In Defence of the Lammermuir Hills

Route: Meikle Says Law

Sub 2000s: Meikle Says Law

Date walked: 12/11/2023

Time taken: 3.4 hours

Distance: 11km

Ascent: 380m


I’ve a backlog of reports but this was a lovely short afternoon walk, in a place I often go and know well. I was reminded of how much I enjoy it here, particularly after staring at these hills from my window during lockdown but not being able to go there. This is a bit of a defence of the criticism and disdain they often receive!

Heavily cultivated moorland running over broad undulating slopes, the Lammermuir Hills are possibly an eccentric choice for the hillwalker in Scotland, being as they are - an empty plateau- rarely ‘hilly’ at all.

Despite their proximity to the urban settlements of the eastern central belt and to the honeypot coastline locations of North Berwick, Yellow Craigs, Aberlady they are often relatively deserted. Their bareness and emptiness make a great location for the misanthropic walker looking for a short day out in their own company - something I could not achieve this weekend because my wife was away and I had two small people to entertain. Two small people, might I add, to whom concepts such as solitude, quiet and peacefulness seem to not register.


They are regularly disdained by locals (and from those further afield) but, for me at least, I think there’s a hidden charm if you look hard enough.

I’ve been up most of the hills in these parts multiple times, some into multiple double digits , and chose Meikle Says Law because it has a number of river crossings and quite a bit of off piste walking, the type of route that might keep these guys interested. I parked up at Redstone Rig, from which heading south west bare moorland peppered with relatively minor summits runs for about 10 miles until you hit Lauder and surrounding villages. It may not be beautiful but the walkhighlands description of this hill, as ‘lonely country’ is absolutely correct. Many days when the car parks are overflowing down by the coast or over at the Pentlands, these parts are empty and you wonder why you get to have it all to yourself, despite Edinburgh being just a stone’s throw away.

Grouse butt - possibly engineered or converted from remains of a derelict shieling

At a start point of 400m and a planned highest point of 535m this route was very much a hill walk for a person who didn’t terribly care for the going uphill parts. We started off down the made estate track to Faseny Cottage that looks only temporarily occupied, but would be a really grand place to live, built as it is in in a hollow between two slopes and only 25 minutes drive from major settlements.

We took a look at the river and its levels were quite high - we noted this for the return of my planned route that needed crossed the burn 5 or 6 times. We took the footbridge by the cottage and headed up the estate track that heads up Collar Law. The kids had a play in what looked like a grouse butt converted from a derelict shieling, the sun streaming down on what turned out to be a particularly bright autumn day. The track leads down to Easter Lamb Burn, where we took a turn off the track to head more northerly and with the aim of contouring round and up to Meikle Says Law.

There are some wonderfully named features in these parts - Cow Cleugh, Hare Cleugh, Wolf Cleugh, Dead Grain Rig. The names hint at a history of the place that stretches back, and shared its language with the Northumbrian landscape


Off track now, the kids and the dogs enjoyed a slog through increasingly deep heather, short sections of dry and dead heather from muirburn easing the route slightly. Pathless heather continued, as we headed for where wolf Cleugh meets lamb burn (a lovely juxtaposition of names) to cross the burn. Our lurcher Albus was particularly excited by the very large hares that would appear suddenly and move a serious pace to put as much distance between them and him as quickly as possible.


Water levels were fine to cross, even for shorter legs and feet - and thankfully there was no need of a repeat of an experience in early spring near the Lawers Dam where I waded across a very cold burn several times to carry two very unhardy dogs across in the snow.


We climbed up through more heather (lots of that stuff around), cloud starting to roll in leaving parts of the landscape in shade. The views are unspectacular, no dramatic corries or sharply rising hills. There are no major rivers, nor woods and there is a limited palette of dark greens and brown year round. However, in all directions there is a quiet emptiness, a stillness you don’t get often get in the Pentlands, for instance.

