Cairnhead Forest & Castle Hill

Moniaive is an attractive wee village and much of its outlying scenery is unassumingly impressive as well. Take the Dalwhat Glen for instance. At the head of that scenic valley there is an area of local community woodland and an innovative and prestigious art project involving a series of stone arches, built by internationally renowned sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. The aim of this walk is to look at some of the community woodland area and explore the site of an ancient hill fort. Two short walks for the price of one so to speak.

Much of the upper glen can be driven by car and a stop off at the old quarry is well worthwhile. Have a wander along the riverbank or carefully explore the disused stone pit and the new roadside lochan. Benbuie is literally the end of the road for cars and they can be left here for an exploration of the upper forest to Cairnhead old house. Benbuie means Yellow Mountain and if you visit in winter you’ll find the dead grasses on the hillsides are a golden straw colour. It’s my theory that this is how the place got its name.

Sadly, Cairnhead Cottage is no longer an open shelter and bothy as it was way back in the 1980s. I spent several nights there during our cycling sojourns into Galloway. Though very basic it was a welcome howff among the hills. It had all we needed &endash; a good fire and fuel and a dry place to lay our bedrolls. Nowadays a padlock bars entry to any weary traveller who heads through this way.

The woodlands are worthy of exploration around here and as the area is further enhanced it should become a real and worthwhile asset to the community. Sympathetic planting of a number of non-conifer species to replace some of those dreadfully bland rows of spruce should be a priority for this project. Native species like birch, alder, hazel and rowan would flourish here if protected from livestock and what wonderful displays of colour they would give to the autumn landscape.

Down the valley at Glenjaan road end a short steep climb lets us explore Castle Hill. There is nothing left of this ancient fort but a rickle of stones. It must have been an incredibly defensive site but very open to severe weather. From the fort the views are fantastic of the Dalwhat valley and beyond. Head round from here to the northwest for a few hundred yards then pick a way down through the steep ground back to Glenjaan road end.

There is less than 1 mile and 500 feet of climbing for this wee walk.

Landranger Map: Sheet 77.

Dave McFadzean