Sidlaws: Glen Ogilvie Circuit

Gallow Hill (NO 391413, 378m)
Craigowl (NO 376399, 455m)
Balkello Hill (NO 361394, 397m)
Unnamed Point 328 (NO 360408, 328m)

12.1 kilometres
400m of ascent

Ogilvie route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

I had an equinoctial walk in the Sidlaws last week, to celebrate the supposed onset of Spring after a dump of snow earlier in the week had left the hills speckled with residual drifts.

I parked just beyond Tarbrax, where the road splits right to Nether Handwick and left (across a bridge) to Dryburn. Both those roads give access to the open moorland beyond their respective farms, and my plan was to walk out via Dryburn and return through Nether Handwick. Both farms have signs at the road-end warning about young farm animals on the hill from April to September, so late March seemed like a fine time to take a walk that had been in my mind for a while.

Warning sign, Dryburn
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It was blowing a chilly equinoctial gale when I got out of the car—the door blew shut behind me. But the forecast was for improvement, so I put my head down and trudged up towards Dryburn until the road took a sharp right turn and I carried on up a broad vehicle track signposted to Hillside of Prieston. This used to be a significant through-road, linking Glamis to Dundee, but nowadays the track peters out at a locked gate on the ridge-line between Craigowl and Gallow Hill.

Instead of following the track all the way to the ridge, I turned off when it arrived at the saddle linking Broom Hill to Gallow Hill, where there’s another sealed gate. From there I trekked up Gallow Hill along a faint vehicle track in the heather, which parallels the west side of the ridge-line fence. This fence used to be in poor repair on the summit, with a sagging wire that allowed the limber to duck under the barbed wire top strand—but not any more. The wires are tight again, and one needs to be not only limber but moderately slim to pass through. (Note added in April: within a fortnight of the visit described here, the fence had been damaged again—I presume deliberately.)

Summit of Gallow Hill
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The fence on Gallow Hill as it was …
Summit of Gallow Hill
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The fence in March 2019 …
Gallow Hill April 2019
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… and in April

The damage is presumably mainly to allow access to the cairn for those arriving from the west—but the cairn isn’t on the highest point of the hill. The Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map plots the summit on the fence-line, about 70m northwest of the cairn, and this can be borne out by observation on the ground.

From there, I headed down the heathery south-west shoulder towards Craigowl. Last time I was around this area I was walking in deep unseasonable snow in May, and I kept sinking thigh-deep at irregular but annoyingly frequent intervals. Now I found out why—the hill in this vicinity is dotted with some surprisingly deep holes, many of which were still filled with the remnants of the snow we’d had earlier in the week. One of the larger holes was even transected by a little segment of dry-stone wall, which looked like it might offer some good protection from the wind.

Drystone shelter in hollow, Gallow Hill
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Farther along the ridge, I came upon a sad little relic—a few scraps of aluminium and rusted steel are all that remains of an RAF Avro Anson, tail number N5064, which struck the hill on 23 June 1945, killing its pilot.

Avro Anson wreckage, Gallow Hill
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Then down to the saddle below Craigowl, where the cloud was still low enough to obscure the tops of the telecom masts. There’s a winding path marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map, which connects this saddle to the tarmac road near the top of Craigowl, and it’s easily visible as a slot in the heather at its lower end, where it’s a substantial tractor track, but it becomes difficult to follow farther up.

Craigowl from Gallow Hill slope
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Path winds its way up Craigowl (telecom masts hidden in low cloud)

Craigowl is probably my least favourite Sidlaws summit, so I hung around the triangulation pillar just long enough to admire the fortitude of a couple of guys who were working high on one of the telecom masts, completely exposed to the still-biting wind. Then I took the eroded path westwards towards Balkello Hill.

Summit of Craigowl, workers on telecom mast
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(Note the orange-suited workers near the top of the mast)

Up and over Balkello, pausing at the Syd Scroggie view indicator (which is bizarrely labelled with the name of the wrong hill), and then down to the saddle at Windy Gates. (Still windy; three gates.)

Summit of Balkello Hill
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Summit of Balkello Hill, looking west along the Sidlaw ridge towards Black Hill and King’s Seat

From here it was time to turn north, following a path down the east side of the Haining Burn. The path has a tendency to dive into the burn, lower down, and the going is easier a little farther up the hillside, on a faint vehicle track that follows the line of a buried electricity cable. (This path is not marked by the OS, though several other paths are, all of which disappear into deep heather and which I’ve never been able to follow.)

Then I carried on straight up the unnamed 328m hill that separates the heads of Denoon Glen and Glen Ogilvie. At the top, the sun came out and the wind moderated, so I sat on the flat boulder that marks the summit, ate a sandwich, admired the busy whirling of the wind turbines on Ark Hill, and listened to the continuous stream of lark song that suddenly filled the air. Maybe Spring was here after all.

Down, then, on to the track to Nether Handwick—the Ordnance Survey marks this as a path, but these days it’s a substantial vehicle track. Beyond Nether Handwick I was on tarmac for the last mile back to the car. The sun shone. There was a positive cacophony of lark song in the air, and the March hares were bounding around in the fields on either side, rolling their eyes and getting ready for mischief.

Road from Nether Handwick to Tarbrax, Glen Ogilvie
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Yeah. Spring is here.

5 thoughts on “Sidlaws: Glen Ogilvie Circuit”

    1. We’re having a good run of weather at present, hereabouts.
      The sandwich would have been cheddar, red leicester, red onion, chive and mayonnaise – one of Ginster’s finest, picked up at a petrol station on the way to the hills. I was too disorganized to fabricate anything for myself, that day.

  1. I come for the pretty pictures and interesting tales and now I get to learn new words as well! “dreichness” has such a nice ring about it and pretty much sounds like how those days of grey, low cloudy skies and misting rain makes you feel. Actually I learnt about two words – as I now know what “Ginsters” refers to – after a quick ‘google’.

    To be honest, except for the last photo of “the track to Nether Handwick” the photos of this trek reminded me of the 21 days of dreich weather we experienced on our trip to Ireland during “summer” a couple of years ago – except there seemed to be no drizzle.

    1. Yes, “dreich” is a handy word for anyone who lives in a Temperate Maritime climate – I’ve encountered dreichness in British Columbia and Chile, too. (It’s also sometimes usefully applied to a certain kind of sermon, lecture or public address.)
      It’s another of those Scots words (like “gangrel” and “stravaig”) that looks like it must come from Gaelic, but actually doesn’t. In this case, it’s the persistence of Old English in a northern dialect.

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