Scottish walks: Black Mount

Black Mount. Picture: Robin Howie
Black Mount. Picture: Robin Howie
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The Pentland Hills range runs south-west from Edinburgh before fading away past Dunsyre (the start of the 20-mile Pentland Way) and so to the Clyde valley.

The Medwin Water, a subsidiary of the Clyde, flows between these lowly Pentlands and the detached and more impressive 1,692ft/516m Black Mount. Whilst Black Mount’s summit trig point indicates its importance in Ordnance Survey affairs, in my opinion the hill is more notable for being on the Clyde/Tweed watershed.

The hill extends for over three miles above 300m and at the northern end is an almost separate bump, 1444ft/440m White Hill. Black Mount is covered in dark heather, the northern bump in tussocky grass, and it is those contrasting colours which presumably have given rise to the names of the hills. Nevertheless, everything was white on our day.

Black Mount can be approached from Dunsyre, though there is no public transport, whereas a start from Dolphinton can take advantage of the frequent Stagecoach bus service (phone Traveline 0871 200 2233) on the A702. However, despite the lack of public transport, Martin and the Mountain Hare had settled on a start from the village of Walston, west of the hill. I am indebted to them for the following anti-clockwise circuit, extended post-hill by taking a low-level return via Dunsyre and part of a dismantled railway.

Map OS map 72, Upper Clyde Valley

Distance 7½ miles

Height 300m

Terrain Hillside, minor road and railway track bed

Start point Walston, map ref 059455

Time 3 to 4 hours

Nearest towns West Linton and Biggar

Refreshment spot The Big Red Barn, South Melbourne Farm, Elsrickle

Park at the verge side adjacent to the children’s play area at the west end of Walston then walk back to the signposted public path to Elsrickle (Carnwath Road), 1¼ miles. It is a steady climb southwards to the 347m mapped spot height at the SW end of the two-mile undulating summit ridge. By now in thin snow cover, ascending north-eastwards, we were soon into thick mist all the way to the summit. The deepening snow gave a satisfying mountain ascent feel to the day, yet navigation was eased by following a helpful fence line.

Alas, the sad crumbling summit trig point has seen better days. The hill is classified as a Marilyn (hills of any height with a drop of at least 150m all round) and that detachment means that the summit usually gives good views to all points of the compass. However, on our visit we were bereft of such views and even the close-by White Hill was lost to sight.

Traversing deep snow, windblown from the lower slopes, we continued north-eastwards on the plateau before descending steeply to the side of the wooded area next to the rising slopes of White Hill. It was so white in the snow and mist we decided to leave White Hill for another day, and instead turned onto the track leading northwards towards Roberton Mains. However, our destination was Dunsyre so we cut the corner over to Hillside where we found an unmapped track to the Walston road.

A quick right and left on the road leads to Dunsyre and the site of the once bridge that carried the Carstairs to Dolphinton railway. Due to insufficient traffic, the line closed in 1933, well before the time of the Beeching cuts.

Just before the dismantled railway bridge, a small sheep track gives access onto the railway embankment. The track bed traverses the edge of bleak moorland with scarcely a mapped contour indicating the flatness of the area; an area where the meandering South Medwin then flows in an almost straight line drained ditch. The moorland, however, is a grand setting from where to admire Black Mount which, annoyingly for us, threatened to shed its white cloud.

With a few minor fence and gate crossings, follow the track bed to its junction with a minor road connecting Westhall to Walston. Head south for a stroll back to the car.