Further adventures on the Rob Roy Way: Callander to Killin

EARLIER this year I walked part of the Rob Roy Way, in Scotland. On the first day I trekked from Aberfoyle to Callander. Here’s my account of days two and three.

Callander to Lochearnhead

The next morning I ate breakfast at the hostel’s café and then made my way across the river and into Ledy Road. After stopping at Tesco Express to buy a few things for lunch I was on my way; only 14-miles and a hotel bed waiting for me at the end of it!

About 100 yards on from Tesco I took a left turn onto a path leading down to the old railway line, around half of which would take me to Lochearnhead.

Not long after joining the path I was walking through the Highland Fault Line; the geological force of nature that stretches from Arran and Helensburgh to Stonehaven, and defines the Highlands and the Lowlands.

This part of the Highland Fault Line is known as the Pass of Leny, and the Garbh Uisge river, the A84 road and the old Callander and Oban Railway line, parts of which closed in 1965 under the Beeching Axe and which I was walking on, all go through it. If only there was a canal to complete the line-up.

Near the bottom end of Loch Lubnaig I stopped for a coffee at the Forest Holidays site, and sat outside to drink it while trying to fathom out how I’d paid £2.80 for it when I’d struggle to pay that in Leeds city centre.

At Strathyre I ate a sandwich (bought earlier from Tesco) but didn’t loiter; only five miles to go to Lochearnhead and the sooner I got cracking the more chance I’d have of missing the rain that had been forecast for later in the afternoon.

The first section after Strathyre was truly horrid. An enormous (once I’d found it) compacted stone road through Strathyre Forest that just seemed to wind its way up and up. And the way down was just as tedious, and I had a feeling that I’d end up not all that far along the A84; which proved correct.

I should have continued following the cycle track that I’d mistakenly started walking along after lunch. It was a pointless diversion, and when I arrived at Mhor 84, a dinner cum motel just before Balquhidder Station, I saw a group of three men who were walking the full Rob Rob Way and who I’d said a brief hello to in Strathyre. They were knackered and not happy at having been on the steep forest diversion when they could also have followed the cycle path; which they too had inadvertently tracked for a bit.

Just beyond Mhor 82 the old railway line split into two; with the higher one heading left to Glen Ogle and the lower one going into Lochearnhead and then to St Fillans. The path eventually picked up the lower route and a little way beyond, at an area called Craggan, I left the old railway line and dropped down to the A84, all the time thinking about how I’d have to come back up the hill tomorrow morning, and then to my hotel for the night.

I was booked in at the Clachan Cottage Hotel, which thankfully had a pub attached because believe me there’s nothing else in Lochearnhead. It sits on the T-junction of the A84 and the A85, that tracks Loch Earn and passes through St Fillans and which I drove through in 2015 on my Scotland road trip and somehow managed not to notice a 10-feet high statue sitting on the edge of the water. It’s a work of art by Rob Mullholland and is officially called Still, although it generally goes by the moniker Mirror Man because of the hundreds of reflective tiles on it.

While I was checking in I had a chat with the owner, Neil, who’d started working there from school, moved around a bit with work, and eventually returned to Lochearnhead and bought the hotel. He also once dated a girl from Ilkley, which is about six-miles from where I live.

We chatted about the outdoors, and we’d both spent our childhoods going on little adventures which had spilled over into adult lives. One of his escapades involved him and his friends “borrowing” a rickety boat and rowing across Loch Earn to play in the grounds of the 16th century Edinample Castle, which at the time was derelict and wrapped in scaffolding, but has since been refurbished and is now a private house; and with it being in Scotland it’s said to be haunted.

Close by Edinample Castle at Carstran Bay there is an artificial island known as a crannog, which is one of two still visible in Loch Earn; the other being at the opposite end near St Fillans, and referred to as Neish Island. Both are thought to be from the Bronze Age.

Loch Earn is also said to be the home to a mythical beast known as a Water Horse, or Each Uisge. Legend has it that the creature would entice people to ride on its back, but the rider’s hands would stick to its back and they would be dragged under the water and be drowned.

