Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen - heart of Rob Roy country
Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen offer a fine afternoon's hike and possibly a glimpse of the local ghost - a Highlander and his dog! Spooky for sure!
Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen
Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen comprise a scattered (but very friendly) community and real Highland settlement, along with the side glen (I mean Kirkton Glen), which runs north and at right angles to the main Balquhidder Glen. There is a lot of heritage here - not just Rob Roy's grave - though it's also quite close to all the resources of the Lowlands of central Scotland.
Because of the setting amid the hills, Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen are well worth a visit. Many visitors stop off because of the Clan Gregor connections. Fewer though put on their hiking boots and head along the path, behind the church, that leads up into Kirkton Glen itself. Here are my notes from a trip there a little while back.
Rob Roy's Grave
It had been more than twenty years since I had last visited the final resting place of that famous old rogue and folk hero Rob Roy Macgregor. He lies by the old kirk (church) in Balquhidder Glen, north of Callander, off an important road that eventually leads west to Oban or Fort William.
When we visited this time, on the Highlander’s grave there was a large sprig of Scots pine, laid there by the Clan Gregor Society on his birthday. But there was also some miscellaneous bric-a-brac and a large amount of coins. I don’t remember that from before, when I passed this way a lot. Nice to see he’s still popular. (Locally based Scottish tour guide Charles Hunter tells me the money goes to charity on a regular basis.)
(Pictured here) Rob Roy Macgregor’s grave, in the Balquhidder kirkyard. Grave slabs are mediaeval and re-used. Rob's family were obviously thrifty Highlanders.
(Pictured) View back down Kirkton Glen towards Balquhidder from the watershed and the base of the Meall an Fhiodhain crags. Please note the dog is a real dog and not the ghost mentioned in the text below. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve just left all the pictures of that day a bit dark and gloomy on this page. I only whacked up the colour saturation a wee bit but there’s plenty of sunny cheerful stuff elsewhere on this site. (Isn’t there?)
The Walk up Kirkton Glen
Talking of remembering, we (one son and two dogs) visited the grave because we had just been walking in Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen, taking a there-and-back-again trip to the watershed to the north of Balquhidder. The path up by Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen starts behind the church with the Macgregor grave. (Hence the name – the glen with the ‘kirk-toun’ or church-township, obviously.) I had a memory of most of the track being in dense woodland. 'The lower slopes of the glen are completely muffled by mature plantations' was how I put it in the solemn and creaky style I used in a walking guidebook published years before.
So, not only was I walking with three individuals who weren’t even around the last time I had passed that way (in 1986, eeek) but the glen itself was completely different from my recollection. Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen’s conifer plantations were felled around the mid 1980s and the subsequent replanting was also complete.
Today, the head of the glen is visible for much of the way up. I could recall from the first trip all those years ago that I didn’t much like it, to be quite honest – and I only put the walk into the guidebook because there were some good views and interesting botany at the top of the glen.
But it is much more open now and we plodded on cheerily enough, leaving the young woods behind for the grassy rises that lead towards the head of the pass and the base of the craggy face with its ancient rock fall below Meall an Fhiodhain. (Anyone offering a translation here? I note ‘fiodh’ as timber, but ‘fiodhan’ as a cheese-vat. Maybe this is a reference to herds pastured here in summer, but I could be bluffing. Or I need a bigger Gaelic dictionary. Or the Ordnance Survey made a spelling error. Surely not!)
The Loch of the Irish, high in the glen
In the old days, these high passes, such as the one leading up from Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen, were commonly traversed by the local native folk. Now they are lonely places, except for walkers or hardy anglers trying their luck with the wild trout in Lochan an Eireannaich (the little loch of the Irish – no, I don’t know why). This lonely stretch of water lies near the head of the pass.
