Friday June 20th 2014 - Crieff to Bridge of Allan - Day 9

Having had to upsticks early from the caravan site to save being detected it made for an early start of about 6am. The pros and cons of that were that although we managed to depart without being seen or having to pay, it was also too early in the morning for anything to be open, which left us without having any breakfast, fresh water etc. Regardless, being on the right side of the town for heading onwards towards Sheriffmuir and regardless of not having breakfast we thought it pointless doubling back into town to see if there was anything open, so we hoped as we went onward that we would at some point find a place that sold food. Leaving Crieff on the A822 there is to the left the Nutcracker Christmas Village, which is fashioned around an old style German village at Christmas time. To the right and directly across the road we saw some activity in a factory direct warehouse, a guy starting work early, we must have seemed well out of place dressed in our tartan as we approached, as we entered the building the place seemed deserted and we had a hard job finding the guy to ask if we could fill our water bottles. On seeing us he did not seemed phased that we were there so early in the morning and dressed as we were and regardless pointed us in the direction of the kitchen and left us to our own devices, we thanked him and headed on.

Crieff and surrounding area is a part of Scotland which had a lot of Roman interest, if you look at it on a map you can see that it sits on an old military road one of the reasons we follow this ancient route and it's only about a mile away from a very important Roman road. The surrounding countryside is littered with Roman forts, signal stations and camps, especially near Innerpeffray and the ancient crossing over the River Earn. The road we were on the A822 Muthill Road certainly seemed like it was based on an old Roman road as it was long and straight leading to Muthill itself. The ancient village was once an important religious centre and the site of a Celí Dé monastery. The village was largely destroyed in the 1715 Jacobite rising by Jacobite troops retiring after their defeat at the Battle of Sheriffmuir as they did with other villages in the area. It was rebuilt in the 1740s as it lay on the route of General Wade's military road through Strathearn.

On reaching Muthill we sit on a bench on the village’s Main Street enjoying a snack from the village bakery while watching the folk going about their business in the warm early morning sun. As always standing out from the crowd because of our dress we intrigue passer byes who stop for a chat. Having had a browse at the ordinance survey map we see the old military road to Braco branches off from the main road somewhere in the village, but with no signage it is quite unclear exactly where this was and having spoken with locals who to our astonishment were also unaware of such a road, which should make us all think do we really know what is on our own door step? After listening to various locals on what roads go where we deduced that a road which follows Thornhill Street was the one we were seeking. We are advised that although this road goes steeply uphill for at least a mile and a half it is about two mile shorter that of following the main road the A822 to Braco, which we felt was better anyway.

Knowing our journey was to be a good 10 miles less than the day before and we started off well earlier we take our time on leaving Muthill and head up Thornhill Street and as previously indicated we go steeply uphill, it is not long before we realise that we made the best decision with virtually no road traffic to bother us and better elevated views across the open countryside and more characteristic. Although the road is undulating it is reasonably straight indicating its military association, once at the top of the initial steep climb it levels off but continues to go up and down for some miles before it descending down to meet the A822 once again. From this junction the road is long straight and flat and on this stretch of road we see the first signs for Stirling, which gives us the realisation that we are nearing the end of our journey, the road is straight until the welcoming signs of Braco are reached then the road crosses over a bridge to the right, over the River Knaik, it then veers left onto a long straight road which is the main street through Braco to Greenloaning still the A822.

Although on appearance there is very little in Braco the village and surrounding area is steeped in history, it is connected by a line of watchtowers and fortlets across the southern edge of Perthshire. The Romans built a number of forts nearly 2000 years ago, including Ardoch, situated on the Crieff road. This appears to be the first form northern frontier of the Roman Empire and was constructed 40 years before Hadrian's Wall. There are also two bridges spanning the River Knaick within a few yards of each other, just below Ardoch Roman Fort. The upper bridge, now disused, was erected in 1430 said to be built by General Wade. This original bridge was a single span only six feet wide, but an addition of three and a half feet seems to have been made to its width at some later time, but in 1896 this part fell into the stream. The building of the newer bridge was begun in 1861 and completed in 1862. The arch of the original is still standing. At its western end may be seen remains of the north parapet, abuttment and arch of the addition. It was probably restored or rebuilt when the military road from Stirling to Crieff was constructed, (1741-2).

