Sidlaws: The Balshando Hill Expedition

Balshando Hill (NO 278355, 266m)

6.7 kilometres
140 metres of ascent

Balshando Hill route
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Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

So, Balshando Hill was a bit of a puzzle to me. It’s a bald-topped mound surrounded by a ring of forestry with the charming name of Naiad Wood—a Greek mythological reference that’s unusual hereabouts. And around Naiad Wood there’s a ring of farmland. But the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map shows a path marching in from the east and then zigzagging and looping its way through the trees to the summit, like this:

Balshando mapped path
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018

So it looked like all I needed to do was park at the trout fishery at Ledyatt Loch, find the start of the marked path, and stroll up the hill. Well, the first problem was finding the start of the path, which involved pushing through a young grove of trees across boggy ground, with not much evidence that many people came that way. And when I got to the start of the path, I found out why not many people go that way—access to the open fields was blocked by a stonking great metal gate in a stonking great deer fence, padlocked from the Ledyatt Loch side (which seemed odd). So that was a non-starter.

A few weeks later, I was at Tullybaccart with the intention of taking a look at the various Lochindores lochs. Lochindores, according to David Dorward, is likely from Gaelic lochan dobhar, “little loch of the waters”—and that low triangle dotted with lochans is certainly a watery place. I hopped over a sagging bit of fence where the Kettins Burn leaves the boggy ground around the lochs and flows under the road towards the Glen of Pitcur. The two eastern lochans marked on the map showed no visible water at all—just walls of reeds surrounded by squelching tussocks.

Lochindores reed beds
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The two western lochs were open water, dotted with mute swans and mallards. The westernmost loch sported a row of wildfowling hides along its shore, and a genuine quaking bog to its south—the sensation was like walking across a large, springy mattress or a very soft trampoline. A couple of fences cut across the area, but they’re easily crossed at convenient gates.

Lochindores Loch
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So, there I was, looking up at Balshando Hill from the west. Could I get up it from this side? After climbing Whinny Knowe (not much whin, thank goodness), I arrived at the big imposing deer fence that surrounds Naiad Wood.

Balshando Hill from Whinny Knowe
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Balshando Hill from Whinny Knowe

Reasoning that there had to be a gate somewhere, and it was most likely to be on the east side where the alleged path marked on the map entered the forest, I followed the fence around to the north across empty grazing land, through a gate into another empty field, and duly arrived at a big metal gate, the twin of the padlocked one at Ledyatt Loch—but this one was simply closed with a loop of chain and a hook-and-eye fastening.

On the inside of the gate, I could see a large interpretive noticeboard—but the gate itself was so overgrown with vegetation I had to throw my full weight against it a couple of times to tug it open.

Welcome to Naiad Wood
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So it turns out Naiad Wood is a “Trafalgar Wood”—planted on the bicentenary of the naval Battle of Trafalgar, and named after the frigate HMS Naiad, which was present at the battle. The thirty-three Trafalgar Woods planted in the UK in 2005 all feature trees that were used in shipbuilding in the days of sail. Isn’t that a lovely idea?

But beyond the sign there is a tangled wilderness that gives the impression that the gate was closed in 2006 and never opened again. The long spiral up the hill is choked with chest-high grass. At one point I found a little wooden bench protruding from the undergrowth.

Overgrown path, Naiad Wood
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The “path” through Naiad Wood
Bench in Naiad Wood
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The bench in Naiad Wood

There had obviously been some intention for this to be a public place of enjoyment, but the locked gate at Ledyatt seems to have put paid to any chance of that. Which is a shame, because the bare summit gives pleasant views over the main ridge of the Sidlaws.

Auchterhouse Hill and Craigowl from Balshando Hill
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So, apart from my bog-trotting approach from the west, is there a sensible way to get to Balshando Hill? I walked over to the Ledyatt Loch trout fishery and found the locked gate that had stymied me previously. From the outside, I could read the CCTV warning sign next to it—so I’m guessing the gate is locked to stop poachers getting in, rather than walkers getting out.

Locked gate between Ledyatt Loch and Balshando Hill
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Then I wandered around Ledyatt’s boundary fence, which is everywhere formidable, and blocks off a couple of gates and a stile that would at some time also have given access to the hill. Eventually I arrived at the gate of the field, which opens on to the access road to Ledyatt, just outside their gates at NO 283357. So that’s the only way in from the east, now—hop over the gate and walk around the high Ledyatt fences. But there isn’t a signpost anywhere suggesting that Naiad Wood even exists, let alone that it’s intended to be accessible.

The only access to Naiad Wood
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This way to Naiad Wood

On the way back, I went south around the woods, and took a couple of exploratory forays down to the fence that runs alongside Piperdam Burn—but it’s an unbroken barbed wire barrier, cutting off what might have been pleasant access from the woodlands at Little Ballo.

And so back to boggy Lochindores. To return to the car, I found a gate in the fence at the foot of the road embankment, at NO 268357. It’s invisible from the road, and allows you to pop up out of nowhere to startle motorists on the A923. Which is a bit of a mixed blessing, of course.

So that’s the story of Naiad Wood. Unlike my other Sidlaws explorations, this one makes me feel very slightly sad.

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