Hill Fort: OS Grid Reference – NO 35464 44395
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 32139
- Law of Denoon
Travelling north through Balkeerie on the Newtyle/Glamis road, turn right onto the Denoon road and follow it to the T-junction. Turn right and, a few hundred yards on to your left, the large hillfort of Denoon Law rises up to your left. You can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
Denoon Law is an impressively lush and green hill fort hidden away in the Sidlaw Hills, in the Denoon Glen, parallel to the Vale of Strathmore. It can be entered froma gap in the ramparts on the north side. Be careful of the precipitous drop from the south east side!
In the County Angus survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland (1983), they describes it thus:
‘This fort crowns the summit of Denoon Law, a steep-sided volcanic plug on the NW side of Denoon Glen, a narrow valley at the N end of the Sidlaw Hills. The fort is roughly D-shaped on plan with the chord of the D formed by a long straight rampart that stands above the precipitous SE flank of the hill. It measures 105m from NE to SW by 55m transversely within a rampart that measures up to 17m in thickness and over 5m in external height but is clearly of more than one phase. Where the differentiation is clear, the latest phase of rampart measures about 6m in thickness and overlies the remains of a much thicker earlier rampart. Intermittently visible at the SW end of the fort is an outer face to the later rampart, comprising drystone walling that has, in places, been displaced downslope by the weight of core material behind. This outer face comprises no more than four or five courses of thin sandstone slabs and, although what is currently visible will only be the top of the surviving wall-face, a wall constructed of such material cannot have stoodto any great height and what we see today is likely to be the remains of some form of comparatively low revetment. In both the earlier and later ramparts there is very little evidence of stone within the core and it appears that the material (boulder clay) for both has largely been derived from several large quarries within the interior of the fort. At the SW corner of the fort most of the rampart has been removed, leaving only the lower part of the outer talus. The fort, or at least its latest phase, had two entrances, one on the NE and another on the NW, both of which are crossed by the remains of a narrow, later, wall that runs around the entire circuit of the fort and may be associated with at least some of the buildings within the interior.
Outwith the main rampart there is a series of three outer ramparts, again with very little evidence for the use of stone in their construction, which run from the edge of the very steep slope at the NE end of the fort, around the N side to the entrance on the NW. All three lines of defence have been reduced to little more than terraces, though there is no evidence for them ever having been cultivated. At the entrance on the NW, the terminals of these ramparts (on both sides of the entrance) are obscured below outwash deposits from the slope above. To the SW of the entrance it is not at all clear what the relationship is between the defences of the fort and the enclosure that occupies the rocky and extremely uneven SW flank of the hill. This enclosure, which has an entrance on the W, could be some form of annexe or it could represent the SW end of an enclosure that once took in both this area and the rest of the summit.
Within the interior of the fort there are the remains of at least nine rectangular buildings, two of them large and open-ended and each overlain by a smaller, later structure. The freestanding buildings are represented by the footings of walls with inner and outer stone faces; close to the entrance on the NE, however, there are two buildings represented by simple rectangular platforms cut into the rear scarp of one of the prehistoric quarries in one case and the hollow of the entrance passage in another. On the N flank of the hill, overlying the outer defences, there are a number of structures, either taking the form of subrectangular structures with walls (and in one case an entrance) or simple scoops into the slope.’
David Dorward’s definition of the name Denoon is from the Gaelic:
‘dun obhainn (+ Scots law) – [hill of the] fort of the streamlet.’
The streamlet is the Ewnie Burn flowing south-east of the Law.
James Cargill Guthrie, in his The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, gives the following story from an,
‘early time, weird-like, a legend’s muffled chime ‘.
‘The Hill of Denoon was at that remote period accounted sacred or haunted ground. It was the mythical abode of the elfins and fairies, and formerly a fitting haunt for their midnight revelries.
When the silvery moonbeams lovingly slept in dreamy beauty on the green slopes of the enchanted Hill, and the blue bells and the purple heather were wet with the dew of angels’ tears, arrayed in gossamer robes of bespangled gold, with wands of dazzling sheen and lances of magical bright-ness, would the troops of elfins flauntingly dance to the music of the zephyrs, until the shrill cry of the chanticleer put an end for the time to their mystical enchantments.