As John and I walked along the Braco main street we came to the quick realisation that there was not much there in the way of amenities and were thankful although let down that there was only the one small paper shop in the village. Regardless we stopped for a refreshment break having a seat on the grass across from the shop taking time to take off our boots and give our feet some fresh air and some temporary reconciliation. We had another quick look at our map and realised that there was a hotel about a mile and half further up the road at Greeloaning which set our minds on having a decent lunch of proper food there, so feeling a bit refreshed we walk on to Greenloaning. Although we know the road before us was only a mile and a half, it is long and straight which gives the illusion of it being longer than it was, we crossed the Allan Water and took the last few steps into Greenloaning with the sight of the characteristic Allanbank Hotel in front of us, a hotel which existed as an Inn since the 18th century. Firstly we were glad to see it open, but our dreams of some decent food are soon shattered when we were told they are not serving meals. Although the hospitality in the hotel was second to none it was obvious that there was signs of decline whether this was down to the state of the economy or the change in people’s life style, but throughout all of our walk from Aberdeen we came across similar instances with businesses closed or shut down and surely thought it was not worth their while serving hot food during the day. Regardless we had some light refreshment in the traditional surrounding of the hotel bar, as always when you make yourself comfy you are reluctant to move, however knowing we still have some way to go we get ourselves motivated to set off again. We thanked our host for his hospitality and continue on our way. As we head along the A822 towards the A9, the road to the left is the one which needs to be taken, Millhill Road, this road takes you up to the A9, almost taking you directly opposite from the entrance road to Sheriffmuir, but on the otherside of the A9. Crossing the A9 during the day is quite a challenge and being a main artery between the North and South of Scotland the traffic is nonstop as well as travelling at speed. With some timely negotiation from one side to the other we continue on the road to Sheriffmuir. From the A9 up to the main grouse muir the single track road runs in between various burns, Milstone, Green and Geordie’s the road is straddled by dry stein dykes, there is no real view until you reach the main thoroughfare over the muir. Our trek up to this point seems relentlessly long winding uphill almost soul destroying, a couple on a scooter over take us waving as they pass, only realising afterwards that it was a friend Annette.

Once the junction at the top of the road is reached the road to the Sheriffmuir is to the right, it is from this point the views begin to open up. The land around here that was once populated by people is now grazed by sheep, ruined buildings evidence to the communities long gone. Before reaching the high point of the muir on the left there are also remnants of trenches and bunkers on the left, used as practice emplacements by troops during the second world war. As the single track road crosses the muir it reaches a high point which gives fantastic panoramic views towards Ben Vorlich, Ben More and Ben Lawyers then it starts to head down and it is not long before the sight of the Sheriffmuir Inn comes into view, we learned by experience not hold our breath to it being open as we had been constantly disappointed throughout the walk and even being a few yards away were still uncertain as to whether it was open or not as there is no sign of movement. We tried the door and it opened, being able to enter the building and it being open for business is two different things, but to our delight we are greeted and welcomed, we made ourselves at home on the fine comfy seats and asked for a couple of well-deserved beers. Apart from the staff we were the only ones in the Inn, but then again it was mid to late afternoon in a remote location. Must say it was quite fine in some respects as it was noise free, but at the same time it is too quiet,. As we sit enjoying our cold beers in the fabulous 17th century Inn we contemplate our way forward, it was planned that we end our days walk in Dunblane, but realising we could give ourselves a shorter distance to walk for the last day by heading to Bridge of Allan instead we took the decision to do this. From the Sheriffmuir Inn the road turns to the right, this road essentially takes you through the middle of the battlefield of 1715, this is marked by the MacRae and 1745 association monuments about half way down the road. The road reaches the Glen Road junction where the road is taken to the left to Bridge of Allan this road brings you all the way down off of the muir. After reaching Bridge of Allan, we soon become to realise why the original plan had been to go to Dunblane instead, there were no camp sites in Bridge of Allan. Having now arrived in Bridge of Allan we decided with little choice to bite the bullet on this our penultimate day of walking by ending it by booking into a hotel, the Royal, so it would prepare and hopefully refresh us for our last days walk.

Knowing wife Elma was coming down to meet us that day we contacted her to make her aware of the change of plan. Having not seen her what felt like more than just a week, apart from being glad to see each other she took us up to date with what had been going on. It is amazing when you take yourself away from seeing anything or hearing anything on the media for a while how time goes slower and you have no cares for what is happening on the outside world. It is understandable of how people who stayed in remote hills and glens centuries ago must have felt not knowing what the world really offered beyond their habitat, at the same time I can’t imagine with today’s technology how it would be possible to avoid world affairs and would it be possible to live without knowing? It must be said that having walked for 9 days without sleeping in a real bed it was quite difficult to sleep, but knowing the two of us only had a few miles to go we took advantage of the facilities to relax and prepare ourselves for the final push. Being able to leave our possessions in the safety of a room we changed out of our plaids for the first time into something more relaxing and sat ourselves outside to enjoy a cold beer, a couple asked about our walk and kindly made a donation to the cause. After having a bite to eat we thought it would be an idea to have a look at what route was left to reach the Stirling Bridge, driving the route it was hard to comprehend we had so little to do, but regardless we took note of the land marks so we could basically mark the distance remaining.

Having checked the route out we returned to the hotel to relax our aches and pains, heading to bed with the thoughts of only having one more day to go and the big day in front of us.

Click here for Day 10 (Coming Soon)

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