Cairn Lunkard (NO 232781, 863m) Craigs of Loch Esk (NO 237786, 851m)
17 kilometres 790 metres of ascent
This is a classic circular route over the plateau between Glen Doll and upper Glen Clova, but it’s been fifty years since I last walked it. I was put in mind of doing it again during my recent trip across the plateau from Cairn Broadlands to Cairn Damff.
Quite an obvious path links the glen heads, these days, but I aimed instead to pass over the low humps of Cairn Lunkard and the Craigs of Loch Esk.
So there was the usual forest walk along the lower stretch of Jock’s Road, before coming out of the trees and getting a sudden view of upper Glen Doll, with the thin ribbon of the path ascending along its north side.
I’ve described before how the old droving route of Jock’s Road supposedly got its name from a local shepherd in the nineteenth century. I’ve always thought that the prominent little knob at the head of Glen Doll, called The Lunkard, would be a good viewpoint from which to appreciate Glen Doll and the line of Jock’s Road, and so it proved to be.
While I was taking the panoramic view above, I was receiving the continuous attention of a pair of irate kestrels, who must have had a nest nearby.
“Lunkard” is a Scots word meaning “temporary shelter”, and the drovers may have made camp in the sheltered cleft below The Lunkard, after descending from the exposed plateau. The successor to these camps is the mountain shelter of Davy’s Bourach, which lies a little farther up the glen.
I’ve written before about the Gaelic meaning of bourach—“a mess”. But it seems to have acquired quite a selection of meanings in Scots, of which “mound”, “heap” and “hovel” might all apply. Given the shelter’s construction, I think there’s also more than a passing connection to the verb bourach, which means “to burrow”. The “Davy” involved was David Glen, a local outdoorsman who was involved in the recovery of the bodies of five members of the Universal Hiking Club of Glasgow, who perished in foul weather on New Year’s Day 1959 while crossing the plateau. Glen set about constructing this emergency shelter soon after—three dry-stone walls and roof constructed of timber and corrugated iron brought laboriously up the glen, completed in 1966.
Beyond the bourach, I followed Jock’s Road a little farther, looping below the steep side of Cairn Lunkard and then walking to the summit along its short and easy-angled northwestern slope. I paused to take a photograph of the view of Cairn Damff and Craig Damff to the east—very much changed from the snowy conditions in which I recently visited them, then dropped off the hill into its northern lee for a bite of lunch.
A stroll across the moorland took me to the Craigs of Loch Esk, with a view of Broad Cairn and Lochnagar.
then a short descent to the north brought me in sight of the Craigs’ namesake, Loch Esk. I crossed the remote outflow of Loch Esk a few years ago, on my way from the Glittering Skellies to Fafernie Shiel—more on that trip here (including an explanation of what a skellie and a shiel might be).
A few metres farther down the hill, and I was on the well-worn plateau path, which quickly took me down to the larches and Scots pines of Bachnagairn, at the head of upper Glen Clova, and one of my favourite places in the world.
From there, the path broadens into a track, which took me below the cliffs of Juanjorge. (I’ve written more about that odd name when I described a visit to the top of the cliffs last year.)
And I finally got a chance to walk across the new bridge across the South Esk, just above Moulzie farm, which replaces the old one swept away by winter floods a few years ago.
It certainly beats the temporary bog-trotting route along the west side of the river which was the main route up the glen for a year or so, in the absence of a bridge.
Lundie Craigs (NO 281378, 353m) Keillor Hill (NO 281385, 334m) Donald’s Brae (NO 293396, c280m) Auchtertyre Hill (NO 293398, 278m) Newtyle Hill (NO 296399, 270m)
8.5 kilometres 210 metres of ascent
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new walk in the Sidlaws. This one accesses an old ridge-walk from a new direction. I’ve previous visited these hills either from Tullybaccart to the southwest, or Newtyle to the northeast. This time, I’ve followed a circular route that passes through the farmland around Long Loch. I left the car at NO 298379, where the tracks from Wester Keith and Sunnyhall join—there’s scope here to roll a couple of cars on to the rough verge beside the cattle-grid, out of the way of all farm traffic.
A short distance up the track to Wester Keith, I passed the big coded-entry gates that bar unauthorized vehicular access to the boat-houses on Long Loch.
But the track to the loch and adjoining Palmer Wood is accessible for pedestrians through a little gate opposite the Easter Keith farm buildings. I passed that, and carried on along to Wester Keith. Here, just beyond the farm buildings and cottage, a rather muddy patch of ground provides access to the fields beyond. My route from there went through a succession of farm gates to reach Westerkeith Hill.
The grazing land was entirely unoccupied when I passed through, but there was copious evidence underfoot that cattle had been here—so it’s not a route that will always be accessible. At the upper end of the field system, a broken wooden gate (easily stepped over) gives access to the hill slope beyond. I climbed steeply uphill for a short distance to join the broad grassy track that swings around the shoulder of Westerkeith Hill and on to the ridge. (This track is just visible in my photograph above, as a narrow line of darker green crossing the hill in a rising rake from left to right.)
Following the track around in a long ascending curve gave me a fine view down on to Long Loch.
And then, shortly afterwards, got me to my first summit of the day, Lundie Craigs.
My onward route took me across to Keillor Hill, the heathery lump in the middle distance in the photograph above. Apart from a tiny bit of bundu-bashing through the heather to acquire the summit of Keillor Hill, the whole traverse follows fairly evident (if intermittently boggy) paths and tracks.
The Keillor Hill summit is traversed by an old 4×4 track, rapidly becoming overgrown, and I followed the remaining slot in the heather downhill for a short distance until it reached a gate in the ridge-line fence, and a fairly major track that runs the full length of the ridge.
After following this track for a while, I arrived at the Mackenzie Meridian, an isolated stone tower which I’ve written about in my report from a previous visit.
