Walking the Rob Roy Country Short Break

By Richard Jones

Rob Roy MacGregor was born in the Trossachs in 1671 and became something of a folk hero - like a Scottish Robin Hood, albeit a real life one, through his exploits as a soldier, a clan leader, a cattle drover (and rustler), an outlaw and ultimately a folk hero. He grew to know the terrain around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs better than most, which proved highly useful as he avoided or escaped capture by his enemies on numerous occasions through his knowledge of the land. And it is through this land that the Rob Roy Country Short Break takes us over three days of varied terrain.

Walking the Rob Roy Way along the River Teith with a view across Ben Ledi A walker strolls ahead between ferns on a Rob Roy Way walking holiday Stones in high-up placs on the Rob Roy Way

The Rob Roy Way starts in Drymen and runs 76 miles north-east to Pitlochry; this short break however takes a three-day loop from the bustling tourist town of Callander, the gateway to the Highlands.

Day 1

Callander lies in the 879m shadow of Ben Ledi and in the morning our B&B host, Anthea, had told us that if you can’t see the top then it means it is raining, or it will be raining later. Luckily, the top was in clear view and we stepped out into the sunshine to make a start. The route begins at the Rob Roy & Trossachs Visitor Centre, from where we headed west out of the town, stopping to purchase provisions for the day from the Tesco Express, then passing St Andrews Church and the Old Rectory Inn where we’d eaten well the previous evening.

A map-level view of the walking route out of Callander

Across the road, the route follows the cycle path signed towards Strathyre, and once across the river we pass the remains of a Roman Fort nestled in the meanders. Further along the route, a path enters the trees on the right, providing the opportunity to walk closer to the river, leading up to the impressive Falls of Leny, amongst wild blueberries growing above the steep drop into the rapids.

Continuing back on the main pathway, the route is lined by colourful flowers and rosehips, with birds flitting among them. A cafe is located amongst the grandiose Strathyre Forest Cabins, complete with hot-tubs on their decks, and we rest with coffee and study our map to see what lies ahead. The cabins lie at the southern end of Loch Lubnaig, and after leaving the cafe we’re soon treated to some spectacular views across the Loch to the elevation of the hills and mountains surrounding us.

A pair of kayakers glide along the water - their chatter carrying across to us - while to our left, the rocky cliffs rise sharply up, and ahead a small peninsular juts out to a point into the waters, inviting us to feel like we’re in the midst of the Loch itself.

Kayakers on Loch LubnaigAs we round the bend in the Loch (Lubnaig means crooked in Gaelic), a lone log on the water’s edge provides an ideal seat for lunch; a glorious setting for a simple cheese sandwich as we contemplate the view and eat our rations!

Back on the Rob Roy Way, the path narrows and rises up through a series of switchbacks that lead us to a fabulous view back down Loch Lubnaig, seemingly like a pond beneath the bulk of Ben Ledi.

Nearing Strathyre, we briefly consider the path up to Beinn an i-Sithein, but the lure of coffee and cake proves too tempting. Bouncing across the suspension bridge, a curious stone building known as a ‘broch’ stands on the right. These would have been built between 400BC and 150AD, with this example having been re-constructed by the Drystone Walling Association, to represent the type of stronghold the local leader would have lived in, centuries before our man Rob Roy arrived on the scene! Beyond, the charming Broch cafe is visited, before we arrive at our first destination of Strathyre.

In the evening, we’re lucky to get a table in the bar of the excellent White Stag, where a local band entertain and some local lads get up and tunelessly, but amusingly, sing afterwards!

Live music on our walking holiday Music at the pub on a Rob Roy Walking Holiday

Glen Moray is the whiskey of the month, and a couple of these are downed before we all-too-soon have to make our way back to Airlie House and our bed for the night.

Day 2

Waking up on day two, I recalled what Anthea had said the previous day as I looked across at the cloud covering the hilltops behind the B&B. Still, after a delicious omelette for breakfast we headed out to tackle the longest stretch of the walk. The initial section took us up to Balquhidder, where we were to seek out the grave of Rob Roy himself.

