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Take A Hike

All roads lead to Redmyre

January 21 2017

I always try and avoid spending too much time walking on roads, preferring the satisfying crunch of gravel or the soft yield of grassy slopes below my boots. Inevitably, however, there are times when it is necessary to tramp a bit of tarmac, perhaps because the nearest practical place to leave the car is a little way from the start point of a route or if a minor road offers the vital last link in a circuit. Exploring the Braes of the Carse, upland country rising north from the River Tay, I discovered what have been christened ‘walking and cycling friendly’ roads, rural byways with lower speed limits where motorists, hikers and cyclists should be able to coexist both safely and harmoniously. It was one such road that took me south from Tullybaccart on a walk to Redmyre Loch, a watery gem hidden in the folds of the Sidlaw Hills. Passing through farmland and skirting below Ballo Hill, to my right, the early morning traffic was light and, with few cars encountered, I stepped unscathed off the asphalt into Little Ballo Forest. A small plantation of tall, slender pine and larch lay ahead of me and, while the track was short-lived, a good path – a right of way leading ultimately to the hamlet of Dron – continued straight ahead, passing between bands of younger conifers and an area of open ground offering views west over fields to the Sidlaw Hills, King’s Seat one of the most prominent tops in my line of sight. Beyond a gate by a hefty old upturned tree stump, the trail negotiates a slender corridor through gorse and broom before broadening out to run below mature beech and oak trees. The valley narrows here as it cuts between the forested slopes of White Hill, to my right, and the recumbent form of Blacklaw Hill, over to the left. The path eventually emerges from the trees at a crossroads, joining a track to the sheds and sheepfolds of Redmyre Farm. Those with a canine companion in tow will appreciate the convenience of the dog flap adjacent to the gate and stile, just on from the junction. Branching off the right of way at the sheds, I hiked west by another patch of woodland, the track petering out in grassy parkland. However, after negotiating a couple of stiles, one of them more akin to a bridge and the other tucked away in a hedgerow, I found my way up to Redmyre Loch. Rising along the edge of woodland and through a grassy break in the forestry above, the way emerged from the trees below a rather quaint mock Tudor style boatshed perched on the edge of the water. With neither anglers nor any other walkers around, I enjoyed the solitude of the spot, distant swans floating on calm waters while, above me, a buzzard circled silently. A track loops down from the loch to Redmyre Farm and, beyond the farmhouse and its sheds, the way progresses between woodland cloaking the slopes above and rolling fields below. Here my eye was drawn west to Northballo Hill, Gask Hill and, once again, King’s Seat, small but shapely peaks forming the backdrop to a largely cultivated landscape dotted with forestry and farms. At one such steading – Littleton – my track walk ended and I renewed my acquaintance with the friendly road leading back to Tullybaccart.   ROUTE 1. Bear right out of car park on pavement then walk south on minor road (signed Abernyte). 2. Continue straight ahead on track (signed Dron), entering Little Ballo plantation at gate. Where gravel track ends, go straight ahead on path. 3. Go straight ahead at track crossroads, crossing stile by gate, to junction by farm sheds. 4. Turn right, following track 200m west. 5. Turn right over elongated stile, then go left to stile in hedgerow. Cross stile then low chicken wire fence and go right, ascending by edge of woodland to track. 6. Cross track and continue straight ahead through break in forest, ascending to boatshed. 7. Turn left, following track as it curves left to junction. Turn right. 8. Turn right and follow track west past farm sheds to meet road at Littleton. 9. Turn right and walk north on minor road to point 2 then retrace steps to Tullybaccart. UPDATE: Due to the recent installation of an electric fence at point 5, readers are advised to cross gate on right at point 3 and follow track west to re-join route at point 6.   INFORMATION Distance: 9km/5½ miles Ascent: 140m/460ft Time: 2-3 hours Grading: Moderate low level route following minor roads, tracks and paths through farmland and forestry. Keep dogs under close control both on roads and Redmyre Estate Start/finish: Car park at Tullybaccart, on A923 Dundee to Coupar Angus road (Grid ref: NO 263360) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 53; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 380 Tourist Information: Dundee Information Centre, 16 City Square, Dundee DD1 3BG (Tel 01382 527527) Public transport: Stagecoach bus service 59, linking Dundee and Coupar Angus, stops at Tullybaccart on request