Some distance beyond the Meridian, the track reaches a junction, with a left turn that takes you down into a confusion of paths from which you can eventually find your way into the Newtyle Path Network. Straight ahead it passes through a gate and runs farther along the ridge. I seem to remember a “Beware of the Bull” sign at this point, some years ago, but it was not evident on this visit. Also at this junction, there’s a little stile that gives access to the grazing land on the slope of Pittendreich Hill above Long Loch.
I hopped over it to take a look at what sort of access it might provide, but very quickly found myself approaching a flock of sheep with young lambs, so retreated back to the ridge-line and the main track.
This runs on over Donald’s Brae, and then passes a little south of the summits of Auchtertyre Hill and Newtyle Hill. So I made a short excursion to visit the two rounded summits, both clothed in spiky yellow gorse which was giving off a strong smell of coconut in the still air.
I missed my line slightly at this point, and ended up having to bear right a little (and then search for a gap in the gorse) to find my way back on to the track as it descended into the moorland below Newtyle Hill.
The scent of coconut from the gorse was now pretty overwhelming, as you might be able to realize from the picture.
On previous visits, I’ve encountered English Longhorn cattle grazing around here—I presume the same herd I photographed during a previous trip up the other side of Newtyle Hill. And I presume they account for the “Beware of the Bull” signs one encounters in this vicinity. I’m prepared to walk a long and circuitous way to avoid disturbing an English Longhorn bull, but on this occasion it wasn’t necessary. I could hear cattle lowing in the distance, but never saw one.
The track eventually makes a right turn to service some wildfowl hides at the oddly named little pond of Hunkrum Dubs. But my route took me along a narrower path that continues straight ahead, to the southeast. There’s a trick to getting off the moorland at this point, which is pretty much moated around with fences. An obscure little path branches southwards at NO 305393—it’s actually more visible if you look for it in the distance to the right, rather than trying to detect any sort of branch directly off the southeast path. After a short distance, this took me to a stile over a fence into a little corner of woodland. And after a short walk through the trees (scaring up a particularly astonished-looking roe deer in the process), I arrived at a decaying bridge over the Neuk Burn, with a gate on the far side that gives access to an open field otherwise surround by an electric fence.
I don’t trust that bridge at all. The woody has the spongy consistency of expanded polystyrene, and I elected to step across the burn below instead.
Again, the field was empty of livestock, and I was able to head south along its eastern edge, where the forestry marked by the Ordnance Survey has now been cleared. At the end of the field I arrived at another gate, which took me out on to a farm track that continued southwards.
Keeping to the southerly line, this track eventually gives way to a path that runs along the length of a strip of newly planted trees, their green protective covers looking like some sort of odd art installation.
Then there was another gate, and a track down the east side of the private grounds of Thriepley House took me to the road. Then it was just a matter of walking a short distance along the tarmac, past Thriepley’s mad mash-up of Scots Baronial and Italianate styles, and I was back at the car—wondering where I might be able to source a cherub finial for our garden shed.
The Crow Craigies Climbing Party was again prevented by Covid restrictions from assembling in full force this year, but the founding members managed to get together for a socially distanced day on the hill nevertheless. Our aim this year was to climb Beinn a’ Chuallaich above Kinloch Rannoch—one of those rare hill ascents that start in the middle of a village.
We parked in the village square, walked about fifty metres up the road, and then turned off on to a 4×4 track just below a little waterfall, which looked under-filled after a prolonged dry spell. This is the outflow of the Allt Mor (“big stream”), and we were planning to circumnavigate its catchment area, following high ground around the rim of the Coire Labhruinn.
The 4×4 track took us in a long, easy-angled zig-zag across the hill, and eventually deposited us next to a small bridge that crosses the Allt Mor. The 4×4 track carries on up the west bank of the river to service a little dam farther up, but we crossed the bridge to the east side.
We pushed uphill towards the ruins of a substantial dry-stone wall that crosses the corrie outlet, linking Meall Dubh in the west to Ceann Caol na Creige in the east. To our right, the wall seemed to sport a rather odd feature, so we wandered along to take a look.
There’s no obvious purpose for this elegant little cairn, which appears to have been assembled from the smaller stones of the ruined wall.
We continued our walk alongside the wall, avoiding potentially boggy ground in the corrie, until we arrived below the slopes of Ceann Caol na Creige. Here we turned left, and worked our way up towards Meall Breac, eventually following the line of a set of stone-built grouse butts to reach its summit.
Here, we had a last view down into the glen below, and of the cloud-shrouded bulk of Schiehallion on the far side, before we pushed on upwards into cloud ourselves.
Climbing into mist and a thin drizzle, we aimed to strike the col just west of Beinn a’ Chuallaich. On the map this is crossed by a path, but we also stumbled upon a substantial vehicle track in the col, too. Then we threaded up steep ground between some small crags, to eventually find ourselves at the triangulation pillar that stands just short of the true summit.
The summit itself is marked by a substantial cairn, which gave us a little bit of a lee for a seat and a bite of lunch.
Then we headed downhill again, in what could best be described as rubbish visibility.
Our plan, based on a rather luxurious weather forecast two days previously, had been to stroll along the high ridge enjoying wide views across Loch Rannoch. Instead, we picked our way along blindly, following a variety of faint tracks, until we dropped out of the cloud on the descent towards Carn Fiaclach. After a brief discussion about what the heck we were actually looking at, up ahead, we got the map straight in our heads and turned below Fiaclach to descend towards the Bealach a’ Mhaim, where the map told us we’d pick up a path to take us back to Kinloch Rannoch.
At this point, we were able to pick out the line of the ruined drystone wall as it descended Fiaclach, crossed the bealach below and then wound its way up on to Meall Dubh, looking for all the world like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. I can’t imagine the number of man-hours a construction like that represents.
Sure enough, we eventually ran into our anticipated path. Then lost it again. Then found it again. Then found yet another 4×4 vehicle track, which proved to be the uphill extension of the track we’d used during our ascent. On the way down to the dam and the village below, we passed yet another cairn.
But this one bears an inscription, on a tiny plate glued to one of its stones:
Alick Reynolds 11th November 1935 – 28th April 2016 “THE MAN THAT LOVED HILLS”
I’d take that as an epitaph.
