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Wonderful Deuchary, Two Neighbours and a Not so Good Memory

Wonderful Deuchary, Two Neighbours and a Not so Good Memory

Postby inca » Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:16 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Deuchary Hill, Hill of Persie, Newtyle Hill

Date walked: 11/03/2018

Time taken: 6.25 hours

Distance: 19 km

Ascent: 771m

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Map: OS 1:50,000, nos. 52 & 53
Attendees: Me, Big Dog, Small Dog
Time taken: 6hr 15m.

Deuchary Hill - east ridge
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Save for Pentlands excursions, it’d been a fortnight since I’d been on the hills. They’d been calling. I’d just not been answering. The weather in Edinburgh had been lousy. Inertia had crept in.

I decided to give myself a shake and looked at the weekend weather. Sunday in northeast Perthshire showed promise so I scrambled some plans together on Saturday night.

Newtyle Hill
Distance: 7k. Ascent: 229m. Time: 2hr.

An early start saw me in Dunkeld just after 7 a.m. I took the minor road that loops off the east side of the A984 between the Birnam Hotel and Little Dunkeld. Excellent parking can be found in a cleared area of woodland at GR 032425. Three roe deer crossed the road nearby. A Red Kite took off from a fence post.

Amidst the peaceful ambience, it should have been impossible to be in a bad mood. And yet I managed it. I had one of those First World issues that escalates from being a minor irritation one minute to a full-blown catastrophe the next. The cause? A misaligned boot lace. In my haste to disengage and rethread it, I managed to rip the compressing plastic off at one end. The lace threads unfurled like some kind of mutating mushroom. They wouldn’t go back through the eyelets. I know this because I pushed, cajoled and pleaded with that mushroom for 15 minutes. And no amount of pushing, cursing, salivating strands or penknife use made a difference. I don’t like to talk about the experience in detail. Suffice to say, matters were resolved when I remembered an emergency lace in my rucksack.

I started south on the road and turned left after 200m on to a track signed ‘Path to Loch of the Lowes’. A right fork quickly leads off to Haughend. A felted box containing eggs for sale was sited here. The main track, lined by old oaks, continued steeply uphill to a metal gate. The Loch of the Lowes path veered off to the left. I passed through the unlocked gate, only afterwards noticing a secondary pedestrian gate built into the wooden fencing beside it.

Newtyle parking
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Start of Haughend track. Newtyle Hill top right
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Turn off for Haughend and egg box
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Metal gate
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

The track dog-legged right and rose on a gentle gradient through fine birch woodland. Clusters of rocks were overlain with thick moss. It was a pleasant amble. Higher up, the birch gave way to conifer plantations. Occasional breaks in the trees offered views back over Dunkeld and the River Tay. One of these had a memorial bench bearing an inscription. I couldn’t help but smile - the words matched my mindset of the previous evening.

View from track over Dunkeld
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Bench with inscription
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

After 1k or so, a deer gate is reached. A grassy track branches off towards a small mast tucked away in the trees on the left. I carried straight on. The landscape changed beyond the gate. Large swathes of forestry had been felled and the main track -mostly dry till now- held splotchy ice and snow.

Deer gate
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

At GR 044417, I came across a prominent track. It gouged into the hillside at right angles to my route and wasn’t shown on my map. The left section headed directly uphill. I considered, and discounted, following it. I was already making reasonable time and enjoying my planned route.

A larger radio mast then came into view. 50m or so before it, at GR 046416, a path led off the east side of the track and wound its way upwards through tree-fell. It joined another track near a ramshackle wooden hut that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a western movie. It was bare, except a couple of seats. I’d initially thought it was a woodcutters’ shed but having since read another trip report (by dot on the landscape) I presume it’s the starting point for local mountain bike runs.

ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Interior of shack
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

I turned left on the upper track and soon arrived at a stile over a deer fence. With hindsight, I should have taken this. But it was set at a jaunty angle to the vertical and looked rickety. I didn’t much fancy taking a tumble while porting the dogs over it.

