Kinpurney Hill (345m, NO 322417)
Back Drum (287m, NO 336430)
Castleward (273m, NO 343438)
500 metres of ascent (with detours)
Two glens penetrate the north side of the Sidlaw Hills—Glen Ogilvie and the Denoon Glen. Between them, they create three ridges that point northwards from the central bulk of the Sidlaws. I’ve walked two of those ridges so far—on the east side of Glen Ogilvie, from Broom Hill to Ironside Hill; and between Ogilvie and Denoon, from Berry Hillock to Ark Hill. So this outing was to walk the last of the ridges, the one west of Denoon Glen.
I started with an old friend, Kinpurney Hill above Newtyle. I parked in Newtyle, walked a short distance along the road to the farm at Denend, and then up the Newtyle Path Network track that follows the Denend Burn through the trees and then out on to the open hillside.
There’s a nice little bench beside the path, half-way up the hill, which offers a chance to contemplate the Strathmore scenery, as well as giving the first glimpse, during the climb, of the eighteenth-century observatory-cum-folly on the summit, which I described when I posted about my last visit to the top of this hill.
Two things had changed since my last visit here, in January—the gate had fallen off the mysterious high-security fence around the view indicator, and the eccentric blue trig point had been repainted in a more regulation white. The view indicator was still unusable, though—not because it was coated in ice, this time, but because the Grampian hills to the north were shrouded in rather threatening dark cloud.
I carried on over Kinpurney, and as I descended to the east I had a good look at the ridge running out to Castleward. There seemed to be a vehicle track running around the north shoulder of Henderston Hill which looked like it would eventually bring me out on to the ridge. I quite like following vehicle tracks in the Sidlaws, because they often bring me to gates in otherwise awkward fence-lines. So I dropped down to a remembered pair of stiles at NO 326417, which take you over the barbed-wire-and-electric-fence combo that otherwise separates Kinpurney from Henderston. From there, I struck off to the left looking for my “vehicle track”—this turned out to be the line of a very old wall, marked as a boundary on the OS 1:25,000 map, but actually reduced to a foot-high ridge that had been colonized by heather, turning it into a sort of long, thin rockery.
It was rather tussocky walking, so I soon struck off uphill through open trees to where I could see a fence running along the ridge-line. This whole area is marked, rather vaguely, by the Ordnance Survey as Nevay Park Hill. Like many minor hill names in the Sidlaws, it seems to apply more to a slope than a summit—named by people looking up from the glen rather than walking the ridgeline, presumably. It takes its name from the old parish of Nevay, at the foot of the slope to the northwest. Below me at this point was the ruined Nevay Church with Kirkton of Nevay nearby, a North Nevay, East Nevay, West Nevay and Gateside of Nevay, as well as a mansion at Nevay Park which gives its name to the hillside. It’s an ancient name, coming to us from Gaelic neimhidh, which is related to the old Gaulish nemeton—the word for a sacred place among pre-Christian Celts.
I followed the ridge fence until I got to a gate at NO 336425. On my side of the fence (the west side) there was some fairly dense forest up ahead; on the other side there was a farm track and a succession of gates, which looked like easier going. So I climbed over the gate.
That worked out well. The track took me easily out on to the hillside of Back Drum. Drum is a Scots word, from Gaelic druim, meaning “ridge”—so Back Drum is the “back ridge” for the farms in the Denoon Glen, which occupy the ground between the river and the ridge.
The highest point on Back Drum is the 287m point at NO 336430, which I’ve chosen to label Back Drum after its associated ridge, rather than Nevay Park Hill after its western slopes. I passed through an open gate and then climbed up towards it, to find myself cut off from the highest point by about three horizontal metres, one vertical metre, and two aggressively prohibitive fences—one electric and one barbed wire. I temporarily invoked Hewitt‘s Pragmatic Rule of Hillwalking, which is that one may be deemed to have climbed to the top of a hill if one has walked close enough to the highest point to look down on it. (While this deals with the obvious problem of a flat summit littered with rocky outcrops of approximately equal height, I did have an uneasy sense that I might be violating the spirit of the rule in this instance.)
