Insights

INSIGHTS offers a selection of short features (below) which capture the human and natural history of this magnificent range of hills. Each provides a snapshot of the stories which bring a specific area to life, and will hopefully whet the appetite of readers to discover more by strapping on their boots and experiencing the Lammermuirs first hand.

 

Hopes Reservoir circuit

EVERYTHING is rooted in nature.

  In our busy urban lives it's often easy to overlook this essential truth. From the air we breathe to the water we drink - those two vital elements without which life would be impossible, are gifts of nature.

  For most people living in East Lothian or anywhere else in Scotland, that delicious clear stuff issuing from the kitchen taps is probably taken for granted. It barely gets a second's thought, but without the Lammermuir hills, where rolling moors and heather slopes gather rain and feed it into vast, deep reservoirs, local communties would not have the essential supplies that help keep them clean and alive, fed and watered.

  Hopes Reservoir sits in a stunning location at the north-western end of the Lammermuirs. Miss it at your peril. This is one of those memorable walks which, once discovered, is likely to embed itself in your imagination, and demand repeated visits.

Starting at East Hopes, our route through a charming wooded valley soon opens up onto the great, grassed dam. This immense structure, originally built in the 1930s - using rubble from the old Calton Jail in Edinburgh, helps support the phenomenal weight of the 40 acre reservoir.

  If you could take wing now and soar, like the buzzards you might see on this walk, you would be struck by its remarkable size and shape - like a giant butterfly, resting amongst the patchwork brown and yellow hills. These "wings" carry our walk along the curving shoreline path, offering kaleidoscopic perspectives that change constantly, throwing up new and surprising views at every turn.

  Depending on the time of year, grouse are a regular sight here. Water birds can be plentiful, too, and the birch woods which fringe the northern shore of the reservoir are often busy with songbirds.

Why not stop for a picnic above the pines at the picturesque western end of the reservoir. This is a perfect spot to glimpse some of the higher hills - and an ideal introduction to the beauty and grandeur of the Lammermuir hills.

Lammer Law from Longyester

IT'S all in the name.

  Lammer Law.

  Possibly the jewel in the crown of the Lammermuirs, this stunning summit tops a shapely hill many will recognise, whether passing along the A1 road east of Edinburgh, or from within East Lothian. It lends its name to the entire range, and tells a remarkable geological story - the ancient origins of the county, born around 400 million years ago when two continental plates collided to form what became Scotland and England.

  That violent impact created a range of mountains which time and weather sculpted to create curvaceous hills and deep river valleys. When people made their relatively late arrival on the scene, the Lammermuirs would have looked very similar to the landscape we see today.

  First mentioned over 1,000 years ago, as Lombormore, the name is thought to derive from the Old English lombor and lambre, meaning lambs, later evolving with the addition of the Scots word muir into Lammermuirs.

  This fits their agricultural purpose well, and our walk today takes us through prime sheep farming country, from the rich lands around Longyester to the summit of Lammer Law.

  Stepping out onto a gravelled track which follows the route of an old drove road heading south, we are tracing the footsteps of our ancestors whose livelihood depended on the transport of goods and livestock between towns and villages. This track from Longyester was a traditional route from the plains of East Lothian to communities living in the Lauder valley. And while you won't see anyone today carrying salted fish or driving livestock to market, there is no better way to understand this once vital trade than to walk the route and experience how traders would have felt crossing the vast open hills.

  Our journey today winds upwards on the north-eastern face of Lammer Law, more steeply now as we approach the road's highest point. Like many hills and mountains, Lammer Law does a good job of keeping that otherwise prominent summit well hidden during the climb. So keep a close eye out for fence heading off to the right (west) as the track begins to level off, then turn and follow it until the distinctive summit cairn comes into sight.

  Who knows whether our droving ancestors would have paused to take this short walk to the summit. Attitudes to mountains and landscape have changed enormously since the 18th and 19th centuries, but there is no denying - to our 21st century eyes at least, that the panorama which awaits is spectacular.

  Beyond the vast swathes of grouse moor, which almost vanish beneath your feet as the enormous view unfolds like a living map, East Lothian, Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth draw your gaze even further north, across Fife towards the Grampians, and over the Ochils to the outlying mountains of the Highlands.

  Following the Pentlands, strung out like misshapen jewels in a long irregular line to the west, the southern horizon soon leads you to the huge bulk of the Cheviot Hills, and the border with England. Here is the source of the great continental collision which gave birth to Lammermuirs - an event almost unimaginable in human terms.

Turning for home, the climber can only marvel at this vivid reminder of life's fleeting nature, a mere blink of the eye in such an ancient, timeless landscape.

 

 

 

Priestlaw Hill from Whiteadder

 

NOT MANY summits can rightfully be called climber's gold, but this outstanding hill in the heart of the Lammermuirs not only boasts one of the best viewpoints anywhere in the range, it also lays claim to being an unexpected source of one of our most precious metals.

  Priestlaw Hill, immediately south of Whiteadder Reservoir, proved so promising as a potential source of gold that the British Geological Survey was dispatched here in the 1990s, to prepare a report for the government.

