For the second Saturday in succession, I headed to Pitlochry today, this time with the intention of using the forestry tracks to get to a pair of standing stones high above Strathtay. It was crisp setting off from Dundee, but the sky was clear. By the time I reached the Ballinluig junction on the A9 it was cloudy and there was a little rain in the air.
I parked in the centre of Pitlochry, assembled my bike, and rode down under the railway bridge to the footbridge over the River Tummel at Port na Craig, just like last week. The river was high again, with melting snow from the peaks adding to the rain that had fallen recently. Over the river, I headed up the mossy road to the A9, the sun shining through the trees.
I crossed the A9 and started up the farm track that runs up the hill past Middleton of Fonab into the forest. After a particularly muddy section where the path had a stream running down it, it started to dry out a wee bit as the forest got denser.
The combination of wide summer tyres, wet leaves, muddy conditions, a steep gradient and – let’s be honest – a bit of a hangover meant I was finding the going tough, but eventually I reached a flatter section, where the narrow track joins the main forestry road.
I followed this for a few hundred metres, enjoying getting my breath back while cycling on the flat, then turned left at the junction and continuing along to Clachan an Diridh where I stopped for my lunch. The sun was peeping through the trees, there was a blue sky above, and the only sound was of birds singing.
After half an hour drinking in the atmosphere, I continued along the forestry road, turning off to the west. My (rather ambitious) plan was to follow this road round to the forest’s north-west corner, where I would leave the forest and carry my bike the 200m to the Pitcastle Lochs and join the track that runs down into Strathtay, passing the standing stones above Findynate Farm. So far, so good – I was making good progress on the hard-packed forestry road, although after climbing so high initially I was now doing a lot of downhill. After a couple of kilometres I reached a section where there had been some logging going on recently.
The logging had churned up the track into something akin to wet concrete, which made the going a bit slower, and covered me in thick, wet mud.
When the track skirted the edge of the forest, I could see that there was a new 7-foot-high deer fence, so I climbed up the steep hill to it, carrying my bike on my shoulder. The views over the forest to Ben Vrackie were stunning.
But that didn’t change the fact that there was a deer fence blocking my progress. Rather than struggle to get my bike over the fence, I decided to climb over and have a look at the lie of the land on the other side first. Once over, I noticed what looked like a small shed above me. Intrigued, I walked up to it and realised that it was a hide overlooking an artificial osprey’s nest.
Looking back at my bike gives a good indication of how high up I was now.
When I came out of the forest I wasn’t 100% sure exactly where I was, but moving up onto the top of the hill I could see down into Strathtay. That didn’t help much, as what I was seeing didn’t bear much relation to my map, not helped by the forestry operations, new deer fence and the track to the bird hide not appearing on the map at all. I was standing just above three small lochs which I had thought was maybe the lochan below the Pitcastle Lochs with a couple of unmarked neighbours.
The light was starting to fade and I had a long ride back uphill in the mud (to begin with at least), so I decided rather than press on on foot to look for the standing stones I should really climb back over the deer fence and start back. First off there was a section of dry track before the area the logging had been in.
After the quagmire where the forestry machines had been working, the track dried out again, and also flattened out so that I wasn’t having to work too hard.
I don’t have any photos of the next couple of kilometres because I was taking full advantage of the long downhill section back to the A9, switchbacking its way through the forest on my way back to the car. On my way back to Dundee I called in at my parents and was treated to the end of a glorious sunset.
Later I realised that I was actually closer to the stones than I thought, and the lochs I was at were the ones in front of Creagan Feadaire, which I had been standing on. At least I know where they are now, so I can come back in the summer when the days are longer.