Braes Of The Carse: Fingask Circuit

Swirlhead Hill (NO 210283, 257m)
Hill of Franklyden (NO 214300, 303m)
Hoole Hill Southwest Top (NO 221305, 277m)
Hoole Hill (NO 226310, 297m)
Pittmiddle Hill (NO 236298, 279m)
Kinnaird Hill (NO 231292, 250m)
Craighead (NO 234281, 167m)

19.8 kilometres
665m of ascent

Fingask route
Click to enlarge

So, it’s been a while since I had one of my free-style walks, chancing my way around the hills looking for gates and paths and seeing where I end up.

I’ve had my eye on this end of the Braes of the Carse for a while—a patch of rough moorland between Glen of Rait and Abernyte, consisting of lumpy ground in the 200-300m range, lying south of the well-defined Sidlaws ridge. Access was a bit of a puzzle—although it’s crossed by tracks linking Franklyden and Hoole in the north to Fingask in the south, it’s moated round with farmland and narrow roads that don’t offer many places to park a car. But I figured if I left the car in the village of Rait, I should be able to fluke my way up the Fingask glen and on to the hills.

And that worked well. I walked from Rait into the grounds of Fingask Castle, and then out on to the tarmac road to the farm of Over Fingask. Where the road ends beyond the farm, I was faced with two open fields, both empty of livestock and both with gates opening on to the hillside at their top ends.

No sooner was I out on the moor than a deer appeared, bounding along the skyline, as if to emphasize that I was back in the wilds. A track, unmarked on the map, took me across to join the loop of 4×4 track that arises from the farm at Franklyden.

My first hill is set back a little from the western side of this loop, a 257m hummock above a pretty lochan, both unnamed by the Ordnance Survey. The good folk over at the Database of British and Irish Hills call it Swirlhead Hill, which is what I’ve used in my hill list at the head of this post, but set in italics to indicate that you won’t find the name on the map. You’ll see there are quite a few hills in that category on this walk.

The compilers of the DoBIH seem to combine obsessive topographic exactitude with insouciant toponymic improvisation—they’re keen to get the heights exactly right, but have a tendency to recruit the names of neighbouring places to provide a label for unnamed hills. In this case, the name has been stolen from Swirlhead, a line of crags half a kilometre away, so named for the way the wind swirls around them at the head of Glen of Rait, and notable for being a camp site for none other than Oliver Cromwell, back in 1651.

Hill of Franklyden from Swirlhead Hill
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Rolling moorland – Hill of Franklyden from Swirlhead Hill

My next hill was the 303m Hill of Franklyden, a name I also can’t find attested on maps or in historical records. I cut straight across country, and then picked up the Franklyden-Fingask track at NO 292213. The nearby track junction features a large shed in the middle of nowhere, and a fence junction at which it’s possible to step over an insulated section of electric fence to gain easy access to the hillside. After visiting the summit, I was in two minds about going back the way I’d come, to follow the track system in a wide arc to my next hill, the 277m southwest top of Hoole Hill. Having climbed easily into an area surrounded by an electric fence, I was conscious that I might have less luck finding a way out at the other side. What changed my mind was a well-worn, purposeful path heading solidly in the direction I wanted to go—that had to come out somewhere, didn’t it?

Well, after a few hundred metres it started to look more like an animal track, and then disappeared entirely on steep ground. But by that time I had a view of the field system below and could see a couple of gates exactly where I needed them, and a track climbing up the hill to link with the main Hoole-Fingask track. I was on a roll! A couple of buzzards scolded me from on high as I threaded between two patches of woodland plantation, and on to the summit.

Bandirran Hill from SW Top of Hoole Hill
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Bandirran Hill (the last western gasp of the Sidlaw ridge) from the SW Top of Hoole Hill

Right. From here I could have headed down the track to Fingask, taking in one more hill on the way. But it was only just after midday, and the wooded slopes of Hoole Hill beckoned. Again, I was able to see a couple of gates in the right place to get me into the system of forestry roads that surrounded the summit, and I could see a firebreak on the 1:25,000 map that would get me very close to the top.

Ducks on lochan below Hoole Hill
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A huge flotilla of mallard ducks moved indignantly (and noisily) to the other end of the lochan as I walked past, and then I was into the trees. It turned out Hoole Hill was criss-crossed by umpteen tracks and firebreaks, and one of them took me directly to the summit, which bore a carefully positioned micro-cairn made from four pebbles.

Summit of Hoole Hill
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Summit of Hoole Hill – the towering cairn is at the bottom of frame

From the top, I descended westwards. I made one exploratory trip down a firebreak to the north, to see if I could get out of the woods near Seamaw Loch, but was stymied by a deer-fence.

Mushrooms in a firebreak on Hoole Hill
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Mushrooms on Hoole Hill

So I just carried on westwards until I hit the forestry road system again, and then looped back eastwards along the lochside, with its private fishery. Seamaw is Scots for seamew, which is another name for the common gull, but there were no gulls in evidence.

Seamaw Loch
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A gull-free Seamaw Loch

A long loop of forestry road took me to the edge of the plantation, where I was sure there would be a gate to let me out on to the open moorland of Pittmiddle Hill—and there was, though I had to climb over it. Pittmiddle is a Pictish/Gaelic mash-up—pett + maothel, “soft, boggy place”, but that probably refers to the location of the abandoned village of Pittmiddle, east of the hill. Pittmiddle Hill was rolling and heathery and crowned by a couple of lonely trees.

Summit of Pittmiddle Hill
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Summit of Pittmiddle Hill

From Pittmiddle I descended into the bogs below Woodburnhead, and found an unmarked track to take me up on to the shoulder of 250m Kinnaird Hill—another name that doesn’t appear on the map. Halfway up the hill, a buzzard erupted out of the heather ahead of me. It had been feeding on a freshly-dead hare. At the time I felt the hare was too big a beast for a buzzard to have killed, but a little reading suggests it has been known to happen. While they’re capable of carrying a rabbit, I’m sure the hare was too big to fly off with, so the buzzard was feeding in situ when I happened along to spoil its day.

Pittmiddle Hill from Kinnaird Hill
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Pittmiddle Hill from Kinnaird Hill

From the trig. point I descended southwards, hoping to cross the fields directly to my final hill of the day. But here my luck ran out. I found myself at an electric fence, on the far side of which was a large herd of cattle with calves. As I approached, the adults rose to their feet and eyed my suspiciously. I don’t like to disturb livestock, and in any case it looked as if this particular herd would disturb me, quite seriously, if I intruded on them.

So I looped back on to the track coming over from Hoole, and then dropped down to join the Franklyden track above Woodwell farm. From there it was an easy walk down the tarmac to the road at Fingask. On the way, I nipped up a field margin to stand on my last hill, another one with a name stolen from a nearby geographical feature—167m Craighead. The name means “end of the crag” and it applies to … well … the end of a line of crags just above Kinnaird village. The hill is crowned with a telecom mast, but its summit is in a grassy pasture just behind the mast enclosure.

Summit of Craighead
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The summit of Craighead

And that was that. There’s certainly a lot more around here to explore, especially the deserted village of Pittmiddle, so I’m sure I’ll be back with another Braes of the Carse instalment.

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