The walk Cas­tle Dow

The Herald Magazine - - OUTDOORS -

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

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