TGO Challenge 2018 – Oban to Kinnabaer: #3 from Pitlochry

The map shows the route tracked from 30 minute beacons sent by a Spot satellite tracker and captured by Phil Sorrell’s Social Hiking site. Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.

Download file for GPS

Pitlochry was planned as the first night indoors. I had tried to find somewhere earlier, but without luck. A room give a chance to regroup – to dry out, to wash, and check over gear. With fine weather however the 7 nights of wild camping did not generate much work and arriving in the early afternoon allowed me to enjoy the ambiance of the Backpackers Hotel and relax with some fruit;-)

Chris Townsend is my guide to Scotland and I think it was his book of this name that extolled the virtues of the riverside walk from Pitlochry towards Kilicrankie. It is a pleasant way to leave the town – on a path shared mostly with a few dog-walkers who makes way to families as you get closer to the Kilicrankie Visitors Centre.

Across the road there’s a track into the hills.

In the middle of nowhere, beyond the end of the track there’s groups of home-made picnic benches.

The slopes leading to Carn Liath are visible in the distance and navigation across to the main path up from Blair Atholl is easy; not visible on the map are the grazing sheep and cattle that provide an even sward for marching across.

The group of young people I follow are heading up the valley and I turn off to the beginning of the ridge. It’s 1 o’clock and someone has just completed the 3 munro round having started at 5:30am. There’s a good but steep path up and I am passed first by some runners, then a family with small children.

On the col before the path ascends the second munro there’s 5 or 6 people in a conflab. Someone has gone missing. Friend Linda has been waiting for Maxine for a while. What should she do? Difficult to know really – the weather is fine and clear, the path is straight forward, and there’s a number of people doing the round.

Its easy to dwell on this and, moving slowly, I decide to skip the third munro of the Beinn A’Ghlo group (where I might find Maxine) and head down to Glen Tilt to camp. Something, maybe my reflection on the lost walker, makes me a little careless in plotting my trajectory. What should have been easy turns into a nightmare as I scramble down a steep stream-bed – a recipe for double exhaustion not to mention some hours delay.

Scrambling down was not fun!

Eventually I reach level ground by the river and a short walk leads to the bridge where I intended to descend. A small tent is already pitched and closed up for the night. I set up nearby and welcome some food and a good rest.

I was camping at the bottom of Luib Mhor, having descended Torran nan Caillach by mistake. The next morning I was soon opposite An Lochain where I would have ended if I had traversed the 3rd munro Carn nan Gabhar. As I pass, someone coming from that direction is preparing to cross the river towards me.

A walker preparing to cross River Tilt

The falls of Tarf, un-dramatic but pretty with the Bedford Bridge soon appear; and then the crossing which will take me to Fealar Lodge. Here a couple of campers observe that ‘everyone except us’ seems to be doing the TGO coast to coast walk. Where is everybody? I haven’t seen a TGOer for days!

Bedford Bridge
Falls of Tarf

As I approach Fealar there are two walkers moving slowly, looking unsure of the path. This turns out to be TGOers John Arlington from Washington and his English companion. They are heading my way, but have a room booked at Spittal of Glenshee – some distance before I plan to stop, so after a chat I lead off.

Loch nan Eun

There are a couple of munros on my plan for today, but I demur. Although walking faster than the colleagues I have just passed, I am too slow to reach my target over the mountains so I follow my FWA along the glen. Today is cloudy and cooler and Loch nan Eun is grey and desolate.

I pass the ‘Activity Centre’ where I expect some TGOers to be staying tonight – the sign says ‘Cafe Closed’, ‘No Vacancies’. A little later I explain to a local where I intend to camp – “its as good as anywhere if you don’t want facilities!”. This seemed an odd response, but I learned the next day that this was probably the manager of the Activity Centre, and actually there were vacancies that evening.

Spittal of Glenshee

The bowl-like valley is rich with livestock; it is a shame that there is also much black plastic – on the fences, in the soil, in the abandonded buildings.

Loch Beanie

The ground around Loch Beanie is rougher than I imagined but there’s a fine spot by the boat hut. In the morning I see there are also possibilities by the beach at the east end of the loch.

