11th May 2023: Killin to Acharn – 17.1 miles

I think I now have a full blown head cold. I started sneezing on the way back to town on the bus yesterday, I’ve got a constantly runny nose, sore throat and this morning I awoke with a cracking headache. I awoke at 4:30 too, but managed to drop back off until about 6:30. At that point I couldn’t breathe out of one nostril, so I got up and decided on an early breakfast. I’m sick to death of tea and toast now, the bread is cheap and tasteless and the little pats of butter are kept in the fridge, so they’re so hard they rip the toast apart. Being in one place for three nights would be great if the hotel was fantastic, but this is just OK, and it’s beginning to get me down. I’m glad to be leaving today.

The water from the taps doesn’t taste great either, so I went to Tesco to get a bottle and by the time I was back in my room I was sweating buckets, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the day!

The day was slightly overcast but not too cold and the forecast promised better weather later in the day, so I stood in baselayer and shirt at the bus stop at 8.50 waiting for the final leg of my public transport adventure. It was late, only by a couple of minutes, but enough to make me nervous. I’m glad I won’t have to rely on it again. The driver did at least agree to drop me off at the falls, right by the road I needed to use, rather than make me use the bus stop a few hundred yards into town.

The 40 minute journey recapped nicely the last two days walking I’d done. Initially beside Loch Lubnaig into Kingshouse and then through Glen Ogle into Killin. I got a better view of the viaduct from the road, and I still don’t think it’s that impressive. It’s maybe a better feat of engineering than the Ribblehead, simply because of where it’s been built, but other than that it’s fairly unremarkable.

I’m walking with a full pack again today of course, but I never really felt overloaded even though the first 5 miles or so were uphill. The road starts to climb almost immediately as it leaves the village, back the way I’d come yesterday. It was very quiet though and I’d don’t recall a single car passing me as I made my way up the road. I stopped occasionally to look back and admire the views, the skies were mostly blue now, with some fluffy white clouds casting shadow patterns on the hills. Even once I left the road, about a mile from the village, I was still climbing and still on tarmac. But I was now climbing through an area of felled plantation on a steeper and narrower road.

Today was definitely a ‘swings and roundabouts’ kind of day. I was on tarmac (again) but the views were great. Today’s walk was bracketed by long tarmac sections, but the middle bit was some of the best fell walking I’ve done in ages. I had 18 miles to do, but it was mostly easy going and even as I was banging out the last few miles along the road into Acharn I didnt feel especially tired.

After a mile or so along this new tarmac lane the trees returned and the views were restricted to a narrow band straight ahead and behind. The road was still climbing and I plodded steadily, feeling this year’s fitness levels paying dividends. A little further on the trees ended and I reached a wide vehicle gate, beyond which was just open fellside, not a tree within a mile. There were a couple of guys up the tower of a transmitter mast beside the track and I could hear them chatting. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it, but I’ve had almost no wind at all on this walk. Of all the weathers, I hate the wind the most, but it’s been almost completely absent on this walk. The road was still tarmac, despite the fells on either side of it. The views across to the left were huge and fantastic, those to the right were great, but I was hard up against the hill, so the length was fairly restricted. If I looked left it could make out the blue ribbon of Loch Tay as it stretched off north. Behind it was the Ben Lawers range, still mostly brown and drab, but dappled in shade today, a most beautiful sight.

Closer to home, the fellside was also brown and dull looking. There are just the tips of green shoots showing in places and the occasional curl of bracken as it begins to break through the dead grasses of last year. In a couple of weeks this will probably look completely different again. I plodded up the tarmac ribbon.

As I rounded a bend in the road I saw a couple of walkers ahead of me. I wondered if maybe it was Malter and Jan. I was gaining on them ever so slightly, but I didn’t really want to catch them up, so I slowed ever so slightly. A little further and I caught sight of three more walkers ahead of them. We were all approaching the dam of the reservoir of Lochan Breaclaich and I assumed most people would use that as a resting point. It’s just short of 4 miles from Killin and we’ve been climbing pretty much all that way. I’d been enjoying the solitude and didn’t particularly want to meet up with people, so I slowed again for a few minutes. As I took in the view behind me, I saw a solo walker coming up quite quickly. I also saw two cars coming up the road, which was a surprise. They didn’t look like work vehicles, so I had no idea what they were doing on this road. It doesn’t really go anywhere other than the reservoir.

