Crianlarich in the rain. So what’s new? Iron-calved walkers and runners were setting off regardless up the forest paths.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A huddle of sad French holidaymakers waited at the station, with a cheery local exhorting them: ‘Well, at least ye’ve escaped the midgies!’ From the hillside path above the village I watched the blue, pink and silver train bear the French away south to the compensatory tearooms of Glasgow. Then I followed the path, studded with white nuggets of quartzite, up through rowans and lichen-hung fir trees to Bogle Glen pass and the West Highland Way.
As a long-distance walk of 95 miles, from Glasgow’s outskirts as far north as Fort William, the West Highland Way offers a surprisingly stern challenge. But it’s also provided with very well-placed railway stations if you just want to try out a short section. I’d had the stretch from Crianlarich to Tyndrum in my sights for ages, so a day of dreich weather wasn’t going to put me off.
Between rain and wind the forest wept and roared. Hill trickles bounded down their suddenly swollen channels. The Way forged steadily up the flank of Strath Fillan under the trees, sheltered from the weather until it dipped to cross the loudly rushing River Fillan in the flat meadows of the valley. House sparrows flirted on the wetly gleaming garden walls of Kirkton Farm, and a wren ran along the mossy stones of St Fillan’s Church, a hollow ruin in a sycamore grove.
Robert the Bruce designated this modest foundation a priory in 1318, in thanksgiving to the 8th-century Irish missionary Fillan, the relic of whose left arm had helped Bruce to victory at Bannockburn four years earlier. Fillan seems to have had a way with wild animals – on one occasion a wolf, having killed one of the saint’s two oxen, then submitted itself to being yoked to the other beast in order to help Fillan finish his ploughing.
Beyond the priory the West Highland Way dipped close to the Holy Pool at the confluence of Allt Gleann a’ Chlachain and the River Finnan. Insanity sufferers of a more rugged era would be ducked in the pool, then tied up under a heap of straw on the old font slab in the church ruin and left there for the night – more tough love than psychiatry, perhaps.
I lingered on the river’s brink, watched the yeasty churning of the rain-swollen pool, and then followed the Way up into the trees again and down to Tyndrum and the rattly little train back to Crianlarich.
Start: Crianlarich station, FK20 8QN (OS ref NN 385251)
Finish: Tyndrum Lower station, FK20 8RZ, or Upper Tyndrum station, FK20 8RY
Getting there: Rail (thetrainline.com) to Crianlarich. Road: A82 from Glasgow
Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 364): From Crianlarich station go up steps, cross A82 to small car park. Left up path (‘Access to West Highland Way’/WHW) through trees. In ½ mile, meet WHW (376251); ahead, passing deer gate on left; on up slope past ‘Bogle Glen’ sign. Follow WHW thistle symbols for 2½ miles to recross A82 (359278). Ahead to cross River Fillan. Pass Kirkton Farm, St Fillan’s Church (359284) and Auchtertyre to recross A82 (349288). Follow WHW beside river, then through forestry to Tyndrum Lower station (327301). Train back to Crianlarich.
Lunch: Real Food Café, Tyndrum (01838-400235; therealfoodcafe.com) – justly popular no-frills café.
Accommodation: Craigbank Guesthouse, Main Street, Crianlarich FK20 8QS (01838-300279; craigbankguesthouse.com)
Guidebook: The West Highland Way by Bob Aitken and Roger Smith (Mercat Press)