Category Archives: Walking

Sidlaws: Blacklaw Hill & White Hill from Little Ballo

Unnamed Point 273 (NO 276349, 273m)
Blacklaw Hill (NO 288344, 284m)
White Hill (NO 274338, 233m)

10.5 kilometres
240 metres of ascent

Blacklaw & White Hill route
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You’ll perhaps recall my previous expedition to Blacklaw Hill—I went in from the north, which turned out to be a minor assault course, and went out to the east, which took me into the unnerving neatness of Piperdam. I wasn’t that taken with either approach, so I thought I would explore access from the west.

I parked at the gate to Little Ballo woodland (NO 269348), which has enough room for three or four cars without obstructing access. Down the forest track, turn left at an unpromising pile of gravel, and a path takes you to a gate, a broken fence, the Blacklaw Burn, and the south side of Blacklaw ridge.

Valley of Blacklaw Burn
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From there, a track sweeps around the west end of the hill and then up on to the shoulder. The main navigational difficulty here is chosing which track to take to the summit of the unnamed 273m western top of Blacklaw Hill—like Blacklaw itself, the summit area is dissected by multiple quad-bike tracks. From the top, the view east makes it clear why this is the “Black Law”—law is a Scots word for “hill” (especially an isolated, conical hill), and the thick heather makes it look almost black on an overcast day. The “isolated, conical” aspect is best appreciated from the east—from Dundee it appears as a distinctive dark triangle.

Piperdam Loch and Blacklaw Hill
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So it’s an easy, if muddy and unsightly, stroll along the ridge to Blacklaw (the “Hill” is, we now know, tautological). On the way along, I happened on a rather grim-looking trio of quad bikers, creeping slowly along the ridge. Given that all the muddy track up here is presumably for their entertainment, they didn’t seem to be having much fun.

Quad bikers on Blacklaw Hill
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Dundee & Tay estuary from Blacklaw Hill
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I’d previously crossed a tangle of tracks between Ledyatt Wood and Blacklaw (which now make sense to me as an abandoned section of quad-bike trail), and thought I’d see if I could make a link along the north side of the hill, between those tracks and the track that had taken me on to the west end of the ridge. No luck on that one—there was no path to be found. The bottom-land is fairly boggy, but it was easy enough going as I contoured along the hillside. After a while, I arrived at a track descended from the col between Blacklaw and its western top, which linked me back to the way I’d come.

Piperdam Burn lowlands from Blacklaw Hill
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The route back above the Piperdam Burn wetlands

A little cloud of bramblings blew through at that point. I find these little birds hugely frustrating—I never seem to get close to one, only ever identifying them by their little social calls and the flash of white rumps as they shoot away from me.

Back at the gravel pile near my starting point, I turned left instead of heading back to the car. This took me down a broad forestry track that slowly turned into a narrow, muddy slot between whin bushes, flanked on the right by a barbed wire fence. To judge by the footprints, it’s well travelled. I wonder what takes people back and forth between Little Ballo and Dron so frequently, along a path that isn’t entirely pleasant to walk.

Little Ballo - Dron path
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I turned off to the right at a metal gate in the fence, at NO 282338, on to a track marked on the 1:25,000 map. For a while this seemed gloomily unpromising, until it burst out into the open ground around Redmyre Loch.

Forest track to Redmyre Loch
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Something very strange was happening out on the loch, to judge from the intermittent blasts of sound, vaguely reminiscent of a hunting horn, wafting over from that direction. I strolled down to the water’s edge, to see nothing but a pair of mute swans, who certainly seemed an unlikely source for the racket. But after I’d peered at them suspiciously for a while, the true source of the noise swam into view—a little flotilla of wintering whooper swans, vocalizing at each other madly for some obscure cygnean reason.

Whooper swan, Redmyre Loch
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Here’s what they sounded like:

(Recording by Matthias Hemprich, XC301063. Accessible at Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 licence.)

Boathouse, Redmyre Loch
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I paid a visit to Redmyre’s fine mock-Tudor boathouse, and then followed another track marked on the 1:25,000 towards White Hill. I had thought there might be a little difficulty getting to the top of the hill through the forestry, but it proved to be a doddle. I turned left into a firebreak at NO 277339, right up another firebreak at NO 277338 (both marked on the 1:25,000), and found myself on the open summit of White Hill. The pale grass here suggests how White Hill got its name—in the days before the current forestry plantation, bare White Hill would have been a notable contrast with heathery Blacklaw.

Summit of White Hill
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There’s a track marked on the 1:25,000 that takes you off the north side of the hill and then loops around westwards. It’s probably the best route. I followed the firebreak due west, along the remnant of an ancient boundary wall, but it proved to be a little overgrown, and brought me out against the edge of the forest fence, which I had to follow north until I found a broken section I could step over. Then I was able to descend to join the aforementioned track that comes down off the summit of the hill.

From there, it was just a walk out to the road at Littleton and then up to my car. But there was one last curiosity—another seat-in-a-tree like the one I encountered on Bandirran Hill. This one has absolutely no potential role in fire-watching that I can detect, but seems instead to be there to give a view over the little loch nearby. Maybe someone uses it to shoot waterfowl.

Chair in a tree, Bogle Den
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Lochan, Bogle Den
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The view from the chair

Sidlaws: Dunsinane to King’s Seat

Dunsinane Hill (NO 214316, 310m)
Black Hill (NO 219319, 360m)
Little Dunsinane (NO 224325, 295m)
King’s Seat (NO 230330, 377m)

8.5 kilometres
360 metres of ascent

Dunsinane - King's Seat route
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Do you think I may be becoming obsessed with King’s Seat? I think it’s possible. But I wanted to get some photos on this part of the ridge for another project, and I also wanted to take a look at another point of access to this area—from the west, via Fairygreen.

So I parked in the little patch of ground at the roadside gate which gives direct access to Dunsinane from near Collace, at NO 207321. Dunsinane is dʌnˈsɪnən—emphasis on the second syllable, short final vowel, and the nearby estate of the same name is spelled Dunsinnan. It’s easy enough to remember: “Don’t be inane.” And, given the association with Macbeth: “Emphasis on the sin.”

Shakespeare seems to have been in two minds about the pronunciation when he wrote the play Macbeth:

Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.

Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1

The scansion in that goes awry if you try to use the “inane” pronunciation. But there’s no doubt of the rhyme in this one:

I will not be afraid of death and bane,
Till Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane.

Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3

The hill fort (actually two, nested one inside the other) on the summit gives the hill its name—in Gaelic, a hill fort is a dun. But the origin of the fort’s name is uncertain. Dorward gives it as dun na sine or dun na sinean, “hill fort of the little breast”, which matches the hill’s appearance from the Collace side. But it may involve a proper name instead—”fort of Cinead” or “fort of Senan” are possibilities.

The Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. XX (1798) suggested the name was “… ‘The hill of ants,‘ implying the great labour and industry so essentially requisite for collecting the materials of so vast a building.” Wikipedia still seems to think that flight of fancy is a reasonable suggestion, but George Chalmers had this to say about the idea, shortly after it first appeared:

Gaelic scholars, who delight to fetch from afar what may be found at home, approve of this etymon, as very apt. Yet it is Dun-seangain, in the Irish, which would signify the hill of ants. Dun-sinin signifies, in the Scoto-Irish, a hill, resembling a nipple; and, in fact, this famous hill does appear, at some distance, to resemble what the Scoto-Irish word describes, with the usual attention of the Gaelic people to picturesque propriety, in their local names.

Caledonia (1807)

I tend to agree.

Anway, whatever it was called, the fort is in a bit of a mess nowadays, having been enthusiastically but (by modern standards) ineptly excavated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—although the whole thing is overgrown with turf, you can still see the marks of the excavation trench and spoil heaps on the south-east side.

Black Hill from Dunsinane Hill
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Black Hill from Dunsinane Hill

From Dunsinane, you have to head initially south-east to get to Black Hill, to avoid the craggy stuff on Dunsinane’s east side. Black Hill, like Blacklaw, is “black” because of its dense covering of heather.

Black Hill and Dunsinane Hill from north
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Black Hill and Dunsinane Hill from the north, showing “picturesque propriety” in their names

There’s an easy enough path (several, in fact) to the summit, but as usual I managed to lose the path while descending the eastern shoulder of the hill—one minute there’s a well-trodden slot in the heather, the next there’s a maze of deer tracks heading in random directions.

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

Another assortment of paths takes off from the boggy ground around the little lochan at the source of the Den Burn, giving access to King’s Seat. At the summit I encountered an amateur radio enthusiast (call-sign MM0GLM, for those in the know) erecting a couple of aerials. He was about to “activate” King’s Seat for the amateur radio community worldwide, on behalf of a project called Summits on the Air (SOTA). It turns out that King’s Seat is GM/SS-235 in radio-speak.

Amateur radio on King's Seat
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I’d run into the concept of activating remote locations before, courtesy of the American Radio Relay League’s entity list (30KB pdf) of worldwide locations. Some of the best sources of information about remote, uninhabited islands are the reports of amateur radio enthusiasts who have mounted some quite serious expeditions, just to activate an entity by broadcasting from that location for a few hours or days. But this was the first time I’d heard of SOTA.

After tripping unhelpfully over the antenna wires, I headed off westwards through the heather to visit the hump of Little Dunsinane, and then the broch below it at NO 223325.

Source of the Den Burn from Little Dunsinane
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Source of the Den Burn from Little Dunsinane

Although the Canmore archaeology site has much to say about this object, I’m hard-pressed to find any of the evidence of walls and an entrance that they describe. To me, it still looks like no more than an improbably regular mound. Which is probably why I’m not an archaeologist.

Remains of the broch below Little Dunsinane
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The remains of the broch below Little Dunsinane

A muddy tractor track runs between Little Dunsinane and the broch, and that was my chosen route down today. It takes you down to a field fence, where you have a choice of a stile or a gate to climb over before reaching the little reservoir at Fairygreen (yes, this was once, supposedly, an area of grass where fairies danced). From there, the service road takes you through Fairygreen farm and back to the road to Collace. (There’s a baffling profusion of Scottish Water hydrant and sluice valve markers at the road junction, which have been a bit of a mystery to me up until now.) From there, it was an easy tarmac walk on a quiet road back to the car.

Descent to Fairgreen from Little Dunsinane
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The descent to Fairgreen from Little Dunsinane

Having also checked the approaches via Ledgertlaw, Glen Bran and Stockmuir, I can confirm that the Fairygreen route is definitely the easiest access to King’s Seat. Car parking might be awkward though—you’ll probably need to use one of the rather muddy pull-offs scattered along the verge of the main road.

Gear Review: Bolt-On™ Virtua-Trekker

HeadsetFor the last few months I’ve been cutting a dash on the hills wearing the wrap-round headset pictured above. It’s the core component of the new Virtua-Trekker—the first application of Virtual Reality for the hill-walker or fell-runner—and the nice people at Bolt-On™ Cybernetics have been kind enough to give me an early prototype to review. I’ve been under a press embargo until today (April 1st), and I’m also obliged to let Bolt-On™’s lawyers review my proposed text before it goes live—hopefully they won’t find too many commercially sensitive details to object to.

Bolt-On™ have a long history as developers of hi-tech outdoors equipment. In the mid-90s, trading as the Bolt-On™ Corporation, they hit the market with a succession of emergency “surgical management” devices for hill-goers, most famously their Leg Repair Kit—a simple external fixator designed to be applied to a broken leg by either the casualty or a companion, stabilizing the fracture so as to allow the injured person to walk off the hill unaided. These were surprisingly cheap and initially sold well, but a number of high-profile adverse outcomes dogged the company into the early 2000s, culminating in a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of [REDACTED] which was eventually settled for [REDACTED]. Bolt-On™ effectively went dark for a decade thereafter, rumoured to be [REDACTED], before re-emerging as Bolt-On™ Cybernetics a couple of years ago, with a new mission statement to supply Augmented Reality products for outdoors activities.

The Virtua-Trekker is their flagship device, consisting of the goggles illustrated above with a visual field of [REDACTED] degrees containing [REDACTED] pixels in each lens, a GPS receiver/processor unit about the size of a small [REDACTED] and weighing [REDACTED] which can be carried in any reasonably sized rucksack, an optional microphone for the voice-recognition interface, and an accelerometer-glove (right hand only) for the gestural interface. The whole assembly is designed to lay what Bolt-On™ call Annotated Reality on to the user’s view of the outdoors—navigational information, weather updates, data tagging of landscape features, and so on. The various components can be connected to each other by cable or Bluetooth, and the processor unit can be linked to a home network for updates, data backup, and the transfer of waypoints and route files in several standard formats.


The processor connected readily to my wireless network. I was able to download the North Britain dataset from the Bolt-On™ website without difficulty—I understand access to a range of datasets, including [REDACTED], will be a subscription service when the device is released commercially. I was also able to transfer route files in *.gpx format from my PC’s mapping software to the device.