  Experts panned the Killmade Burn, which drains the east flank of Priestlaw, and discovered gold in significant concentrations, here and elsewhere in the area. And while our prehistoric ancestors, living in their settlement immediately above the Burn, would have known nothing about this, they too appreciated the precious nature of this special place, with its fertile soils and sheltered location.

  Our walk today begins just beyond the eastern end of Whiteadder Reservoir. Vehicles can be parked in a lay-by at the picnic area beside the river, opposite the quaintly named Friars' Nose hillock - religious references abound here, on lands once farmed by the great monasteries of the Borders.

  Looking back on the Nose as we climb above the dam and join a good path on the north-east flank of Priestlaw, we can just make out the defensive ditches and ramparts that once protected the prehistoric fort which sat on its bulbous summit - an ideal location in this strategically important valley.

  Our ancient ancestors living here were amongst the first to clear native forests for livestock grazing and crops, and the monks who followed would have continued this practice. The mostly bare landscape we see across the Lammermuirs today is largely a consequence of the spread of sheep farming - the promontory at the far western end of the Reservoir, crowded with trees, shows just how successfully nature can enrich the land when it is protected from grazing animals.

  Our climb today would have been very different before the arrival of people. Any glimpses we might have had through the forest, possibly of birch and rowan, would have revealed only a distant river at the bottom of the valley. The vast expanse of Whiteadder is a relatively recently arrival - when it was built in the 1960s, the rising floodwaters submerged a farm and school.

Arriving at the summit, it's a good idea to walk the short distance north to a small cairn overlooking the drop to the Reservoir.  Here, the stunning natural basin formed by the hills around Whiteadder is revealed in all its glory.

  An ancient fort, the ecclesiastical legacy, a vanished school... stories laid bare in a breathtaking panorama, where our own more technological contributions - a sprawling windfarm on the north horizon, and a huge dam, may leave a different tale for future generations.

 

 

 

Harestone Hill from East Hopes

 

THE MAGICAL thrill of seeing the familiar from a dazzling new perspective is nowhere better enjoyed in East Lothian than from the summit of Harestone Hill, perhaps the greatest viewpoint anywhere in the range.

  Those towns and villages which seem so familiar up close are transformed into tiny huddled settlements amongst a vast patchwork quilt of colourful fields and dark splashes of forest, all sloping gently towards the cold blue of the North Sea.

  Harestone Hill is one of those climbs which constantly surprises. It is fairly short, but rather steep, and that rapid ascent ensures the landscape is constantly unfolding around you. The shelter of Hopes Water valley is quickly left behind as we turn uphill onto a good path, but make sure not to spend too much time with your back to the view - stop and turn round, because it's all happening behind you.

  First to surprise is the sudden appearance of Hopes Reservoir, off to your right. Splayed out in an enormous natural basin like a gigantic butterfly, its wings stretch out to gather all that delicious East Lothian water which eventually makes its way into homes across the county.

  When I first climbed here, a pair of buzzards was circling high overhead, watching carefully. Not thinking of a human lunch, I hoped, but eyeing this breathtaking landscape for a different sort of quarry - the mountain hare, perhaps, relatively plentiful here, and ready to spring out almost from under your feet before bolting off through the heather. Only in the last few weeks have they started to lose their white winter coats, gratefully, too, you would imagine, in the snow-free hills, with those aerial hunters ready to swoop.

  Mountain hares would have been only one food source for our prehistoric ancestors, here on aptly-named Harestone Hill. Four former settlements lie within a mile of this spot, all perched on defendable hillocks above the valley. Trees would have been plentiful then, and the forests would have been bountiful sources of nourishment. Wolf, bear, boar and deer are believed to have roamed Scotland's ancient woodlands, which were rich with birch, pine, rowan and oak, while felled clearings would have provided decent soil for livestock grazing and crops.

  Following our good path straight up then peeling off to the left (east) as the ground levels near the summit at Whitestone Cairn, it's hard to imagine this ancient landscape as we look across the bare heather moors all around us. Up on the plateau, this is a different sort of beauty - the legacy of thousands of years of human activity, which denuded the landscape of its natural diversity, culminating in more recent practices focused on grouse shooting, with sheep grazing in the lower reaches.

  Looking south, towards the Cheviots and England, it is impossible to miss the huge wind farm at nearby Fallago Ridge, and turning east, the even larger turbine installation at Crystal Rig - one of the largest in Scotland.

  In a single glance, this is a story stretching across thousands of years. Whether wind farms induce enthusiasm or despair, there is no denying their visual impact in such a wild and dramatic spot.

  Turning north, however, the turbines vanish. And the lie of the land and the Firth of Forth dotted with islands is a stunning vista that would be as familiar today as it was ten thousand years ago, to our ancient ancestors who first made their homes here.

  This was the future East Lothian - a timeless corner of Scotland, shimmering like a mirage from the eternal heights of Harestone Hill.

Killpallet to Whiteadder via Herring Road

HOWEVER you make your way along the single track road leading to the start of our walk today, you'll be struck by the overpowering sense of remoteness and grandeur in this vast heartland of the Lammermuirs.

