Feeling somewhat tired and jaded... as you might expect following the long, long, long drive from Essex... I park below Gosland and follow the farm track toward the Kilbucho valley, the overcast conditions not the best, to be honest. But at least it isn't raining, something that is never welcome upon the first day of a two week wild camp. The track veers right to ascend through trees, a subsequent left hand fork accessing the ruins of a church suggesting a larger resident community in times past. Ignoring this, at least physically, I pass farm buildings to arrive at the foot of Mitchelhill. Guess the 'fort must be up there, then? Not the most inspired of deductions, perhaps, but at least it is accurate.
A short, but tiring scramble later, my mood rises sky high, unlike the low cloud base which resolutely refuses to permit passage to even a solitary ray of sunlight. The swine that it is. How could it be otherwise when faced with such a fine hillfort as this, perched airily upon the eastern flank of White Hill, the summit of which, also crowned by a hillfort, rises to the approx south-west?
According to Canmore the compact, bi-vallate enclosure is a "roughly circular fort measuring internally 175' by 160', with a secondary settlement inside it.... The entrance, measuring 10' in width, is on the SE (RCAHMS 1967)."
It's a great viewpoint, too, no doubt even better than I suppose under clearer conditions. Even today the vistas, particularly of the narrow glen carrying the Mitchelhill Burn between the left-hand brooding flanks of 2,000ft plus Cardon Hill - together with the not far off that Scawdman's Hill - and the lower, but nonetheless substantial enough White Hill (anything but 'white' today, it has to be said), are inspiring. In actual fact so much so that, duly picking up the evocative vibe, I decide to go have a look at the summit of White Hill itself. Hell, why not?
A couple of hours free, I plumped for Mitchelhill Rings, a stunner of a hillfort on the eastern shoulder of White Hill. I nipped through Biggar out past the Rugby Club, over the top at Crosscryne and descended into the lost valley of Kilbucho. Parking isn't hard but it isn't easy. There is a fairly wide verge with some great old Beech trees at the side of the road nearest the hillfort (over the years I haven't found anywhere better or nearer, but tuck your car right onto the verge as this is a narrow road with tractors and farm equipment rattling up and down it). Across the road from a little cottage go through a gate then follow the burn to the base of the hill. You can either go straight up the side of a forestry plantation or follow the track which winds up to the right. I just go straight up. The fort is about 300 feet above marked by bumps on the skyline. Once you reach the track halfway up follow the line of the spring which trickles down the side of the hill (it is betrayed by a fine healthy growth of reeds and a trickling sound). The source of the spring is just below the level of the fort, where (one above the other) two deep, mossy, reeded-up basins about twelve feet across and six feet deep catch the water of the spring. As I stood after the steep ascent, gathering my breath, my heart pounding (as it frantically tried to squeeze blood through my larded-up arteries), I wondered if the fort builders might have created these basins as an easy way of gathering an easy water supply on this high hilltop.
From the fort the views are incredible, the remains are impressive and look out over the gap which leads through to Broughton and Drumelzier. The isolated valley which Mitchelhill Fort broods over is an incredible place. It has no less than eight hillforts stretched across a space of less than four miles by one and a half miles. They guard this lonely valley's few narrow entrances and exits. Many of the hillsides are scarred with rows of cultivation terraces, at least half a dozen "settlements", many enclosures and I'm sure the modern roads pretty much sit on what went before. There are a number of burial cairns and one (possibly the pretty much destroyed one on Threepland Hill) held some very important people because two identical gold lunalae were discovered in 1859. Bronze Age axes and spears have also been found in the valley as well.
Sometimes a good map or diagram is worth a thousand words in helping to describe or imagine a place. here is a link to an OS map of the valley with the option of clicking for aerial view etc.
I had intended making the short crossing over the top of White Hill to Cow Castle hillfort for a few pictures - but the beautiful, still, frosty afternoon suddenly took a much more aggressive turn and first sleet, then snow began blowing in horizontally. I descended back down by the spring and said hello to a farmer and his collie dog as they rode their quad along the hill track carrying some bags of sheep feed. They waved back and headed further round towards Kilbucho. I was back at the car in ten minutes and in front of my fireplace ten minutes after that. The sleet battered at the window and I reached for the log basket. I was glad I was not trying to keep warm at Mitchelhill Rings.