Lock-down Walks: Balgay Hill

Balgay Hill (NO 377308, 146m)

2.8 kilometres
84 metres of ascent

Balgay Hill route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

Well, needs must when the Devil drives. The current UK coronavirus lockdown imposes paradoxical advice on the Oikofuge when it comes to walking outdoors—apparently I’m to “stay local”, but take my “normal exercise”, so long as it lasts “no more than an hour”. Given that my normal exercise involves hours wandering around in the hills, I’m a bit stuck.

But I have two small hills nearby, and they’re better than nothing. Both boast an extensive path network, but some of the narrower paths are a little challenging when it comes to maintaining physical distancing—run into someone at the wrong moment on a steep set of steps, and your two-metre separation rule goes out the window. So this is the first in a planned pair of posts about getting up and down these hills using only broad tracks, so that physical distance can be maintained at all times.

First up is Balgay Hill. Balgay is Gaelic, baile gaoithe, “windy place”, and there is still a Windy Glack separating Balgay Hill from the unnamed lump immediately to its west (a glack is a valley, as I’ve mentioned before when writing about a pair of glacks in the Sidlaws).

The hills stands in the middle of a broad expanse of parkland, and I started from the old park gates at its southeast corner. (Like most parks in the UK, Victoria Park lost its iron railings during the Second World War, so it’s easy enough to step into it at any point along the roadside; but the gate pillars remain.)

My route took me along the Main Drive, and past an odd (and at this time of year, drab) little rockery.

Rose Window, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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It’s actually a rose window, salvaged from the City Churches after they most recently caught fire in 1841. (Dundee’s City Churches have a long and complicated history, and they have burned down even more often than Glasgow School of Art. Though not in such quick succession.)

A bit farther along, there’s an oddly proportioned bandstand, with a lurid blue pergola.

Balgay Bandstand, Balgay Hill, Dundee
Click to enlarge

This used to be quite an imposing edifice, back when I lived about 100 metres to the left of this photo. You can see what it used to look like here. But it burned down in 1993 (bit of a theme developing here), and only part of the rear wall and wrought ironwork could be salvaged.

Turning right at this point, I walked through Windy Glack, and under the imposing Balgay Bridge, which connects the shoulder of Balgay Hill to an imposing little summit within neighbouring Balgay Cemetery. It has recently been painted in the same eye-wrenching signal-blue paint as the bandstand.

Balgay Bridge, Balgay Hill, Dundee
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The cemetery used to rejoice under the splendid title of “Western Necropolis”, and its upper and older parts are resplendent with imposing gothic memorials.

Western Necropolis, Dundee
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Coming out of Windy Glack, I reached another gate on the northwestern side of the hill, and then followed the North Road in a long rising spiral that takes cars up to the summit. I cut the corner slightly, and used another broad surfaced path which took me to Balgay’s summit surprise:

Mills Observatory, Dundee
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This is Mills Observatory, Britain’s first (and now last remaining) astronomical observatory for public use and education. Back in the 1960s, I spent many a chilly evening here with my father, being given a guided tour of the heavens by the observatory’s enthusiastic curator.

Between the observatory and the little mound of Goat Hill to the east, there stretches a row of plaques mounted on roughly shaped stones, called the Planet Trail. The plaques represent the planets of the solar system, spaced according to the size of their orbits, with the Sun and inner planets on Goat Hill, and the outer planets set out with increasing spacing all the way to Pluto at the observatory itself. The fact that Pluto was included as a planet (it was reclassified as one of several dwarf planets back in 2006) tells you that the Planet Trail has been in place for a while, and all its plaques could now do with replacement.

Planet Trail, Balgay Hill, Dundee
Click to enlarge

For a bit of variety, I followed the road around the south side of Goat Hill, and then took Barons’ Drive down to rejoin my outward route. (No I don’t know who the Barons were who gave their name to the Drive.)

And that was that. I followed broad surfaced tracks or roads all the way (apart from a bit of off-piste strolling on the open summit of Goat Hill), with no problem maintaining a two-metre separation from other walkers.

Route junction, Balgay Hill, Dundee
Click to enlarge

8 thoughts on “Lock-down Walks: Balgay Hill”

    1. Only if I get to choose the little stroll, Phil. 🙂 Gad, I’ve been on some uninteresting walks recently.

  1. Well, this is certainly a bit different from the previous walks of yours that I have read about on your blog. But it least got me to learn a bit more about Dundee. ( My previous knowledge was basically that it existed and — Dundee Cakes!) When we drove through Scotland being West Australians we were more interested in having a look at Perth.

    Good old Victoria Park. I wonder how many areas with that name exist within the borders of the departed British Empire? I spent the first 21 years of my life living in an inner suburb of Perth W.A. called Victoria Park.

    I have to wonder at the “very blue” blue paint used on those structures (what a beautiful old Victorian/Edwardian bandstand was lost by that fire) in the park. Surely it cannot have been a favourite colour of the park’s guardians in the past? You did give me a good laugh with your comparison between Dundee Church fires and the, apparently, supremely flammable Glasgow School of Arts.

    The Victorian’s certainly had a fine turn of phrase with naming places like The Western Necropolis. And, I see that there is also a cemetery with the same name in Glasgow. I had a look at a 2 minute YouTube video of a “Walk In Balgay Hill Cemetery Western Necropolis Dundee Scotland” and it does look like a fine Victorian Cemetery with huge trees. I even got a glimpse of the blue footbridge for a few seconds.

    Anyway thanks for continuing to post and keep me looking outside our little bubble in Australia. Look after yourself.

    1. The signal-blue paint is a relatively recent innovation. My recollection of the ironwork on bandstand and bridge is that they used to suffer under flaking traditional black paint, but I couldn’t swear to it.

  2. Didn’t think it would take you long to figure a way to get interesting walk blogs around Dundee, for which I’m glad.
    I have a question about the derivation of the name Balgay. You have described it as baile gaoithe “windy place” Baile in Irish gaelic means “town” as in Baile atha cliath , town of the hurdle ford , i.e. Dublin . So it may refer to the area being a town in days gone by when Dundee made jam. as well as cakes ? Could that be,or am I being picky, and a place is also a town ?
    Lockdown, or as the NS Premier says “stay the blazes home “, brings out interesting things in people
    I’m a 2 hour drive away from Portapique.(pronounced Porta Pick , locally

    1. Yes, we did think of you when we saw what had happened in Portapique recently.
      Baile means “town” or “village” in modern Scots Gaelic, too. But at the time these places were acquiring their names (and there are a great number of placenames beginning “Bal-” in and around Dundee) a baile was also a feudal land-holding–a few buildings and their associated land. That’s commonly translated as farm-toun (“farm town”) by Scottish historians. Balgay seems to have been one of those, rather than a full-blown village. So I went with David Dorward’s translation, “windy place”, rather than getting into a convoluted story about farm-touns.

  3. Ernest Beattie

    Interesting article – happy memories I spent my childhood living very close to Victoria Park. Baron’s Drive, originally Barron’s Drive, was named after my Great Grandfather Peter Barron and his family who were land stewards of the Balgay Estate for 125 years up to 1944. They lived in Balgay Lodge on Blackness Road between Jedburgh Road and the former bowling green.

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