  Between Gifford and Longformacus it becomes difficult to believe East Lothian's bustling towns are only a few miles away, as the rolling hills and deep valleys sweep you up with an almost Highland majesty.

  Deep into the range, and parking at Kilpallet, we're joining the remarkable Herring Road, the ancient footpath which linked Dunbar and Lauder in the 18th and 19th centuries, when fishwives carried enormous wicker creels of salted fish inland from the coast. This section is relatively flat, and on a good track, so while I've graded this as a moderate "B" walk, mainly because of its length to Whiteadder Reservoir and back, you could choose to shorten the route by turning back at any point, and have an easier time of it.

  What becomes immediately apparent in this remote spot is just how robust our ancestors must have been. At Kilpallet, the creel haulers would have already walked around 14 miles from Dunbar, and still be only half way to their destination. The river which follows the valley here, and its relatively sheltered location, might have made it a useful stopping off point.

  Some parts of the Herring Road display ancient V-shaped gouges, possibly from the repeated passage of heavily-laden carts, so it is possible that this route might have seen considerable traffic at certain times of the year - not quite the A1 or A68, but an 18th century equivalent, when the causes of road rage were likely to have been quite different, and maybe no less passionate.

  The Faseny Water, flowing downhill with us on our right, is fed by streams on the eastern flank of Meikle Says Law, the Lammermuirs' highest summit at 535m (1755ft), and grows considerably in size as we head north towards Whiteadder. Gradually the track veers away from the river, as the valley widens, and it is easy to see why this beautiful and useful spot made such an impact on the Borders monks - who predated the Herring Road fishwives, when they arrived here prospecting for good sheep farming land from the 12th century onwards. The importance they attached to this land can be seen in the remains of Penshiel Grange, the ruin which lies a few hundred metres below our track on the right, as we approach Whiteadder.

  This once-substantial vaulted mediaeval building was attached to Melrose Abbey, and dates to the 15th century; it may have included a chapel. And opposite this structure, on the left of our path, sits the Chapel Stone, part of a prehistoric stone circle - further confirmation that this special place has captured the human imagination for hundreds, probably thousands of years.

  Arriving now at Whiteadder Reservoir, it is worth dropping down below Penshiel Farm to take in the views from the water's edge - and maybe spare a thought for those laden, bent-backed fishwives, who never knew the Reservoir, or piped water supplies, and all the other luxuries we take for granted today, as they crossed this very spot all those centuries ago.

Watch Water Reservoir to Twin Law

THE MADNESS of war may be a long way from the peaceful heights of the Lammermuir hills, but a poignant story of two brothers who unwittingly killed each other on opposing sides in battle is the centrepiece of today's climb, to the remarkable Twin Law near Longformacus.

  We're in the southern Lammermuirs now, which have a different aspect and feel to the northern hills. Although part of the same geological fault line created when two continental plates collided 400 million years ago, there's a greater sense here of being inland, with the sea further off and the eye being drawn towards the spectacular vista of peaks between Scotland and England.

  That violent geological upheaval which birthed the Lammermuirs and nearby Cheviots echoes the later violence perpetrated by people across this long-contested border land. But you couldn't find a more peaceful start to our walk today than the serene waters of Watch Water Reservoir, with its attractive timber lodge used by anglers and bird watchers.

  It's worth keeping an eye out for ospreys and Canada geese here, as we head west on the Southern Upland Way into the heart of this beautiful region. The 212-mile Way is traditionally traversed from west to east, so bear in mind that any walkers you encounter could be nearing the end of an epic journey. I once stopped to chat with a walker I assumed was a summer day tripper taking a short stroll from a nearby car. His shorts, t-shirt and tiny backpack deceived me, however - he'd walked all the way from Portpatrick on the west coast, taking around two weeks and sleeping "rough" en route in a bivvy bag.

  The Lammermuirs have a habit of conjuring not just interesting people, but the most fascinating stories, too - none more so than our destination today.

  So powerful is the tale of Twin Law, with its twin brothers separated at birth, that it has even spawned its own ballad. The song, and story, supposedly recall these local siblings, who grew up on either side of the political divide, joining the army as young men and finally advancing towards each other in a battle between the Scots and the Saxons.

  Neither the twins nor the battle have been definitively identified - many conflicts were waged here between the 14th century and the union of crowns in 1603 - but that may be unimportant, as the idea of war and its consequences is perhaps the more powerful message, as the armies clashed, and the brothers drew swords. Who knows, as they set about each other amongst the carnage and bloodshed, if there was ever a moment of recognition, of sudden realisation, as they fought to kill, and finally lay dying, side by side. Who knows if that would have stopped them, if only they'd realised in time - if brotherly love would have overcome the orders of battle.

  As we approach the summit of our hill, this poignant question is perhaps the lasting legacy of the two tragic brothers. The twin cairns are magnificent, and being undated, remain mysterious; they command a glorious view across the borderland which ultimately claimed their short lives.

  But the old saying, that we never learn from history, is captured perfectly here. Tanks and artillery used the cairns for target practice during the Second World War, and that perhaps is an even bigger lesson. We can only imagine how local people who rebuilt the cairns after those hostilities were over must have felt about the desecration of the site, and the attitudes of an army which would probably have known full well their significance.

