Backmuir Wood, Muirhead, Angus (near Dundee)
There are several books describing walks in the Dundee, Perthshire, Angus and Fife areas, but surprisingly they don't do justice to the walks in and around Dundee. An exception is James Carron's "Dundee Walks - 20 Walks within 20 minutes' drive of the city". The first route described is Backmuir Wood, and the second runs between Backmuir Wood and the Logan at nearby Liff village.
I had passed by these woods numerous times over the years, driving or running along the road between Liff and Muirhead, and had seen reports in the Dundee Courier that Backmuir Woods were managed as community woodlands by the Woodland Trust. I finally went there around midday one Saturday afternoon at the start of November.
The following information is summarised from the illustrated panel at the northern entrance to the wood:
Backmuir Wood is 42 hectares in extent, and was purchased in 1996 with support by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the local community and the Gannochy Trust. Forestry operations are grant-aided by the Forestry Authority (part of the Forestry Commission).
The Woodland Trust manages the wood in partnership with the local community. The main objective is to maintain the wood's biodiversity and its informal nature. The Trust is keen to welcome new ideas or volunteers. Visitors are welcome to visit any areas of the wood, and encouraged to see the unusual carved seats with views of the Tay to the south and the Sidlaw Hills to the north.
Trees include oak, beech, birch, rowan, Scots pine and larch, ranging from mature trees to young saplings. The wood provides habitats for roe deer, red and grey squirrels, birds including wren, jay, treecreeper and goldcrest, and the greater spotted woodpecker which may be heard boring into the trees in search of food.
Getting there and starting out
Muirhead village is just a couple of miles beyond the Kingsway through Dundee, on the A923 to Coupar Angus. The road to Liff turns off to the left and soon runs past Backmuir Wood on the right. After half a mile the road bends sharply left then right, before passing a car park on the right. I stopped here, changed into trail shoes, and set off. The weather was settled, with no wind, but with a layer of cloud so that the quality of light was rather disappointing after a sunny start to the day.
There are two gates leading out of the car park - one in the middle of the fence at the back, leading into newly planted woodland, and one at the corner closest to Muirhead, at the start of the path into the older woodland.
The new plantation
Both James Carron's routes, around Backmuir Wood and across to the Logan, started through the corner gate into the older wood, but I wanted to have a look at the new woodland. Walking up into the newly planted area, I could see an area of grassland now covered with young trees all around 10 years' old, It created an extension on the west side of the established wood, and would fill out over the next couple of decades but at the moment it looks like a planted crop of trees. The broad grassy path rises gently up between the young trees, then bends to the right as it approaches tall pines ahead.
Through the older woodland to Auld Alex Seat
I went through the fence and boundary wall into the older woodland and turned left up the main path - joining the route described by Carron. This was a splendid route, through the mature woodland up to the northern boundary, turning to the right and reaching the end of a broad path coming up through the middle of the wood from the right. Across a metal gate to the left was a view over fields to the line of forest on the horizon.
The path continued along the woodland edge, and I passed the first of many other walkers, most of whom were out with their dogs. The path reached a corner in the boundary fence, with other paths leading ahead and to the right across a small open area, but I continued along the left boundary towards more tall pine trees. There was a gentle slope upwards, and the view to the left began to open up. A carved wooden log provided a seat, looking over the fields towards Liff. Then oaks and beech trees stretched over the path, with their leaves now turning orange and yellow after the first cold nights of the autumn earlier in the week. Weak sunlight was coming through thinner cloud by now, brightening up the views, and a series of dog-walkers passed me on their way down.
The belt of woodland began to narrow and I could see a line of daylight through the trunks and branches, then after about an hour (including lots of photo stops) I reached the top corner. Above a series of stones set into the bank was a sign - "Auld Alex Seat". The path which led from here to the west was the one described in Carron's second walk, leading to the Logan and Liff. I stopped for a drink, and took in the view.
It was a great outlook towards the Sidlaw Hills in the north, but the foreground was dominated by a large plantation of young Christmas trees which didn't seem to fit very well. The rooftops of Liff were just visible in the other direction.
Walking down to Muirhead
I turned down the north side of the wood towards Muirhead, and a couple of hundred yards down the path, a gate led into the plantation but with no sign of a path on the other side. Next I noticed an old oak tree with a fine spread of branches. Further along, a wider gate led through to a clear grassy track which looked as though it ran down towards the road at Rosemill. This track continued to the right, into the wood. An elderly chap stopped to chat, telling me he went walking there nearly every day with his dog, but there were even better paths at Dronley Wood which we could see in the distance halfway to Auchterhouse.
