One of the interesting things about having your own website is that you get to see some of the search terms people have used to find their way here. (Some of you have been talking to Siri while drunk, I see.) Someone pitched up recently having searched for “one long walk” along the Sidlaws, which sparked up a question I’ve been vaguely thinking about since I started this little project of exploring the Sidlaws ridge—how easy would it be to chain together a continuous traverse of the Sidlaws?
The problem really lies in the road crossings. Not so much the roads themselves, but the walker-hostile assortment of forestry, farms and fences that tend to flank the roads. It’s not immediately evident from the map what the best route from one bit of ridge to the next is likely to be.
So with stable high pressure and an easterly wind covering the tops with cloud, I thought it was a good time to go out and look at a couple of potentially problematic road crossings—Ballo Glack, between Gask Hill and the Ballo hills; and Glack of Newtyle, where the B954 crosses between Newtyle Hill and Kinpurney Hill. (Glacks are just steep-sided valleys, by the way. The word comes from the Gaelic, glac, and there are quite a number of “glack” place-names scattered around Perth and Kinross, Angus, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Highland.)
Southballo Hill (NO 256348, 303m)
I started in the morning with Ballo Glack. I parked at Tullybaccart, and wandered westwards along the forestry tracks on Northballo Hill. I’ve been here before, climbing the four hills in this little cluster. This time, I wanted to skirt around above Ballo Glack, checking the potential access to the road via the forestry tracks. (There’s no problem getting off Gask Hill on the other side of the road—as I’d found earlier, a track leads easily down through ravaged woodland right to the road.)
In particular I wanted to take a look at the rather nice path I’d seen descending towards the road the last time I was here (and, predictably for the Sidlaws, not marked on the map). But what a difference a couple of months have made! Last time I was on the Ballo hills, there was forestry work to the south of Laird’s Loch, closing off a short section of the forest track network. Now that section is open again, but there are huge tyre tracks tearing up long lengths of path, and the sound of heavy machinery on Northballo Hill itself. My chosen track was a macerated, muddy slog and, looking down through the trees, I could see the track that skirts along the north side of the plantation was similarly torn up.
What about my nice path? It was deeply eroded with mountain-bike tracks. In fact, there were a couple of mountain-bikers farther up the hill when I arrived. But they seemed to present no danger to me, since they were just cycling repeatedly into trees and laughing, for reasons best known to themselves.
I jogged down alongside the path to see where it came out, and found myself in a little muddy car-park just off the road at the start of the northern forestry track (NO 256343). The entrance to the track was closed, and the car-park piled with cut logs. At the south end of the car-park I found a promising-looking path (not marked on the map) going back up the hill, and undamaged by bike tracks [But see Update below]. So up I went. An easy angle got me back up to the forestry track I’d started from. It was still chewed up by heavy tyres.
Northern access looking unpromising for the time being, I headed south, and followed the zigzagging descending forestry track to another car-park (NO 249349). I strolled out to take a look at the signage at the entrance, and discovered the following:
Oops. It reminded of the time the Boon Companion and I walked for a couple of hours across open country in Iceland, at which point we encountered a fence and the back of a big, red notice. When we climbed over the fence to look at the sign we discovered it read, “VOLCANIC HAZARD ZONE. KEEP OUT.”
So—the forestry route across the Ballo section isn’t going to be pleasant walking for a while yet. How about the open slopes of Southballo Hill and Ballo Hill? They’re easy open pasture higher up, as I’d previously discovered, but closed off by fenced fields along the roadside.
On the way down to the Forbidden Car Park, I’d noticed another little path (not on the map!) striking south-east from the first bend as you ascend the forestry track. This took me quickly to a dilapidated wall with multiple gaps in it, affording an easy step-through to the open hillside, apart from a barrier of thick gorse growing along the burn. But with a little casting about I found a steep bank that sneaked me past the gorse, too (NO 251348). Look for two big trees close together on the opposite side of the burn:
OK. So there’s a reliable link from Gask Hill on to the Ballo hills, avoiding all forestry complications, if you just walk south down the road to the car park at NO 249349, and scoot across the burn at NO 251348. Yay. That was easy.
I strolled over Southballo Hill to find that the top of Ballo Hill was still heavily invested by sullen cattle, as it had been on my last visit, so I skirted around them. The tussocky marshland I’d found frozen previously was actually not too bad for walking, and now it was full of lapwings and snipe.
The direct route back to Tullybaccart would take me over the deer fence using a stile at NO 261354, but the upper part of the path through the forest had been a nightmare of overgrown gorse previously. So I decided to see what joy I could have by walking down the open hillside towards the Littleton road at Lochindores. There was bound to be a gate letting out on to the road.