Prior reading led me to believe there was a gate in the deer fence north of the stile. If there was/is, I couldn’t find it. The fence turned sharply downhill after a time. A deer flushed from the undergrowth, perhaps 50m away. I remember reading somewhere that deer invariably run uphill to escape danger. Perhaps that’s true, perhaps not. This one did. It scuttled backwards and forwards along the fence for several minutes looking for a way through. The dogs watched on intently. Eventually it gave up and scampered off into the trees.

I retraced my steps along the upper track and spotted a small section of damaged fencing at GR 046418. Broken posts had brought its high point down to waist level. Once over, I headed east across an area of boggy ground aiming for a small ridge. I had assumed this to be the summit. It wasn’t. In fact, the summit knoll was visible about 1k to the south. Meandering to and fro on the upper track had taken me further north than I’d realised. Still, it wasn’t far. I worked my way over, or around, a sequence of hillocks to the summit cairn. Slivers of mist that had been visible on the way up had lifted. Views from the top were better than anticipated.

View north from Newtyle summit. Deuchary Hill back left
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

View south from Newtyle summit
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Birnam Hill from summit of Newtyle
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

I wanted to make up time on my return journey. The most direct route was west-southwest, alongside another deer fence. The snow was shin deep, the ground uneven and occasionally steep. On the plus side, the fence line took me quickly to the aforementioned leaning stile within minutes. I examined it properly this time. Despite appearances, it was rock solid on its mountings. I went over twice, taking one dog each time. (For any other dog owners reading this, it’s only a realistic option for smaller animals.)

Rather than head back down the path to the large mast, I cut diagonally west over rough ground to arrive at the smaller version with the grassy service track. I then followed my outward route to the car.

Deuchary Hill
Distance: 7k. Ascent: 333m. Time: 2hr 15m.

I’d heard good things about Deuchary Hill. Particularly using a southerly approach and taking in Loch Ordie and Lochan na Beinne. Because I wanted to leave myself time for another hill afterwards, I’d chosen a shorter route from the east.

The drive to the pretty hamlet of Butterstone took 10 minutes. I turned north on to a single-track road signed for Butterstone House School. About 1.5k further on, I reached a temporary sign on a verge. It read ‘No Unauthorised Vehicles Beyond This Point.’ It was one of those yellow signs with black lettering normally associated with sporting events or special occasions. I chose to ignore it. The area was completely quiet. My guess is it’s a leftover from the annual hill race up Deuchary. I can’t imagine the locals clamoring for it to be removed.

The public road ends at GR 061477. I found parking on a grassy strip separating private access routes to Riechip and Riemore. I set off on the latter which proved to be a tarmac road rather than the rough track my map suggested. By now, the weather was much improved. The Buckny Burn coloured silver in the sun and shadows cut deeply into the boughs of Scots pine.

I hadn’t been underway long when a metallic glint caught my eye down an embankment to the right. A Volkwagen car had left the road and was sitting sideways up against a tree. It looked a recent accident, so I scrambled down to make sure there was nobody inside. There wasn’t. Nor was there any sign of injury. There was however an Enya album case beside the CD drive. It’s not for me to speculate why the vehicle left the road. But driving to Enya? That might do it. (Ironically enough, I seem remember a 1990s album of hers called ‘The Memory of Trees’.)

Deuchary parking – route takes left option
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Crashed car
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

The Riemore road curved west and I had my first full view of Deuchary Hill. It stopped me in my tracks. That probably sounds melodramatic. This was a Sub 2k after all. And my route from Riemore road end started at the 250m mark. Nevertheless, it was a handsome and imposing sight. A long easterly ridge swept up to three or four craggy, castellated tops. Translucent ribbons of cloud lay over the summit. A large bird -a buzzard I think- glided over its northern face. The scene had a drama and atmosphere I’d been unprepared for.

I left the track at GR 049485 and took to the east ridge. The house at Grewshill became visible, as did an ATV track running southwest round the lower slopes. I remembered reading this ran to the Mill Dam.

