Category Archives: Walking

CCCP 2018: Dornie

Sunset at Dornie
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This year the Crow Craigies Climbing Party stationed itself in Dornie, on Loch Alsh, handily placed for any number of hills. Static high pressure over the North Atlantic brought a succession of warm, humid days with light winds, often with low cloud in the morning dissipating to bring blue skies in the afternoon. The moral pressure to go out and climb something every day was therefore fairly high. So we did.


Beinn Sgritheall (NG 836127, 974m)

14 kilometres
860m of ascent

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The guide books tend to send you up Beinn Sgritheall via a madly steep ascent from the south. But, in anticipation of warmth and lack of fitness, we chose a longer walk in from the west, along a gently graded forest track and around Loch na Lochain, before joining the route from the south in the Bealach Rarsaidh, with its pretty little lochan.

The lochan afforded us a welcome glimpse of a diver (a loon, to my North American readers). It was no more than a characteristic silhouette against bright sunlight, but the jaunty upward tilt at which it held its beak suggested it was a red-throated diver.

Red-throated diver, Beinn Sgritheall
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I fired off a few telephoto pictures blindly, and a little bit of manipulation of the resulting images confirmed the sighting, bringing out the diagnostic grey head and red throat.

Red-throated diver, Beinn Sgritheall (brightness enhanced)

Then it was just a matter of the unavoidable steep climb up the ridge to the summit, with stunning (albeit hazy) views of Loch Hourn below, Knoydart to the south, and orographic cloud pouring over the ridges of Skye to the west.

Ben Sgritheall
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Beinn Mhialairigh from Beinn Sgritheall
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Descending Beinn Sgritheall
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Ben Sgritheall, looking towards Skye
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Beinn Bhuidhe (NG 970182, 869m)
Sgurr nan Saighead
(NG 974178, 929m)
Sgurr Fhuaran (NG 978167, 1067m)
Sgurr na Carnach (NG 977159, 1002m)
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (NG 984149, 1027m)

13 kilometres
1500m of ascent

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This was a trip along the classic Five Sisters ridge. We parked a car under the Bealach an Lapain, and then drove a second car back to the coast at Allt a’ Chruinn, our starting point. There’s a little parking area for six cars at Allt a’ Chruinn. We walked a short distance up the road from there, and then we made a turn on to a surfaced track that looked unpromisingly like someone’s driveway, but which took us first up the service road to a small dam, and then on to a beautifully engineered path which followed the Allt a’ Chruinn almost all the way to the col at the head of Coire na Criche.

A traditionalist, intent on visiting all Five Sisters, would have turned left at this point, to visit 876m Sgurr na Moraich. Moraich is part of the classic pentaptych* of the Five Sisters as seen from the Mam Ratagan, across Loch Duich. It bulks large from that viewpoint, its relatively humble height being concealed by the fact it’s the closest Sister to the viewer.

Five Sisters of Kintail
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But Munro-baggers, scorning anything under 3000 feet, have tended to ignore Moraich and reinterpret the Five to include the Munro Top of Sgurr nan Spainteach, at the east end of the ridge, which is obscured by Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe in the classic view.

The day being unfeasibly humid, we turned resolutely to the right, leaving Moraich to languish unloved.

We walked in cloud. It lifted more slowly than we’d hoped, and we had crossed Sgurr na Carnach in poor visibility before shafts of sunlight began to appear, and long tunnels in the cloud began to reveal neighbouring peaks and glens.

Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe turned out to be our last summit of the day. The cloud came down again, briefly, and we took an absolutely classic wrong turning on the double ridge that leaves the Bealach nan Spainteach. So we dropped out of the cloud to see the main ridge a little above us to the left, while we had been lured into following the spectacular rocky outcroppings of Druim Dubh Thollaidh.

Hmmm. It wouldn’t be too much trouble to climb back to the ridge to take in Sgurr nan Spainteach. Then again, the vista ahead was tempting—a long grassy rake all the way down to the car waiting in Glen Shiel, which would spare us the ghastly steep descent from Bealach an Lapain, which no-one remembers fondly.

So we descended. And it was lovely—a riot of wild flowers and waterfalls combined with easy walking. I’d certainly recommend it as the only pleasant way off the ridge at this point.

Glen Shiel from Bealach na Craoibhe, Five Sisters
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First glimpse of the glen below
Monarch of the glen
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Monarch of the glen
Sgurr na Carnach from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
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Descent to Glen Shiel from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe
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Sgurr na Forcan (NG 940130, 963m)
The Saddle (NG 936131, 1101m)
Sgurr na Sgine (NG 946113, 946m)

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Another day, another classic traverse, served by another well-engineered path. This one’s a stalkers’ path that zig-zags up the hillside from Glen Shiel, and delivers you neatly to the base of the notorious Forcan Ridge of The Saddle.

The Forcan is a classic scrambling route, and pretty mild in comparison to, for instance, the Skye Cuillin. Heights and exposure don’t bother me particularly, but I am not a natural scrambler, so it was good to have my friend Rod (who insists on a mention—hi, Rod) as my trusty guide. He prevented me from doing anything daft, which (in scrambling as in life) is the main secret to success.

We’d walked in under cloud, but it was very obviously lifting, so we sat for a while below the Forcan until the summit had cleared. It’s a lovely ridge, and under Rod’s tutelage I only whimpered a little on the way along. Crampon scratches on the stone are a good guide to the route, but occasionally misleading—people wearing crampons for a winter traverse generally have ropes, too, and there’s an interesting 10m drop on the main ridge that a mere pedestrian (like me) is better off avoiding by using the sissy path that circumvents it on the left.

We crossed The Saddle’s twin tops, as confused as everyone else about which is the higher, and then descended into the Bealach Coire Mhalagain to cross to Sgurr na Sgine.

Sgine is very much the poor cousin of The Saddle, but provides fine views along the South Shiel Ridge, and also back to the Forcan.

Then we headed back to the bealach and climbed a little way up the far side to find a path that traverses below the Easter Buttress of the Forcan, along the line of one of those mad and apparently pointless stone walls that traverse the Highlands. And then back down to the glen via the stalkers’ path, although we cut a corner by descending steep grass, to avoid one of its wider zig-zags below Biod an Fhithich.