And there was, just inconveniently placed at the wrong end of the field for my purposes—NO 267352, opposite the entrance to Thrawparts. But I was happier making the detour than trying to get through thick gorse and over barbed wire at the side of the road.
A short stroll along tarmac got me back to Tullybaccart, which is the link to the next part of the ridge.
So … proof of concept that Gask Hill can be painlessly linked across the Ballo hills to Lundie Craigs. The next problem was at the next road crossing eastwards—Newtyle.
Auchtertyre Hill (NO 293398, 278m)
Newtyle Hill (NO 296399, 270m)
Hatton Hill (NO 311407, 265m)
440 metres ascent
After a bite to eat in Newtyle, I set off for an afternoon exploring potential walker-friendly routes across the Glack of Newtyle.
You can get on and off the north side of the Sidlaws ridge at Auchtertyre Hill, using a firebreak in the forestry. And you can get on and off Kinpurney Hill using the Newtyle Path Network route up The Den from Denend. But connecting the two hills that way would involve a bit of a round-about route through Newtyle town, albeit with the chance of nice cream tea at the Commercial Hotel. So I wanted to see if I could find a way down off Newtyle Hill (through the forestry), and a way up Hatton Hill (across the farmland).
I got up on to Auchtertyre Hill via the aforementioned firebreak. The Newtyle Path Network provides a link through Kirkton to a little bridge over the old railway cutting. The route goes right through a farmer’s field, and in the late summer you walk along a slot trodden through the crops. In the spring, with the field recently ploughed, the line of the path was marked by no more than a faint little chain of footprints across the turned soil. Once across the bridge, I skirted a field and headed up to the firebreak.
In the late summer, when I was here last, the firebreak had been bucolically overgrown with grass, and alive with butterflies. Now there were just the churned tracks of some huge machine right up the middle of it, and a new barbed wire fence up the east side (albeit with a couple of stiles to allow access to the paths through The Birks). I was having a bit of a disappointing day.
A couple of young calves were gazing at me in astonishment from among the trees. So I made vague encouraging noises, and they started to approach, hesitantly. But at that moment I caught sight of their parents, gave vent to an involuntary shriek, and teleported over one of the stiles to put the fence between me and them. Gad, those English Longhorns are scary-looking things.
Once on top of Auchtertyre Hill I walked over Newtyle Hill and then down towards Burnside Plantation and its sturdy, double-stranded, barbed-wire fence. I wandered along it, and eventually came to a stile, tucked into the corner of the fence between Burnside and High Bannatyne Plantations (NO 302403). Beyond the stile, an odd little gate took be through the next fence, and I was home free, letting down the steep hillside towards the old railway cutting.
There’s a wooden stair here, connecting the railway cutting path to a forest path (not properly marked on the map) that eventually comes out at those stiles on the firebreak, next to where I met the Hellish Cattle.
I could have dropped straight down to the road at this point, but instead I walked along the cutting for a short distance to a farm track that took me down to the road exactly opposite the entrance to Hatton Castle. Then I walked up through Hatton farm, where I could see a track on the map that looked good to take me farther up the hill. Up the track, then two gates in two fences (NO 308411, NO 310409), and I was out on the rough pastureland and then the top of Hatton Hill. Yay. First new top of the day.
From here, I just needed to make the link to Kinpurney and my survey work was over. There was a gate in the north-east corner of my pastureland (NO 312409) that took me through to another field, and then down to another gate (NO 315410) that got me to the Denend Burn. From here I’d cracked it, because I could see a track on the hillside above me that the map linked up to the Newtyle Path Network route up Kinpurney. But the direttissima still beckoned, so I walked up across the field to see if there was a way out at the top end. Glad I did that, because I scared up my first pair of deer of the day—they bounded away downhill, cheerfully on the wrong side of the stonking great deer fence on the hillside above me. And there was a gate—or rather two gates, one in the field fence and one in the deer fence (NO 318413). Mission accomplished. Two grey wagtails hopped along the fence to see me off their territory, but wouldn’t sit still for a photo.
I dropped back to the track, and followed it down The Den to Denend and the road. A short walk on tarmac and I was back to Newtyle, with a clear picture in my head of how to get from Dunsinane Hill in the west to Craigowl in the east. And, you’ll notice, not a single picture of the actual scenery along my routes. Sigh.
Note: The variety of access to the west side of the Ballo hills is a little complicated, and difficult to make out on my rather winding GPS route map. Here they are, marked up more clearly:
Update: The paths going uphill from the north car-park are now (June) both deeply eroded by mountain bikes. Here’s what’s going on:
You really don’t want to meet that coming the other way, do you?