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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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

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 choosing 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. (Note added 2021: This gate is now wired shut and wrapped in barbed wire. The area around Redmyre Loch is accessible via a grassy track leading west from the field gate at NO 285334.)

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, courtesy of xeno-canto:

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. (Note added 2021: The way to the boathouse is now roped off with “Private” signs. A new track takes walkers heading towards Redmyre farm circuitously around, rather past, the boathouse.) 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

* The good people who maintain the Database of British and Irish Hills call this unnamed summit “Blacklaw Hill West Top”, which makes sense, but it doesn’t appear on any map I’ve seen.

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