A gentle hike into the hidden depths of rural Perthshire
by Barnety2000 » Sat Aug 21, 2010 10:32 pm
Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Deuchary Hill
Date walked: 13/07/2010
Time taken: 1 hours
Distance: 9 km
Ascent: 361m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
I have been coming to this part of Scotland almost every year since I can remember. Apparently I used to cry a lot as a baby, I obviously can’t remember this, but this is what I have been told. However my mum tells me that whenever I came to the place we knew then as Loch ma Bean (a child’s corruption of Loch na Beinne), that I would be as good as gold all day. Not a tear in sight. I even took my first steps at Dunkeld, only a few miles away from “Loch ma Bean”. Bizarre you may think, as I grew up in the south of England. We used to come here almost every summer (and occasionally also in winter) during our holidays to Scotland, long ago with my Scottish grandparents before they passed away, and more recently with my immediate family and occasionally with other Scottish relatives. This place is equally as special to me now, as it was when I was a baby.
The walk commences at a small pull-in point at the start of a rough track that issues from a sharp left bend on the road just uphill from the small hamlet of Guay (see map). At weekends in high summer, I have seen as many as 3 or 4 cars rammed into this small spot, and at busy times, it is sometimes necessary to park a little bit farther up the road. The side of the road adjacent to the track used to be lined by a dense thicket of lofty firs when I came here as a child, however today all that is left of this once great woodland is a graveyard of rotting wooden stumps. Times have changed.
The rough track climbs uphill with rampant vegetation attempting to explode from the sides onto the path. A large block of schist has been placed in the centre of the track, no doubt to prevent vehicular access onto the open country up ahead. After about 50 metres, a crossroads is reached. Again, in times gone by, there used to be little sign of anthropogenic impact here, however today a sturdy and very new-looking metal gate must be crossed in order to access the heathery landscape up ahead.
Go straight ahead across the crossroads up a rough track that is initially on an almost horizontal gradient through relatively low-lying and boggy terrain before turning sharply to the right and starting to climb, but again at an easy angle. As soon as you begin to climb, the serene Scottish landscape that I remember best from my childhood is encountered for the first time. Wild blueberry bushes line the track to the right, offering a scrumptious snack when the berries are a dark blue/purplish colour in July-early August. Countless sheep roam over the hillsides ahead, their thick white fleeces standing out clearly against the abundant heather- and bracken-coated hillsides. Attractive micas and quartzite glint at you from the track below, eroded from the prevailing metamorphic schistose bedrock found in this corner of Perthshire. These crystals are a delight for a young geologist, and I have numerous specimens at home that I picked out of the path while trotting up here many years ago.
Higher up, the path comes to another junction as a track rises to join from the left. Turn right (SE) along the grassy track heading towards a linear hill ridge ahead in the middle distance, rising above which is the rounded summit of Deuchary Hill (511m), the highest peak in the immediate vicinity. In between the linear ridge and Deuchary Hill is the well-hidden and secretive Lochan na Beinne, perched in a saddle high above the valley of the River Tay and never seen until the loch is actually reached. The essential recipe for peace and tranquillity.
Continue eastward along the path as it contours around the base of hills clothed in heather and bracken, save for occasional sheer escarpments of silver and grey schist. A path dives off to the north at one point striking through a gap between the rounded hills, somewhere in the direction of Kirkmichael.
I haven’t explored this area nearly as much as I would like to. There are seemingly endless possibilities for rambling easily over these hills, and when you are in the midst of this spectacular wild landscape, it is hard to imagine that there are any problems at all on planet Earth. All is calm and peaceful. Or so you think. Suddenly you hear a loud “baaaaaa baaaaaa” at close range, then up above the bracken pop a couple of stunted horns and a creamy white face, staring at you inquisitively for a few seconds until you make the slightest of movements for your camera, before darting off into the bracken. Both human and animal appear equally as startled at their sudden, unexpected confrontation. A gentle breeze ripples against the clump of bracken in the sheep’s absence, the fronds waving pleasantly in the cool and welcome draft. The sun beats down from a clear blue sky, encouraging the crickets to get excited, unseen but yet all around you and concealed in the bracken. A frog hops past you, heading for the moisture of a small burn emanating out of the hillside higher up.