  Plenty for us to muse on, as we turn around and retrace our steps back towards our peaceful starting point, by the shores of Watch Water Reservoir.

 

 

 

Harestone Hill to Hopes Reservoir loop

 

 

A SPECTACULAR glaciated valley lies at the heart of our walk today, on a classic climb taking in the very best of the Lammermuirs across some of the most challenging hills in the range.

  As most of us have no experience of glaciers, it is almost impossible to imagine East Lothian buried under hundreds of feet of ice, its upper snow-laden surface whipped into frenzied blizzards by brutal winds, and little or no life, anywhere.

Yet this is the origin of the East Lothian we know today, its curvaceous hills, green valleys and fertile plains, sculpted by millennia of glacial action, the enormous weight of ice grinding down and shaping the landscape beneath, and distributing sediments far and wide.

  Human civilisation, a mere six thousand years old, pales in comparison beside the lifespan of these glaciers, which forced their way west to east across the landscape for most of the last two million years. This explains the generally east-west grain of the county's ridges and valleys, and why our north-south roads tend to rise and fall dramatically - perfectly illustrated on the journey to the start of our walk today, at East Hopes.

  We've already prepared for the start of this route in an earlier walk - the short but steep ascent to Harestone Hill, and now we've arrived on familiar territory, it's time stretch our legs and really get to know the high ground which forms the breathtaking central plateau of the Lammermuirs.

  Hard as it may be to imagine now, those flat rolling plains spreading as far as the southern horizon wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the powerful erosive action of the glaciers. Geological evidence suggests our easy stroll around this high plateau would have been impossible millions of years ago, when steep mountains rather than rounded hills dominated the landscape. These familiar heather-clad grouse moors are easy on the eye and legs, and afford spacious views.

  As we follow the broad curving track away from the summit of Harestone Hill, and head south-west towards Peat Law, with steep drops to our right, there is no better place anywhere in the Lammermuirs to appreciate the full sweep of East Lothian, spread almost in its entirety below us.

  Navigation here is simple, as we stay on this good track, curving west then north-west onto Peat Law, before making a spectacular descent north towards Hopes valley. Opening up before us now is one of the most memorable sights in East Lothian - a huge, fertile expanse of patchwork fields with Traprain Law, North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock clearly visible against the backdrop of the North Sea; these astounding landmarks, of volcanic origin, were left standing proud after glaciers scraped away the softer rocks around them.

  (Take care during this descent, as the views are distracting, and loose stones on the steep track can cause slips.)

  Nearing the bottom of the hill, we're looking out for a small paved drainage conduit (no longer in use and empty of water), which makes a convenient path left (south-west) into the heart of this superb glaciated valley, where we can marvel at the work of the inspired engineers who dammed the head of the valley to create Hopes Reservoir.

  Their conduit drops us nicely onto another track near the head of the dam, a perfect spot to begin our clockwise walk around this butterfly-shaped stretch of water.

  Now we can enjoy this easy path with its grand views back onto the hills we've just climbed - the perfect spot, perhaps, to remind ourselves that none of what we see would exist as we know it without those millions of years of glacial action, which shaped our landscape and helped make life in this part of Scotland what it is today.

Stoneypath to Clints Dod

THE GHOSTS of people who once inhabited the East Lothian landscape can still be a powerful presence today, and none more so than John Muir, who may once have been a "well-kent face" on the route of today's walk at the eastern end of the Lammermuirs.

  Muir, the founding father of what is now called the conservation movement, grew up in nearby Dunbar, and discovered his love of nature in long rambling walks as a youngster. This end of the Lammermuir range is gentler, and closer to the rich farmland which characterises the county, than most of the walks we've enjoyed so far, and makes the ideal location for us to appreciate the enormous diversity of 21st century land use - and maybe wonder what John Muir would have made of it all, with our radically altered attitudes and evolving relationship with land and nature.

  When Muir was walking here in the mid 19th century - we might imagine him standing at the start of our route just above Stoneypath, looking back over East Lothian towards the sea, the idea that Scotland, the "Land of the Scots", might belong to the people of Scotland, would have been an almost inconceivable concept.

  At that time, a tight-knit band of powerful landowners was exerting increasingly dictatorial control over Scotland's countryside and wild places, treating the landscape as exclusive personal property and often taking a brutal approach towards anyone straying from a limited network of often disputed rights of way.

  Muir would have been the first to understand the idea that no-one can own open land and nature in the same way they might own a house, or boat, or bank account. Land is what defines us - as a people, as a nation; it reflects who we are and how we see ourselves.

  Heading south up our track towards the high moors on Dunbar Common, that sense of a shared heritage would have been hard to ignore. We're walking an historical route used for centuries by local communities to transport livestock and goods - much of it sourced from the land.

  That inescapable link to landscape, its potential utilitarian value for all of us, as well as its beauty, would have been obvious to Muir, as would the stories it preserves and future it promises; a truth that renders the selfish motives of individuals who would appropriate it all for their own ends as just that - contrary to natural justice, and against the common good.

