Walk No 11 in the series of Midlothian walks was published yesterday, March 7th. This was a very enjoyable walk apart from some very muddy areas along the way. However, the mud here is nothing compared to the sticky clay mud on an area of land slip in Roslin Glen. The volunteers paths group have been digging out a section and creating a barrier to hold back the slippage. Its back breaking work and the structure to hold back the slippage is a feat of engineering. It looks fantastic with wood planks on end at different heights sledge hammered into place. Its not finished yet. Photo to follow.
Back to the walk article. This walk took us to Springfield Mill which I have been raving about since I first saw it. If ever there was an example of how to make good an old industrial site then this is it. I was so impressed I created a mini version of the planting on a small patch of ground near my sitting out area last year. OK its a bit twee and I will change it eventually, but it was a bit of fun. I used old bricks covered in moss, feverfew, foxgloves, self seeded small birch trees, ivy from the adjacent bank, some old post and wire fencing and some yew saplings. I scattered some seeds that will hopefully come through this summer to make a wild flower area. Wonder if it will work?
If you are looking to take a walk in Midlothian any time soon, please look up Springfield Mill. It can be hard to find. Go via Polton and enjoy the drive from the top of the hill.
Here is the copy of the article in basic format. I noticed that the link can't be enlarged to make it OK to read.
(For March 2012)
Walk this way...............Lasswade to Springfield Mill
· The area is covered by Ordnance Survey Map 66 for Edinburgh and Midlothian.
· Distance 4 miles.
· Time 2½ hours
· Footwear – Boots/Wellies are essential unless it has been very dry.
· The tracks are mainly beaten earth or grassland, sometimes boggy.
· Starting Point:- School Green, Lasswade
· Map grid reference:- NT 303 661
· Bus:- Lothian Buses 31, Firstbus 141, 142
· Public car park just off Elm Row beside the North Esk
This month we are taking you from Lasswade through the North Esk Valley via Mavisbank House, to Springfield Mill. It is a lovely walk with lots of historical features along the way. It’s muddy. More muddy than you might expect and so take care. Kids will love it.
Professor Sugden, a local expert in geomorphology (the scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them), advised that in 1988 it was a lot less muddy. So what has happened? Is it global change? The professor is critically aware that the drainage system has not been maintained and that this has contributed to the changes evident underfoot. The grounds have been owned by Historic Scotland for some time now and they are stated to be on a basic care and maintenance terms. That may be not enough if we are all going to be able to continue to walk into this beautiful valley. The route description points out the particularly difficult areas where it can be muddy and wet.
This walk explores old paths from Lasswade, through the grounds of Mavisbank House and onto the reclaimed land from the once derelict Springfield Mill at Polton, returning by the North Esk river bank. At present there are some very wet and muddy bits in the grounds of Mavisbank House, especially at the field kissing gates. The walk along the river is worth repeating in May or early June when the flowers are out.
Start on the North Esk river bank at School Green in Lasswade. Walk along School green and up School Brae. Just before Lasswade Cemetery, turn left along an old path, probably a former “coffin road”. After three hundred yards turn left at a small crossroads, keeping to the earth track. At Kevock Road, turn right for 50 yards and on the bend in the road between two white houses, turn left onto a small grass strip with a gate & style. Cross the style into the grounds of Mavisbank House.
The house facade can now be glimpsed in the distance through the trees. From here there are two paths. The one with the better view follows the fence on the right. However there are a few yards where the path becomes an earth slope and could be slippy if wet. The alternative path heads gently downhill and is the remains of the original entrance drive. This is a little overgrown and is currently very wet. Unfortunately, the ground is also very wet around the field kissing gates. Hopefully the soon to be formed Mavisbank Trust will be able to improve this. The faint path across the meadow leads to the derelict remains of the house. Once you have had time to wonder at the former glory of the house, turn left down the old drive in front of the house.
At the bottom of the drive, you will encounter a modern metal gate with a sign “The Gardens, PRIVATE”. Ignore this sign as you are not entering anybody’s garden, provided you stay on the tarmac drive. The gate has a slide bolt on the other side of it. Close it behind you. Once back on the public road, turn left over the road bridge and immediately turn right into the restored grounds of Springfield Mill. Explore at your leisure. There are paths which follow the river, ending with a flight of steps to the top of the site.