After checking in I noticed a message waiting for me on my phone. I listened to it and it was the police. I dialled the number that had been left and a policewoman told me they’d received a call from someone in Aberfoyle who had seen me walk away with my boots on and backpack but hadn’t seen me return so they wondered if I’d gone up a hill and got in trouble.

Many years ago I set out from Ardvorlich, on the other side of Loch Earn and a bit beyond Edinample Castle, to climb the Munros of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin. It was the summer and I started the walk at about nine in the morning. The hike to Ben Vorlich was lovely; a reasonably straight, steep path eventually took me into a thin layer of mist, and as I popped my head though it the sun shone in my eyes, and there before me was the trig point and an all round view including that of the North Sea.

After a short break I set off on the short walk to Stuc a’ Chroin, which involved a descent of about 650ft to a saddle before climbing back up to roughly the same height at Ben Vorlich. Unfortunately the earlier layer of mist had drifted towards Stuc a’ Chroin so that when I got to the saddle I missed the path up and instead began climbing over rocks and boulders just to the left. My assumption, from what I’d seen of the hill when I was on Ben Vorlich, was that summit of Stuc a’ Chroin would be at the top of the rocks.

I climbed and clambered over the increasingly wet rocks. The mist wasn’t very thick and it was calm and warm day, but I realised that I was probably the only person on the hill and that if I slipped and injured myself then I’d be in big trouble. I also knew that unlike Ben Vorlich there wasn’t a trig point on the top so determining the summit in mist could have been difficult. So I took the sensible decision of turning around.

By the time I got back to the saddle and started the return journey to the top of Ben Vorlich there were several other people on the hill. Now that I wasn’t alone I did think about latching onto one of the groups of walkers but I couldn’t face another ascent so I continued on down. Two months later, and in glorious sunshine, I returned and bagged the two Munros, but couldn’t work out how I’d missed the path to Stuc a’ Chroin the first time around.

Lochearnhead to Killin

Today was the day I’d really been looking forward to; I’d be walking along the old railway on the side of Glen Ogle that I’d seen so many times before from the A84 road, and which was the whole reason for my little adventure.

From the hotel I retraced my steps to Craggan and up to the lower railway line. I was only on it for a few minutes before a zigzag path led me further uphill to the line that would take me through Glen Ogle and eventually Killin.

The previous day I’d covered 18-miles, far more than I was expecting but it had been an enjoyable walk (apart from the section through Strathyre Forest) and today’s trek was scheduled to be a mere eight-miles. One of the reasons I wanted to stay in either Balquhidder or Strathyre was to even out the mileage but it would be no bad thing arriving early in Killin as it was a place I’d visited on several occasions.

The old railway line had been converted to a path that was a mixture of Tarmac and shale, with long stretches in front giving stunning views across the valley.

After numerous times of driving along the A84 looking admiringly, and a little concerned at the graffiti on a retaining wall near to the Glen Ogle Viaduct which read “English go home”, it was finally my chance to walk across it; although in truth it would have been far better to have passed over it on a steam train back in the day.

As part of my research for the walk I’d found an image of an old railway poster on Flickr that showed the view down the valley from somewhere close to the Glen Ogle Viaduct. I’d saved the picture on my phone and every so often I had another look to see if I could find the exact spot.

My search was helped by the fact that the line had been cut through the rocky hillside leaving a distinct pinnacle jutting up on the left-hand side. It wasn’t difficult finding it, and very little had changed since the poster was originally designed around 60 years ago.

Near Lochan Lairig Cheile, the Rob Roy Way moved away from the railway line and crossed the A84. The owner of the Clachan Cottage had told me there was a tea van in a lay by there, and I’d been looking forward to it all morning; it would be a nice break before final few miles into Killin.

The van was there but it was closed so I sat down anyway on a picnic bench nearby, ate a sandwich (from the shop in Lochearnhead) and drank some water.

I headed into the forest which descended downwards for what felt at least a mile before turning into a forest track that eventually took me to a sharp right onto the old branch line into Killin.