  Ironically, while the powerful landowners who controlled most of the land for their own benefit during Muir's era were British and at least connected to a sense of place, the modern era has seen huge tracts of Scotland's landscape sold off to overseas millionaires, offshore companies and trusts.

  Muir no doubt would have been appalled at the idea that Scotland's emotive landscape could be prey to the speculative greed of faceless global investors. That is the one great contradiction in the place we know as "Scotland" today - the awe and reverence we feel towards our lochs, glens, hills and mountains are in many ways a mirage, as the reality of ownership, of attitude and intent, often mock any sense that this land is "ours" and reflects our history, aspirations and national character.

  As Stoneypath falls far below us now, and we rise on path towards the summit of Clints Dod and the vast open spaces of the Lammermuir plateau, there is possibly one piece of good news we can give the ghost of John Muir.

  Since devolution, Scotland has been making valiant attempts to liberalise this draconian and arcane state of affairs. The Scottish Parliament has passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, guaranteeing rights of responsible access for all of us, and establishing the successful community right to buy scheme. The Act is also advancing plans to make landownership more transparent, and prevent individuals who want to hide their identities from doing so.

  It might even be that John Muir would crack a smile at this. The Scots always were a canny bunch, and surveying the expansive scene from the summit of Clints Dod, he might well conclude that the future for Scotland's wild places could be healthier than it's been for centuries.

East Hopes to Meikle Says Law

THERE'S ALWAYS a curious satisfaction in reaching the highest point in any hill or mountain range, capturing perhaps that innate human instinct for experience, for knowledge and completeness.

  At 1,755ft, the Lammermuirs' Meikle Says Law is certainly not Everest, but as with climbs to highest points everywhere, setting foot on the summit can bring a sense of reward and the feeling that, for now at least, everything you know is elsewhere - down below, and the understanding that elevation, and elation, are often one and the same.

  We're familiar from earlier walks with our departure point at East Hopes, and the climb up to Harestone Hill, which forms the first part of our route today; this steep ascent is ideal for limbering up and enjoying the spectacular unfolding panorama across East Lothian.

  Pausing at Whitestone Cairn on the Harestone summit and turning south-east towards Meikle Says Law, the enormous scale of the Lammermuir plateau is striking. This would not be a good place to get lost, and given the chameleon nature of Scottish weather, it is wise to take a compass bearing on the Meikle summit before setting off again - particularly as there is no path from here on, and the summit trig point will quickly disappear from sight as we move across the undulating moor.

  The windblasted nature of this spot, its almost complete lack of human habitation and roads, as well as its proximity to East Lothian and Edinburgh, have contributed to the development of two enormous windfarms, which are obvious now as we continue from Whitestone Cairn. Off to our left (east) is Crystal Rig, one of the largest in Scotland, while directly in front of sits Fallago Ridge.

  Understandably, opinions on these developments are divided. Although most of us now accept the science behind global warming, and the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the vast scale of these windfarms has reduced some to a state of near fury.

  Local pressure groups say wind energy costs can be several times higher than conventional power. They argue that wind turbines degrade the landscape for local people and tourists alike, that they devalue property, harm wildlife and cannot be depended on, because the wind, sometimes, simply stops. For these reasons, they say, we will always need to generate power from nuclear or fossil fuel sources.

  Others concerned for the environment, the Scottish Government included, beg to differ. For some, the need to tackle climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel - aside from any debate over nuclear power - is of critical importance.

  The Government north of the border has committed to achieving 100 per cent of gross annual electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020. That figure is currently around 60 per cent, with about three-fifths generated by windfarms.

  As with so many polarised arguments, the solution can often lie between the two extremes. With wind turbines, proportionate developments, sensitively sited, can be good place to start.

  But walking towards Meikle Says Law and glancing around us, it would be hard to argue that the huge number of wind turbines and their layout here is in any way sympathetic to landscape. Crystal Rig, particularly, has virtually "blitzed" Dunbar Common, most likely because this is a relatively remote and rarely-visited spot.

  Contrast this to the busy and mostly turbine-free Pentland hills, where this scale of development would be unthinkable, largely because of the more populous pester power of NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) living in and around Edinburgh.

  Crossing the shallow valley below Meikle Says Law and arriving at its summit, we can see first hand how political expediency impacts on the environment. Whether we are for or against such large-scale windfarms, it is unlikely anyone would dispute the conclusion that the Lammermuirs took a hit to preserve wild spaces elsewhere.

  It is still a magnificent spot, though. And some people even see a peculiar beauty in these turbines. In certain weather, they can seem almost alive. With dwindling oil reserves, power stations closing and climate change advancing, it may be a "beauty" we'll have to get used to.

Killpallet to Mutiny Stones

DEEP in the heart of the Lammermuir hills lies one of the greatest mysteries of this remarkable range, an enigma that still defies explanation despite all efforts to understand its purpose.

  The Mutiny Stones, a vast Stone Age structure weighing thousands of tons, was constructed entirely by hand in one of the massif's most remote spots, about as far from the gentle lands of the coastal plains as it was possible to go.

  We are lucky to have a road which passes fairly close to this enormous elongated cairn, but at the time of its construction, its creators were living in an environment almost unimaginable to us today.