Being out here always reminds me of a friend who was deeply into zen meditation describing the concept of ‘Zazen’ - a state of nothingness achieved through meditation. These parts have a similar affect - no awe, appreciation or excitement, just a still and lonely slow rolling landscape quietly laid out in all directions. As someone of no faith, I find there to be something very Scots presbyterian here - dour, unflashy and serious , but not at all unwelcoming.


We continued the final bit of ascent towards to the top, now making out the remnants of a track to ease passage. There are many estate tracks marked on the OS 1:25k maps but most are either a fiction, or have been reclaimed by the hill.


The trig point at the top brought relief for my daughter who appears here to have expired from the sheer banality of my choice of walk today. My son, having experienced a few - in his words - ‘impressive’ munros is equally unimpressed with this walk so far. Herbie, our border terrier, found the remnants of what I assume to be a bird, a chewy disease ridden lump of bone and meat that he refuses to drop. Thinking better of fishing it from his mouth and having to touch the thing, I let him have it.

We pick out spots in East Lothian we all know well - we can see our house, further east the bass rock, north Berwick law and traprain law dwarfed even from this fairly low height. The Hopetoun monument stands above Haddington, now basking in sunshine that seems to fall everywhere except on us.

The wind has now picked up and it starts to feel all of November, so we get moving fairly quickly after I’ve refuelled the children with high sugar and high calorie flapjacks.

Our return route is straightforward, the walkhighlands outward route for this hill, and all on a track.


Maisie requests that I switch hats with her. Whilst slightly concerned that a leopard hat is not my usual style, the health hazard posed to a small child of wearing my cap that has covered hundreds of miles, and multiple everests-worth of ascent and only being washed on hot days when dipping it in the cool water of a burn to provide relief, seems greater. She is adamant and I relent. There are kilometres to cover and this is not the hill to die on, metaphorically speaking (…literally too).

The track heads mostly downhill gently, passed the foot of the other Wolf Cleugh (this one a ‘Cleugh-ier’ one and the more gorge like of the two).


On the slopes that lead up to the possibly aptly named minor summit of Bleak Law deer are startled by the five person/14 legged party noisily arriving to disturb their quiet afternoon. My son, a permanent contrarian, claims these are large mountain hare. We dispute this and debate the point for some time. I explain mountain hare don’t have legs that long and are not several times larger than dogs. He will not give way.


The next stretch of track flattens out towards a section of multiple burn crossings. From the map I count 6 in total from the top of Meikle Says Law back to Faseny Cottage. None are difficult, for those of you with adult sized legs at least. Looking at the map next time I’ll stay slightly higher, the crossings are all of the same burn that meanders, and could probably be avoided if dry feet are preferred.


We cross the burn several times, each one a little deeper than the last and certainly much deeper and wider than the last few times I’d been here in drier summer weather. No real difficulties and nearing the end of our walk, cold wet feet are not too much of a concern.


The nights are really drawing in now and even in this relatively flat landscape , the mid afternoon sun is blocked by gentle slopes and starting to cast orange and golden light and flat angles, illuminating otherwise dull and colourless heather. We pass Easter and wester mossy burns, the naming of these barely present features suggesting this place was one more important to people who lived here. Even minor features were noted and relevant. Now it is deserted, occupied only as an empty arena for the breeding and culling of grouse and sheep.


We carry on, now quite cold in sections of shade, but close to returning to Faseny Cottage and then our endpoint. Despite it being well above freezing, puddles in the track remain frozen, which Charlie pokes with a stick to break up the ice.


We turn uphill passed the cottage and the short slog back to the car. The sun is lower now, cool orange as it threatens to set. Beneath the glow, individual turbines stand silhouetted against the sky as the light ripples through damp mist escaping from the vegetation.

It’s not an exciting place to walk, and it comes with an air of miserabilism, but for those that don’t like the crowds it’s a place to find some loneliness in this generally busy and full part of the country.



N.B this East Lothian musician, Tambay, has written an ambient piece inspired by this area - it’s worth a listen if that’s your thing: https://m.soundcloud.com/tambay/faseny-cottage-tambay#comments

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Comments: 3

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