62: West Lomond, Fife

Another masochistic soul traipses up the final slopes of West Lomond.

Date: 8th January 2023. First walk of the new year.

Weather conditions: Pretty bloody awful, despite a bright, sunny morning in Dundee, not 20 miles away as the crow flies. Once up at height, there were gales and sleet showers — snow at one point — and the summit was almost literally intolerable, the wind up there was nearly blowing everyone off their feet.

I thereby apologise for the damp splodges on many of the photos from today, but it was what it was.

West Lomond, seen from Allermuir, across Edinburgh (see commentary)

County Top bagged: West Lomond, which is crowned by a trig column, at grid reference NO197066, with an associated spot height of 1,713 feet/522m above sea level. This makes it the highest point in the county of Fife. This is the only historic mainland Scottish county that survived the 1974 Great Reorganisation intact, so West Lomond is both a historic and a modern Top.

It is the summit of the Lomond Hills, an extensive plateau that, apparently, has a base of sandstone and a cap of limestone: meaning this must all have been swimming in a shallow sea tens of millions of years ago. The topmost parts of the hills were then pushed through this plateau by volcanic activity. The shapely peak you see on some of the photos is its sibling, East Lomond, but while this is arguably a more attractive mountain, it is rather lower, at 1,424 feet/434m a.s.l.

By altitude West Lomond ranks 49th of the historic Tops, and (coincidentally) also 49th of the modern ones. On the full list it ranks 66th.

East Lomond.

[ << (61) The Ashes, Lincolnshire – Parts of Kesteven | (62½) Diana’s Peak – St Helena >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started and finished at the Bunnet Stane car park, which is at roughly NO185082. This is about 15 minutes’ walk from the village of Gateside. See the access notes below.

Pub at end: Nothing at the terminus and, it seems, nothing now in Gateside either: there is still a public house marked there on the 1:50,000 OS map but no evidence of this in reality. The nearest extant pub is the Railway Tavern at Strathmiglo, which is about 1½ miles away. I have no report to offer, though.

Clouds above the plateau.

Distance walked: Approximately 3.4 miles/5.5km on the day. I did have a longer walk planned, but it didn’t happen. The walk as completed took me two hours.

Total ascent: 1,280 feet/390m approximately. At around 367.5 feet/mile, this thereby snatches (from Glas Maol) the title of the second-steepest of all my CT walks so far, behind only Ben Lawers.

Difficulty: ★★★. Looking up at West Lomond from the starting point, it seems quite intimidating, but it’s actually an easier and shorter climb than it appears (and that is a rarity, believe me). It’s still steep, but all is on grass, and the paths are fairly clear, if a bit eroded in places.

Beginning the ascent.

Ease of access: ★★. Once you’ve made it all the way up to central Scotland, drivers will find this easy enough, though note there is only space for four cars at the Bunnet Stane ‘car park’ (just a small layby on a narrow lane) and if it is full, you will have to start walking from further away. This spot is not far off the M90 at Loch Leven, and it took me about half an hour to drive there from Dundee.

By public transport the walk is just about possible but to get to Gateside you need to catch one of the four buses a day that connect it with Glenrothes (and these do not run on Sundays). If you are dependent on public transport it might be worth starting from the town of Falkland, which would be a longer walk, but has better bus connections. (Ascending from there, you could take in East Lomond as well.)

The Bunnet Stane.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. West Lomond is a big grassy lump, not particularly attractive when underfoot, though it looks more impressive from afar. Its main scenic highlight, at least on the north side, is the Bunnet Stane, a weirdly eroded mushroom-shaped lump of sandstone on a rocky platform, which is worth seeing.

The views from the top are reputedly excellent, but I had no opportunity to enjoy them today. However, I have clearly seen, and photographed, West Lomond from the Pentlands south of Edinburgh (see the picture above) and from Garrel Hill, and both of these are at least 35 miles away. So on a good day, the panorama from the summit will be very extensive.

Coming up the final slope, with East Lomond behind.

The area: Fife is the peninsula that lies between the estuaries (or firths) of the Tay and Forth. It has proved remarkably durable in political terms — it began life as an 8th century Pictish kingdom and, as noted above, is pretty much the only historic county of Scotland to have been in continuous existence, although Shetland and Orkney do also have a case. It ranks third of all modern Scottish local authorities by population, after Glasgow and Edinburgh, but it doesn’t feel urbanised. Its beaches are probably its best feature, and its most famous town is St Andrews, known for its university (Prince William being a recent alumnus) and for being the spiritual home of golf.

Map: OS Explorer 370, Glenrothes North, Falkland and the Lomond Hills covers the walk. Though I did not need to consult it on the day, if planning a longer walk around the area it’d be worth packing.

I have extended this summary map to the south, to show the descent route I originally planned to use: south-south-west along the path past the Devil’s Burdens (whatever they are), then down via Glen Vale.