To return to Lasswade, re-cross the river by the road bridge and immediately turn right along the tar road until the entrance to the cottages. Follow the green sign directing you along the riverbank to Lasswade. Follow this until you are back up at Kevock Road. Cross the road and turn right along the track you came on (tarmac for a few yards then earth). Remember to turn right at the small crossroads half way round.
Flora and Fauna Along The Way
The River North Esk was once highly polluted due to its industrial past. The paper mills often pumped the by-products from paper making directly into the river. The mill owners were often fined for such practices. This of course had an impact on the wildlife of the area and the food chain of the river corridor ultimately collapsed with many animal species disappearing altogether.
Today however, the industry has gone and the wildlife has returned. Of note is one key species, termed an “indicator species”, which tells us the river is healthy and able to support an abundance of wildlife - the otter. Otters have returned along the river course with many sightings by fisherman. The Otter is a carnivore feeding mainly on coarse fish, but will also eat frogs, small mammals and waterside birds. They are shy and not often seen in the wild and only by being a skilled mammal detective can the presence of Otters along the river be assured. What do you look out for?
Otters mark their territories by droppings know as “spraints” which you can find on large rocks and trees. Scattered food remains such as fish bones marks a place where an Otter has eaten a large fish. An Otter family loves to play and will use steep muddy river banks as slides. Otters live in holts (dens) and are usually under riverside tree roots.
Don’t mistake the Mink for an Otter. It can be easily done and people often do. But here is the key to determining whether it was an otter or a mink. Get down and sniff! The otter spraints are described as sweet or spicy, sometimes odourless. On the other hand the Minks droppings or scats, have a strong musky smell. Otters are larger and almost twice the size of a Mink. The Mink also has distinctive chocolate-brown fur. If you are lucky enough to see and Otter in the water, it has a broader head than a Mink and is smoother swimmer.
Remember, to be a successful mammal detective you need to get close and personal with your subject, so clear that nose and get smelling!
What to Wear
Walking boots or wellies until the ground dries out. Perhaps wear your oldest trousers that can be dried and brushed down afterwards.
We are bereft of cafes along the valley or at Springfield Mill. Maybe that’s a good thing though. Even if Mavisbank is restored to its former glory a bustling café within the grounds just wouldn’t seem right in the midst of all this calm. Take a packed lunch and enjoy the peace.
Features Along The Way Not To Miss
Mavisbank House. It shot to fame in 2003 when it was featured as a restoration bid project on BBC2. It didn’t win. In recent weeks, Midlothian Council has declared the use of statutory compulsory purchase to seek a means to preserve its future.
The house was designed and built in 1723-36 for Sir John Clerk. It is sad to see a building of such international importance go into decline, and at this late stage the extent of the decline is significant. What is best for this house and the surrounding grounds is open to debate but what little is left of the wonderful stone work is worthy of preservation in any format.
Attempts to save the house began in the 80s when the grounds were designated as a Conservation Area. The house and a pre historic fort behind the house were listed under the Ancient Monuments Act. Demolition of the house as a dangerous structure was averted by local campaigners when they obtained a court order to prevent the demolition.
It is clear that such an important structure will rouse passionate debate and opinion. For our walking group it was the surrounding landscape that was just as important. Whatever happens to the house a “light touch” approach does seem sensible taking in the need to maintain the drainage and hence look after the landscape as well as the house.
Springfield Mill at Polton is a glowing example of the works carried out by the Midlothian Council Ranger Service and the Springfield Mill Action Group, to enhance and manage a past industrial site as a wildlife haven. From the choice of landscape-sympathetic seating to the neat 2 track board walk over the boggy area and the planting of wildflower meadows on the open verges, this area signifies all that it possible with team effort in a local community. You may detect our own bias here, but whilst the past and our heritage are important, it is what we do now as a team that shapes the legacy of what we will leave to future generations. Even if you don’t take this walk, take a visit to Springfield Mill. Ask about its past to fully appreciate what you see now.