Loch Boltachan, St Fillans, Perth & Kinross
The Lochearnhead, St Fillans and Comrie railway, a branch opened in the early years of the 20th century to plug the gap between the tourist town of Crieff and the Callander to Oban line, last saw diesel traffic back in 1951.
After lying dormant for decades, the abandoned trackbed is in the process of being transformed into a cycle path and walkway, with much of the route now open.
Linking the three villages, the trail also offers access to the surrounding countryside, including my destinations for the day’s lengthy hike – enchanting Dunira Forest and, high in the hills above, lonely Loch Boltachan.
Setting off from the remains of an historic limekiln overlooking Loch Earn, I joined the railway line above the Four Seasons Hotel, a track looping up through chalets where The Beatles spent a night in October 1964 after performing a gig in Edinburgh.
Passing through a dark tunnel, the surfaced walkway runs east above the houses and gardens of St Fillans to the village station, now a caravan park incorporating the old railway buildings.
Detouring over bracken-covered slopes above to avoid the site and a neighbouring farm, the way soon re-joins the course of the railway, passing a well-known local landmark – the Serpent Stone. Also known as Crocodile Rock, the boulder is believed to have been painted to resemble a mythical beast in the late 19th century.
Passing below the A85 and crossing the River Earn, I stayed with the railway as far as Kindrochet House where, crossing back over the main road, I entered the wooded policies of Dunira Estate.
Rising above an overgrown burial ground, the waymarked route to Comrie led me through the hamlet of Dunira and past the grounds of demolished Old Dunira House to a farm at Whitehouse of Dunira where, skirting above the sheds, I began my climb into the forest.
Swinging west into Glen Boltachan, a good track rises steadily through the valley, passing, on the left, a mobile phone mast disguised as a pine tree and then Druim na Cille, a whitewashed cottage enjoying a stunning outlook across the valley towards the rocky flanks of Beinn Fuath.
The trail enters the trees behind Druim na Cille, sightings of red squirrels and roe deer savoured as I tramped up to a tiny tin bothy used by estate workers and, beyond this, a turning circle where the track ends.
The forest thinning out to reveal the bubbling Boltachan Burn, a path takes over from the gravel road, leading to a gate and stile on the edge of the plantation.
Heather moorland ahead, the trail becomes less distinct underfoot but stay close to the stream and, nestling in a bowl below the flanks of The Girron, the inky water of Loch Boltachan is soon revealed.
Hidden amid the hills, I found a tranquil if cold spot, shards of ice caught in the gentle ebb and flow of the water tinkling like a windchime as I wandered along the shoreline, a rough track climbing into the col between The Girron and Creag Odhar.
Cresting the slope above a line of grouse butts, a breath-taking view over Loch Earn greeted me and it was a vista that stayed in focus I descended into Glen Tarken, the valley track weaving down through woodland to the loch.
1. Bear right on track rising behind hotel, take first left and (signed ‘3456’) ascend track through chalets to railway path. Turn right and walk east to Station Road.
2. Bear left between bridge abutments, go right (signed Comrie) over footbridge and follow path 3km east.
3. Go left (signed Comrie) through gate, over field to Kindrochet House then track to A85. Cross, go through gate and ascend track (signed Maam Road) to waymarked junction. Turn right and follow track east to Whitehouse of Dunira.
4. Approaching gate, bear left and follow track for 500m, curving left to junction. Turn left and ascend track to junction by bridge.
5. Turn left and ascend track.
6. Fork right then, in 900m, go right at bothy, following track then path to edge of plantation.
7. Go through gate and follow burn upstream to Loch Boltachan. Continue along northern shoreline.
8. Ascend rough track through col then descend by grouse butts to track.
9. Turn left and descend track to St Fillans.
Distance: 16km/10 miles
Time: 5-6 hours
Grading: A moderately challenging route for fit hillwalkers, following paths and tracks for most of the way. Paths over open hillside are indistinct and can be muddy underfoot. Keep dogs under close control due to livestock and ground nesting birds
Start/finish: Four Seasons Hotel, St Fillans (Grid ref: NN 690244). Park in A85 laybys opposite
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 51; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL47
Tourist Information: Perth iCentre, 45 High Street, Perth PH1 5TJ (Tel 01738 450600)
Public transport: Stagecoach bus service 15 runs from Perth to St Fillans via Crieff