Then suddenly you hear a river, the murmur of human voices and spy a path on the other side of the river straight ahead. Walkers stroll briskly, full of excitement and anticipation, whilst cyclists shoot quickly over the much-improved path. This is the main track from Dunkeld to Kirkmichael, a ~16 mile route that is becoming ever more popular with walkers and cyclists alike. I remember coming here when I were young and we would see maybe 2 or 3 walkers during an entire day, along with the ranger in his green 4-wheel drive purring along the mountain track. Now the track is alive with 30-40 walkers a day, weekday and weekend alike. Again, times have changed.
We now arrive at a well-known picnic area for my family, and our very own fireplace by the river. This was the limit to where I could reach as a toddler, but the place where I never cried, no matter how cold the temperature was, how strong the wind blew, or how hard the rain fell. I was in the depths of rural Perthshire. There was no reason to cry, only reason to be happy.
Coming back here all those years on, and despite the changes I have already mentioned, there are some things that have never changed. The river (Dowally Burn) is exactly the same as I have always remembered, meandering serenely through heather, bracken and rough grass. Quartzite and micas gleam like crown jewels beneath the clear waters, which emanate from the southern end of Loch Ordie to the north. A small stoney beach lies at the bank adjacent to the picnic area, shaded by a tall and sprightly fur, which extends a comforting arm into the Dowally Burn.
Tall firs are dotted erratically over this locally boggy saddle beneath the linear ridge to our east, interspersed with the skeletons of what undoubtedly were also great firs some time ago in the past. Schist outcrops burst starkly out of the vegetation, with brilliant white quartz veins cutting discordantly through the grey groundmass. A few years ago I collected an attractive weathered amalgamation of silver schist and bright white quartzite from the Dowally Burn and took it home as a souvenir of what I like to think of as my piece of Perthshire. If ever life gets stressful or work too hard, I can always look at my geological souvenir and remember the place far away where time passes slowly at a relaxing pace, and where only happiness always prevails. Is the sun shining today, or has a blizzard descended on my part of Perthshire? Only the sheep know and (maybe reassuringly) they can’t answer back.
We have been having a fire at this so-called picnic area ever since I can remember. In the old days, the mountain ranger may have occasionally come past to check, however he always passed with little comment. That’s one pleasing aspect about Scotland that is often lost in parts of urban England- the sense of freedom. Once out in the mountains at a suitable distance from civilisation, you are regarded as a responsible individual who is out at the mercy of nature, and as such can be counted on to look after the wild environment in which you are embroiled. In the tight urban confines of Southampton or Oxford people of my age are closely watched, often expected to be causing trouble or a hindrance to others. The sense of freedom is lost. Not so in the wilds of Highland Scotland.
No matter how many times we come here, there always seems to be abundant wood nearby from the bony skeletons of firs that have long been dead. The wood burns well and within no time a healthy flame has been generated, contained safely within a circle of hefty schistose blocks. The kettle is filled from the Dowally Burn and boiled to make tea. I am not a tea drinker myself, however I have been informed of the “distinct” taste of tea made with Loch na Beinne water. The Dowally River primarily flows out of the greater water mass of Loch Ordie, however a tributary from the smaller Loch na Beinne does also make a lesser contribution. Unlike the small mountain streams in the western Highlands, I would not drink out of this stream without boiling however. The abundance of sheep in the vicinity and the long drainage network of the river systems, often paused for considerable time in the stagnant waters of lochans, offer plenty of potential opportunity for contamination unfortunately. As well as boiling water, we have often cooked sausages and bacon on the fire.
From the picnic place, a subvertical cliff composed of the same hard metamorphic rock can be seen to the north, with an accompanying litter of giant boulders at the base. My natural interest in geology takes over and I scramble up to the base of the cliff, where some spectacular slabs of smoothed schist with a pleasing silver sheen and some nice examples of white and clear quartz can be found. Occasionally a yellowish form of quartz is also seen, no doubt contaminated by iron at some point in the geological past.
