juxtaposition of mosses and lichen..
• From May to October our Charolais Cross beef herd roam our hill. We have about 100 cattle, each of which nurses a new calf every year. Watch them contentedly chewing the cud … or, just sometimes, gazing despairingly heavenwards when their coats receive an unexpected soaking. At 1000 feet above sea-level and rising, we are just that little bit closer to heaven!
• In wintertime, make the acquaintance of our cows and their gentleman friends at closer quarters. Cosseted under covered barns over the road from Orlege and the farmhouse, they munch away happily on home-grown silage (pickled grass) and supplements.
• Admire our hardy flock of 1000 or so ewes and rams (or “tups” as we call them in Scotland) which roam all-year-round over 700 hectares of hill. Wander our heather-clad hillsides, treading the criss-cross of paths created by our Blackfaces, Texel and Beltex breeds of sheep and wonder at their healthy life-style!
• Smile at the antics of new-born lambs gambolling in the fresh-green fields in the months of April and May, never far away from their mobile-milk-bar-mothers!
• All year round, watch John our shepherd at work gathering or rounding up his flocks, on foot or astride his rough-terrain bike, his specially trained collie dogs never far away.
• View seasonal activities like sheep-dipping, dosing, or wool-clipping up at the pens at Midcrosswood. Learn how it’s done and marvel at the speed with which a sheep can lose its woolly fleece.
• Watch the pleasure on young childrens’ faces as they gaze in awe at our tractors and machinery. For a non-arable farm Crosswoodhill is quite mechanised.
Or perhaps you are more interested in birds, flora and fauna?
• Pull on your boots and experience the serenity of our hill, the freshness of the air, that wonderful away-from-it-all feeling…
• Stride out to the far-away summit of Craigengar (1700 feet), perhaps lingering a while at the small waterfall en-route. Or venture even further afield on the public footpaths which traverse the Pentland Hills (but if so, bring a compass with you; we can provide the map.)
• Picnic beside the burn (Scottish for stream)
• Feel the silence. But don’t be surprised to be startled by the sound of curlews, migrating geese overhead, or even the kowk-kok-kok-ok sudden sound of a grouse disturbed by your footfall in the heather. Buzzards and kestrels are regular visitors to our moors.
• Approach our SSSI s with care (our SSSI's are Sites of Special Scientific Interest designated by Scottish Natural Heritage to protect and preserve the unique varieties of sphagnum mosses and bog flowers to be found side by side in our often squelchy bogs. Glorious colours and patterns)
• Newly gripped by a fascination for peat bogs? Explore one closer to the house where we have extracted fuel peat in the past. Jump and feel the earth move beneath you. And perhaps, later that evening, enjoy the wonderful aroma of a peat fire.
• Hares, rabbits, foxes, badgers, squirrels – all can claim our EH55 8LP postcode. So, too, can the unwelcome midge at certain times of year.
• Looking for something less energetic than a hill walk? Take a gentle evening stroll through our roadside fields. Maybe Mr. Mole will be covertly at work underground. More likely, you’ll encounter some of the over-ground friendly work-force: farming partners Hew and G (your hosts) or shepherd John.
For those preferring more formal footpaths, you can explore other, drier, parts of the Pentlands. There are some wonderful walks, though you will need to take the car to their starting points. Explore www.pentlandhills.org