My three-day walk in 2009 took me across the central part of Scotland’s Glasgow-to-Edinburgh central belt, and mixed canal walking with moorland and the floodplain of the River Forth. The walk ends at Callander, tourist trap of the Trossachs, and threshold of the Highlands, with Munros around the corner.
It wasn’t meant to end in Callander. The plan had been for a fourth day, across the Munros of Stuc a’Chroin and Ben Vorlich, to Lochearnhead. Alas I picked up a tummy bug – not in Scotland, I can reassure my kind hosts – with the result that day 3 of the planned four was a non-walking day.
The loss of a day had the side-effect of changing the planned logistics for 2010. The thought was, get back to Lochearnead late afternoon from London, walk into Killin on the old rail track – only a couple of hours. Instead, it gave me the opportunity not to re-climb Stuc a’Chroin and Ben Vorlich (albeit 30 years after ascent 1), but to climb Callander’s favourite hill, Ben Ledi, at which I had gazed in interest all those years ago. I’m pleased I did now: see my Trossachs page for more details.
Finishing the canal
Stage 9, Monday 1 June 2009: Falkirk to Kilsyth, 13 miles
A quiet canal-side stroll. Only two problems: a sweltering hot day, and a mid-afternoon start. I had travelled up from a family wedding in Shropshire, and that meant relentlessly grinding out the miles to be in my B&B at a sensible time.
Despite the late start, I spent half-an-hour admiring the remarkable Falkirk Wheel boat lift, before the long slog along the Forth and Clyde canal. I have to say I preferred last year’s Union canal to the F&C; there are some genuinely enchanting rural passages on the former. In particular, my final F&C stretch, dead straight and ship-canal wide, felt like a soulless trudge. Anyone retracing my steps might like to consider a diversion through Croy Hill just before Auchinstarry. Both canals though have the merit of wide uninterrupted views north, and I kept trying to work out the difference between the various ranges beyond. Frustratingly, tomorrow’s hill Meikle Bin, though the biggest thing for miles, remained out of sight until just possibly a brief glimpse for a couple of hundred yards before Auchinstarry.
Auchinstarry has a modern marina with a plastic pub. I dived in (to the pub, not the marina) for a pint of water with a lager chaser and a lamb curry. From the marina I left the canal and headed past a fine climbing quarry through Kilsyth, where a quick bit of provisioning, and on to farmhouse B&B at Allanfauld Farm, just above the town. Kilsyth is one of a few dozen Walkers are Welcome towns across Britain, an imaginative step to take considering that most of its companions are bijou little places in picture-book scenery. The folk of Kilsyth don’t have it easy, and it’s good to see them welcoming the likes of you and me.
Through the Campsies
Stage 10, Tuesday 2 June 2009: Kilsyth to Kippen, 15 miles
It had not been a good night. Gory details spared, but if I have just a poached egg instead of the full works for breakfast, then something is not right. And another hot day forecast too. Take it slowly, I told myself.
Allanfauld is a working farm, and a very successful one too if the beautifully-tended garden and rooms are anything to go by. It keeps hill sheep and pedigree Charolais cattle, presumably on the fields above, and hence a little route discussion was in order. I had intended to take the clear path rising east of the Garrel Burn and look to pick up anything of a ridge path westwards, but the farmer recommended me to stay west of the burn, rising through his land towards Laird’s Hill. Something of an antidote to the ‘get-off-my-land’ mentality – how refreshing! So this I did, and though I found gates and gaps in pretty much the right places, it was often a bit of a tussocky slog, not too well suited to my delicate condition.
Eventually I picked up the path rising from Queenzieburn to Birkenburn reservoir and was able to make better time. From the map, Meikle Bin (1871ft) is entirely surrounded by forest, but I had done my research and knew there would be ways through. From the dam, walk up by the fence NNW to pick up the ridge path westwards at the forest boundary until a prominent channel (seen in the picture left) leads down to a dip. From here, the summit is visible beyond. It’s a pleasant grassy top, with wide views. I tried to spot the bit of canal from which I might have had intervisibility the previous afternoon, but it was a little hazy; more pertinently, I researched the route forward, well seen beyond the Carron Valley reservoir. Leaving the summit, roughly NW, the path through the forest is clear to a forestry track, at which turn R towards the reservoir.
