In the centre of Pitlochry, next to a pub, stands an old waterwheel. Several such wheels once stood along the Moulin burn, powering the various mills and machinery that operated in Pitlochry in days gone by. This walk follows the burn back towards its source on the lonely moors high above the town, and up to the summit of the mighty Ben Vrackie.
Distance: 8 ½ miles
Start and Finish: Atholl Road, Pitlochry (NN 93770 58250)
Access: Pitlochry is well served by buses and trains.
Part One: Pitlochry to Ben Vrackie
From the centre of Pitlochry, head west along Atholl road until you reach Sunnybrae cottage. Turn right here, and follow the road uphill until you reach the small loch known as The Cuilc, with views of Craigower. Bear right here, and continue along the road past the red-roofed golf club.
As you reach the village of Moulin, you will notice a solitary standing stone in the field on your left. This is known locally as The Dane’s Stone. Also called the Pitfourie Stone, this Neolithic standing stone was likely used in funerals and other rituals although as with so many such sites its exact purpose remains unknown. Regular ploughing since the middle ages eroded the land around it, and the stone fell to the ground after particularly heavy rain several years ago. Thankfully, it was returned to its rightful place where it remains to this day.
Continue past the stone to arrive at the outskirts of the village of Moulin. It was once the site of Moulin castle, now known as the Black Castle, which sat on a man-made island or crannogin a now-drained loch. When you reach another road, bear left and continue uphill following the Moulin burn. Take the right fork at a junction to arrive at a car park where many a walker start their journey.
From here the route follows a stretch of the well signed “Bealach Walk”. Continue to follow the burn through the woodland. After climbing some steps, cross the road and head through the gate on the other side to continue along the burn.
At a fork by a tree, bear right to arrive at a fence with a broad track on the other side. Follow the path and you will eventually join this track for a short distance. Leave it as it rounds the next bend and head back into the trees and over a wooden footbridge, after which the path becomes firmer underfoot.
After passing through a gate, you will arrive on the open moorland leading into the hills. Follow the well-worn path through the heather until you reach a junction. Bear right and cross the Moulin burn; continue to the next junction and bear right again to leave the Bealach Path and pass between Meall na h-Aodainn Moire and Creag Bhreac.
After rounding a bend, the path descends to the edge of Loch a’Choire. Opposite you on the other side of the loch stands Ben Vrackie. On a summer’s day, this would be a perfect place to stop and have a picnic or partake in a spot of wild swimming – not so much on a cold March morning.
Make your way along the edge of the loch towards the mountain. Cross the dam and hop over the loch’s outlet to begin your ascent, taking the right hand set of stone steps.
The climb to the summit is a relatively straightforward affair — solid stone steps mark out the well walked route, which means there’s no scrambling involved. However this is still an exposed mountain, and due care should be taken as the ascent is steep and the weather changeable.
Eventually however you will reach the cairn marking the top. At 841m, Ben Vrackie isn’t the highest mountain, nor even the highest Corbett, but its position offers spectacular views into the Cairngorms and the surrounding area even in poor conditions.
Part Two: Ben Vrackie to Pitlochry
Descend the mountain by the same route. Before reaching the loch, take a path leading to the right. This continues along the lochside at the foot of the mountain on a path which can be particularly wet underfoot, before turning left to head back to the moorland.
Various paths split off to climb the hill known as Meall na h-Aodainn Moire, but ignore these and stay on the main path, which is occasionally indicated with yellow arrowed waymarkers.
The path ultimately rejoins the Bealach Path on the other side of the hill. Turn left here and climb gradually to Bealach na Searmoin, where the path descends to follow the Moulin burn again.
When you reach the spot where you crossed the burn on your way to Ben Vrackie, bear right and retrace your steps back to the woodland and through to Moulin once more. Instead of turning right when you reach the village to head back to the Dane Stone continue to follow the road. This will lead you back into the centre of Pitlochry.
When I woke up, I never imagined I’d have climbed a mountain by the time I’d normally taking my morning coffee break . But the forecast of snow and heavy rain in the afternoon pushed me on towards the summit. Light flurries began shortly after leaving the woodland near Moulin, but as I arrived at the top of the mountain the snow became heavier and visibility was soon poor. But aside from this, the walk itself was pleasant and other than the steep climb up the mountain itself proved relatively unchallenging.
When writing this walk, I had to make a decision on what exactly to call the mountain. Ben Vrackie is the anglicisation of the Gaelic Beinn a’ Bhreacaidh, meaning Speckled Mountain owing to the patches of stone and heather that make up the mountain’s side. However it is also alternatively written as Ben-y-Vrackie – the usage seems to be entirely at the discretion of whoever is writing it at the time. I chose to stick to using Ben Vrackie as this is the form most frequently used in walking literature and keeps with how other mountains in the area are named; however, Ben-y-Vrackie is used on signs in and around Pitlochry. A mountain by another name still tires your legs out.