Take A Hike

Isla and Abbey stars of Strathmore stroll

October 14 2017

The folk of Coupar Angus proudly proclaim their town to be the ‘jewel of Strathmore’ and, setting off from the market cross in the heart of the community, I was keen to unearth some local treasures for myself. Roads radiate out from what is now a modern stone cross and I opted to take Athole Street, a lane leading past the Athole Arms on to Causewayend. Originally one of the main routes from The Cross down to the river, this slender thoroughfare weaves between rows of traditional cottages and houses. Caddam Road took me past newer dwellings to the edge of town where I branched on to a farm track descending towards the River Isla. Rounding a bend, I spotted the ribbon of sapphire blue meandering through the fertile arable plains of Strathmore. Meeting the flow at one of its great sweeping bends, I witnessed a mature river on the final stage of its 74km journey. Rising in the mountains of Angus, it would, a few miles to the west, end in convergence with the Tay. Heading upstream, I passed through a tunnel below the trackbed of the former branch railway that, until 1965, linked Coupar Angus with Blairgowrie, before joining the riverside path proper by the main road that solely serves this role now. A grassy path sticks close to the water, forking left at a pair of old oaks before progressing to a wooden gate and marker post. Ahead or me, the way was rather overgrown so I climbed on to the parallel levy, topped with a slender path. Ducks on the water below me, I spotted evidence of beaver activity, willow trees on the bank displaying the tell-tale teeth marks of these gnawing herbivores. Dozens of unofficial colonies are thought to exist on the Tay and its tributaries, the Isla among them. My time by the river ended near Bendochy Parish Church, a simple place of worship dating from the 17th century, almost hidden by a veil of trees across the water. Turning inland, a track guided me around the edge of a field of harvested broccoli before climbing to Princeland Farm, occasional marker posts confirming I was on the right course. The farm sits on the eastern edge of Coupar Angus and, passing Larghan Victory Park, a popular recreational ground that opened shortly after the Second World War, I too remained on the fringes of urbanity. While there is evidence of Pictish settlement and Roman activity in the area, it was the establishment of an abbey in the 13th century that had the biggest impact on the early history and development of Coupar Angus. Approaching the site of the Cistercian monastery, I joined Thorn Alley, a path that follows the line of what some believe was the eastern boundary of the abbey precinct. Others think it delineates the rampart of a Roman camp. Partially destroyed in 1559 during the Reformation, it was another 50 years before the last of the monks left and all that now remains of what was once one of the wealthiest abbeys is the country is the crumbling stump of a gatehouse. The salvaged stone found new life in other buildings, including the parish church which now occupies the abbey grounds, and Tolbooth Steeple, a striking 18th century tower that heralded my return to the heart of Strathmore’s jewel.   ROUTE 1. Left of Tower Bakery, join Athole Street and follow it then Causewayend (B948) to junction with Caddam Road. 2. Cross and progress along Caddam Road to speed derestriction signs. Go right, descending track (signed Buttery Bank) to junction by Kemphill Farm. 3. Turn right and follow track to A923. 4. Cross A923 then stile and follow riverside path 1.2km to next signed junction. 5. Cross fence and turn right (signed Townhead), descending through metal gate, and follow field edge track to cottage. 6. Ascend track, bearing right at Princeland Farm, to meet Townhead. 7. Descend left on Princeland Road to A94. Cross and continue 350m ahead on minor road. 8. Turn right through Meadowside Farm and go right on path though wooded strip then around perimeter of maltings. 9. Below power line, go left over stream then left again on Thorn Alley to Dundee Road. Turn right and follow Dundee Road, crossing A94, to return to The Cross.   INFORMATION Distance: 7.2km/4½ miles Ascent: 60m/200ft Time: 2-3 hours Grading: Easy low-level route following pavements, tracks and paths with good signage. Stout footwear recommended as some terrain rough underfoot. Keep dogs under close control over farmland Start/finish: The Cross in the centre of Coupar Angus (Grid ref: NO 221400). Car parks in George Square and Commercial Street Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 53; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 381 Tourist Information: Blairgowrie iCentre, 26 Wellmeadow, Blairgowrie PH10 6AS (Tel 01250 872960) Public transport: Stagecoach bus services 57 links Coupar Angus with Dundee and Perth and service 59 from Dundee to Blairgowrie stops in the town

