Scotland · Travel

Scotland Hiking: Day 1 – Blair Atholl to Falls of Tarf

Jacqueline and I woke up in our tent in the caravan park at Blair Castle. Today was to be the first day of our multi-day hike through the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Our aim was to hike all the way through from the village of Blair Atholl to the town of Aviemore. Our first night had been spent within metres of several other tents and caravans, and we were hoping to get a little bit more wild during the rest of our walk. Not wanting to eat our hiking food yet, we went out to the convenience store in Blair Atholl to get some rather disappointing wraps for breakfast.

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We packed up our tents, brushed our teeth at the toilet block and headed out via the reception to pay for our visit. Soon enough, we were on our way, leaving from the caravan park and heading east up the main road. Over the course of the day, we would get slowly more remote, but for now, we were walking on a well-made side-walk. We crossed the road bridge over the River Tilt and headed left up a narrow side road. Our plan was to follow the river and it’s gorge upstream all day. A short way up the road, we found a second bridge to cross back over the river to a carpark. This was the formal trailhead for our walk, up the Glen Tilt, and so now we headed up a path marked “hikers and cyclists only”.

Over the course of the day, we would pass by numerous other people also out for recreation. Close to Blair Atholl, there were a number of people out for morning runs, and a couple of what appeared to be scout groups heading home with matching bags and bag covers. A common feature of this route were the numerous mountain bikers heading up and down the Glen.

Our route took us into a forest, and we could hear the rushing water of the river down below us. Here, we could finally locate us on the bottom of the Ordinance Survey map that we were carrying, and so I eagerly followed us along our journey, noting the various named landmarks and buildings. Around this time, Jacqueline felt her bag’s straps were pulling in an uncomfortable way, so we switched bags and continued on. This part of the forest forms part of a number of farms, each with named farmhouses which stood lonely and quiet a hundred metres or so from the four wheel drive track we were walking along. But around the houses were often dozens of sheep. Because we were in the late spring/early summer, there were also dozens of lambs, often being playful and amusing as we walked along.

After about seven kilometres of hiking along the rather even terrain, we reached Gaw’s Bridge, the last crossing of the River Tilt. From here on, we would now be consigned to the north bank of the river. Because of the inaccessibility, from here on, the south side opened up into a wild-looking scree slope, with plenty of rushing water, rocky outcrops and not a lot of shrubs taller than a few feet. We stopped for a while for Jacqueline to change into some cooler clothing; the weather had warmed significantly since the morning, and was now overheating.

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After a bit of trail-mix, we continued on, past the last few farmhouses. We were aiming for the Forest Lodge, a large building used by prior occupants of Blair Castle as a staging point for their hunting expeditions in years long gone. We had However, as we approached the lodge a few drops of rain started to fall, which quickly developed into a deluge. Without anywhere to sit, we sheltered under a tree and tried to eat through our bagels without getting them too wet. Off in the distance, we could hear claps of thunder striking in the air. I was now wet and getting colder, and I wanted to keep moving to stay warm. Reluctantly, Jacqueline agreed, and we walked on for a few more kilometres on the edge of the Forest Lodge Wood, with cold and wet sheep staring at us as we passed.

By the time we reached the end of the wood, the rain subsided a little, but we were already soaking wet. It would continue to drizzle through the rest of the afternoon, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as before. The Glen was now getting steeper on both sides, we were now truly in the wild. A few kilometres on, the path forked; we took the lower path that kept to the side of the somewhat rocky slope. We were aiming for the end of the valley; a long and straight line of sight that took seemingly an age to walk.

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Once we got there, we could see our destination. The Bedford Bridge was a footbridge above a pool and a waterfall where the Tarf Water joins the River Tilt. There was a nice, grassy patch just on the other side of the bridge, and so we set up our tent there. There, we cooked up our pasta for dinner. With the light still strongly in our favour, we had a chance after dinner to go for a quick but cool swim in the pond underneath the waterfall. The water was so clean and refreshing. Finally, with the sun still yet to set, we climbed into our tents to try and get some rest.

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