Milngavie to Pitlochry
Follow my progress as I attempt to walk the length of the UK, from Dover to Cape Wrath, wild camping every night. This chapter is the third part of my walk along the Scottish National Trail, from Milngavie. I follow the West Highland Way until Drymen, and then the Rob Roy Way to Callander. Then I follow paths and tracks through Comrie, Aberfeldy and then Pitlochry.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 34 (day 7 of Scottish National Trail): Milngavie to Drymen
I’d made camp in the woods a few miles out of Milngavie last night. Before it had got completely dark, a BIG deer got pretty close to me before it panicked and ran off. It made me jump, but also realise that my dyneema tent must blend in reasonably well. Perhaps I also don’t smell as bad as I think I do? It’s been over a week since I washed my shirt. Washing my clothes (and myself) will be easier once I reach the Caingorms – fewer people and cleaner rivers. So I will have no excuses!
The midges were bad in the morning so I was packed up and away at 6.15am. I followed the West Highland Way to the Beech Tree Inn, which was closed when I got there at 8am.
I used one of their benches to make ‘breakfast’ (Morroccan cous cous and chicken was all I had left. Porridge and M&Ms seemed like a distant dream).
The path continued along the old railway line, then it was a few miles on the road. I made it to Drymen to meet my wife and youngest children for my next resupply, and to spend the day with them. I’d done 10 miles before lunch, whch wasn’t bad. Even better was that my wife arrived in Drymen only 5 minutes after me!
I had a lovely day with them. After a cooked breakfast at the cafe, I left my backpack in the car and we walked around Conic Hill. There were great views of Loch Lomond from here.
We wild camped (sort of – the car was right by us!) just outside Drymen, and spent the evening drinking wine and catching up with all the news from home. I didn’t cheat – my family drove to the camp spot, and I walked along the Rob Roy Way from Drymen. I will confess to leaving my rucksack in the car, though…
I made some gear changes here too, as I am now heading further into the Highlands. I added my Paramo fleece, trousers and windproof,and removed my rain coat, windproof, fleece and down jacket. My Icebreaker shirt had been too warm lately, so I swapped it for my Inov-8 merino long-sleeved top. I’d also been having some issues with my rucksack. My trusty ULA Catalyst was causing me pain in my right shoulder. So I swapped back to the Gregory rucksack which has much more padding in the shoulder and hip belt. Hopefully the previous bruising from this pack has healed and the pack itself has softened a bit.
Day 35 (day 8 of Scottish National Trail): Drymen to Allt an Dubh Choirein
We woke after a great night’s sleep to a few midges so we packed up fairly early. After saying goodbye to my family, I was alone again and back on the Rob Roy Way at 8am.
I followed the Rob Roy Way through the forest on roads and gravel tracks all the way to Aberfoyle.
I got here at 11am, in time for a decent-sized cup of tea and full breakfast at Liz MacGregor’s Coffee Shop in the village.
The Scottish National Trail continued on the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle, on a mix of forest tracks and footpaths.
I don’t think I would have made it to Callander without that cooked breakfast in Aberfoyle. ‘Real’ food just seems to give me so much more energy than the dehydrated meals. It’s also the hour or so’s rest and sit down in a cafe or pub that makes all the difference to the mileage I can cover.
I arrived in Callander at 4.15pm. The last few miles into the town had been hard going on the road, and I’d seen very few people since leaving the West Highland Way in Drymen. I had a quick pint in The Waverley in Callander, just to prepare me for the steep climb out of town over the lovely Callander Craig walk.
It was then lanes and tracks past Braeleny farm, then an empty valley with some big mountains around it. I had great views of Ben Vorlich to the north, a 984m Munro. Suddenly I felt very remote.
It was a good track all the way to Allt an Dubh Choirein, where I camped. I tried to tuck myself in right by the river, so if the weather forecast is right and there are strong winds and heavy rain tomorrow, I won’t get washed away. I was 3 metres above the water, as I know how fast these rivers can rise once the rain starts. Also I was hoping that it was a spot I could sit in the whole of the next day, to save getting soaked.
However, the spot was MIDGE HELL. I had never seen so many. I made dinner and coffee with my head net on, but still had to retreat to my inner tent at 8pm. Somehow a hundred midges got in with me, but that was bearable. I just spent the rest of my evening killing them one by one.
Looking at my maps for the next couple of days. I realised that I was ahead of schedule to meet my wife at Cape Wrath before the 27th August. But there was no telling if I might get held up on a river crossing if they become impassable with the rain. This would result in either a long detour, or waiting until the waters subsided again – so it felt good to have a bit of time in hand. Comrie was half a day’s walk away, and thereafter I was just looking at two A4 printed maps of countor lines and little else. It would be very remote from Comrie to Aberfeldy, so I was really hoping the weather wouldn’t end up being as bad as the forecast.