Take A Hike

A clearing in the woods

August 5 2017

Rising from the north-east shoreline of Loch Tay, Drummond Hill is a sturdy little peak lost to forestry. Engulfed by evergreens, the regimented rows of conifers ensure views from its slopes are scant. There is, however, one craggy bluff protruding from the trees – Black Rock – where the vista over Loch Tay and the picturesque village of Kenmore ranks among the best in Highland Perthshire. Drummond Hill has long languished under woodland. It was probably the site of Scotland’s first managed forest, originally planted out with Scots pine, oak and birch by Sir Duncan Campbell, 7th Laird of Glenorchy, back in the 17th Century. Today, it remains a source of timber, one now managed by the Forestry Commission. It was also the place chosen for the re-introduction to Scotland of the capercaillie in 1837. Over hunting and the loss of forest habitat drove the bird to extinction in the mid-18th Century. Teetering on the brink of annihilation once again, Drummond Hill is one of the few places in the country where this elusive member of the grouse family clings precariously to existence. The direct ascent from Kenmore to Black Rock Viewpoint is short but strenuous and I opted instead for a longer, more leisurely approach, following the River Tay downstream from 18th century Kenmore Bridge before entering the plantation at Peeler Gate. Wandering along the grassy riverbank, the way rises into the wooded policies of Taymouth Castle, the 19th century mansion sitting across the water. Lurking amid the trees on this side of the river, Maxwell’s Temple is one of several follies to be found scattered through the grounds. It was erected in 1831 by the fourth Earl of Breadalbane as a memorial to his wife, Mary, and was inspired by the Eleanor crosses commissioned by King Edward I as a tribute to his late wife. Ahead, running through a band of oak, beech, sycamore and rhododendron, the path, perched on a terrace above the river, offered Victorian visitors to the estate a pleasant promenade. Following in the footsteps of the gentry, I passed above the currently closed Chinese Bridge – a crossing point to Taymouth Castle – and proceeded round to Star Battery, a viewpoint with crenellated walls that, in its day, posted a very agreeable vista over the castle and its gardens. Today, the battery is slowly crumbling and trees obscure the scene. The path swings left at this point and, beyond a quaint little wooden cabin, strays away from the Tay, crossing farmland to the base of Drummond Hill. Peeler Gate, at the northern end of the hill, offers access to the forest, the track looping up past a small parking area to a rather messy intersection above a gate. Keep left, ignoring tracks branching right, and the plantation road leads south-west, a couple of lengthy inclines eventually topping out at a crossroads above Kenmore where a sign confirms the onward route to the viewpoint. Lying just off the track, and helpfully signed once again, the walled lookout sits atop a rocky outcrop, a window framed by Scots pine and larch offering nothing short of a breath-taking bird’s eye view. Far below me, Loch Tay shimmered in the sunlight, Kenmore, with its white kirk, white-washed cottages and well-tended greens, a perfect village in miniature from my elevated vantage point.   ROUTE 1. Follow Aberfeldy Road (A827) through Kenmore and over Kenmore Bridge. 2. At northern end of bridge, turn right along riverside path (signed for Comrie Bridge and Aberfeldy). Pass chalet park on left and ascend into woodland, ignoring path branching right. 3. Ignore path branching left (signed Drummond Hill Paths) and continue ahead on path running above river. 4. Pass round locked gate and, approaching road, bear right along parallel path. 5. Go through gap in wall, cross road and ascend forest track to Peeler Gate car park. Continue up track to junction. 6. Ignoring tracks branching right, bear left and continue ahead on forest track. 7. At track crossroads, continue ahead to Black Rock Viewpoint (signed). 8. Return to point 7, turn right and descend to car park. 9. Branch right at gate, descend path to road and turn right, following minor road then A827 back to Kenmore.   INFORMATION Distance: 10.5km/6½ miles Ascent: 350m/1155ft Time: 3 hours Grading: Moderately easy, low level route following riverside paths and forest tracks with some strenuous and prolonged ascent on the latter. Stout footwear recommended as some parts can be muddy underfoot Start/finish: Public car park (Pay and Display) on Pier Road, Kenmore (Grid ref: NN 773453) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 52; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 379 Tourist Information: Aberfeldy iCentre, The Square, Aberfeldy PH15 2DD (Tel 01877 820276) Public transport: Caber Coaches bus service 91 links Aberfeldy and Kenmore on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays only

Take A Hike

Climbing from the Tay to a tower

March 11 2017

In life, there is an easy way to do something, and a hard way. The easiest way to reach the top of Kinnoull Hill is from the Forestry Commission’s Jubilee Car park, which lies to the east. The hard way is from Perth, in the west, ascending along the top of a dramatic, craggy escarpment. Embarking upon the latter approach, I set out across Tay Viaduct, steps climbing from Tay Street to a slender metal walkway that accompanies the railway line over the river. On the far bank, a surfaced path and steps lead up to Dundee Road and, a little to the right, a side road branches off to the National Trust for Scotland’s Branklyn Garden, a magnificent horticultural collection that includes many rare and unusual plants. Approaching the entrance, a sign for Kinnoull Hill ushered me up a lane on the left to a cluster of information boards and, wandering along Fairmount Terrace and a path beyond, I left the city behind and entered Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park. Under a canopy of beech, oak and silver birch, I made a beeline for the edge of the scarp and immediately began to climb, the path rising in fits and starts. A viewpoint with a well-appointed bench offered brief respite and here I spied Kinnoull Hill’s cylindrical cliff-top folly, a landmark tower that will be familiar to anyone who has passed below the peak on the dual carriageway linking Perth and Dundee. Spurred on by its proximity, I hiked on up through the trees, the path a little muddy and a little slippery in places, cliffs to my right plunging ever higher and ever steeper beyond a protective barrier of vegetation. Eventually emerging from the woodland, I stepped on to the summit of Kinnoull Hill, a stone plinth offering a good spot from which to admire the vista over the River Tay as it snakes east towards the sea. The hill’s trig point sits back from the edge of the cliff and, after making a brief detour to the concrete pillar, I followed the path down through a cleft in the slope and up to the tower. Modelled on the fairy-tale castles of the Rhine valley in Germany, the folly was built in 1829 by Francis Gray, 14th Lord Gray of Kinfauns. He also commissioned Kinfauns Castle, which can be seen in the valley below, and erected a second tower on neighbouring Binn Hill. Below the folly, the footpath to the Jubilee Car Park sweeps down through mature beeches and, along the way, there are bird carvings to spot in the trees to the left of the trail. Skirting the edge of fields, I branched off the Jubilee path, picking up a well signed route to Corsiehill Car Park where I left the woodland park and headed down into Perth on the Geddes Way, re-joining Dundee Road by the Isle of Skye Hotel. This is not an easy bit of road to negotiate safely so I made a short deviation right to pedestrian crossings near the eastern end of Queen’s Bridge before progressing down a wee lane to Kinnoull Burial Ground. Surrounded by city life, some of the great and good from Perth’s past rest peacefully in this quiet, concealed kirkyard. Overlooking the river, I too rested awhile after a hard morning on the hill. ROUTE 1. Cross Tay Street at zebra crossing and cross railway bridge. 2. Continue past 20mph sign then go left, ascending path to Dundee Road. Cross and go right, bearing left up to Branklyn Garden. 3. Turn left (signed Kinnoull Hill) up lane then go right, along Fairmount Terrace then path, to Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park. Continue ahead, ascending path to summit of Kinnoull Hill. Ignore all paths branching left. 4. Continue east on path (signed Jubilee Car Park) to tower. 5. Continue east then north on path, bearing right at next junction. 6. Go left and follow signs for Corsiehill Car Park. 7. At junction above footbridge, turn right, descending past quarry. Stay to right of stone plinth and descend to road. 8. Descend path (signed City Centre) then Mount Tabor Road and Manse Road. 9. Cross Dundee Road and continue ahead on lane, bearing left at Kinnoull Burial Ground on path through Riverside Park to railway bridge.   INFORMATION Distance: 7km/4¼ miles Ascent: 250m/825ft Time: 2-3 hours Grading: A moderate route, primarily following woodland and urban paths with some strenuous ascent. Part of the route runs along the top of steep cliffs where great care should be taken Start/finish: Fergusson Gallery at junction of Tay Street and Marshall Place, Perth (Grid ref: NO 120230). Parking available in South Inch Car Park (50p/hour, Mon-Sat) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 58; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 369 Tourist Information: Perth iCentre, 45 High Street, Perth PH1 5TJ (Tel 01738 450600) Public transport: Perth is well served by buses and trains

