Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pappert Hill, West Dunbartonshire

I was invited to join West Dunbartonshire's Over 50s Walking Group on a walk over Pappert Hill to Pappert Well - the site of a natural freshwater spring.

Although the morning had been rainy, by the time we picked everyone up and assembled at the back of Bonhill, it had fairly brightened up.

On our ascent of Pappert Hill we crossed an area of mixed meadow and boggy marsh (flanked by the Pappert Well Community Woodlands) in which flourished wildflowers of every colour: golden patches of Bog Asphodel, lemony-yellow Tormentil, white Grass of Parnassus and Corn Spurrey mingled with magenta Redshanks and pale pink Common Spotted Orchids.

Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

The Anatomy of a Grass of Parnassus:

Delicate transparent veins (nectar guides) groove the white petals surrounding a set of 5 cream-coloured fertile stamens (whose anthers produce pollen) and a set of 5 green infertile stamens (known as staminodes) which bear yellow spherical glands.

These yellow glands are fake nectaries, making the flower more visually appealing to pollinating insects, but don't actually produce any nectar. Although they are somewhat misled, the insects don't lose out entirely: nectar is instead produced from two inconspicuous glands at the base of the staminodes.

Print from Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz (1885), courtesy of 
The phylogeny of Parnassia is still disputed, as they display several morphological 'oddities'. Recent genetic evidence has placed them within the family Celastraceae alongside the disimilar, moss-like Lepuropetalon (amongst the smallest flowering plants on earth) and Ruptiliocarpon (large South American trees).

Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)
The leaves and shoots of Redshank can be eaten cooked but are said to taste rather bland, for those interested: Redshank & Aubergine Spring Rolls Recipe - from

Red Bartsia (Odontites verna)
Corn Spurrey Spergula arvensis
Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis)
We saw a number of butterflies including Small Coppers, Ringlets and Meadow Browns. Pappert Well is surrounded by the dark coniferous Nobleston Wood - we followed the track to the clearing where we observed the clear water bubble through the sand at the underground spring.

Underneath shadowy pines I found a Cortinarius species mushroom: the cap was sticky brown and resembled a toffee-apple.

Cortinarius sp. mushroom

Near a crumbling dry-stone wall, we found a pile of scats (containing fragments of lizard skin) and some small burrows. We came to the conclusion that they probably belonged to either a Stoat or a Weasel.

Leaving the woods behind, we climbed over a barbed wire fence, and came upon a cairn and the Hill of Standing Stones, where we heard the distant cronking of Ravens over Knockshannoch moor.

Barred Straw Eulithis pyraliata
Barred Straw (Eulithis pyraliata)
The Barred Straw (Eulithis pyraliata) is a common species whose larvae feed on Cleavers & Bedstraws - its scientific name is Latin for 'Good-stone of-fire' (Eu = good + lithis = stone, pyraliata from pyralis = of fire/also a mythological winged insect which was supposed to live in fire).

Taking the gritty road which cuts between forestry plantation and the steep Murroch burn (on the return to Bonhill), we encountered a mating pair of gleeming Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) scuttling along the path! This is the first time I have seen them in West Dunbartonshire.

Further along, we disturbed a female Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) which had been perched in a pine to the right of the track. She flew up as we passed, weaving agilely through the pines and disappeared from view.


  1. I see you got outside the ring of conifers that surrounds Pappert Hill onto the moors beyond. I tried to find a way out last week (April 11) but without success. Can you give me any tips on how to find the way out? I remember 30+ years ago walking unimpeded between the Falls of Ishneich and Pappert Hill...

    Best wishes
    Paul Brownsey

    1. Hi!
      I think there's a (dark!) fire-break between Pappert Hill (near Pappert Well) and the cairn to the east.

      You could try googlemaps (satellite view) - though it might show the area before the trees grew up.