Hero, thief, extortioner, loyal Jacobite, traitor or Scotland’s very personal Robin Hood. Any of those epithets can be utilized to explain Rob Roy MacGregor, and can at the least be partly true. The outlaw, whose fame was sealed 200 years in the past this New Year’s Eve with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s fictionalised account of episodes from his life, is considered one of historical past’s true enigmas.
Rob Roy Trail
Nowadays, he additionally boasts his personal long-distance footpath. The Rob Roy Way is a 77-mile hike (94 miles if you happen to add an optionally available loop) from Drymen – on the sting of the Trossachs, 17 miles north of Glasgow – to Pitlochry, gateway to the Cairngorms. On the best way, it takes somewhere else MacGregor is claimed to have been in his considerably chaotic profession: Aberfoyle, Callander, Strathyre, Killin and Aberfeldy, plus Lochs Venachar, Lubnaig and Tay.
Armed with an 1863 version of Rob Roy and the wonderful guidebook to the footpath written by its co-creator Jacquetta Megarry, a buddy and I tackled the trail at a tempo that Rob Roy may have discovered sloth-like. We ambled between 9 and 15 miles a day (he moved faster than that even when driving stolen cattle) and stayed in cozy B&Bs every evening.
The author’s buddy crosses a burn under the Menteith Hills. Photograph: Dixe Wills for the Guardian
At one, the proprietor instructed us that he’d simply had a few peeved Americans staying. “We’ve paid thousands of dollars to come here to do this walk,” they’d grumbled, “and there are parts of it that are boggy.” Apparently they’d anticipated the entire path to be on a large gravel walkway.
Come day 4 we, against this, had begun to want there was fairly much less minor street, forestry observe, disused railway line and metalled cycle path and fairly extra in the best way of little footpaths, no matter their state. The route had essentially stored us low, winding by way of bonny glens and straths, by rivers or lochs, because it mimicked the journeys Rob Roy would have taken as he drove his rustled wares. We spent our time both trying up – on the Menteith Hills, or the stately peaks of Ben Ledi and Ben Lawers – or trying down at myriad cascades alongside the best way.
Heading north-east from Aberfoyle. Photograph: Dixe Wills for the Guardian
It should be mentioned that, 283 years after his passing (towards all odds MacGregor died in his mattress, peacefully), traces of the notorious villain/hero are few and much between. Our journey had begun propitiously sufficient at Drymen’s Clachan Inn, a pub that gained its licence within the very yr of MacGregor’s loss of life, however the Rob Roy Experience in Callander has been closed since 2006; and, unaccountably, the best way passes inside two miles of Rob Roy’s grave at Balquhidder – with its fantastically defiant epitaph, “MACGREGOR DESPITE THEM” – however doesn’t deign to go to it.
Swimming in Loch Venachar, Rob Roy Way. Photograph: Dixe Wills for the Guardian
At least the descendants of the cattle he was so adept at purloining nonetheless grazed the hillsides, dotting them black, brown, ginger and cream. The skies above them have been awash with late-staying swallows, eating on what few early-autumn midges remained. Buzzards wheeled on excessive, whereas in a single slim glen a kestrel had an almighty altercation with a crow. At Loch Tay, we have been entertained by pink squirrels; and we stopped and gazed spellbound at brown-and-white dippers as they dived right into a river to fish, tumbled and turned within the swift currents, then emerged unruffled to fly again upstream and feed once more.
The Forth Inn, Aberfoyle. Photograph: Phil Crowder
We fed fairly effectively ourselves, and with fairly much less effort. It’s truthful to say that rural Scotland is just not but famend as a gourmand vacation spot, however our night meals have been constantly scrumptious. Michael Clayton, the chef at Aberfoyle’s Forth Inn, labored explicit wonders with greens and, so my companion knowledgeable me, venison too. Most of our lodgings, in the meantime, had evidently been constructed for well-to-do Victorians who loved consolation and area – the touchdown at Aberfeldy’s beautiful Balnearn House was so giant it was worthy of a map.
It was through the ultimate two days, when the Rob Roy Way lastly leaves the glens – and civilisation – behind for prolonged stretches, that the stroll actually took off. We breathed within the silence and rejoiced to be within the hills, fairly than merely spectators of them. We delighted within the fairytale Falls of Moness and their sylvan cloak, the Birks of Aberfeldy, a beguiling birch wooden immortalised by Robert Burns.
The fairytale-like Falls of Moness. Photograph: Alamy
But we got here closest to the spirit of Rob Roy on a street skirting Loch Tay.
“How far is it to Killin?” an aged overalled man pushing an empty wheelbarrow requested us.
“It’s about 15 miles,” I estimated, then, unable to cease myself, enquired as to why he was pushing an empty wheelbarrow there.
“Oh, in case I need to pick up anything along the way,” he replied, strolling purposefully away.
Now there’s enigmatic for you.
• The journey was offered by Wilderness Scotland, whose Self-Guided Rob Roy Way prices from £720pp, together with eight nights’ B&B, baggage transfers and route notes. Rail travel was provided by Caledonian Scot , which has London-Glasgow in a single day seats from £45 and sleeper beds from £100, and Pitlochry to London in a single day seats from £50 (sleeper £100)