Maybe next year our own little group of Men That Love Hills will be able to reconvene in full force. We’ll see.
Craig Mellon (NO 262773, 866m) Cairn Broadlands (NO 270777, 852m) Craig Damff (NO 247777, 846m)
15.5 kilometres 800 metres of ascent
Craig Mellon and Cairn Broadlands dominate the view up Glen Clova as you approach the road-head—neatly paired humps with Glen Doll on the left and upper Glen Clova on the right. The broad slope between the two humps is called The Ought, which comes from Gaelic an-t’uchd, “the brow of the hill”.
Behind the pair, an undulating and steep-sided plateau separates Doll and Clova, an outlier of the larger massif that extends as far as Glen Isla, the Cairnwell Pass, and Lochnagar above Glen Muick.
It’s a round forty-five years since I’ve visited these hills—in 1976 my father, brother and I walked from somewhere near the high point of Jock’s Road, above Glen Doll, and descended The Ought to get back to the car park. This time, I aimed to follow a similar route in reverse—up The Ought, and then west across the high ground to descend on to Jock’s Road for my return journey.
There’s a zig-zag path through the forest and up to the plateau marked on my 1:25000 Ordance Survey map. It starts from the driveway of Glen Doll Lodge, and strikes up pleasantly through the trees, crossing a broad forestry track that isn’t marked on my map. When it reaches the tree-line, it used to run westward along the inside of the forest deer-fence to a tall stile. It still takes the same route, but the old fence is gone. Instead, you can just walk around the weathered remains of the stile and out on to the open hillside.
I followed the path for a while, but as I got higher it became hard to follow through the drifted snow, and I instead struck off on to my own route, which brought me out at the cairn of Craig Mellon, with an impressive view of Driesh, the Shank of Drumfollow and Corrie Kilbo across Glen Doll.
It’s a feature of all my planned hills for the day that they have an interesting promontory that extends outwards from a flat summit set back from the edge of the plateau. So after admiring the view from the cairn for a while, I strolled up to the featureless patch of tundra that is the true summit of Craig Mellon, and then made a ninety-degree turn towards Cairn Broadlands, which is the rounded lump in the middle distance in the view below, with the line of a path picked out be drifted snow.
Drifted snow proved to be an impediment to progress—some of these little white patches are an innocuous inch or two deep, but some of them conceal holes into which a leg can disappear thigh-deep. So I picked my way circuitously, trying to stick to areas where I could see at least a tuft of vegetation.
The north wind blasting across Broadlands was positively Arctic, so I tarried only long enough on the summit to take a photograph of the view of snowy Lochnagar.
Then I dropped a short distance southwards on Broadlands’ own little promontory, where I sat for a bite of lunch out of the wind, admiring the view down lower Glen Clova.
Then up into the wind again, and a contouring line across the plateau to reach my next summit. The going was unpleasant in places, with the low peat hags full of snow and melt-water, and easy lines difficult to find, but by circuitous routes punctuated by futile cursing, I eventually arrived at a little bulge in the plateau with a cairn on it, and a view across to Mayar and the line of impressive crags on the south side of Glen Doll.
This spot, justly ignored for centuries by all who passed it, has now been labelled Craig Damff, which is actually the name of a row of crags that form the north side of Glen Doll at this point. They fall away from the edge of the plateau in the middle distance of my photograph above, as partners to the crags on the south side. But this is a local high point, and in hill-bagging circles that means it requires a name, even if that is borrowed from some other part of the scenery. (Likewise, Craig Mellon correctly refers to the little craggy promontory that extends out over Glen Clova, not the undistinguished lump that has taken on that label in hillwalking circles.)
And so I descended a short distance to the interesting bit of this hill, Cairn Damff, which extends as a rocky promontory above Jock’s Road. (The view below looks back across Glen Doll towards Driesh.)
My descent route then took me around three-quarters of a circle, starting north and then contouring around below the steep western face of Cairn Damff while trying to say above the deep snowdrifts covering the burns running below. In fact, I was so keen not to descend into the snow-stuffed terrain below me that I forgot my chosen line to reach Jock’s Road, which would have crossed the watercourses higher up and then allowed a gentle descent to join the track.
I realised my error when I caught my first sight of Jock’s Road, an improbable distance below me.
Oops. No, not going down that way. So I turned around and made a descending traverse while the line of Jock’s Road rose to meet me, and I eventually came out on to the track some distance below the point at which I’d originally planned to emerge, at Davy’s Bourach. (I’ve written before about why this old droving route is called Jock’s Road, and about what a bourach is—see this previous post about the Mounth Roads for more information.)
Then it was just a matter of descending Jock’s Road below the real Craig Damff to reach the forest in the lower reaches of the glen.
No matter how often I walk Jock’s Road, I’m always surprised at how long the final section through the forest takes. But eventually I got back to the car park.
Hurley Hawkin (NO 332327) Craig Hill (NO 431358) Laws Hill (NO 491349)
Maintaining appropriate physical distance in the locked-down urban environment of Dundee has become increasingly difficult with Vaccine Optimism on the rise, and your correspondent has been getting tired of doing the bulk of the work in this regard, endlessly dodging those of his fellow citizens who are blithely distracted by conversations, pets, small children or mobile phones (and sometimes all four simultaneously).
The rules allow us to travel up to five miles beyond the boundaries of our Local Authority Area to “reach a safe non-crowded place” for exercise, and my general habit, pre-Covid, was always to take exercise in locations where I couldn’t even see another human being, which is about as safe and non-crowded as you can get. So that’s how I came up with a plan to visit some lowland broch sites.
Brochs are thick-walled Iron-Age towers of dry-stone construction, largely confined to northern Scotland and the Atlantic coast.
After two millennia, and extensive stone-robbing for later building, very few are in any sort of good repair. As the map shows, there are a tiny number of broch sites in lowland Scotland, and most of them are mere archaeological traces. Surprisingly, three of these sites are within spitting distance of the Dundee City Local Authority Area—you can see them in a neat little row just north of the Tay estuary on the map above.
