Roy the rover

Walk­ing in Rob Roy’s out­law foot­steps through cen­tral Scot­land

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page -

Hero, thief, ex­tor­tioner, loyal Ja­co­bite, traitor or Scot­land’s very own Robin Hood. Any of th­ese ep­i­thets can be used to de­scribe Rob Roy MacGre­gor, and will at least be partly true. The out­law, whose fame was sealed 200 years ago this New Year’s Eve with the pub­li­ca­tion of Sir Wal­ter Scott’s fic­tion­alised ac­count of episodes from his life, is one of his­tory’s true enig­mas.

Nowa­days, he also boasts his own long-dis­tance foot­path. The Rob Roy Way is a 77-mile hike (94 miles if you add an op­tional loop) from Dry­men

– on the edge of the Trossachs, 17 miles north of Glas­gow – to Pit­lochry, gate­way to the Cairn­gorms. On the way, it takes in other places MacGre­gor is said to have been in his some­what chaotic ca­reer: Aber­foyle, Cal­lan­der, Strathyre, Killin and Aber­feldy, plus Lochs Ve­nachar, Lub­naig and Tay.

Armed with an 1863 edi­tion of Rob Roy and the ex­cel­lent guide­book to the foot­path, The Rob Roy Way, writ­ten by its co-cre­ator Jac­quetta Me­garry, a friend and I tack­led the path at a pace that Rob Roy might have found sloth-like. We am­bled be­tween 9 and 15 miles a day (he moved quicker than that even when driv­ing stolen cat­tle) and stayed in comfy B&Bs each night.

At one, the owner told us that he’d just had a cou­ple of peeved Amer­i­cans stay­ing. “We’ve paid thou­sands of dol­lars to come here to do this walk,” they had grum­bled, “and there are parts of it that are boggy.” Ap­par­ently they had ex­pected the whole trail to be on a wide gravel walk­way.

Come day four we, by con­trast, had be­gun to wish there was rather less mi­nor road, forestry track, dis­used rail­way line and met­alled cy­cle path and rather more in the way of lit­tle foot­paths, what­ever their state. The route had nec­es­sar­ily kept us low, wind­ing through bonny glens and straths, by rivers or lochs, as it mim­icked the jour­neys Rob Roy would have taken as he drove his rus­tled wares. We spent our time ei­ther look­ing up – at the Men­teith Hills, or the stately peaks of Ben Ledi and Ben Law­ers – or look­ing down at myr­iad cas­cades along the way.

It must be said that, 283 years af­ter his pass­ing (against all odds MacGre­gor died in his bed, peace­fully), traces of the in­fa­mous vil­lain/hero are few and far be­tween. Our jour­ney had be­gun pro­pi­tiously enough at Dry­men’s Clachan Inn, a pub that gained its li­cence in the very year of MacGre­gor’s death, but the Rob Roy Ex­pe­ri­ence in Cal­lan­der has been closed since 2006; and, un­ac­count­ably, the way passes within two miles of Rob Roy’s grave at Balquhid­der – with its fan­tas­ti­cally defiant epi­taph, “MACGRE­GOR DE­SPITE THEM” – but doesn’t deign to visit it.

At least the de­scen­dants of the cat­tle he was so adept at pur­loin­ing still grazed the hill­sides, dot­ting them black, brown, gin­ger and cream. The skies above them were awash with late-stay­ing swal­lows, din­ing on what few early-au­tumn midges re­mained. Buz­zards wheeled on high, while in one nar­row glen a kestrel had an almighty al­ter­ca­tion with a crow. At Loch Tay, we were en­ter­tained by red squir­rels; and we stopped and gazed spell­bound at brown-and-white dip­pers as they dived into a river to fish, tum­bled and turned in the swift cur­rents, then emerged un­ruf­fled to fly back up­stream and feed again.

We fed rather well our­selves, and with rather less ef­fort. It’s fair to say that ru­ral Scot­land is not yet renowned as a gourmet des­ti­na­tion, but our evening meals were con­sis­tently de­li­cious. Michael Clay­ton, the chef at Aber­foyle’s Forth Inn, worked par­tic­u­lar won­ders with veg­eta­bles and, so my com­pan­ion in­formed me, veni­son too. Most of our lodg­ings, mean­while, had ev­i­dently been built for well-to-do Vic­to­ri­ans who en­joyed com­fort and space – the land­ing at Aber­feldy’s gor­geous Bal­n­earn House was so large it was wor­thy of a map.

It was dur­ing the fi­nal two days, when the Rob Roy Way fi­nally leaves the glens – and civil­i­sa­tion – be­hind for ex­tended stretches, that the walk re­ally took off. We breathed in the si­lence and re­joiced to be in the hills, rather than merely spec­ta­tors of them. We de­lighted in the fairy­tale Falls of Moness and their syl­van cloak, the Birks of Aber­feldy, a be­guil­ing birch wood im­mor­talised by Robert Burns.

But we came clos­est to the spirit of Rob Roy on a road skirt­ing Loch Tay.

“How far is it to Killin?” an el­derly over­alled man push­ing an empty wheel­bar­row asked us.

“It’s about 15 miles,” I es­ti­mated, then, un­able to stop my­self, en­quired as to why he was push­ing an empty wheel­bar­row there.

“Oh, in case I need to pick up any­thing along the way,” he replied, walk­ing pur­pose­fully away.

Now there’s enig­matic for you.

The trip was pro­vided by Wilder­ness Scot­land (01479 420020, wilder­nesss­cot­land.com), whose Self-Guided Rob Roy Way costs from £720pp, in­clud­ing eight nights’ B&B, lug­gage trans­fers and route notes. Rail travel was supplied by Cale­do­nian Scot (sleeper.scot), which has Lon­donGlas­gow overnight seats from £45 and sleeper beds from £100, and Pit­lochry to London overnight seats from £50 (sleeper £100)

‘We paid thou­sands of dol­lars to do this walk,’ the Amer­i­cans grum­bled, ‘and parts of it are boggy’

Re­flected glory … Loch Tay on the Rob Roy Way

The Forth Inn, Aber­foyle

The fairy­tale­like Falls of Moness

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