Hills: Knock Hill (364m), Saline Hill (359m), Easter Cairn (355m)
These hills are prominent landmarks in West Fife and Eastern Clackmannanshire and as such provide extensive views of the lower lying countryside. As the 3rd, 4th and 6th highest hills in Fife, Knock Hill, Saline Hill and Easter Cairn (a hillfort site) make up some of the highest ground within the Kingdom. A suggested 5 – 6 mile circular route combining the three summits is described.
Saline Hill (Mid Cairn) and Easter Cairn
Although it has recognition as a hill in its own right (source: Database of British and Irish Hills), Easter Cairn is really the eastern top of Saline Hill. However, it is notable for being the site of a hillfort and well worth including in an ascent of the main summit, Mid Cairn.
This area is working countryside so respect any notices requesting dogs on leads and ensure you are familiar with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Livestock (both cattle and sheep) will very probably be encountered. Be prepared for some barb wire fences at the summit area. Leave gates as you find them and if you have to climb them, do so at the hinged end.
Via North West shoulder (green route on map)
This route starts at an old quarry area at grid reference NT 027 936. This area can be reached from Steelend / Saline on a path/farm track via Killernie, or via a short walk from the public road at Balgonar. A walk-in along the track / core path from Knockhill Racing Circuit via West Lethans and Sherdrum is also possible. The suggested route below describes the route from Steelend to the quarry. The Saline Glen path can be used to reach Steelend from Saline.
From the track next to the quarry area, go through the broken section of the wall and turn right onto a muddy track. Follow the track as it bears left and starts to go up hill. When the track terminates the remainder of the ascent is off-path on grassy hillside. This is a relatively gentle ascent up the north west shoulder of the hill to the main summit at Mid Cairn where a barb wire fence needs to be negotiated. From Mid Cairn walk eastwards alongside a plantation of Scots Pine to reach the site of the fort at Easter Cairn.
From the South (magenta route on map)
This is the route used for the descent in the suggested walk described below. It is primarily off path and in late Summer the grass can be quite long in places. It does have the advantage of not requiring to negotiate any fences.
A stile at NT 03990 92363 provides access from the Killernie path at the back of Steelend into the field on the south side of the hill. Head up hill across the field aiming for an obvious deer gate into the next field. An area of newly planted trees is now crossed to reach a further deer gate on the northern side of this field. Once through the gate turn left to follow the fence line up the hill to Wester Cairn. From here it is a straightforward walk to the main summit. A direct approach from the gate to the summit is possible but the ground is steep and clad with gorse.
From the North (red route on map)
A farm track goes up the northern side of the hill almost directly to the summit of Easter Cairn. The track starts at NT 039 923 where a “private road” sign indicates the way. Under the current Scottish access legislation this can only apply to vehicles. The start of the track can be reached from Steelend/Saline by following paths and tracks around the western side of the hill via Killernie and Sheardrum. Shorter walks-in are possible from Balgonar or Outh Bridge/Knockhill Racing Circuit using a core path. The track is a straightforward ascent to the coll between Easter Cairn and Mid Cairn summits.
The easiest ascent is up the access track directly to the summit from Knockhill Racing Circuit which poses no problems. Keep left when the track splits so that you go uphill towards West Lethans. This route is shown in yellow on the route map.
If combining with Saline Hill / Easter Cairn, steep grassy ascent routes via its western side are possible. The ground between Knock Hill and Saline Hill can be very wet. A barb wire fence needs to be negotiated when approaching Easter Cairn summit from the Knock Hill side.
Knock Hill, Easter Cairn and Saline Hill Circular
Distance: 8.8 km / 5.5 miles
Ascent: 380 m / 1240 feet
Terrain: farm tracks, rough off path (boggy in places)
Start / finish: Steelend (parking at the Miners Welfare Institute or Community Centre)
A green Scotways sign indicates the start of the path at the east end of Steelend. The path can also be reached from the grassy park at the west end. Whichever approach is used the first landmark is a marker post that marks the route through Saline Glen. Take the unmarked path heading in a westerly direction for Killernie. Close to the ruin of Killernie Castle the path turns right through a gate on to a more obvious track. The farm and houses at Kilernie are the next landmark and at this point the path becomes a road. Keep straight on through a gate (don’t go left to the public road) and follow the edge of the field alongside a ditch. The path now skirts the western side of the hill with a plethora of gates and stiles until it reaches the access road coming in from Balgonar.
At this point there is a quarry area to the right where the route up the north west shoulder starts from. Keeping straight on though, the track is now surfaced for a while but beyond Sheardrum it becomes muddy where cattle have churned it up. Pass a cattle feeding area close to where the track up the northern side of the hill starts from. However, keep straight on through a gate into the trees where there is a ruin to the left. After the trees it is probably easiest to walk on the old railway embankment to the right.
When you reach a section of the railway line with some stone work (presumably the remains of a bridge) the core path turns right up the hillside. Pick a way up the hill keeping fairly close to the fence to the left. At the fence junction in the south east corner of the field go through the gate and left on to the dirt track to walk round Knock Hill.
At the next fence turn right off the track and onto the pathless hillside to go directly up Knock Hill. Higher up the ground becomes easier but the gradient starts to steepen. The summit, crowned with communications masts and a trig point, is soon reached. An alternative ascent would be to stay on the track and follow it round to West Lethans from where the access road up to the masts can be used for an easier ascent.
Descend in a south west direction directly down the grassy hillside. The ground becomes rougher and wetter at the coll between the hills. Cross the fence and start to go up the other side where the ground becomes drier and grassier. Before reaching the summit of Easter Cairn a barb wire fence needs to be crossed. Easter Cairn is the site of an old hill fort and at 355m is the 6th highest hill in Fife.
After this summit continue onwards between the wall and Scots pine plantation to reach the summit of Saline Hill (359m) at Mid Cairn.
To descend it is easiest to continue to the Wester Cairn area and turn south alongside a fence. Although a direct descent from Mid Cairn is possible the ground is rather steep and clad with gorse.
The fence will turn left so that it is running in an east / west direction. Use the high deer gate at NT 040 929 to access the next field. Cross this field, with newly planted trees, in a roughly south direction to reach another deer gate into the final field. Cross this grass field to reach a stile on its southern side at NT 039 923 giving access back on to the Killernie to Steelend path.