GPS reception seems to be generally stable, though I did encounter a certain amount of what Bolt-On™ refer to as “intermittent route lurch” while passing through dense forest, and one episode of “secular route drift” on steep ground.

The rechargeable batteries for the unit seem to have a lifetime of about four hours, so spares will need to be carried for all but the shortest trips.

The goggles are comfortable to wear in cool weather, but can become a little claustrophobic when it’s warm. My unit displayed a tendency to internal fogging when I exerted myself, but the Bolt-On™ technicians assure me this is unlikely to happen for someone who is “reasonably fit”. Rain on the lenses is an issue, and the hydrophobic wipes provided were only a partial solution. The bulky headgear certainly attracted attention—most people I encountered expressed interest, some were sympathetic, and a small number were verbally abusive.

I was unable to test the real-time weather update feature, which reportedly adds a graphical representation of approaching weather fronts to the virtual environment. This feature requires 3G network coverage, which was of course completely absent in the Scottish Highlands.

The voice-recognition interface functioned poorly in all but light winds, and I soon abandoned its use. The gestural interface is intuitive, allowing the user to tap through various function menus (presented at a virtual distance of about a metre). However, it can send unintended signals during normal hand movements. For example, while unscrewing the cap of my flask I inadvertently and unexpectedly accessed an “Easter Egg” routine—a game mode called Zombie Apocalypse that was quite distressing at the time. The programmers tell me that its presence will be properly flagged in the instruction manual of the commercial product, though they did seem a little disappointed that I hadn’t enjoyed the experience more.


Basic navigation mode includes a direction indicator in the upper field of view, a route trace, annotated waypoints, and a set of “data packets” attached to various landscape features. I found the route trace (which laid my intended route on to the landscape as a red line) invaluable, especially in poor visibility.

Virtua-Trekker 1
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Virtual-Trekker 2
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The data packets available in my unit opened what appeared to be copies of Wikipedia pages, which were of neither use nor interest, occasionally fatuous and often misplaced.


View mode provides the names of landscape features visible on the horizon—which should finally put a stop to those endless “Can you see Schiehallion from here?” arguments.

Virtua-Trekker 5
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Switching to “mist mode” also provides an overlay sketch of the horizon itself, allowing the user to “enjoy the view” even when real-world visibility is restricted to a few metres. While the Bolt-On™ technicians seemed proud of the amount of processing required to produce this feature in real time, I found it tantalizing and annoying rather than useful.

Virtua-Trekker 6
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This is one of the most innovative features of the kit. In default mode, it generates a virtual hiker who moves at a steady speed determined by Naismith’s Rule (a method of calculating the time required to complete a walk of given distance and ascent). The formula parameters are customizable (including an allowance for descent, which will be welcomed by those whose knees are of a certain age). Fell-runners are served by “Naismith Runners” of varying degrees of fitness, all suitably lean and lycra-clad.

Virtua-Trekker 3
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The Naismith Walker provides a ready estimate of how quickly (or slowly) you are progressing relative to your aspirational timings. It can be a little unsettling, however, to pause for a breather on a steep slope only to have the virtual Walker pass through you from behind and stride away uphill.  The interface provides a small selection of Walker avatars to choose from—male or female, young or old. I also discovered the option to have the Walker appear in the form of Death—a flying, black-hooded skeleton carrying a scythe. (I presume this was inserted by the same programmers who provided me with a Zombie Apocalypse halfway up the Stone Chute on Beinn Eighe.)

One disadvantage of the Walker’s steady pace is that the virtual figure falls well behind on flat ground, but quickly catches up during the ascent. After I turned around to see the figure of Death sweeping up the misty slopes of Ben Loyal towards me, I turned off the Naismith Walker.

Virtua-Trekker 4
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When I later remarked to the Bolt-On™ representatives that watching the approach of the Death avatar was a little reminiscent of the plot of the 2014 horror film It Follows, they became visibly excited. I understand they are now in licensing negotiations with the film’s production company.


A remarkable and innovative piece of kit that nevertheless has [REDACTED].

Sidlaws: More About Smithton

Route to Smithton Knowe
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I’ve been intrigued by the lost community of Smithton since I climbed Smithton Hill this time last year, and then read David Dorward’s description of its namesake—“Former farm-toun W of Lundie village, deserted, abandoned and demolished within the past half-century.”

This was living memory for Dorward, writing in 2004, because he used to visit Smithton with his father when he was a child. Dorward senior was a keen apiarist, and would move his hives to Smithton in the summer months so that his bees could exploit the heather bloom in the hills. Dorward wrote:

[I]t was almost completely obliterated shortly after its last inhabited cottage was vacated in the 1960s.
The Smithton was a crofting community at the top of a track leading west from what is now the village hall in Lundie […] The track was passable for a car when I was young, but is now not used even by tractors, since the upper gate is locked and fenced against rabbits; the alternative access, from Lochindores, once the main access and still marked by a line of trees along the hillside, is now equally impassible. […] I was told that the old croft at Smithton was bulldozed by order of the laird; the result is that a once pleasant spot is now derelict.

In Angus or Forfarshire: The Land And People, Descriptive And Historical (1880), Alex J. Warden rendered the name Smistoun, and claimed it was so-called “because mists lie long upon it”. (But one wonders why it wouldn’t have been called plain old Mistoun, in that case.)

More likely, then, is Dorward’s derivation, from Smith’s toun—referring to either the personal name or the trade of blacksmith. Although he writes “[t]here is no known smiddy that could have occasioned the name”, the Ordnance Survey one-inch map (revised 1895) shows a cluster of buildings beside the track between Lundie and Smithton, labelled “Smithy”. 1895 OS map of Lundie, showing smithyInterestingly, by the 1900 survey for the six-inch and twenty-five-inch maps, those buildings have disappeared, and the label “Smithy” is attached to what is now Lundie village hall.1900 OS Map of Lundie, showing smithy (The previous smithy site is now occupied by what may well be the muddiest farmyard in the Scottish Lowlands.) So it seems reasonably likely that Smithton was the blacksmith’s toun, and we don’t need to invoke any of the ubiquitous Smith family.

Smithton sat on top of a low rise called Smithton Knowe, above a pair of springs called Horse Well and Craig Well, and despite the lack of access along the old tracks, I wanted to take a look at the site. I started from Tullybaccart and walked up through Pitcur Wood, then along the eastern shore of Ledcrieff Loch.