As it was, I arrived at the lochan and you could have thrown a big blanket over all 7 of us walkers. I later met the trio, and the couple (it wasn’t Malter and Jan) and we were all walking the RRW. The trio had stopped, but headed off as I arrived. The couple had only slowed to admire the view (or perhaps to catch their breath), but I decided to take a break for 10 minutes and let them all get ahead of me. The solo walker came up from behind me and said hello, but didn’t stop, just poled off up the track after the others. I rationalised that if I let them get ahead of me, I wouldn’t feel the need to up my pace to try and stay ahead of them all. I was determined to take it easy today and enjoy it at a relaxed pace. It was a little chilly sitting beside the dam, so I rolled my sleeves down in an effort to try and avoid adding a layer. I had one of the flapjack bars I’d grabbed at breakfast and a slug of my juice, and just sat there and soaked in the silence.

Beyond the dam of the reservoir, the path turns from tarmac to traditional mountain track, hard packed stones with a grassy strip down the middle. It skirts around the reservoir and much of it is hidden by a fold in the hills, so I was surprised to see the group of three lads just a short way ahead. As I continued it soon became clear that they were a good way ahead, just the path was taking a long ‘out and back’ around the head of the lochan. I saw the two cars that had passed me on the way up the hill earlier, they were parked at what I assume was a pumping station for the reservoir. Mystery solved, they were working there, they’d just driven up in their own cars.

The scenery from this point on was absolutely superb. It had been pretty good ever since I passed through the gates by the transmitter, but these were now lovely moorland views, tiny lochans scattered across the fells and the backdrop provided by cloud dappled big hills rising behind them all. I passed on the steep little diversion up to the trig point on Creag Gharbh, it looked pathless and wet, so that was an easy decision.

The path topped out at about 2,000 feet and at the summit it curved sharply and a new vista opened up – a wide open moor with craggy hills interspersed across it. I could see down the path ahead and the couple from earlier were fairly close now, no sign of the trio of guys, or the solo walker. The tracks bends and curves and soon arrives at one of the major waymarks of this section, a huge pipeline makes a beeline across the fell, visible from miles away. I took another break on a grassy bank and had a Tunnocks wafer. As you reach the point at which the pipeline bends away to the right, the RRW bends left, leaving the four wheel drive track I’d been following for 3 or 4 miles. It heads off across the moorland on a squelchy grassy path – something completely new on this walk. I guess this must have confused the couple who’d been ahead of me, because as I prepared to leave the track they came back down the track towards me. We chatted for a minute or two and I checked they were walking the RRW before showing them the way they needed to go. They sounded Spanish maybe and I said farewell and left them to it. The path looked squelchy, but was nothing compared to some of the paths I’ve used in the Peak District this year and I kept mostly dry boots along its whole length. As it dropped it reminded me of some of the paths I’d used on the Ravenber a couple of years ago and I quite enjoyed the change. The further down it dropped the more agricultural it became and I was soon going through farm gates and passing outbuildings and barns.

I’d ‘budgeted’ four hours to reach the Ardeonaig Hotel and I reckoned I could use whatever time I had in hand to spend there. It was open, so I went in to find the bar. I was promptly robbed! I asked for a pint of Diet Coke, but they only had the little glass bottles, so I had two of them and when the guy rang them through the till they came to £4.20 – I nearly choked! But they were open on the bar now and I really needed a cold drink. The weather had improved significantly over the past hour or two and I was back in rolled up sleeves and feeling quite warm.

I took the most expensive not quite a pint (400ml) of coke up to the seats outside the pub and sat in the sun. The trio of guys were sitting in the beer garden and the Spanish couple came down the road a few minutes later and I pointed them to the bar.