Route: You will have already acquired the impression that today’s weather could have been better. I wanted to complete the hike described on this page on the Walk Highlands web site, a walk of just under 6 miles. But past the summit this would have involved walking into the teeth of a gale that was so strong it would have been actively dangerous. The northern side of the Lomond Hills had a little more shelter from this wannabe hurricane (but only a little), so I ended up simply reversing my route of ascent.

On a nicer day, the route would probably be a decent yomp up and down, with good views: not a major undertaking, but worth doing. But I’d rather have explored more of the area. Maybe I’ll come back at some point, and try the longer climb up from Falkland.

West Lomond, from the starting point.

From the starting point, there will be absolutely no doubt where you are going. The path heads through fields, taking a dog-leg to the right at one point (don’t go through the gate). Then, after crossing a stile, the Bunnet Stane comes into view.

This is a superb formation, a huge sandstone mushroom sitting at one end of a platform, as if it were a giant joystick on a rocky games console. Once there you will see that it’s easy enough to climb up to the base of the Stane, where it looks as if a few decent kicks might topple it, but I guess it’s been around for a while. In addition, check out the ‘Maiden’s Bower’ in the base of the platform below. Reputedly this was used as a hermitage by a woman who used to meet her lover at this spot before he was killed by her jealous family, but this is probably legend. More prosaically, this artificial cave may be the remains of an attempt to quarry the outcrop.

The Bunnet Stane formation, seen from above.

Past all this, the route can be seen slanting up the hillside ahead. To repeat, it’s not as arduous a climb as it looks. At one point, the path splits, with the way to the right being steeper but more direct. I stayed to the left, and on reaching the plateau, carried on round the summit dome for a while, in the direction of East Lomond, before slanting back along a path that zigzagged up to the top. Again, while this is quite steep, it’s not otherwise difficult.

Hail and gale precluded me completing my intended walk, which, according to the web page cited earlier, would have required an initial descent in the direction of Loch Leven. Instead, I dropped down almost due north, down a path that is clear, but needs care on the descent due to erosion. Once reaching the clear track at the bottom, I turned right for a short way, then just retraced my route of ascent.


Negative weather commentary: One piece of advice constantly given to walkers is that ‘conditions can change rapidly with altitude’. Today it was like — no shit, Sherlock. The forecast was pretty decent, and on waking in Dundee at 8am this morning, the sun was shining out of clear blue skies. But I should have been more attentive to the signs, when there were warnings of high winds on the Tay Bridge. As I parked at about 10am the clouds were already coming in (see the picture above).

Even then it wasn’t so bad past the Bunnet Stane (the definite highlight of the walk). Chilly, yes, but still dry, and I was toasty enough under my goose-down jacket. But on the plateau, the sleet kicked in. Unpleasant. There were many other walkers out suffering in the same way as me — this was one of my busiest CT walks — so it wasn’t like I was the only one who’d been lulled into a false sense of security this morning. But that was scant consolation.

Proof I made the top, if only for about three seconds.

Ah, what the hell. I did make the summit. With Joe living in Dundee, I have plenty of reasons to be passing through Fife, and each time I do, West Lomond (not to mention its little brother to the East) is prominently in view from the M90 and A91. Now I know that it’s not that fearsome a beast in terms of its terrain, I’m sure I can justify a second visit, in better weather. Should I manage this I’ll add the second walk to this page in the way I have done in the past with Blackstone Edge and Black Hill.

This wasn’t originally going to be my 62nd County Top, as in December — again, on a drive to Dundee — Clare and I intended to pick up Allermuir, which is the terminus of the Pentland Hills and, I was informed by my Times Atlas of Britain, the summit of the Edinburgh City council area. We had packed walking gear, and literally were having our lunch at the base of the hill prior to our ascent when I looked more closely at the OS map, and realised that the boundary of Edinburgh takes a wide sweep to the south and encompasses the summit of East Cairn Hill, about 300 feet higher than Allermuir. In that case, the Times Atlas is definitely wrong.

Loch Leven.

At least we discovered this error before going up it, not to mention blogging about it and then only realising years later that we’d been misled. We did a walk anyway: it was another cold and windy day (though far better than today), so we didn’t try for Allermuir’s summit, but as compensation we did get some very fine views of Edinburgh, including the shot of distant West Lomond offered at the top of the page. I can still enjoy walks without there being some bloggability factor about them — honestly.

There won’t be any more CTs until into February, because in ten days’ time I return to St Helena for a second visit. There, I still hope to get up Diana’s Peak, the Top of that island, in good weather, and if I do, I’ll post about it here, as a kind of ‘bonus’ County Top. At least cloudy and damp weather on that island is a damn sight warmer than it was today. But never mind. West Lomond’s summit was bagged: let’s celebrate that, dry off, and warm up.


6 thoughts on “62: West Lomond, Fife

  1. I don’t think I would have got out of the car in that wind. Would like to do this hill though.

    Thought for a few seconds I’d got an extra armchair tick for Allermuir which I did a couple years ago. Oh well!

    1. Yes, I remember you saying this… Sadly not though 😦 However, it also now becomes possible to do two in one walk, as West Cairn Hill half a mile away is also a CT (modern West Lothian).

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