Ledcrieff Loch and Lundie Craigs
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Looking along Ledcrieff Loch to the fishery building and Lundie Craigs

Behind the the fishery building at the head of the loch, a path strikes northeast to reach the edge of the forestry at a gate (NO 272372). From here, a path runs below Lundie Craigs, coming out at the place where I had a close encounter with a herd of Highland cattle during a previous walk. So I combined my trip to Smithton with reascents of Lundie Craigs, Ardgarth Hill and Smithton Hill, but I won’t bore you with the details.

It’s possible to get directly to the site of Smithton from the forestry gate, if you turn immediately right up the hillside, following a path that runs alongside the fence. At NO 274369, this brings you to a gate, which gives access to a tractor track that runs across the boggy ground below Smithton Loch, then skirts around the north side of Smithton Hill and descends directly towards Smithton Knowe. There’s a maze of new barbed wire lower down, which occasionally cuts across the original line of the track, but the way ahead is always obvious.

Smithton Knowe from the west
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The Knowe itself is a lumpy diamond of open woodland, 300 metres long by 100 metres wide, floating 50 metres above the lower farmland to the east. Very little evidence of the old buildings remains, but there is still a deep, rectangular, turf-covered depression at the site of the Old Mill Dam—once there must have been a pool here, providing a head of water for the buildings a short distance below.

Site of Old Mill Dam, Smithton Knowe
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I could see no sign of the original terrace of cottages, or the larger building beyond, but on the south side I came across the low remains of terraced walls, and a couple of gateposts mysteriously left standing.

Old gateposts, Smithton Knowe
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These gateposts cause me a little excitement, because I had seen them before—in Colin Gibson’s pen-and-ink drawing of Smithton in its heyday, reproduced in Dorward’s book. I won’t infringe Gibson’s copyright by reproducing the whole thing here, but I’ll just show you a relevant sliver:Colin Gibson's view of Smithton (detail)

You can see that the small trees Gibson recorded within the wall are now fully grown. Messing around with the National Library of Scotland’s georeferenced maps of the area, and adjusting the transparency to fade back and forth between the twenty-five-inch Ordnance Survey sheet and aerial photographs, I could also make out that the group of trees at the east end of the Knowe trace the original line of the walls of the larger building in that position. They seem too large to have sprung up from seedlings rooted in the ruined wall—I think, like the ones in Gibson’s drawing, they must have been planted as a windbreak within the walls when Smithton was still thriving.

Smithton Knowe, looking east
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Looking east on Smithton Knowe – there would have been a terrace of cottages running diagonally in the foreground, and a large, walled building in the area between the distant trees
25-inch OS map of Smithton, 1900
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Smithton in 1900, OS 25-inch map

Of Horse Well I could find no sign, but Craig Well is still there—a little brick structure isolated in the middle of a broad, muddy seepage from the hillside.

Craig Well, Smithton Hill
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And that’s it. As Dorward says, the old routes from Lundie and Lochindores are essentially impassable—overgrown slots between two boundary fences, showing occasional remnants of the old stone walling; a line of new electric fencing cuts across the south side of the Knowe.

It’s still a pleasant spot, although it has a melancholy feel when you know its history. I wonder why anyone took the trouble to bulldoze the buildings?


Levison Wood: Walking The Americas

Cover of Walking the AmericasI’ve found on these long expeditions that there sometimes comes a point when you grow tired of walking.

Walking the Americas recounts the story of Levison Wood’s third epic walking journey—a successor to Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas, and a companion volume to the Channel 4 TV series of the same name. You can find my review of Walking The Himalayas here.

The Nile was a highly specific route—following the river from source to sea; the Himalayas were more diffuse, offering Wood a range of route options, so that he could string together a series of particularly interesting locations; the “Americas” starts with broad choice in the north, and narrows down to some severely limited options in the south.

Wood walks through the historical core of the Americas—Central America. For start and finish points that allow a complete traverse of this isthmus, he chooses two events from the Spanish conquest of the region—the landing of Hernán Cortés on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in 1519, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa‘s  journey across the Isthmus of Panama at Darién in 1513, during which his party became the first Europeans to see the Pacific Ocean. As Wood points out, these two men are forever united by a historical inaccuracy in John Keats’s poem On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, which ends:

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Cortés never visited the Darién colony, and Keats clearly conflated his adventures with those of Balboa. (The story goes that, when informed of the error, he left it in so as to preserve the scansion of the poem. That’s poets for you, that is.) Despite the neatness of this poetic link to the geography of the region, it seems logistically more likely that Wood chose his starting point in Yucatán simply because that’s where his walking companion, the photographer Alberto Cáceres, lives. And his destination is clearly dictated by the shape of the isthmus, which has a definite southern endpoint where it joins the continent of South America just beyond the jungles of Darién. Between these two points, he walked 1,800 miles over the course of four months.

Walking the Americas route
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Levison Wood’s route through Central America (Public Domain base map)

In contrast to companions on Wood’s two previous journeys, Cáceres is able to stay with him throughout the trip, and it’s evident that he’s an invaluable asset—aimiable, upbeat and possessed of an apparently infallible ability to charm Spanish-speaking officialdom.

Wood also seems to be blessed with an easy sociability that stands him in good stead—chatting cheerfully to border guards, drug dealers, gang members, child refugees and pretty much anyone else he meets along the way. I think he describes his approach well when discussing photography, early in the book:

You need to speak to people and get them to relax. You need to spend an hour or so chatting about their life, their passions, their wants and needs, before you even get your camera out. They must trust you, and that cannot be forced. They must like you, and you can’t force that either.

Wood’s impulse to chat only betrays him once, when he and his companion are treated to lunch (in a manner that can’t be refused) by a group of men they believe to be drug dealers. He works very hard to make it clear he is simply a traveller and writer (not a police informant), and then has to work hard again to be sure they understand he is not a rich writer (so not worth kidnapping for ransom). Presumably exhausted by this gruelling process and beginning to relax slightly, he then asks brightly, “So, what do you do?”

After a tense silence that gives Wood ample time to regret his curiosity, he is told that they “grow beans and corn.”

As with previous volumes, the book is a useful companion to the television series. The memorable moments from the series are all here—diving in a cenote used for human sacrifice; walking to the rim of an active volcano; climbing Cerro Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica, to see the sunrise; walking edgily through gang territories in San Pedro Sula; and the final slog through the jungle of the Darién Gap. But there’s also much background information on the history of the area, and a lot of moments that never made it to the TV screen—a hilarous consultation with the elderly and  eccentric explorer John Blashford-Snell (during which Wood develops a sort of explorer envy because he won’t be able to take a gunboat with him into Darién); the apology he receives from the gang leaders through whose territory he passes, who say that they would have tidied up the graffiti if they’d had more warning of his arrival; the enthusiastic but seriously underequipped and ultimately ill-fated Belgian travellers who are planning to cross Darién before Wood gets there, and who have the potential to blight his carefully negotiated arrangements in that sensitive region; and a poignant visit to Puerto Escosés, the site of Scotland’s failed colony in the New World, and the focus of the seventeenth-century Darien Scheme, a financial venture that ultimately bankrupted Scotland and ended its existence as an independent nation.

