Atholl, Perthshire
Grade: Moderately strenuous mountain biking
Distance: 14 miles/23km
Time: 2-3 hours

I STARTED at the House of Bruar and immediately followed the old A9 west to where it runs under the newer A9 and continues to Calvine. Just past the old petrol station a Scotways sign indicates the route to the Minigaig. I followed it up to the side of a white house where the track splits. I went right, with a subsequent crossing of the busy A9 but I later discovered that if I had gone left I could have gone below the A9 through a tunnel. Much safer.

The National:

Once on the north side of the A9 the track began to climb steadily. There was little real steepness though so it was just a question of plugging on and enjoying the scenery opening up around me – Schiehallion, the Farragons, and in front of me the swell of the Atholl hills, one of the wildest tracts of landscape in Scotland.

Sadly, virtually everything you see is managed for grouse shooting and trees are harnessed into squares of forestry. Having said that, there is something grand in wide open skies and rolling hills so I banished the thoughts of grouse moors from my mind and enjoyed it for what it is, landscapes that I’ve been familiar with since childhood.

After a fine downhill run I left the route of the Minigaig to drop down to the old locked house called Cuilltemhuc, which brought to mind the old Atholl legend of the laughing man of Cuilltemhuc. Just over a hundred years ago, the story claims, a man was found blind drunk in a water trough next to the house. No-one apparently discovered the reason for his mirth and it seems he died convulsed in a hearty fit of glee. History does not record if he shared the joke with anyone.

Cuilltemhuc is at an ancient crossroads. The 16th century Comyns Road ran north-west from here, into Gaick, while the Minigaig, the main route north before the present road through Drumochter was built, follows the line of Glen Bruar north to cross high ground just to the west of the Corbett Leathad an Taobhain before dropping down to Glen Tromie.

Today I wanted to return to Bruar and it was the route of Comyn’s Road that I followed, over the (thankfully low, probably because of the hydro scheme up-river) Bruar Water and up the track to the old shieling called Ruichlachrie.

I rode up this path, dodging the boulders and the boggy sections but all the time aware that at one time these landscapes would have been populated. Today the glens are lonely and uninhabited, fragments and tracings of old buildings and fields reminding us of the days when the shielings were in use. Once children laughed here and played in these glens, the woman would sing as they looked after the kye but that is all long gone. Today only the plaintive call of a whaup echoes through the empty glens. Even the sheep have gone.

Just beyond Ruichlachrie, where the rough track meets the Glen Banvie track I was tempted to turn right and ride directly downhill back to Bruar but I remembered the lovely route that runs downhill all the way down Glen Banvie to the Whim Plantation of Atholl Estate. I thought that would make a better finish than having to tiptoe through the tourist crowds at Bruar Falls.

So that’s the way I went, below the pine trees and above the Banvie Burn, bending right just after going through the gate into the Whim Plantation. At a big, gravelly junction I turned right again and went through the Baluain Woods to a tight dog-leg above the Bruar Falls.

Again, I resisted the temptation to head steeply down to the Falls and instead stuck with the main path as it rolled down to a tunnel under the railway line. Beyond lay the Blair to Bruar road and turning right onto it I followed the road back to the start at House of Bruar and a well deserved coffee along with all the shoppers.

Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl)
Distance: 14 miles/23km
Time: 2-3 hours
Start/Finish: House of Bruar (GR: NN 821660)
Terrain: Mostly good tracks, several long climbs
Coffee & Cake: House of Bruar

The National:

Link to digital map: © Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 059/20.