One of my very earliest posts in this blog concerned (among other things), the possible broch site at Little Dunsinane in the Sidlaws. It’s so “possible” it doesn’t even merit a red dot on the broch map above, but I’ve plotted it on my own map at the head of this post. All that can be seen nowadays is a suspiciously symmetrical mound in the moorland.
So I didn’t have any great hopes of seeing much at my three broch sites, but I did anticipate being able to spend some time in the open air without having to dodge other people.
One of the most interesting things about Hurley Hawkin is its name. Andrew Jervise, in his report of excavations at the site back in 1865, had this to say on the topic:
It is known as Hurley Hawkin, a name which suggests an affinity to that of the hill of “Hurly Hackit” at Stirling, which is popularly believed to have originated from it having been the scene of a childish diversion of that name […] It would appear that the sport of “hurlie-hakket” consisted in sliding down a slope or precipice; and as Hurley Hawkin slopes rapidly towards the south, and is otherwise well suited for such an amusement, possibly the name had originated from much the same cause as that ascribed to Hurly Hackit.
The on-line Scottish National Dictionary agrees with Jervise about the nature of hurlie-hacket, and adds the lovely detail that children in Edinburgh, at the end of the eighteenth century, were playing this game using a horse’s skull for a sledge. In Scots, a hurl is (among other things) a ride; a hacket is a particular kind of cow (or sometimes a horse). So hurlie-hacket is a ride on a cow or horse—perhaps a reference to the inverted skull of one of these creatures, which would make a reasonably sized sledge for one small person. And hawkney is one Scots version of the now-disused English word hackney, denoting an ordinary riding horse.* Which makes me wonder if Hawkin is a metathesized version of hawkney.
Anyway, none of that has brought us any closer to the broch site, which sits on a little promontory of land flanked on its west and east by deep clefts, carved by two streams which merge on its southern side in the Gray Den. In a well-ordered world it would be inside the Dundee Local Authority Area, but the boundary takes a bit of a diversion around it, presumably following an old property line, as you can see on my map. What you can’t see on my map is any indication of my route of approach, for reasons that will become painfully clear within the next couple of paragraphs.
There are houses to the north and west of the site, but I stepped from the road on to a low retaining wall and then walked through open woodland to get to the head of Gray Den below the promontory. The Canmore entry for this site describes how there were a succession of structures on top of the promontory, with the broch built on the site of an earlier fort. You can see that it’s a fabulous defensive position. It’s also an ideal location for hurlie-hacket—or would have been, in the days before it was completely overgrown with trees.
I scrambled up the steep face, and emerged on the flat surface of the promontory—and within a stone’s throw of the lawn of a house just north of the site, a great deal closer than I had expected. Apart from a raised suggestion of the fort rampart, there’s was no evidence of any structure among the trees. I paused to take a brief panoramic view with my phone—evidence of a lack of evidence, as it were—and then headed back the way I’d come.
As I was picking my way back towards the road, I was hailed by a lady standing on the high ground to the north, and we held a shouted conversation across a ten-metre gap, during which she explained to me, without every using the word “trespassing”, that I was, well, trespassing. The property line around her house encompassed not only the lawn, but the patch of forest I was walking through, as well as the broch site. Picture her surprise, then, when I’d popped up in my bright red jacket at the bottom of her lawn. Oh dear. I offered my apologies and departed, chastened. This was not a good start to the Three Brochs Expedition.
Craig Hill, as you can see from my map, is another cracking defensive position, with steep ground on three sides overlooking the line of the Fithie Burn. And again, the Canmore entry for the site describes how the broch was built over the remains of an earlier fort.
There’s a lot of farmland around the site, and I decided to walk in along an avenue of old trees that starts on the road near Houletnook. (Another splendid placename, which can be translated as “Owl Corner”.)
A faint path connected to a farm track, which ended at a broken fence. I stepped over the sagging fence wire, and climbed on to the grassy promontory—to be faced with a wall of spiky gorse bushes.
Circumventing that to the north brought me to a wall of non-spiky broom bushes, which overlooked the western slope of the hill. And that was that—any remnants of the broch and fort are obscured under vegetation. (And the black-and-white aerial photographs at Canmore show there was nothing to see even before the broom and gorse took root.)
Another craggy defensible hill, and another fort-and-broch combination, according to the Canmore entry for the site. The obvious approach on the map is from the east via Laws Farm, but that turns out to be a private driveway belonging to some houses among the farm buildings. So I made my approach from the northwest, following a dog-walkers’ track that begins on the Drumsturdy Road next to Laws Lodge. This eventually arrived at what my untutored eye interpreted as a silage pit. I popped over a metal gate just beyond this, which gave access to the steep open hillside. A bit of zigzagging up around crags and through trees brought me out on the bald summit—and an amazing conglomeration of ruined buildings, spanning millennia of occupation. Including, mirabile dictu, a few courses of stone remaining from the base of the broch:
Perched above the broch is an interesting little turret variously described by Canmore’s documentation as a “summer house” or “charnel house“, which is a combination you don’t often see.
I’m guessing the “charnel house” was at some time used to store bones removed from the prehistoric burial sites recorded on the hill.
The masonry of the fort has been excavated and is still visible in places:
And there are three ruinous structures of obscure function, described as “follies”:
So the third time was the charm.
You can take a (rather jerky) tour of the area in the YouTube video below.
* Yes, hence the idea of a hackneyed phrase—one that’s been ridden around the block a few too many times, like an old riding horse.
8.4 kilometres (total) 130 metres of ascent (total)
3.8 kilometres (this part) 35 metres of ascent (this part)
At the end of my previous post, I left you gazing at the blind end of the old railway bridge over Lochee High Street.
Back in the ’70s, there used to be several of these bricked-off gaps along the line of the old Dundee-Newtyle railway, But this is the last one left—it doesn’t even have a partner on the other side of the road. Peering over that wall in the picture above, here’s what you see:
The steps on the left take you up into a little area of waste land, which is being gradually domesticated with benches and a community garden.
