Thursday, 26 February 2015

Falling from Dunkeld to Bankfoot: 21st February 2015

After a bit of a hiatus caused by some family commitments and the 6-Nations rugby, it was good to be able to plan a weekend walk out in the winter countryside. This Saturday I decided to head out to lovely Perthshire where I could combine a walk around some woodlands & waterfalls in The Hermitage, just outside Dunkeld, with a sampling of some Dunkeld pubs and a return visit to the nearby Bankfoot Inn.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Dunkeld & Birnam (10:10 & every ~2 hours)

I couldn't see any direct walking route from Dunkeld & Birnam station to The Hermitage area and so I had to start off by taking the A9 underpass into the centre of Birnam. At the bottom of the station road there's a large hotel (the Birnam Hotel, recently sold to a Chinese tour operator firm so it'll be interesting what that does to the adjacent Scots Bar) and also the Beatrix Potter exhibition and garden (Ms Potter was a summer visitor to Dunkeld), complete with sculptures of cute bunnies & hedgehogs frolicking amongst the flower beds.

I walked the short distance along the main road to the roundabout just before Dunkeld and then took the signposted Inver Path along the River Braan. This took me back under the A9 and then to the Inver Bridge over the Braan, currently looking serene & tranquil in the crisp winter sunlight.

Just up from here is a car park and the start of the one of the trails to The Hermitage, but there was a pretty serious sign at the far end of the car park indicating that a land slip had occurred and there was no access possible to the Hermitage Bridge - drats! I therefore backtracked to Inver Bridge, followed the signposts through Inver village and alongside the A9 for a small distance, before reaching the larger main car park for The Hermitage. This really was busy today (possibly due to the glorious weather) with people of all ages out for a walk along the river and in amongst the trees. The first stage of this was to take the underpass under the main railway line (the whole network of paths, underpasses and bridges is very clearly setup and signposted).

I followed the trail closest to the now choppier River Braan and it wasn't long before I was in the midst of a forest of tall Douglas Fir trees. Some are meant to be close on 60metres in height and amongst the tallest trees in the UK and they certainly were neck-stretching and quite spectacular.

The river then made a sharp right angle turn and it was here that I first caught sight of the Hermitage Bridge through the trees & debris just before the Black Linn waterfalls on the Braan.

As I got up to the bridge I could see that it was still walkable, but the far end was bricked-off with another set of notices about a landslide (presumably the same one I'd read about at the first car park I'd walked to).

And just downriver from the bridge I could see a definite landslip which had taken away most of the path - I don't think that there would be any way past that point without some serious climbing equipment.

The were some great views of the Black Linn waterfalls from the Hermitage Bridge but the late 18th Century landowners of the area thought they could go one better and built a viewing-house, Ossian's Hall of Mirrors, just upstream of the Hermitage Bridge.

Having been enhanced by the Victorians into a part folly and part viewing platform, it was eventually restored by the National Trust for Scotland with metallic pictures of Ossian and other heroic figures attached to the walls...

...before opening up to the balcony platform in front of the Black Linn falls.

There hadn't been too much rain in the couple of weeks before my visit so the falls weren't as impressive as I perhaps expected, so I went in search of the next set of falls further upstream of the River Braan. This took me out of the woodland and into the glorious Perthshire countryside...

...before reaching a minor road and descending again to the River Braan. The bridge here is aptly named Rumbling Bridge and there is a long stretch of rapids followed by a sharp drop into a deep gorge giving a deep bass, unceasing roar (just be careful, you can get very close to the unprotected edge here and it's pretty slippery).

I was then happy to head back to The Hermitage area, walk through those fantastic Douglas Firs again and eventually back through Inver village to the outskirts of Dunkeld. The River Braan joins the River Tay here and I took (another) signposted path along the south bank of the Tay. By following this path I just about managed to spot Dunkeld Cathedral through the trees...

...and the Thomas Telford Bridge across the River Tay into Dunkeld itself...

...but it also continued along the Tay until reaching a number of large trees. One of these is the Birnam Oak, prophesied by the 3 Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, and which was meant to have been part of Birnam Wood which allowed the enemy army to march undetected on Macbeth's stronghold. The sprawling, gnarled tree certainly appeared ancient enough, and with the bottom section effectively hollow, it now has to be supported by 3 timber frames.