I was then joined by a Scottish couple who were also walking the RRW, I chatted with the guy for a few minutes as his wife went to the bar and we swapped notes on the past few days. The first thing he said was that he wasn’t impressed by the amount of tarmac, but the views were excellent. He pretty much summed up my opinion so far. He also thought today had been the best so far, albeit we both still had to do the next 8 miles along the road.

The trio of guys left, and a minute or two later I followed them. One of the guys was limping and I soon caught them. Limper didn’t speak, but I chatted with the other two. We were climbing steeply up the road as I joined them and I said I’d been expecting this section to be quite flat. One of the guys said he’d not been expecting this bit to be on tarmac. He’s obviously not looked at a map then, because it’s obviously tarmac when you look at it. He also moaned about the number of miles we’d done on the black stuff and he sounded even more pissed off than me and the guy back at the hotel. They were doing the route in 4 days, so they’d been doing 20 mile days to this point and had another 20+ miles to do tomorrow. I guess when a large percentage of your daily 20 miles is on tarmac, it’s harder to forgive than when you’re only doing 10-12 miles a day.

As much as I’d enjoyed the previous 9 miles, I can only say that I endured the remaining 8 along the road. The views across Loch Tay are awesome, the lake itself was great and the Ben Lawers range at close range was even more impressive. I’ve done Ben Lawers, and this is a better view than you get going up it.

It was warm now and the road, as I eluded to earlier, goes up and down along its length so it wasn’t the easy plod I’d been expecting. I’d budgeted until 1:30pm in the hotel, and left at almost exactly that time. I’d expected this 8 miles to take no more than 2 and a half hours, arriving at my B&B for about 4pm. I kept up a good pace, and I never felt like I was pushing particularly hard. Most of my training walks are at least 7 miles, and although they don’t tend to include much height gain, I can easily average 4mph, so I reckoned 3 mph would be a doddle.

The road is apparently ‘walking and cycling friendly’ but that still relies on drivers slowing down as they pass you, on what is a single track road with passing places. Many of them slowed down, and some also moved over and tried to give me space, these all received a wave of acknowledgement. But of course there was a small percentage who just didn’t care, they barely slowed and obviously expected me to stop and step into the hedges and give them space, which I flatly refused to do. This is probably the worst section of long distance walk I’ve ever done. There was a worse section (albeit much shorter) on the Eden Way, but when I came to rewrite the route I made sure to change it to avoid the busy road.

I had a short break to finish my juice and the last of my Tunnocks, sitting on a garden wall. I arrived on the outskirts of Acharn at 3:40. I went to retrieve my supply parcel and was gutted to find it had been scavenged by critters. Almost every item was knawed – the little bastards had had a right feast! I salvaged a couple of small bags of sweets and a bottle of Diet Coke and that was it. The rest of what was left went in a nearby bin. I’d been relying on this for my evening ‘meal’ and for tomorrow’s lunch snacks. I had one scotch pie and a flapjack bar and that was it. I figured I was going to go hungry!

I arrived at the Old Mill B&B just before 4pm and was given a warm welcome by Alex, my hostess. The room is lovely, the shower is fantastic and there’s complimentary whisky beside my bed. It’s still the most expensive walking B&B I’ve ever used. However, when Alex said she’d booked a table at the restaurant that opened up late last year I could have cried. It’s only a mile up the road and she even offered to drop me off and pick me up. That means I can save my pie and flapjack for lunch tomorrow and still get a decent meal tonight.

Alex dropped me off at the Ferryman’s at about 6pm and I was given one of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever had for a meal. It’s basically a bar seat at one of those standing tables. They have a piss poor beer selection and it’s all ridiculously priced. 300ml bottles of lager for £5 – and no surprise, the only beer they had on tap (£6 a pint) wasn’t available. I had an OK Wagyu burger for £18 and a shit bottle of Schiehallion lager for £4.40. I thought it was a bit unfair to ring Alex for the return leg, so I walked back to the B&B. Just as I arrived, it started to spit!

So it’s been a real day of swings and roundabouts – too much tarmac, but awesome views, and a day of excesses – most expensive B&B, most expensive Diet Coke and most expensive burger!

Today’s Map

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