But it used to contain a large goods yard connected to Lochee Railway Station. Here’s my map of the area again, with the railway as it existed in 1903 overlaid on a modern street map:
As well as the sidings of the goods yard, you can see there was also a branch line, which headed north, while the main track carried on to the northeast. This was called the Hemp Works Branch, and it served the Cox family’s Camperdown Works, once the largest jute works in the world. At the time the Lochee diversion was being built, Camperdown Works was under development, eventually expanding to cover 35 acres and employ thousands of people. The existence of this huge employment opportunity drove the expansion of the then-village of Lochee, and explains how a small rural settlement ended up with two railway stations, a goods yard and a branch line to its name. The existence of the old Hemp Works Branch is still evidenced by the disused railway bridge over Wellbank Lane:
It ends blindly above a modern car park, just at the point it disappears behind foliage in the picture above.
The jute works has been closed for 40 years now. Some of its buildings stand derelict (including the huge one cross-hatched in red in my map above); some have been remodelled into flats; some have been replaced with modern housing. And the bonkers Italianate factory chimney, known locally as Cox’s Stack, still stands above it all. I find it pleasing that the gable ends of the new houses echo the old brick decorations of Cox’s Stack:
The line of the main Dundee-Newtyle railway crosses the area of waste ground accessible by the steps seen in my earlier picture, runs more or less directly in front of the houses in the picture above, and then disappears into another patch of waste ground. There’s no direct way of following it for this short stretch. Instead, I walked along Loons Road for a short distance, before turning up the distinctly unpromising-looking muddy track of Old King’s Cross Road. This soon leads to a little pair of black gates, each of which bears the silhouette of an old-fashioned railway locomotive:
Here (as you might just have guessed) we rejoin the line of the railway. This is The Miley, a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve—more of a wildlife corridor, really, just a few metres wide and reputedly a mile long (though by my measure barely over a kilometre), which follows the line of the original railway cutting .
It has to be said that The Miley is not particularly inspiring at the end of winter—the path can be muddy after rain, and the leafless trees and undergrowth are a little stark. But it turns into a pleasant green corridor in the summer.
It is crossed by two bridges—the southern one no longer has a function, but the northern carries Harefield Road. The original arch has been filled in with new brickwork and a little cylindrical tunnel, presumably because the bridge required strengthening at some point.
Finally, The Miley pops out at Clepington Road, behind the Kingsway West Retail Park. Just on the other side of Clepington Road, a branch used to split off the Dundee-Newtyle line, serving goods yards at Fairmuir and Maryfield, which were then on the extreme northern edge of town. You can see that branch on my map below:
Also visible is the dismantled railway—the line of the original direct route via the Law Tunnel, which was replaced by the longer, but safer, Lochee deviation.
I wove my way through the Retail Park and then rounded the corner of the Tesco supermarket to pick up the line of the railway again. The busy Kingsway ring road didn’t exist when the railway was built, but now it necessitates another diversion, to a safe crossing point, before we can pick up the line again. The Kingsway, when it opened in 1919, ran around the edge of town. The railway crossed its two carriageways on a long bridge, which must have been constructed while the railway was in operation—I have no information about how that was done, but it would have been interesting to watch.
(Notice the man walking along the nearly deserted carriageway, above. My father recalled roller-skating on the roadway at night, and only occasionally having to get out of the way of traffic. Changed days now.)
The Kingsway bridge was demolished in 1965, soon after the trains stopped running. As a child growing up in this area, I can recall the two bricked-off ends of the embankments on either side of the Kingsway, but these have gone now, too. Looking back from the north side of the Kingsway, we can now only imagine the line of the old railways.
The railway bridge would have come straight out of the side of the Tesco supermarket, behind the road sign. The line of the original railway ran beneath the orange cherry-picker.
On the north side of the Kingsway, an open strip of grass and trees runs between the houses. This is the line of the old railway embankment, on which I used to play as a child, after the trains stopped running and the rails had been lifted. The open space is triangular in shape at its southern end, indicating how the line of the old and new railways merged at this point. At the time the railway was built, this was a rural setting, with the railway running parallel to Strathmartine Road, which passed through the outlying village of Downfield a short distance to the east.
It’s an odd sensation for me, walking north through this space. The houses to the right are the same houses I looked down on from the embankment as a child; to my left, what used to be a row of lock-ups and an area of waste ground (affectionately known as “The Fieldy” by local kids) has been replaced by new housing. At the top end, the grassy space debouches into a little car park, between East School Road and West School Road. I used to walk this way to school, passing under the little railway bridge that originally spanned School Road, before it was divided into east and west sections. Here’s the bridge as it was in later years:
From the bollards and the warning sign, I suspect this picture was taken after the bridge was hit by a double-decker bus in the late ’60s, shortly before it was demolished.
Here’s the same area today, from a vantage point closer to the location of the bridge—the buildings visible beyond the bridge above are easily identifiable, and the line of the railway runs through the car park at right and in front of the tenement at left.
At this point, the line of the track is still evident, but becomes impossible to follow. I had to deviate to Strathmartine Road, and then walk back up a succession of cross-streets to visit the old line. Between School Road and Camperdown Road, the line of the embankment is marked by a wide area of open grassland, dotted with trees, but fenced off and accessible only through padlocked gates.
From Camperdown Road to Americanmuir Road, there’s another strip of open grassland, accessible from the south but inexplicably blocked by a fence and padlocked gate at the north end.
The location of the old footbridge over the railway at Americanmuir Road is evidenced by a narrowing and a row of bollards.
North of Americanmuir Road, new housing has been built in the space originally occupied by the railway—the cul-de-sacs of Cloan Grove and Caledonian Gardens align with the old track-bed. Beyond that, the line reached Baldovan Station, the platforms of which extended behind the old Downfield Tavern, which still exists as the oldest part of the modern Downfield Hotel.
The station itself is long gone, built over by the modern flats of Strathmartine Court.
I’ll stop here, for now, because the trail goes cold for a while. We’re moving into a part of Dundee that was largely rural until after the railway was decommissioned and the track lifted, so the route is for the most part obscured by modern buildings until we get to the present edge of town. That’ll be a project for a later date.
