Venture into the Abbot’s Land and climb into the woodland above the River Tummel for spectacular views of Pitlochry and the hills of northern Perthshire.
Distance: 7 ½ miles
Start and Finish: Pitlochry War Memorial (NN 94025 58075)
Access: Pitlochry is well served by buses and trains; the start of the walk is only a short distance from Pitlochry station.
Part One: Into the Woods
From Pitlochry’s war memorial, head downhill and through the tunnel beneath the arch of the railway bridge. After passing the recreation ground, a path on your left leads to the river at Port na Craig.
Port na Craig means “The Ferry by the Rock”, after the large rock jutting out into the river. It was the landing for a ferry that once crossed the river here, established in the twelfth century. Monks had been gifted land on the south side of the river, now known as Fonab, from the Gaelic Fonn ab meaning Abbot’s Land, and used the ferry as a way to cross the river to reach Moulin.
Travellers would drop a coin into St Bride’s Well on the north bank to ensure a safe crossing — although this evidently wasn’t enough, as a chain was eventually fixed to the boat to stop it from being swept downstream.
With the arrival of the railway in the 19thcentury, Pitlochry became a popular destination for Victorian holidaymakers and taking the ferry across the river was a favourite pastime. In 1913, however, the ferry sailed its last on Empire Day when the new suspension bridge was opened, providing a much more practical – if less fun – way to cross the river.
Cross over the suspension bridge, then turn left at the road to reach a junction at another road. Cross with care and enter the road roughly opposite you, bearing right to climb uphill. This leads to the busy A9, the main road from Perth to Inverness – cross with care and take the left track at the fork on the other side.
You’re walking along the Rob Roy Way here; this long-distance path named after the famous Scottish outlaw. It runs for 79 miles (or 96, if you take the alternative detour) from Drymen in Stirlingshire to Pitlochry. This stretch of the route continues to Strathray and on to Aberfeldy – a little far for today’s walk, but we’ll stick with it for a little while longer.
Continue along the track past the farm at Middleton to climb towards the trees ahead. Bear left at a junction, signed “Clunie Path for Strathtay”, to arrive at a large Forestry Commission sign marking the entrance to Fonab woods, part of the Tay Valley Forest Park.
Follow the path uphill. When it joins a forest track, follow it for a short distance before leaving it via a path on the right which shadows it quite closely in places. When you rejoin the track again, the main route turns right – but proceed straight ahead to find a stone circle to the right of the track.
The “four poster” stone circle of Clachan an Diridh, of which only three remain, is known locally as The Druids’ Stones. The location of the circle would once have offered fine views of the surrounding landscape, but the continuous planting of trees since the 1920s has encroached upon them and today you would be forgiven for thinking they were erected in an ancient glade. When you have finished, return to the point where you rejoined the track and leave the Rob Roy Way.
Part Two: Out on the Moor
The broad track here leads to the edge of the woods, passing a pair of tall communication masts on the small hill to your right. Ignore the track that heads to the masts and instead pass through the gate in the fence and out onto open moorland.
The narrow path through the heather isn’t always clear, and can be wet in places, but follow it towards the hills ahead. Bear to the left of the two smaller hills, and through a gate as the path continues towards the crags at the foot of the larger Meall an Daraich. When the path bends right, it now follows the course of an ancient Pictish road.
Follow the path as it gradually descends back towards the woods. From here, you have splendid views of Pitlochry and Loch Faskally below and towards the famed Pass of Killiecrankie, site of a great victory by the Jacobite army over the government forces. Behind the tree-covered summit of Craigower stands the imposing peak of Ben Vrackie, while in the distance are the hills and mountains near Blair Atholl.
Bear left at a small fork, and continue to a gate to enter Clunie Wood, following the track to the right. A hill fort once stood in a clearing to your left — the site is visible as an obvious earthen mound. As with the stone circle visited earlier, the fort would have held a commanding position above the River Tummel, but is now completely enclosed by tall trees.
The undulating track winds its way through the woods. After navigating a series of particularly sharp bends, the track continues straight then bends to descend to the left. Leave the track here to follow a path which leads to another track. Continue along this track until you reach a junction, where you should bear left. This leads through a gate at the bottom of the hill where you will leave the woods and soon arrive back at the gate through which you originally entered. Retrace your steps back to the A9 and across the bridge at Port na Craig to return to Pitlochry.
I set off on this walk in the afternoon after climbing Ben Vrackie. The snow that had covered the mountain top hadn’t touched the lower lying ground, but by the end of the walk the heavens opened and the rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived – hence the lack of photos after leaving the fort!