ROB ROY WAY - The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone

The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone (2016)


Stirlingshire and Perthshire, Scotland

Distance: 127 km

Grade: Moderate

Time: 6-7 days

The third son of Donald Glas MacGregor of Glengyle, Robert ‘Rob’ Roy MacGregor was born in 1671 into one of Scotland’s most ancient families, a family that in 1589 killed a royal forester (a man who had hanged a few MacGregors for poaching) and a family that had by the early 1600s been reduced to the status of ‘outlaws’, a status that was reinforced by William of Orange decades later. Long before Rob Roy was born, then, he was predestined to be an outlaw despite for a time making a decent living in the ‘honourable’ highlands pursuit of cattle rustling. In 1711 he was branded an outlaw by the 1st Duke of Montrose, to whom he was unable to repay a large debt. In the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, his land and cattle confiscated and name blackened, he led the MacGregor clan in a war against the hated English, was captured twice, and each time made a dramatic escape. In 1725 he turned himself in and was pardoned in 1727, within days of being sent away on a transport ship to Barbados. But his fight was done. Rob Roy returned home, converted to Catholicism, and lived out his days in relative anonymity, passing away in Inverlochie on 28 December 1734.

If you intend walking the Rob Roy Way you should come knowing something of the man whose posthumous mix of myth and legend led to the trail’s creation in 2002. It begins in the market town of Drymen in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park from where it enters Loch Ard Forest by Loch Ard, considered one of Scotland’s prettiest lochs, and on to the village of Aberfoyle. The next stop is Callander, the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’ with the backdrop of Callander Crags rising to 1,000 ft and offering a beautiful diversion into its elevated trail-filled woodlands and views over the Forth Valley. Descending to Loch Venachar and into the very heart of the land Rob Roy so loved, follow National Cycle Route 7 on a shortish day’s walk to Strathyre along a disused rail line and past the dramatic Falls of Leny, close to the village of Kilmahog.

It’s highland walking in full swing now as you pass the Falls of Dochart at the end of Loch Tay and into the town of Killin and the must-visit ruins of the L-shaped Finlarig Castle, a tower house built by the Campbells of Breadalbane and visited by Rob Roy in 1713, but which is now in a perilous state of repair. You should also allow time to visit Rob Roy’s grave at Balquhidder, although this will add around 6 km to your day’s walk. Leaving Killin you’ll skirt beautiful Loch Breaclaich and find yourself immersed in the wooded hills above Loch Tay and the Tay River Valley before descending to Ardtalnaig. Some rough paths and gorge walking follow as you make your way to Aberfeldy, where a visit to Dewar’s World of Whisky is recommended, and lastly you’ll pass through open moorlands on the approach to Pitlochry, which has been ‘on the map’ ever since Queen Victoria visited it in 1842 and which became an ‘official’ tourist town with the arrival of the railway in 1863. A town rich in stone-built Victorian buildings, the trail takes you on a dramatic crossing of the suspension bridge over the River Tummel before reaching the end of the Rob Roy Way at the northwest corner of Pitlochry’s Memorial Park.

Walking the Rob Roy Way not only gets you deep into the heart of the highlands, it provides an opportunity to separate the man from the substantial myths that surround him. In 1723 an account of the still living Robert MacGregor’s life, titled Highland Rogue, overlaid with half-truths and a lot of bogus history, has been attributed to Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Much later, in 1817, Sir Walter Scott wrote Rob Roy, published anonymously and in three volumes describing a glamorised ‘Scottish Robin Hood’. These accounts, both eloquently written, only served to muddy the historical waters surrounding Rob Roy, waters which you, as a journeyman on the Rob Roy Way, now have a chance to navigate for yourself.



Photo: Phillip Capper