The good people at the National Library of Scotland have gone to the trouble of georeferencing a large collection of out-of-copyright historical maps of Scotland (and some of the wider UK), and this is a fabulous resource for anyone who wants to explore their local history and geography. And it got me hankering for the ability to load such detailed maps into a portable GPS-enabled device.
Now, my go-to service for georeferenced electronic Ordnance Survey maps is usually Anquet. Mainly, I use them on my PC or laptop, but I also keep a few local topographic maps on my mobile phone, and use them for the occasional bit of GPS navigation. Anquet also used to sell a variety of historical Ordnance Survey maps, but they were fairly pricey, and I anyway discover that the service now seems to have been discontinued.
So I began to wonder if I could parasitize the work of the National Library of Scotland, and get a copy of their georeferenced map on to my phone. And it turns out I could. Here’s what I did.
I dusted off and updated my old copy of the venerable OziExplorer software on my PC. OziExplorer has been around for decades, dating back to a time when it was expensive or impossible to get good quality maps into a hand-held navigation device. The unique feature it offers is the ability to import map images (in those days, from scanned paper maps) and “calibrate” them with latitude and longitude information. I bought my own copy of the program years ago. It’s nowadays fairly expensive, and probably not something you’d purchase for a one-off project. However, I’m pretty sure the trial version will let you do everything I’m describing here, if you’re prepared to put up with restarting it every hour.
My next step was to take a screenshot of the Ordnance Survey map from the NLS website. I use Greenshot for these tasks, but there are many options.
I fed this image to OziExplorer, using the “Load And Calibrate Map Image” option from the File menu.
OziExplorer is extremely versatile in how it calibrates map images. If the map gridlines run parallel to the edges of the image (as they do in the NLS maps), it only requires three calibration points, preferably close to three corners of the image. For skewed maps, or maps with curved gridlines, more points are needed.
But first I need to tell OziExplorer what map projection was used, in the Setup tab of the calibration window at top right.
From the drop-down menus, I choose “Ord Srvy Grt Britn” for my Map Datum, and “[BNG] British National Grid” for Map Projection. The next three tabs in this window are the set-up for the three calibration points.
So now it’s back to the NLS map, with a notepad and pencil, to write down coordinates for three points. I just place my cursor over a suitable point, and then read off the coordinates at the bottom right of the screen. When I started doing this, I spent some time casting around for suitable natural features or buildings on the map, before I had the blinding revelation that the text on the map would work just as well for this purpose. So here I am with the cursor on the dot of the first “i” of Menzieshill.
And here are the associated coordinates for that point:
What I want to feed to OziExplorer are the letters and numbers in bold in the top line—these are the Ordnance Survey grid square letters, and the easting and northing values. It’s important not to use the latitude and longitude provided by the NLS, since this will create a position error on the order of a hundred metres if transferred to OziExplorer. The NLS is providing the global standard WGS84 coordinates, which is what your GPS receiver tells you. But once you’ve stipulated to OziExplorer that you’re using the British National Grid, it then assumes (I think) that any latitude and longitude you enter pertain to coordinates on the specific ellipsoid on which the BNG is based, which is not the same shape and orientation as the WGS84 ellipsoid.
The underlying reason for the mismatch in latitude and longitude doesn’t really matter for practical purposes, though—just be sure to use the grid letters and numbers offered by the National Library of Scotland as your input to OziExplorer.
Going back to OziExplorer armed with my three calibration points, I enter the first set of coordinates by opening the “Point 1” tab in the calibration window at top right. This changes the cursor to a set of cross-hairs that I use to select the same points I copied off the NLS map:
Positioning the cross-hairs accurately is aided by the little magnified square that appears on the screen at top left—you can see it to the left of my screenshot above.
Once I have the position right, I click to set my calibration point:
And then I enter the grid reference for Point 1:
Then it’s just a matter of repeating the process for Point 2 and Point 3, and hitting Save. OziExplorer saves a little file with the same name as the map image file, but with the suffix *.map, and the map image is now calibrated.
In a minute I’ll go on to explain how I moved a calibrated map to my phone, but there’s one other thing that’s worth dealing with at this point. Even with a UHD monitor, you may want to capture more than one screenful to get complete coverage of an area of interest. This is where OziExplorer‘s free “Map Merge” utility comes in. It will combine any overlapping array of calibrated OziExplorer maps into a single large image.
So for my little project relating to Dundee’s abandoned railway lines, I captured a series of screenshots of the 1903 Ordnance Survey map from NLS, and calibrated them in OziExplorer as described above. This involves jotting down quite a lot of calibration coordinates, but not as many as you might expect—because the screenshot edges must overlap to produce a single large map, and because the calibration points need to be at the corners of each image, then calibration points can and should be reused, to ensure that the images are perfectly aligned in the final map.
Then I open Map Merge, and point it at the folder on my hard drive containing all the map images and their associated *.map files. When these are imported, Map Merge tiles them together to display the coverage of the final map:
When I’m happy with the coverage, I tell Map Merge to create a map from the selected maps:
I also need to tell it what projection and scale to use:
And then I just sit back and wait for Map Merge to zip all the individual files together into one calibrated map, which is saved to the hard drive as two files—an image file with extension *.ozfx3, and a *.map. calibration file for that image. I can load these back into OziExplorer to make sure everything is aligned as it should be.
To get this final map on to my phone, I needed to download and install the OziExplorer Android app. There’s nothing for Apple users, unfortunately, but there is a version for PocketPC handheld devices, which is a bit of a legacy market these days.You can find details on the OziExplorer website. Again, the full version of the Android app is distinctly pricey, but the trial version will do what I describe here, if you don’t mind a prominent watermark on your map display, and having to restart the app every fifteen minutes.
With the app installed on my phone, I plugged it into my PC via a USB cable, and used Windows Explorer to navigate my way to the phone’s OziExplorer\Maps folder. Then I copied across the *.ozfx3 and *map files created by Map Merge.
