A blog about a hike across Scotland (and possibly other things)

A pretty perfect day

Is it possible to be wearing sweaty underpants you haven’t changed in three days, have legs itchy with two-day-old midge bites, have feet that ache, and to intermittently groan from exhaustion and still think you’ve had a perfect day?

If your answer is yes, then The Great Outdoors Challenge may be the event for you.

The previous day had featured a 17-mile walk, which turned into 20 miles when I couldn’t find the footbridge into Blair Atholl. I didn’t get to the campground in town until 10 o’clock, the end of nautical twilight, with just enough to raise a tent by.

I wanted an easier day when the sun rose.

The next morning I broke camp, left Blair Castle Caravan Park, and headed northeast up Glen Tilt.

Glens are river valleys; every river has one. Some glens are famous; one is even called The Great Glen. Glen Tilt, however, isn’t, especially famous. But it has everything of the best of them.

I walked briefly through the woods on dirt roads until I came to a sign welcoming me to the estate—the privately owned land—through which I’d be walking.

This was followed by a sign that had no threats of punishment or declarations of liability, and that assumed adults could behave responsibly.

The walk started out with a little history—a monument to the last public hanging on the estate, in 1630, that was erected in 1755. I didn’t visit the monument; it was too early in the day for a diversion. I wasn’t clear whether it was a celebration of capital punishment or of the end of it.The last public hanging in Scotland was in 1868, the last judicial hanging in 1963.

Soon after, I passed this sign. I knew from my route planning there was a gun range nearby, but I didn’t know whether it was a military installation or a recreational venue. It was the latter.

It wasn’t clear to me whether the path was closed after May 12 or just on May 12. As I pondered, a couple walked by without a glance. I stayed on the road just to not be a rule-breaker, but I ran into them two miles up the road. They said the prohibition was only for that one day.

The rivers that form the watery spines of glens are wide and big at the bottom of the glen, where they leave to join a larger watercourse or flow into a loch or reservoir.

They’re fed by streams (“burns”) coming off the hills.

Sheep were much in evidence, as we’re signs of previous inhabitants.

I roused this lamb from a lie-down in the middle of the road.

This one was all clipped and ready for the Westminster Sheep Show.

I passed the named destinations on the estate sign—Marble Lodge

and Forest Lodge.

Lesser buildings raised their brows to glimpse walkers on the gravel road.

The sun was out and it was warm, almost hot. On one side of the river was (almost) treeless luxuriance.

And on the other, signs of catastrophic wall slump and scree fall.

I stopped several times for water and gorp, and once for an unscheduled lie-down from which I awoke with the first deep snore. If I’d taken my boots off I would have gone back to sleep. But I got up and “cracked on,” as they say here.

I was going to stop at a place called the Falls of Tarf for the night.

There was a footbridge there from the days when bridges in the middle of nowhere were endowed with unnecessary beauty.

It wasn’t early, but it was still light. The place where I started the Challenge is 1 degree of latitude south of Juneau, Alaska. The place where I stood was only a little farther south—and the days we’re getting longer. So I decided to crack on to the next place with good pitches, the ruins of a lodge about 3 miles up the trail.

The shadows grew long and I grew tall.

A barely gibbous moon appeared over the hill.

I passed a section of the opposite hill that someone someplace undoubtedly thinks has a message left by space aliens.

The wonderful thing about walking up a whole glen is that you witness a basic lesson in geography. The farther up you go, the smaller the river becomes. Eventually it’s a brook, and then nothing.

I never have the presence of mind to look for the nothing. But I do notice when, all of a sudden, I’m walking beside a stream flowing in the opposite direction. As they say here, I’ve “gone over the watershed.”

Soon after I noticed that I’d reached my destination, one of Scotland’s “dangerous buildings.” Never was I happier to court such catastrophe.

I set up my tent, had chicken tikka out of a foil bag, and a wee dram of Old Poultenay.

Like I said, not perfect. But pretty perfect.


  1. Robert

    …and a pretty perfect post. The story behind the architecturally impressive footbridge is, I assume, wholly lost knowledge.

  2. Brown Bruce

    Wee drams are made for such a place

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