Clearing mist on the Forcan Ridge
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Waiting for the cloud to lift
Forcan Ridge from above
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Looking back on the Forcan Ridge
Summit of Sgurr na Sgine, looking east
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Summit of Sgurr na Sgine, looking east
Forcan Ridge from slopes of Sgurr na Sgine
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Forcan Ridge from slopes of Sgurr na Sgine
Following the wall below the Forcan Ridge
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Following the wall below the Forcan Ridge
Stalkers' path below Biod an Fhithich
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Stalkers’ path below Biod an Fhithich

Blabheinn (NG 530217, 929m)
Blabheinn South Top (NG 528215, 926m)

9 kilometres
954m of ascent

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The next day, with clear skies from the outset, we drove to Skye to take in Blabheinn (or Blaven, as it’s often Anglicized). The car park at the foot of the Allt na Dunaiche is a rather stealthy affair, these days. At some time the roadside sign has fallen off its pole, leaving only an unmarked and unpromising-looking entrance to a rough forest track—you have to drive up that for a short distance before the parking area becomes apparent through the trees.

Like the Saddle, a good path takes you to the foot of the hill. And like the Forcan, all hell then lets loose. Above the lovely little alp of Fionna-choire, the path turns into a treadmill of scree and steep rock, with a final little scramble up a gully to reach the breathtaking summit view.

And it really is breathtaking. To the west, the long jagged ridge of the Black Cuillin; to the north, the rolling mounds of the Red Cuillin; to the south, the Small Isles of Rum and Eigg; to the east, the mainland hills, laid out from Knoydart to Applecross.

We lingered at the top for a long time, in air so still that bees were audibly going about their business around the summit cairn. Then we traversed to the South Top, a journey of a couple of hundred metres that involves a short but interesting shuffle along an exposed ledge, and then dropped down steep scree to a grassy shelf poised above the Fionna-choire and below the crags of Slat Bheinn. Here, someone had laid out a neat little circle of contrasting stones, reminiscent of the more complex artworks that adorn the ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor. Above us, somewhere among the crags, an eagle chick bellowed its hunger with an echoing CHEEP CHEEP—we scanned the sky for parental wings, but saw nothing.

More scree took us back into Fionna-choire, and back to the path down the glen.

Blabheinn from the Allt na Dunaiche path
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Approaching Blabheinn
Red Cuillin from Blabheinn
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North end of Cuillin ridge from Blabheinn
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Descending scree from Blabheinn south top
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Descending the scree
Stone circle below Blabheinn south top
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Creag a’ Mhaim (NH 088078, 947m)
Druim Shionnach (NH 074085, 987m)

16 kilometres
1010m of ascent

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By this time, a certain yearning had set in for a day that didn’t involved sliding around on scree and/or dangling above near-vertical drops. So we headed off to make a  tame little circuit of the two easternmost hills on the South Shiel ridge.

We parked near the Cluanie Inn, and set off south along the old road that used to connect Glen Cluanie to Glen Garry—a link now severed by the expansion of dammed Loch Loyne, but still a fine quick way to reach the path that ascends Craig a’ Mhaim from the east. There was no wind at all on the summit, and life was made a little wearing by an overwhelming number of crane-flies, all of which seemed intent on flying into our eyes and mouths. From there, a broad ridge and then a surprisingly narrow rocky neck took us to Druim Shionnach—where there was no wind, but also no crane-flies. Along the way, we chanced to peer down into the northern corrie, and saw that we were not the only ones feeling affected by the heat—a deer was lounging in the residual snowfield below.

Deer resting in snow below Druim Shionnach
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After sprawling in the sun for a while, we headed off to follow the hill’s northern ridge (to which the name “Druim Shionnach” more strictly applies) down towards the Cluanie Inn. There’s a little awkward navigation to circumvent the crags in the upper part of the hill, but thereafter it’s a pleasant stroll down to the outlet of Loch a’ Mhaoil Dhisnich, from which a path descends the rest of the way to Loch Cluanie.

It was on the slopes above Mhaoil Dhisnich we had our most startling wildlife encounter. I was descending in the lead, when suddenly a very young red deer calf, still sporting its juvenile white spots, erupted out of its couching place a few metres to my left. It emitted an oddly catlike mewing noise, and then galloped over the near horizon in a panic.

When my companion (Rod again—hi, Rod) caught up with me, we stood for a moment to discuss what had happened, until we realized we had a red deer hind fidgeting in our peripheral vision, a few metres to our right. She had clearly responded to the distress call of her calf, and was unsettled to find the calf absent and a pair of humans standing about chatting. We froze in place—and after a moment she walked delicately around us to reach the calf’s couching spot. She sniffed and licked the heather for a few seconds, and then suddenly her head came up and she wheeled around and galloped off along the calf’s exact line of flight. Either the calf had called again, or she had caught its scent on the slight and errant breeze.

Red deer hind on Druim Shionnach
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We breathed again, and walked off down to the Cluanie Inn to celebrate a rare and strange encounter.

Druim Shionnach from Craig a' Mhaim
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Druim Shionnach from Craig a’ Mhaim
Craig a' Mhaim from Loch a' Mhaoil Dhisnich
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Craig a’ Mhaim from Loch a’ Mhaoil Dhisnich

Moruisg (NH 101499, 928m)

7.6 kilometres
800 metres of ascent

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Finally, a bit of a tame day, at least for Your Correspondent. For reasons too mind-meltingly complex to share with you here, we ended up undertaking a two-car walk using only one car. So I climbed to the top of Moruisg, came back down the same way, moved the car down the road, and then walked up the Allt a’ Chonais to rendezvous with the remaining contingent of the CCCP, who had hiked across country to get there. We were slightly wrong-footed in the early part of the walk by the existence of a previously unsuspected deer fence—so our route up the hill was dictated by the location of the gate in the upper part of this fence. But thereafter there was a decent path up steep grassy slopes, which brought us out at the northeast end of Moruisg’s short summit ridge, where a large cairn stands to confuse the unwary—the summit is actually at the other end of the ridge, sporting a small and dilapidated cairn of its own.

Walking through cotton grass, Moruisg
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Walking through cotton grass
Beinn Eighe from Moruisg
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Beinn Eighe from Moruisg
The lying cairn on Moruisg
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The lying cairn on Moruisg ridge
Spotted orchids below Moruisg
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Spotted orchids

And that was that. We had spent an unprecedented six days in the Scottish Highlands entirely without rain.


* A pentaptych is a painting, often iconographic, in five panels. Hill writers are tediously fond of trotting out the word triptych for any trio of hills, particularly the “Torridonian triptych” of Alligin, Liathach and Eighe. So I thought I’d give pentaptych an outing. I might even wheel out heptaptych when we get to the South Shiel ridge. Some days I’m just mental like that.

