410 metres of ascent
Ever since I made my ascent of Ben Vrackie from the west, I’ve been hankering to use the Pitlochry Path Network to make a circuit of the waterways between Pitlochry and Killiecrankie. So this one is devoid of hills but replete with rivers and bridges.
I parked at the car park below the visitor centre at the Pitlochry hydroelectric dam, and walked across the dam to reach the south shore of Loch Faskally. Here’s the view looking back along the dam to the visitor centre:
And looking east below the dam, to the “salmon ladder” that lets migrating fish make their way upstream into the upper Tummel and Garry rivers:
My father used to also migrate regularly to the Pitlochry Dam—it was a feature of autumn in our house that we’d make a pilgrimage to the dam to watch the salmon leaping their way up through the “steps” of the ladder.
At the far end of the dam, I turned west and started to make my way along the narrow, muddy trail that wends along the shore of Loch Faskally.
Faskally didn’t exist until the 1950s, when the dam was built across the River Tummel, flooding an area of low-lying fields and woodland on either side of the Tummel. As far as I can see, looking at the old pre-dam maps, the only building lost was a fairly substantial property called Dallreach, on low ground west of Fonab Castle.
The lochside path continues for six or seven hundred metres, and then pops out at the roadside at Balmore. Beyond that point I had a bit of road-walking to do, on a narrow ribbon of tarmac that, potentially, could take me almost all the way to Tummel Bridge.
The road soon makes a right-angle bend to the west, and passes under the south end of the modern bridge that carries the A9 across the loch. I made a brief diversion to take a look at the Clunie Bridge, a footbridge that accompanies the road bridge, at a lower level:
It provides the potential for a fine short walking loop around lower Loch Faskally. I walked out into the middle of the span for a view into the middle reach of Faskally:
And then I headed back to the road again. I’d be getting a better view of the Clunie Bridge when I came back down the far side of the loch.
It’s a very quiet road—I encountered only two vehicles. One was a Highway Maintenance lorry, and the other an honest-to-god chauffeur-driven Range Rover. (Either that, or the driver, resplendent in peaked cap, white shirt and black tie, was on his way to some sort of nautical-themed funeral.) As it turns north and rises, it opens up views into the upper part of Faskally.
Eventually I arrived at the entrance to the Clunie Power Station, a vaguely Soviet-looking monumental arch:
That horseshoe-shaped archway is actually a section of the long tunnel that brings water down from Loch Tummel and into the power station.
From here, I followed the road west again, along the south side of the River Tummel, though the view of the river itself was largely obscured by trees. My Tummel crossing point was the very slightly wobbly Coronation Bridge:
The coronation in question is that of George V, making the bridge a good 110 years old, so I wasn’t tempted to bounce up and down in the centre.
Walking back along the north side of the Tummel, I made a small diversion to take in another royal memorial:
It’s a rather dull little obelisk, erected to memorialize a visit to this spot by Queen Victoria in 1844. She’d come, I presume, to take a look at the Linn of Tummel*, a waterfall just upstream from the obelisk:
On, then, along a path that turned north along the west side of the River Garry, and soon passed under the Garry Bridge, which carries the B8019, from Rannoch Station, across the river to join the A9.
The curious structure on the underside of the span is the jumping-off point for a bungee jump into the gorge.
(Attentive readers of the blog will recall the conversation that concluded my ascent of Ben Vrackie, with the young woman who was keen to know if I’d “done the bungee jump”. Yep, this is that bungee jump.)
A little way north of the Garry Bridge is yet another footbridge, which again would have let me cross the river and make a shorter loop if I’d wanted to.
OpenStreetMap shows a path continuing up the west side of the river at this point, but I instead walked up to the car park next to the Garry Bridge, and turned on to the little ribbon of tarmac that passes over the shoulder of Craig Fonvuick and then descends towards Killiecrankie.
I thought this might give me some longer views than would be available deep in the gorge, and that proved to be the case. I was able to admire the complicated summits of Beinn a’ Ghlo, still shrouded in snow:
The road passes through the little settlement of Tenandry, which sounds to me like it should be a thing, rather than a place—an obscure mediaeval law of inheritance, perhaps; or one of the apparently infinite number of subdivisions of sexuality so cherished by Generation Z.
But it’s a place, and pretty one, consisting of a church, the church manse, a church cottage, and one other house. I forgot to take a photograph of it, so here it is in Google Maps street view:
The road eventually led me steeply down to the bridge at Killiecrankie, where I crossed the Garry and began my return down the east side of the loch. A signpost to Pitlochry next to the village hall took me on to a muddy little footpath that at first ran along the north side of the road, and then crossed it to descend into the steep-sided Pass of Killiecrankie. Here, I made another little diversion to visit another water feature—the Soldier’s Leap.
