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Issue 97 - The Rob Roy Way

Scotland Magazine Issue 97
February 2018

 

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The Rob Roy Way

In this new series of articles Keith Fergus will explore Scotland’s heritage paths. He has begunby walking the spectacular Rob Roy Way

Scotland has always celebrated its historical figures and Rob Roy MacGregor is no different, having been lauded in novels, poetry and movies. His name has also been given to one of Scotland’s finest long-distance trails. Opened in 2002, the Rob Roy Way is a marvellous route that links Drymen, in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, with the Highland Perthshire town of Pitlochry.

The waymarked trail utilises a selection of paths, tracks and minor roads as it passes through scenic glens, runs alongside lochs and rivers, and visits a number of attractive villages. With over 10,000 feet of ascent along its 126km (78 mile) length, the Rob Roy Way is relatively straightforward and well within reach of most regular walkers. Wonderful scenery, marvellous wildlife and lots of history makes for an enjoyable five to seven days of walking in a landscape that would have been familiar to Rob himself.

Rob Roy MacGregor was born in 1671 at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine. He was involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1689 before his feud with James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose, led to him becoming a folk hero. He died near Balquhidder in 1734.

In 1817 Sir Walter Scott published Rob Roy, a somewhat romanticised account of Rob’s life. However, in reality Rob endured several periods of imprisonment, significant money problems, and lived much of his life as an outlaw. A superb biography, which provides a far more faithful and grounded account of Rob Roy, was published in 1982 by the mountaineer and author WH Murray.

The Rob Roy Way begins in the attractive village of Drymen, which sits just a stone’s throw from Loch Lomond. A section of minor road heads out of Drymen into the wonderful environs of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which covers approximately 50,000 acres of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Throughout, the forest is punctuated by a number of gorgeous lochs and several striking mountains, including Ben Venue and Ben Ledi, rise skywards.

The Rob Roy Way then follows the line of the Loch Katrine to Glasgow aqueduct, offering fine views of Ben Lomond, to reach the welcoming environs of Aberfoyle. Today’s rural idyll belies a history of slate quarrying and an oak charcoal industry, both of which were vital in Aberfoyle’s expansion during the 19th Century. Today, there are several excellent shops and cafes at which to refuel before continuing the route.

Back into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, the Rob Roy Way now heads east and then northeast beneath the Menteith Hills.

As progress is made, Ben Lomond and the Campsie Fells form an impressive barrier then, as Loch Venachar comes in to view, the marvellous profile of Ben Ledi is particularly striking. It’s thought that Ben Ledi translates as ‘Hill of God’, due to the pagan festivals that used to take place on the summit, but it’s more likely to mean ‘Hill of the Slope’, in reference to the mountain’s shapely southern incline.

A lovely stroll through Coillahan Wood, where chaffinch, goldcrest, buzzard and other bird life may be spotted, leads into another marvellous spot for a break or overnight stop - Callander. The town has been an important settlement ever since the Romans made camp here (the outline of their settlement can still be seen) and it subsequently became a major tourist destination when the railway arrived in 1858. It remains popular today.

The Rob Roy Way continues easily along the route of the old Callander to Oban railway and cuts through the Pass of Leny to pass the spectacular Falls of Leny, before Loch Lubnaig reaches the peaceful surrounds of Strathyre.

The poet Duguld Buchanan was born here in 1716. He helped the Reverend James Stewart of Killin translate the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic and he also wrote an important collection of Gaelic religious poems.

Heading north, height is gained through Strathyre Forest - where distant views include the Munros of Stob Binnein and Ben More - before dropping down towards Balquhidder. A relatively short diversion leads to Balquhidder Kirkyard, which is where, having lived the final years of his life nearby at Inverlochlarig, Rob Roy was laid to rest.

Beyond Lochearnhead the Rob Roy Way rises gently through gorgeous Glen Ogle and across its splendid viaduct, which was built between 1866-1870. It is then onwards to Killin and the spectacular Falls of Dochart. Here several waterfalls cascade beneath the lovely old stone Bridge of Dochart, which dates from the 18th Century.

From Killin, the toughest section of the walk rises to nearly 600m in height and crosses exposed moorland where the route can be vague, although it is waymarked. A minor road climbs steeply away from Killin with the outlook extending across Loch Tay to the Ben Lawers Massif. After Loch Breaclaich a rougher track then a vague, boggy path eventually gains another minor road, which drops easily down to Ardeonaig and then Ardtalnaig. A simple walk, through glorious countryside alongside Loch Tay, reaches Acharn after which a steep climb leads past the Falls of Acharn. This spectacular waterfall has attracted such luminaries as Robert Burns and William Wordsworth in the past.

High above Kenmore, the walk continues along Queen’s Drive, which was named after Queen Victoria as she was known to have loved the views of Ben Lawers, Carn Gorm and Carn Mairg from here. A combination of forestry and countryside paths eventually lead into the magnificent Birks of Aberfeldy, home to woodpecker, flycatchers and dipper. Following the line of the Moness Burn, which again inspired Robert Burns, the path drops down into Aberfeldy.

After the magnificent General Wade’s Bridge was built over the River Tay in 1733, Aberfeldy developed over the subsequent decades. Its primary industries were cotton milling and whisky distilling. The Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery is still very much active today and provides superb tours for visitors, with lots of opportunity to taste the spirit produced here! There is also an iPad-assisted exhibition available in multiple languages.

The final nine miles of the Rob Roy Way follows a selection of railway paths, hill paths and forestry tracks. Walking northeast, the route hugs the line of the River Tay for several miles, all the way to the hamlet of Grantully.

From there, peaceful paths rise above Strath Tay, granting far-reaching views. It is then a mixture of forestry and open countryside all the way to Pitlochry and the end of the Rob Roy Way. Here there is accommodation to suit all pockets and this small town is a perfect place for walkers to relax, recharge and reflect on what is sure to have been an unforgetable walking experience.

Route Information 

Distance: 126km (78.5 miles) 

Total Ascent: 3,216m (10,551ft) 

Maximum Height: 564 m (1,850ft)

Top 5 Places To Visit Along The Rob Roy Way

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle: The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is a wonderful place to wander through. There’s lots of local wildlife to look out for including wood warblers, chaffinches, treecreepers and jays.

The Falls of Leny, Callander: The Falls of Leny is a dramatic natural amphitheatre of solid rock and surging water near Kilmahog. It is within easy walking distance of Callander.

Innis Buidhe, Killin: Innis Buidhe (the Yellow Island) is home to the Clan McNab burial ground and dates back to the 1700s. The island is home to 15 graves, as well as a medieval grave.

Wade’s Bridge, Aberfeldy: Work began on the Aberfeldy Tay Bridge, more commonly known as Wade’s Bridge, in 1733 and the first stone was laid by General Wade himself.

Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre, Pitlochry: There are several exhibitions including the 'Life Cycle of the Salmon'. The café has great views.

About the Author

Outdoor writer and photographer Keith Fergus has travelled all over Scotland and is passionate about its landscape, culture and history. He is the author of 16 books including Great Scottish Journeys (Black & White Publishing).