Pitlochry Day 5 (Blair Atholl)
Thursday, we again had an excellent lie in, and a lazy breakfast in the cottage wherein we discussed what we might want to do. There were three hikes that I had in mind as possibilities. 1) The mountain we’d skirted around on our Killiecrankie walk, 2) the loop near the top of the mountain we’d traversed on our Strathtay walk or 3) further up the Tummel river to see “Queen’s View“. The problem was that 2 of those were hilly, and one was long. We didn’t want to continue to tax Sam, and Carolyn’s feet were causing her some problems from ill-fitting hiking boots.
We briefly considered alternate activities. There’s a row boat hire on Loch Faskally that we considered, but eventually rejected because Sam and Carolyn would be too sedentary. There is a cycle hire just down from us that we went to visit. We ultimately rejected it too in part from cost, in part from my concern that I would find a heavy hybrid without at least toeclips a frustrating experience, and also b/c Carolyn was worried about it also being too taxing. So instead, we took the train up to Blair Atholl.
Blair Atholl is home to Blair Castle – a 5-star visitor attraction according to the Scottish Tourism Board, and it’s something Carolyn was keen to see since we were here. But our real purpose was for hiking. We had a couple of different “Pitlochry Hikes” guides, and one of them had a loop near Blair Atholl that looked easy enough to short-circuit should we find we need to, so we headed off.
I led us astray pretty quickly. Just after crossing the Bridge of Tilt, I led us along the road instead of the forested path near the road. In my defence it was hard to tell the difference from the scale of the map. It didn’t take us long to find my error though and to find our way down to the path that took us up the river Tilt. We followed this along with occasional diversions for some clambering along rocks next to the river (mostly on my part). This path eventually dumped us on the road up near the “Old Bridge of Tilt”.
In trying to figure out where to go next, we got rather cross with each other. This made it clear we needed to have some lunch. We did so down a small dirt road next to some tilt-y tributary. Even afterward, we had some trouble making out where to go. Both the map for this hike and the general Ordinance Survey (OS) map indicated a path that we wanted to take. The actual planned hike continued along the road, but we wanted to hike in the woods. Eventually, we sussed out what seemed reasonable for it. The main problem with what we figured out was that the very beginning of it went through someone’s front yard, around their house where they appeared to be mid-project on some refurbishment effort and then out a back gate of theirs into what appeared to be their horse pasture. After much hemming and hawing and re-reading the bit on the OS map about rights-of-way in Scotland, we took the path. A friendly white horse came up to greet us, but was ultimately disappointed when I had no treat for it. Our feeling of trespass continued as the gate we next came to was not easily transited. We opted for “over” instead of “untie the rope holding it closed.” I was glad when we got far enough ’round the arc of the hill that we were no longer in direct sight of the house.
The path lead us into the woods, in a way that indicated it was neither a well-used nor a well-maintained trail. There was a fallen tree across it and no evident re-made path around it. This led me to doubt my conclusion about where we were on the OS map, so I backed us out of the forest and took us up the hill at the edge of the trees and got us onto some other farmland. The shape of the land and the hearty fence that blocked our path soon confirmed I should not have doubted my original assessment, so back down onto the blocked path we went.
We skirted that first fallen tree. We climbed over the second. Around the third. Over/under the fourth according to our hight. And then it got worse. “It looks like we’re walking in a tree graveyard!” exclaimed Sam at one point. Nonetheless, the original road/trail was still evident even if at some points we had to divert from it to get around so many downed trees that we could not even see where it lay. We did make our way back to it though, and it did eventually lead us to a junction with a wider, better maintained trail where the suggested hike joined the adventure hike we had chosen in its place.
This trail dumped us out along a “gorgeous steep hillside all green and gold and speckled with munching, watchful sheep and their playful lambs” as Carolyn put it. Indeed, there were sheep aplenty, and the frolicking lambs were a delight to watch. We marched onward finding dashing, babbling brooks, weathered trees on craggy hillsides and the wonder of a 4-year old. “Daddy, isn’t it interesting that sheep live in their food and in their toilets?”
We took a fortuitous snack-break near a signpost. I call it fortuitous because again I was reading the map imagery rather than the written instructions for the hike. The instructions that said “Turn left across a stile into thick woodland – take care as this junction could be easily missed.” As a result, we did not miss this junction.
As we were snacking, a pair of jets rocketed overhead. I’d be interested to see an aviation map, but it certainly seems like this area must be under military airspace. We’ve seen some low-flying military jets for many of our days here. And these were certainly low-flying – probably 500 feet AGL though they seemed even closer because we could feel their passing in our bodies as they thundered by. We remarked on being glad that we were in peacetime (relatively) and that they were friendly fighters (relatively).
Not long after, we came down and crossed the River Tilt on Gilbert’s Bridge, and headed back south toward Blair Atholl. After crossing (somewhat nervously) through the Jubilee firing range, we again diverted from the suggested hike to take a trail closer to the river. This we did, and had a lovely stroll back into Blair Atholl. One of the strangest things in my mind was the Atholl Caravan Park in the shadow of the Blair Castle. I understand the appeal of modular, “mobile” housing, but in my mind they are like plastic flowers. They are missing the soul of that which they mimic.
Back in Blair Atholl, we had a decision to make. We had not quite an hour before our train back to Pitlochry. We could have a rushed dinner there, or a later dinner back in Pitlochry. We chose the latter, but were turned out from two “open” restaurants in Pitlochry as they were “just about” to close. We finally wound up with Chinese take-away (for me) and left-over Indian food for the girls. I also cracked open my un-chillfiltered Edradour. It turned out to be a great meal back at the cottage, and the end to another wonderful holiday day.