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
Click to enlarge

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
Click to enlarge
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
Click to enlarge
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
Click to enlarge

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.

2 thoughts on “Sidlaws: Dunsinane to King’s Seat”

  1. There must be several “King’s seats” I remember an evening strole , with a friend from Edinburgh to a Kings Seat somewhere in back of the castle quite a way
    Happy Easter !
    Jacquie

    1. Might that have been Arthur’s Seat?
      But there are a few King’s Seats in Scotland – in addition to the one in the Sidlaws I mention here, I also know of one in the Ochils, one in the Cleish Hills, one in the Cheviots (right on the English border), a pair either side of the river at Dunkeld, and one in Glen Prosen.

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