Progress along the ridge was reasonable and occasionally assisted by animal tracks. Further on, I ran into a problem. A deep cleft lay between the high point of the ridge and the first of Deuchary’s tops. This wouldn’t have been an issue in itself – the sides were shallow enough to walk down- but there was a deer fence running north to south across its lowest point. At first sight, there was no easy way to circumvent it. One option was to drop left to the Mill Dam track, pass through the fence, and then restart the ascent further west. Not an attractive proposition.

Deuchary from access road
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Then I had a stroke of luck. Small Dog was following a scent trail, probably a hare. She wandered down towards the deer fence. When I next looked, she was standing on the other side. There proved to be a hole in the fence near ground level. It was just big enough to squeeze through with my rucksack off.

Onwards and I threaded my way through a stand of mature conifers on steep ground. I’d assumed conditions here would be better than in the open. They weren’t. Large banks of snow had pooled around tree trunks. The top crusts formed wave-like patterns; underneath it was soft and slippery. Any kind of momentum or rhythm was impossible. More often than not, I gripped one trunk, then another, to pull myself upward. Snow spilled over my boots and my feet soon became sodden. Gaiters or waterproof trousers would have been sensible. However, I hadn’t brought the first and by the time I considered the second, I reasoned my feet couldn’t get any wetter. They were to stay that way for the rest of the day.

It was hard work. But not wholly unpleasant either. Fir scent hung in the air. There was a comforting solidity about handholds on trees, the compression of skin on bark.

Once clear of the stand I turned north, crossing two further tops to arrive at the summit. The snow was thin enough to pick up occasional traces of a path. From the trig point, I could see Loch Ordie to the north and most of my ascent route to the east. Cloud hampered views to the south and west.

View north from Deuchary summit
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

View east from Deuchary summit
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Atop Deuchary – the fin of rock behind the trig is highest point
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

After a few minutes, I followed my footsteps back to the hole in the fence. I clambered through, this time dropping south alongside the fence to a double gate on the Mill Dam track (GR 042482). The track was wet, at times resembling a stream. I followed it northeast and rejoined my outward route near Grewshill. The return to the car passed quickly enough, with good views east to Benachally and its hilltop monument.

Hill of Persie
Distance: 5k. Ascent: 209m. Time: 2hr.

Almost all the accounts I’d read of this hill involved an approach from the east. I was keen to do something different and opted for a linear route from Strathardle to the west. I got to Ballintuim on the A924 and turned right on a minor road which petered out at Tomlea farm. It was narrow enough to be hesitant about parking. I eventually settled on a patch of short- cropped grass at GR 102559. This was adjacent to a wood and just shy of the farm entrance.

As luck would have it, I then met the farmer and his wife. They were a pleasant, well-spoken couple. We chatted for a while. They were happy with my car where it was. The lady said she maintained the spot specifically for hillwalkers’ vehicles. The space was big enough for one car, perhaps two.

Persie parking - looking back from Tomlea
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Farm fingerpost
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Farm track & Knock of Balmyle top right
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

A fingerpost at the farm directed me to the left of two large cattle sheds and I picked up a track to the rear. It led northeast to two wooden gates tethered together by a large gravity catch.

I left the track here and took to the west slopes of The Knock of Balmyle. This was pock-marked sheep pasture. Snow cover was patchy at first but soon became thick and soggy. A stone wall ran uphill to the right and I wondered if progress might be easier alongside it. It was worse. I decided to stick with it anyway. For no other reason than it made a bee line for the top of the slope.

Looking back down ascent route
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

I was still thinking about parking and the Tomlea couple. The lady took an obvious pride in maintaining the space. No doubt there was benefit to the farm in terms of lessening obstruction risk. Nonetheless, her attitude struck me as kind and public-spirited. A memory of the ‘compare and contrast’ type came tumbling from the back of my brain somewhere. Similar circumstances but someone with a very different outlook. It was a bizarre incident and one I hadn’t thought about for several years.

