Montague Hill (NO 196285, 227m)
Beal Hill (NO 203273, 257m)
Evelick Hill (NO 199257, c270m)
Pole Hill (NO 195260, 288m)
580m of ascent
So, another little segment in my exploration of the Braes of the Carse. This time I parked in the Glen of Rait, in a little pull-off below the crags of Swirlhead at NO 204277. It’s said that Cromwell’s army camped below Swirlhead in 1651, while subduing the country between Perth and Dundee, and it still looks as if the area might accommodate a small army in reasonable shelter.
My first hill was Montague Hill, named for Montague Farm nearby, which in turn took its name from its one-time owners (whose name, ironically enough, means “pointed hill” in French). Dorward writes that the hill’s name is locally pronounced mont-AIG-ie. I walked up the road from my car, and turned up the muddy track that loops around the north side of the hill. After a while I climbed steeply uphill, to arrive next to a plantation fence. I followed the fence around three sides of the plantation, to reach the summit on tussocky moorland with fine views to the north-west across Strathmore, and to the termination of the main Sidlaws ridge at Bandirran, Dunsinane and Black Hills.
Back more or less the way I came, and to within a few metres of the car, at which point I went around a pair of fenceless double gates, across a rather precariously fastened gate just beyond, and out on to the moorland of Beal Hill, where I scared up a small herd of roe deer. The summit is wooded with beech and Scots pine, and crossed by the low ridge of some ancient wall. Through the trees, you can peer out at the silver thread of the Tay.
From there, I picked my way south and west, roughly following farm tracks and convenient gates, and then descending steeply to the boggy headwaters of the Balmyre Burn, scaring up snipe and curlews as I ploutered through the mire.
An improbably low barbed wire fence here turned out to be easy to step over, but probably not if you’re anything much under six feet tall. Then I climbed sixty or seventy metres up steep grass to find myself more or less at the level of the minor road running over from Evelick to Dalreichmoor. A gate there took me on to Pole Hill, and another gate let me walk around the east side of the hill, following a fearsome barbed wire fence blocking access to the summit, until I reached the promontory hill fort on the hill’s south-east shoulder. The terraces here look spectacular in the low lighting on Google Earth, but are rather difficult to pick out, let alone photograph, on site.
Although the Ordnance Survey provides no name for this shoulder, Colin Gibson calls it “Evelick Hill”, which is at least occasionally attested in old documents on-line, so that’s the name I’ve gone with here. The name comes from Gaelic eibhleag “ember”, which Dorward links to the possibility of beacon fires being lit on this handy vantage point. The fort certainly commands excellent views into the Carse of Gowrie, and together with its companion on Law Hill, overlooking Strathmore, nothing much could cross the pass between Pole Hill and Murrayshall Hill without being noticed.
Back to that fearsome fence surrounding the summit of Pole Hill. Here there were two parallel fences, presumably erected by landowners either side of the divide. A gate in one fence no longer served a useful purpose, since it opened only into the gap between the two fences. But I found a low spot and slid under the second fence unscathed. The trig point on Pole Hill gave views all round—into Strathmore, across Evelick Hill to the Tay and Fife, north-east to Beal Hill, and west to the obelisk on Murrayshall Hill, visited on a previous trip.
But I was bound southwards, to the little steep-sided valley of the Pitroddie Burn, which would take me to the road, and then five or six kilometres on tarmac back to my car. Choosing a route was tricky—the ground was everywhere steep, with crags fringing the upper slope here and there, and a quarry at the bottom towards the eastern end. So I went west, to follow the little notch a stream had cut in the steep ground, affording a slightly gentler slope.
This went well, if wetly, and brought be down into the headwaters of the Pitroddie Burn. All I had to do was follow the burn downstream for about 600 metres, and I’d arrive at the footpath through Pitroddie Den, which would take me to the road. It looked easy enough on the map.
What the map doesn’t show is the dense willow and gorse that clothe the sides of a steep little cleft, at the bottom of which the burn meanders boggily back and forth. The burn was in spate with meltwater, and a barbed wire fence running right down the middle of the cleft meant that each meander had to be crossed within a very limited range of options. As I got farther downstream, the burn grew ever wider, and my broad-jumps ever more precarious. And the vegetation closed in, pushing me towards the barbed fence. By the time I emerged at the neat little gate which gives access to the Den itself, I was a slightly stressed and grubby shadow of my former self.
But beyond that, the woodland opened up, the path was easy to follow, and the burn stayed decently to my right at all times. Until it disappeared. One moment a broad and busy watercourse, and then gone. It simply ends in a still pool surrounded by steep banks, and I picked my way down to the water’s edge to find out what on earth had happened to my nemesis river.
Towards the south side of the pool there was a vortex, for all the world like the one that forms in bathwater when the plug is pulled. And below the vortex, a black hole in the riverbed. The Pitroddie Burn was draining underground. It’s there on the map, a little east of the sector I posted above—the blue line of the watercourse ends at NO 203252, and reappears at NO 207251, four hundred metres farther down the Den, where the burn simply gushes busily out of the hillside as if nothing unusual had ever happened to it. Remarkable.
From there, it was plain sailing along the road to Kilspindie and Rait (a huge flock of geese occupying the flat grasslands south of the road), and then a steady pull back up Glen of Rait to the car. That road is not ideal for walking, I must report. It’s narrow and winding, with many blind corners which give Audi drivers (why are they always Audi drivers?) ample opportunity to mow down the unwary. Take care, or avoid it altogether.