9th May 2023: Callander to Kingshouse – 13.2 miles
I was awake at 4am, 5am and 6.30. The ill fitting curtains in my room were letting in too much light to sleep comfortably beyond this point, so I eventually gave up trying at about 7am and decided to bring my schedule forward a bit. The plan today had been to walk the 13 miles or so to Kingshouse, arrive about 3pm and get the bus back to Callander, where I’m staying in the Crown Hotel for three nights. With that in mind, my departure time had been about 9am, maybe 9.30 and then try and take it slowly to meet the bus, which runs every 2 hours. If I left at 8am, I could step the pace up slightly and get the 13:15 bus instead. That had the added benefit of being out early, which I enjoy, and probably meeting fewer people on the path, and having more time in the afternoon to relax.
Decision made, I got up and had a breakfast of tea and toast in the little dining room provided. I also snagged a couple of flapjack bars for later in the day on the trail. I left most of my gear in the hotel, basically walking with just water and waterproofs. I left the hotel in bright sunlight albeit not especially warm, and stopped in at a bakery to pick up a scotch pie for lunch, then headed out of town for Cycle Route 7… errr, I mean the Rob Roy Way. For 9 of today’s 13 miles, the two routes are the same and as a result I wasn’t expecting much in the way of interesting paths, like I had yesterday. I was expecting tarmac and hard core gravel and although I was disappointed, I wasn’t wrong, as that’s pretty much what I got.
The path is initially on a thin tarmac lane between trees, with occasional views to the surrounding hills. It’s almost certainly an old railway of some sort, it’s dead flat, arrow straight in places, and has the occasional bridge thrown in for good measure. Almost immediately the path meets the river that flows out of Loch Lubnaig and it kept close enough for me to see the river below, some lovely woodland between the two, and what looked like a nice scenic little path that meandered between the trees, about half way between the river and the tarmac of the cycle lane. I wondered how far the path would run, and whether I could use that instead of the dull and boring tarmac. It certainly couldn’t stray too far from the tarmac as it was hemmed in between that and the river. I eventually found a gap in the fence by the cycle path and dropped down onto the path. It was much nicer, a needle strewn grassy track, thick with roots and turning this way and that to avoid trees. All too soon it came to and end though, and it met up with the cycle path again and I was back on tarmac. The river was a delightful diversion from the tedium of the walking surface, and it got faster as I progressed, falling over small drops, white water rapids and the small waterfalls of Leny Falls.
From here the river slowed and widened and I passed the car park for Ben Ledi, joining the wider tarmac road that leads to the Forest holiday village. So far I’d seen no bikes or walkers, but now I began to have to avoid cars as they headed towards the holiday park. The delivery vans were the worst, they didn’t seem to slow and the road isn’t that wide, so I was forced to walk as close to the verge as possible and hope for the best.
The views to the right began to open up a bit, as the road is now skirting Loch Lubnaig and the hills beyond it were cloud dappled, while the loch itself was almost perfectly still, a glass mirror reflecting the hills beautifully. The view to the left was great too. Ben Ledi, it’s top just covered in cloud, but it looked very inviting – a gradual climb obvious from the south – one to come back and visit in the van I think.
That pretty much summed up the day for me. Boring or aggrevating paths, but wonderful views – with only two very short exceptions. The thin path through the trees earlier (about quarter of a mile) and another similarly lovely path just outside Strathyre which was probably even shorter. When I wasn’t on tarmac I was on hard core gravel (which is tough on the soles) and then forestry roads.
I managed to avoid getting wiped out on the road to Forest village, where there’s a cafe, but I didn’t feel the need to have a break, so I just continued on. At the far end of the holiday park, the tarmac stops and the path turns from being boring to being aggrevating. The hard core gravel surface is great for bikes I’m sure, but even with new boots and cushioned socks it was hard on my feet. There wasn’t even a grassy strip down the middle, or a verge to use, so I kept my eyes to the hills and the loch and tried to ignore it.
I was now on the lookout for somewhere to sit and have a break. I’d made better time than I’d expected along the cycle path and I had time to spare for a long sit down – it was warm enough and the steady rain of yesterday was just a memory – so I kept an eye out for a bench or log or something. I found nothing for ages and eventually took a punt at a little spit of land that jutted out into the loch (Roinn Ghainmheach) – I figured it would probably have been used by campers in the past, so it may have a handy stump or something. It didn’t, but I found a ledge of grass beside the loch and spread out my groundsheet sit mat and soaked in the view.
I was about 5 miles into today’s route, and I’d taken a lot less than 2 hours to get here, so I could afford to dawdle for a while. I scared a heron as I chose my spot, and I could see the little fish in the crystal clear water by the shore of the loch, which he’d obviously been feeding on. I fed on my liberated flapjack from the breakfast buffet and tried not to get wound up about getting to the bus in time. It’s hard to unwind sometimes and it doesn’t come easy to me.