And there are snakes, spiders, vampire bats, river crossings, unpleasant injuries, quicksand … and a moment when they get lost and turn up as unwelcome trespassers in someone’s garden.

What’s not to like?

Sidlaws: The Balshando Hill Expedition

Balshando Hill (NO 278355, 266m)

6.7 kilometres
140 metres of ascent

Exploration around Balshando Hill
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So, Balshando Hill was a bit of a puzzle to me. It’s a bald-topped mound surrounded by a ring of forestry with the charming name of Naiad Wood—a Greek mythological reference that’s unusual hereabouts. And around Naiad Wood there’s a ring of farmland. But the Ordnance Survey show a path marching in from the east and then zigzagging and looping its way through the trees to the summit.

Balshando Hill path
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So it looked like all I needed to do was park at the trout fishery at Ledyatt Loch, find the start of the marked path, and stroll up the hill. Well, the first problem was finding the start of the path, which involved pushing through a young grove of trees across boggy ground, with not much evidence that many people came that way. And when I got to the start of the path, I found out why not many people go that way—access to the open fields was blocked by a stonking great metal gate in a stonking great deer fence, padlocked from the Ledyatt Loch side (which seemed odd). So that was a non-starter.

A few weeks later, I was at Tullybaccart with the intention of taking a look at the various Lochindores lochs. Lochindores, according to David Dorward, is likely from Gaelic lochan dobhar, “little loch of the waters”—and that low triangle dotted with lochans is certainly a watery place. I hopped over a sagging bit of fence where the Kettins Burn leaves the boggy ground around the lochs and flows under the road towards the Glen of Pitcur. The two eastern lochans marked on the map showed no visible water at all—just walls of reeds surrounded by squelching tussocks.

Lochindores reed beds
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The two western lochs were open water, dotted with mute swans and mallards. The westernmost loch sported a row of wildfowling hides along its shore, and a genuine quaking bog to its south—the sensation was like walking across a large, springy mattress or a very soft trampoline. A couple of fences cut across the area, but they’re easily crossed at convenient gates.

Lochindores Loch
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So, there I was, looking up at Balshando Hill from the west. Could I get up it from this side? After climbing Whinny Knowe (not much whin, thank goodness), I arrived at the big imposing deer fence that surrounds Naiad Wood.

Balshando Hill from Whinny Knowe
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Balshando Hill from Whinny Knowe

Reasoning that there had to be a gate somewhere, and it was most likely to be on the east side where the alleged path marked on the map entered the forest, I followed the fence around to the north across empty grazing land, through a gate into another empty field, and duly arrived at a big metal gate, the twin of the padlocked one at Ledyatt Loch—but this one was simply closed with a loop of chain and a hook-and-eye fastening.

On the inside of the gate, I could see a large interpretive noticeboard—but the gate itself was so overgrown with vegetation I had to throw my full weight against it a couple of times to tug it open.

Welcome to Naiad Wood
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So it turns out Naiad Wood is a “Trafalgar Wood”—planted on the bicentenary of the naval Battle of Trafalgar, and named after the frigate HMS Naiad, which was present at the battle. The thirty-three Trafalgar Woods planted in the UK in 2005 all feature trees that were used in shipbuilding in the days of sail. Isn’t that a lovely idea?

But beyond the sign there is a tangled wilderness that gives the impression that the gate was closed in 2006 and never opened again. The long spiral up the hill is choked with chest-high grass. At one point I found a little wooden bench protruding from the undergrowth.

Overgrown path, Naiad Wood
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The “path” through Naiad Wood
Bench in Naiad Wood
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The bench in Naiad Wood

There had obviously been some intention for this to be a public place of enjoyment, but the locked gate at Ledyatt seems to have put paid to any chance of that. Which is a shame, because the bare summit gives pleasant views over the main ridge of the Sidlaws.

Auchterhouse Hill and Craigowl from Balshando Hill
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So, apart from my bog-trotting approach from the west, is there a sensible way to get to Balshando Hill? I walked over to the Ledyatt Loch trout fishery and found the locked gate that had stymied me previously. From the outside, I could read the CCTV warning sign next to it—so I’m guessing the gate is locked to stop poachers getting in, rather than walkers getting out.

Locked gate between Ledyatt Loch and Balshando Hill
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Then I wandered around Ledyatt’s boundary fence, which is everywhere formidable, and blocks off a couple of gates and a stile that would at some time also have given access to the hill. Eventually I arrived at the gate of the field, which opens on to the access road to Ledyatt, just outside their gates at NO 283357. So that’s the only way in from the east, now—hop over the gate and walk around the high Ledyatt fences. But there isn’t a signpost anywhere suggesting that Naiad Wood even exists, let alone that it’s intended to be accessible.

The only access to Naiad Wood
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This way to Naiad Wood

On the way back, I went south around the woods, and took a couple of exploratory forays down to the fence that runs alongside Piperdam Burn—but it’s an unbroken barbed wire barrier, cutting off what might have been pleasant access from the woodlands at Little Ballo.

And so back to boggy Lochindores. To return to the car, I found a gate in the fence at the foot of the road embankment, at NO 268357. It’s invisible from the road, and allows you to pop up out of nowhere to startle motorists on the A923. Which is a bit of a mixed blessing, of course.

So that’s the story of Naiad Wood. Unlike my other Sidlaws explorations, this one makes me feel very slightly sad.

Sidlaws: Blacklaw Hill & West Mains Hill

Another two-parter. These two outliers sit either side of the A923 just east of the point where it passes through the main ridge of the Sidlaws at Tullybaccart.

Blacklaw Hill (NO 288344, 284m)

7.4 kilometres
200 metres of ascent

Route on Blacklaw Hill
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Well, this first one is a fine example of what happens if you just look at a map and choose what looks like the obvious route.

Ledyatt Loch
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Ledyatt Loch

I parked at the trout fishery at Ledyatt Loch (a recently constructed body of water, absent from twentieth-century maps), and set off south through the trees. From the map, it looked as if a track and a firebreak would get me down to the Piperdam Burn. Google Earth showed a swirl of strangely pointless-looking tracks on the Blacklaw hill side just beyond the south-east corner of the plantation, so I thought I’d pretty easily find my way out at that corner and on to the hill.

