12th May 2023: Acharn to Aberfeldy – 12.6 miles
Apologies for being a little behind in posting these updates, as nice as the Old Mill in Acharn was, my room didn’t get the WiFi signal and I had very little mobile signal to speak of, so Day 5 was late. Other events overtook me, of which I will speak later, which meant that the rest of the journal was also delayed, but here it is now!
As I said, the Old Mill in Acharn was really good – not just OK, it was excellent. I’m not totally convinced it was worth £90 (although I’m sure some people would be happy to pay that), but I came away with no complaints and there’s not many places I can say that about!
I had trouble breathing in the night, thanks to my developing cold, which hasn’t stopped me from walking, but the sore throat part is a damned nuisance and the blocked nose even more so. At least my single-barrel snotgun approach didn’t require me to carry tissues all day.
I had a lovely cooked breakfast and the beans even came in their own little ramekin so I could use as many or as few as I liked – always a sign that the cook knows a thing or two about cooked breakfasts! I’d asked for it to be served about 8:30, as I had plenty of time today (no bus to catch) and the weather was supposed to improve as the day went on. I was out of the door just before 10am and made my way up the rocky farm track beside the Falls of Acharn. The path is quite steep to begin with and although you can hear the burn running through the deep defile to the left of the path, I couldn’t see anything other than tree branches.
Towards the top of the climb I saw a little wooden sign pointing to ‘Hermit’s Cave’ so I followed it into a cave cut into the rock of the hillside. A pitch black tunnel led to a balcony that overlooks the falls proper and I’m sure after a lot of rain they’d be impressive, but there was very little water in them today and they just looked like a wet wall of rock.
A little further along the farm track I saw a solo walker ahead of me, but I never caught up with him, mainly because I’d decided to take my alternative route today – the weather was good, my legs feel strong and head’s in a good place. The traditional RRW route stays a little above the road through Strath Tay and it wanders up and down through the forest (on the map – which may or may not still be there). I’d plotted a higher route that visited a trig point and then joined the RRW spur route from Glen Quaich, which looked much more interesting on the map. The only slightly dubious stretch was getting from the farm track I was on, to the moorland 4WD track on Meall Greigh.
After crossing the Allt Mhucaidh bridge I headed right, up through a rough pasture on a quad bike track to reach a wide gate in a deer fence. Beyond this there was no path and I high-stepped through the deep marsh grass, heather humps and newly planted spruce trees. I reached what I had expected to be a path (black dash line on the OS map), but was more like an old ditch that had become overgrown. I followed it anyway, sometimes in it, sometimes beside it. It was hard going and the soggy ground was quite draining as it climbed steadily up the slope. I stopped often to catch my breath and to enjoy the view behind – Loch Tay and Ben Lawers, covered in cloud.
The OS map shows the ‘path’ meeting the moorland 4WD track, but in fact it meets a deer fence, protecting a dry stane dike topped with three rows of wire (not barbed thankfully). There was no gate in either barrier, in either direction as far as I could see. I threw my pack over the deer fence and climbed over and then repeated the acrobatics for the dike-fence, and joined the track. It was all easy going from here, albeit the path continued to climb gently for the next mile or two.
The hills ahead and those behind all had their tops in the cloud, but I was just below that level and although there was no sun, it was a little bit muggy and I had a good sweat on as I climbed. I must have seen half a dozen mountain hares along this stretch of track, their white coats long gone of course, but still great to see them bounding off ahead of me.
I left the track at its high point, with every intention of crossing the 500-600 yards of moorland to bag the trig point, but when I found a wonderfully placed and shaped rock, I sat down and had a break. The trig looked mockingly at me, but I decided against the uphill slog and ate my flapjack bar instead. The track dropped almost as gently as it climbed and I loved this moorland section. The views were awesome and the solitude was palpable, a lone walker making his way through a remote landscape of dark brown heather and light brown marsh grass. All too soon I reached the road that would take me back to Acharn if I wanted, but also brings the RRW from Glen Quaich in the south.
I passed a trio of bikers having a snack and a lady parked in her car in a passing place with her three dogs barking in the back (which was odd) and then I turned off the road to walk past the very picturesque (and unnamed) reservoir on another moorland 4WD track. I had another short break beside the water and could see blue sky breaking out ahead of me. This was another wonderful stretch, the track following the snaking Urlar Burn for much of it and being all the more scenic because of it.
