Despite having lived in Dundee on and off since 1997, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that until today I had never been to see the Balgarthno stone circle.
The site had been cleared of grass, and was completely “bald”, save for quite a bit of broken glass. Still, I found it quite a cheery place, even with the noise of the A90, the power lines and the industrial estate.
It was gloriously sunny and crisp day today, with hardly a cloud in the sky, so I was going to make the most of it. But getting out of Dundee to the north on a bike isn’t the easiest thing to do. If you want to avoid cycling on the incredibly busy Kingsway then you’re faced with finding your way through a myriad of housing estates.
I decided the best route would be to head out of Dundee altogether. I cycled out on the Coupar Angus road and turned off along the edge of the Templeton Woods before cutting across to Bridgefoot. Just south of Bridgefoot is a farm called Baldragon.
This is just one of several places in the area associated with a dragon legend. According to the story, a farmer at Pitempton had nine daughters. He sent one of them to fetch water from a well, and when she didn’t return, he sent another daughter, and another, and another, until they were all lost. The farmer went out to look for them and discovered that a dragon had killed them all. Martin, the lover of one of the girls, set out to kill the dragon, which he did, apparently on the spot where there is now a Pictish stone called St Martin’s Stone.
The stone bears a carving of a snake, said to be a representation of the dragon which killed the nine maidens. The legend bears similarities with other dragon-slaying stories from around the world, but it may simply be a story created to explain local placenames. In fact the dragon element found in some Scottish placenames – although deriving from the Gaelic for dragon, dreagan – was used as a metaphorical description for a hero.
Continuing north, I turned east at Smithy House and after about 300m stopped at the edge of a field, just before Dunian. I lifted my bike over the fence, and wheeled it up the hill, following the wall. Reaching a crest, I could see the Balkemback stone circle in the next field.
One of the stones has cup-marks on it.
Back down on the road I headed back to the junction at Smithy House, this time continuing straight on to the west. I’d spotted Standing Stone of Balkello on my map, but hadn’t checked CANMORE so had no idea what to expect.
I was cycling along, I saw the top of it poking out of long grass, so climbed up over the wall and waded through. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a big stone, but as I got closer I realised it was huge, almost a metre taller than me.
Having spent all morning climbing up into the foothills of the Sidlaws I was glad to turn around and freewheel back down again via Bridgefoot, St Mary’s and Lochee to home.