Didn’t happen. The track going south petered out at a little turning point surrounded by fairly dense undergrowth—I made a couple of little sallies into the trees but soon got turned back. The transverse firebreak on the map at that point didn’t seem to exist. So I walked back to the line of the electricity pylons and used the open ground beneath them to take me to the east side of the plantation. There’s a little gate into a farmer’s field there, which probably provides a better line down to the burn, but I went steeply down through tussocky stuff and long grass at the edge of the plantation to wind up at a fence beside the burn.

Blacklaw Hill from Ledyatt Wood
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The descent to Piperdam Burn, with Blacklaw Hill and its multiple vehicle tracks beyond

The fence was easily climbed at its corner post, and then I had to cast about for a way across the steep-sided cut of the burn. One of the swirls of grassy vehicle track took me up to the  face of the hill, and then I went direttissima through very steep heather to reach the ridge. Turning east to head for the trig point, I found myself crossing what amounted to a dual carriageway of well-graded but very muddy tracks coming up the hill from the direction of Piperdam Loch—in fact, the whole summit area was defaced by a branching trackway. There was even a turning circle beside the trig point. Although there were some big 4×4 tyre tracks here and there, much of this racecourse looks like it is being used by quad bikes.

Predictably, the Ordnance Survey map provided no hint of any of this stuff. There’s a trace of it on Google Earth, but someone has evidently been very busy up there since 2009, when the Google photos were taken.

Tay estuary from Blacklaw Hill
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Tay estuary from Blacklaw Hill
Dundee from Blacklaw Hill
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Silhouetted Dundee from Blacklaw Hill

From the summit, the views down to the Tay estuary and Dundee are beautiful, so I stood for a while admiring the view, and then decided I’d follow a grassy track that descended eastwards towards Piperdam Loch, to see where it came out.

Piperdam Loch from Blacklaw Hill
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Piperdam Loch from Blacklaw Hill
Track to Piperdam
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Track to Piperdam

After turning very muddy on its way through the trees at the foot of the hill, the path deposited me, disorientatingly, on a golf course. I wandered up the side of the deserted fairways, picked my way across a little patch of rough ground between two houses, and stepped out on to pavement. Suddenly I was on Osprey Road, in the Golf and Leisure Resort of Piperdam—curiously reminiscent of the community of Stepford, Connecticut, in the film The Stepford Wives. Slightly muddy and dishevelled as I was, I was surprised I managed to get down to the end of the road without someone calling the police.

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The spookily quiet, frighteningly neat and vaguely threatening Piperdam

Then it was just a matter of walking back up the verge of the A923 to get back to my car. As my map shows, what started out as a simple there-and-back jaunt evolved into a pretty stupid zig-zag route. So I’m thinking of it more as an exploratory mission than a proper walk.

West Mains Hill (NO 315376, 290m)
Bowhouse Hill (NO 306374, 265m)

4.8 kilometres
180 metres of ascent

Route on West Mains Hill
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For this one, I parked on the grass verge of the B945, on a little one-car flat patch at NO 321383, having spotted what I thought looked like a promising line on to a hill surrounded by farmland.

Approach to West Mains Hill from B954
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The route took me in through an open field gate and up the broad unploughed margin of the field. Above that, I stepped over a wooden fence and into some sort of main drag for cattle—they are presumably transferred back and forth between the hillside and lower grazing through this narrow slot between two patches of forestry. So the whole area was a churned mass of mud. Fortunately I was there after a frost that still hadn’t thawed in this shady spot, so I was able to levitate my way across what would have otherwise been a fairly slaistery experience.

Muddy section on approach to West Mains Hill
Cow Alley
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Above the forestry, I was able to cross on to the open hillside near the corner of the fence at NO 315380, at a section where the top strand of barbed wire had been stapled low to create an easy step-over. Another strand of barbed wire just beyond that  had a long slack run to it at this point—again, an easy step-over.

Up the hill over tussocky stuff, and the curious pointed cairn was soon in view. It’s quite eye-catching from the road below, and I’d always been curious about its construction. I turns out to be close to four metres tall, cemented together, and crowned with a sort of acorn finial that presumably started life on top of a more conventional building. The Canmore archaeological website tells me that the whole summit area consists of a Bronze Age burial cairn 20m across, and suggests that the current pointy cairn was constructed using spoil from the 1897 excavation of the Bronze Age burial. I’m prepared to bet that fancy finial isn’t Bronze Age, though.

Cairn of West Mains Hill
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The summit afforded fine views of the central Sidlaws, as well as southwards towards the Tay estuary.

From there, I crossed the dip to reach Bowhouse Hill (that’s bow as in “taking a bow”, not “bow and arrow”). There’s a gate in the fence at NO 309375—it doesn’t open, but you can climb over alongside it. Bowhouse’s empty summit provides a nice vantage point from which to appreciate the steepness of Lundie Craigs.

Lundie Craigs from Bowhouse Hill
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So, back the way I came, except for a detour to take in the little unnamed 279m hump southwest of West Mains. On the way across to West Mains Hill proper, I crossed a muddy vehicle track coming up from the south, marked with boot prints. So it seems I’d managed to come up with another off-the-beaten track route up another hill.

Cairn of West Mains Hill, Auchterhouse Hill & Craigowl beyond
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Auchterhouse Hill and Craigowl over the shoulder of West Mains Hill

Wildlife? The only wildlife of the whole day was the brown two-second blur of a wren, whizzing across my path as I dropped back down towards Cow Alley.

Sidlaws: King’s Seat and Buttergask via Round Law

Round Law (NO 232337, 257m)
King’s Seat (NO 230330, 377m)
Buttergask Hill (NO 230340, 307m)

9 kilometres
330 metres ascent

King's Seat and Buttergask route
Click to enlarge

This was a couple of hours of exploration, looking for a route to King’s Seat and Buttergask Hill that doesn’t involve traversing this section of ridge from either the Dunsinane end or the Gask end (a route I’ve previously described in one of my first posts about the Sidlaws).

As I wrote then, there’s a prominent vehicle track crossing between these two hills, but it peters out in brambles and barbed wire to the west, making it rather … um … challenging to get down to Legertlaw. The map makes access from Glenbran to the east look easy, and David Dorward describes that route in The Sidlaw Hills (which I’m going to keep recommending to you until you buy it). It’s a fine walk, but it does take you up someone’s driveway and then over their back fence. Writing in 2004, Dorward described the house at Whirly Law as “empty”, but I can only report that earlier this year there was paraphernalia laid out on the front grass that suggested the presence of a child and a horse. So I thought I’d take a look at the road up by Stockmuir, instead, to see if that blurred the boundaries between “right to roam” and “trespass” a little less.

