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Take a break and head for the glens


By Jenny Gillies


Trips down the A9 aren't something I look forward to especially as the couple of hundred miles south to the Central belt seem to take up most of the brief light of the short winter days.

For this journey though, I had a plan. Before I set off I threw my mountain bike into the car and made sure I left early enough so I could make a stop at Blair Atholl to do a cycle up Glen Tilt. My idea was to head up the long glen as far as the daylight and the need to be home in time for tea would allow.

I parked at the Blair Atholl Tourist Information Centre (currently shut for winter) and layered up clothing for the afternoon ride out. Turning left out of the car park I cycled briefly along the road before arriving at the grand gates of Blair Castle.

As the castle is closed to visitors over winter these were barred against any impatient coaches; but, if you peek around the right hand side of the flanking walls, you'll see a little snicket. Going slowly along this narrow path I was soon back on the main drive, the only person on the wide, tree flanked avenue.

After passing the Caravan Park I took the first right hand track, leaving the tarmac and soon reaching the Glen Tilt walker's car park. Turning left out of the car park onto a minor road I looked up at the golden brown hill tops ahead, their ridges clear against the cloudless blue sky.

A right turn at some crossroads led to a steep uphill. The metalled road meant there was no excuse to stop pedalling but the estate workers watching my progress from the adjacent farmyard could probably have kept pace with me while carrying their bales.

Reaching the top of the rise the road turned into a track and entered the forest. Pine needles covered the track surface and, now in the shade of the hill behind, the temperature in the forest fell sharply.

The surrounding darkness accentuated the bright sunlit view that suddenly opened up ahead and Glen Tilt stretched enticingly into the distance.

Approaching the Jubilee Rifle range there were no red flags flying that would indicate that the range was in use, so I stood up on the pedals and enjoyed the fast descent back down towards the base of the glen, keeping right at any junctions.

It wasn't long before I reached Gilbert's Bridge, its grand stone span taking me high above the River Tilt rushing through the gorge below. I crossed the bridge and turned left to continue up the glen, still half an hour to go before my 'bingo' turn around time. The broad, estate track is pretty well maintained and I kept up good speed as I passed Marble Lodge and crossed the river again at Gow's Bridge.

The sun behind lit up the hills around me, tempting me to deviate from the glen bottom and climb upwards. I started meeting walkers heading home after a day on the Munros, looking rosy and happily weary. In a field beside the track, stalking ponies rested and picked through hay piles, their long manes and thick coats good protection against the chill December air.

Ahead Forest Lodge came into view, the landmark I'd had in mind for a turning point. Built as a Victorian shooting lodge, the sturdy and remote building is now available for rent from the estate.

As the house looked empty, I couldn't help having a quick peek in. I vowed next time to leave more time to visit the Falls of Tarf ahead, or climb one of the Munros easily accessible from this point of the glen or even plan a trip even further east to reach Braemar.

Using the large turning circle in front of the house to start my return back along the glen I soon I regretted leaving my sunglasses in the car – facing west the low sun was directly ahead. It made for a dramatic scene, but also made it very hard to see any potholes or rocks on the track ahead.

I followed my outward route, but instead of turning to cross Gilbert's Bridge I continued straight on down the road on the southern side of the river. The River Tilt was now far below, the steep sided gorge a haven for nature. Between the branches of bare trees I could see glimpses of the tumbling river, the water flowing from white foaming rapid to dark pool on its way ever downwards.

The track ended as I descended quickly through gateposts and back out onto the road immediately opposite the Glen Tilt Car Park. Back in the castle grounds the rapidly falling dusk meant I didn't have time to detour right to see Blair Castle.

I wasn't too disappointed though as the number of paths and tracks I still have left to explore on mean I will soon be making time for this perfect alternative to a standard service station stop.

Route details
Glen Tilt from Blair Atholl

Distance 16 miles / 25.5km

Terrain Tarmac road and estate tracks

Start/finish Blair Atholl Visitor Centre

Map OS Landranger 43; OS Explorer OL49 & OL51

A straightforward cycle into the heart of Glen Tilt, easily accessible from the A9 or railway station



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