8th May 2023: Aberfoyle to Callander – 10.2 miles
I slept well again, despite the duvet cover being too short to cover my toes, so I arranged it diagonally on the bed and ended up with cold shoulders a couple of times in the night. On the whole though I feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
As I snoozed happily in that half-way house between sleep and wakefulness, I knew it had rained in the night (and could conceivably be continuing to do so, silently) due to the sound of cars driving through puddles on the road outside my window. The forecast was pretty definitive though, I was going to get wet today!
I don’t normally remember my dreams, but I do recall I dreamt of sink holes opening up on the path ahead of me, bottomless holes that could swallow a herd of cows! The path had steep, unscalable sides and as soon as I turned round, a new sinkhole would open up, and I’d be trapped. I imagine the worst that awaits me on today’s path is a couple of muddy sections…. or is it!?
Mayfield B&B is OK, it’s neither the best nor the worst B&B I’ve stayed in. It’s a converted family house and my room is on the ground floor, facing the street, but even then the road noise isn’t too bad and it didn’t really disturb me. It could be a bit cleaner in places, it sounds like Margaret does all the work herself and it’s mostly all fine. A solid 8/10 so far, but I’ve not had breakfast yet, so I’ll reserve final judgement until then.
I have a choice of routes today. Parallel with the Rob Roy Way, is the line of the Menteith Hills, a possible four hill summits and a trig point. If the weather doesn’t clear (and that’s unlikely) I’ll probably avoid the extra 1000ft of ascent and stick to the Way. The hills are covered in cloud at the moment, and as much as the bagging list looks appealing, and I know my legs are up to it, I’m probably just adding to how wet I’m going to end up. Both routes are about 11 miles and I can get into my hotel in Callander from 2pm, so I’ve asked for an 8:30 breakfast and I’ll set out about 10am again. If it’s raining all day I’ll be unwilling to sit and take breaks so I’ll plod as steadily as I can and my arrival time will be what it will be.
Breakfast was excellent and I joined the other guests in the very compact dining room, squeezing myself behind the last available table. There were a pair of ladies and a pair of guys at the other two tables. I said good morning and received the same, but conversation was muted as everyone tucked into their fantastic food.
As meals were finished I got chatting to the guys, from Germany, and also doing the RRW, but using an unofficial itinerary. In fact they were off to Brig O’ Turk today, which is nowhere near the official route.
Malter (I think – apologies if I caught the name wrong) and Jan had some good hiking stories to swap and I spent an enjoyable 20 minutes or so with them. I shared a couple of my alternative routes for the RRW too and Jan loaded them into his OS app. I also pointed them towards the walkhighlands.co.uk website as a possible source for a circular route up to Ben Lawers they were considering. Hopefully our paths will cross again at some point along the way.
I was out the door at 10am on the dot and I headed back into town. The two lads had left about 20 minutes earlier and I doubted I’d see them again today. As I went into town, I passed four guys on the other side of the road, one had a RRW guide book in his hand, but they were headed out of town in the other direction. I guess they were using the old exit out of town, which was rerouted a couple of years ago. I followed the directions on the OS map, and was soon heading up some stone steps and onto a thin path through the trees, up hill. A series of interesting ‘items’ for want of a better word were placed beside the path, things for kids to play on, including a series of channels cut into the rock and some wooden gates that could be used to block the channels and divert the water flowing through them, into different directions, which I thought was really cool. I diverted slightly to visit some impressive waterfalls, no doubt all the more impressive because it had rained all night! I crossed a bridge and continued on through the woods. The path continued to climb gently, passing some logging operation and then past a golf course.
I reached the point at which I would head up onto higher path, and ignored it. Although it had only been drizzling since I set out, the hills were covered in cloud and I took the easier option and stayed low. I had baselayer, shirt and coat on. I wasn’t cold, but without the coat the fine mizzle would have soaked me within a couple of miles. As it was, I sweated myself into the same state over the course of the morning.
The path since leaving the bridge by the waterfall had been on a wide forest track, wide enough for trucks and obviously used by them at some points, as there were stacks of timber waiting to be collected at a couple of places. Ahead I saw four walkers, and I assumed it was the four I’d seen as I was setting out. Over the next mile or so I began to reel them in.
Once I’d reached the golf course, the scenery changed, the trees either side of the track were soon replaced by more open space on the right, filled with new growth trees and shrubs, but with the left hand side of the path mostly taken up with older growth, climbing up the hillside. Next in line for harvesting no doubt.
I caught up with the four guys and we chatted for a while as we walked. There were two young guys and two older guys, a mixed bunch of German and French. Two of the guys had walked the Speyside Way last year and we swapped opinions of that walk. They asked me about Skye and the West Highland Way and I enjoyed the chat. An oil tanker lorry past us as we walked and a little further on we reached a logging vehicle across the path. Four guys in high vis jackets were standing around a shovel and they pointed around the back of the truck to where the path had been diverted. Negotiating the truck was a pain in the arse and although there’s a new path for the RRW, getting onto it was tricky.
