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A wander in Dreghorn Woods

In the process of looking for a new place to stretch the legs, I came across an article from the Woodland Trust about a relatively new woodland, planted as a Scotland’s First World War Centenary Wood.

Drone image, courtesy Rare Breed Productions
Drone image, courtesy Rare Breed Productions

Nestled in the Pentland Hills, Dreghorn Woods was officially opened in 2015. Owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), it’s one of four large areas of woodland being created through the First World War Centenary Woods Project. It includes a stone structure created as a space to rest, reflect and remember those who lived through the First World War. Eventually more than 50,000 native trees will be planted in the Pentland Hills to create a living, growing memorial.

A grove of rowan trees within the woods is dedicated to the hundreds of soldiers from Leith who died in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster. Rowan, known in folklore as the traveller’s tree, was chosen to also remember those who never returned from the long journey from Scotland to the front lines.

People from the local community have been helping to sow five acres of wildflowers and plant native trees including rowan, cherry, birch and Scots pine. Several thousand trees have already been planted and the first colourful display of wild flowers made an appearance in 2015.

This display gets better each year. The Woodland Trust aims for this wood to become a haven for local wildlife, including insects, goldfinches and pipistrelle bats and it will link up pockets of existing woodland, creating new wildlife corridors.

The site for the woodland is steeped in military history and has been used as a training ground for over 100 years. During WWI many troops had their first experience of trenches on this mock battlefield.

One of them was Captain William Ewart Gladstone-Millar. His daughter Lynne Gladstone-Millar is a local historian who successfully campaigned to preserve the training trenches. His first posting was to Mortonhall and every day the soldiers marched to the training trenches in the Dreghorn Woods to prepare themselves for France.

Lynne remembers her father saying: "There was a very specialised kind of mud there. We called it Dreghorn Sludge. It caked on to your kilt so that the pleats lacerated your knees like knives."

That sludge is now nurturing the new trees that have been planted. The new trees include an avenue of 50 wild service trees, planted to provide an annual flash of red during autumn when visitors can embrace the views across the city from the 'Rest and Reflect' stone seating area. The avenue is known as ‘The Weir Todd Walk’ and is dedicated to Euro Millions winner Chris Weir’s husband Colin Weir’s grandfathers who served in the First World War, and his father who served in the Second World War. Chris said: “William, Jimmy and James were all very public spirited and wanted to be in the service of their country. The Weir Todd Walk is dedicated to their memory and is a place for all to enjoy, reflecting on the service of many Scots servicemen."

Dreghorn Woods is situated near the Dreghorn Barracks so you might come across a group of soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment Scotland, marching with rather scary looking guns! Don’t worry – the guns aren’t loaded, but you may just need to skip out of the way rather promptly.

Don’t let that put you off – anyone is welcome to wander these woods. Dreghorn Wood is only a small part of this vast arena. It makes for a compact walk and will stretch the legs but if you have the inclination and equipment you could walk to the Castlelaw Hill Fort over the other side of the hills.

There are no waymarked routes but there is a map of the area at the entrance to the wood.

To get there:

Take the exit for Dreghorn off the A720 city bypass. If you are going East cross over the bypass and then take the sliproad down to join the bypass again exiting to the left. There is a barrier but if your car is too high (like mine) you can park before the barrier and walk in. Coming from the East simply take the Dreghorn Link slip and then the first left to the same place.

There is a car park and access to the woods. Walking along a tarmac road you will soon see the map of the area and a gate to your left giving to access to the Pentland Hills.

First published in Konect February 2017

Author: Karen Murray


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