Glen Prosen: Mayar and Driesh

Mayar (NO 240737, 928m)
Driesh (NO 271735, 947m)

20.4 kilometres
860m of ascent

Prosen route
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I’ve climbed these two hills from all sorts of directions, including a previous report from Glen Doll. But I’ve never come at them from the Glen Prosen side. While Glen Doll has a sort of bustling cosmopolitan feel to it, with its big car park, picnic tables and visitor centre, Prosen feels like sleepy hollow, with the road simply coming to an end at Glenprosen Lodge.

I parked on a patch of grass just above the lodge buildings, and walked off on the broad track up the glen—the sun was bright, but the cloud shadows were moving quickly, making me wonder what might come my way later in the day. I was heading for Kilbo at the head of the glen, a shieling marked as a “ruin” by the Ordnance Survey. From there, the Kilbo Path rises northwards, to pass between the summits of Mayar and Driesh before descending through Corrie Kilbo into Glen Doll. Kilbo is from the Gaelic cuil bo, “cattle nook”, which could apply to either the northern corrie or the land around the southern shieling.

Head of Glen Prosen, Kilbo shieling
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The head of Glen Prosen, with the Kilbo shieling just visible

Kilbo proved to be anything but a ruin, however. Some time in the last decade it has been completely rebuilt as a rather fine shelter for (I’d guess) deer-stalking and grouse-shooting. It was locked up solidly, with every shuttered window firmly padlocked in a way that would do credit to a high-security compound in Lusaka, rather than a remote highland cottage. I can only assume that the estate has had problems with walkers causing damage while using the building as a convenient bothy.

Kilbo shieling
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(For comparison, here is a nice photo of what the place used to look like—it also shows the nearby forestry before it was felled.)

The Kilbo Path ascends the Shank of Drumwhallo just behind the cottage. “Shank” is a Scots word for a ridge that descends from a hill, and there’s a whole row of them on the north side of Prosen—from west to east, the Shanks of Drumwhallo, Driesh, Strone, Barns and Ord. As I reported in my previous post about this area, Drumwhallo has a counterpart in Glen Doll, the Shank of Drumfollow, which probably has the same etymology—druim falamh, “empty ridge”.

Much of the forestry marked on the map in Glen Prosen has been cleared, and the patch of woodland behind Kilbo was no exception. Rather than trudge up through the dispiriting blasted heath that remained, I struck uphill behind the shieling, following a forestry vehicle track up the east side of the cleared area, before crossing the Burn of Kilbo and climbing to join the Kilbo Path on Cairn Dye. A pair of roe deer bounded away as I cleared their sky-line, the male’s antlers sheened with velvet.

At its north end in Glen Doll, the Kilbo Path follows a beautifully engineered gradient on the west side of Corrie Kilbo, sheltered from the prevailing winds. Here in the south, though, it follows the ridge line—affording wider views, but always exposed to the wind.

The Burn of Kilbo from the Shank of Drumwhallo
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The Burn of Kilbo from the Shank of Drumwhallo

I was soon up in the col between Mayar and Driesh, where I turned westwards to visit Mayar first. The intermittent sunshine of the morning was being replaced by lowering dark cloud in the west, so I put on a bit of spurt. Mayar offered a broad view down Glen Prosen, showing the way I’d come in the morning, and the distant dot of Kilbo shieling.

Glen Prosen from Mayar
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Glen Prosen from Mayar

Then I was heading eastwards towards Driesh, with the wind strengthening at my back, and the first hint of dampness in the air.

Driesh from Mayar
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Driesh from Mayar

Corrie Kilbo still had a cornice of snow decorating its crags, over which I peered down towards Glen Doll.

Corrie Kilbo
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I’d no sooner reached Driesh’s sheltering cairn, than the cloud clamped down over the mountain top and a thin rain started to fall.

Driesh summit cairn
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I didn’t tarry long at the cairn—just enough time to set a compass course south for the Shank of Driesh, which was my route back to the glen. After descending fifty metres or so through cloud, I got visibility back, with the  scar of the Landrover track coming up the Shank providing an easy landmark ahead. As I descended, relays of mountain hares took turns at running madly and then freezing to watch me go by, all of them still bearing the last traces of their white winter coats.

Shank of Driesh, with Dead Water to the left
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Shank of Driesh, with Dead Water to the left

A batter of sleety rain from the west decided my next move. Rather than follow the ridge-line down, I dropped eastwards towards the ominously named Dead Water, successfully finding some shelter from the wind.

From there, I hooked up with yet another Landrover track, this one serving the grouse butts on Shank of Strone, and then descended gently through the (partially cleared) Glenclova Forest. Quite why this forest is named for a glen on the other side of an 800m mountain ridge to its north, I don’t know.

Track through Glenclova Forest, Glen Prosen
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The track descending through Glenclova Forest

After a while, and just as the rain was starting to properly settle in for the duration, I popped out of the forest right next to my car. For once, I had managed to park in a place that was convenient for my return route.

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
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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 EarthCover 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.

Dron Hill: The Hard Way

Dron Hill (NO 288321, 211m)

12 kilometres
210 metres of ascent

Dron Hill route
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Dron Hill is an outlier of an outlier of the Sidlaws. I didn’t include it in my Sidlaws Gazetteer because it felt like it might be one of the Braes of the Carse, but it actually doesn’t feel like it belongs there either. Either way, it’s one of those rare instances in this area of a settlement taking its name from a hill, and not the other way around—dronn is Gaelic for “hump”. And this “hump hill” is reputedly easily climbed by walking a few hundred metres from the little hamlet of Dron to its east, but that really seems far too simple, doesn’t it?

So I walked in a couple of miles from the north-west, having parked at the gate of Little Ballo woodlands (NO 269348). I’ve been this way before, when I first visited Redmyre Loch and climbed White Hill, and I wanted to have another wander around that area. The path from Little Ballo to Dron is prominently signposted, but deeply disappointing. It starts as a broad woodland path, and ends as a broad farm track—but there’s a kilometre in the middle in which it is no more than a shoulder-wide muddy slot between whin bushes, rutted by the tracks of bikes and horses.

