Monday, 17 May 2010

CRAIGOWER, Pitlochry, Perthshire

From the viewpoint at the peak of Craigower looking west you can see along Loch Tummel to Schiehallion (the regular shaped mountain on the horizon).

This walk is circa 5 Km on clear woodland paths and returning, in part on a dirt road. There is a steep section but is otherwise a fairly gentle climb - the viewpoint is at 400 Mt and the small carpark is at 200 Mt.

From Pitlochry drive to Moulin, turn left at the Moulin Inn then left again to Balnacraig where there is a small car park. From there you walk firstly through farm land then through the Pitlochry Golf Course where you get the full splendour of the walk ahead.

Carry on through the golf course until the path takes you into the woods where can look back over Pitlochry and down the Tay Valley.

After a short distance, you cross a dirt road and re-enter the woodland which is where the steeper ascent starts.

Eventually the dense forest opens up as you get close to the summit and with it come much more panoramic views such as this looking south west over Pitlochry.

This is owned by the National; Trust for Scotland and is a particularly important habitat for butterflies (you will see lots of Buddleia on your eventual descent).

There are steps to help you reach the actual summit which has some seating to help you rest, take in the views and plunder you thermos flask and picnic haversack.

As well as the more southerly views there are good vistas west towards Schiehallion (see pic at top of this post) and north over Fonvuick.

It is worth digressing for a minute to describe the importance of Schiehallion (Scottish Gaelic: Sìdh Chailleann) as it has a rich botanical life, interesting archaeology, and a unique place in scientific history for an 18th-century experiment in 'weighing the world'.

The name Schiehallion is an anglicised form of the Gaelic name Sìdh Chailleann, usually translated as 'Fairy Hill of the Caledonians' but may also be translated as 'The Maiden's Pap', or 'Constant Storm'. It lies between Loch Tay and Loch Tummel, 10 miles north of Aberfeldy in Perthshire. The mountain (3547 ft/1083m) is isolated from other peaks and has an almost perfect conical shape from the west. The view of the broad eastern flank attracts many visitors to the shores of Loch Tummel. It is sometimes described as the centre of Scotland, the justification for which is that the line of latitude midway between the most northerly and southerly points on the Scottish mainland, and the line of longitude midway between the most easterly and westerly points, intersect very near the summit of Schiehallion.

Schiehallion's isolated position and regular shape led it to be selected by Charles Mason for a ground-breaking experiment to estimate the mass of the Earth in 1774. The deflection of a pendulum by the mass of the mountain provided an estimate of the mean density of the Earth, from which its mass and a value for Newton's Gravitational constant G could be deduced. Mason turned down a commission to carry out the work and it was instead coordinated by Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne. He was assisted in the task by mathematician Charles Hutton, who devised a graphical system to represent large volumes of surveyed heights, later known as contour lines which are seen in Ordnance Survey maps to this day.

The descent from the viewpoint is a little less interesting than the ascent, but at least it is downhill. You do get the odd panoramic view, as above, and eventually you drop back onto the woodland path that returns you to the golf course and the car park.

In conclusion, quite a good walk that has a strenuous stretch, so not one for the unfit.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

DRUMMOND HILL, Kenmore, Perthshire

A moderately strenuous forest walk with a spectacular view at Black Rock but otherwise only glimpses of the distance. Good woods.

To get the best of this you need to combine two waymarked walks which makes the distance over 7Km. Although the highest point, Black Rock itself is at 300 metres according to the Ordnance Survey map and the walk starts at circa 125 metres, the first part of the walk seems long and fairly steep in stretches. The last third of the walk is through woodland and looks as though it could be extremely muddy after heavy rain. Good walking boots are recommended.

You reach Kenmore from Aberfeldy on the A827. Once you cross the bridge over the Tay you turn immediately right heading for Dull and Weem. A little way along this road is a Forestry Commission car park where the walk starts.

