For the serious walker, a boardwalk might be considered a cop out. However, the main point of a boardwalk is to preserve the land beneath while allowing you to walk in the environment and enjoy it.
The other reason boardwalks are so great is that they are an added incentive to persuade children to go for a walk. Mine change their shrill cries of ‘Oh no, not a walk’ to ‘Great, let’s go’ when we mention it might be a boardwalk.
Blawhorn Moss, near Blackridge, is one such boardwalk. The wooden pathways now winding around this ancient habitat not only preserve the habitat, they keep the visitor safe too – if you stray off them you might just find yourself waist-deep in layers of soil and moss that have been vegetating for 8000 years!
The 110 hectare site is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage and they are keen for people to visit this internationally recognised reserve. It is one of the largest and best examples of lowland raised peat bogs in the Lothians and is a National Nature Reserve (NNR). Bog habitat is still under threat nationally - almost 94% of the UK's lowland raised bog habitat has been lost since the end of the 19th century. Large areas of these deep peat deposits were dug out for fuel, drained for farming or planted for forestry.
The name Blawhorn is said to come from the days when the local village of Blackridge was a midway coaching station between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Blawhorn was used as a viewing point for watching coaches approaching, when a horn would be blown to signal to the coaching inn down the hill at Blackridge, hence the name ‘Blow Horn'.
The bog, which has over eight thousand years of moss growth, is a survivor of a huge area of peat which once covered the entire area of central Scotland. Flora is many and varied with a carpet of sphagnum moss, heather, cotton grass, crowberry, hair moss and even the insect-eating round leaved sundew – which has been known to eat even dragonflies. That little nugget of information could certainly intrigue a child and keep their interest in the outdoors!
For the budding ornithologist, many different birds visit the moss at different times of year including the red grouse, snipe, curlew, redshank, teal, skylark, hen harrier and short eared owl. Butterflies and dragonflies are also regularly seen at the reserve as are frogs and toads.
With all the talk of bog, you might wonder why it is such a great place for a walk. In the past bogs were simply considered only suitable for cutting the peat or for draining, but that has all changed. A walk across the bog affords a real close encounter with nature as well as some fabulous views. Bogs also act as a carbon sink, trapping carbon dioxide and helping combat global warming. Blawhorn is one of the best examples in central Scotland.
Perhaps the best time to visit the bog in terms of wildlife is from April to July but you will always find something of interest at any time of year.
This is a short walk – the round trip from car park is about two kilometres with the board walk itself about 700m and a gentle to moderate slope from car park to Reserve entrance. The path and the boardwalk is accessible to all. If you fancy a longer walk, you can start with Blawhorn and the reserve then links into the local path network.
Blawhorn can be found northwest of the village of Blackridge, four miles west of Armadale. It is around 25 minutes drive from Linlithgow, the car park is clearly signposted and is open 8am to 9pm (summer) and 8am to 6pm (winter). There are very limited facilities in Blackridge itself, but plenty of cafes in Armadale.
Blawhorn Moss has changed little over the last 8000 years. Thick, black peat slowly formed from the squashed remains of dead plants, especially sphagnum mosses which retain rainwater like a sponge. In places the peat is now deep enough to bury two double decker buses. As dead plants sink and new shoots grow, the peat is still growing, though only at the rate of a millimetre a year
Supplementary information taken from a leaflet on Blawhorn published by Scottish Natural Heritage. Strathallan House, Castle Business Park, Stirling FK9 4TZ. Tel: 01786 450362. www.nature.scot/visit-blawhorn-moss-national-nature-reserve
Published in Konect March 2020
Author: Karen Murray