Little Ballo - Dron path
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I followed the track down past the Redmyre sheepfolds, Redmyre Cottage, and a grand-looking house just beyond that, to a corner (NO 291325) where the track turns towards the road at Dron. There was a field gate here that looked like it would give access to the hill, but I chose instead to dive into the open woodland to its left, with the vague expectation that I’d find a fallen fence or a broken gate at the top end. No such luck—although I was able to step over one line of fencing, I ended up teetering over some rather sturdy barbed wire to get access to the open hill. It’s not a good route.

Dron Hill from the east
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Finally on the approach to Dron Hill

But Dron Hill itself is a delight—rolling grassland dotted with beech and pine, the just discernable ring of a prehistoric fort, and lovely views south to Dundee and the Tay estuary, and north to the main Sidlaw ridge.

Summit of Dron Hill
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Summit of Dron Hill, looking north

From the summit I dropped northwards, following a prominent animal track towards a bridge over the Dron Burn that’s marked on the 1:25,000 map. That took me to a gate, which took me back to the field gate I had spurned on the way up. So that’s the easy route. (Oh well—you can’t guess right every time.)

From there I had aspirations to get back to my starting point by skirting around the south side of White Hill, where the map shows a track linking the Redmyre sheepfolds to the Redmyre estate buildings and then on to Littleton, from where I could walk up the road to my car. But this proved to be an abortive attempt. Although old maps show this as the main, tree-line approach to the estate buildings, there has been a determined effort to block the route, with electric fencing and a new plantation of trees in place. Walkers are instead routed northwards, on a line that eventually links back to the Little Ballo path I’d come along. I wandered southwards for a bit, to see if I could connect to a remnant of the old southerly route into Redmyre (also prominent on the old maps) but ran into even more fences.

Oh well. Time for Plan B. I headed back to the track junction at the sheepfolds (NO 287331), pausing along the way to commune for a while with a very relaxed red squirrel in the woodland to the south. (Redmyre have set up a squirrel hide here, but this little fella was just running back and forwards across the track on some obscure squirrel business.)

Red Squirrel hide, Redmyre Estate
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The squirrel hide

Then I walked back up the ghastly route to Little Ballo as far as a gate at NO 283338.

Access to Redmyre Loch from Little Ballo - Dron path
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I stepped over the collapsed fence next to it (you can see it in the picture, above) and then followed a vehicle track through the trees and up to Redmyre Loch. Last time I was here, I was greeted by strange bird noises, which proved to be emanating from a little group of Whooper Swans. This time the loch was dotted with Mute Swans, Canada Geese, and whole flotillas of ducks … and there were more strange noises. Here’s what it sounded like, courtesy of the good people at xeno-canto:

Male wigeon, calling. They obviously didn’t get the “quack quack” memo from Duck Central.

Redmyre boat house
Click to enlarge

Marching on past Redmyre’s eccentric mock-Tudor boat house, I followed the track south, to finally reach the Redmyre estate buildings, after walking a couple of kilometres around a triangular route to get there, instead of a couple of hundred metres along their old approach road.

After that, it was plain sailing—a scenic stroll westwards down what seems to now be Redmyre’s only access track (completely replacing its historical approaches from east and south), to reach a muddy junction at Littleton Farm, and then about a kilometre up a quiet road to my car at Little Ballo.

Redmyre track, looking towards Gask Hill
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The Redmyre track, looking towards Gask Hill

Braes Of The Carse: Abernyte Circuit

Tinkletop Hill (NO 260304, 184m)
Gallows Knowe (NO 272311, 162m)
Rossie Hill (NO 277310, 173m)
Kirkton Hill (NO 260318, 253m)
Forehill (NO 243320, 250m)

16 kilometres
520 metres of ascent

Abernyte route
Click to enlarge

Well, a look at the map suggests that “circuit” isn’t quite the right word, but I’m hard pressed to come up with anything better. This was a wander that started and finished in Abernyte, with the intention of taking in the significant hills around that village. Since it looked like I was going to be crossing farmland to get to some of my chosen summits I chose a frosty winter day—the crops would be in, and the inevitable mud of the farm tracks would be frozen solid.

I parked on a piece of waste ground just outside the village, and walked back down the B953 to a field entrance just opposite Milton Farm. The gate was wide open, and I could see my line to Tinkletop very clearly—up the hill along two field margins, turn left, and then another field margin to take me to the wooded top of the hill. The only slight difficulty along the way was a little, low, temporary electric fence, about a half a metre high, strung across the track. This was very easy to step over, apart from the inevitable hysterical instability induced by straddling a bare electric wire.

Approach to Tinkletop Hill
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Approach to Tinkletop Hill

Tinkletop sounds like it should be a geographical feature in the Shire, from Lord of the Rings, rather than a real place. David Dorward, in his book The Sidlaw Hills, offers two possible origins for the name. One is the possibility that the hill once bore a watchtower and alarm bell (though “tinkle” seems the wrong word); the other is that it comes from tinkler, a Scots word for a tinker or tinsmith. On this occasion the summit bore nothing but an impressively shallow-rooted windfallen tree.

Summit of Tinkletop Hill
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Summit of Tinkletop Hill

Down the way I came, and then back along the road into Abernyte village before turning right at the signpost to the church. The presence of the church explains the name of nearby Kirkton Hill, named for Kirkton Farm, the farm-toun by the church. It was on my list, but first I wanted to find a way into the Rossie Priory Estate, which surrounds Rossie Hill. I had my eye on the entrance, marked on the map, opposite Kirkton Farm, but this proved to be locked. So I wandered on up the road, and then turned into an open field that took me across to the saw mill at East Newton. A short distance up the Knapp road took me to the North Lodge entrance to the estate. I then followed my nose and the 1:25,000 OS map, going pretty much back the way I’d come except now inside the estate grounds, and walking along narrow forest tracks.

Forest track in Rossie woods
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Forest track in Rossie woods

The 1:25,000 shows both Gallows Knowe and Rossie Hill apparently completely enclosed by fences. Gallows Knowe actually turned out be encircled by the remains of an ancient wall, which constituted no barrier to reaching its heavily wooded summit.

Summit of Gallows Knowe
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Summit of Gallows Knowe

The top of Rossie Hill, however, is encircled by a deer fence—with an open gate in its south-west side and a disused track running up to the (again, wooded) summit.

Gate in the deer fence around Rossie Hill
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Gate in the deer fence around Rossie Hill

I followed estate tracks down to the West Lodge, and then headed for something I had noticed at the roadside as I walked up past Kirkton Hill—a wee gate and plaque announcing the Millennium Glebe Walk.

