Last year my friend Graham and his wife Hazel travelled north all the way from Southampton for a holiday in Orkney, stopping in various places along the way. On the way back they stopped in Perthshire and I gave them a tour. I must have done something right, because this year they wanted a 2 day tour!
As with last year I met them at the Moulin Hotel where they were staying at 10am, but this year I was doing the driving so that Graham and Hazel could see as much as possible. Graham had said that Hazel was keen to go back to see the Fowlis Wester cross slab, since last year by the time we got to the church it was locked and we had to make do with the replica, so our journey began with us shooting down the A9.
To make this first leg a little more interesting, I turned off at the Ballinluig junction and headed out west to Aberfeldy then south through Glen Cochill and the Sma’ Glen. They’d seen these incredibly picturesque glens last year but were happy to see them again. After climbing out of the Sma’ Glen we dropped down onto the main Perth to Crieff road, and turned left then left again at the New Fowlis cairn.
I pointed out the standing stone on it, but we didn’t stop – we had bigger stones to see! We drove past the replica cross and parked behind the church, then walked along the track towards Thorn farm, hopping over the fence into the last field before the farm. Above us, at the top of the hill, we could see the Crofthead Farm standing stones.
But before we got to them there was the small matter of the massive Thorn cup-marked boulder.
We spent a bit of time here finding the cup-marks, looking at the view across to the Ochils and generally marvelling at how enormous this stone must once have been, before a short walk up the hill to the Crofthead Farm stones.
Then it was back down to the village and into the church so that Hazel (and Graham) could see the original cross-slab.
There’s also a second cross-slab in the church, which was found built into the wall when the church was being renovated.
Our next stop was less megalithic and more retail, although in a speciality kind of way. Back in the car we headed for Crieff. I knew Graham had a sweet tooth and liked his food, so I took them to J L Gill’s traditional Scottish grocers where he spent a long time selecting lots and lots of ales, then umm’d and ahh’d on the wisdom of buying cheese with no fridge.
Bags clinking, we moved along the High Street to Gordon & Durward’s traditional Scottish sweet shop, where Graham was like, well, a kid in a sweet shop! Just as we got back to the car it started to rain, and by the time we got to the Famous Grouse Experience it was tipping it down. I had planned on lunch here, but the rain had seemingly only increased the number of pensioners in the distillery’s restaurant so we decided to press on for St Fillans.
On the way towards Comrie we passed the Lawers standing stone but the rain was so heavy by now that we didn’t stop. When we got to Comrie the rain was easing off so we headed to the edge of the village to see Dalginross stone circle.
I had thought of taking Graham and Hazel to the Roman Stone and Auchingarrich standing stone but the rain had started falling heavily again, so instead we drove to the Roman Stone, turned around then continued on for St Fillans. We had one more stop to make on the way though, again more retail than megalithic so the rain wasn’t an issue.
Dalchonzie fruit farm sells delicious fresh fruit in the summer, but beyond the end of the season we were here for what they make with that fruit. They stock an amazing range of jams, sauces and pickles, all made with fresh produce from the farm, and the aroma as you walk into the shop is fantastic, smells wafting through from the kitchen behind. Once again Graham’s face lit up, and it was a real struggle for him not to buy one of everything in the shop.
Just before St Fillans is the ancient Pictish stronghold of Dundurn. Again my plan was scuppered by the rain. I’d planned on taking them on the short walk to the summit, but the rain was really lashing down now, so the consensus was to just go for lunch in St Fillans.
We stopped at the Drummond Hotel for toasted sandwiches and chips, and sat looking out towards Loch Earn as the rain came past horizontally. Eventually we mustered the energy to head back out into the wind and rain, and continued driving along the edge of the loch to Lochearnhead, turning north en route for Killin where the next thing on the list would only be enhanced by the rain.
The Falls of Dochart in summer is a very picturesque place, perfect for picnics on the rocks beside the river. But in autumn, winter and spring, particularly after rain or snow, the water rages down spectacularly over these rocks and under the narrow bridge.
After spending a bit of time marvelling at the power of the water and noise it was creating, we went back to the car and drove over the bridge and up to Loch Tay. Driving along the north shore, I slowed down so they could see Machuim stone circle, but once again the rain robbed us of any inclination to stop and get out of the car. We followed the loch as far as Fearnan where we turned north towards Fortingall, passing the Bridge of Lyon standing stones and General’s Grave – again, not stopping because of the rain.
I was also conscious of the time and wanted them to see Glen Lyon in the best light possible. A few miles into the glen I stopped the car and took them down to the river. For the second time today the rain had improved a view, this times towards the Roman Bridge (which isn’t actually Roman at all).
We continued on along the glen, the rain coming and going. A few miles after Invervar we rounded a corner and saw St Adamnan’s Cross, a standing stone that was carved with a Christian cross on either side, supposedly by Adamnan himself.
I had wondered about maybe stopping at Bridge of Balgie post office where you can have something to drink and a slice of cake sitting out looking over the River Lyon, but in today’s weather I don’t think it would have been a popular decision, so we carried on driving down the glen. Glen Lyon is the longest glen in Scotland, and is also one of the most spectacular. Because it’s a dead end, not many tourists go all the way to the end, so even in summer it’s quiet.
The narrow road twists it’s way through a steep-sided valley, the landscape changing every mile to make a visual treat. Towards the end of the glen is the Stronuich Resevoir and Loch Lyon, their waters artificially high due to hydro-electric dams. There’s a footbridge across the river at the Stronuich Resevoir, which is a great place to take a photo of the river winding it’s way east.
The bridge is quite rickety, so we gave Hazel a fright by jumping up and down on it!
The road ends suddenly at Loch Lyon with no space for turning. The grass on either side of the road had been turned into a quagmire by the heavy rain so the chance of getting stuck looked quite high, until Hazel very sensibly suggested opening the gate and turning in the dam’s car park! Having escaped a muddy embarrassment, we started heading back along the glen, but this time stopped just before the farm of Cashlie.
Cashlie has obviously been inhabited for thousands of years – as well as the present farm there is the Cona Bhacain standing stone and a fort. The Cona Bhacain is a strange-shaped stone looking quite like a dog’s head and neck sticking out of the ground.
There are two legends attached to this stone. One is that this was the stone used by Fingal to tether his hound Bran. There are several large homesteads or circular forts in Glen Lyon which have been attributed to (in legend) Fingalian warriors living in the glen. The other is that local girls used to crawl under the protruding part of the stone as a form of contraception.
After a short dry spell, the rain swept in again so we jumped in the car and continued back along the glen. We crossed the river at Bridge of Balgie and started to climb steeply, the Allt Bail a’ Mhuillin churning it’s way down beside the road. When we reached Lochan na Lairige (the loch of the pass) there was no view to be had due to the heavy rain, so we carried on as the road twisted its way down to the north shore of Loch Tay. This was the second time we’d been here today, but instead of turning off at Fearnan we followed the road all the way to Kenmore at the head of the loch, where we stopped to take a photo as the sun started to set.
Just outside Kenmore is Taymouth Castle, once the seat of the Campbells but now undergoing redevelopment as a hotel.
Beside the gatehouse of Taymouth Castle are the Newhall Bridge standing stones, but with the light fading fast we settled for a look with no photos. Then it was back in the car for the drive back through Aberfeldy to the A9 and up to the Moulin Hotel where I’d leave Graham and Hazel before returning tomorrow.