BACK in April I found myself with a few days to spare so I decided to head to Scotland to walk from Callander to Killin, with the only reason being that I wanted to trek along the old railway line through Glen Ogle.
I started to do a bit of research in terms of daily mileage and where I could expect to stay. And then I found out that Callander to Killin was part of the Rob Roy Way, which stretches for 94-miles between Drymen and Pitlochry; about the same length as the West Highland Way.
I couldn’t do the full Rob Roy Way because I didn’t have enough time, and with Callander to Killin being a two-day walk I opted to extend my route backwards to Aberfoyle to give me an extra day.
Earlier on in the planning stage I’d considered following the old railway line from Killin to Crianlarich, although it didn’t seem very accessible from the OS map I’d looked at on Bing Maps and after a bit of research on Walkhighlands it proved to be the case; the general consensus being that it was overgrown, and the bridges were missing meaning I’d have to scramble down to whatever the viaduct went over (more than likely a stream or a river) and then I’d have to cross that and get back up the other side.
There’s a section of disused railway that’s returned to nature near where I live and it’s hard work walking along it, so I abandoned that idea and opted to finish in Killin.
The weather in the Trossachs back in the second week of April was quite calm; no high winds, a bit of sun and just about warm enough for a T-shirt; although I nearly gave in on a couple of occasions and put a fleece on.
I arrived at Aberfoyle just after noon and parked the car in a street above the town, put on my walking boots, grabbed my backpack and set off. I also locked the car. After a quick detour to the Co-op to buy food for my 10-mile afternoon trek I headed along the road that had brought me in and just as the houses ended I took a left and headed along a track towards Dounans, Scottish Outdoors Education Centres’ “busiest and largest” such place.
The Rob Roy Way skirted past it and took a sharp right along the edge of a forest with the local golf club down the hill below.
The trail was a real forest track; wide and built of compacted stone to take the weight of forestry vehicles. Soon it headed into the forest proper, gently climbing all the way until the track petered out to a footpath.
A little further on and I crossed at a stile close Bealach Cumhang and for the next mile I was on open moorland with the ridge of the Monteith Hills to my left. Back in the forest , and on another well-made forest track, I was soon at the small loch of Allt A’ Chip Dhuibh and at the far end there were a couple of jetties with boats attached to then, presumably for anglers. There was also a green hut and a bench next to it. I decide it was time to eat so I sat down and admired the view across the loch while soaking up the early spring sun.
As peaceful as it was I couldn’t stay there all afternoon, so off I set and after only a few minutes there was a clearing in the forest which opened up the view to Loch Venachar and beyond that the Corbett of Ben Ledi. A couple of miles on and I emerged from the trees at East Lodge and walked along a minor road to my overnight stop at Callander Hostel.
I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for about three years, and the moment when I walked into the dormitory I realised why I don’t use them very often; I just don’t that really like them all that much.
Callander Hostel was very nice, it looked pretty much like every other hostel I’d ever stayed in, it was clean, it was warm, it was full of people that I didn’t know; some of whom I’d have to share a room with.
After checking in I then walked the few yards into Callander and looked for somewhere to eat. I had a walk up and down the high street and it was soon pretty obvious that Callander wasn’t perhaps the lifeless town that I’d written about previously.
There seemed to be quite a few shops that were evidently keen to give Callander the boot up the backside it needed to bring in younger customers; younger customers with spending power. I noticed a branch of Caledonian Country Wear, Applejacks coffee shop, the Mhor fish and chip shop plus a few other niche retailers.
According to the Daily Record newspaper, the town was on its knees a few months ago after the Edinburgh Woolen Mill shop closed down, but thanks to its “resourceful and talented residents, it has pulled together to come back from the brink”.
Perhaps something like more mountain bike trials would also help, after all they like nothing better than a good night out after a day in the hills; and they’re also generally in the age range with disposable incomes. You only need go to Fort William or Peebles when there’s a mountain bike event on to see how those places “buzz” in the evenings.
I went to one of the pubs to eat, and somehow managed to finish possibly the worst vegetable burger and chips I’d ever had. This isn’t TripAdvisor so I won’t name and shame the place, because I also quite like it and since the last time I was there (several years ago) it had been refurbished so it no longer looked like a cross between a Wild West saloon and a Ye Olde Scotland pub.
While I was eating a man came in with his wife. They joined a group of about five men already at the bar, and close to where I was sitting. The man was loud, and English; very English. He was a sort of cross between Ed Stewart and Lance Percival. He had opinions on everything, many of which were shot down by one of the men in the group.
And he had lots of stories; unfortunately the ones involving other people entailed some kind of mishap or embarrassment for them, while the ones about him were boastful and all related to something he’d done or achieved.
But that wasn’t all; he was wearing salmon-coloured trousers, a blue sweater and a blue straw pork pie hat. And all the time he was there his wife chatted to the other men in the group.
I left and stood on the pavement outside and made a few phone calls to book my B&B for the next two nights. I originally wanted to stay in Balquhidder, purely because it looked like an interesting and peaceful place and it was only a couple of miles off the Rob Roy Way.
However, it’s very small place and accommodation was almost non-existent plus there was no pub or village shop so I decided to stay in Strathyre, but that’s only a village with 100 people and everywhere was booked up so I had to extend the next day’s walk to Lochearnhead, which is another place with not much there, but I did manage to get a bed for the night in a hotel overlooking Loch Earn.
The day after Lochearnhead I would be in Killin and I knew there wouldn’t be any problem getting a bed there for the night, as the first phone call I made proved.
Beds booked, I thought I’d go up Callander Crags. From my OS map I couldn’t quite work out how to get to them; there were various footpaths but they only seemed to be at the top; so not knowing the area I did the only sensible thing I could think of and decided to make my own way up.
I walked a little way out of the town to Trean Farm and followed a track past that which seemed to go very close to the top, and I assumed I’d be able to make my own way from there (and, who knows, find a path down?).
From close to the Trean Farm I followed a road with several switchbacks and after that a track that went on and on. I slogged uphill (the veg burger was resting heavy on my stomach) until I got to a metal farm gate. I climbed over it into followed the track though another field with sheep and lambs in it – none of which seemed happy for me to be there – until I came to another gate.
I climbed over that and then after about 100 yards the track just stopped and all that lay beyond it was a hillside festooned with toppled Scotch pine trees. But the top was within striking distance.
There really was no way I was going to try and get though it; the forest floor was thick and spongy and the toppled trees were either too high to climb over or too low to limbo.
So I turned back and went for a drink before heading to the hostel. To share a room with people I didn’t know.
To be continued…