Millennium Glebe Walk
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This gave a direct line between the farm fields, straight on to Kirkton Hill, and then wound up the shoulder of the hill, past various strategically placed benches, then into the trees and eventually to within a few yards of the (wooded) summit.

Path on Kirkton Hill
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Path on Kirkton Hill

But at least there was a chance of a view nearby, where the edge of the woodland looked out over the fields towards the west end of the Sidlaw ridge.

Black Hill and King's Seat from Kirkton Hill
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Black Hill and King’s Seat from Kirkton Hill

I wove my way north-westwards, following the wall that separated trees from grazing land, eventually hopping over into the fields at an obvious crossing place, with a plastic tube threaded over the barbed wire, and a stone provided to step down on to. Then it was just a matter of choosing a line across the empty field to reach the gate at North Pitkindle Farm. From there I walked a short distance down the road to join the B953 again. South would take me back to Abernyte, but I headed west for my last hill of the day.

Forehill is another name assigned by the folk over at the Database of British and Irish Hills—the 250m summit is unnamed by the Ordnance Survey, and the name Forehill (“Front Hill”) is actually associated with a 233m subsidiary hump, enclosed by Forehill Wood.

I walked a short distance up the farm road to Pitkindie, and then turned through another open field gate. Following the field margins took me to the top of the hill, which is traversed by a field fence.

Black Hill from the summit of Forehill
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Black Hill from the summit of Forehill

Then I dropped down the other side, still following the fence, until I came down to the headwaters of the Abernyte Burn, near the farm aptly called The Ford. After following the field margin parallel to the burn, I walked through the farm yard and out on to the track that runs from The Ford all the way back to Abernyte. This used to be the main road connecting Bandirran and Abernyte, but now it’s a pleasant (and in places slightly overgrown) walk down the Whitehill Den and then the Whitehills Farm track.

Track through Whitehill Den
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Track through Whitehill Den

I was just reflecting on the fact I hadn’t seen much in the way of interesting birdlife, when two pairs of bullfinches, the males an almost luminous pink in the low sunlight, came down to take a look at me in turn.

“Stay there,” I said, reaching for camera. But they flew away.

Braes Of The Carse: Kinnoull to Murrayshall

Kinnoull Hill (NO 136228, 222m)
Deuchny Hill (NO 152236, 232m)
Murrayshall Hill (NO 164253, 279m)
Westhill (NO 169237, 213m)
Taymount (NO 167228, 154m)
Binn Hill (NO 157226, c165m)

17.2 kilometres
643m of ascent

Kinnoull to Murrayshall route
Click to enlarge

Another exploration of the Braes of the Carse, this time their extreme western end above Perth. As with my previous walk in this area, I climbed a couple of hills that are unnamed on the map. I’ve listed them above according to the names they’ve been given in the Database of British and Irish Hills, and marked them in italics. (In each case, the name has actually been borrowed from a nearby settlement which has a hill-related name.)

I parked at the Jubilee Car Park (NO 144236) between Kinnoull Hill and Deuchny Hill, and followed the dog-walkers up through the woods, past a rather striking eagle carved from the stump of a tree, and on to the bare shoulder that accommodates Kinnoull’s famous folly—a tower built on the cliff-top by Thomas Hay, 9th earl of Kinnoull, who seems to have wanted to give the Tay valley a bit of a romantic Rhineland look.

Carving on Kinnoull Hill
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Kinnoull Hill folly
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Kinnoull Hill folly

The bare summit of the hill is a little farther on, beyond a slight dip, with fine views north and south.

Tay valley from Kinnoull Hill
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Tay valley from Kinnoull Hill

Back the way I came, and then up Deuchny Hill via the Aitken Arboretum—a pleasant path through new plantings that will eventually reinstate the previous arboretum of the old Kinfauns Estate. The arboretum path connects to the network of forestry tracks on Deuchny Hill, which eventually brought me to a large sign just below the summit announcing the Deuchny Hill Bike Park—which I briefly assumed was a place to park your bike so that you could get on with some proper walking. But apparently not. As at Northballo Hill, I had entered mountain-biker territory. (Of which, more later.)

Murrayshall Hill from Deuchny Hill
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Murrayshall Hill from Deuchny Hill

The bare summit of Deuchny (with its prehistoric fort barely discernible) was easily accessible from the forestry track, and gave me a clear view of my next planned summit—Murrayshall Hill. I baled off northwards down steep ground to rejoin the forestry track network, and then headed east to the Coronation Road.

Coronation Road, Deuchny Hill
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The Coronation Road is an old route linking Scone to Kinfauns through the Braes of the Carse, and it has a southward extension into Fife, on the other side of the Tay. It may be an old route used by Scottish kings to commute between Falkland Palace and Scone Palace, or it may be a very old route used by the Earls of Fife when travelling to a royal coronation at Scone. Either way, it presented me with a choice—left or right? Turning left would take me to a path connecting the Coronation Road with Murrayshall Hill*, but not marked on my map. Turning right would let me pick up a path, marked on the map, that ran right across to the farm at Knowhead, which should then connect me easily to Murrayshall Hill.

So like a fool I believed the map, and went right. The advertised path went well through the trees, and then came to a nice little gate in the forest fence, beyond which it simply disappeared in a mass of gorse bushes surrounding the deep trench of a ditch. After casting around for a while, I forced my way north through the gorse to get into some open woodland that allowed me to circumvent the end of the ditch. Then I climbed a couple of fences, crossed a stream, and stumbled out on to the farm track at NO 162242, a little the worse for wear. I definitely should have turned left on the Coronation Road.

Up the track, skirting a fenced area through some boggy ground, and then on to the top of Murrayshall Hill with its fine obelisk. (The name is Murray’s Hall, by the way, not Murray Shall.) The obelisk commemorates Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch, who knocked seven bells out of the French in 1811 at the Battle of Barossa during the Peninsular War.

Obelisk, Murrayshall Hill
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Just down the hill is what seems to be another folly—McDuff’s Monument. Apart from the fact it was built in the 18th century by the McDuff family of Bonhard (near Scone), no-one seems to know much about it.

McDuff's Monument, Murrayshall Hill
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From the monument, I zigzagged my way back through the field system and picked up my outgoing farm track, which I followed to the (ruined and abandoned) farm of Knowhead. From there I walked up the side of a meadow to the summit of my next hill, which the DBIH calls Westhill—actually the name of an abandoned village on its southwest slopes. Westhill is crowned by a curious roofless octagonal structure, which looks for all the world like a red brick pillbox with no windows.

