Wil­lie Shand en­joys an au­tum­nal walk at Mon­crieffe Hill

Wil­lie Shand ex­plores the beau­ties of the Perthshire coun­try­side.

The People's Friend - - 8 -

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

of­fend­ing ear.

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 start of the leafy walk to Mon­crieffe Hill.

Bridge over the River Earn, which snakes its way to the Tay.

The wood­land is home to wildlife such as red squir­rel.

Stun­ning views over Bridge of Earn.

Au­tumn shades are in abun­dance.

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