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Auchterhouse Hill and the Sidlaws (near Dundee ), Angus, Scotland

THE STORY

Although not quite within Dundee City's current boundaries, Auchterhouse Hill is close enough to justify being included in the list of Dundee walks.

This was a short spring hillwalk, the kind of easy climb that you can fit in to a couple of hours at the weekend and still have plenty of time for all the other things that need to be done. If you're visiting Dundee, it's a good excursion just outside the city, providing views over Dundee, the Firth of Tay and across to Fife.

Auchterhouse Hill is one of many hilltops around the East of Scotland that must have been a defensive outpost at some time in the distant past. It has the distinct remains of hillfort earthworks ringing the summit, most obviously where the main path climbs through the belt of larch trees on the southern side.

The first time I went up there was just a week or two after we moved to Dundee in the summer of 1994, when it was the objective in a hill race organised by Dundee Roadrunners as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations. There are still two annual races up and down the hill - one for club members, and one a registered event in late June open to other runners (the White Tops hill race). Apart from that, Auchterhouse Hill has often been part of a good off-road training run extending over Craigowl and the quiet tracks on the north side.

But it's great for hiking as well, and we've walked up the hill on various occasions with different members of the family and friends. On a mild bright Saturday at the end of April 2005 Maggie and I took Frances out there for an early afternoon walk. She was seven and had recently returned from the Isle of Gigha, where she had managed a couple of gentle walks, so we thought this was a good next step.

The Tealing to Auchterhouse road runs across the southern front of the Sidlaw hills before turning down to Muirhead and Dundee. It passes the Balkello Community Woodland, with a car park which provides a convenient place to start the climb. We set out at 2 pm, through the gate past the duck pond with a circular stone cairn, and ahead then turning to the left past the young trees. These were planted in the early 1990s, and are now beginning to look more like a wood in the making. A wide grass track leads through the trees towards an opening in a stone dyke (wall). At a dip in the track through the trees, the ground was quite boggy, and we couldn't get across it without getting our shoes damp.

On the other side of the gap we turned up to the right alongside the stone dyke, towards the line of electricity pylons, where we reached a more clearly marked track running up to the right. This was the first bit of real climbing, past gorse and broom bushes that were in bloom. It soon reached another wide track that runs along the bottom of the steep rocky slope of Balluderon Hill. We turned left along it, climbing gently, and passed other people out enjoying the walk.

We had passed several numbered markers along the way, presumably for a nature trail, and another one was ahead and to the right, among a group of stones which provided a place to sit and rest for a few minutes. This was the dividing line between the slopes of Balluderon Hill, and Auchterhouse Hill. A valley ran up between the two, and we climbed up here slowly - although Frances was away in front! As the grassy track began to level off, another one led off to the right, up the steep stony slope towards the top of Balluderon Hill. We went a little further and then crossed the fence on the left using an old wooden stile that was in some need of repair.

If we had carried straight on, the track would have led us through to the open moorland north of the Sidlaws.

The track on the left was barely noticeable at first through the tall heather, but we found our way along it, up the hillside, then turning sharp left towards a crag overlooking the valley. Then we turned right again, joining the main track which we would descend half an hour later.

This wide track led straight towards the wooded hilltop which we hadn't been able to see from lower down. The track split in two, and Frances and I took the right branch to try to get to the top before Maggie - but she beat us!  Frances had been climbing hard, and flopped down on the grass next to the summit cairn, before getting up again and dancing around.

The view wasn't as clear as we've had before from the top, but we could see Dundee in the distance (I'll have to go back up with the digital camera to get some better pictures). We didn't hang about long, and set off again down through the belt of trees. I stopped for a couple of photos of the earthworks, but it was difficult to capture the full impression from close up.

We headed down the main track, not turning off to the left the way we had come up. The track bent to the right then the left, onto a steep grassy slope. Frances ran down this into her mum's arms gleefully.  We continued through another belt of heather to a metal gate leading through on the left to rejoin the main track which we had walked up, below the rocky slope of Balluderon Hill. Heading back, we passed what looked like an alternative path down through the broom bushes to the woodland, but we stuck to the route we had come up on, turning sharp right down past the pylons, left along the stone dyke, and left again through the gap and along the wide grass track back to the pond and the car park.

It had been an invigorating little walk, just a short distance from home.

 

Contributed by: Andrew Llanwarne

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Gorse in bloom

Gorse in bloom

Gean (wild cherry) blossom

Gean (wild cherry) blossom

The gate from the car park

The gate from the car park, with Balluderon Hill and the little valley to the left of it. The top of Auchterhouse Hill is hidden.

Waymarker beside the pond

Waymarker beside the pond

The broad track below Balluderon Hill

The stones and numbered marker at the start of the track up the little valley

The stones and numbered marker at the start of the track up the little valley

Climbing up the valley

Crossing the stile

The final stretch to the summit

The final stretch to the summit

Made it!

Made it!

Heading down

Heading down

Looking towards the transmitters on Craigowl Hill

Looking towards the transmitters on Craigowl Hill

Ridges of the hillfort earthworks

Ridges of the hillfort earthworks

Dundee in the distance

Dundee in the distance