I eventually climbed some steep steps up to the Thomas Telford Bridge, crossed the Tay and decided to go looking for lunch and some beer. There are a couple of hotels/pubs along the north bank of the River Tay with beer gardens and what must be fantastic views of the river. The Taybank has a reputation for live music and was undergoing some serious renovation work by its new owners, but it was still open for business. I did head inside and saw that there were 2 beers from the local Strathbraan Brewery available, but it was very busy indeed (there wasn't a spare table to be had and I didn't really want to eat from the bar counter).

Next I tried the bar of the Atholl Arms Hotel, The Meeting Place, and although there was a Strathbraan beer and an Orkney beer available, food mainly consisted of pizzas or burgers (which I didn't really fancy waiting for today - I must be getting picky).

I therefore eventually decided on the Perth Arms Hotel, situated on the High Street on the road to the cathedral, and with a menu which included toasties & paninis as well as standard pub fare.

Available at the bar were a couple more Strathbraan beers (True North and Due South, nice to see Mark from Strathbraan getting support from local establishments) and so I decided on a pint of the silky smooth, porter-like True North, ordered a couple of toasties and sat down at one of the large tables opposite the bar. As per the other hotels/pubs it's a nice bar with a real fire blazing away in the centre of the room, a partitioned off games area with pool table & darts board and a beer garden out the back (actually almost usable today) and the place is very dog friendly (almost everyone that came in today had an accompanying canine friend).

The 2 toasties that I'd ordered came pretty quickly, ham & cheese and tuna & cheese with a small salad, and I must have wolfed them down in no time at all to the consternation of the nearby dogs (treats were handed out for them).

The largest hotel in Dunkeld is the Royal Dunkeld Hotel and I had just about enough time to pop into the bar on the left side of the building.

It was a bit quieter in here than in the other places I'd visited (there is also a restaurant/brasserie on the other side of the building), but it's a nice enough place with a number of tables set opposite the bar, most with some quirky hanging wooden carvings near the wall lights.

On at the dark wood panelled bar bar were Cairngorm Stag (a decent enough malty Scottish bitter), Stewart Brewing's Pentland IPA...

...and also a Vintage Cider from Cairn o' Mohr, a winery located between Perth and Dundee. They mostly specialise in some fairly wacky varieties of fruit wine but they've also been branching out into ciders recently, so it was interesting to give this a try. It did start off quite hazy, but cleared nicely and was quite tart upfront, a bit flat (no bad thing), and had a dry, very appley(!) finish - not bad at all.

The bus service connecting Dunkeld, Bankfoot and Perth is hourly, and not wanting to miss it I had to rush to the car park at the north of the town to get my bus to Bankfoot (there didn't seem to be a decent walking route, but cycling along the minor roads would probably be fairly safe). The journey to Bankfoot only took ~15 minutes and the bus dropped me off in the centre of the village at the Atholl Hotel (which looks like it could be opening up again after being recently bought) meaning that a walk of only a minute or so took me to The Bankfoot Inn.

I'd been here about 18 months ago for their impressive summer beer festival, and this time it was their smaller winter festival with 18 casks available on 6 hand-pulls over the long weekend. It was fairly quiet in the 'locals' bar with the sport on TV being watching by just a solitary drinker...

...but a lot more 'rowdy' in the comfy lounge bar where I joined a number of Tayside CAMRA beer drinkers of my acquaintance (and also one from Ayrshire CAMRA) to drink beer and talk beer (and probably some other nonsense).

It's always good to return to an impressive, friendly & welcoming pub, and the Bankfoot Inn certainly is that nowadays (and is the current Tayside CAMRA Pub-of-the-Year) and drinking some nice beers (the Speyside Dark Sky Stout was a tad cold, but really lovely as it warmed up, as was the Top Out Winter 2014) definitely helped to round off a more than satisfactory day out.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Dunkeld to Bankfoot (23, 05 on the hour)
  Bus: Bankfoot to Perth (23, 24 on the hour)
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St. (13 on the hour + others)

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