  Setting out from our parking spot at Killpallet and heading south-west along a good track, we are already around 12 miles from the richer and more accessible lands along the coastal strip. To reach this point, our ancestors who lived here during Neolithic times would also have been negotiating extensive forests, as the land then still retained its natural woods.

  The barren hills today, reduced to windswept moors by centuries of tree felling and the introduction of grazing livestock and grouse shooting, would probably be almost unrecognisable to our Stone Age ancestors, who were amongst the first to colonise this landscape. As we crest the gentle slope above Killpallet and head south-west on the plateau, it is difficult to imagine anyone living here, surviving entirely off the land with only the most rudimentary tools and knowledge.

  But survive they did - and thrive, if the incredible sight of the Mutiny Stones ahead of us is anything to go by. Unparalleled anywhere else in this region of Scotland, this enormous cairn stretches north-east to south-west for around 270 feet. The stones are piled up to 8 feet high, although records show it once stood at least 18 feet tall.

  The physical effort required to construct this cairn is hard to comprehend in our era of mechanised diggers, lifters and trucks. All these stones would have been transported manually, and given our location at around 1,260 feet and the huge number of rocks involved, it is likely that many of them were moved some distance.

  They would have been rolled, carried or dragged, possibly with the help of animals, levers and ramps. Given the amount of time and energy required, at a time when simply surviving would have been a challenge, it is clear that this structure must have been profoundly important to its builders.

  It may have been constructed relatively rapidly, or perhaps expanded over a longer period of time, possibly even generations; the Stones are believed to date from some time in the third millennium BC.

  Adding even greater intrigue to the Mutiny Stones is the lack of evidence for burials here. Monuments of this nature in Scotland often contain human remains, but two detailed investigations, carried out in 1871 and 1924, while uncovering architectural features including a wall face and upright stones, found nothing to suggest a grave site. Much of the monument is still unexplored, however, and it is possible that evidence for burials exists but has simply not been located.

  What is obvious, though, walking around this impressive structure with its open position and views across the surrounding hills, is its commanding presence, even today in its reduced state. Despite being robbed in the modern era for the building of walls and sheep enclosures, the Mutiny Stones clearly served a crucial function, possibly social as well as religious.

  Long cairns typically show a wider eastern end and tapering, narrower west end, which is true for this site too, suggesting the importance of the rising sun in Neolithic worship. Sites like the Mutiny Stones may also have been used for celebrations and festivals, bringing people together from across the wider landscape; and there has been speculation that political negotiations would have been held here, disputes settled and alliances forged.

  But it is no surprise, given the lack of hard evidence for any of this, here on Byrecleugh Ridge, that human imagination has has a field day. Explanations for the origin of the Stones range from the vaguely scientific - that they mark a Neolithic return of Halley's Comet, to the wildly mythical - previously known as the 'Mittenfu' Stanes", the Devil is supposed to have accidentally dropped a "mitten-full" of stones while flying across the hills from Dunbar to Kelso, where he was building a dam across the Tweed.

  Later corrupted to The Meeting Stones, then Mutiny Stones, the current name appears to be fabricated, with no known link to any actual event.

  Turning for home, however, one thing is undeniable. This is a magical spot, and while we may never know why our ancestors chose this location, our continuing fascination with this enigmatic monument is a testament to their ingenuity, and the power of an idea so successfully realised.

Lammer Law from Kidlaw

EAST LOTHIAN'S landscape offers an embarrassment of riches, and its reputation as the "Garden of Scotland" is all around us today as we set off from Kidlaw en route to a spectacular viewpoint on Lammer Law.

  Although perhaps the least trodden of the routes to Lammer Law summit, this walk is arguably the most rewarding, and we begin amongst some of the best agricultural land anywhere in the country.

  Anyone with a curiosity about land forms will be intrigued when they see the former lime kiln, near our parking spot by Kidlaw Farm. These extinct workings, set amongst unusually shaped hillocks, took advantage of the copious supplies of lime formed over 300 million years ago and dumped here by glaciers.

  Known to geologists as a "bedrock raft", this enormous quantity of lime - the sedimentary remains of billions of skeletal fragments from marine animals such as coral and molluscs - is the largest known glacial deposit of its kind in Scotland, and the fertiliser it produced was used to enrich farmland, improving soils, reducing acidity and adding nutrients.

Climbing south behind the farm and gaining height on a good track, the bountiful nature of the land here becomes obvious. Lush pasture, golden wheat, plentiful livestock and occasional deeper green swathes of commercial forestry are unfolding all around us.

  This has long been a favoured area for human occupation, testified to by ancient remains on top of a small hillock on our left - a former prehistoric fort and settlement, and sited above a convenient burn draining off the foothills of Lammer Law.

  Our own 21st century water demands are somewhat greater, and again the Lammermuir hills have come to our aid - following this burn past a small dam then taking the right hand track at a fork, we soon arrive at the pristine gem of Lammerloch, a small and serene lozenge-shaped reservoir.

