As proper training for the West Highland Way, Janie and I have decided to try some of the stages of the Rob Roy Way over a couple of weekends.
The Rob Roy Way runs from Drymen through to Pitlochry and is 79 miles long. For our first outing, we walked from Drymen to Callander (with a planned overnight stop at Aberfoyle)
We met up at Callander on Saturday morning, where we left my car. We then drove to Drymen in Janie’s car, where the walk begins.
Right from the outset, you get a choice of route. You can either take the minor road to Garadhban Forest, or join the old military road as part of the West Highland Way to get there. We chose the latter, as it gave us a small section of level ground walking to start us off, and gave us a stretch where we wouldn’t be walking on tarmac.
After approximately 20 minutes walking, we arrived at a crossroads, where the official routes of both the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way meet. It was at this point that we joined the minor road, and the uphill walk.
It isn’t long before you leave the forest and walk through moorland. It didn’t take us long to find several patches of fresh Blaeberries, either. Janie grabbed a couple to eat, and I decided I’d pick some to add to our dessert for the day (I had tinned rice pudding, which I’d transferred into a couple of plastic containers)
The road is reasonably level at this point and is pretty straightforward. It’s tarmac all the way, which isn’t the best surface for walking on in boots. It wasn’t particularly long before both of us had sore feet!
After a mile or two, you reach a crossroads. To your right is a car park, and the road seems to continue to your left and straight on. We took the left route, to continue on the Rob Roy Way. Yet again, this route was tarmac, much to my disappointment.
After walking for about 15 minutes, we found a suitable place to stop for a bit to eat. WHilst having some lunch we discussed the walk so far. We both pretty much agreed that the scenery was nice, the tarmac was horrible, but we didn’t really feel like we were escaping civilisation. (Since joining the minor road, we’d been passed by half a dozen cars and quite a few cyclists) Hopefully this would change later on!
Just after setting off again, we came across my first treat of the day. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an interest in butterflies and moths, so the fluttering of a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was definitely a pleasure! After a bit of chasing, I managed to get a half decent photo, too!
Now, I’m the first to admit that I chose to do this walk for several reasons (Janie was happy to go along with whatever I chose, so I’m fully to blame for it!). The first was that the Rob Roy Way is reasonably close to home, so completing it over a few weekends should be easy enough. The second, is that I knew this particular stretch had some architecture and engineering that I find fascinating. Having watched the BBC’s Making Scotland’s Landscape last year (Sadly, no longer available on iPlayer, but I suspect it’ll be on Blighty or Eden or some other TV channel in the future, so keep your eyes peeled!), I particularly enjoyed the episode discussing Scotland’s water. In particular, the bit discussing supplying water to Glasgow.
Water is pumped from Loch Katrine over 30 miles to supply drinking water to Glasgow. What’s amazing is that the system was originally opened (by Queen Victoria, apparently) in 1859, and although there have been a few modifications and upgrades over time, it’s still predominantly working today!
The structure pictured below was our first sighting of this engineering marvel. This is what is best described as a ‘breathing tower’ – basically, it allows air into the system, to allow the water to breathe and stay fresh.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed throughout this walk that there were no signs or boards to let the public know what these structures are. Similarly, as you walk along, there’s several aqueducts, etc (shown below), which people are not told about.
You’ll notice from the pictures above that the road is no longer tarmac! It changed to a gravel surface not much further on from the first breathing tower, and it was significantly more comfortable to walk on!
As we had a nice, sunny day (strangely, as the forecast leading up to the weekend was looking awful!), there were butterflies everywhere as we walked. We must have seen over 50 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, lots of Ringlet, Common Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and a single Red Admiral. It definitely made the walk more pleasant, although at the same time, the heat was becoming a bit of an issue!
It wasn’t too much longer before we were walking through Loch Ard Forest proper, which we knew was our final stage before we reached Aberfoyle, our planned stopping point for the day. This part of the walk was particularly challenging. As we had trees on all sides of the track, we had little sense of how close to Aberfoyle we were. I kept thinking it would be over the next little rise (We were generally moving downhill, into the valley which we knew contained Aberfoyle), but it kept going on and on and on. Janie was exhausted, with the heat and the weight of the pack, so this was becoming quite an endurance test for her.
After over an hour of walking through terrain like this, we eventually arrived at Aberfoyle. The first order of business was a quick trip to The Forth Inn, for a pint of coke, with lots of ice, each!
After that, we sat down at the picnic benches overlooking the centre of town, enjoying the lovely day. As the picnic benches were in a nice grassy area, I more or less decided that we should maybe just camp there for the night, rather than return to our original planned sleeping point. (Lochan Spling, about a mile out of town) Janie wasn’t too keen on the idea, thinking we might upset the locals or get moved on. I wasn’t so bothered, it has to be said.
We decided to eat our meals (Wayfayrer meals – I had thought they were a good choice, but at 300g each, they’re far too heavy for serious backpacking!) and tuck into our Rice Pudding and Blaeberry desserts!
After a fair bit of relaxing, the topic again turned to the sleeping arrangements for the night. As we were wild camping, the choice really was ours. We could camp where and when we liked. In the end, we decided we’d carry on walking the Rob Roy Way, towards our ultimate goal of Callander. We’d either keep walking through the night (clearly we were feeling refreshed!) or find a place to stop as we went.
So, off we went, at about 8:30 in the evening, back on the trail.
The path was uphill, pretty much as soon as we set off. It was hard going at points, and Janie struggled a fair bit. Luckily, we were on a nice, wide, dirt track and we had plenty of light. The evening views back the way we had come were also rather spectacular.
There was a certain peacefulness to the walk, with nobody else to be seen, that made it all the more enjoyable. Just as the sun was beginning to set, and the light was going, Janie noticed something on the path and let out a little shriek. A slow worm! I’d never seen one before, so it was a pretty amazing sight, and we both knew that had we been walking during the day, it would almost certainly not have been there.
The problem now was that the road and gravel was beginning to run out, and the path was becoming a slightly more challenging walk in the fading light. That coupled with the clouds of midgies if you stopped for more than 30 seconds, made things a little more interesting!
We decided to play it safe and find a safe spot to camp. It just turned out, in the end, that the highest point on the whole walk would be our campsite! Out of the woods and over a stile, and a perfect flat piece of ground presented itself to us! It only took 5 minutes or so to pitch the tent, which is a good thing, as the clouds of midgies were becoming unbearable (though neither of us got bitten, thanks to Smidge).
In the morning, this is what we were presented with.
The walk from here is over a mix of rocky and boggy ground for a mile or so, until you reach a small loch. Once there, you go onto a dirt track for a couple of hundred feet, then a slightly steeper (but just as boggy and rocky) footpath which travels steeply down to the minor road at the edge of Loch Venachar. Walking along this road for about 4 miles has you in Callander, and the journey’s end for us. We got there just before 10am, which wasn’t too bad going!
All in all, the walk was quite good, and reasonably enjoyable. The downside is that the vast majority of it is on tarmac, which isn’t kind to the feet. Despite this, though, I think we both enjoyed it and are looking forward to the next stage (We’ve doing Callander to Killin at the end of July!)