Take A Hike

A walk that is anything but dull

February 18 2017

General George Wade’s network of military roads opened up the Highlands in the first half of the 18th century, enabling government troops to move swiftly through the mountains and glens. With numerous rivers and streams to cross along the way, bridges were a necessity and the one spanning the River Tay at Aberfeldy – Tay Bridge – is arguably one of Wade’s greatest achievements. Opened in August 1735, the five-arch stone structure was designed by architect William Adam and constructed by master masons drafted in from the north of England. Today it remains in daily use, carrying a much heavier load than was ever originally intended, testament to the engineering skills of the general and the work of his men. Crossing Wade’s bridge, I headed upriver, a path that leads ultimately to Kenmore following the water closely through the flat and fertile farmland of Appin of Dull. Thanks to the river and its alluvial deposits, the ground here has long been productive. During early Christian times, it supported a monastery in the nearby village of Dull, ‘appin’ meaning abbey land. Along the way, paths branch north to Weem and Farleyer, which nestle below the forested slopes of Weem Hill, but I stayed with the river a while longer, taking brief shelter from ominous dark clouds at an open fishing hut. Despite threatening rain, the downpour I anticipated failed to materialise and I ventured back out. While the weather may have been apt for a day out in Dull, the landscape itself was far from boring, the sweeping river leading eyes west to Drummond Hill and, behind it, more distant snow-covered summits. My signal to turn north was a bridge spanning the outflow of the Camserney Burn, beyond which a track curves right at a small fenced enclosure, following the burn upstream, across the appin, to meet the B846 road. Crossing back over the burn, this time on asphalt, I wandered up through the hamlet of Camserney, a cluster of charming stone houses and cottages, spotting my first snowdrops of the winter growing on the grassy verge. The winding lane ends at thatched Crachan Cottage and a track continues ahead, swinging east as it rises below woodland to a junction where, on a clear day, a well-appointed bench offers a vista over the valley. Rested, I returned to the track, the long incline continuing to a remote steading at Shenavail where I entered the plantation cloaking the southern flank of Weem Hill. A welcome clearing further up revealed the ruins of the abandoned hamlet of Rawer, tumbledown stone outlines all that now remain of houses, enclosures, a lime kiln and mill. Tunnelling back into the trees, I briefly joined a more robust forest road before turning east once again, a pleasant path winding through the trees, emerging via an open gateway in the fence on to a mossy mound. Below the outcrop, as I descended by a stone wall, windblown trees did their best to impede progress but, by detouring a little to the left, these upturned obstacles were negotiated with relative ease and I was rewarded with a clear trail down to the village of Weem. A short, signed detour through a restaurant car park re-united me with the B846, my route back across the appin – far from dull, as I had discovered – to Aberfeldy.   ROUTE 1. Cross Tay Bridge, go left through gate and follow riverside path (signed Kenmore) west for 3km. 2. Cross Camserney Burn by bridge and bear right on track, following burn upstream to B846. 3. Turn right and walk 200m east on B846 then turn left (signed Camserney) and ascend minor road through Camserney, bearing right on to track beyond Crachan Cottage. 4. Ignore path branching left to Dull and continue up track. 5. Continue straight ahead at junction (signed Weem) to Shenavail. Enter forest at gate and ascend track. 6. Turn right (signed Aberfeldy) and follow path east through ruins of Rawer to meet track. 7. Turn left, ascending track, then branch right at small cairn. Continue east on path over exposed mound then, bearing right, descend path by wall. 8. Turn right and descend path. Approaching Weem, go left at junction (signed Aberfeldy) and descend to B846. 9. Cross B846 and follow path/pavement south to Tay Bridge.   INFORMATION Distance: 11km/6¾ miles Ascent: 300m/990ft Time: 3 hours Grading: Moderate route following paths, tracks and minor roads along riverside and through forestry with some well graded but prolonged sections of ascent. Some sections of path can be wet and muddy underfoot Start/finish: General Wade’s Tay Bridge, Aberfeldy (Grid ref: NN 851492). On street parking on adjacent Taybridge Drive Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 52; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL49 Tourist Information: Aberfeldy iCentre, The Square, Aberfeldy PH15 2DD (Tel 01887 820276) Public transport: Stagecoach bus service 23 links Perth with Aberfeldy

