Lochearnhead to Crieff – The High Road to the South including Glen Artney

Take the high ground and stand on the slopes of the broad shoulder of the treeless Braes of Balquhidder and face towards the east. This point is the most westerly in Strathearn and the land we are standing on was once in the possession of the Clan MacLaren and which subsequently was, by fair means or foul, (mainly foul), fell into the hands of the Clan MacGregor, of which more of both later. To our immediate left and north lies Glen Ogle - the Khyber Pass, with its narrow Glen road leading over to the Lix Toll and Killin in Strath Tay. To our right and south, the Braes of Balquhidder continue south into Strathyre and on to Callander with Balquhidder village lying off to the west. Ahead, and to the east below and beyond, lies an unparalleled vista which, on a clear day, is breathtaking.

Stretching away we see Loch Earn in all its majesty surrounded by two contrasting sets of hills and mountains covered by heather and bracken. In September we also see magnificent odd patches of gorse and whin with their striking yellow bloom set against a deep green background and offset against the purple of the heather. Fringed at the water’s edge round the totality of the Loch there is a thin screen of trees. On the south side there are virtually none growing up the mountainside whereas on the north side of the Loch they are planted up to about 450 metres in height above it.

Edinample Castle and Loch Earn

In order to explore the topography of Western Strathearn we will divide the Strath down the middle and with a broad brush provide the principal names of the mountains, hills, small glens, and streams and burns which have been ascribed by man to its geographic features. We will identify some Munroes (above 1000 metres), Corbetts (800 to 1000 metres), Grahams (700 to 850 metres), Donalds (similar to Grahams but with additional dimensions). Others, yet again, are also categorized as Marilyns. Marilyns do not necessarily have to have height rather than mass with the final 150 metres being more of a climb than a hill walk.

To the south and east, rugged Highland Grahams (610-760m) and Corbetts (761-914m) with the two great Munroes (915m+), Stuc a’Chroin (972m) (pinnacle of the ploughshare), which shoulders Beinn Each (811m) (mountain of the horse) in Strathyre and Ben Vorlich (985m), are clearly seen. From the loch side and following the uphill course of the Burn of Ample from the recently restored Edinample Castle (originally built by “Mad” Colin Campbell of the Cowl in 1603 - of more later) up through and beyond the Falls of Edinample (oadann ambuill - face of the vat referring to the shape of the Falls) into Glen Ample but below the summit of Ben Vorlich, we direct our footsteps eastwards with Loch Earn in view on our left from all heights. Highland heather, bog, craggy knolls and layers of lightly covered soil over solid rock, and sheep and deer paths crossing numerous burns, as well as wee hidden glens, are our lot for the next ten miles or so. If we are lucky in autumn we will see herds of deer in the distance, but sadly never get close to them.

Passing Coire’ Baile a’ Mhaoir (wood of the farm of the maor (officer of justice - it could also mean steward or warden which may have relevance to the Stewarts of Ardvorlich) we reach a tributary to the Ample Burn called Allt a’ Coire Mheobhith (burn of the dell of lively life) which leads us towards Coire Mheobhith which is the starting-off point for our skyline walk. Ahead we pass between Beinn Our (the dun coloured hill) (730m) and Sron Mhor (670m) (great slope or promontory). These are delightful stopping-off points for those climbing Ben Vorlich (the hill of the great hollow) lying higher to the south-west. Progressing eastwards over boggy ground we reach Coire Buidhe (yellow corrie). Here a natural spring, Allt a’Choire Bhuidhe (burn of the yellow corrie), gurgles, forms and flows into the Ardvorlich Burn which in turn passes through Glen Vorlich. This is the hereditary estate of the Stewarts of Ardvorlich, (little bay on the loch), and thence into the Loch itself. The Ardvorlich Burn sources itself at a small loch called Lochan na Mna (little loch of the woman) which is nestled to the south-east below Creagan an Lochain (crag of the little loch). There is an interesting tale attached to it which will be seen in the chapter on the Stewarts.

