Sidlaws: Glen Ogilvie

Broom Hill (NO 383421, c290m)
Gallow Hill (NO 391413, 378m)
Ironside Hill (NO 399411, 354m)
Craigowl (NO 376399, 455m)

14 kilometres
430m ascent

Glen Ogilvie route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

The idea with this one was a ridge-level circuit of Glen Ogilvie—up on to the east side at Broom Hill, over the tops to Craigowl at the head of the glen, and then back along the west ridge to Berry Hillock.

So I parked off-road on a little patch of turf next to the turn-off from the A928 into the Denoon Glen. I figured I’d be coming off Berry Hillock somewhere on the Denoon Glen road, and it would be nice to have the car waiting conveniently nearby.

It was a strange and beautiful day. There had been unseasonable snow a few days previously and now, on a sunny April 30, the Sidlaws were still white.

Craigowl from Glen Ogilvie
Craigowl from Glen Ogilvie

I walked back down the road and turned into Glen Ogilvie. There’s an obvious route through the farmland, up on to the east side of the glen—a vehicle track that starts at the end of the public road to Dryburn, and climbs gently up below Gallow Hill, before crossing the Sidlaws ridge between Gallow Hill and Craigowl. It didn’t quite come out where I wanted to be, however. Instead, an open gate into a field let me climb up next to a new plantation and then out on to the open hillside through an obvious gap in the field wall at NO 380423. From there, I had a direct route to the start of my ridge at Broom Hill.

Craigowl from Glen Ogilvie
Access to the ridge (under the electric fence!)

After that, it’s just a matter of following the fence southeast along the ridge to Gallow Hill. Or it would be, under normal circumstances. It was at this point I began to realize just how much snow had fallen in the last couple of days, and how much it had drifted. Although the heather was showing through in wide areas, the snowy patches between were knee-deep, and softening in the spring sunshine. I wove my way from one island of heather to the next, but it was slow going.

Gallow Hill’s cairn is just to the wrong side of the fence, but persistent walkers with a certain disregard for other people’s property have created a gap in the wire that makes it easily accessible. (Note added in 2019: The fence has now been repaired, but the highest point on the hill is actually on the fence-line, a heathery lump about 70m northwest of the misleading cairn. [And another note: Within a fortnight of my posting the previous correction, the fence was damaged again. The same thing has happened on the summit of Ironside Hill.])

Summit of Gallow Hill
Cairn on Gallow Hill (note subtle modification of fence wire)

From there, I post-holed my way over to Ironside Hill, above Lumley Den, and then post-holed back along another fence that turns into a wall behind the television mast on the south slopes of Gallow Hill. The fence that runs over Gallow Hill terminates here, against the wall behind the television mast, but there’s a handy little gate in it, hard against the wall, at NO 395408. I imagine it opens, but its lower edge was so deeply embedded in the snow, I just climbed over.

Gallow Hill from Craigowl
Gallow Hill from Craigowl – you’d think that snow wasn’t very deep, wouldn’t you?

From that point, it’s only about a mile to the top of Craigowl, but things began to get really, really irritating. The drifting here was pretty extreme—I’d cross two or three snow patches an inch deep, and then on the fourth I’d suddenly drop hip-deep and have to crawl out. Or a single snow patch would alternate between inch-deep and knee-deep three times in twenty steps, destroying any possible walking rhythm. The snow was getting wetter and wetter in the sunshine, and I was getting wetter and wetter as I flailed around in it.

Meanwhile, nature was going about its business all around me—little frogs, stunned by the chill of the snow, could barely manage a couple of belated flops to get out from under my approaching boots; a male hen harrier flapped sullenly out of my line of march, maintaining an altitude of about two feet; deer dithered on the skyline and disappeared again; stonechats clattered furiously at me from the higher clumps of heather; and a quite spectacular fox’s earth turned up, improbably high on the side of Craigowl and slap-dab in the middle of the largest snow-free patch of heather I’d encountered. That fox obviously knows a thing or two about snow drifts.

Fox's earth on Craigowl
Fox’s earth on Craigowl

At the top of Craigowl, I took off my gaiters and shook the compacted snow out of them. Then I took off my boots and tipped a demi-tasse of meltwater out of each. Then I wrung out my socks. For all that it was a glorious scenic day, packed with interesting things to look at, it was becoming unreasonably trying. And I had no reason to believe that the going would be any easier on the west side of the glen.

Reader, I baled.

Glen Ogilvie and the Grampians
Glen Ogilvie and the Grampians

I struck straight off into the glen, aiming to reconnect with the blessed tarmac of the Glen Ogilvie road at either Nether Handwick or Dryburn. Post-hole, post-hole, post-hole. Then hip deep, again, for the fifth or sixth time. There were wire fences around the empty pasture-land in the glen, so I followed a line of snow-choked grouse butts down the hill, thinking that they would be served by a path under the snow, and that would mean there was a gate close by—but no such luck. My alternative line from this point wasn’t at all clear, so I crawled under the fence where it crossed a little burn. Then I crawled under another fence. And at that moment, as I lay prostrate in the snow, a light aircraft flew low overhead. So I tried to make animated movements, for fear the pilot would make a radio call to report me as a corpse, newly thawed out of the snowdrifts.

But then … Farm tracks! Open gates! No snow! Joy! Until I remembered that I’d left my car parked uselessly far up the road. Sigh.

Roadside snow
Snow’s not so bad down here!

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