Thursday, 23 October 2014

Into Darkness from Abernethy to Glenfarg: 18th October 2014

Having been to various beer festivals & breweries in the past few weeks I was keen to get out in the fresh air and get back to walking between some interesting pubs. One of my favourite places in the autumn is the stunning Perthshire countryside, and out in Abernethy in southern Perthshire there is a really great pub that I'd not visited in some time, the Cree's Inn. Looking at this on the map I also spotted an intriguing disused/dismantled railway line (and associated tunnels) which I could hopefully take to walk through the Ochil glens to an old coaching inn, the Bein Inn, before heading back home.

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Perth (41 on the hour + others)
  Bus: Perth Bus Station to Abernethy (Stagecoach 36; 20 on the hour)

The centre of Abernethy is now bypassed by the main road and so when I got off the bus I had to head up a narrow street towards the church, the small Museum of Abernethy and the war memorial on the main street. There's no doubt what feature dominates the small town - the high Round Tower of Abernethy built at the end of the 11th Century as the bell tower for the adjacent church. It's 1 of only 2 Irish-style round towers left standing in Scotland (the other is in Brechin).

There's also a Pictish symbol-stone at the base of the tower which was discovered nearby; it doesn't date with the Tower (it's from a lot earlier) but from an upkeep point-of-view it makes sense to keep them both together.

The key for the tower is kept at the Berryfields Tearoom opposite the tower and so is only available when the tearoom is also open. Thankfully today was one of those days & times and so I went inside to pick it up. It's a huge wrought iron thing with a colourful tied ribbon on it, deliberately done, I guess, to make it difficult to lose or forget. The lock for the large wooden door is quite easy to turn and once the door is opened there are a couple of information panels at the base of the tower on its history and that of Abernethy.

Unsurprisingly there are quite a few winding steps which lead up the top of the 22-metre high tower but it's no real problem climbing them. A bit trickier is the ladder at the top which leads to the main hatch - the latch for this was fairly tight and the hatch sprung up quite fast.

When I got the top the views were definitely worth it - great 360-degree panoramas of the close-up Ochil Hills to the south, the Strathearn river plain to the west, and north-east to the River Tay, the Carse of Gowrie and the Sidlaw Hills (Dundee may have been out there somewhere but I couldn't see it today).

I could also see my next destination, the Cree's Inn, nestling amongst all of the multi-coloured foliage at the edge of Abernethy.

I spent a bit of time at the top of the tower and by the time I headed back down the lights had automatically timed out, but there are light switches all the way down the staircase. I gave the key back to the staff at the tearoom and then headed into the main street of Abernethy, but to be honest, there's not a lot there - one small 'corner' shop, a hairdressers and a pub (The Inn, Abernethy, which seemed quite nice). I had hoped to buy some Abernethy biscuits in Abernethy but the nearest local bakers seemed to be in Bridge of Earn or Newburgh - drats! If I had had more time I might also have tried some of the walks around Abernethy Glen to the south of the town, but instead I headed to the east of the main street where the Cree's Inn is located. It's a really pretty pub (look at all that ivy), is named after the first owner Thomas Cree and it opened up dead on 12noon.

I think the last time I'd been in was about 5 years ago, on one snowy afternoon on the way to Dundee, but it doesn't seem to have changed much in the intervening years. I mentioned this to the young barmaid and she said the only thing that she knew which had definitely changed was that the carpet in front of the bar had been replaced with a hard wood floor - probably to the relief of everyone who had to clean-up in the pub. The main black-wood bar counter is immediately on the left hand side of the long bar/lounge area and they normally have 6 hand-pulls on from various English and Scottish breweries (I'm amazed that they can get through that many). Today the choice was a bit safe, but I was happy enough to take a pint of Gales/Fuller's Seafarer, a decent amber bitter (also available were Thwaites Wainright, Greene King IPA, Taylors Golden Best, Loch Ness WilderNess & St Austell Tribute).

They normally do decent pub meals (and takeaway food) at lunchtime but the barmaid explained that there hadn't been any food that week because the owner's wife had gone down with the autumn cold/flu thing that seems to have infected 1/2 of Scotland - another drats! Instead I had to make do with a packet of spicy peanuts and asked permission to take a couple of photographs of the bar. The main room extends for quite a distance through a couple of partitions to the brick fireplace at the back with masses of dried hanging hops & pump-clips adorning the wooden beams, and prints of 'ancient' beer adverts (loads of Tennents ones), collections of beer mats and pictures of old Abernethy dotted around the walls - the place is definitely a bit of a labour of love to the hop and the hop-based drink.

There's a smaller seated snug-area across from the bar where there are more dried hanging hops, a dart board and some character cartoons (including one of the owner).

I was really tempted to stay and try a few more beers but decided that at least some substantial food was a good idea. I therefore headed back to the Berryfields Tearoom (for the 3rd time that day, I was thinking of getting one of their loyalty cards).