Climbing the short but steep slopes to the top of this hill gives a fine view of the immediate vicinity, now high above the picnic area. The brilliant blue waters of Loch Ordie shimmer to the north, a magnet for fishermen and naturally passed by the hoards of walkers making the trek from Dunkeld to Kirkmichael. To the west, the instantly recognisable conical peak of Schiehallion rises up higher than anything else. You can gaze down the wide, open valley of the River Tay westwards towards Pitlochry and on to the Monadliath mountains towards the NW. Perched on a smooth outcrop of solid schist, one could sit here and daydream for hours, as a gentle cooling breeze blows along the River Tay and ruffles your hair. To the north further hills clad in the same pink flowers of the heather and lush green of the bracken stretch out as far as the eye can see, offering innumerable possibilities for the rambler. I’m sure one could easily spend a week wandering through this area in utter enjoyment, with each day offering the potential for new and exciting discoveries. This is for sure the place to come to forget those stresses of everyday life. Up here all problems are forgotten; absorbed into the heather and bracken, then spat back out onto the ground by the sheep in one big “baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”.
Now it is time to head on, uphill to where only the knowledgeable frequent. Heading east across the grassy and sometimes boggy ground, pick up the main well-built track from Dunkeld to Kirkmichael near to an attractive stone bridge across a small burn, which has drained down from Loch na Beinne. Few people know where this small burn has come from. Even fewer people care. But we do. You are only on the main Dunkeld to Kirkmichael route for about 20-30 metres southward before to your left (east) you see a gate with a path heading off up the hillside.
During my early days of visiting this area, this hillside leading up to the top of the linear ridge used to be wild rugged heather and grass, through which you picked a careful route up to what we called the “lonely tree”, a lone fir clinging precariously to the hillside above the same small burn which has emanated from Loch na Beinne, and which you crossed on the main Dunkeld-Kirkmichael route. That “lonely tree” is lonely no more. In fact it is hard to even see if the tree is still there, as it has now been dwarfed by the vast plantation that has appeared along the western slopes of this hillside. Erosion may have reached a critical threshold, and the tree subsided into the chasm, the steep banks of which it used to cling to precariously all those years ago. You just don’t know anymore. It is impossible to tell which one it was. Yes, you’ve guessed it…times have changed. Some changes are good, but for me, the vast plantation of what will one day become tall thick forest has completely ruined the wild feel of this hillside. I think this is sad. I seriously hope that the wild vegetation is not displaced elsewhere in this beautiful area for future generations.
Follow the path uphill as it heads initially SE, then curves first to the NE then round to the SW before again heading SE as the top of the ridge is attained. Fine views are gained to the SW towards the pointed peak of Schiehallion, and to the west and NW towards the rugged, wild, rounded summits of the Monadliath. Gazing in the foreground to the NW and north, the true rambling potential of this area is once again unlocked and recognised. Far better to head on one of the small stalker’s paths through the heather and bracken than follow the now stony and artificial “road” between Dunkeld and Kirkmichael, all due care being given to footpath erosion of course.
The rough track runs adjacent to the burn as it cuts a cleft through the linear ridge and into the confines of a saddle between the ridge and steep grassy slopes rising to the heights of Deuchary Hill. Suddenly the western end of Loch na Beinne comes into view, reeds sprouting clear of the rippling water. Roughly heart-shaped or spear-shaped in appearance, a gentle westerly pushes a series of continuous ripples across the surface. All is silent, except for the gentle lapping of water against the rocky shore, the occasional sharp slap as a trout jumps clear out of the water, and the gentle murmur of the breeze as it passes through the solitary fir clinging to the northern bank of the loch. This fir has also been here for as long as I remember. I have even seen a painting of the loch painted some years ago, and there is the fir guarding the northern bank of the loch. Yes, thankfully this hasn’t changed. The path heads along the northern bank of the loch then starts to fizzle out and it is up to you to pick a way through the grassy slopes towards Deuchary Hill, that become steep just beneath the summit.