Anyway, I moved on along the ridge of Back Drum, which is a fine viewpoint, suspended between the open farmland of the Strath and the enclosed domesticity of the Denoon Glen. On the other side of the summit fence, a herd of bemused cattle watched me pass by.
Castleward (emphasis on the final syllable) involves another Scots word—ward, meaning “meadow”. (In Dundee, we have a Ward Road that runs straight into another street called Meadowside, both of them on the site of long-vanished grazing land.) So Castleward is the “castle meadow”. According to David Dorward, it was once the site of Denoon Castle, which must have had a commanding view out over the approach to Denoon Glen. The Ordnance Survey attaches two other names to the slopes of this hill—East Nevay Hill and Balkeerie Hill, both relating to farms of the same name lying to the northwest. Another label, Ingliston Hill, seems to apply to the low, gentle 190m shoulder that extends north from Castleward towards Ingliston Farm, crowned by Ingliston Wood.
There’s no evidence of a castle now. I wandered around the 271m top, admiring the views, and then went across to the slightly higher summit at 273m. This point is enclose on three sides by various kinds of wall and fencing, and is probably only sensibly accessible via a track that comes up from Easter Denoon farm, livestock management permitting. I cast around for a while (you can make out my exploratory wanderings on the map above) and then hopped over a wall, slipped under an electric fence, and walked across rough grazing land to the summit. The view is essentially the same as the one from the easily accessible 271m top.
What my wanderings did turn up, though, was something of a mystery. Lying flat on the ground, tucked into the corner of a field at NO 342436, essentially invisible until you step on it, is an engraved stone slab, about half a metre high, marked with the initials GI inside the outline of a shield, and the date 1685. It’s easily legible, so I doubt it has lain in that exposed position for four hundred years—the location makes it look like it has been picked up and dumped out of the way by a farmer at some time. I’m wishing now I’d tried to turn it over to see what was on the other side, since it has the feel of a boundary marker of some kind. *
Back the way I came, then, with the sun coming out and the birds starting to sing. I made a little exploratory foray to the forestry fence at NO 337428, and found it lying on the ground for a fair part of its length. So it was easy to step over, push through the deep gloom of the close-planted trees, and then climb steeply up tussocky grass on to the true summit of Back Drum, thereby assuaging my earlier guilt about having abused Hewitt’s Rule, and creating the knotted tangle you can see in my GPS track on the map.
When I got back to my gate at NO 336425, I decided to stay on the east side of the fence, to see where the farm track I was following came out. This was a bad idea, since it “came out” at a sturdy corner in the forestry fencing at NO 334420. A little to the left, there was a step-over that took me into a gap between another forestry fence and a run of electric fencing, heading back towards Kinpurney. This would normally have been a dispiriting option, but I realized that I knew where these two fences were heading. They were running along the north side of Henderston Hill, and they had to connect to the neat gate-and-stile combination I’d encountered at the bottom of a firebreak on a previous outing.
And so it turned out—a couple of hundred metres of slightly heathery walking, trapped between the two fence-lines, and then I was over the stile and out on the hillside, connecting to my outward route from Kinpurney.
So: I think this one needs an executive summary:
1) There’s a nice stroll to Castleward along the Back Drum ridge, if you stay west initially, cross the ridgeline at the NO 336425 gate, and then follow the track on the east side of the fence.
2) If you’re so inclined, you can access the true summit of Back Drum through a gap in the forestry fence at NO 337428, at least until someone repairs it.
3) The true summit of Castleward is cordoned off from the rest of the ridge by fences and walls, and really only sensibly accessible from the glen below.
* Update: A nice lady from the McManus Museum just got back to about my mystery stone, which does turn out to be a boundary marker—and one that already has its own entry on the Canmore archeology site. The “GI” of the inscription probably refers to a George Innes, who owned the farm at Easter Denoon in the late 17th century.