Strathblane to Lennoxtown

Kat brings journalist Dan Vevers, of the Daily Record, along on her latest Green Belt walk which takes them past a mysterious rock formation with carved faces, a cave behind a waterfall and the derelict Lennox Castle.

This walk was the second to last of my Green Belt walks and it was great that Dan, was able to join me, to report on my Green Belt walk and to experience it first hand. This was not the most direct route, but took in a few places I wanted to link up in a walk, but I didn’t know what state the paths would be in ahead. Dan, for his part, was up for the challenge.

“I hope we have plenty of barbed wire fences and bogs”, he said.

“I’ll see what I can do” I said, delighted to find a walking companion after my own heart.

The walk didn’t disappoint. Although we started out along the footpaths of the lovely Loch Ardinning Nature Reserve, owned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, we parted ways with the path at a point I had always looked at and wondered what happened through the fence. It was evident that people, or animals, used the route over a small ruined drystone wall and into a wood.

Our objective the other side of the wood and over the muir was the Auld Wives Lifts, a place I had long heard of, but never visited. A series of boggy tracks through the Sitka plantation took us, fortuitously in the right direction and, to my great surprise, every deer fence we encountered had a stile. As we came over the top of the Muir we saw three huge boulders, one balanced on the top of the other two, in the centre of a natural amphitheater of low cliffs.

The story goes that three old women were arguing about who was the strongest and so their hoisted these boulders into their aprons and carried them up to the Blairskaith Muir. I presume the one who managed to get her boulder (which is also the biggest) up on top of the other two won the contest.

I was delighted when I heard this story, finding a story where women are at the centre of a show of strength and not a giant (usually male) feels rather wonderful.

The incredible rock formation, Auld Wives Lifts, on Blairkaith Muir

The stones, though, have been a mystery for centuries. It’s no surprise to me that the assumption would be that humans, whether superhuman or not, created the Auld Wives Lifts. The stones being are in such a dramatic setting, in the middle of the amphitheater and with level bog all around, so it’s hard to imagine that it could be natural. However the current thinking is that these are natural deposits, erratic boulders left by the retreating glaciers of the ice age. The carved faces, however, are definitely the work of humans. Around the edge of the boulder on the top are carved five faces (we only managed to find three) which remain a mystery. They are thought to be perhaps Celtic, perhaps Pictish.

The rocks were only a 10 minute walk from a waterfall I’d visited a few times and hoped to be able to link with this walk. Blairskaith Linn has a cave behind the falls, the result of the quarrying of a seam of Carboniferous limestone. The quarrymen left pillars to hold the roof up so you can now walk about 20- meters back into the cave behind the waterfall.

After tat the walk followed established footpaths through Lennoxd Forrest to visit Lover’s Leap and the former asylum of Lennox Castle, to end in Lennoxtown.

One of the faces at the Auld Wives Lifts, thought to be Celtic or Pictish

Dan wrote his walk up as an article in the Daily record which was published on 28 April and which is reproduced below.

Mission to find hidden country pathways through Scotland’s industrial heartlands

Reporter Dan Vevers took a weekday morning out to join Kat Jones on one of her epic walks.

Meet Kat Jones – the woman on a mission to flag up the hidden country pathways snaking their way through Scotland’s industrial heartlands.

I took a weekday morning out to join Kat on one of her epic walks, which took us from Loch Ardinning near Strathblane to Lennoxtown, in Dunbartonshire, and featured the iconic Campsie Fells as a backdrop. This is one of 25 hikes Kat has identified around Glasgow – all within striking distance of the city’s housing estates and surrounding towns.

Some regenerating sitka spruce on the trail

She’s covered a huge 125-mile stretch, spanning all the linked green belts in the Greater Glasgow area and has covered areas including Dumbarton, Milngavie, Cumbernauld, Motherwell, Hamilton, East Kilbride, Newton Mearns, Bridge of Weir and more.

Kat’s voyage has seen her wading through wilderness and bogs, scaling deer fences and discovering unlikely hidden gems everywhere from Airdrie to Kilsyth to Port Glasgow. Green belts exist around Glasgow to ensure those in urban areas can access the countryside – and prevent cities sprawling into the rural environment.

And Kat has made it her mission to raise awareness of the beautiful trails that are close but often unknown to people living in busy urban streets. As we got our hike under way, Kat, 49, told me: “A lot of people don’t realise green belts exist – and also, there are green belts of a variety of different qualities.

Some of the lovely natural habitat and bogs we found within the sitka spruce plantation

“People often think of them as being around your well-off communities – Milngavie, Clarkston, Helensburgh – but I’ve also walked around Kilsyth, Airdrie, Coatbridge and towards Carfin and Wishaw. There are people living in ordinary towns and villages and bits of the city who are using the green belt on a daily basis for walking the dogs, taking the kids out and things.

“I’ve had some varied experiences. Sometimes I’m hacking through a wilderness of thistles around reclaimed coal mines and reclaimed landfills – a lot of those I found around Airdrie and Motherwell. The environment wasn’t great for walking, but I still found there were little paths that I could follow – and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Like many, I reconnected to walking in nature during the pandemic and that’s a trend Kat has seen too. She said: “It was really transformational for a lot of people – including myself – just every day having that walk, with it being quite a stressful time.

“After lockdown, people really wanted to get outdoors. They’d enjoyed their local walks but they started going out mainly to the beauty spots – Conic Hill, Glen Coe, Glen Etive – because they didn’t have information on where else to go.

“And who wouldn’t want to go to all these places that are on Instagram? They are beautiful – but on your doorstep, a little walk away, there are these amazing wild places.”

I’m an amateur hiker at best and didn’t know what to expect from this walk – but neither did Kat. That’s all part of the game. Things started well. From Loch Ardinning, we made it into some woodland. It was a lovely sunny day, and as a trained biologist and ornithologist, Kat marvelled at the nature around us, from giant Scots pine trees to the singing of grasshopper warblers.

Climbing the wall from the woodland onto the muir on the way to the Auld Wives Lifts

But then the paths stopped behaving. Navigating a stretch through some spruce trees, it suddenly became really boggy. When I say boggy, I’m talking ‘goodbye world, the ground wants to eat me’ sort of boggy.

But Kat ploughed on fearlessly, so I stayed cool and followed. She had wisely brought wellies. I had walking boots on, but foolishly, also jeans. At one point, my leg plunged into swampland up to my lower thigh, making me regret my sartorial choices.

Other obstacles included a 200-metre stretch of felled trees, which we used to do precarious tightrope-walks over the bogland, and navigating a field of peat. But it was all worth it for a couple of amazing discoveries, including the Auld Wives Lifts, an incredible prehistoric rock formation with faces carved into them, and a stunning waterfall with a cave at Blairskath Linn near Torrance.

Kat, who is director of Action to Protect Rural Scotland, is doing the walks to raise money for the charity, and to find new paths and trails for local nature lovers. You can find out more by clicking here.

Blairskaith Linn and the cave behind

Kat walking towards Lover’s Leap in Lennox Forest. We tried to find out the story behind the name but didn’t manage to find reference to it online
The route of the walk wit respect to the green belt of East Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire
The derelict Lennox Castle is surrounded by anti-intruder fencing

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