Take A Hike

To be beside the seaside

November 12 2016

Summer beach holidays may be an increasingly distant memory but, for me, the seductive lure of sea and sand remains as strong as ever. Granted, coastal conditions are more bracing than balmy at this time of year and, while the sky was blue and the sun beaming, I wasn’t tempted to pack bathers and a towel in my rucksack as I set off from the village of Lower Largo. Wandering through a narrow lane of tightly clustered cottages and houses, I was content to tramp the coastal margins of Largo Bay without poking a toe in the freezing waters of the Forth. Following the Fife Coastal Path east, I steamed out of the village on the foundations of the old Fife Coast Railway. Weaving up through the East Neuk from Leven in the south to St Andrews, it must have been a wonderfully scenic journey in its day. The route closed in the 1960s but its ghostly passage conveyed me swiftly to Dumbarnie Links, a tiny dune-based nature reserve overlooking the bay. Lurking amid the thick tussocks of marram and lyme grass, various scarce species of wildflowers thrive here, enjoying the salty slap of sea air in a constantly shifting, rather precarious environment. At the eastern end of the reserve, two more robust structures, defensive pill boxes dating from the Second World War, hunker down in the dunes. The one closest to the sea has been sealed off and adapted as a roost for bats while the one behind it is open for exploration. Emerging from the gloomy bunker into the light, I negotiating a nearby line of anti-tank blocks and then opted to leave the path through the dunes, enjoying instead some time on the sand, dodging the ebb and flow of the incoming tide as I crunched through scattered shells. At the end of the beach, and depending on conditions, walkers can either paddle over the outflow of the Cocklemill Burn or deviate inland where a pair of bridges guarantee a dry crossing. Passing through a band of slender pines beyond, Ruddon’s Point, on the right, demands a detour, a wee hummock the perfect spot to stop and look out over Largo Bay towards the prominent peak of Largo Law, before moving on to Shell Bay. This sheltered sandy inlet may be small when compared to the vast sweep of its neighbour, but it is perfectly formed, a secluded cove protected on one side by Ruddon’s Point and, on the other, by the sturdy flanks of Kincraig Point. It is a popular spot for seabirds seeking respite from blustery weather. Re-joining the coastal path at the end of the bay, where refreshments can be found in the adjacent holiday park’s café, I headed out on to the point, the path skirting around the shoreline before climbing on to the brow of the rocky promontory. Rising above the popular Elie Chain Walk, which negotiates cliffs and crags down to the right using a series of steps and chains, the headland is pitted with the remnants of wartime activity – a battery of big guns stationed here to protect shipping on the Firth of Forth. The guns long silent, this is now a peaceful place to perch and fire off a few photographs of the spectacular coastal views before making tracks back to Lower Largo on the old railway line.   ROUTE 1. Walk east along The Temple to turning circle. 2. Ascend steps on left, cross stile and go right, walking east along former railway line. 3. Below Carrick Villa, descend right and follow signed coastal path south-east, initially through nature reserve, passing pill boxes. 4. Bear left to cross bridges spanning Cocklemill Burn outflow. 5. Cross grassy parking area on corner of holiday park then drop down on to Shell Bay, continuing south-east. 6. Cross stream by bridge below information boards and follow coastal path around and up on to Kincraig Point. 7. Continue to a high metal gate on right side of path then bear left down field edge to meet surfaced track. Descend right to junction beyond metal gate then descend left on gravel track. 8. Turn right and walk 1.4km north-east along holiday park access road. 9. Approaching A917, turn left and follow track west to point 3. Retrace steps to Lower Largo.   INFORMATION Distance: 14km/8¾ miles Ascent: 130m/430ft Time: 3-4 hours Grading: Moderate, low level route following waymarked coastal path and inland tracks. Take care on Kincraig Point due to steep, unguarded drops and keep dogs under close control return leg due to livestock Start/finish: Coastal path car park (signed from A915) at eastern end of Main Street, Lower Largo (Grid ref: NO 422026). Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 59; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 371 Tourist Information: St Andrews Information Centre, 70 Market Street, St Andrews KY16 9NU (Tel 01334 472021) Public transport: Stagecoach service 95 (St Andrews to Leven) stops in Lower Largo

