The walk Castle Dow
Location: Perthshire Map: OS Landranger 52 Distance: 4.5 miles (8km) Time: 2-3 hours Grade: Moderate hill walk OVERLOOKING the expanse of Strath Tay in highland Perthshire is a small hill that is rich in archaeological splendour. Castle Dow stands above the tiny village of Balnaguard and even from a distance its rounded summit is easily recognised by its “guardians”, the cairns which decorate the top of the hill.
Ancient they may seem, but the cairns are comparative newcomers to a hill which also boasts a Pictish fort, ancient hut circles and field systems, tumuli and cup-marked stones. Part of the north-east facing slopes of Castle Dow forms Balnaguard Glen nature reserve, looked after by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).
Up to a dozen stone cairns decorate the otherwise bare summit of Castle Dow, a tree-clad hill which lies in the clench of the River Tay just south of Grandtully. It’s thought these large cairns date from the last hundred years but several seem comparatively recent. Homo sapiens appears to be a compulsive cairn builder …
They are certainly recent in comparison to the other archaeological treasures of the area – the remains of a Pictish fort, stone ramparts and ditches and the remnants of a stone hut. These are all difficult to find, especially as much of the stone has been used to build a sheep fank, which lies close to the summit. I’m sure patient searching and a vivid imagination would be well rewarded.
The SWT reserve at Balnaguard Glen was created in 1976. The glen is a highly dissected gorge dominated by birch and juniper woodland and is marked by spectacular landslips on its northern side. Birds commonly seen on the reserve include heron, sandpiper, pied and grey wagtail, sand martins, jays, woodcock, sparrowhawks, and green and great spotted woodpecker.
At Sketewan, just west of Balnaguard, a forest road leaves the B898 and climbs steadily uphill. Once you leave the main road you’ll find a small car park with an interpretive board. A small SWT car park lies adjacent to the B898 close to Ballintaggart Farm at GR NN942519.
Follow the forestry road as it climbs up between gorse bushes, birch and rowan. After about 800 metres the road takes a broad sweep to the left and continues to climb uphill. Soon the deciduous woodland on your right gives way to small conifers and after a prominent bend you’ll catch your first glimpse of the rounded summit, graced by the silhouettes of half a dozen tall cairns. Continue uphill and don’t be tempted to leave the main track too soon. A clear path eventually leaves the track and climbs up through the heather to meet a drystane dyke which leads to the summit plateau. On a clear day the view is extensive, with the ubiquitous form of Schiehallion dominating all.
To vary the return route, follow the directions given here which lead you down to the SWT car park at the roadside. Sketewan lies about a kilometre along to the road to the left.
CAMERON MCNEISH Route: Start and finish at the car park at Sketewan on the B898 (GR: NN934523). Leave the car park just off the B898 and climb uphill. After 800m the forest road takes a broad sweep to the left and continues uphill around a series of small bends. A clear path eventually becomes obvious on the right, leading uphill to a clearing. The path meets a drystone dyke which is followed to the summit plateau. To return, follow the footpath back to the main track and follow it by your outward route for a few hundred metres to an open gate. Leave the track here to the right and follow a wire fence. A path runs downhill beside the fence, and on towards the end of the plantation where a burn runs across the path. Cross this burn and follow another fence as it turns sharply left and uphill to a stile. Don’t cross the stile but continue straight ahead to where a muddy path runs steeply downhill to a large sign which announces the SWT reserve. Opposite the sign lies a stile – cross it and follow the boundary fence down to the small car park at the roadside. Sketewan lies about 1km along to the road to the left.
Although the summit of Castle Dow is featureless bar half a dozen cairns, on a good day it makes an excellent viewpoint