Sidlaws: Kincaldrum to Finlarg

Kincaldrum Hill (NO 414436, 309m)
Unnamed Point 315 (NO 411431, c350m)
Finlarg Hill (NO 406419, 336m)

14 kilometres
370 metres of ascent

Kincaldrum to Finlarg route
Click to enlarge

Of the whole Sidlaws ridge, there was one last little section above the 300m contour that I hadn’t visited. I’d looked north-east across Lumley Den to Finlarg Hill when I was on Ironside Hill, and wondered what the best way up would be. The approach from the Lumley Den side is short, but unfortunately would seem to involve walking up the driveway of the house there—the road is heavily fenced elsewhere. In fact, there was busy farmland all around the ridge, but also a patch of moorland on its west side that looked accessible from a road-end—that was my route in.

I turned off the A928 along the south side of the woods surrounding Glamis Den, and found a spot where I could get the car completely off the narrow road. (This transpired to be about the last such spot along my line of approach.) Someone was raising pheasants in Lera Wood, so the first part of my walk was enlivened by the juveniles milling around on the road, looking ridiculously off-balance without their long adult tails. There’s only one creature more stupid than an adult pheasant, and that’s a juvenile pheasant; and the only thing in the world more stupid than a juvenile pheasant is a group of juvenile pheasants (which the fifteenth-century Book of St Albans tells us is called a nye, by the way).

Young pheasant
Young pheasant (Click to enlarge)

At one point I stopped walking when a couple of agitated young birds rocketed into the air out of the roadside ditch. I just stood there for a few seconds, in silence but for the quiet sound of pheasant nerves breaking all around me, and then another couple rocketed … and then three, and then another, and then another, and then two more, until the roadside vegetation had emptied itself into the air over the course of twenty seconds or so. The pheasant is not characterized by its sang-froid.

On, then, to the small group of houses and farm buildings the Ordnance Survey marks as Arniefoul, and which David Dorward unfairly characterizes as “remote and somewhat sinister looking” in his book The Sidlaw Hills. Dorward offers the alternative renderings Ardnafouil, Arnyfauld, Arnefont and Earnafoot taken from old maps, but none of those seems to suit the current residents, who have rather pointedly glued their own version over the official signage.

Airneyfoul sign
Click to enlarge

Beyond what I now must call Airneyfoul, a track weaves up the hillside through a little triangular plantation of trees. As I turned a blind corner in the middle of the forestry, I found myself confronted by a buzzard, flying down the path at head-height towards me. It’s difficult to know which of us was the more surprised, but the buzzard was certainly more quick-thinking—as I lurched to a halt and gawped, it did a quick, steep turn and disappeared silently up a firebreak.

Beyond the trees, I made a detour to take in a spring marked on the map as Ironharrow Well—how could I not spend some time visiting a place that sounded as if it should feature in Lord of the Rings?

There’s a rather dilapidated open-sided building next to the well, presumably serving as a shelter for ponies or cattle at some time, and the well itself is covered by an interesting little A-frame with a sliding bolt in its door. The usually reliable Dorward has no suggestions as to the origin of that striking name, Ironharrow.

Ironharrow Well, Kincaldrum Hill
The well cover (Click to enlarge)

From Ironharrow, it’s just a short stroll to the ridgeline, along an overgrown 4×4 track that crosses the hillside a short distance above the well. The boundary fence here is in poor repair, with sagging strands and broken staples, and it’s easy to slip through to the 309m trig point on the other side.

Trig point on Kincaldrum Hill
Click to enlarge

Quite what this summit is called is a bit of a puzzle. The OS places two names in its approximate vicinity—Hayston Hill and Kincaldrum Hill. I’m guessing that Hayston refers to the ridge that extends northwest towards Upper Hayston farm—although it doesn’t have a distinct summit, it looks very much like an independent hill from the road below. Kincaldrum labels the brow of the 291m lump north of the trig point, at NO 417442; Kincaldrum House lies below that, and a farm called East Cotton of Kincaldrum lies east of the trig. The whole area was part of the old Kincaldrum estate, which took its name from ceann caled druim, “head of the hard ridge”. On the basis of proximity alone, I’ve decided the trig is on Kincaldrum Hill.

I also walked over to the 291m point, to take a look at the view from the end of the ridge. A fence in the dip below the trig was easily stepped over.

View from Kincaldrum Hill
Click to enlarge

Back to the trig point, then, and the common Sidlaws puzzle—which side of the boundary fence to walk on. I did my usual thing, and chose moorland over grazing land. This turned out to be a Bad Decision.

There’s a complicated little fence junction at NO 410432, near the top of an unnamed 315m bulge in the ridge, and I slipped through between the fence wires to find myself separated from the farmland to the east by a double fence, my side of it being electrified. I dithered for a moment, and then decided I’d follow it along the ridge and see what happened. At a point where the two-stranded electric fence spanned a dip in the terrain, I impulsively slipped under it—I was going to have to cross these fences at some point, and it made sense to get one out of the way while I had the chance. This was when I discovered that other fence now sported an electrified upper strand, too. So there I was, confined to a strip of moorland an arm-span wide, with electricity on each side.

Twin fences on Finlarg Hill
Electric Avenue (Click to enlarge)

I walked on, whistling Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” under my breath and wondering if I was going to end up having to retrace my steps.

But just before the top of Finlarg Hill, the electric fence on my left turned away at right angles, presumably following a property line down the hill. A little beyond that, I was able to lift the rucksack over the fence and then slide between the second and third wires, to reach the less-than-impressive “cairn” on the summit.

Summit of Finlarg Hill
The summit “cairn” (Click to enlarge)

To the south-west, I could look across to Ironside Hill and Craigowl beyond. There were a couple of nice gateposts here, without a gate—presumably I could have followed some vehicle tracks down across the sheep pasture to come out at the previously-noted house in Lumley Den.

Ironside Hill and Craigowl from Finlarg Hill
Ironside Hill and Craigowl (Click to enlarge)

Well, I didn’t fancy going back along Electric Avenue. On my way to Finlarg I’d seen gates in the farmland fences, and noted that all the livestock was well down the hill, away from where I’d be walking. So I slipped under the single strand of electric fence running down the east side of the ridge, and walked back across the fields. A stroll, three gates, and I was back out on the moorland at the NO 410432 fence junction. That was better!

Strathmore from above Ironharrow Well
Strathmore from above Ironharrow Well (Click to enlarge)

I took a diagonal through the heather to link back to my original track, using the rusty roof of the building at Ironharrow Well as my aiming point. Stonechats scolded me from the bracken as I passed through, and below Airneyfoul a little flock of yellowhammers came to check me out from perches along the telephone wires.

Bell and ling heather
Bell and ling heather (Click to enlarge)

Then there was some more alarm and despondency along Pheasant Alley, and I was back to the car.

A thistle
Click to enlarge

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