HF/DF tower blast wall, summit of Westhill
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It even has a blast-protected entrance, with the wall wrapping around in front of the doorway opening. The usually reliable Canmore database had no record of it, so I got in touch with them by e-mail, since it seemed like the sort of object they should know about. Their military expert identified it as being the blast-protective outer wall of a wooden Second World War High-Frequency Direction-Finding tower (HF/DF, or “Huff-Duff” as it was known to my late father, who flew fighter planes during the war.)

There’s a computer-generated view of what the original structure might have looked like here (it depicts an HF/DF tower on Ibsley Common). Inside the blast wall I found a stack of farming-related junk, a tangle of metalwork, and an uprooted concrete post that had once supported a rectangular pole.

Concrete base support, HF/DF tower, Westhill
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This suggests that the Westhill tower was perhaps supported by props, like this one at Southwold:

Royal Navy W/T Station, Southwold, Tower Y
Royal Navy W/T Station at Southwold, 24 October 1944, Tower Y
© Imperial War Museum (A 26121)

From there I descended to Hollowdub (another abandoned farm, named for the shallow pond nearby). I had to walk slowly and apologize to the cattle as I went, but I was eventually able to reach another farm track which took me down past the old cottages of Westhill village and eventually to a gate at the side of the road.

Farm of Hollowdub
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Ruined Hollowdub Farm, and the dub that gave it its name
Ruined village of Westhill
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A building in the long-abandoned village of Westhill

On the opposite side of the road, another gate took me quickly up the unnamed hill the DBIH calls Taymount, borrowing from the name of a property on its south side. It was a dull little nettle-covered mound, but with good views of Glencarse Hill to the east and Binn Hill to the west.

Binn Hill and Deuchny Hill from Taymount
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Binn Hill and Deuchny Hill from Taymount

Back to the road, and then a short walk to Binn Hill, where a World War II pillbox peeps out of an embankment on the driveway to Binn Farm.

The pillbox at Binn Farm
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The pillbox at Binn Farm

The hill itself hosts yet another folly—a fabulous gothic tower erected by Lord Gray of Kinfauns, as a counterpart to Kinnoull’s romantic edifice. The summit lies in open woodland a little east of the tower.

Binn tower
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As I came back down the forest track from Binn Hill, I noticed a path leaving the far side of the road and ascending into the forest of Deuchny Hill. Figuring it would take me back into the Deuchny forestry track system, I decided I’d give it a go, rather than walk up the road to the car-park. I hadn’t gone far before I realized I was walking up a heavily eroded mountain bike track, and I belatedly remembered the Deuchny Hill Bike Park. Oops. So I walked tensely and kept an ear out for oncoming traffic, of which there was none. The only problem turned out to be at the very top of the bike track, where it joined the forestry road—at this point it was so steep and so heavily eroded by tyres that I had to scrabble my way up on all fours for the last few metres. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go down that. On a bike. Into the trees.

The forest track gave me one last glimpse of the Kinnoull folly, and then there was just a pleasant descent through Aitken’s fine arboretum, back-lit by the low sun, and I was at the car.

Paperbark maple in Aitken Arboretum, Deuchny Hill
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Paperbark maple in Aitken Arboretum

* Since you ask—the turn-off is signposted, at NO 154241. The path takes you through the woods and then north along a fence, before letting out on to open farmland.

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.

Pentlands: Loganlea Circuit

Turnhouse Hill (NT 212626, 506m)
Carnethy Hill (NT 203619, 573m)
Scald Law (NT 191611, 579m)
East Kip (NT 182608, 534m)
West Kip (NT 178606, 551m)
Black Hill (NT 188631, 501m)

17.3 kilometres
960m of ascent

Loganlea circuit route
Click to enlarge

I’ve looked down on the improbably pointy Pentland Hills from aircraft approaching Edinburgh airport, and I’ve looked up at them from the Edinburgh bypass road, and I’ve always felt I should visit them—but I never have, until now.

This far south, the Gaelic influence on place-names is slight, and it feels like walking into a different landscape—a place that seems more connected to the Borders and northern England in its toponymy. In the Pentlands there are cleughs (ravines) and knowes (knolls), rigs (ridges) and of course kips (pointed hills).

I parked at the Flotterstone Information Centre (which was closed ) and followed the path markers that indicated the way to Scald Law. The path (in places broad and eroded) takes you up the shoulder of Turnhouse Hill, from the top of which you’re confronted with a typically pointy Pentland—Carnethy Hill.

Approach to Turnhouse Hill
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Approach to Turnhouse Hill
Carnethy Hill from Turnhouse Hill
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Carnethy Hill from Turnhouse Hill

From Carnethy to Scald Law, from Scald Law to East Kip, from East Kip to West Kip … it’s a motorway path and a switchback ride along the old volcanic spine of the hills, with the town of Penicuik to the left, and the lovely steep-sided glen of the Logan Burn, with its two reservoirs, to the right.

Carnethy Hill & Scald Law from West Kip
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Looking back along the ridge from West Kip

I met plenty of people (including a young German couple high-fiving each other and doing a little jig on top of Scald Law, for some obscure reason) but encountered no wildlife— unless you count the world’s most phlegmatic herd of cattle, lounging around and chewing the cud in the dip between Carnethy and Scald Law.

It felt like I’d been too much on the beaten track. So I hunkered out of the wind just below the top of West Kip, and dug out the map. My plan had been to let down to the head of Loganlea reservoir at The Howe, and then to follow the road back down to Flotterstone. But with a bit of time to spare I thought I’d make a bit of a circuit of it, and go up and over Black Hill, too.

The Harvey’s 1:25000 map showed a path hooking around below West Kip and heading back in the direction I was looking for. I found it at NT 175604, a grassy vehicle track branching off to the right just before the main path reaches the gravel track that crosses through the pass between West Kip and Cap Law. This took me easily across curlew-haunted sheep pasture, and then deposited me at a bridge over the Logan Burn.

The Howe and Loganlea reservoir
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The Howe and Loganlea reservoir

Parties of people were tramping down the path from Green Cleugh towards the reservoir, and they looked a little alarmed when I crossed the bridge and then started straight up the steep heathery slope on the south shoulder of Black Hill (disconcertingly named The Pinnacle). I’d decided on the dirrettissima approach as I walked towards Black Hill, since the map showed no paths, and I couldn’t pick out any less steep lines on the side facing me, apart from a couple of bracken-stuffed gullies.