The summit cairn at the top of Deuchary Hill forms a fine viewpoint. To the east the landscape abruptly changes from the delightfully wild and rugged heathery scenery that we have become accustomed to and love, to a heavily cultivated and open fertile valley stretching out towards Blairgowrie on a near-horizontal gradient. Deuchary Hill almost serves to isolate Loch na Beinne and Loch Ordie from the rest of populated Perthshire, on which the anthropogenic impact is all too apparent. This is indeed a secretive spot hidden and isolated in the depths of rural Perthshire, and all the more appealing for it. Loch na Beinne glistens below in the bright summer sunshine, the breeze rippling the surface and shimmering the bright sunlight in all directions.
The rambler may feel free to do as they wish from this point. One could head back down to the Dunkeld-Kirkmichael “road” and walk northward to the western shores of Loch Ordie or further on into increasingly wild and rugged terrain. A ruined bothy is reached after some distance, once home to human habitation, now roofless and home to the occasional inquisitive sheep or three. Alternatively one could take one of the small stalker’s paths heading off through the heather and bracken as far as they wish to who knows where. Whatever you choose to do, there is one thing I can guarantee you. They don’t call Perthshire the “Heart of Scotland” without reason. This place will become stuck in your mind and it will only be a matter of time before you return to these hidden depths of rural Perthshire. Let's just hope that in the future times DON'T change.
by MarkD » Sat Aug 21, 2010 10:37 pm
by LeithySuburbs » Sat Aug 21, 2010 11:02 pm
by icemandan » Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:36 am
I personally don't mind the anthropogenic impact of the Blairgowrie area as it brings me lots of superb raspberries and strawberries! I call Blairgowrie 'The Raspberry Capital of the World' I never fail to stop by one of the roadside stalls to buy some strawberries or raspberries if I'm passing
It's a while since I've cooked on an open fire - last time was when I was a bairn up in our woods. We used to fry all sorts of things in all sorts of mediums... once, when we ran out of other things to fry, we starting frying biscuits in orange juice and mashed potato in vinegar Great pic of that anyway.
The only thing which concerned me in your report was you saying you chip bits off the rock each visit - I've been known to take one sample of already-fallen off rock from an area (especially schist which I love for it's sheen) but I wouldn't take multiple samples just in case everyone was doing the same...
Great report anyway
- mountain coward
by Barnety2000 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 1:15 pm
I see what you mean about chipping pieces of rock off, and the resulting erosion. I think I will rephrase this part, as I don't in fact chips pieces off each year, but rather collect the odd loose piece from beneath the cliff I mention. Of course if everyone that came to this area chipped pieces of rock off then there would be nothing left to enjoy!
Thanks, and to everyone else for their comments
by Michelle » Sun Aug 22, 2010 2:29 pm
Special places such as this may change physically with the passing of the years, but memory and meaning remain forever untouchable. It's great to have such a place, a window to step through, into a slower-paced world of a different design. I have one of those places too... and of course, it's in Scotland It's the sort of place you're happy to just BE.... to sit, to wander, to play, to pass innumerable hours daydreaming...
by Barnety2000 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 10:21 pm
Scotland has many such places like this for me, including several quiet yet high mountain summits where you could just sit for hours if the weather allows. Yet you always notice the biggest changes to a place if you come back to visit it after being away for a long while...
by kinley » Mon Aug 23, 2010 5:08 pm
Bilberries are known as Blaeberries in Eastern Scotland. - so you were nearly bang on
by Barnety2000 » Mon Aug 23, 2010 6:41 pm
kinley wrote:Bilberries are known as Blaeberries in Eastern Scotland. - so you were nearly bang on
Bilberries, blaeberries, blueberries...all the same thing, why don't we just call them tasty mountain fruits
by Graeme D » Mon Aug 23, 2010 8:49 pm
by Barnety2000 » Mon Aug 23, 2010 9:58 pm
by stephen_18 » Fri Mar 03, 2017 11:39 pm
I did a similar walk earlier this week and I can relate to much of what you write about the tranquility.
It is a beautiful area. Thanks for doing it justice.
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