Carry on up and avoid the first right turn (with the red waymark post) until you reach a sharp right turn marked by a red and blue stripe waymark). Here you enter the forest proper and start the ascent through larch, spruce and douglas fir that were planted after the war in one of the Forestry Commission's first projects to repair the drain on resources that had taken place. The forest was originally planted in the seventeenth century by the Laird of Breadalbane. 

The paths at this point are in fact well maintained dirt roads.

Interestingly Drummond Hill had been chosen as the site to trial the reintroduction of Capercaillie in 1837 after the bird had become extinct due to hunting. They are still an endangered species and the population has fallen dramatically over the last 50 years. They are shy birds and are rarely seen but more frequently heard - it has a distinctive 'clip clop' call. They need dense, mature woodland for cover and open space for their less than agile flight. Curiously they nest on the ground but sleep in the trees, which must make rearing their young a stressful time.

At the top of this long ascent turn left following the blue waymarks which will get you to the nicely constructed view point of Black Rock. Here is the place to eat your sandwiches , drink your water and take photographs of Loch Tay, Kenmore and Creag an Fhudair (Kenmore Hill) opposite.

The next part of the walk starts by retracing your steps then continues on the Forestry Commission road heading east. This is mostly level or down hill but is a long and rather uninspiring stretch with only occasional glimpses of the distant Tay Valley or Taymouth Castle - see next pics.

There is a fair amount of forest husbandry taking place which you either find admirable or depressing - depending on where you're coming from, nature-wise.

After about 2Km of this road there is a red waymark that takes you back on yourself via a forest path. Personally, I found this a blessed relief as the previous road was both hard on the feet and a bit boring on the eye.

However, this path takes you through quite dense but interesting woodland with a mix of conifer, spruce and larch plus the odd beech. It is slightly muddy at the best of times and hoof prints tell that this is used for hacking so keep your ears as well as your eyes open - you may have to jump to safety! This is quite photogenic territory as the next few shots show.

After just over 1Km of this you eventually drop down to the original road to the car park.

In conclusion, this felt a bit longer than it should have done due to that long middle section between Black Rock and the woodland path. However, it was worth it for the atmospheric woodland shots above and a unique viewpoint over Loch Tay - see the final shots below.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

ALLEAN, Loch Tummel, Perthshire

Magnificent views and some interesting remains on this medium length walk

This is essentially a forest walk and so is more interesting in Summer and Autumn than in Spring or Winter. The length is 2.5 miles and rises from circa 600ft to circa 1000ft and the woodland paths are well maintained so this is a fairly easy going walk.

If you are going to do the shorter of the walks, marked in yellow, then make sure that you address it clockwise. The longer red route is good in either direction although anti-clockwise somehow feels better. There are a number of good viewpoints and two very well preserved ancient remains - a Clachan and a Pictish Ring Fort.

There is even a view down the length of Loch Tummel that gives the Queens view a run for its money - as the next photo shows.

Assuming that you have taken the longer walk anti-clockwise, although do not feel any particular pressure to take up this suggestion, you will encounter an 8th century Pictish Hill Fort after about .25 mile. There is no detailing inside the fort but the external walls are a testament to 8th century architecture.

The forest is extremely well managed with little overt evidence of ongoing husbandry. There are plenty of Douglas Fir and Scots Pine as well as Spruce and Larch. 

The habitat is good for wildlife and you may well see Crossbills, Red Squirrels and possibly even Pine Marten.

Sadly, given that the overall experience is excellent, there is only one place other than the carpark that is suitable to sit for a while and maybe take a sandwich. I guess that this is all part of the strategy for keeping human rubbish at bay - which I have to reluctantly agree with. However, at this point I shall post a few shots that show the lovely restful character of this forest.

Remember that you can click on any of these photographs to see them full size.

Trees, duh!
Close Encounter
A Time and a Place

Moving on, the walk starts heading back down hill and you encounter a Clachan, an 18th century turf-roofed farmstead. These are typically a small collection of dwellings where some sort of community activity took place - fishing or farming. This one has been partially restored and there is an informative notice-board.