From the nearby slope we could see north and downwards to Glen Dochart with its busy main road connection eventually leading through to the western seaboard. But, below a grey sky and with the chilling wind rising in this exposed spot, we probably felt the same discomfort and urge to drop back into the summery glens that many a Highlander of old must have felt, with only coarse plaid for protection. It just seemed a forlorn spot, with the gloomy weather adding to the ambience.
(Above) Lochan nan Eireannaich. Spooky kind of place. Or maybe it was just me
The Kirkton Glen Ghost
To make matters slightly more unsettling, this is the setting for the Kirkton Glen ghost! This is a tale still current in Balquhidder and it has also appeared in print. Apparently, more than one group of walkers has seen the figure of a Highlander in 18th-century garb wandering about the nearby rocks, with a large lurcher dog by his side.
He sometimes appears below the onlookers but never re-appears from behind the rocks or dips in the slope. Oh, well, if you’re going to see the local Balquhidder ghost or things that belong to another time, then the top of Kirkton Glen is certainly a place where the imagination can get to work! The picture here shows the kind of terrain in which the ghostly figure of a Highlander and his dog has been seen. But not in this pic. That’s my son fooling around.
So we finished our sandwiches and made our way down. Yes, you could say the place had atmosphere! (More haunted places in Scotland on that link.) And here's where you can see more places associated with Rob Roy.
More information on Balquhidder
Though main road traffic now bypasses this lovely glen, up to the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, the Kirkton of Balquhidder was a place of some importance. As well as on an east-west running glen, it lies at a natural crossing of several hill routes frequented by clansmen of old: down Glen Buckie southwards to Brig o Turk; up Kirkton Glen, behind the church, to Glen Dochart.
Balquhidder formerly had its own annual fair, dedicated to St Angus, and held on the river flats nearby. Highlanders came from miles around. In olden days this was the country of the Maclarens. The Macgregors also claimed territory here, much of it later confiscated by King James IV.Poetic Balquhidder
Let us go, lassie, go/ To the Braes o' Balquhither/ Where the blaeberries grow/ 'Mang the bonny Highland heather/
(Above) Though adapted and often sung at ceilidhs and folk clubs in Scotland, the original version of the popular song 'The Wild Mountain Thyme' makes specific mention of Balquhidder. It was written by the weaver-poet Robert Tannahil (1776-1810).No sweeter voice was ever heard/ In spring-time from the cuckoo-bird/ Breaking the silence of the seas/ Among the farthest Hebrides/
The more famous poet William Wordsworth made his first Scottish visit in 1803. William and his sister Dorothy came down from the head of Loch Voil and enjoyed the pastoral scene here. A Highland girl singing while she cut the corn inspired one of Wordsworth's most famous poems 'The Solitary Reaper'.Rob Roy
Rob Roy Macgregor (1671-1734), cattle dealer, outlaw and folk hero is buried in the old kirkyard, beneath a 14th century grave slab. The site of his house at Inverlochlarig (private) can be seen near the carpark at the road end further up the glen.Balquhidder Kirk
The ruined church here dates from 1631 and was built on the site of a pre-Reformation chapel, once visited by King James IV. The ruin here is said to have seated a congregation of 600, as the glen was once densely populated. The 'new' Parish Church dates from 1853.Walks
Though the public road ends in Glen Buckie, there is still a route leading through to Glen Finglas and the Trossachs. Good footwear is recommended for this scenic excursion. Kirkton Glen is described in the feature here. The highest reaches beyond the trees are very scenic and full of rugged atmosphere. (Look for purple saxifrage in spring, if you're into alpine plants!) More on Scottish flowers here.
A shorter though steep walk (signposted behind the church) leads to the rocky outcrop of Creag an Tuirc, the former rallying place of the Maclarens. It offers breathtaking views of the Braes of Balquhidder.
High peaks close by include Stobinian and Ben More, accessible from the lochside road to the west, while the carpark at the road end is the starting point for other 'Munros'. These are serious high-level expeditions for fit and properly equipped walkers.