Take A Hike

Reed all about this riverside route

December 17 2016

A walk along the north bank of the Tay Estuary at Errol offers a riverside stroll with a difference, for the river itself remains rather distant thanks to the shoreline’s vast tidal reed beds. Once commercially harvested for thatched roofing, the beds, some of the most extensive in Britain, are an important breeding and feeding ground for an array of birds and other wildlife and while, at first glance, they appear impenetrable it is possible to find ways to the water. From the old mercat cross in the centre of Errol, I headed east along High Street, the slender thoroughfare weaving between cottages, houses and shops, passing 19th Century Errol Parish Church, to my left, and then the village primary school. A little further on, beyond the school, a path on the right led me out of the village, down between fields to New Farm with its prominent grain silo and, from there, a track crossed the flat lands of the Carse of Gowrie to rendezvous with the river, or rather the river’s reed beds. Sprouting from the mudflats, the rustling reeds cover a 10-mile long stretch of the north bank of the estuary and here, below Errol, they are particularly extensive. Turning upriver, a good path runs through a band of mature woodland and, as I walked beneath oak, sycamore, birch and beech, I spotted a red squirrel in the trees and a buzzard hunting over the reeds. In addition to raptors, the beds attract various species of wading birds, ducks, swans and oystercatchers while pink-footed and greylag geese are regular visitors. The path leads to Tay Lodge where, after skirting to the right of the property, it returns to the trees and continues south-west. However, pausing briefly here, I could not resist the opportunity to venture into the reed beds. Descending by the cottage towards the river, a slender path maintained by wildfowlers leads out into the reeds. With tall, willowy stems rising either side of me, I felt as if I was being drawn into a maze. The path, however, ran straight and relatively true, following the line of a breakwater pipe that appeared beneath my boots at intervals. It offered some solidity on an otherwise rather muddy adventure that ended, along with the pipe, just short of the water. Reed beds explored, I headed back inland to Tay Lodge, where the reeds were harvested on a commercial basis during the winter months, a centuries-old tradition that ended on the Tay in 2005. Back on the woodland trail, I found myself drawn closer to the river, reed replaced by wetlands and a lagoon where I spotted swans on the water. Beyond Daleally Farm, the path meets up with and runs alongside the Pow of Errol, a stream that flows through the trees to Port Allen and its picturesque wee harbour. There has been a quay here since the early 1600s when a ferry offered passage across the Tay to Pow of Lindores, near Newburgh, a crossing that was still in operation in the later years of the 18th century. The path emerges at an old masonry bridge spanning the mouth of the burn and from here a track climbs through the tiny hamlet of Port Allen, minor roads and farm tracks beyond returning me to Errol.   ROUTE 1. Walk east along High Street and then Station Road, passing Errol Primary School. 2. Branch right on path (signed Errol South Circular Paths), descending through metal gate and between fields to New Farm. Bear left by sheds to track junction. 3. Turn right and walk 300m south to junction. Turn left (signed Tay Bank Path) and follow track as it curves right towards river. 4. Turn right and follow path (signed Errol) south-west through woodland. 5. Bear right of Tay Lodge to junction. Branch left, continuing south-west on woodland path to Port Allen. 6. Turn right, crossing stone bridge, and follow track up between houses. Continue north-west on minor road (signed Errol). 7. At next cottage, turn right and follow field-edge track north-east. 8. Turn left and ascend surfaced track to road. 9. Turn right and follow pavement into Errol, turning right on High Street to return to The Cross.   INFORMATION Distance: 7.2km/4½ miles Ascent: 60m/200ft Time: 2 hours Grading: Easy low level walk following good tracks and paths through farmland and woodland. Stout, waterproof footwear recommended as some sections can be muddy underfoot. Keep dogs under close control to protect wildlife and livestock Start/finish: The Cross, in the centre of Errol (Grid ref: NO 250228). On-street parking available Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 53 or 59; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 380 Tourist Information: Perth iCentre, 45 High Street, Perth PH1 5TJ (Tel 01738 450600) Public transport: Stagecoach bus service 16, linking Dundee and Perth, stops in Errol