Below us Eildrich (556m) (abounding in hinds) and An Dunan (489m) overlook the Balimeanach (middle farm) Burn which sources itself through the boggy marsh flanked in the east by Beinn Bhan (640m) (white hill) and the Black Craig (692m) and its cluster of bogs and hillocks called Druim Chonnaidh (firewood ridge). Below lies Fin Glen and the effervescent Allt Shuas (Wester burn) parallelled by its sister stream, Allt Shios (Easter burn), whose source lies in the boggy land of Meall Reamhar (630m) (round lump of a hill). At Meall Reamhar we note the sources of the streams called Allt Tobar Sneachda (burn of the snow well), a tributary of Allt Shrath a’Ghlinne (burn of the strath of the glen) flowing south-eastwards between Creag na h-iolaire (650m) (eagle’s crag) and Meall nan Saighdearan (650m) (hill of the soldier) to the north-east. It, and its parallel sister, Allt nan Saighdearan (burn of the soldier), are tributaries of the Water of Ruchill which we will meet at Comrie.

Moving on to Bealach Ruadh (608m) (the red pass) we round towards Beinn Fuath (661) (mountain of the spectre) and Am Bioran (613m) (the sharp or pointed one) and Bioran Beag (the little sharp one) circling in the lower reaches, Creagan na Monteich (crag of the peat moss) and its supports of Dun an Aon Duine (the fort of one individual) and Fhuar Chois (cold hollow) and, within the envelope, Glen Fhuarchois (glen of the cold hollow) with its stream, Allt Fhuarchois (burn of the cold hollow), changing its name lower down to Allt na Galanaich (burn full of branches). Here it enters Loch Earn at Ardrostan (height of Drostan - a Celtic saint). Flanking this burn are the knolls of Sron Mhor Mhic Laurinn (great slope of McLaren) and higher Mhic Laurainn (McLaren) and another stream coming off the hillside called Allt Fhiantagan (burn of the black heathberry) which in turn is flanked by Cnoc a Mhadaih (173m) (hillock of the wild dog) overlooking St. Fillans, and the crannog known as Neish Island.

Returning to the heights of Beinn Fuath below, and to the south-east, lies Gleann Ghoinean (glen of the withered grass) with its stream, Allt Ghoinean (burn of the withered grass) later changing its name to Bealach an t-Sagairt (pass of the priest) which joins the River Earn to the east at that ancient place, Dundurn (Dunduirn - fort of the fist). Here the Strath narrows to about three miles in width and staying on our course we round into the massif known as the Aberuchill Mountains (obair-ruchaill - confluence of the Ruchill) (with the Earn at Comrie) with the mountains consisting of Mhor Bheinn (640m), Bioran Dalchonzie (468m) and closer to it, Beinn Bhearnach (604m) (mountain abounding in clefts) and Ben Halton (621m) (Beinn challtuin - hazel mountain). At our feet lies the broad, open flatland of Lower Strathearn with the Village of Comrie (approximately 600m) below.

The Source of the River Earn at St Fillans.

Neish Island is clearly seen. It was originally a crannog.

Continuing towards the south and cutting behind us to the south-west is “lonely” but beautiful, Glen Artney. Glen Artney (gleann artain - uncertain but could mean glen of little houses, a clachan) was created by one of the significant fault lines which separates the Lowlands from the Highlands and its river, the Water of Ruchill, is the median - beautiful in the summertime, and fearsome in the winter.

The sweep of the Glen is less rugged and it is about seven miles in length with on the northern side of the river the broad moorland of Carn Labhruinn (563m) (Laurin’s cairn). This is a part of the great Forest of Glen Artney - a forest without trees which was, in days gone by, the hunting ground of the Kings of Scotland who enjoyed both the hunt and the venison. Ridging to the west of Carn Labhruinn are the Strath a’Ghlinne and Gleann an Dubh Choiren rounding into the south along the face of Meall Odhar (630m) (dun-coloured hill) - this is the most westerly part of the glen.

On its southern side and moving east we pass Meall Leathan Dhail (452m), Uamh Bheag (665m – it is classified as both a Donald and a Marilyn)) and Beinn Odhar (632m - it is classified as a Donald), and thence over to Findu Glen (connected with Fionn - a degree of coldness) passing between Cnoc Brannan (398m) (St. Brenaind’s knoll), and Ben Clach (533m) (stony mountain). This ridge continues for about seven miles passing Little Hill until we reach Turleum (393m) (bare hill) which was once, strange to say, the most wooded hill in Scotland. Across the valley the town of Crieff on its slope called the Cnoc or Knock appears. Crieff due to its geographical and topographical features gives the impression of being a Highland town. The rather odd thing is that it is, in fact, a Lowland town.

The South Side of Glen Artney in the Autumn

Crieff from the South Comrie Road