Braes Of The Carse: Glen of Rait to Den of Pitroddie

Montague Hill (NO 196285, 227m)
Beal Hill (NO 203273, 257m)
Evelick Hill (NO 199257, c270m)
Pole Hill (NO 195260, 288m)

17.9 kilometres
580m of ascent

Rait-Pitroddie route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

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.

Glen of Rait below Swirlhead crags
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Glen of Rait below Swirlhead crags

The Sidlaw Hills coverMy 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.

Approach to Montague Hill
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Approach to Montague Hill
Dunsinane Hill and Black Hill from Montague Hill
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Dunsinane Hill and Black Hill from Montague Hill

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.

Approach to Beal Hill
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Approach to Beal Hill
Summit of Beal Hill
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Summit of Beal Hill

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.

Evelick hill fort from Google Earth

Cover of Colin Gibson's Nature DiaryAlthough 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.

Summit of Pole Hill
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Summit of Pole Hill, looking towards the ramparts of Evelick Hill, with the Tay beyond
Murrayshall Hill from Pole Hill
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Murrayshall Hill from Pole Hill

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.

Stream leading off Pole Hill to Pitroddie Burn
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Descent to Pitroddie Burn

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.

Upper reaches of Pitroddie Burn, OS 1:25000

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.

Pitroddie Burn draining into sinkhole, Pitroddie Den
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Pitroddie Burn disappears …

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.

Pitroddie Burn emerges from underground, Pitroddie Den
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Pitroddie Burn reemerges

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.

12 thoughts on “Braes Of The Carse: Glen of Rait to Den of Pitroddie”

  1. I enjoy your description of your walks but is there any problem about crossing over these lands? Are the some sort of laws that allow free access or is it tradition?

    1. Tradition was been set into law in Scotland with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003. This gives people a “right to roam” which is close to the Scandinavian model, and very different from what pertains in England and Wales.
      There are some obvious exclusions – gardens, curtilages, sports grounds, etc – but otherwise we can walk where we want, provided we behave “responsibly” – not interfering with growing crops, disturbing livestock or preventing land-owners going about their business.
      So you’ll see me writing in these little reports about using gates and following field margins, choosing my season to avoid crops, and going out of my way around livestock. My apparent obsession with reporting “pointless” detail in this regard is because I feel a sort of duty to let people know what sort of problems they’ll encounter with accessing these areas responsibly.

      1. Thanks for this. I have seen shows explaining the rules in England but not in Scotland. You seemed to be walking in places that wouldn’t have been allowed, to my understanding, in England.

        I had a quick look at the link you provided and the rules seemed to be eminently reasonable and written pretty clearly. Though I did spent most of my career interpreting and enforcing legislation so I might be biased.

        As an aside I have worked out that we drove right past this area, on the A90, on a couple of visits to Stonehaven in the 1970’s – including watching the fireballs on New Years Eve.

        1. Yes, the stretch of the A90 from Perth to Dundee has the Braes of the Carse to the north, and then as you head north from Dundee you have the Sidlaws ahead and to the west.

  2. Ah, good to know someone’s out there spreading the word. Thanks for letting me know.

    If, when I started this blog, I had considered the potential for word-of-mouth recommendation by walkers, I’d certainly have given it a name that was easier for people to remember and spell!

  3. Well, actually she said it was something like Oktoberfest, which, combined with being something to do with walks in the Braes of the Carse was a bit puzzling! 🙂

    1. A “den” is a deep, often originally wooded, valley–the same meaning as a “dean” (Southern Scotland) and a “dingle” (England). A “head” is the high end of a valley, the inflow end of a loch, or the summit of a hill.
      So the placename Denhead is usually associated with a settlement at the upper end of a valley, though a trawl through the maps reveals that the “valley” can sometimes be no more than the steep banks of a small stream.

  4. I realise people wander aimlessly across golf courses with their dogs always off leash while games are in progress. Many obviously of the your right to play, dogs digging, leaving their bits being, and even causing fear to some !
    I understand the right to wander? But as golfers you pay to play and often substantially so, since golf courses cost a lot to maintain. What are the rules for this ?

    1. The right to roam is restricted for areas developed for outdoor sports, and the Act gives guidance for golf courses, discussed in some detail here.

      To quote from the linked article:
      Responsible behaviour by the public is stated by the code to be crossing golf courses, and this brings it within the ambit of s 1(4)(b) of the Act and “going onto it [the land or in this case, the golf course], passing over it and leaving it all for the purpose of getting from one place outside the… [land/golf course] to another such place”. This includes, presumably, a trip to the beach via a golf course. The code does not provide authorisation for the other element of access authorised by the Act, i.e. being on land or “going into, passing over and remaining on it… and then leaving it”, and indeed the act of being on a golf course for such purposes is expressly prohibited by the Act under s 9(g).

      So a walker can cross a golf course on their way to somewhere else, provided they do not interfere with play or cause damage to the playing surfaces.

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