Take A Hike

Shooting for the summit

April 29 2017

Hill of Wirren occupies the high ground between Glen Lethnot and Glen Esk and is most commonly tackled from the former, either from the hamlet of Bridgend or from further up the single-track road that runs through the sparsely populated valley. However, the peak can also be approached from the Esk side, a strenuous upland circuit taking in a handful of other tops along the way, all lying deep within the grouse shooting country of Millden Estate. However, with the start of the season (August 12 to December 10) some months off, this is a good time to explore a less well walked area of the Angus glens. Setting off from a small parking area just west of Millden Lodge, I tramped up the glen road, branching left on to a track leading to Keenie. The way drops through woodland to cross the River North Esk by a sturdy bridge spanning rocky pools before looping up to an information board extolling the virtues of land management. Extending to almost 20,000 acres, the estate has a long history of grouse shooting, breaking records back in the 1930s for the numbers of birds bagged. In common with many Scottish moors it witnessed a decline in grouse numbers in the 1980s and 90s, a trend that has since been reversed. Forking left, the track rises through a cleft below Craig of Dalhastnie on to the heather-clad northern flank of Bulg, my first top of the day. A rougher road running parallel with a fence and a line of grouse butts presents a strenuous if direct route to the summit, a substantial cairn and stone windbreak capping the shapely dome. Hunkering down to escape a stiff breeze, I enjoyed an extensive vista over the Angus lowlands towards the distant waters of the North Sea from this elevated viewpoint. To the west, the blue ribbon of the River North Esk drew my eyes up Glen Esk towards the prominent cone of Mount Keen, the most easterly of Scotland’s Munros. Progressing on to neighbouring Craigangower, I took an equally direct line, staying with the fence as I descended into the Slack of Forbie col, picking my way down through rocky outcrops and strands of abandoned fence wire, before embarking upon another leg-sapping climb. Thankfully, once atop Craigangower, the hike becomes less demanding, a high-level track (dual carriageway at one point) scaling the eastern shoulder of Hill of Wirren, the occasional noisy eruption of grouse from the flanking moorland keeping me on my toes. The trig point atop Hill of Wirren sits off the gravel road, mired in a maze of springy black peat hags and fences which, with the ground relatively dry, proved straight-forward enough to negotiate. Back on the track, I followed it on to neighbouring West Wirren, a well-defined outlier and the point from which I began my drop through grass and heather into the valley below. There is no path here but a line of grouse butts met part way down the slope guided me on to a track below. After fording Burn of Keenie by an old wooden hut, this continued over rough pasture, passing through the ruins of an old settlement, and then by woodland to Keenie Farm from where, with the river below me, I hiked track then road back to Millden Lodge. ROUTE 1. Walk 500m up road then go left, descending track to cross bridge. Turn left, then go right, ascending to fork. 2. Bear left, ascending track through gate to junction. Continue ahead, through gate, to highest point of track. 3. Branch right on rough track rising steeply by fence to summit of Bulg. 4. Descend south along fence line into col then climb by fence line to summit of Craigangower. 5. Join track and follow it south-west along ridge to a pair of gates. Go through gates and continue ahead, towards Hill of Wirren summit. 6. Detour left along fence line to trig point then return to track and follow it to summit of West Wirren. 7. Descend north to top of grouse butt line, continue down by butts then track to base of glen. Cross Burn of Keenie and ascend to track junction. 8. Turn right on track to Keenie Farm. 9. Below Keenie Farm, turn right to re-join outward route.   INFORMATION Distance: 16km/10 miles Ascent: 780m/2570ft Time: 5-6 hours Grading: Challenging upland hike with strenuous ascent, suitable for fit, experienced hillwalkers. Go equipped for all conditions and keep dogs under close control to protect sheep and game birds Start/finish: Small car park by BT phone box at Millden Bridge, Glen Esk (Grid ref: NO 540789) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 44; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 395 Tourist Information: Gateway to the Glens Museum, 32 High Street, Kirriemuir DD8 4BB (Tel 01575 575479) Public transport: Term time weekday school bus services from Edzell are available to the public

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End the year on a high

December 30 2017

Craigower, Pitlochry, Perth & Kinross. Craigower is a fine wee winter hill, its sheltered wooded slopes and summit ideal fodder for shorter days and the often less than predictable weather conditions that come with them. Small in stature it may be at just 407 metres (1335 feet) high, but the ascent is strenuous enough to burn off lingering festive calories and the views from the top, over the Tummel valley, offer ample reward. With a dusting of snow on the ground, I began my hike in the holiday town of Pitlochry, at the foot of the hill, a brief stint through mature woodland lining the shore of Loch Faskally warming my legs up nicely. Heading up through housing to the A924 (the town’s main thoroughfare), I negotiated the parallel railway line at a gated pedestrian crossing before ascending quiet Cuilc Brae. With ice underfoot, I stepped carefully, a sign part way up the lane leading me to the boundary of Pitlochry Golf Course, its 18-holes hewn from farmland in 1909 to replace a nine-hole course which, at the time, was considered below par for the developing Highland resort. From a wooden gate, a waymarked right of way crosses the fairways, kinking right around a low mound and small disused quarry before climbing along the edge of the course to meet a track just east of Lower Drumchorry. Care should be taken to avoid interrupting play. The ascent continues from here, another track rising to a red corrugated iron roofed cottage at Upper Drumchorry where the route to Craigower swings left, accompanying a wall bordering the northern edge of the course for a way before curving up into the plantation, part of the Tay Forest Park. A track briefly interjects before the incline intensifies, the way pulling steeply up below tall larch and pine, the summit temptingly visible through the slender trunks. A National Trust for Scotland marker post (the trust owns the upper slopes and summit of the hill) is a good spot to pause and catch breath before bearing right through silver birch and oak, steps concluding the climb. Atop the hill, the trail forks – the left arm leading to a bench offering a quiet spot to sit and savour views south over Pitlochry and the Tummel valley. Return to the junction and the other spur continues to a viewpoint indicator where a gap in the trees affords a vista west to Loch Tummel and the distant peak of Schiehallion. Below, the path dips back into the trees briefly before rising over felled ground to meet a forest track, my route of descent. Looping down, it offers a different perspective on Craigower’s wooded flanks. Returning to the golf course, I followed track then road past a steading at Balnacraig, the higher, snow-capped peak of Ben Vrackie appearing to the north, before descending a tree-lined lane past the clubhouse to Loch Cuilc. Heavily iced, a family of swans, all looking decidedly unimpressed by the cold snap, had managed to carve out a couple of pools in which to sit. If I had packed sandwiches I would have been tempted to share them, but my plan was to seek some warming sustenance in the centre of Pitlochry, now just a short walk away. So, with a tinge of guilt, I left them to their chilly puddles and trotted down into town. ROUTE 1. Descend Rie Achan Road under railway, bear left then fork right down to Loch Faskally. Go right along waterside path. 2. Turn right on path bordering wooden fence then continue up Lagreach Brae to A924. Cross to bus stop. 3. Go left along track behind bus stop, cross railway and ascend Cuilc Brae, branching left where signed for Craigower. 4. Go through gate and follow path across golf course, ascending to track. 5. Ascend track to red-roofed cottage and go left along waymarked path to meet forest track. 6. Go left briefly then right (signed Summit of Craigower) up path to summit. 7. Descend path (signed Return Route to Car Park), bearing right to meet track between two masts. Go right, descending track to point 6. Retrace steps to point 5 then walk east (signed Pitlochry) along track. 8. In 600m, turn right, descending Golf Course Road to Loch Cuilc. 9. Turn left, descending Golf Course Road and Larchwood Road to A924. Cross to Rie Achan Road.   INFORMATION Distance: 8km/5 miles Ascent: 350m/1150ft Time: 3 hours Grading: Moderate well-signed route follow tracks, paths and minor roads with strenuous ascent to summit. Stout footwear recommended and take care on untreated lanes if icy Start/finish: Public car park (Pay & Display), Rie Achan Road, Pitlochry (Grid ref: NN 936582) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 43 and 52; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL49 Tourist Information: Pitlochry iCentre, 22 Atholl Road, Pitlochry PH16 5BX (Tel 01796 472215) Public transport: Citylink M90 or Stagecoach 24/27 bus services from Perth to Pitlochry or by train from Perth

