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Rook Country: Ben Vrackie & Killiecrankie

Rook Country: Ben Vrackie & Killiecrankie

Postby James T » Fri Feb 17, 2017 5:56 pm

Route description: Ben Vrackie, near Pitlochry

Corbetts included on this walk: Ben Vrackie

Date walked: 03/12/2016

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 27.9 km

Ascent: 841m

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Yesterday’s Clunie Walk was a mere warm-up for today’s epic, combining the ascent of Ben Vrackie with the Bealach na Searmoin and Killiecrankie walk – we prefer a circular or point-to-point to an up and retrace down, much as though the latter is how it is with mountains! We had done the Bealach route on our last visit to Pitlochry six years before, back when we’d started out on the trail of a hillwalking life, albeit woefully, embarrassingly ill-clothed and ill-equipped, me traversing an unexpected snowfield on the pass in white trainers and hoodie. This time we would turn right at the fork and do the Ben, ‘cos that’s what we do these days, now we’re older and wiser, and we’ve got walking boots.

As we often do, we prepared for the ascent of a serious hill by having a lie-in and a large cooked breakfast. But we couldn’t have set off much earlier because being December it was dark until about 9am. We also went for a swim at our hotel, just so our legs would ache even harder on the steep sections. We left the overheated hotel about an hour behind the rooks who’d long ceased their morning reverse from their roost. The night before they had past our window to their sleeping trees in a river of caws. We were to experience them again before night fell on today.

I again debated whether I was wearing enough/too many clothes on a dull grey December morning but had removed a couple of jumpers by the time we passed the Moulin Inn, where we’d slumped sleepily over a couple of Braveheart ales the night before. A red squirrel dutifully showed itself within touching distance by the Ben Vrackie car park, then we started the slog up through the trees and onto the empty moor.

On the way up, the Tummel valley behind

Behind us the silvery Tummel glinted in the morning light, but the day was struggling to lift itself from December doldrums into any mountain glory. But still it was great to be out here, ever upwards, into (for us) the unknown (once we’d turned right past the sign for the Bealach), into the land of the grouse, who accompanied and entertained us irritably all the way to the top.

Loch a’ Choire

We reached the serene infinity pool of Loch a’ Choire, mist wisps drifting above its placid surface. We crossed the dam, letting two probably-much-fitter-than-us chaps overtake us, and started the ascent proper. The climb offered up no problems, just a wee bit of lying snow towards the top, but it was clear that it would be lethal when icy. The views were good despite a lid of cloud, back south to the Paps of Fife and especially to the north where cloud troughed in valleys and snow draped across peaks to which I failed to ascribe names.

View northwards

Totally natural pose at the summit

View from the top back south

Once we’d posed for pics, and taken them of our overtakers, the layers quickly went back on as the wind chilled our sweat. A brief explore of the small summit plateau tempted us to strike off sideways into unmarked Atholl hills, but we played safe and after a quick toast we headed back down. At the loch we broke off onto the path round it, rather than retracing and going over the Bealach, and after some uncertainty, we reached the sign for Killiecrankie and a nice big path downhill. Phew!

Our descent-weary legs, and swimming, caught up with us, but the going was easy on the way down, down, down towards to Killiecrankie. We were now accompanied by pheasants and partridges - the game birds being appropriate to altitude (although alas there were no ptarmigan up top).

We detoured to pay our respects at the Soldier’s Leap and continued down to the path through the Pass of Killiecrankie. A train hooted past and jolted us into checking watches and calculating times, for our late start and dallying over rolls at the loch left us suddenly pushed for catching our train. We should be fine, I said. It was more the fading light that was the problem. On a summer’s day on this stretch we would be serenaded by the spinning coin song of the wood warbler, but this was a time almost unimaginable, it being three weeks from the shortest day.
The path fell away sharply to the river so we kept our wits but carefreely kicked late autumn’s leaves until we missed our steps and lost our balance too many times. As dark descended we upped our pace, past Clunie Power Station (now that would be a cool venue for something), a gander of goosanders its ornamental ducks on the Tummel. The lights of Faskally House would be sanctuary for someone, fire lit for another long night, but not us. We thought we’d like a house like that, with its own rookery, centuries old, and a buzzard.

We’d walked this way one March as joyous buzzards mewed and kettled in the new spring sky. But today (tonight), it was dark and a tension gripped for we recalled that the route headed into deep woods with many a confusing path. A saving grace, I had brought a torch, so I shone at signposts for arrows, at feet for roots and into the near-space for right routes between trees. From concerns at making, or missing, our train, I would now be happy simply for safety, not being lost for a night in the woods. A flight of rooks and their jackdaw fellows followed us above in horror film threat, then disappeared - all quiet for dramatic effect - then returned with a roar like a wartime bombing raid.

Maybe it was just luck: a right fork when I would have said left, and we could see the lights of Pitlochry ahead. Our frightened pace eased, heart rates ebbed and with a turn onto tarmac we were safe. A tawny owl told us it was night, but we were okay. We made our train, a hideous reversion to bright lights and braying people not rooks, not grouse, but we were happy that we’d made it. We’d always remember our dark dreamworld in the woods.
Last edited by James T on Fri Feb 17, 2017 8:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
James T
Posts: 2
Joined: Feb 10, 2017

Re: Rook Country: Ben Vrackie & Killiecrankie

Postby katyhills » Fri Feb 17, 2017 7:55 pm

Looked like you had a nice day - it's been such a 'non winter' that it's made it good for getting out more.
Nice photos - especially the lochan :)
Vrackie's a nice straightforward walk when the weather's so benign, but I've yet to get a view from the top of it! :D
Posts: 372
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