The Cateran Trail

The Spittal of Glenshee, sitting at the head of Glen Shee (and endlessly prettier than a vulgar and unorthographic interpretation of it name may suggest) – it is a tiny place in the midst of the ancient route north and south through the glen, at the meeting of the streams which create the Shee Water. Many have driven through on the road up Glen Shee, between the majestic hills, and I will confess that most of the time I have been hurrying through. This is a place to stop though and appreciate the enfolding mountains, the lonely isolation and wonder about the silent slopes wetted by solitary burns. Then again, you can climb and see.

This is Perthshire, a huge county of accessible spectacle that has to be explored, and is best on foot.

There is a lovely walking route that has been devised to take you off the road, up three of the glens in the north-east of Perthshire and into neighbouring Angus and over the mountains between, from Blairgowrie to the Spittal of Glenshee: the Cateran Trail.

The trail is a circular route 64 miles long with challenging climbs: it is far from a day-walk: it is recommended to do it in five days, and overnight stops are available. (The ‘Spittal’ in Spittal of Glenshee mean a place of hospitality in former days.)

The route is well established and waymarked throughout. It follows old drove roads and ancient tracks across a varied terrain of farmland, forests and moors.

The name of the trail is rougher: it is named after the Caterans: the bands of marauding cattle thieves who raided Strathardle, Glenshee and Glen Isla from the Middle Ages until they were pacified in the 17th century.

Maps and links

Route map

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Beset by harsh beauty; Crianlarich

The mountains might almost sweep over it without noticing, this tiny place in a glen, dwarfed to insignificance by the mountains, but I keep coming back to it, in spirit as much as in body. Crianlarich; at the meeting of ways in the Highlands. ‘Place o’ the wee ruin’ it means and maybe it was once no more than a shattered bothy, but today the village stands as neat as can be in a gash through the forbidding Perthshire mountains, where Strath Fillan, Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart meet, and with them the roads and railway that they carry.  Eventually, everyone comes to Crianlarich, if they care for the hills.

A clutch of houses, a kirk, a hotel, a shop and a youth hostel strung along a road, and the station that fills them. The profusion of signposts pointing to this place belie its tininess.  You do not come to Crianlarich for the village though but because it is the meeting of roads going elsewhere or because of the hills amongst which it hides.

The last time we were in Crianlarich was on the way from Stirling to Oban. The afternoon was drawing in towards evening (which is a long, slow process here). We grabbed a scratch picnic from the village shop (possibly the best stocked village shop I have ever seen outside Ulster), stocked up with Smidge, and followed a path up to see what we could see above the village.

The village soon vanishes in its landscape. The glen is broad enough, but the village is just clinging to the side of a mountain and would barely be noticed if it were to disappear within.  All among the blooming heather, Perthshire reveals itself and all curtaining the southern view were the Crianlarich Hills; mighty fells of which seven are Munros, over 3,000 feet in height, the mightiest being Ben More at 3,852 feet.

My feet began to itch. My eyes flicked involuntarily to the OS map and the vista to choose routes, until reminded gently that I had a family in tow and a B&B booked in Lorne. There would be time for that later.