Eventually you leave the forest at the reservoir dam and cross a B road by Todholes farm. The Endrick Water makes a gap in the hills here, which I would use to cross to Kippen. There is no continuous path, but the access road to the wind farm on Cringate Law heads in the right direction (makes a change for a wind farm to do something useful for walkers), with just a short off-piste section above a fence after the access road has crossed the Water. A gate at 676882 allows you over Burnfoot Burn and the short rise to the ruined cottage that gives the burn its name. From the cottage (do not enter – nesting site), a track leads above the Spout of Ballochleam (lovely name) and down past Auldhall Farm (more B&B possibilities); rather than stay on the road, I took a track left that became a green lane then crossed field, wood and football pitch before arriving almost opposite the Cross Keys Inn in Kippen. 15 miles over hill and moor on a hot day; tummy must be on the mend, surely? Time for bangers, mash and real ale.
Menteith: lake and hills
Stage 11, Thursday 4 June 2009: Kippen to Callander, 15 miles
But the small hours of Wednesday were a repeat of those of Tuesday. By 4am it was clear that walking would not be wise. The landlord of the Cross Keys was helpful, I rearranged my accommodation, and did little more than a swift trip to village medical centre and the pharmacy in Stirling. I caught up my lost sleep on Wednesday night, and with the next stage an easy one, set forwards once more.
From Kippen there’s a quick way out – to the busy A811 – or a slightly longer and much quieter one, by back lanes past Claylands Farm, which I took. This crosses the main road at Arnprior, where the local walkers’ website recommends, perhaps surprisingly, the B8034 northwards to the Lake of Menteith. It’s certainly a quiet road; something around one car every five minutes in either direction. It’s just the tarmac that gets you down. Here you are crossing Flanders Moss, now largely drained, but once an impenetrable morass in the heart of Scotland.
There are some wonderful place names here. Arnprior has rivals in Arnvicar and Arnclerich; there are various Offerances, a Garden and its Backside, and my personal favourite, the Pendicles of Collymoon, a low terrace by the River Forth, which is about half way between Arnprior and the Lake. The Lake itself is famous as the only lake (ie, not loch) in Scotland, but the locals have quietly slipped in a Lochend house and farm. I had planned a pint and sandwich in the pub at Port of Menteith, but I wasn’t risking anything like that today, and I also skipped the intended tourist trip to Inchmahome, the lake’s isle.
The afternoon was taken up by the crossing of the Menteith Hills, but this is as simple a hill-crossing as any can be. About half-a-mile along the (busy) A81, a byroad slants upwards towards a few scattered hillside dwellings, some of them quite grand. Beyond these it becomes a track heading for a gap in the hills, summiting around 850ft compared to the approx 1400ft of the biggest of the hills, Beinn Dearg, which is visible to the right. It’s all very pleasant on the open hillside, though there’s a good deal of bracken around hindering off-track forays upward. Just before the top of the pass, you enter forest, which pulls the views back, though there’s a nice little fishing lake at a junction of paths, and recent clearance had opened up a broad panorama of Ben Ledi, Stuc a’Chroin and (just the top of) Ben Vorlich. I gazed on this scene at about the time that I should have been summitting Ben Vorlich; perfect Munro conditions going begging. But I was also thinking about how Ben Ledi feels the ‘natural’ way north from here. Soon, you join the road through Gartchonzie, and the big town of Callander – the biggest left on my intended route – rolls into view.
Day one at Allanfauld Farm, just above Kippen. I photographed the MacGregors (see sidebar) as they were incredibly helpful! Days two and (enforced) three at the Cross Keys, Kippen. Picture does not include hosts Debby and Brian but they were very helpful too. I really regret missing out on their food and beer.
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