Liff and Fowlis, Angus
One of the great benefits of living in Dundee is easy access to the great outdoors. I do not have to travel far to don my boots, whether it be a coastal stroll in Angus, a wander through the countryside of north-east Fife or a more energetic outing to the Sidlaw Hills.
Backmuir Wood, on the outskirts of the city, has long been a popular stomping ground, located as it is just a short drive from home. Returning recently, I opted to extend my exploration west from the sheltered confines of the plantation, embarking upon a longer route taking in Fowlis Den, Gray Den and ghostly House of Gray.
Popular with locals and dog walkers, Backmuir Wood lies to the south of Muirhead and, from the main car park, trails radiate through the trees, a mix of mature broadleaves and conifers.
My route took me north along a well-made gravel path, briefly skirting the western periphery of the plantation, before rising to an ancient beech – thought to be over 200 years old – sitting at the heart of the forest.
Spring is a particularly good time to visit, bluebells and primroses adding a splash of colour to the woodland scene, red squirrels and roe deer among the wildlife you may be lucky enough to spot.
Wandering west from the venerable old beech, I paused briefly at a bench on the edge of the woodland to enjoy the vista over the Braes of the Carse and River Tay before hiking up to the western tip of Backmuir.
Spotting the Sidlaw Hills to the north, I progressed west, a path taking the high ground between arable fields to the left and ranks of Christmas trees to the right, joining The Logan, a former drove road that descends south towards Liff.
I trod the historic footsteps of the cattle men only as far as the next junction where farm track and rural road led me to Fowlis, the 15th century church in the centre of the village one of the best surviving examples of a small medieval kirk in Scotland.
Fowlis Den lies to the south, accessed by a field-edge path that dips from the Liff road at the point where it leaves Fowlis. It is a real hidden gem, a slender ravine of ash, oak and elm through which a lively stream skips, its banks cloaked in mosses, ferns, wild garlic and bluebells.
Dundee’s favourite wordsmith, William McGonagall, described it as a ‘very magnificent spot’ in his poem, The Den o’Fowlis, writing: ‘Tis most lovely to see the trees arched overhead, and the little rivulet rolling o’er its pebbly bed’.
The path flits back and forth across the water, makeshift stepping-stones crafted from plump wee tyres filled with rubble.
Emerging from the trees, the Gray Den road led me to Liff where I turned south, past the parish church, and descended towards one of Dundee’s historic yet neglected mansions.
Built in the early 18th century, House of Gray has a chequered history. Abandoned after the Second World War, attempts to convert the striking, two-storey edifice into apartments then a hotel failed to come to fruition and the building, hauntingly pale, lies empty and boarded up, its future uncertain.
My future, however, was more certain. The walk nearing an end, it was time to return to the city.
1. From gate at east end of car park follow path (signed Viewpoint) to junction. Fork left (signed Viewpoint) and continue north on gravel path to next signed junction.
2. Turn left (signed Drovers Road) and follow path west to edge of woodland.
3. Go right (signed Drovers Road) and ascend to western tip of woodland.
4. Follow path 300m west (signed Drovers Road), then swing left, descending between walls.
5. Turn right and follow track west through farm to road. Turn left and descend road into Fowlis then go left on Kirk Road to edge of village.
6. Turn right down field-edge path then bear left through Fowlis Den.
7. Turn left along road to Liff.
8. Turn right to church, branch right off road and descend track to junction beyond Mains of Gray. Turn left along track to road.
9. Turn left and follow roadside path north to Liff Primary School. Continue up beyond school and branch right on path to car park.
Distance: 9km/5½ miles
Time: 3 hours
Grading: Easy, low-level route through woodland and farmland, following paths, tracks and rural roads. Some sections can be muddy underfoot. Keep dogs under close control through farmyards
Start/finish: Woodland Trust Backmuir Wood car park, half a mile east of Liff on road to Muirhead (Grid ref: NO 340333)
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 53 and 54; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 380
Tourist Information: Dundee iCentre, 16 City Square, Dundee DD1 3BG (Tel 01382 527527)
Public transport: Xplore Dundee bus services 30, 31 and 51 link Dundee with Liff (start walk at point 8)