To sum up, Allean is a top grade, way-marked walk with excellent views, interesting monuments and a stunning breadth of colour and texture for the photographer.

P.S. At the end of your walk, it is worth nipping over the road to the Queens View car park and rewarding yourself with some very good home baking and tea from the current concession holder.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

CAISTEAL DUBH, Balnaguard, Perthshire

Spectacular views at the end of a straightforward, medium length walk.

Caisteal Dubh, is translated as Castle Dow by the Forestry Commission who manage the site within the Tay Forest Park. However, dubh is normally translated as 'black' and records show that this site was known as Caisteal Dubh Baile nan Ceard or the 'Black Castle of Balnaguard'. The castle in this case is little more than a small hill-fort and is small enough to even be considered a well defended homestead. It is probably iron age in origin but it does command a virtual 360 degree view, most importantly along a significant stretch of the Tay Valley and so could have held strategic importance to a local clan leader.

Take the B898 either from the A9 just north of Dunkeld or from the A827 Aberfeldy to Ballinluig road. There is a Tay Forest Park sign on the west side of the road which leads you to a small parking area. From there the walk, which is about 4.5 miles as a round trip, is on a well defined dirt road on a consistent, moderate incline. Across the main 2 mile hike you climb from circa 300 ft to circa 1000 ft. 

The final detour to Casteal Dubh is waymarked - but not very clearly! You follow a dry stone wall up a short steep path and, as you reach the summit, breaks in the wall allow you to cross to the right towards the curious line of cairns pictured above. This is the place to rest and enjoy your picnic as there is a particularly precious, secluded, even sacred feel to this spot. It is one of those rare places where you can feel timeless - it must have been just like this 1000 years ago.

Although the road from the carpark is dull - mostly tree-lined on either side - you do get occasional glimpses of interesting views, albeit interesting mostly because of height.

There is, in theory, a miscellany of wildlife waiting to be photographed - Scottish Crossbill, Red Deer, Pine Marten and Black Grouse. To be fair, this is not a particularly popular walk so you are unlikely to encounter any other people, which means that your chances of spying an animal are reasonably good.

The cairns against which you will have rested are reportedly Victorian - which seems to beg more questions than there are answers available. Without doubt, the area became fashionable in (late) Victorian times for two reasons. Firstly, the Queen herself holidayed here due to the 'beneficial air'. Secondly, the 'curiosity' of the Victorian age that saw so much 'science' being achieved in areas such as botany meant that the reachable parts of the Scottish Highlands were thoroughly explored and were richly productive for the amateur scientist.

But why this line of cairns at Creag Loigste? If they were older they might have marked a safe path across a glacier or maybe a specific lookout or communication point. But, the Victorians would have no other motive than to simply create a landmark. So they are probably the equivalent of a rambler's folly. They are well preserved so one does really wish that they had more significance.

The other side of the dry stone wall leads down to the caisteal itself, again not marked out. It is as if casual visitors are unwelcome. There are no apparent foundations or large stones -

which does reinforce the impression that this was less of a defensive building than simply a proprietorial vantage point. Who knows? there is not much evidence remaining from which to draw accurate conclusions. 

So, on to the reasons to do this walk.

There must be considerable skill in the construction of a cairn that has survived the elements in such an exposed position for over 150 years.

The glory of the snow-capped Cairngorms stretches out in the distance.

And to finish with, for photographers - the beauty of the rule of thirds.

Starting out

Ah! the launch of a new blog. Why? Because Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Scotland also has a remarkable number of defined and managed walks, looked after by such august bodies as the Forestry Commission, the National Trust for Scotland and, more locally, Atholl Estates. Also, where there are no prepared walks, there is the legal right to roam in this country that, so long as respect and care is taken, allows everyone to access any beautiful place and view.

I am based in Perthshire, so a great number of the walks will be in 'Big Tree Country" . However, that will not stop me venturing further afield and I hope that other contributors will help to spread the geographical reach of this blog.

Enough writing now. So on order to get this show on the road, here is a recent shot of Loch Rannoch taken from the Eastern shore.