Once I was moving again I kept an eye out for the RRW deviating off from the cycle path – I was hoping for a nicer path for a while. The map suggests the two paths diverge for a while and then rejoin, but if they still do, then I never spotted where. The view across the loch was still sublime and the left hand side of the track was now closely skirted by old growth spruce plantation. The dark, mossed-covered interior beneath the trees holds its own appeal of course, not that you’d want to try walking through it, but I enjoyed looking into it. Small burns tumbled down between the trees and their tiny waterfalls added to the enjoyment of this section.
The path soon dropped down, passing round the buildings at Laggan, and then used what looked like a new switchback path to regain the lost height. It’s solely designed for cyclists of course. The gradient is nothing for a walker and the path could have been constructed for a tenth of the cost if it didn’t have to alleviate the steepness of the slope. I was within spitting distance of Strathyre now, and I saw a couple of signs for it. Interestingly there were two ‘Strathyre 1m’ signs, at least half a mile apart, so one of them was a damned lie!
You enter the outskirts of Strathyre via a wonderfully bouncy bridge, which gives on to a small park and car park, with the remains (or possibly the partial reconstruction) of an old broch. These were fortified stone buildings with a double outer skin of stone walls, which were built around 2,000 years ago. More interestingly there’s a small village shop in the town and I’d promised myself an ice cream and a cold drink here. By this time I’d rolled the sleeves of my shirt down as it wasn’t as warm as the sunshine suggested it should be, but I still needed something cold and refreshing.
The other nice thing about Strathyre is that the RRW leaves Cycle Route 7 and takes to the forest for the final few miles into Kingshouse and my stop for the day. I had my ice cream, and saved my cold drink for later, leaving the main road through the village, for track up past a converted church and into the woodland beyond. This was the second (all too brief) lovely path of the day. I crossed a small wooden bridge and then followed a narrow, root-strewn path that climbed gently as it snaked through the trees. It soon reached a wide forestry road and I immediately went the wrong way along it. I spotted my error quickly though, and unlike yesterday, no-one was around to witness the mistake.
The forestry road climbed for a good while, but I’m feeling quite fit at the moment, and the gradient was fine. The views to the left opened up and I had long views down the glen, along Loch Voil and the Braes of Balquhidder. I also spotted something I’d seen a couple of times yesterday when walking through forestry. Huge piles of logs stacked beside the path. I don’t mean newly stacked logs, ready for collection. I mean obviously old, moss-covered stacks of logs that seem to have been forgotten and left to rot. It can’t be cost effective to harvest these trees and then not sell them. Some of the logs were massive too, trees which would have been growing for generations, not just 1 or 2 feet across.
There’s a lot of forestry operations being conducted on the surrounding hills and I could hear and see trees being felled on the slopes opposite. A partially harvested plantation is an odd looking thing. The outer layer of trees (which would have previously been deep in the depths) have no lower growth, so all you see are a line of bare trunks and a bit of green growth at their tops. The views were the highpoint of this section too. The forest road wasn’t as bad as the gravel of the cycle path, but it was either relatively new or it was heavily used as there was no grassy strip down the middle to reduce the impact. I was soon on the downslope, following a huge zig-zag cut back as I dropped down to Kingshouse. There’s a pub here, called the Mhor84 and I’d planned to use it to kill whatever time I had until the bus was due. However, I arrived at about 12:40 and it was warm enough to sit outside and I only had 30 mins until the bus, so it didn’t seem worth getting comfortable inside.
I drank the cold can from the shop in Strathyre and ate the scotch pie from the bakery in Callendar. It started to rain ever so slightly, so I unpacked my jacket and wandered up to the bus stop. It rained gently for a while as I waited for the bus, but I was in the shelter, so I count that as a win. Unlike the past two days, I saw no-one else apart from a couple of dog walkers, no cyclists, no other walkers and although no part of the path ever felt remote, I did feel like I was walking alone. The early start had been a great decision.
The bus took me back to my hotel and I went to Tesco to get some stuff for tomorrow’s lunch and then relaxed in my room, listening to music and writing up today’s journal. It’s getting close to tea time now though, so I’m going to see what the hotel has to offer and will try and post this later.
My hotel, despite the information on the website, doesn’t start serving food until 5:30pm and its selection of ales was pretty pathetic; an American Pale Ale and something so blond it could have been lager. So, I wandered off down the high street to see if I could find something else. I’m now in the Waverley Hotel with a wonderful pint of Old Jock (a deep, dark, rich scotch ale) and I’ve ordered some food.
Looks like another rainy day ahead tomorrow. So far, the rainy days have coincided with the days where I’ve planned higher level alternative routes, which is a bit of a bugger. Tomorrow I had planned to walk off route to Balquhidder, visit the grave of Rob Roy and then follow a Walk Highlands route up Kirkton Glen to Rob Roy’s Putting Stone and then down the other side to pick up an old railway line to Killin. If the weather is as bad as forecast, I’ll probably just follow the original route through Glen Ogle, along the cycle path ????