I continued straight on again, near the edge of the wood, through more mixed woodland, until I reached the first houses of Muirhead. The woods to the right looked deep and impenetrable here, and by chance I noticed that the autumn leaves created a patterned effect on the ground. It was a chance for a couple of unusual photos.
After bending round to the right along the high fences behind the houses, the path became indistinct in the carpet of leaves, and then seemed to turn down a slight slope away from the fence. Carron's description came in useful here, and told me when I reached a wide grassy track to cross over this and go straight ahead onto a narrow track through the trees.
From Muirhead back to the car park
This track was a bit of a change from the route previously, now hemmed in between young birch trees and tall pines, with splashes of colour where young beech trees were turning golden. There were paths off to left and right, but the booklet said I should go ahead until I reached a t-junction with three birch stems growing out of a single stump! I was supposed to turn right there, but I must have missed it and came to another path close to the edge of the woods, with Muirhead medical centre visible across the road to the left. I turned right, reached a drainage ditch and followed the edge of this up to the right a little way until I found four wooden posts which provided a little makeshift footbridge. This sounds complicated, but really you can't go far wrong in a small wood like this.
Crossing over here, a faint path continued parallel to the boundary of the wood and then joined another wider track leading down to a gate through to the road. A clearer path led the rest of the way from here, close to the edge of the woods but with ever-changing scenery, back to the car park. I crossed a wide avenue on the right, probably the one leading up to the metal gate on the western boundary mentioned earlier. Clearly if you knew the woods well, you could select from a variety of longer and shorter routes.
There was another gate on the left along the way, leading out to the sharp bend on the road, with space for a couple of cars to park. Just before the gate through to the main car park, the path I was on merged with the one which I could have followed at the start, leading up the west side of the woods.
More people were walking up from the main car park with their dogs, and when I reached the car park I could see that it was full. It was about 2 pm and clearly lots of people were making the most of the fine weather. There were 16 cars including mine, and as I drove out another one drove into my space!
So, if you're a supporter of the Woodland Trust, you'll be encouraged to learn that so many people are getting the benefit from the work they are doing. And the wildlife should be benefiting as well. It was particularly noticeable how many fallen trees and tree stumps had been left lying in the woods. There had been a story recently about the RSPB blowing up some pine trees in Abernethy Forest to create more deadwood for insects to live in, resulting in more food for birds. There was no need to resort to these measures in Backmuir Wood, with a wide variety of habitats for wildlife.
Once again I had found a great place to walk within easy reach of home, to add to other delightful areas of woodland such as Camperdown and Templeton, Crombie and Monikie. Just right for a gentle stroll to relax and unwind at the weekend.
Postscript - a return to Backmuir Wood in the spring
I was keen to go back for a walk in the wood with my wife, Maggie, and did so a few months later. It was a Saturday again, and sunnier. This time we went through the gate at the corner of the car park into the old part of the wood and followed the path up to the left, then along the woodland edge as before. There weren't quite as many other walkers out this time, despite the fine weather. The woods looked very much the same - yet different with the spring colours.
It was a more leisurely walk this time, but with fewer photo stops, so it didn't take us too long to reach Auld Alex Seat in the top corner. This time we decided to take the path away from the wood, along the avenue of trees, before descending gradually down to Liff village. It has the feel of an ancient right of way, with old stone dykes and a well-trodden path, just a little slippery in places on the way down.
The path levelled off and we continued along between fields until we approached the first houses, then it turned sharp right along the grassy strip between the fence and the cultivated field. Another 100 metres or so further on, an opening led to the right, between the houses, and down a street to the main road. This was familiar territory as Maggie's former family home was nearby. Liff is an expanding village, with more housing planned in the extensive grounds of Liff Hospital.
Turning left along the road to Muirhead we passed the turning to the right which led down to the church - this could be an alternative loop, turning back up past the school. We continued straight ahead along the quiet road, once again passing fields on either side. It was about a kilometre - half a mile or so - to the next road junction coming up from the school. From here we could have entered the field on the right which had some young trees and bushes on the edge, through which a track ran parallel to the road. We stayed on the road for the couple of hundred metres back to the car park.
This route would be a similar distance to the circuit of the woods, maybe 3 miles, also taking about an hour and a half. Despite the section on the road it's an enjoyable short walk through varied scenery.< Back to Scotland page for links to other stories
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