Willie Shand enjoys an autumnal walk at Moncrieffe Hill
Willie Shand explores the beauties of the Perthshire countryside.
AS its name might suggest, the town of Bridge of Earn stands at an important crossing point on the River Earn. Perth, which used to be the capital of Scotland, is just three miles to the north.
The old toll road that ran between Perth and Edinburgh over the Wicks o’ Baiglie crossed the Earn at the Auld Brig. Folk have been following that ancient route for thousands of years.
Was it not when crossing the Wicks above Glenfarg that one of Agricola’s Roman soldiers was so impressed with his first sight of the Tay that he exclaimed, “Behold, the Tiber!”
These days, Bridge of Earn is bypassed by the fast M90 and so, to many, the town now goes pretty much unnoticed.
In autumn, though, even the motorway traffic can still enjoy the spectacular woodland colour that covers the side of Moncrieffe Hill rising immediately north of the road.
It’s blanketed in trees so it’s quite appropriate that its name should come from the Gaelic monadh craiobh, meaning Hill of the Tree.
This fine November morning I’ve turned off the motorway for a closer look at the hill and to take a walk to its 725-feet-high summit.
Depending on how far you feel like walking, there are three colour-coded way-marked routes to follow and they can all be started from the Earn Car Park about a mile outside Bridge of Earn.
If you’ve not been before, finding the car park might be tricky but just cross the bridge over the Earn, turn right on to the Rhynd road and keep an eye open for an unsurfaced track on the left with a Woodland Trust sign.
This road ends at a locked gate so from there on, it’s on your feet.
With a fine mix of oak, birch, ash and beech, this is a great walk for any season but especially in the autumn.
Tall Douglas firs soar high above while on the upper slopes, caring little for the season, we find the Scots pines.
I’ve scarcely gone a hundred yards when a red
squirrel darts across the track and scoots up a tree to disappear among the branches.
Since 1988, Moncrieffe Hill has been owned and cared for by the Woodland Trust and covers an area of over 330 acres.
One of their aims is to return the woodland to that of predominantly native tree species – something they admit will take a long time.
Some bramble bushes by the side of the track look very tempting.
Much of the height on this walk is gained at the start but it eventually levels off once we get up nearer the ridge.
It’s a popular hill with joggers and hill runners. I’ll just go at my own steady plod, thank you just the same!
An old beech tree has been blown over and its roots now form a wonderful natural sculpture.
As we approach the edge of the ridge, the trees thin to give some far-reaching views over Bridge of Earn and Strathearn.
Through the centre of the strath, the wide River Earn snakes on towards its imminent union with Scotland’s longest river, the Tay.
This fertile strath was attracting settlers many thousands of years before even the Romans came on the scene – maybe as much as 8,000 years ago.
Moncrieffe Hill didn’t go unnoticed by our ancestors either and when you climb the final steep grassy rise to the summit you’ll instantly see why.
Not only do the views extend over much of Strathearn but to the north we now command a magnificent view over the Carse, the Tay and away to the Highlands beyond.
What a grand picture we win over the Fair City of Perth and the Friarton Bridge.
Moncrieffe Hill may not be particularly high but, protected by steep slopes and crags and with its natural terraces and such extensive views, it made an ideal site for a fort.
No-one, from whichever direction, would be able to sneak up on its occupants without being detected well in advance.
The Iron Age fort of Moredun, or Carnac, can still be traced and goes back to the time of the Picts. It was the Romans who named them the Picti, meaning the painted or tattooed people.
Looking out over Strathearn, 1,500 or more years ago, we’d be looking over part of Southern Pictland.
An important stronghold this would have been too, lying close to the old Pictish Capital of Abernethy. It’s all peaceful today and a few other walkers have come up to enjoy some of the rare November sunshine.
It might not have been such a good idea to have visited in the year 728 AD when there was a raging battle between two Pictish warlords, Angus and Alpin, over which should take the throne.
Across the Tay we look to Kinfauns Castle and to the follies upon Kinnoull
Hill and the Binn Hill.
These hilltop ruins were only ever intended to look like ruins.
Apparently, when the 9th Earl of Kinnoull and his neighbour Lord Gray, who built these respective follies, had sailed along the Rhine in the late 1700s, they were so impressed with all the ruined castles they saw that they resolved to build their own ruins on their estates above the Tay when they returned home.
Moredun was a vitrified fort, meaning that the stones were heated to such high temperature that they fused and melted together.
How they achieved such high temperatures is still pretty much a mystery.
When you climb Moncrieffe Hill, though, you don’t just get one fort but two.
On the top of a slightly lower rise stood another Iron Age fort – that of Moncrieffe Hillfort.
For a while, the claim of a second fort on Moncrieffe Hill was questioned by historians but, following recent archaeological digs, there’s now no doubting its existence.
Occupants of these forts would have been able to easily communicate with many other forts around Strathearn and beyond by means of smoke or reflective signals.
It’s a sunny day but rain earlier in the week has left some bits of the paths quite slippery. I’m glad I put my boots on.
Following the yellow way markers, my return route begins down the steep hillside below the lower fort and down a long zigzagging flight of almost 100 steps.
The hill’s name has also given title to the Clan Moncrieffe.
Close to the foot of the hill is Pitcaithly mineral well. From the late 1700s and for more than 150 years, folk would come to take its waters in the hopes of a cure for all sorts of ailments from hiccups to cholera.
Its waters were even bottled and sold as far away as London.
When it comes to finding cures for ailments though, we can hardly do better than consult the catalogue of cures published by one Sir John Moncrieffe in his book entitled “Tippermalloch’s Receipts”.
From toothache to the measles, whatever might be your problem, fear nought, Sir John has the cure.
Mind you, his remedies might well leave you wondering if the cure is worse than the illness!
For example, anyone a bit dull of hearing might like to concoct a mixture of ants’ eggs with the juice of an onion and drop it in the
Snails, dogs, ducks, nails and even powdered human bones; they all find a place in Sir John’s prescriptions.
These days, cosmetic companies make big money out of products to create a fair complexion.
You could of course try Sir John’s cheap and simple alternative – wash with the distilled water of snails then, to add a wee bit colour, give your face a rub with the liver of a sheep, fresh and hot. Sounds just braw!
As I’m getting a bit thinner on top, I was quite interested to see he had a cure for this, too.
Apparently, all that’s needed to reverse the process is to wash one’s head with burnt dung of doves and, hey presto.
I think I’ll maybe just keep my tammy on instead!
The woodland is home to wildlife such as red squirrel.
The start of the leafy walk to Moncrieffe Hill.
Bridge over the River Earn, which snakes its way to the Tay.
Stunning views over Bridge of Earn.
Autumn shades are in abundance.