It was 2001. I was in the mountains north of Killin to follow a Munro route I’d picked up from a book. At that time, I didn’t record much detail about my walks; merely dates I’d completed particular hills. I can’t recall which of the Lawers group it was now, but I do remember that the recommended parking point was unavailable. It was a single-track road and I’d ended up leaving the car in a nondescript, but convenient, lay-by instead.

There was a cottage nearby. As I was getting my gear together, a man exited the house and approached me. He was probably in his late 60’s, stocky build, ruddy faced and carrying a long staff. We had a short conversation. The jist of it was this - Yes, I was welcome to park here. It was a public road after all. But there’d be a charge. He looked after this lay-by. His time and effort went into its upkeep. He didn’t do that for nothing. It’d be £10 for the day.

I was dumbstruck. Had I missed something? I looked up and down the lay-by again. There was nothing to mark it out from innumerable others I’ve used over the years. Its condition was reasonable but unremarkable. And there was no signage of any kind. It occurred to me that this was some kind of wind-up or practical joke. I laughed involuntarily and said flippantly ‘Aye, right then’, before carrying on with my preparations.

The older man flew into a rage, following me round the car and shouting and swearing. At times, his face was so close to mine I could see flecks of spittle shooting out of his mouth. He also raised his staff above his head several times. He was lucid, suffering no obvious mental impairment and was not smelling of alcohol. I had little doubt what was going on here - this was attempted fraud, rapidly moving towards attempted extortion. I remember having two connected impressions. First, that beneath the fire and fury, there was a method to his rage. Second, that he’d done this before.

At that time, I was strong and fit. I wasn’t worried for my personal safety if things came to a head. On the other hand, the idea of rolling about with a pensioner on a roadside verge in the middle of nowhere wasn’t appealing. Especially in the absence of any witnesses. I could have simply left I suppose. But maybe I’m obstinate. I'm not fond of folk like this.

I decided to stick it out. And did so for a few minutes. But he was waving his staff about so much the top of it clipped my shoulder. That changed things. I told him -very directly- to go away. I also told him that if he didn’t take the staff out of my face, I’d remove it from him and find alternative storage for it. He left. I heard his door thud shut. I did my walk and returned to the car later in the day. I was half surprised to find it undamaged. Later still, I reported my encounter to the local police. I never heard anything back.

The contrast between these two individuals attitude to parking could not have been starker. One went out of their way to help walkers. The other went of their way to take advantage. I drifted out of this reverie to find myself standing beside Knock of Balmyle’s trig point. It offered good views, both west towards Meall Reamhar and east to the Hill of Persie. The latter, not visible till then, lay across a notable dip in the ground. This is shown in the second photograph below. I decided to take a direct line across this. In retrospect, itwasn’t the cleverest move. The snow hid an underlying stream which my feet found twice in quick succession. The final pull up Persie’s west slopes was straightforward enough. The unmarked summit -at the corner of a stone wall- proved disappointing. Forestry impaired views to the north. The Knock of Balmyle, just 3m lower in height, gave a better and broader outlook.

Knock of Balmyle trig looking west
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Looking to Hill of Persie from Knock of Balmyle
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Hill of Persie summit area
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

Looking east from Hill of Persie summit
ImageUntitled by NDM, on Flickr

On the way back, I followed the stone wall west and then south to the Knock of Balmyle. I then retraced my footsteps in the snow to Tomlea. I was back at the car exactly 2 hours after I set off. Had it not been for underfoot conditions on the day, that time could almost have been halved.

Some final thoughts. Deuchary Hill was a revelation. It’s one of the finest smaller hills I’ve stood on to date. No regrets about my route. That said, I’d like to go back and do the more orthodox approach from the south when time permits.

Newtyle was a fine little hill too. My route proved straightforward enough; some slight extra time, distance and effort was down to indecision on my part.

The Hill of Persie felt more like a tick in the box than the other two. A functional bagging route, if not a pretty one.
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