7 o’clock on Wednesday night saw some 26 runners shivering outside Clippers in Penicuik where we were destined to eat later, but at that time we were waiting for the off to do the Cuckoo Waltz. No, not to play Jonasson’s Swedish accordion tune but a designed Willie waltz (ooer) around the designed landscape of the Clerk’s Penicuik estate.
Penicuik means the hill of the cuckoo but in the early stages it was more hills of the suckoo as gripping mud sucked at our shoes. As the estate covers some 500 acres but the run was 5 miles only (food was awaiting at Clippers remember), we clipped along a somewhat concentrated but enjoyable route firstly following the south bank of the Esk, ascending steadily through the aforementioned delightfully splashy mud to the remains of Ravensneuk Castle. As is often the way with old buildings this 16th century castle was robbed out in the 18th century to provide stone for the Bastion Wall bolstering Penicuik House – amongst others.
Another bast*** wall meant clambering over a double barbed wire fence behind a dry stane dyke (excellent if assisted somersault Moira) before we cantered round to the Ramsay Monument, built in 1759 a year after the respected poet and wig maker’s death. (The Clerks were friends and patrons of the great man). One of the great pastoral poets Allan Ramsay is well remembered in Edinburgh with a statue at the corner of the Mound and Princes Street and a bust included as one of the carved heads of only 16 poets in embrasures on the Scott Monument. You can of course admire the magnificent and colourful Ramsey Gardens built around his town house as you look up from Princes Street towards Edinburgh Castle.
To our left the Hurley Cave (1740-1748) is now closed and the old bridge is gone so we didn’t venture any further south (although we’ve ventured close to it several times in earlier Eskapade Runs). A swift descent then took us down to the Eskfield Bridge constructed in 1796. This and the earlier (1763) walled garden and Garden House at Eskfield to the west of the bridge are also well remembered features of the long running (in many senses) Eskapade Runs. There’s a path up to Penicuik House from the bridge curling left of the bridge but we diverted downstream to the Curling Hut at the lower of the Black Pools by the engraved Standing Stone. Then it was down the riverbank until we reached the recently restored “Centurion or Roman Bridge” – not Roman of course but built in Roman style between 1737 and 1741.
Turning off by the bridge we followed the track up the hill to arrive at the “Chinese Gates”. Originally installed in 1758 these replicas match the originals beautifully. Ahead through the broad avenue of lime trees (wherein lie some curious grave markers worth checking out) lies Penicuik House, but we swing left to run along the top of the Bastion Wall to arrive at the rear of the house to visit the perhaps appropriately named (given the name of the night’s leader) “Wee Willie Fountain and Well” before skirting round the conserved remains (a roofless but still imposing shell) of the beautiful Penicuik House to climb and stand on the still magnificent pillared portico. Built between 1761 and 1769 to designs by Sir James Clerk and John Baxter the Elder to replace the earlier Newbiggin House, sadly (in May I think) of 1899 a serious fire broke out in the house and although most of the paintings and furnishings survived (even if only to find a new home in a some more humble dwellings throughout Penicuik) much of the fabric of the building including the roof was destroyed.
From 1900 to date the Clerk family who still own and manage the estate live in the converted stable block we could see dimly in the darkness to our left. Acknowledging the Clerk’s curtilage we avoided going any closer. So, down the main driveway back towards Penicuik before making the steep ascent up to the Knight’s Law Tower, another whimsy or folly of the Clerks built between 1748 and 1751. Then down through the trees watching out for treacherous tree roots disguised as shadows to regroup on the driveway before we skirted the Spear Gates and Lodge to head round and up to the radio mast looking over to the lights of Penicuik down below. Not only the lights of Penicuik but food and drink beckoned and so we cantered downhill to cross the stile and run the last couple of hundred metres to well deserved pub and grub, conversation and conviviality before (for me anyway) a bracing cycle back to Edinburgh. Thanks to all for the good company and craik and to Willie for leading and to Joel for setting it up.