I parked in a little roadside nook opposite the “tower” marked on the map at NO 249323. I’ve driven past this thing umpteen times, but never looked at it properly. It’s constructed of concrete, slightly ruined, and has the appearance of an agricultural silo with a decorative crenellation around its domed roof. Very odd. Canmore, my usual source of information about the mysterious buildings I encounter, has nothing to say about it.

Disused silo
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Beyond the buildings at Stockmuir, the track marked on the map turns into an overgrown gap between fields—at one point I was pushing along a narrow trod through dead nettles and the tall woody stalks of some kind of umbilifer. It might not be the easiest walk in the spring and summer. The route can be circumvented a little by taking a parallel track along the edge of a field near the wind turbine.

Gask Hill
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The steep face of Gask Hill
Track to King's Seat
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A nicer bit of the track

Access to the open hillside comes at an electric rope fence. I’d never heard of electric rope until I did an internet search when I got home from this walk—I was a little bemused to encounter what looked exactly like a standard length of twine strung from electrical insulators. The line was dead as a doornail when I passed through, with a long stretch lying on the ground. But there’s a spring-and-hook gated section that makes it easily passable even if in good repair.

The track then transformed itself into a proper vehicle track again, running below King’s Seat, which took me up to a dilapidated gate at NO 231336. This is a good gate to know about, if you’re planning on linking King’s Seat with Buttergask, because it’s the only way between the two hills that doesn’t involve climbing over barbed wire.

I made a little side jaunt up Round Law, which gives nice views down Glenbran. On the east slope of the hill, beneath a lone tree, there’s an oddly shaped cast-iron memorial marker for one Iain Mallet of Glenbran. It’s a lovely spot—requiescat in pace, as Dorward wrote after visiting it.

Round Law
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The appropriately named Round Law

From Round Law, I picked my way up through the heather on King’s Seat, along stream beds and deer tracks. For a hallucinatory moment I crested a rise to be confronted by what looked like two yellow spheres bouncing gently up and down in the middle distance. A long moment of incredulous staring revealed that these were the rumps of two deer, retreating at my approach, and otherwise perfectly camouflaged against the autumnal heather.

View from King's Seat towards Black Hill
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The view of Black Hill and Bandirran Hill from King’s Seat

Back to the gate, then, and up an easy-angled track on to the round summit of Buttergask Hill. The name “Buttergask” always seems to have an English feel to it, to me, as if it has been imported from the Lakes or the Yorkshire Moors, but it’s Gaelic. Dorward derives  it from bothar, “road”, and gasg, “wedge of high ground”—a ridgeway, in other words, and if you follow the ridge beyond Buttergask you’ll eventually arrive fairly easily at Gask Hill.

Buttergask Hill
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The track ascending Buttergask Hill
Lintrose Hill from Buttergask Hill
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Lintrose Hill from Buttergask Hill

Back at the gate again, I noticed a rather purposeful-looking slot track heading off downhill on the Round Law side of the fence (that is, the other side from the vehicle track I’d followed up). I thought I’d follow it down to the forestry, to see if it offered an alternative route back to the car. But it was full of hoofprints and round animal droppings, and soon faded out on the open hill above the forest fence. Presumably deer habitually follow the same line through the  narrow gap between the slopes of Round Law and the boundary fence.

So it was back the way I came. Not a perfect direct route to these hills, but I think the best available.

Lorn: Creach Bheinn

Creach Bheinn (NN 023422, 810m)

13 kilometres
980 metres of ascent

Creach Bheinn route
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The last time I climbed Creach Bheinn, it was in a sleet-storm that I imagined was going to pass over to reveal the fabled westward view from the summit. Instead, it clamped down and increased in intensity. When I finally dropped below the clouds on the way down and got a view of Loch Creran below, I heaved a sigh, turned off my GPS receiver and dropped it into the outside pocket of my cagoule. There was a splashing sound. I reached into the pocket, and found my GPS unit lying in two inches of chilly rainwater. This did it precisely as little good as you might imagine.

Anyway, this time I woke to see blue sky over the hills of Morvern to the west, and decided that the summit mists lingering to the east in Lorn would soon clear, revealing the fabled view westward … You already know where this is going, don’t you?

There’s a little nook of a layby at the head of Loch Creran, just north of the estate buildings of Druimavuic (I presume from druim a’ bhuic, “ridge of the buck”). This gives easy access to a gate at the start of the vehicle track that runs up the north side of the Allt Buidhe between Ben Sgulaird and Creach Bheinn.

Druimavuic gate
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Two guys I met on the track peeled off almost immediately to cross the Allt Buidhe low down, aiming to get up Creach Bheinn via its northwest extension, Meall nan Caorach (“hill of the sheep”—no sheep to be seen). There had been heavy rain overnight and the river was a white torrent, so I kept taking anxious backward glances until I saw them think better of it and head back to the track.

It’s a nice track, with fine views over Loch Creran to the Firth of Lorn and the hills of Morvern. Overhead, the cloud was still swirling around the crags of Creach Bheinn, but it seemed to be lifting.

Loch Creran from Allt Buidhe track
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If you follow the track all the way to the col, you can make a ridge walk over Creag na Cathaig (“crag of the snowdrift”), but instead I cut off the path at NN 035441 and contoured around the soggy head of Coire Buidhe until I could climb up into the notch between Creag na Cathaig and the bulk of Creach Bheinn. Deer watched me from the ridge as I ascended, the stag keeping station on the skyline until all his hinds were safely out of sight on the far side.

Red deer on Creag na Cathaig
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Mist was blowing through the col when I got there, but the sun was making an occasional watery appearance, too. Above was the craggy stuff that protects Creach Bheinn’s lumpy summit ridge—not hard to deal with in good visibility, but potentially dangerous during a descent in mist on wet grass. Last time, in grim visibility and with water pouring down the hillside beneath my feet, I’d baled off the summit northwestwards to avoid getting involved in a steep, slippery and craggy descent.

Creach Bheinn from Coire Buidhe
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I pressed on up a stream-bed—after a steep little section to begin with, it lay back into a nice easy channel up the hillside. It also took me into cloud.

Ascent of Creach Bheinn
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And then a wall of sleet blew through, causing a scramble to get into waterproofs, and a wave of despondency—this was too much like last time. But the sleet stopped just as soon as I had finished donning the waterproofs (don’t you just hate it when that happens?) and then the cloud opened in a long tunnel to afford a glimpse of Beinn Eunaich across Loch Etive. Encouraging.