The beach at the east end of Loch Beanie

It is a pleasant and quiet spot and I prepare my food to the ‘plop’ of fish jumping for insects. Birds are busy late into the night and I wonder if my presence has interupted their routine.

Most days I’ve been challenged by the distance planned, and I spend some time studying tomorrow’s route, trying to shave off a few kilometers.

The gaelic names of hills in the west have given way to some quite odd sounding titles. Today I will navigate over Finalty Hill, Mayar, Driesh, and Hill of Strone.

I find a slight shortcut along a path attractively named Spying Hillock. This is pleasant walking out of Glen Isla – futher south and there’d be two other glens to cross, but here after a few hours I am high above Glen Clova.

Spying Hillock looking south
Spying Hillock looking north

Near Driesh there are a few people on day walks coming from the visitors centre down below. The valley walk is long, on road and I planned to follow the hills until the Clova Hotel come in sight, then head down. This plan worked fine, although the route down was a bit rough and pathless.

Driesh viewed from summit of Mayar
The ridge above Glen Clova
The ridge above Glen Clova

Clova Hotel is strategically placed for TGOers, 2-3 days walk away from Montrose. They used to have a bunkhouse as well as normal hotel rooms, but this has been redeveloped to provide extra en suite rooms. These were in use for the first time – mine was large and comfortable.

Clova Hotel – better than a bunkhouse?

The bar meal was a comfort too, especially as I was one dinner short in the last parcel I picked up. There were also a few disappointments:-  very poor wireless, some snags in my room, and no breakfast before 8am. I was offered the alternative of a packed lunch to eat in my room.

Glen Clova from the path to Loch Brandy

For many there are 3 days left, with the next stop at Tarfside one of the most sociable points on the whole of the TGO. This would be followed by two short days to arrive at the coast. My plan is to continue walking beyond Tarfside to camp somewhere near Edzel on the River North Esk (this is the first time I noticed that at Clova is the River South Esk).

Navigation challenge with path markers

I was first to leave the hotel at 7 am and walked up the hill right into the wet cloud. I’ve been here before in these conditions and navigation is not easy. This time I notice small markers on the route, and with my compass out and regular checking it goes well. Eventually I recognise a place where previously I, and some other TGOers had trouble, walking back and forth in the mist. On the map  the path seems to follows the ridge, but on the ground the path is invisible, and the ridge splits in two. With only a few meters visibility it is a bit hard to grasp this.

Once on Wester Skuilley, however, it plain sailing – the cloud lifts, the path becomes a track and the sun begins to shine again. I keep high over Burnt Hill and Cairn Caidloch to descend at Gleneffock farm with the familiar view of Rowan Hill across the valley below.

The last hill, down to Glen Esk
The bridge at Gleneffock Farm

There’s a track on the south side of the river which becomes more definitive beyond Gleneffock. As I look north towards Tarfside I can see a couple of small figures setting up tents up on the village green.

Tarfside village green

This landscape looks friendly enough on the map, but it is monopolised by livestock and birds.

Walking to the shrill cry of lapwings a few feet overhead it a novelty at first, but several hours of this is too much.  At least there’s oyster catchers and curlews that occassionally relieve the monotony. The sheep and cattle in the fields make camping a bit difficult. I eventually find a spot a little before Keenie and set up camp in quieter corner.

The next morning – as track becomes road, a farmer pulls over on his tractor to ask if I am doing the ‘coast to coast, because it is that time of year’! Before long I am in the friendly looking town of Edzel – I know several TGOers are staying at the hotel here – and then North Water Bridge where, at 10am the campsite is empty of TGO tents.

There’s salmon in that water!

Two locals on the bridge explain that a lot passed by at about 7am.

The road walk to the coast is tolerable; the last 5km or so could have been on footpaths, but unfortunately I missed a turn-off. In compensation I find hot soup and sandwiches at the post office in Hillside.

The beach at Montrose is a little bit south of my planned destination. This is a fine location though and a fitting place to end a great walk!

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