Black Hill from the south
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The approach to Black Hill; The Pinnacle is the flat-topped shoulder to the right

It wasn’t so bad—a hundred metres of ascent at forty-five degrees, across heather and rock. But, just after I started, a couple of sparrowhawks showed up, circling above me and emitting a continuous stream of alarm calls. I couldn’t for the life of me work out what I was doing to disturb a couple of tree-nesting birds on this treeless slope, but they kept at it until I was not only at the top of the steep stuff, but a few hundred metres on to the flat ground beyond. Stressed by their evident agitation, I suspect I made a much faster ascent than I might otherwise have done.

Hazy view of Forth bridges from Black Hill
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The new Forth crossing stands out as three bright triangles seen from Black Hill

Black Hill itself produced some splendid views out over the Forth estuary towards the railway bridge and the two road bridges, new and old. Then I descended eastwards (steep heather again) to pick up a vehicle track in the col below Gask Hill. This took me down to the farmland at Logan House. Although the maps show this track terminating at the field boundary, it continues as a farm track down through the fields, and eventually gives access to the road via a rickety gate at NT 207632. (The fields were full of sheep, so this probably isn’t a good line of descent in lambing season.)

Then it was just a matter of following the road around Glencorse reservoir. Shortly after passing the dam, I turned off to follow a woodland path signposted to Flotterstone. Before linking up with my outward route, this took me past the site of some old settling ponds, and a rather intriguing circular building that I haven’t been able to find out anything about, so far.

Circular building beside the Glencorse Burn
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Glen Isla: Caenlochan Circuit

Druim Mor (NO 190771, 961m)
Cairn of Claise (NO 185789, 1064m)
Glas Maol (NO 166765, 1068m)
Little Glas Maol (NO 175759, 973m)
Monega Hill (NO 186756, 908m)

25 kilometres
1060m of ascent

Caenlochan route
Click to enlarge

Embarrassing to admit that, after more than forty years wandering the Angus hills, I’d never walked up to the head of Glen Isla before.

I parked at the road-end, by Auchavan. The left fork here is marked with warning notices about the privacy of the track up to Tulchan Lodge; the right takes you down to a little parking area by the river, just before the track crosses the bridge to the cottages at Linns.

From there, I walked up the side of the woodland to join the main road to Tulchan. (A footbridge is marked a little farther up the river, connecting a path from Linns back to the road—but it had seen better days when I walked past it.)

Fallen bridge, near Linns, Glen Isla
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At Tulchan, I encountered an interesting sign. The old Monega drove road (of which, more later) descends into Glen Isla about a kilometre north of Tulchan. On the map, there’s a branching path that splits off south from the traditional route near Little Glas Maol, coming down over Shanovan Hill and into Glen Brighty, before emerging into Glen Isla at the back of Tulchan Lodge.

Sign at Tulchan, Glen Isla
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The owners of the lodge seem understandably reluctant to have walkers traipsing back and forth through their grounds to access that path … but it’s difficult to know who would be the keeper of the “official” route; and the spelling mistake in the simple traditional name of the path doesn’t help elicit sympathy.

A little farther up the glen, at a point where a pipe carried a burn under the road, a flicker of movement caught my eye, as a chubby little mammal plopped into the water—and for a long three seconds I watched its dark furry back swim down the narrow watercourse, before rounding a corner between high banks. A water vole! These lovely animals have been almost exterminated hereabouts by the predations of the introduced American mink, so I gave a mad little jump and shouted (very quietly), “Water vole! Yay!”

Farther on again, I came to Bessie’s Cairn—a well-appointed object on a square base, with a seat built into each side, reputedly built in 1852 to shelter Lady Elizabeth Londonderry from the wind while her husband was stalking deer. Colin Gibson’s drawing of it, reproduced in David Dorward’s The Glens of Angus, shows a prominent inscription on the south-facing side—as my photo shows, it seems to have since disappeared.

Bessie's Cairn, Glen Isla
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From Bessie’s Cairn, the track continues to the pretty flatlands at the head of the glen, and a ruined shieling and enclosure. There’s a triple junction here, with Glen Isla sloping away to the south, the Canness Glen coming in from the northeast, and Caenlochan Glen from the northwest. (Despite the spelling, the first syllable of Caenlochan is pronounced “can”, not “cane”.) Both the upper glens are rimmed around with crags, and at first it seems like there is no easy way onwards out of the glen and on to the plateau at this point.

Ordnance Survey maps show a path heading uphill behind the ruined croft, and then zig-zagging up the high slopes to emerge on to the plateau between the rocky outcrops of Caderg and Sron Reidhe. The Harvey’s 1:25000 Superwalker map is (as usual, when it comes to paths) more accurate, showing only the upper zigzags starting at 675m. So it was a bit of free-style ascent across tussocky grass and occasional rocks, seeking towards the bottom end of the grassy zigzag path, which became easily visible as I climbed.

On to the plateau, then, and a slightly circuitous approach over rough ground to the first hill of the day, Druim Mor (“big ridge”) with clifftop views down into Caenlochan and across to my planned route back to Glen Isla, along the Monega ridge.

Glas Maol from Druim Mor
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Glas Maol from Druim Mor
Glen Isla and Monega Hill from Druim Mor
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Glen Isla and Monega Hill from Druim Mor

Druim Mor took me easily northwards to Cairn of Claise (pronounced “Cairn of Clash”), and I had sight of a golden plover and a patch of snow to cross, keeping me entertained along the way.

At the summit of Cairn of Claise there’s one of those mad high-altitude walls that improbably bedeck Scottish Highland estates.

Glas Maol from Cairn of Claise
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I descended to join a linking track to Glas Maol (scaring up a couple of ptarmigan along the way), and joined the old Monega road as it comes up from Sron na Gaoithe. Monega (emphasis on the middle syllable) was a tricky high-altitude drove road linking Glen Clunie with Glen Isla, presumably only attempted in good weather. Its story is well described in Neil Ramsay and Nate Pedersen’s The Mounth Passes, which I reviewed in an earlier post. In the dip where the tracks join, I encountered a couple of bird-watchers, who bemoaned the absence of dotterel on the plateau.

