A recent article in TGO Magazine got me thinking about some great ‘peak to pub’ walks – good hill or mountain walks with a great pub at the bottom.
Having eaten and drunk far too much over the Christmas holidays, many of us are keen to walk off the calories. Climbing a hill is an appealing prospect but winter hill walks – even short ones – can be bracing and exhausting. So after an exhilarating walk, what better than to go directly from a hill into a cosy pub and rehydrate yourself over a pint (or a coffee) in front of a roaring fire ? Or perhaps more accurately, stumble off the hill to dry out and warm up !
Pubs and mountains and pubs have at least one thing in common – some are superb and others are really a bit of a disappointment. After a cold day on the hill, there’s nothing like a roaring fire and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere to warm things up, so I’ve tried to match great hills with great pubs. (Unfortunately, there are many great hills with no decent pub nearby and vice versa).
I’ve also selected hills that are easily manageable within the short daylight hours of winter, recognising that the most popular are likely to be within a fairly easy drive of Scotland’s main centres of population. So there’s no Cluanie Inn, Sligachan Hotel or countless others in my list. The timings given are those from the Walk Highlands website. I’m a reasonably fast walker and a 6 – 8 hour walk will normally take me around 6 – 6.5 hours. So know how fast you and your party tend to walk, build in the inevitable contingency time (for snacks, route finding etc) and don’t set out on a walk that’s likely to take you past sunset.
I found the TGO selection slightly strange in this respect, recommending a long day walk of Ben Lawers (taking 8 – 9 hours) when at this time of year sunrise is 0815 and sunset 1645 hours. The TGO article also recommended climbing Ben Lomond. While it’s a fine hill the Rowardennan Hotel doesn’t merit a visit in my book so I’m afraid you won’t find Ben Lomond in my list either.
Winter walking is a very different proposition to summer walking. It goes without saying that you need to be suitably kitted out, knowledgeable and prepared for the (extremely varied) conditions you’re likely to encounter. You need to carry more gear (eg crampons, ice axe, spare layers, hot drinks), be much more prepared and know the limitations of you and the rest of your party. You also need to be prepared to flex your plans and not stick rigidly to a route carefully worked out from the comfort of your home; weather, ground conditions and avalanche risks can all present potential dangers, so better to avoid these if you can. I also suggest that head torches are essential just in case you get delayed and have to descend past sunset (see the BMC link below for some excellent advice on winter walking).
So enough of the build-up and safety advice, what ‘peak to pub’ combinations have I got to whet your whistle ?
10. Dumyat, Stirling (3.75 miles / 2 – 2.5 hours)
Dumyat is the characterful hill in the Ochils overlooking Stirling, the hillfoot towns (Alva, Menstrie, Dollar) with the Pentlands in the distance on a clear day. It’s a short, well-trodden walk and you’ll find the Sherrifmuir Inn just a short drive away, also high up on the Ochil moors: a perfect place to warm up and get a bite to eat before the drive home.
9. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh (2.75 miles / 2 – 2.5 hours)
This is the easiest walk in my list and probably familiar as a summer walk to most. Arthur’s Seat gives great views over Edinburgh, south to the Bass Rock and north to Fife. It might not be a long walk but it can be steep so take care in snowy or icy conditions. The Sheep’s Heid is a stone’s throw from Holyrood Park in Duddingston, voted the AA Scottish pub of the year in 2013.
8. Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean, Crianlarich (9 miles / 6 hours)
This walk takes in two munros just to the south of Crianlarich and can be climbed via a number of routes. The route below starts from the A82 just south of Crianlarich, a straightforward up-and-down route, although the hills can also be climbed from the south or in a horseshoe directly from the village. In poor visibility you may miss the ridge out to Ben Tulaichean, as I did on my first trip there ! The Ben More Lodge serves great beer and bar meals.
7. Morrone, Braemar (7.5 miles / 4 – 5 hours)
Morrone is a Corbett that sits high above Braemar giving great views of the Cairngorms and Braemar itself. The walk starts from the centre of the village and follows tracks and moorland, finishing right past the Fife Arms.
6. Ben Vrackie, near Pitlochry (5.75 miles / 3 – 4 hours)
A lovely walk through woodland and open moorland towards the steep summit of Ben Vrackie, towering over the Perthshire countryside. And what better way to celebrate your descent than sample the fine ales in the Moulin Inn ? This is a traditional Highland inn dating from 1695 offering good Scottish food and an award-winning pub with its own microbrewery behind the Hotel.
5. Beinn Dorain & Beinn an Dothaidh, Bridge of Orchy (8.75 miles / 6 – 8 hours)
The conical peak of Beinn Dorain stands proud above Bridge of Orchy and can be combined with the neighbouring munro, Beinn an Dothaidh (or climbed alone for a shorter walk). The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is the obvious place for post-walk food and drink, and why not take the train to/from Bridge of Orchy and leave the car at home ?
4. Ben Chonzie, Comrie (7.75 hours / 4 – 5 hours)
While admittedly not the most exciting of walks in summer time, this munro makes a fine winter’s walk along tracks and over moorland. The Royal Hotel is probably the pick of the hostelries in Comrie, although a little posher than the other pubs in my list (fine dining rather than bar meals for walkers).
3. Driesh and Mayar, Glen Clova (9 miles / 5 hours)
When I climbed these two munros on a clear, sunny day one January it seemed as though I was sharing the hill with half of the inhabitants of Dundee. Even with parties of walkers it makes a fine winter’s walk and gives great views. Post-hill refreshments are available at the Glen Clova Hotel and you could always stay over at their bunkhouse.
2. Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe (8 miles / 6 – 9 hours)
If you can, save this one for a fine day for the views from Stob Dearg over the neighbouring hills and Rannoch Moor are superb. One of the classic Scottish mountain walks, matched by the Clachaig, one of the classic hillwalker’s pubs. Expect a great atmosphere, stone floors, wooden tables, open fires, over 200 whiskies and real ales.
1. Meall nan Tarmachan, near Killin (7.5 miles / 5 – 7 hours for the full Tarmachan Ridge)
Since the walk starts from a high level start point, the new Ben Lawers car park, Meall nan Tarmachan is one of the easier munros to climb in winter. There’s a steep scramble up to the summit which could be icy in winter. But perhaps your biggest difficulty may be actually getting to the Ben Lawers car park; the steep single-track access road is often icy. Last time I climbed it I had to park well short of the car park in a clearing in the forest since the road was a skating rink ! Rather than climb the whole ridge, which could be tricky in full winter conditions you can shorten the walk by simply climbing Meall nan Tarmachan and returning by the route of ascent.