I was still descending, although not as sharply as earlier, but it did make me think that it must have been a powerful engine to pull the carriages up the hill. I’m no railway engineer but I know that even the slightest incline can often be problematic.

The railway came to Killin in 1886, primarily to bring in tourists so they could take in the views of the surrounding hills and ride on the steamers of Loch Tay. Residents had petitioned the Callander and Oban Railway for a branch line from Glenoglehead but they had refused. Next the Caledonian Railway sought Parliamentary approval for a branch line but that failed so locals, with the backing of the Marquis of Breadalbane, decided to build the line themselves.

I arrived in Killin at about 1pm, far too early to check into my B&B so I went in the Falls of Dochart Inn for a drink. The sun was shining so I sat outside and a couple of minutes later a woman came around the corner from the car park wearing a bobble hat in the shape and colours of a pink fairy cake.

Afterwards I walk slowly along the road through the village, Main Street, trying to kill time, although I did see if anyone was in at my B&B (which had a sign in comic sans font) but there wasn’t. As I continued along the high street I noticed that there were plenty of people around but that I was the only one wearing outdoor clothing; mostly black and dark grey, and even my backpack was black and I was wearing sunglasses. Should I have felt out of place?

At the far end I sat on a bench on a triangular piece of grass near the Killin Hotel soaking up the sun, and briefly fell asleep.

It was still too early to go to my B&B so I crossed the road and went for a walk around Breadalbane Park. On my way there I noticed that at some point in the recent past the village hall, the McLaren Hall, had had its windows replaced by UPVC ones, turning the structure from a lovely example of 1930’s vernacular architecture into a bland and ugly block of stone.

I continued along the high street and at the bridge over the Fall of Dochart I climbed over the parapet wall and onto an island and followed a path to the far end (only about 100 yards) and sat on the rocks and watched the river crashing by.

I was getting hungry so I left the island, carried on over the bridge and went back to the Fall of Dochart Inn to eat, and to write up some more notes about my walk. While I was waiting for my food to arrive two couples arrived and sat together. They were in their 60s and the men were decked out in slacks and roll knock sweaters with v-neck pullovers over the top. They were dressed for the golf course (in the 1980s). I had a feeling they might have arrived in a Rover 75.

I finally checked into my B&B and after a shower I headed out for a walk along the final part of the railway line to where it used to terminate on the edge of Loch Tay, and where tourists would then get onto a steamer.

After the sun had set I went to the Courie Inn, conveniently located opposite my B&B. I hadn’t been in for about six years when I’d watched Scotland playing in an autumn international rugby game on a television in a corner near the bar. I’d been staying in Killin after failing to climb An Caisteal, near Crianlarich, due to the rain. I’d made it to the Corbett, Sron Gharbh, and the final peak had been within easy reach but the rain had been getting worse, the sky darker and the ground more and more waterlogged so I’d decided to abandon.

The Courie had undergone a complete makeover since my last visit, so much so that I expected to see a couple of hipsters there drinking craft beer (in bottles, of course). After some food and a couple of drinks I headed back to River Dochart island and returned to the same spot to sit in the dark and listened again to the water thundering past.

In the morning I awoke to light sleet, and I just hoped that when I got back to Aberfoyle it wouldn’t have turned to snow because my car, a Mazda MX-5, isn’t good in such in weather. However, returning to Aberfoyle proved to be a bit of a problem. From what I’d knew I could get a bus to Callander but not to Aberfoyle, but I decided to get off there anyway and see if the tourist information could help. I was told that there hadn’t been a bus for many years but I could get one to Stirling (15.7 miles) and then to Aberfoyle (19.5 miles); or a taxi. I did consider walking the 10-miles and even though it would have been easy it would have delayed my journey home.

I did a bit of window shopping and then ordered a taxi. As I looked out of the car window I could see the line of the hills that I would have gone through if I’d decided to walk. The sleet was still coming down and I was glad I’d got a cab, but thankfully it wasn’t sticking to the road.

It had been a great three days; and all I need to do know is plan a return trip to walk the rest of it, or at least the section from Killin to Pitlochry.

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