Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lochs, Rivers, Bridges and Leaping Salmon - The Faskally Circuit

Despite the beautiful autumnal sunshine, clear weather forecast and almost perfectly still air, we didn't head for the high mountains. Sadly, my wife is carrying a bit of an injury to her right shin/ankle which seems to get aggravated by hard walking. Instead, we went to Pitlochry and walked the paths and roads which form a circuit of Loch Faskally and its two main feeding rivers, The Tummel and The Garry.

The Car Park near Pitlochry Station has a road which leads under the tracks and down towards the Hydro-Electric dam, which is one of the town's most well known features. The dam, which blocked the River Tummel just after WWII, created Loch Faskally, and provides 15MW of power for the National Grid. While some artificial lochs look very artificial, Faskally has a remarkably natural feel to it, given how short a period of time it has been part of the landscape. It is also home to a network of easily navigable waymarked paths which form pleasant and undemanding walking routes.

We struck Northwards up the East side of the loch. The route begins on a shore-hugging footpath, then diverts around some housing and picks up a minor road out to a boat club. Here, the town is left behind and the lochside path, decked in autumn colours is delightful.

The first landmark in the route is the bridge which takes the A9 trunk road high over the loch. Its amazing to think that until 1981, all the North-South traffic between The Central Belt and The Highlands was funnelled through Pitlochry High Street on the old A9. My Grandparents regularly drove (or moped-ed) the old A9, on their highland holidays, which often began with a Motorail journey through England - which itself had no complete motorway network in those days. The queues in Pitlochry High Street in the summer must have been demoralising for tourists and locals alike. These days the A9 is slewed across the glen and back, and Pitlochry is but a series of roofs and spires on the far side, as far as most travellers are concerned. The only negative aspect of this is that the railway line has not been upgraded over the years in which untold millions has been spent on (and is continuing to be spent on) the A9. That, and the fact that most travellers to the North are carried high above the lovely lochs, woods and rivers that surround Pitlochry, which are simply not visible from the tarmac and crash-barriers. Looking up from under the A9 bridge over which we have driven maybe hundreds of times, we realised what we had been missing!

Immediately under the A9 bridge, a footbridge crosses the river, we didn't cross it, but continued up the East
side of the Tummel - that bridge would be part of our return route, and the last in a series of remarkable and dramatic footbridges which have been hurled across the rivers here. The path follows the bank of the river, past the confluence of the Tummel and The Garry and the majestic Faskally House. eventually passing under the soaring bridge of the Loch Rannoch, Rannoch Station and Rannoch Moor road. Nearly a quarter of a century ago my wife and I drove over along that road on one of our first dates; today we walked under it with two of our three children, while our oldest (who earlier in the day received confirmation that he is entered on the electoral role and vote in the Scottish elections next year), stayed at home to revise for his exams: tempus fugit!

A few hundred yards past the high road bridge, an amazing footbridge crosses the river. A path continues to Killiecrankie, but time prevented us from going further, and we crossed to begin our return walk down the west side of the river and loch. Crossing the bridge, my wife realised that she had seen this view before - but wasn't sure where. Suddenly she unearthed a memory.... these bridges in the Pass of Killiecrankie had been on the cover of the University of Dundee 1990 Prospectus which she had received prior to going there to read medicine. It turned out that this was a walk she had been intending to do since then!

The path back down the west side of the Garry is charming, with open fields and farms complementing the fast-flowing torrent now on the left. The return walk is longer than the outward leg, as the River Tummel, joining the Garry from the West, presents an uncross-able obstacle at the confluence. A diversion of a mile or two up the Tummel to another (wonderful) footbridge is required in order to resume southward progress. This however is no bad thing, as the excursion up the Linn of Tummel is one of the highlights of the walk. As we were there, the waters were crashing over the rocks, with Salmon hurling themselves into the fray in their annual upriver migration. It would be worth coming our here for this alone!

Once over the Tummel, the route joins an unclassified road which runs behind the Clunie power station, and on to the first footbridge by the A9 road, and the completion of the circuit. All that remains is a gentle plod along the side of Loch Faskally back to Pitlochry - and the inevitable coffee shop visit before the drive home. This may not have been an epic mountain day, and McNeish might be optimistic in calling this one of "Scotland's 100 Greatest Walks", but it is a charming and delightful place, full of interest and beauty, perfect for a Winter walk, or to enjoy in autumn colours.

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