And that was that. When I opened the OziExplorer app on my phone, I was able to call up my Victorian OS map and follow the line of my disappeared railway using the phone’s GPS. So here I am on the Perth Road, just about to set off cross-country:
8.4 kilometres (total) 130 metres of ascent (total)
4.6 kilometres (this part) 95 metres of ascent (this part)
Confined to a small and largely urban Local Authority Area by the current lockdown rules, your correspondent is having to get a little creative in his choice of walking routes, to keep interest alive.
This one follows the route of the old Dundee-Newtyle railway, as it weaves around town. The track bed is long gone (I can only just remember the occasional goods train plying this route in the early 1960s), and subsequent demolition and building work has left little of even industrial-archaeological interest —but it’s a pleasant route to follow, and wide enough to allow two-metre distancing throughout, with a little care (and occasional willingness to step off the path). I’ve superimposed the line of the old railway in red on my usual map, above, and have also marked the various vanished stations along its route.
The original Dundee-Newtyle railway was the first railway north of the Tay, opened in 1831, connecting the farmland of the Vale of Strathmore, north of the Sidlaw Hills, with Dundee’s then-bustling port. It took a pretty steep and direct line out of town, passing through the tunnel I mentioned in my post about the Dundee Law. Problems with runaway wagons on the steep inclines led to injury or death on more than one occasion. The whole steep section through town was eventually bypassed by a long loop, the Lochee deviation, which opened in 1861. It branched off the main Dundee-Perth railway and took a long loop westwards around Menzies Hill (a low and gently rounded extension of Balgay Hill). This loop was so long it was later said that, if had you just missed the train departing from Dundee West Station, you had time to hop on a tram to Lochee Station and catch the train as it reached the end of its long deviation.
There’s very little left of the original direct Dundee-Newtyle line, so my plan was to walk the loop of the Lochee deviation. As with my previous waterfront excursion, this is a one-way walk report—the return journey is left as an exercise for the interested reader. I’ve split the walk into two sections, both for ease of description and to introduce a logical break for anyone who wants to do it in two halves.
So I loaded a geo-referenced Victorian map into my phone*, and set off. I picked up the line of the old railway where it crossed the Perth Road at NO 355302. South of this point, its route has been entirely overbuilt by a row of newer houses along the south side of the road. Below, I’ve superimposed the track as shown by the Ordnance Survey map of 1903 on to the modern street layout.
There’s no evidence of the embankments on either side of the road, or the bridge that linked them. Here’s the view looking north:
My line took me towards the left side of this panorama, aiming for the sign (just visible above) at the little car-park on Mariner Drive. Then after a short walk down Mariner Drive, I forked right on to the track of the Dundee Green Circular Route. The line of the railway passes through the trees to the left of this route initially, but then the Green Circular path picks up the line of the old track-bed, and follows its loop right around Menzies Hill. The hill itself is now covered by the suburb of Menzieshill, and the Green Circular threads a pleasant line between the houses on the right, and a strip of woodland to the left.
As the curve of the path turns north (in the distance in my photograph above), it briefly rises above the surround terrain, following the old railway embankment.
Once it has made its loop and turned eastwards, the path falls in beside South Road (which, counter-intuitively, runs east-west). A short length of wall between the path and the road marks the original approach to Liff Railway Station. On the north side of the road at this point my 1903 Ordnance Survey map enticingly marks a “Druidical Temple (remains of)”. It’s still there, but now referred to more prosaically as the Balgarthno Stone Circle. The Canmore database records some more satisfying alternate names: “The Nine Stanes of Invergowrie” and (predictably enough) “The Devil’s Stones”.
The old Liff Station buildings and platforms are long-gone, the site covered by the car park of the Lynch Sports Centre. Here’s the 1903 layout superimposed on the modern map, again.
And here’s what the site looks like, now:
Gowrie Villa, shown on my 1903 map, is still standing, however.
The path now weaves along between South Road and South Road Park, still following the old line of the railway, though no trace remains. These were all open fields when the railway was built, and there was a little farm community on the north side of the road called Charleston (“Charles’s toun”), which gave its name to the suburb that now borders the north side of South Road.
At Elmwood Road I passed the little patch of grass that marks the site of the old Lochee West Station—it was a little rural wooden building, now long gone.
The Green Circular Route now moves away from South Road, and (still following the absent railway line) threads its way through an area of parkland behind a row of modern flat blocks. We’re now in the district of Lochee, which at the time the railway was built was a village on the edge of town.
At this point, we finally encounter the first honest-to-god relic of the old railway infrastructure—a bridge carrying the truncated remnant of Sharp’s Lane. It’s freakishly low, with an arch of no more than three metres—I suspect the old railway cutting has been filled in somewhat, raising the level of the path.
The bicycle route curves around on to the bridge and heads south at this point, but the path continues straight ahead through a narrow strip of parkland.
On, then, until the path finally jogs rightwards and up a set of steps to Peel Street, which lies just to the right of the old railway line. Peel Street connects to Old Muirton Road, which at this point is a newish extension of the original street thus named, lying right on top of the old line of the track. And up ahead, in the fork between Old Muirton Road and Muirton Road, lies an odd little blind-ending ramp with an ugly square building perched on it.
This is the site of the old Lochee Station.
Just to the left of the ugly square building, and attached to it, is a much older and more appealing structure, patterned with unusually mosaicked red stone. It’s visible behind the bushes, above. This is the old Lochee Station building itself.
The ugly extension has been added where the old wooden platform canopy used to be. The combined buildings host the Lochee Burns Club. The original part is difficult to photograph, these days, because of the overgrowth of trees and bushes around it. Here’s my best attempt, taken from Old Muirton Road:
For better views, taken when the surrounding area was more manicured, go to the Canmore website.
Why is the station so far above the road? Because it was built directly on to the ramp that took the railway line on to the bridge over the south end of Lochee High Street. The bridge is now gone, but its western support remains, with Muirton Road visible at left:
And here is a convenient place to pause. In my next post, I’ll continue the journey as the route turns northwards.