Suddenly, as in blue clouds of vapour, they noiselessly vanished away, no sound remaining to break the oppressive stillness, save that of the mountain rivulet, as it fretfully leapt from crag to crag, as if piteously regretting the mysterious departure of its ethereal visitors.
Having forsworn the presence and companionship of the terrestrial inhabitants of earth, it was a sacred dictum in the code of the fairies that no habitation for human beings should be permitted to be built within the hallowed precincts of the enchanted ground. Unable of themselves to guard against such sacrilegious encroachment, they had recourse to the aid of, and formed a secret compact with the demons, or evil spirits, whose sole avocation consisted in doing mischief, and bringing trouble and misfortune on those under the ban of their displeasure. By this compact these evil spirits became solemnly bound to prevent any human habitation whatever from being erected on the hill, and to blast in the bud any attempts whensoever and by whomsoever made to break this implacable, unalterable decree.
It was about this time the alarm-note was sounded, as the Queen of the Fairies, who, with an eye more observant than the rest of her compeers, observed one evening in the moon-light, certain indications of the commencement of a human habitation. Horror and dismay were instantly pictured on the fair countenances of the masquerading troops of merry dancers as the awful truth was ominously revealed to them by the recent workmanship of human hands.
A council of war was immediately held, when it was determined to summon at once the guardian spirits to their aid and protection.
“By our sacred compact,” cried the Queen, “I command the immediate attendance of all the demons and evil spirits of the air, to avenge the insult now offered to the legions of Fairyland, and to punish the sacrilegious usurpers who dare infringe the sanctity of their mystical domains.”
These demons instantly obeyed the haughty summons, and, in the presence of those they had sworn to protect, they in a twinkling demolished the structure, hurling the well-proportioned foundations over the steep rock into the vale beneath !
The builder, doubtless very much surprised and chagrined when he returned to his work in the early dawn of the following morning, was sorely puzzled to account for the entire disappearance of the solid foundations of the great castle he intended to be erected on the Hill. He did not, however, waste much time, or use much philosophic argument, on the matter, and gave orders to prepare new foundation of even a more durable character.
The demons, to show their invincible power, and for the sake of more effect, allowed the new foundations to rise a degree higher than the former, before they gave out their fiat of destruction. In an instant, however, they were again demolished, and the builder this time gravely assigning some fatal shock of Nature as the cause of the catastrophe quietly resolved to repair the damage by instantly preparing new and still more solid foundations.
Additional and more highly skilled workmen were engaged, and everything for a time went favourably on, the walls of the castle rising grandly to view in all the solidity and beauty of the favourite architecture of the period.
Biding their time, the demons again ruthlessly swept away as with a whirlwind every vestige of the spacious halls, razing the solid massy foundations so effectually that not one stone was left upon another !
Things were now assuming a rather serious aspect for the poor builder, who, thinking that he had at last hit upon the true cause of these successive disasters, attributed his misfortunes to the influence of evil spirits. A man of courage and a match, as he imagined, for all the evil spirits of Pandemonium, supposing they were let loose at once against him by the Prince of Darkness, he unhesitatingly resolved to keep watch and ward on the following night, and to defy all the hosts of hell to prevent him rebuilding the projected edifice. The night expected came ; but, alas, alas !
His courage failed when on the blast
A demon swift came howling past,
Loud screeching wild and fearfully,
This ominous, dark, prophetic cry
“Build not on this enchanted ground !
‘Tis sacred all these hills around ;
Go build the castle in a bog,
Where it will neither shake nor shog !”‘
So, if you are planning to visit Denoon Law – remember: RESPECT THE FAERIES!
- Guthrie, James Cargill, The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, Edinburgh, William Patterson, 1875.
- Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Central Angus, Angus District, Tayside Region, The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 18. Edinburgh, 1983.
- Dorward, David, The Sidlaw Hills, Forfar, The Pinkfoot Press, 2004.
©Paul T Hornby 2018