Day 36 (day 9 of Scottish National Trail): Allt an Dubh Choirein to River Almond
I was away from my camp spot by 6.30am, having had breakfast and coffee in my tent. I’d been fighting midges, but at least it was dry. The rain started later in the morning, which gave me a good opportunity to test the Paramo gear that I’d picked up from my wife at the last resupply in Drymen.
The tracks and paths through the woods and fields on the north side of the river were well worth walking. There was an option of following the road all the way to Comrie, but I’m glad I didn’t do that, even though it was raining.
I made it to Comrie very wet, only to find that the cafe wasn’t opening today. There was a shop open that I could restock in, and I carried on, feeling very despondent. I knew it was going to be a long, hard day, and I find it hard to keep my morale up without a dry off, a sit down and a cooked breakfast.
After Deil’s Caldron waterfall, it was a long road walk out of Comrie up to the car park in Glen Lednock.
I then followed a track that climbed to 600 metres to go over a pass.
Just before the top, the track ended and a path continued for a short time. Then I even lost that, and never found it again all the way down to the River Almond. I was using my GPS and it showed I was on the path, but I never saw more than the odd sheep or deer track. It was hard going across little gullies, thick grass and heather.
Once I got to the fence I followed it down until I reached the river. Downstream a short way was a basic two-log bridge (the bridge marked on the map isn’t there). I waded the stream, which was borderline dangerous after all this rain. It was just about washing my plums deep. At one point it nearly took me off my feet – I was very grateful for my walking poles.
The rain got heavier and heavier as the day went on. All the little streams had turned into raging torrents. I felt like I’d waded five rivers by the time I gave in and put the tent up at 4pm. I was wet to the skin, but not running with sweat the way I would have been in a normal waterproof shell. The Paramo fleece and windproof had kept most of the rain out. So did the trousers, until I waded the streams!
From here I joined the Rob Roy Way again, which would take me all the way to Aberfeldy. It looked like it was about 22 miles to Aberfeldy, which was my next chance for a hot meal and a dry off. I needed to be more careful with my printed maps, as the sleeves I kept them in were not waterproof and the ink had started to run.
I made dinner with a dehydrated meal and the supplies I’d purchased in Comrie: two rolls with Spanish chorizo, two brioche buns and all four chocolate muffins. It had been a hard day.
Day 37 (day 10 of Scottish National Trail): River Almond to Aberfeldy
I had slept well the previous night. Breakfast and coffee done, I was away by 6.30am. I had to put yesterday’s wet clothes back on, but the Paramo fleece and windproof didn’t feel too bad. They were still comfortable, but they took ages to dry (even though today was dry).
It was a good walk down the valley of the River Almond to Auchnafree Farm, where I left the track on a small but distinct path through Glen Lochan. This is such a pretty valley. It was so peaceful that even though it was still early, I stopped for a while for coffee and a snack.
After reaching Loch Freuchie I had a few miles on the road, and a VERY steep climb out of the valley. A car stopped while I was walking this stretch and offered me a lift, but I declined!
The road turned into a track at the top across high moorland, and I stopped here to make some lunch. I had one of the minced beef and mashed potato meals, as I wasn’t going to risk making this in the tent again.
Then it was a very quiet road that followed the river into Aberfeldy. It wasn’t easy finding the Rob Roy Way path to cross the river above the Falls of Moness, though.
I arrived at the Fountain Bar in Aberfeldy at 4.15pm, to discover that the government was going to pay half my bill. Three courses it is then, thank you very much. The food here was very good and the service was great.
I left the pub at about 6pm and walked until 7.30pm. There was a flat camp spot near an old railway line on the path to Pitlochry. This was the first flat pitch I had found for the last three or four days. As an added bonus there were no slugs and no midges! Things were really looking up.
Day 38 (day 11 of Scottish National Trail): Aberfeldy to Pitlochry
It was a dry start today. I had woken up cold a few times in the night, and had to put my OMM jacket over my sleeping bag. On waking properly in the morning, I discovered that my Klymit sleeping mat had a slow leak, so I was cold from the ground.
After coffee and brioche rolls (all 8) for breakfast, I was away by 7am. I continued following the disused railway line until I crossed the River Tay. It was then a long and steady climb up over Dunfallandy Hill on mostly nice paths.
The descent into Pitlochry was really pretty, but part way along I had to stop, drop my trousers and remove a large black beetle. I didn’t squash it, as I figured it had probably suffered enough.
I also met a man who maintains the Rob Roy Way paths in this area, and we had a nice chat.
Somehow I made a wrong turn after the bridge over the River Tummel into Pitlochry, and I ended up at the hospital. I probably looked like I needed to be there, but I made a hasty retreat before I was mistaken for an escaped patient.
Pitlochry is a big town with all the facilities you could need. I stopped in McKays bar and restaurant for a very good breakfast and pot of tea. From here, I was heading to the Caingorms through Glen Tilt, Glen Feshie and on towards Fort Augustus.
Further reading and links:
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail by Mountain Media
Scotland End-to-End: Walking the Scottish National Trail – DVD by Mountain Media
Scotland’s 100 Best Walks – Lomond Books
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