Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
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Remains of Ardoch Roman Fort near Braco
DN42 Roman Fort
Days N40 - N44                                                                    Central Scotland
Day N42 - Braco to Sma' Glen
Day N41                              Into the wilds                                       Day N43
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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Time of departure: 8.00 am
Time of arrival: 2.45 pm
Place departed: Braco, Perth and Kinross
Place arrived: Sma' Glen (north of Crieff, Perth and Kinross)

Miles: 13.8
Cum miles: 680.1
Percent complete: 73.3

Bed sign Foulford Inn, Sma' Glen  ****
Cost for bed and breakfast:  26 ($52)
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I left Braco bright and early, which is always a good feeling.  I paused, though, to look at the Ardoch Roman Fort, which is on the outskirts of the town; a series of earthen ramparts remain on the approximately quarter-mile-square site.

After making good time to Crieff, about ten miles north of Braco, and arriving at about 12.30 pm, my problems began.  It was too early to stop, and yet there was no obvious stopping place at the right distance further on. Nevertheless, I set out in hope. Armed with my cellphone and accommodation list, supplemented with one from the Crieff TIC, I first hoped to find a place in nearby Gilmerton, but there was none. At that point, I was headed into the wilds, with not even a village for 25 miles.  Six miles from Crieff, in an area known as Sma' Glen (for small glen or valley), there were two inns, both reporting full.  Eleven miles from Crieff was the Amulree Hotel, at the limits of my endurance given that the road was now pretty hilly. The recorded message from the Amulree said that they'd stepped away from the phone for a few minutes - but I got the same message all day, and they never called back. That seemed to exhaust all the possibilities. I started to evaluate sleeping in a field - reviewing my clothing to see if I'd be warm enough (probably not). I checked my water supply.  I wondered about busing back to Crieff, if there was a bus, and returning to the same spot next morning by bus. But I saw no bus, and almost no cars on which to hitch a ride either. All this contingency planning was quite stressful.

Of course, before settling down with the sheep, I planned to drop in on the two Sma' Glen establishments in mid-afternoon and on the Amulree in the evening (estimating 8 pm, when it's still light in May), to see what might be accomplished in person. At the very least, they would fill my water bottle . . .

The first of the Sma' Glen establishments, the Foulford Inn, then had space!  An entire group had postponed, and they were suddenly empty. My problem was solved for the day.  But the wider problem remained for future days, exacerbated by the remote areas I was now passing through.

In the next three days, I planned to go to Aberfeldy, and then take mainly lanes northwest to Tummel Bridge, and then even more minor lanes and trails to join the A9 and find accommodation near the Drumochter Pass.

Each day on the planned route was at the limits of my endurance.  Beyond Aberfeldy the roughness and sparseness of the routing meant I would need to carry extra water and food, adding weight to my pack. Accommodation at the end of each day had to be at the right point, and available. I had already tried to reserve accommodation at Amulree, with the lack of success I described. B&B owners are also reluctant to let double rooms to singles in advance; so they sometimes report "full" until the afternoon before the night in question when their chance to rent the double room to two people is slipping away.  At that point, they become more flexible. In any case, there were only one or two inns at the right points on the planned route. As the lady at the Crieff TIC put it, "There might not even be houses where you're going, let alone inns".  Well, she wasn't literally right: there were inns, just very few.  And there was a busy, holiday weekend ahead to fill the few available beds - with the weather said to be changing for the worse.

The original planned route via Tummel Bridge and close to Loch Rannoch features in the ballad, Road to the Isles, which I remember from my youth in the following form:

"Sure by Tummel, and Loch Rannoch, and Lochaber, I will go,
By heather tracks wi' heaven in their wiles,
If it's thinking in your inner heart, the braggarts in my step,
Ye've never smelt the tangle of the isles".

If you like Scottish and Irish ballads, you'll already know Father Sydney MacEwan, and appreciate why a priest who was allowed to perform only one month a year came to sell a million records even in his days. I wish I could put a copy of his Road to the Isles here, but there's too much music piracy already. Here's a clip of just this stanza. If you're really, really interested, EMI Nostalgia Collection sells a CD called Scotland the Brave which contains the whole track and 22 more.  

Studying the geography, Lochaber is a region to the northwest, around Fort William, and not a loch, and the ballad is of someone probably headed to Skye or the Hebrides, whereas I wouldn't pass through Lochaber and was headed in the direction of the Orkneys and Shetlands. Still, that ballad was in my head when I planned my route, and the music has haunted me for years.

I saw a deer today - and hundreds of rabbits running crazily from hedge to hedge in farmers' fields.  Fortunately the farmers were raising sheep and not growing carrots.

I enjoyed a couple of pints of St. Andrew's ale at the Foulford Inn, and chatting to the locals. The inn has its own nine-hole course, free to residents, but I was too wacked to wack.

There was a nice atmosphere to the Foulford Inn - country-style relaxing - and since the road on to Aberfeldy turned out to be so beautiful, it's on my must-return list. But most of all, what I liked about the place was that it was there – with space available.
Day N41                             2007 and 2008 Daryl May                           Day N43