Ru­ral Rides

Evergreen - - Contents - Willy Shand

If you were to take a map of Scot­land and draw a line stretch­ing from Cape Wrath in the far north- west to the up­per reaches of the Sol­way Firth, then draw an­other from the Mull of Gal­loway back up to Dun­cansby Head in the far north- east; where they cross sits the town of Aber­feldy. The town can, there­fore, quite lit­er­ally claim to be right at the heart of Scot­land. Flow­ing past it, fast and wide, are the wa­ters of Scot­land’s long­est river — the Tay.

A fa­mous land­mark of the town is Gen­eral Wade’s five- arch bridge over the Tay. It was built in 1733, a long time be­fore mo­tor trans­port yet it still copes well with all of to­day’s traf­fic. It’s widely re­garded as be­ing Wade’s great­est work. Mind you, not ev­ery­one was so taken with its de­sign. Dorothy Wordsworth just thought it “am­bi­tious and ugly”. It didn’t take long to con­struct ei­ther. With a spring start in April it was fin­ished be­fore the end of the year. Wade cer­tainly could get the job done.

The bridge was part of a sys­tem of mil­i­tary roads built in the wake of the 1715 Ja­co­bite

Rising when it was recog­nised by the gov­ern­ment that the only way to con­trol the un­ruly High­landers was through bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As an old rhyme goes:

Had you seen these roads be­fore they were made, You would lift up your hands and bless Gen­eral Wade.

Above the bridge stands the im­pres­sive Black Watch Memo­rial. This was where, in 1740, the great bat­tal­ion of the Black Watch was formed.

Un­doubt­edly, the most colour­ful time of year to visit Aber­feldy is from mid- Oc­to­ber through to early Novem­ber. The woods of the “Birks of Aber­feldy” are renowned for their bril­liant au­tumn dis­play.

“Birks” is the Scots word for birches. Be­sides birch, you’ll find a great va­ri­ety of trees — some from afar like the Antarc­tic beach, the Kash­miri white­beam and Chi­nese scar­let rowan while oth­ers, like the ash, hazel and rowan, are more na­tive to the High­lands.

Come let us spend the light­some days In the birks of Aber­feldy.

One man who was cer­tainly im­pressed with this wooded gorge that climbs steeply above the Moness Burn was Scot­land’s bard, Robert Burns. He crossed the hills from Amul­ree to Ken­more on 30th Au­gust 1787 lit­tle re­al­is­ing that be­fore the end of the day, he’d have com­posed a poem that would im­mor­talise the town of Aber­feldy. One can’t help but won­der how much more he would have been im­pressed with the place had he been given the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn and see it in au­tumn some two months later.

Ever since he wrote his poem “The Birks of Aber­feldy”, the Den of the Moness has as­sumed the af­fec­tion­ate name of “the Birks” and has wel­comed count­less thou­sands of vis­i­tors all anx­ious to ex­pe­ri­ence for them­selves the land­scape he de­scribed.

The cir­cu­lar walk from Aber­feldy to the high bridge over the up­per falls is a great walk for any sea­son — even in the depths of win­ter when the braes that Burns tells us “as­cend like lofty wa’s” lose their colour and the “foam­ing stream” that “deep- roar­ing fa’s” is frozen into a silent cur­tain of ice. Only the fastest flow­ing wa­ter avoids be­ing turned to ice. It’s a cold place in win­ter and the track can be very slippery but what great pho­to­graphic op­por­tu­ni­ties there are to be had at this quiet time of the year. Just re­mem­ber to wrap up well!

It’s a steep climb above the Moness Burn but there are sev­eral places to

rest and ad­mire the view. At one spot near the water­side is a bench where we can share our own po­etic thoughts with a seated statue of Robert Burns him­self. Higher round the trail you’ll pass the stone bench where it’s said he was in­spired to sit and put pen to paper.

In late Oc­to­ber, the low sun strug­gles to reach the deeper parts of the gorge giv­ing us the play of light against shade. The burn is never far from sight or out of earshot and nowhere is it more dra­matic than at the Falls of Moness. Burns needed no cam­era to record the scene — only his pen: White o’er the linn the

burnie pours And rising, weets wi’ misty

show­ers.

We might ex­pe­ri­ence these “misty show­ers” first hand when cross­ing the lit­tle foot­bridge above the falls. Look­ing over the balustrade to the 50 feet cataract and deep cav­ern be­low, it can be a ter­ri­fy­ing place after a rainy spell.

As you look down over the falls from the safety of the bridge, just keep your guard. Although you may think you’re alone, there’s ev­ery chance you’re be­ing watched. An old name for the Moness was the Pheal­laidh ( Feldy) burn ( hence the name Aber­feldy mean­ing the mouth of the Feldy). Pheal­laidh is a su­per­nat­u­ral wa­ter crea­ture that of­ten lurks around the falls with noth­ing but mis­chief in mind. How­ever, only those with the power of the sec­ond sight will be able to see him.

In 1914, the Den was gifted to Aber­feldy by the Mar­quess of Breadal­bane. Be­fore this, to en­joy the two- mile long trek would have cost us 6d. Now, you’ll be glad to hear, it’s free to all.

The Birks in au­tumn and the statue of Robert Burns ( be­low).

The Black Watch Memo­rial and the town of Aber­feldy. The five- arch bridge across the Tay ( be­low) was built in 1733.

The fine views as you climb higher and the gush­ing falls ( right).

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