Willie Shand enjoys an autumn day in Kenmore
Why do one walk when you can do three? Willie Shand makes a day of it in the beautiful woodlands of Perthshire.
SIR DUNCAN CAMPBELL – or Black Duncan of the Cowl, as he was known – may have been a ruthless laird, but he did have one commendable quality: he had a great passion for trees.
It’s probably him we should thank for the birth of modern forestry. Back in the early 1600s, he ordered the planting of Drummond Hill at the eastern end of Loch Tay with oak, birch and Scots pine.
And, if anyone didn’t like his idea, they’d have been wise to leave well alone. Anyone found damaging the laird’s trees would face a fine of £20 which, over 400 years ago, was a huge amount of money.
Drummond Hill is still forested today. Sadly, it’s not with the laird’s trees, as they were felled during World War I.
This hill was, however, to become one of the earliest sites planted by the fledgling Forestry Commission.
The best view of any hill is seldom to be had from the hill itself, but instead from a neighbouring one. I couldn’t have picked a better day to climb Kenmore Hill, directly across the Tay from Drummond Hill.
Creag an Fhudair, to give it its proper name, is only This week’s cover feature
1,683 feet high, but what a lovely wee hill it is.
Actually, it’s a bit of a gift for hillwalkers as, from the woodland car park off the Amulree road, there’s only four or five hundred feet to climb.
Whether you approach from Amulree or from Kenmore, the single-track hill road is a treat in itself, with either end having a challenging set of steep hairpin bends to negotiate.
Murphy’s Law, of course, dictates that if you’re going to meet another vehicle on this road, these bends will be where it happens. Best practise your hill starts and reversing skills beforehand!
There wasn’t any traffic on the hill road when I crossed it earlier this morning, arriving down by the loch side in Kenmore for about 8 a.m. It was a right still morning, with every sound being carried for miles; beautiful reflections, too.
With a good day in store, dozens of local ducks had already staked their claim on the beach. It was cold out of the sun, though, and wherever its rays hadn’t yet reached the grass was tinged white with frost – a perfect day for a walk.
It was the prospect of finding good autumn colours that brought me to Kenmore, and even before I’d parked the car I could see I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
There are quite a few good walks in and around Kenmore, and having brought the details for three of them it was now decision time.
Did I want to take the riverside walk by the Tay to Taymouth Castle and around the golf course? Did I want to follow the trail up Drummond Hill to the Black Rock viewpoint, or should I aim for the heights of Kenmore Hill?
There’s a saying that when you’ve a hard decision to make, toss a coin. Why? Because, when that coin is in the air you suddenly know what you’re hoping for. I didn’t need a coin – I’d decided to do all three.
Loch Tay is some 15 miles long, and although quite far from its source on Ben Lui, it’s only after its waters pass beneath the five-arch bridge at Kenmore that they take on the prestigious title of the River Tay.
This bridge was only 13 years old when Robert Burns visited Kenmore on August 29, 1787. He was so impressed with its arches “striding o’er the new-born stream” that he took a pencil and scribbled a poem about it on the wall above the fireplace of the local inn.
The poem is still there today and the inn, established in 1572, claims to be the oldest in Scotland.
It’ll have accommodated many a fisherman down the centuries, and as the carved wooden salmon in front of its entrance might tell us, the Tay is one of the country’s finest salmon and brown trout rivers.
The track to the old Campbell seat of Taymouth Castle sets off from beneath the bridge to pass behind the inn, and then for a while holds close to the tree-lined riverside.
I’m greeted by a few more ducks, but my attention is now taken by the colourful beech trees. It doesn’t matter how old you are, when no-one’s looking it’s always fun to scuff your feet through a deep carpet of fallen leaves.
Scotland has no shortage of castles, some quite ancient, but the present Taymouth Castle was only built at the start of the 1800s.
Its much older predecessor, Balloch Castle, was home to the Macgregors – but the land-grabbing Campbells
soon sorted that out in the late 1500s. Balloch Castle was destined to be torn down to make way for the castle we see today.
The large west wing was added in 1842 on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s visit to Scotland. Taymouth was to become a special place to the old Queen, as it was here that she honeymooned.
Since the 1920s, when the Campbells left the property, the castle, which in its heyday was one of the richest furnished properties in the land, has had a somewhat chequered history.
Its extensive parkland is now home to Taymouth Castle Golf Club – the
course laid out by the famed designer, James Braid. This track circles the course, keeping us out of harm’s way from wayward golf balls, and returns to Kenmore through the castle’s western approach archway.
The village of Kenmore as we know it actually owes its existence to the castle and the Campbells. The model village was laid out to an English design, and the cottages given rent-free to residents on condition that they hold a trade and keep their houses clean.
A range of tradesmen on tap right on his doorstep – the laird wasn’t daft.
The way to the Black Rock Viewpoint on Drummond Hill takes us across Kenmore Bridge and to a Forestry Commission car park off the A827 less than a mile from the village.
Clear way-marked tracks begin through colourful mixed woodland, then on into more dense larch, spruce and Douglas fir.
With much of this circular closed in by mature forest, it’s all the more of a pleasant surprise when we reach the Black Rock clearing and suddenly find ourselves looking out on the most wonderful birdseye view of Kenmore and Loch Tay. It is indeed a spot for “admiring Nature in her wildest grace”.
Close to the loch’s south shore you’ll see the tall, conical, thatched roof of the Crannog – a reconstruction of an Iron Age stilted lake dwelling, typical of several that once took protection from Loch Tay.
Closer by is the tiny Priory Island. Upon it is said to be buried Alexander I’s Queen Sybilla. In her memory, Alexander I established a priory on the island as long ago as 1122.
Its last inhabitants appear to have been three nuns. They no doubt led good holy lives on the island, but each year would come ashore for one of Kenmore’s fairs.
Apparently, on that day, their characters totally changed, and they indeed went to town. They left such an impression that the fair even became named after them – Feill nam ban
naomha – the market of the holy women.
Drummond Hill is a long ridge-like hill lying between Strathtay and the River Lyon. There’s no better place to appreciate this than from the slopes of Kenmore Hill opposite.
Murphy’s Law was true to form. Climbing back up the hairpins, I met a camper van. By the look on the poor driver’s face, I reckoned he might be going home a different route!
Kenmore Hill is part of the Bolfracks Estate and, like Sir Duncan, the present owners have a love for our native trees.
The old Caledonian Pine forests that once covered most of Scotland have largely, through man’s activities and livestock mismanagement, declined to a tiny fraction of land cover.
A few old pine trees still grow on this hillside, but, with an eye to the future, around 450 acres have been planted with a mix of pine, birch, rowan, oak, alder, cherry, hazel and other native species.
Although this is a woodland walk, seldom are we deprived of spectacular, far-reaching views. There are three colour-coded trails to follow, but I would recommend the red (the longest) trail. It’s a cracker.
A large stone cairn stands just below the true summit, and it’s as if the hill has decided to only reward those who reach it, because it’s not until we’re about ten feet away that we see the finest panorama, looking out over Kenmore, Taymouth and away beyond Drummond Hill to Schiehallion.
Off to the west, along the “outstretching lake”, the eye effortlessly climbs Lawers and skips across to the high tops of Glen Lyon and the Carn Mairg group.
Sitting down by the cairn to soak up the view – and to scoff a rather bedraggled cheese piece I’d forgotten I’d been carrying all day – it was great to just pick out all the places I had been since morning. No wonder my wee legs felt wabbit! ■
Robert Burns famously called Loch Tay “th’ outstretching lake”.
View from the Kenmore hills.