The choice (and especially the service) really is very good in here, from breakfasts to soups to paninis, but since I wanted something fairly quickly I went for a bacon roll and pot of tea, the latter served in a really dainty china cup with equally dainty milk-jug.

Various people did come in-and-out of the tearoom for takeaway goodies (the scones did look fantastic) but I decided to start off on my search for the disused railway line. This involved a walk back along the A913 to Aberargie where I crossed the road and took the first minor road on the left, followed by another left on next narrow lane (there was a small "Private Road, please do not believe your Sat-Nav" notice here which I 'missed'). I went past a small farm and a couple of empty buildings and then up an incline until I came to a high stone viaduct which looked like an extremely promising candidate for the disused railway line. I thought I might have to scramble up the bank of the viaduct, but there was easy access to the railway line path on the far side.

The railway line used to be part of the direct line from the Forth Railway Bridge to Perth but was closed in 1970 when a lot of the railway bed route was needed for the M90 motorway. The path is quite clear of debris and easy to follow but it wasn't long before I came to a dense copse of trees which almost completely hid the 1st tunnel entrance. This tunnel is (doh!) pretty big and since it curves considerably was completely dark inside with absolutely no sign of the tunnel exit from the entrance. *DEFINITELY* take a torch of some sort (I took a large LED lantern) when exploring through this.

The tunnel is about 500metres in length, has lots of bricked up side refuges in the tunnel walls, but was very dry and almost completely empty. Most of the way through the tunnel it was so dark that I couldn't really get any decent photos until the exit came into view, which (I have to admit) I was quite glad to see. The path of the railway track then continued arrow-straight through lots of fairly dense undergrowth and got quite muddy in places.

Slightly further on I came to a branch in the path - right went up to to farm track, the old railway line continued left and in-and-out of a dip until I eventually came to the entrance for the next tunnel - this was a lot muddier and overgrown than the last one.

This 2nd tunnel is lot straighter than the 1st and about the same length, but even though there was always a slight dim light present all the way through the tunnel there were still a couple of times when some large masses of piled logs appeared out of the darkness without any warning! And at the exit of the tunnel there seemed to be the remains of a burnt-out car.

The tunnel comes out immediately before another impressive stone viaduct, this time crossing the River Farg and the B996 road. To get down to the roadside I had to cross the viaduct and then scramble somewhat down the left side, although it's a fairly well defined path.

After that it was a matter of walking for about half a mile or so on the verge of the road (it wasn't that busy, only 2 or 3 cars went past giving me a wide berth) until I reached the Bein Inn, located at the junction of the A912 road (and with great views of the Ochil Hills).

I checked the bus times and then went into the main reception of the Inn and then straight through into the MacGregor Bar. Even mid-afternoon it was fairly busy with families & couples out for a late lunch with the single member of staff coping pretty well. On the small bar at the far end of the room was one hand-pull with Inveralmond's lovely citrusy Ossian available (although there were a number of bottled beers available both in the fridge and at room temperature).

I took a pint of Ossian, got out of the way of the people eating and headed back into reception area where there were a number of small tables and some comfy sofa seats in front of the fireplace. It was a nice relaxing place to sit for a beer and there were papers about and also WiFi access available (there was absolutely no 3G/4G signal at all).

Pint finished I headed out for my bus. I could have returned directly to Perth but since I had a bit of time to spare (unusual) I was able to take the bus in the opposite direction to the small village of Glenfarg a couple of miles further down the B996 (there was no way I would have risked walking along even this fairly quiet B-road for that distance). I got off at the corner of Glenfarg main street where the magnificent, almost castle-like structure of The Glenfarg dominates the street.

I entered through the front foyer and looked in at number of rooms off the main corridor for the bar (most were, again, fairly full of people having something to eat) before the owner eventually spotted me, explained that the bar was only open in the evening, but was happy to direct me to a small side-room (and associated side-bar) at the front where there were a couple of comfy seats. From there I could just about spot the pump-clips for the beers that were on in the main bar, Wells' Bombardier and Waggle Dance, so I ordered a pint of the Waggle Dance (very sweet honey up-front masking perhaps some light citrus bitterness, but it certainly got my energy levels back up).

From what little I saw of The Glenfarg it seemed a classy place and the staff were very polite & welcoming. Before my bus back I had a little bit of time to wander around some other parts of Glenfarg (the noise from the nearby M90 Motorway is always present around the village) where I found the small village store (with lots of bottles of Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger available for some reason) and also this building which intrigued me, the old village library (now a private house complete with clock tower, wow!). All told it was certainly quite an interesting day out in this part of southern Perthshire.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Glenfarg to Perth Bus Station (Stagecoach 56; 12 on the hour)
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St (13 on the hour + others)

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