Over the next hour or so the sky cleared nicely, now more blue than cloud and the day warmed up. I’d be hard-pressed to commit to which I prefer more; desolate moorland under blue skies, or desolate moorland under cloud and mist – they both have their own scenic merits, but I guess it’s always better to be warmed by the sun. After a while and the moorland transformed into farmland and green was gradually introduced into the colour palette beside the path. I took another break on a stack of fence posts and at the buildings at Urlar I joined the tarmac again.
Not for long though, as the RRW planners have taken the scenic route into Aberfeldy. The path diverts to visit the Falls of Moness and then follows a wonderful track down beside the Moness Burn through what is called the Birks of Aberfeldy. The RRW now follows a tourist path beside the steep burn, using hundreds of wooden steps and carefully fenced paths to visit the best of the waterfalls. The path drops about 600ft over the course of 600-700 yards and it’s absolutely splendid. I imagine if it were busy I’d have brought away a different opinion, but I saw only about 6 people along the whole descent and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I walked into town in beautiful sunshine, completely soaked in sweat. For the first time on this walk, my feet felt like they’d done a day’s walking, I was beginning to feel the aches and pains I would normally associate with day three or four on a long walk. I made a beeline for the Station House Hotel, to find I’d been upgraded to a better room. I ordered an early breakfast and went up for a shower. I was soon back out into the town and looking for a cold drink and comfy chair to write up the journal. I tried three pubs and none of them were quite right, but I eventually settled in the Fountain and decided to try and sort out a bit of admin, in advance of tomorrow.
I may have mentioned, I left my car in Pitlochry. I’d actually parked it in the station car park – which was certainly the most convenient place, but also seemed one of the safest places to leave a car for 8 days – I figured there would always be cars around it, so it wouldn’t stick out as being parked for a long time. The station uses an online parking service (RingGo), so I’d paid using their app, while I was waiting for the train last Saturday. However, the app had only let me pay for seven days, so I knew I was going to have to extend that once the current session had expired, at midnight tonight. When I booked it, I reckoned if I did it early enough on the Saturday morning, I could extend it before anyone came along to check tickets, etc.
While I was sat in the pub I thought I’d try and sort it out now, just to be safe. The RingGo app’s [Extend Session] button was greyed out, which I assumed was because the session wasn’t expired yet, but it did worry me slightly – I would have expected to be able to extend a session (by definition) rather than create a new one. Never mind, I’ll create a new one instead. When I tried to do this, the app refused to let me. I had to go to their website FAQ page to find that if you can’t extend a session and can’t create a new session, it’s probably because you’ve reached the maximum allowable stay in that car park! This was a bit of a disaster, it would mean risking a parking fine for the whole of the time it would take me to get to the car in the morning. I reckoned the earliest I could get there would be noon, if I legged it. I tried to find the value of the fine on the ScotRail website, but to no avail. If it was £30-40 I would probably risk it, but much more than that would be too painful.
I went through my options. I probably spent 30 minutes thinking and planning. I considered getting a bus or a taxi to Pitlochry this evening, moving my car to another car park and then getting back to Aberfeldy so I could finish the walk tomorrow. I did briefly consider just getting the bus/taxi tonight and then driving home, but that was a fleeting thought, I really wanted to finish the walk! There was no direct bus and a taxi would have probably cost as much as any parking fine. Then I had a moment of clarity, like the Sherlock Holmes quote “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains…” – when applied to situation, it just meant I would have to walk it tonight!
I weighed up the timings, the mileage, the daylight remaining, how tired I was right now, and a dozen other variables. It was like that scene in ‘The Hangover‘ where Allan is calculating his odds at the card table in Las Vegas. It’s one thing to walk 22 miles in a day, and I’ve done it plenty of times when I’ve needed to – but it’s something else completely, to walk 12.5 miles, think the day is done, and then have to walk another 9.5 miles.
I went back to my room, filled my platypus, packed away my gear, donned my still sweaty baselayer and shirt, went down to reception and checked out. It was 4.30pm. I’d had a shower, a cold drink and 90 minutes break and I set off down the road in beautiful evening sunlight, to finish the Rob Roy Way.