I said my farewells to the International Boys as they were quite slow, and I put on a little spurt of speed to widen the gap a bit. The new path is a ribbon of hardcore, running through a desolated wasteland of felled trees and a new road for the trucks presumably. Then all of a sudden the new track ends, there are upright trees in front and a thin grassy track snakes off into their midst. The next couple of miles were absolutely brilliant, a pure joy to walk. I’m so glad I didn’t do the high route, I would have missed this.
The path winds into the trees and it’s muddy in places, but nothing extreme. It reaches a huge pile of fallen trees across the path and my heart sank. I had visions of crawling over and under trees just like I’d had to on the Southern Upland Way a few years ago. But no, some helpful soul had cut a path around the dead falls, and sprayed red arrows onto trees to direct you. Branches had been pruned where needed and it was quite fun following the new path through the forest. Once back on the proper path it continues to wind its way through the forest, a thin walking path, not a forest track. That means it’s wet of course, but that just added to the appeal for me. It had started to rain a bit harder over the past hour and although it wasn’t belting down or anything, it was certainly more than mizzle, but even that didn’t dampen my mood.
After a mile or so, the path reaches a gate onto the open fell and becomes even better. The line of hills to the left, the one’s I’d spurned earlier were still covered in cloud, and the moor to the right wandered off into the mist covered distance. The path was a winding, rocky, sometimes muddy snaking thing that picked the best possible path across the moor. I loved it.
I found a convenient rock at some point and took my first break of the day. I had a Boost bar and some of my drink. The rain was soft rather than persistent, but it still put me off stopping too long. I looked back now and again to see if the International Boys had made it through the forest, and sure enough I could soon see their colourful jackets and pack covers in the distance.
The lovely moorland section is less than a kilometer long and I was soon going through another gate back into the trees. This forest had obviously been felled a few years earlier and the trees are now just stumps, with new conifers scattered amongst them, perfect Christmas tree size. It’s another wonderful section though, not least because of the views stretching off on either side, now mist covered hills on both sides. I saw a lochan appear ahead of me through the gloom (Allt a’ Chip Dhuibh) and the path skirts it closely. This is where I would have descended from the high route and I would have missed the previous two or three lovely miles.
There’s a bench beside the lochan and it would be a perfect spot to stop if the rain wasn’t coming down. It had the ubiquitous fire blackened ring of stones and turf in front of it, but it was still a blissful location. At the far end of the lochan is a little fishing hut and as I approached it I scared the shit out of a woman who was coming round a clump of trees as she was leaving it. I was hoping it would be open, and I could take a break, but it was locked tight and the rain was coming down a bit harder, so I pushed on.
A mile or so later and the path is back on a wide forestry road, a slope of previously felled trees drops down to the huge Loch Venachar on the left. Mist covered the loch and the slopes beyond it. It was very atmospheric and although the track was very harsh on my feet, I enjoyed this section too. A guy coming towards me asked if I was walking the RRW and when I said I was, he asked how I’d got on with the path closure. Apparently the RRW website says the path will be closed from the 10th May and he’d passed a sign earlier that said it was closed Monday to Friday, but without saying which dates that covered. Unsurprisingly he wasn’t confident he’d be able to continue unhampered. I reassured him that the path was open, and apart from the guys with the tree felling machine across the path, he’d be fine. I mentioned that I’d seen a sign that had said walkers should not proceed any further, but that had been at the end of the new laid path, and I’d not seen one at the start of it, so I reckoned he could just ignore it.
The harsh forest track with the misty views continued for another couple of miles and reached a small car park by the Sailing Club. I found a nice flat rock and had another short break. It wasn’t raining now, but I was wet inside my jacket and I began to feel chilly, so I didn’t stop too long before pushing on, now on a tarmac lane.
There are nice views of the loch along this section, all spoiled by the amount of signs, all prohibiting either drinking or camping, or both. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs camping management zone has a lot to answer for, and still hasn’t prevented camping by the folk who don’t give a shit about bylaws. There were black fire pits and circles of stones in several of the little bays beside the loch.
Rather than just following the road into Callander, the RRW goes into the trees again at Coihallan, following another harsh vehicle track through forestry that was probably 10 or 20 years old. Trees too big for Christmas, but nowhere near big enough to harvest. It’s a pleasant enough section and it’s not road walking, so it gets a thumbs up from me for that at least. All too soon I was dropping down to meet the road again and the last quarter of a mile into town. I crossed a bridge over the Eas Gobhain and along the high street to my hotel for the next three nights. It was exactly 2pm, fortunately exactly the time I was allowed to check in.
The room is OK, but it’s full of wet clothes on the radiator, so the window has steamed up, but at least all my kit will be dry for tomorrow. Apparently breakfast is continental only, so I may try and find a cafe, as I’m not sure I want to set out with just bread and cereal in me.
I’ve had a chippie tea (sausage supper in the local dialect) and been to Tesco to pick up some supplies for tomorrow. It’s a slightly longer day, and I have to finish in time to catch the bus back to Callander, so that means I’ll probably end up rushing – I don’t do well with a deadline and tend to push myself too hard. At least there should be somewhere to sit and wait if I arrive too early, Google Maps says there’s a pub next to the bus stop!
The WiFi in the hotel doesn’t work, so I’m going to try and send this over my 4G connection and not sure how that will work with the number of photos I want to include! It’s been a great day, despite the weather, which was actually not as bad as the forecast predicted.