Beinn Eunaich from Creach Bheinn
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By the time I got up to the 804m northeast top (NN 030429) of Creach Bheinn, Ben Sgulaird was emerging from the mist into dappled sunlight.

Ben Sgulaird from Creach Bheinn
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Ben Sgulaird from 804m top of Creach Bheinn
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I trotted across to a rocky outcrop slightly to the west, and was rewarded with a fine view along the length of Strath Appin to the unmistakable shape of Castle Stalker, perched on its little island.

But to the southwest there was still a wall of cloud—orographic stuff being pushed in from the Atlantic on the prevailing wind. Creach Bheinn’s trig point and cairn sat steadfastly in this clag and, though I hung about for half an hour, there was no sign of it thinning out—so Creach Bheinn, the “hill of plunder”, had robbed me of its famous view for a second time.

The summit of Creach Bheinn
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Ah well. I retraced my steps to the Coire Buidhe track, which was still enjoying splendid autumnal vistas.

Loch Creran from Coire Buidhe
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On the way down, I dropped off the main track, passing a ruined pair of enclosures, to take a look at the little dam on the river. I wondered if it might afford a safe way across the river when it was in spate. It certainly spans the river, but the central concrete is barely a boot wide, and the drop into the outflow pool is more than a little disconcerting. I wouldn’t try it, myself.

And so back to the car, where it started to rain just as I opened the boot. (Don’t you just love it when you beat the rain back to the car?)

Sidlaws: Auchterhouse Hill Circuit

Scotston Hill (NO 346400, 373m)
Balkello Hill (NO 361394, 397m)

9.5 kilometres
370 metres of ascent

Auchterhouse circuit route
Click to enlarge

This little circuit was an effort to connect together various paths I’d used in three previous, longer walks in this area.

I parked at the Balkello Community Woodland and headed northwest, to pick up a path that runs westwards below Auchterhouse Hill. Just after the line of electricity pylons turns north, a vehicle track heads uphill between Auchterhouse Hill and Scotston Hill.

Scotston Hill from the southeast
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Scotston Hill and the track below the pylons

I followed this almost to its highest point, and then cut off westwards through the heather towards Scotston. There are some small lochs marked on the map here, but they’re little more than boggy ground.

A deer track took me to the top of Scotston, which sits back a little off the main curve of the ridge, affording good views towards Kinpurney Hill and Craigowl, as well as south to the Firth of Tay and Fife.

Kinpurney Hill and Henderston Hill from Scotston Hill
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Kinpurney and Henderston from Scotston
Craigowl and Auchterhouse Hill from Scotston Hill
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Craigowl and Auchterhouse from Scotston

There’s a stonking great vehicle track, churned by tractor tyres, crossing Scotston just west of its gently rounded summit.

Muddy track on Scotston Hill
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The churned-up track on Scotston

I was pretty sure this would take me north to the unnamed, forested lump between Henderston Hill and Auchterhouse Hill, and it did. A path, not marked on the map, runs east-west alongside the trees here, connecting at its east end (NO 352404) to a vehicle track that rises out of Denoon Glen and crosses the Sidlaws west of Auchterhouse Hill, turning into the track I’d climbed at the start of this walk.

But before I got as far as this thoroughfare, I happened upon a rather elaborate brushwood shelter tucked into the trees alongside the path—it even had a little low windbreak to shelter a log fire (now dead and cold) outside its entrance. I gave a hoot and a holler, but no-one was home. A fair bit of time has been spent building it, and I didn’t want to pry inside—I wonder what it’s used for?

Shelter in woods behind Scotston Hill
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On, then, to the head of the Denoon Glen—a remote-feeling patch of woodland behind Auchterhouse Hill, once the haunt of smugglers, which had been a riot of primroses the last time I passed through.

Craigowl above the head of Denoon Glen
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The little patch of woodland at the head of Denoon Glen

Then up and across to the head of Glen Ogilvie, below Craigowl, encountering a rather puzzling notice on the way—warning German walkers not to bother cows with calves. It’s a fairly out-of-the-way spot, and I found myself wondering why someone had travelled a few miles over rough ground specifically to post a warning to Germans about cows. Are Germans particularly known for their cow-bothering predilections? It’s certainly not on my extensive list of national stereotypes.

German cow warning
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I dropped down to a boundary fence and path that run up to the pass between Craigowl and Balkello Hill. The marked path is intermittent, and not much more than a trod in the long grass between fence and heather, but it was easy enough going.

Looking down Glen Ogilvie from between Craigowl and Balkello Hill
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Looking down Glen Ogilvie from between Craigowl and Balkello Hill

At the pass, I decided to avoid the muddy return via Linn of Balluderon, and so turned right up Balkello Hill. Although I’ve looked at the Syd Scroggie memorial cairn on the summit several times, I had never actually read the text before. The memorial uses Balkello’s “other name”, Balluderon Hill. This is part of the old problem, alluded to in previous posts, of Sidlaw hill-slopes taking their names from the farms below, so that sometimes a summit ends up associated with multiple names. South of Balkello Hill are the farms of Balkello, Old Balkello and North Balkello. Just a little farther east are North Balluderon and South Balluderon, and the Ordnance Survey attaches the name of Balluderon Hill to  the slope directly above those farms, which is actually the western shoulder of Craigowl.

Summit of Balkello Hill, looking towards Lomond Hills in Fife
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Looking towards the Lomond Hills in Fife
Summit of Balkello Hill, looking towards Auchterhouse Hill
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Looking towards Auchterhouse Hill

The memorial inscription features a fine, ringing Scots phrase, a tribute both to a blind hillwalker and to the companions who helped him in his wanderings, over the years:

He gae’d his ain gait a’ his life but whiles wi’ ithers’ een

(He went his own way all his life, but sometimes with the eyes of others.)

Syd Scroggie memorial plaque, Balkello/Balluderon Hill
Click to enlarge

Down through Windy Gates, then, and a zig-zag below the steep face of Balkello, which turned up the only notable wildlife encounters of the day—a flock of long-tailed tits blowing through, looking like animated lollipops with their round bodies and long tails; and then a deer crashed away through the broom, unseen except for the agitated vegetation in its wake.

What was remarkable about this little wander was that I didn’t see a single person all morning. Admittedly, it was a mid-week day in October, but the weather was fine and I was only a few miles from the city. If the same route was in the Lake District, it would be waymarked and guidebooked and chock-full of serious-faced ramblers, madly over-dressed for the prevailing weather conditions.

So that’s all good.