  This beautiful loch, oriented east-west, often enjoys remarkable conditions in the early and later part of the day (see photo), when light falls along the reservoir, and makes a perfect stop-over before we rejoin the track at its western end and head south onto steeper ground between Priest Law and Lute Law.

  We're in sheep country now, sandwiched between the richer arable land lower down and grouse moors above us, and unusually for the Lammermuirs, as we crest the high point on the track, we're greeted by the welcome sight of a forest - a conifer plantation below Widow's Knowe, draped around the slopes of Heathery Rig.

  This wood is one of the highest anywhere in the range, at around 420m (1377ft), and while the species planted here are different from our indigenous trees, they recall how the Lammermuirs may once have looked, and could still look, if sheep grazing and grouse shooting did not dominate land use practices.

  Trees are such a rare sight across most of the Lammermuirs that their sudden presence reminds us not just of their modern day commercial, social and environmental value, but their deeper intrinsic meaning for our ancestors, who lived, worked and played amongst forests for thousands of years.

  Our relatively barren hills today reflect a disconnection with that essential part of the human story. Here in the Lammermuirs, and across Scotland, tree cover is amongst the lowest of any country in Europe.

  Approaching the forest and bearing left (east) into Cowie Burn valley, dramatic views across the plain towards the Pentlands open up behind us. We're aiming for the steep gash at the head of the valley, known as Red Scaur, and following the burn uphill with the trees soughing in the wind and their scent filling the air, it's hard not to be charmed by this magical spot.

  Leaving the woods behind as we rise through the steepest part of Red Scaur, and breaching the headwater of the burn, we're rising onto the grouse moor now. Our destination, Lammer Law, is still keeping itself hidden - despite its otherwise prominent summit, the surrounding hills have crowded us closely, obscuring our goal.

  But as the slope eases off and we follow a line east north-east, the cairn soon comes into sight, and it's a short hop to one of the greatest viewpoints anywhere in East Lothian. This is the perfect place to discover why the county has earned that moniker as the "Garden of Scotland", the plains lying like an enormous quilted blanket in hues of green and gold against the more muted tones of the hills.

  Heading north north-west from the summit now and dropping into Easter Burn valley, game birds are exploding out of the heather all around us - the grouse shooting season is now in full swing, and although it's rare to see guns on the hill, it's always wise to keep a careful watch and give a wide berth if necessary.

  This is a magnificent descent, offering spectacular views north across the "Garden" and the Forth to Fife, and as we drop down and meet the stream between Middle Moor and Harehope Hill, a picturesque valley delivers us neatly at the eastern end of Lammerloch Reservoir.

  For those keen to see more of our prehistoric heritage, it's worth making a short diversion east onto the prominent hillock on our right, Witches' Knowe, where the remains of ramparts and ditches which once defended an ancient fort can still be seen today.

  We can then enjoy a leisurely stroll along the northern bank of the reservoir to its western end, and rejoin the track we used for our ascent, contemplating our magnificent "Garden of Scotland" as we descend back into those lush green and gold fields, with their gentle embrace.

Whiteadder Reservoir loop

THIS CIRCULAR route on the expansive hills around Whiteadder Reservoir offers some of the best walking anywhere in the range.

  We've parked close by the banks of the reservoir, at its western end, and heading north on a good track into the valley of the Whiteadder Water, the scintillating combination of forest and the narrow limb of the loch combine to create a secluded haven, which we must leave all too soon when we reach a stream tumbling off Summer Hill to our right.

  It may be a surprise when we turn here, at Hall Burn, and see the remains of a ruined castle ahead. But the reliable supply of running water, and sheltered location, give some idea why this would have been considered a favoured spot. And while Gamelshiel Castle doesn't appear to enjoy any natural defences, sitting near the base of the valley, the remaining walls give a good impression of this formidable 16th century tower house.

  Resembling two giant rotten teeth, the walls hint at the brutal realities of life four hundred years ago. Over four feet thick - probably built with defence in mind, they sit on a base around 23 feet across. Linked to the Forrest and Homes families who held land here in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, the original height and appearance of the tower is unknown, beyond some evidence of a vaulted cellar.

  Folklore suggests that a female resident of the Castle became one of the last people in Scotland to be killed by wolf. Attacked during an evening walk, her remains are reputed to have been buried in the courtyard.

  It is impossible to know how we might have been received here, if we'd called on the occupants all those years ago. But there is little doubt they would have been intrigued to join us on our walk today, given how much has changed over the last four centuries.

  The lands around Gamelshiel, and across East Lothian - the landscape itself, the villages and towns - have been transformed almost beyond recognition, and climbing north-east now towards the summit of Spartleton hill, perhaps the biggest surprise would have been vast Whiteadder Reservoir below us, created in the late 1960s to cope with the demands of a surging population. This fine summit viewpoint also reveals the edge of the enormous Crystal Rig windfarm - one of the largest in Scotland.

  On a clear day, the view is breathtaking, and heading east south-east along an easy and relatively flat ridge towards the northern outlier of Bothwell Hill, spacious views south and east into the Scottish Borders reveal more evidence of our transformed landscape. We can see tightly-packed conifer plantations - unheard of in Scotland before the 1800s, and lush green fields associated with modern, industrial-scale farming, which would probably have amazed the 16th and 17th century inhabitants of Gamelshiel Castle.

