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Chapter 4. - Surface and General Features

The surface of Forfarshire is highly diversified : it contains within its bounds districts that are highland, others that are lowland, and yet others that are maritime. In the north extend in a north-easterly direction the Grampian mountains, which rise ridge upon ridge from the Braes of Angus, their southern spurs, until they attain on the county march their highest general elevation of more than 3000 feet. With a breadth varying from 9 to 15 miles, they stretch for 24 miles through our county, where they are sometimes known as the Benchinnin mountains. A parallel expanse of lowland country to the south-east, 32 miles by 4 to 6 miles, is the fertile Howe of Angus, a portion of Strathmore. There follows, as we advance southwards, another parallel section, the Sidlaws, with their eastern and north-eastern spurs, a range from 3 to 6 miles broad and 22 miles long. The maritime district succeeds this, curving round the southern and eastern parts of Angus in a belt 37 miles by 3 to 8 miles.

The highland district is the largest and most picturesque. It occupies at least two-fifths of the whole shire. Through it various glens run from north to south, the chief being Glen Isla, Glen Prosen, Glen Clova, and Glen Esk. At the heads of these valleys rise the highest summits of the county, while their dividing ridges attain a scarcely lower altitude. The giant Glas Maol (3502 ft.) towers above the infant waters of the Isla. A particularly shapely, though less ambitious, hill, Mount Blair (2441 ft.), commands one of the most extensive and varied prospects in Scotland, and buttresses Glen Isla on the west. Ban-noch, Broad Cairn, and others on this part of the county march look down upon the sullen waters of Dubh Loch, a deep mountain tarn in Aberdeenshire directly under “dark Lochnagar.”

The Prosen finds its source in Mayar (3140 ft.); and Driesh and other heights separate its glen from that of Clova. Cat Law (2214 ft.), to the south-west of Prosen and Clova, has a wide prospect extending in clear weather almost from Stirling to Stonehaven.

Next come two minor glens, Glen Ogil with the Noran and Glen Lethnot with the Water of Saughs, lower down called West Water. To the north the broad expanse of the Wirren (2220 ft.) shuts in the valley of the North Esk on the south and gives it its final eastern trend. This is a fine hill. Its ample green slopes, indented with many a mountain stream but unscarred by these, seem to breathe peace.

On the north and east of Glen Esk there curves a noble series of rounded heights, almost matchless in the county for rugged grandeur. The Mark and the Tarf, two tributaries of the North Esk, each with its own glen, descend from the frontier heights. Conspicuous amongst these are Mount Keen (3077 ft.), Hill of Cat, and Mount Battock (2555 ft.), on whose summit three counties converge.

Forfarshire can scarcely vie in its highland scenery with western and northern Scotland. In general shape its mountains are oblong, rounded, or flat-topped. These tame braes and knocks and meals and shanks usually command vast expanses of heath-clad or barren plateaus, above which in unimpressive bosses project their loftier summits, or a sea of mountain billows severed by characterless depressions. But to this there are exceptions. If on a smaller scale, there are precipices and peaks that recall those of Glencoe, and corries and tarns as desolate as any in the Cairngorms. Such are Caenlochan, a sublime corry that gashes the north-eastern shoulder of Glas Maol; Craig Rennet, that soars like an Alpine precipice 1000 feet sheer above the White Water of Glen Doll; and the serrated cliffs of Craig Maskeldie overhanging the tarn of Carlochy high above Loch Lee.

Strathmore, or the Howe of Angus, as the Forfarshire portion of it is called, is a fine expanse of fertile land in the heart of the county. It is not flat, but diversified by numerous eminences. Many of these are isolated, while others extend in more or less continuous mimic ranges. On the whole they belong either to the Braes of Angus or to the Sidlaws. Amongst the former are the Hills of Kingoldrum and Kirriemuir, and the White and the Brown Caterthun ; amongst the latter, the Hills of Kin-nettles, Finhaven, Turin, Balmashanner, and Dunnichen. Some are wooded, and within their bounds flow tiny streams through lateral valleys. The strath contains a series of small lochs which add much to the attractions of the landscape. No finer view of the Howe of Angus can be obtained than that from a point about two miles to the south-west of Forfar on the Dundee road. The peaks of the distant central highlands of Perthshire—Ben Lawers, Schiehallion, Ben-y-Gloe, and the entire Ben-chinnin range from Glas Maol to Mount Battock, stretch in clearly defined outline along the west and north ; the gentler heights of the Sidlaws extend in finely marshalled array to the south-west; and the wide strath with its fields and lakelets, its hills and woods, its villages and towns, is unrolled in the foreground and to right and left.

The next district takes its character and its name from the Sidlaw Hills. Starting from Kinnoull Hill, these hills enter Angus at Gask. Many of their most picturesque, though not their loftiest summits, are already passed before the bold cliffs of Lundie, whose surrounding woods are jewelled with lochs, the tower-crowned Kilpurnie, and the wooded hill of Auchterhouse (1399 ft.) are reached, and the greatest height of the entire chain is attained in Craigowl (1493 ft.). Seen from the opposite shore of Fife, this last mountain appears to dominate the. whole district and forms a grand background to the city of Dundee, on which the nearer cone-shaped Law Hill looks down. Between these two there stretches from east to west the fertile district of Strathmartine.


Three fairly well marked ridges strike outwards from the neighbourhood of Craigowl : one may be traced in the succession of heights, many of them wooded, that descend to the coast near Monifieth ; the central ridge broadens out to north and south as it advances eastwards to the cliffs at Arbroath and the Red Head near Lunan Bay; and the third and highest extends eastwards to the South Esk, whose valley it bounds on the south all the way to Montrose.

Maritime Forfarshire is that portion of the county which lies between the Sidlaws and the Tay or the ocean. From the western marches to the mouth of the North Esk, a line traversing this region and parallel to the coast is about 37 miles long. This district is widest in the west and narrows as the hills approach the sea in the east. The ground undulates and rises not infrequently into knolls and even hills, many of which are planted with fine woods. Near the sea, between Broughty Ferry and Arbroath and again between the mouths of the two Esks, there are wide expanses of downs or links. The links are valuable for grazing, and for their numerous rabbit warrens. In certain parts they have been laid out as golf courses, of which those of Monifieth, Barry, Carnoustie, Elliot, and Montrose are noteworthy.

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