Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rob Roy and Glen Ogle

The night before we left I was partially reassured by the BBC weather forecast saying that Saturday and Sunday, though windy and blustery, would be dry. Call me sceptical, I still packed the waterproofs.

Our destination was Callander, roughly twelve miles west of Stirling, to cycle, on our mountain bikes, part of the National Cycle Network route 7, from Callander to Killin, some twenty four miles. Normally our trips away start with a relaxing journey on a train, but thanks to Beeching in the early sixties, the rail line to this area had long since vanished, and so we had to load the bikes into my van and drive to the starting point.

The rail closure programme was informally called by the press, Beeching Axe, and was a planned series of closures throughout the United Kingdom, by the then chair of the British Railways Board, Dr Richard Beeching. Just seventeen days after I was born in 1963, Beeching published his report and recomendations to cut the UK rail service from 21,000 miles of track and 6,000 stations, down to 12,000 miles and 2,000 stations. It remains as such today. It also remains controversial.

Our route took us along the old railway line, upgraded and linked together by Sustrans, to form a first class cycle path. The first part follows along the western shore of Loch Lubnaig and emerges out of the forest again at Strathyre, and a little further on at Balquhidder, burial place in 1734 of Rob Roy McGregor, aged 70. In fact, the route we were on also includes the Rob Roy Way for walkers, though it does not detour into Balquhidder and his grave, something I thought strange for a walk dedicated to his name.

We stopped off at an old library converted to a tea room, called Mhor Tearoom, which to my great delight served Illy coffee! To my readers that comment on my regular inclusion of food in my blogs, I will say that the Portugese custard tart is well worth a sample, all in a quaint preserved old library about the size of a small living room.

Just before the route reaches Lochearnhead it crosses a fairly new, small bridge. It is dedicated to Nigel Hester, a young musician and cyclist, killed in 1997 on the A9. A donation was made by the family to Sustrans, and the bridge that was built connected up the line again and made this route possible.

The next part of our journey took us above Lochearnhead and then swung north into Glen Ogle, a favourite area of climbers, and once called "close, gloomy defile" by the Ordnance Survey in the late 1800's. Personally, I like Queen Victoria's description of it being "Scotland's Kyber Pass". It is an impressive deep cut in the landscape with a steep road for cars to climb, but the old railway line is already at height and gently rises toward the pass.

Two thirds of the way along the 5km is the old viaduct, still intact, built in 1864, just 99 years before it was closed. However, this line did not suffer from Beechings axe, as I said earlier. This line was actually closed due to frequent rockfalls from the surrounding hills, with some of the rocks the size of a double decker bus. It was deemed too expensive, and somewhat dangerous, to continue operating it, and just 6 months before Beeching did his work, it ceased as a railway line.

We decided that night to stop at the top of the pass and camp in a clearing beside a small lochan, rather than continue on to Killin, four miles further on, as we didn't count on there being a suitable place to pitch our tents. The forest was great, and similar to all the forests we had cycled through all day, sheletered us from the wind. During the night in the darkness, every sound seemed amplified. The cars on the nearby A85 had long since gone quiet. The trees creaked as the wind swayed their upper branches. Somewhere in the deep forest was the sound of an owl, out hunting, and other unidentifiable noises from the moss-blanketed ground and shifting shadows, gathered together to give the whole setting a primeval feel.

The following day we retraced our steps, cutting an hour off our previous days time, to reach Callander by early afternoon. We had no sooner arrived than the heavans opened, contrary to the BBC forecast, but we had missed the rain by minutes and the waterproofs were left packed away.

The route was a treasure trove of history, not to mention beauty, of highland heroes and preserved historical paths. We were delighted with the reward of having spent a weekend in the land that Rob Roy once lived, and we paid our respects at his grave in Balquhidder on the cycle back.

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