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The bard and the beauty of Breadalbane

December 31 2016

While Scotland’s beloved bard Robert Burns traditionally enjoys the last word at Hogmanay with renditions of Auld Lang Syne celebrating friendship and the good old days, many of his other works were inspired by his travels. In 1787, Burns set off on what he described as a ‘slight pilgrimage to the classic scenes of this country’, a journey that included time spent in Highland Perthshire. Along the way, he stopped off at what have become popular beauty spots, among them the Birks of Aberfeldy, the Falls of Bruar and Kenmore, at the eastern end of Loch Tay. Lodging at the local inn, he composed verses extolling the natural wonders of the area, lines scribbled in pencil on the chimney breast within what is now Kenmore Hotel’s Poet’s Bar. He also visited Taymouth Castle, then home to John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, and, following in his footsteps, I set off through the pretty little village, past the hotel, to join a riverside path at the southern end of Kenmore Bridge that would take me to the castle. It is said that Burns spent time sitting on this handsome three-span crossing, drawing inspiration from the view up Loch Tay, as spectacular an outlook today as it doubtless was back then. Passing below the cottages of Kenmore, the path accompanies the River Tay on its journey east, leading through a ribbon of mature woodland peppered with rhododendron. Downstream, I briefly joined the estate road before branching off on to an older track flanked by stone ramparts, the way never straying too far from the water while at the same time offering tempting glimpses of Breadalbane’s former country seat. Dating from the 1730s and built on the site of a 16th century tower house occupying a bend in the river, the castle was significantly altered and enlarged over the years. Sold by the Campbells in 1922, it was later a hotel, wartime hospital and then boarding school. Now, flanked by an 18-hole golf course and undergoing extensive renovations, it hosts special events. Following the curve of the river round behind the property, I was soon reunited with the estate road, where, across the greens, an impressive vista of the grand façade greeted me. Crossing the driveway, I turned south-west, a track skirting the edge of the golf course and leading on through woodland towards the estate’s former sawmill. The policies of Taymouth are dotted with architectural curiosities and follies, many sadly neglected. Below the old sawmill, a blue wooden hut is all that remains of a curling pond while a dairy byre in woodland to the north lies derelict. Above it, on a mound of rhododendron, Apollo’s Temple is a small circular structure said to have once housed a statue. The Gods, however, clearly have little time for the shrine now for it has fallen victim to a windblown tree. To avoid crossing the golf course ahead, I headed up past the sawmill, the track leading on to a grassy path running above the fairways where I enjoyed views across the valley to heavily forested Drummond Hill and, in due course, west down Loch Tay. Stepping back into Kenmore below the castle’s arched stone gateway, I sought refreshment at the hotel bar, raising a glass to Burns and his travels. As a man who enjoyed his whisky, he would certainly have approved.   ROUTE 1. Follow Aberfeldy Road (A827) through Kenmore towards bridge spanning River Tay. 2. Ahead of bridge, go right between stone gateposts then turn left immediately on arrowed path leading east along bank of River Tay. 3. Ascend path to join estate road and go left. 4. Fork left and descend track by castellated wall. Go left at next junction on riverside track to junction by bridge. 5. Continue straight ahead on track and riverside path to flat area of grass by bend in river. Go right to meet estate road. 6. Turn left towards bridge. Don’t cross but go right on track running along edge of golf course then through woodland. 7. Where track forks by blue hut, go left. Ascend track then path, curving right, the way, marked by white posts, leading west. 8. Where path meets gravel track, turn right. 9. Turn left and follow estate road into Kenmore.   INFORMATION Distance: 5.6km/3½ miles Ascent: 70m/230ft Time: 2 hours Grading: Easy low level walk following good tracks and paths through estate. Keep dogs on lead at request of estate Start/finish: Public car park (Pay and Display) on Pier Road, Kenmore (Grid ref: NN 773453) Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 52; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 379 Tourist Information: Aberfeldy iCentre, The Square, Aberfeldy PH15 2DD (Tel 01887 820276) Public transport: Limited bus service (Monday to Friday only) between Aberfeldy and Kenmore

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