The Monega route keeps below the summits, so I had to strike off uphill, along the line of the old boundary fence, to reach the top of Glas Maol. At the cairn, I met another couple of bird-watchers, who told me they’d encountered three dotterel on the way up the hill. They then obligingly pointed out another one for me, scuttering about a stone’s throw from where we were sitting. (I have only ever seen dotterel that someone else has pointed out to me—I seem to have a peculiar bird-blindness for these lovely little creatures.)

From Glas Maol I headed to the low rise of Little Glas Maol, and then on to the long ridge of Monega Hill. From Monega, the zig-zag path on the other side of the glen looks like a completely mental, near-vertical endeavour. I was rather glad I hadn’t planned to follow my route in the opposite direction, because I might have found the prospect of descending that way a little alarming.

Caderg across Caenlochan Glen from Monega Hill
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The zig-zag path is just visible in the middle of this view from Monega Hill

Monega is a splendid viewpoint, with views into all three glens.

Canness Glen from Monega Hill
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Canness Glen from Monega Hill
Caenlochan Glen from Monega Hill
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Caenlochan Glen from Monega Hill
Glen Isla from the Monega track
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Glen Isla from the Monega track

The long descent along the Monega track was a joy, with Glen Isla spread out below and Monamenach and Mount Blair in the distance. And then there was a bit of a slog back to the car. But any day with a water vole and a dotterel in it is an above-average day.

Muriel Gray: The First Fifty

cover of The First Fifty by Muriel GrayRight, this is a little odd. I’m not actually going to review this one. It comes up purely in the context of something I found on my hard drive that I’d completely forgotten about.

First, a bit of background. Muriel Gray had been around as a TV presenter and columnist for quite a while when this book was published. The First Fifty: Munro-Bagging Without A Beard appeared in 1991, effectively as a companion volume to her popular series on Scottish Television, The Munro Show, about hill-walking in general and climbing Munros in particular.

Despite its immense popularity among British hill-walkers, I never got into The Munro Show. Gray cultivated a full-on TV persona that was equal parts chirpy and stroppy, which certainly served as an antidote to the ponderous, middle-aged male ambience of a typical Scottish Mountaineering Club guidebook—and that was no doubt entirely the point. But it all made me feel … well … really tired after the first few minutes. (And, before you ask, I’m only a year older than she is.) It’s just that I go to the hills for peace and quiet and serenity, and The Munro Show seemed to undermine my whole motivation. Take a look at the opening sequence and see if it induces a sense of serene contemplation:

So, anyway, about four years later I was given a copy of the book, by a friend who had received it as a Christmas gift three years in succession. (In her introduction to the book, Gray had actually predicted that this sort of thing would happen to hill-walkers.) And of course the book turned out to be very much in the style of the TV programme—which meant it, too, was hugely popular but wasn’t really my thing. (This happens to me a lot, though. Looking at you, Game of Thrones.)

What I did notice when I was reading it was that it hadn’t been very well proof-read. This is depressingly common nowadays, but was still a little unusual back in the early ’90s. Mainly, there were two recurring spelling choices that struck me then (and still strike me today) as being … um … well, striking, in a book aimed at a hill-walking readership.

So I sat down and wrote a little piece about it for The Angry Corrie (Scotland’s First and Finest Hillwalking Fanzine), which appeared in March 1996. I think it’s a great testament to the popularity of The First Fifty that, almost five years after its publication, I didn’t actually have to mention the title—from a very brief description, every one of my hill-going readers was going to know exactly which book I was talking about.

So here’s the piece, recently recovered from the depths of my hard drive. Some of my Lachlan stories had been appearing in The Angry Corrie round about that time, so it features Lachlan and his long-suffering narrator (albeit weirdly channelling Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes) in their favourite Dundee pub.


A SOCRATIC DIALOGUE

I arrived at our usual table in the Peh and Pint to find Lachlan flicking angrily through a paperback book, his lips set in a pale, wrathful line. At my arrival, he set aside his book, passed a weary hand across his face, and then fixed me with a steady gaze. “Might I ask you a few questions?”

I nodded my assent.

“Thank you. Imprimis: do you know why the fabric Gore-Tex is so called?”

I raised an eyebrow. “But of course. The name derives from that of the manufacturer, WL Gore.”

Lachlan nodded solemnly. “So you would, perhaps, feel that the central letter ‘e’ is an essential part of the name?”

“Indeed. While I have seen the hyphen and the capitals dropped in casual writing, to omit the ‘e’ is to insult the Gore family and their genius.”

“Quite so. Secundus: would you say that the French language has much use for the letter ‘k’?”

I considered this carefully. “Well. One must allow that the placenames of Brittany show some predilection for that letter …”

Lachlan raised an admonitory hand. “A region in which the purity of the French tongue has been much diluted by Celtic influences. We speak now only of French of the true Latinate descent, the language of Voltaire and Descartes.”

“Why, with that proviso, I would state that the letter ‘k’ is notably absent from the French.”

Lachlan nodded gravely. “Tertius: do you believe that the word ‘cagoule’ is of French origin?”

“With all my heart. It is no more than the French word for ‘hood’. One must only recall that the French equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan was named Les Cagoulards to …”

Again Lachlan raised an admonitory hand. “Doubtless a fascinating tale, but one that is at best tangential to my present theme. May I take it for now that, as a necessary consequence of my second and third points, you would accept that the word ‘cagoule’ should not, in all conscience, be spelt with an initial ‘k’?”

“I recoil at the very thought.”

“As I knew you would. Now. Quartus: given the climatic zone in which the Scottish mountains are located, and the exertions to which those who climb among these mountains are prone, perhaps you may agree with me that the Gore-Tex cagoule is the natural, nay the defining, item of apparel for the Scottish mountaineer?”

“Certainly. The garment’s ability to shed water whilst allowing the microscopic moisture of perspiration to escape unhindered commends it above all things.”

Lachlan sighed and sat back. “I have finished. We are in complete agreement.”

His hand trembling with strong emotion, he raised his book so that I might examine it. I need not give the title here: suffice it to say that the cover bears an image of a thin, spiky-haired, blonde woman, possessed of a certain perkiness of character that some find wearisome. “Is it not then a strange, terrible and above all ironic thing that this book, a bestseller in the annals of Scottish hill-walking publication, should consistently misspell the words ‘Gore-Tex’ and ‘cagoule’ in just the manner we have discussed?” he asked, in the tones of one mortally wounded.

And we fell into a disconsolate silence that lasted for some time.

First published in The Angry Corrie No.26, Feb/Mar 1996

"Gortex kagoul", page 166 of The First Fifty