Three images of the Rob Roy Way: sitting on a bench amongst the hills, a local church and a river running over rocksThe walk is on a quiet lane, taking us through a rather beautiful ancient woodland. Trees downed by storms long ago have vertical gardens growing on their upturned bases, while mosses of various hues adorned the stone walls along this picturesque lane. Emerging from the woodland at the northern end of the lane, the River Balvag calmly meanders across the flat, and we turn right up towards the village of Balquhidder, crossing the Calair Burn by a stone bridge, and taking in the falls as we pass before marvelling at the view west across Loch Voil.

In Balquhidder, we turn right by the village hall and make our way up a barely noticeable track to Balquhidder Church. To the right of the church, past the aging gravestones and through the large, stone wall of the ruined old church, we arrive at the last resting place of Rob Roy MacGregor himself, along with his wife and two of his sons. The gravestone bears the message, ‘MacGregor Despite Them’, in defiance of the proscription imposed by the Government forbidding use of the MacGregor surname.

Rob Roy MacGregor's grave in BalquhidderBack in Balquhidder we return down the lane, again gazing at the wonderful view across Loch Voil beyond a horse quietly grazing, and follow the road to Ballimore. Ahead, the cloud once more encompasses the hills and jackets are put back on.

We cross the cattle grid by Ballimore Farm and follow the path signed to Brig o’ Turk via Glen Finglas, heading southwest between the hill of Mullach an t-Samhraidh and the burn to our right. It’s at this point that the heavens open and our legs are soaked by the long, wet grass as we make our way along the trail, the path vague in places but easy to follow. We round the rocky Creaga Chonnaidh, with sheep scampering up its slopes while rivers meet on our right.

The trail continues along Glen Shoinnie, until we reach a small waterfall that makes an ideal place, now the rain has ceased, to sit and eat lunch. Beyond the waterfall, we walk uphill to meet a clearer path that takes us to a gate at the high point of the whole walk, and we take in the stunning panorama ahead towards Glen Finglas and behind to Glen Shoinnie.

Through the gate, we walk onwards to meet a hard-packed track where my partner, Georgie, removes her socks and boot soles and wrings them out in an attempt to reduce her squelching steps.

We follow the track down to Glen Finglas, to a junction where a short diversion right gives us an up-close view of the waterfall flowing down into the reservoir. The track continues around the eastern edge of the water, to the dam where we pick up a quiet road down into Brig o’ Turk itself, passing the tea-room famous in these parts for its appearance in the iconic 1959 thriller, The 39 Steps, as the Gallows Inn.

From here it’s a short walk to our final night at the Ridings B&B, where we are treated to a wonderful studio apartment for the night.

Day 3

Day three loops us past the Byre Inn and the rather dishevelled Achray Farm to meet the cycle path that runs alongside Loch Venachar back towards Callander, passing a nervous-looking farm cat in the process. My cat-whispering technique requires some improvement, as it was not interested in getting anywhere near me!

The view across the water on our walking holiday The River Teith with a view across Ben Ledi, Callander A cat spotted on our walk

Any doubts we had about this last section were soon put to bed as the loch comes into view, fabulously stretching out below the dark, malevolent clouds. All alongside the Loch are opportunities aplenty to drop down and walk by the water’s edge, passing the old boat house and the aesthetically-designed Ripple Retreat, set up to provide a sanctuary for young cancer sufferers and their families, who can have sole occupancy for a week at a time to put their trauma aside for a short while.

At the far end of the Loch, we look back for a final time, soaking up the view we’ll soon be leaving behind. The last section takes us past some grand mansions and possibly the cutest sheep we’ve ever seen – surely these can’t be real! Before too long the view of Callander is sighted ahead and we are crossing the River Teith once more to return to our start point.

The weather has abated and we head home, leaving the Rob Roy Country for now, but hoping to return one day and once again explore the land the Scottish folk hero made his own.

Contours Holidays pride ourselves on our expert knowledge of the UK's trails. We regularly set out to check our routes and directions and to make improvements on the holidays we offer. You can find several write-ups of staff expeditions in our Trail Diaries.

Originally published 01/10/18

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