  Trending south-east to reach the summit of Bothwell Hill, we can enjoy the last of this airy panorama before plunging rapidly back into the sheltered confines of Whiteadder Water valley, east of the reservoir.

  Heading upstream now towards the dam and enjoying a short walk alongside the river, we're catching glimpses even further back in time, as the hillock to our left is the site of a former prehistoric settlement. For those who wish to make a small diversion, the original ditches and ramparts are still visible.

  Now called Friar's Nose, the name of this small hill recalls the powerful Border abbeys and early Christian monks who expanded their power base here through the acquisition of farming rights.

  That they "conquered" this area culturally and spiritually is beyond doubt - as we climb south-west above the reservoir and reach the summit of Priestlaw Hill, we're looking west towards the grange they established near Penshiel, the remains of which can still be seen today.

  It's a remarkable story. Christian monks superseding a prehistoric way of life which had survived for millennia, only to see their own dominance destroyed by the Reformation and the rise of powerful landed families, whose ghosts live on in the remains of Gamelshiel Castle.

  Much of Scotland may still be in the hands of rich and powerful families, and individuals, often living elsewhere now. But dropping back down to Whiteadder and completing our circuit of these marvellous hills with their revealing heritage, we can see truth in the adage, that the only thing which never changes, is change itself.

East Hopes to Lammer Law

WE'RE RETURING to where these Insights began, the beautiful Hopes valley, for a cracking day out taking in the best of the Lammermuirs and arriving at the magical viewpoint of Lammer Law.

  It's a stunning autumn day in Hopes valley, with the hills slowly acquiring that golden mantle as the ferns die back, and plant growth slows.

  Experiencing the passage of the seasons is one of the great rewards for those who venture into the Scottish hills, where the ameliorating influences of town and city are stripped away, mercilessly sometimes. Nature in the raw also has a habit of throwing off the mantle of pretence, those habits often so necessary for survival in our hierarchical human society.

  It's a double benefit, to be reminded that however hard we try, we can never overcome nature completely, and climbing together, to realise that people, whatever their background, can always find much in common.

  Across Scotland, and here in the Lammermuirs, this essential truth works wonders, and I'm reminded of a friend who, walking on a high track in the Balmoral estate some years ago with his dog, stepped aside to allow a 4x4 to pass.

  The vehicle drew to a halt, the window wound down, and a long conversation ensued. The dog joined in too, in its own way, standing up on its back legs and resting its muddy paws on the door. Speaking to my friend later, we both figured it unlikely there was any other way he could have spoken so intimately with a member of the Royal family.

  Hills have that sort of effect on you. Here, exiting the leafy slopes of Hopes Reservoir for the sheltered valley west along Sting Bank, meeting a prince or princess may not be too likely, but other equally memorable experiences await. One of the great "hidden" valleys in the Lammermuirs, this charming defile follows a meandering burn beneath the looming bulk of Lammer Law, and most days you will have this remote spot entirely to yourself.

  In a few hundred metres, before the burn begins to trend left (south-west), it's a good idea to head uphill on the right, for a rather steep ascent, as this offers a better option than continuing to follow the valley floor. Height is gained quickly here, and the views east, back towards Hopes, are spectacular.

  Gaining the ridge and continuing west, we soon intersect with a major gravelled track. This route, from Longyester near Gifford to Carfraemill, follows the line of a former drove road between East Lothian and Lauder. We're going to turn left here, and take the track south south-west, crossing a gate then turning right (west) along the often boggy line of a fence towards the hidden summit of Lammer Law.

  Arguably the most famous and prominent summit anywhere in the range, the huge pile of stones now appearing marks an outstanding viewpoint. Today, the cairn also marks the culmination of a walk which captures everything unique and magical about the Lammermuirs.

  We've journeyed not only across the East Lothian landscape, but through time as well. Hills and mountains are perhaps the best way to leave the busy and often superficial distractions of 21st century life behind, and connect with a deeper perspective.

  We've seen how the lives of our prehistoric ancestors first shaped the land, creating magnificent forts and stone cairns, the remains of which still survive today, thousands of years later. They would have surveyed a world almost unrecognisable to us, where nature held sway and the relationship between people and land dominated daily life.

  That their pagan beliefs were eventually displaced by the arrival of Roman Christianity, evidence for which we have also seen across the Lammermuirs, in hill names and ruined buildings, begins to hint at a fascinating pattern.

  With the church itself ultimately fractured by the Reformation, and then challenged by the rise of reason during the Enlightenment - culminating in today's largely secular science-based culture, the Lammermuirs reflect this too in their advanced farming, huge reservoirs and wind farms.

  I hope you've enjoyed these Insights. They're all there to see in the beautiful Lammermuir hills, which will go on with us, and without us. This vast natural canvas is the painting on which our evolving human story has been etched, and will continue to be etched.

  The future - all our futures, await.

  In the centuries to come, the Lammermuirs will tell our story too.

(Please note, these features were first published in the "East Lothian Courier" newspaper, and are protected by copyright, (c) David Gray 2017.)

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