A government soldier, fleeing the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) with a Jacobite Highlander hot on his heels, later claimed to have leapt 18 feet across the river—allegedly from the boulder in the low middle of my photograph above.
When I got home after my walk, I discovered that I’d apparently leapt the gap myself, too. With its view of the GPS constellation limited by the steep sides of the gorge, my GPS receiver briefly lost track of where I was, just as I stopped to view the Soldier’s Leap. You can see the artefactual jump across the river in my recorded track (the magenta line) below:
Then I pressed on southwards, beside the lovely arches of the railway viaduct, and then through mixed forest beside the river bank.
Just as I drew level with the eastern end of the footbridge across the Garry, I happened on this object beside the path:
It’s an old milestone, signposting (now illegible) distances to Tummel Bridge and Blair Atholl. I puzzled for a long time why there was a milestone beside a muddy footpath in the depths of the Pass of Killiecrankie, but eventually realized that, before the opening of the modern Garry bridge, soaring across the gorge above my head, the old road from Tummel Bridge used to descend into the gorge, cross the river more or less where the footbridge is now, and then ascend under the railway line to join the old A9. For about fifty metres between its descent and ascent, it ran along the east bank of the river—which is why the milestone is there, as a reminder of a long-vanished road.
My path then took me in a long curve around the grounds of Faskally House, eventually bringing me out on the House’s long tarmac driveway. The drive also serves an extensive cluster of buildings, which signage identified as the Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland Directorate. At the time I felt they’d placed themselves at an inconvenient distance from the sea, but it turns out Marine Scotland is housed in several locations across Scotland, and I was looking at one of their Freshwater Laboratories.
The laboratories sit at the head of a wide, shallow embayment which, in the days before the reservoir filled, was a field attached to Faskally House. When I visited it, there was a slow circular current in the bay, presumably driven by the flow of water coming down from the confluence of the Tummel and Garry just upstream. You can see below how a disc of floating debris has been penned by the rotary flow, like a tiny Sargasso Sea:
I walked down the driveway for a while, and then dived into the little network of paths around Loch Dunmore, aiming to emerge on the loch-shore somewhere near the east end of the Clunie footbridge. It all went swimmingly for a while, before my path seemed to simply terminate at a waymarker post. At first I thought I was going to be forced unpleasantly on to the hard shoulder of the A924, but I could actually see the loch from the point at which I’d lost the path, so instead I just descended steeply through the trees, climbed over a fence, and stumbled out at a little viewpoint from which I could admire the span of the Clunie Bridge.
From there, a path took me under the road bridge to emerge at the Pitlochry Boating Station.
As I approached I’d been hearing the call of a moorhen (which always sounds to me like someone vigorously rubbing wet glass), but at the little dock I was greeted by no more than a rather lazy group of mallards, and a Mystery Duck I can’t identify.
From there, it was back on tarmac for a short distance, to circumvent the loch-shore grounds of the (extremely well situated) Green Park Hotel, before heading downhill on the pavements of a small residential area to eventually reach a loch-shore path that took me the last few hundred metres to my car. And, incidentally, to the Visitor Centre. Where I had a rather nice tuna and mayo sandwich.
* You’ll find rather a lot of misinformation relating to the Linn of Tummel, both on local information boards and on-line.
First, there’s the story that the word linn refers to the pool below the falls, rather than to the falls themselves, because in Scottish Gaelic linne means “deep pool”. But this is just a common etymological fallacy—Scottish English is under no obligation to adhere to the Gaelic meaning, even if linn does indeed derive from linne. (The Oxford English Dictionary points out that Old English hlynn means “torrent”, and of course Scottish English derives much more of its vocabulary from archaic English than it does from Gaelic.) But whatever the etymology, the relevant entry in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language contains many illustrative quotations in which linn is obviously synonymous with “waterfall”.
Second, and building on this misconception that a linn is necessarily a pool, is the claim that the phrase “Linn of Tummel” is of recent origin, replacing “Falls of Tummel” only when the Faskally dam raised the local water level, reducing the height of the falls and creating the pool evident today. But this is demonstrably not so—for example, the Caledonian Mercury of 8 January 1827 advertised the sale of the estate of Fincastle, in Atholl, including the “right to a third of the salmon fishing in the Linn or Falls of Tummel.” Whatever the estate agents meant by “Linn”, it obviously wasn’t anything to do with the building of the Faskally dam, a century later.