Sandy Hillock (NO 266804, 768m) Dog Hillock (NO 286793, 732m) Ferrowie (NO 303794, 801m)
20.4 kilometres 1020 metres of ascent
I’ve had it in mind to take this obscure little jaunt for some time—a trip along the crags on the north side of upper Glen Clova, linking the two main routes across the hills between Glen Clova and Loch Muick—the crossing via Allan’s Hut in the west, and the old Capel Mounth drove-road in the east.
I started from the car park at Acharn. Mindful of the fact that the bridge north of Moulzie had been washed away by winter floods the last time I was here, I set off up the west side of the river, expecting that the faint path which had been starting to appear soon after the bridge was lost would have evolved into something more substantial. But it hadn’t. In fact, it had largely disappeared. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover a new footbridge had been put in place.
If I’d thought to check on this before setting off, I could have saved myself a bit of trackless wandering across damp flatlands, and used the regular track on the east side of the river.
Beyond the bridge the glen turns west, and I walked into the teeth of the wind that was funnelling through the head of the glen. When I reached the little larch forest at Bachnagairn there was some shelter among the trees, but their upper branches were being buffeted strongly enough to shake down a continuous gentle snow of yellowing larch needles.
Then I crossed the Roy Tait Memorial Bridge, and started up the well-engineered zig-zag path towards the high plateau and Allan’s Hut. The modern corrugated-iron hut (actually a stable for stalker’s ponies) replaces a dilapidated wooden structure that stood here back in the ’70s. (I’ve written previously about pitching a tent inside the old Allan’s Hut.)
The ascending path was marked by fresh hoof-prints, showing that ponies were still being used to carry dead deer off the hill at the end of a day’s stalking.
Then on to my first summit of the day, Sandy Hillock. A glance at the ground, where the path has eroded a slot in the peat, was sufficient to explain the name.
The summit hosts four poles (one fallen) and a small cairn with a metal shelf inside. Almost all the paraphernalia is now gone, but it seems there were once two radio aerials up here, serving some purpose I’ve been unable to discover.
Next, I headed south, into a little triangle of boggy moorland that seems to levitate 300 metres about the river below. This is the top of the improbably named crag of Juanjorge, an obvious viewpoint that I’ve long wanted to visit. Contrary to appearances, the cliff is not named after two misplaced Spaniards. The local pronunciation sounds something like Gin-George, and on the basis of that pronunciation, Adam Watson* speculates that the original Gaelic was Dionn Deorid, which he translates as “hill or fortress of melancholy creature”. I don’t really know what to make of this, and both Gaelic words seem to be rather obscure. Anyway, it gives (as I suspected) splendid views both up the glen towards Bachnagairn and down towards the new bridge.
From there, I worked my way along the rim of Moulnie Craig, glancing back to take in the view of Juanjorge.
And then on to Broom Hill (no broom plants in evidence) and around the deep cleft of The Gourock, with its lovely little lochan.
The name, oddly, derives from an guireag, “the pimple”, hinting that the Ordnance Survey may have attached it to the wrong geographical feature.
Next, Dog Hillock, on which no dogs were evident. The name was probably given in conscious contrast with Sandy Hillock—in Scots, for some impenetrable reason, a “dog hillock” is a small hill covered in grass. Here, I took a seat and enjoyed the view south down the glen towards my starting point, and also north to the crags of Lochnagar. I noted that the Falls of the Glasallt (above the Queen’s lodge at Glas-allt-Shiel) were broad and white with run-off from recent rain (an observation that would become relevant later in the day).
And I could enjoy the classic sound of the Scottish Highlands in October—the bellowing of red deer stags in rut. Here’s what one of those sounds like:
This noise had been echoing around me from all directions since I’d reached Bachnagairn, though I’d glimpsed nothing but a little bachelor herd trotting across the peat hags in the distance.
To reach my final hill of the day, I had an awkward little descent in the headwaters of the Moulzie Burn, and then an awkward little ascent to reach the Capel Mounth track. I walked up to the high point of the track to reach Gallow Hillock, an unassuming heathery lump, visible on the sky-line to the right of the track, below:
There are over a hundred place-names in northeast Scotland containing the term ‘gallows’ […] While there is seldom evidence of their having been used as places of execution, they appear to have been important meeting-places or even the site of a court in Pictish times.
There’s a similar juxtaposition in the Sidlaws, where Gallow Hill sits next to the high point of the old route between Dundee and Glamis. Both locations seem too chilly and exposed for a meeting place, but ideal for a gibbet displaying the corpse of a highway robber. Or so it struck me at the time.
On, then, up the slopes of Ferrowie, which Dorward links to Gaelic feith ruadh “red mire”, though it didn’t seem particularly red or mirey. From the summit, I could look back at a panorama of Broad Cairn and Lochnagar, and notice that the Allt an Dubh-loch was so full that it showed up as a white ribbon between the two hills. Hmmm. There did seem to be a lot of water in the burns.
To get back into the glen, I followed a rough vehicle track past some decaying grouse butts on Ferrowie’s boggy southwest shoulder, The Winnochs. Dorward links this name, rather implausibly, to Scots winnocks, “windows”. Watson goes with the more believable Gaelic bhuidheanach, “yellow place”, which is pronounced something like “VOO-yen-och”. Here’s a view at the point where I rejoined the Capel Mounth track (Bachnagairn, Juanjorge and Broad Cairn in the background), demonstrating why I find “yellow place” compelling:
The route descends in steep zig-zags, eventually reaching a patch of forestry that turned out to have been recently clear-felled.
I was a bit disgruntled about this blot on the landscape, until I reached the ford where the path crossed the Capel Burn. Which was in spate. Predictably enough, given what I’d been seeing of the burns around Lochnagar earlier. Rather than taking off my boots and socks and wading across, clinging to the boulders, I realized I had another option—the clear-felling had opened up a rough route down the north side of the burn, by which I could easily reach the bridge on the Moulzie track below me. And then it was just a straightforward march back to the car, along the route I should have taken when I set out that morning.