Up fairly early after an unsatisfactory night. My calculation was, after the last visit, that at least on a Thursday night in Stirling at this time of year I might get a room to myself. Not so. Two loudly snoring Belgians, a BT broadband engineer and another guy shared the room.

I awoke despite earplugs to hear the BT guy brushing his teeth incredibly thoroughly a few feet from my head at about 6.00 He had brushed them equally thoroughly the night before. OK so he likes clean teeth but he might have used a sink that was not in the bedroom.

So I am not to happy as I go down the hid in a gloomy dawn to get the bus. Fortunately I have time to get a coffee in the excellent Borough coffee house before catching the bus to Doune. There are a few people on it, two in the fleece uniform of the Blair Drummond wildlife park. We stop by it to drop them off and then the bus passes some unfeasably big fields of maize. Should they not have harvested it by now? Maybe it is cow corn, drying off before cutting but that would seem to be taking a chance in Scotland.

The bus then takes a detour to the strange little settlement of Deanston. I read somewhere that this was a model village built around a distillery. However it turns out I got this wrong and in fact the village was originally built around a mill. The Adelphi mill,  which is behind the more modern distillery building as you go into the village was designed by Richard Arkwright.  That same Arkwright whose Crinan Canal I walked up and whose old house I stayed in so long and many mile ago in Derbyshire.  http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/doune/deanston/index.html

But as the bus heads out of Deanston I am unaware of this. What I am suddenly aware of is that I get a fantastic view up the fast flowing River Teith to Doune Castle. It is such a good shot that I am tempted to get off the bus and then when the bus turns and passes over the bridge it is even better, the castle framed by autumnal trees.

It is not that far to walk back from Doune and I seriously consider it. But I have a long day walking ahead of me and it is entirely the wrong direction. So instead I head off north-westwards out of Doune.

Very soon out of this small and compact town there is a disused railway marked. I am hoping that this will take me to Callander and beyond, but though I have the 25,000 OS map it is a bit unclear. In particular there are no round blobs to say it is a permissive path.

Fortunately it turns out to be a well tarmacked farm road. Well, at least it does at first.

Less fortunately, after only a quarter of a kilometre or so the farm track veers off and I am left puzzling at the map. The old railway, so clearly demarcated on the map is just an indistinct rise in a pasture, barely even that,  beyond a locked gate that I have to climb over.

Not so good. There is a path but it looks like something trodden by sheep and cattle rather than any real sign that there is a walkers way.

Soon I have to climb another gate and this takes me into a field of sheep who all start looking at me intently. Like the ones near Haltwhistle they stare for a bit and then start moving in my direction. I suppose they must be used to being fed but it is a bit unsettling as this silent mass of sheep converges on me.

And the "path" finishes at a stream where a combination of fence, drop, bog and water makes further progress completely impractical. The track has become distinct here, clearly there was a bit of embankment built, and I get down the side and walk along the stream until I find a place that I can cross both it and the fence beyond. The sheep don't follow but they watch me silently. It is really quite spooky!

I am in another pasture. The track looks no more promising and according to the map the old railway is heading for a much bigger stream, and embankment, with no bridge marked. So I decide to head for the road. There are a few houses and I figure I should be able to get out  of the field there.

This proves to be right and I clamber another gate to get to the hamlet of Buchany. I walk through this and up the road to the handsome Burn of Cambus lodge, hoping that beyond it the old railway line will be more accommodating as it runs through some forestry.

But it is not. In fact though clear enough to see it is impassible. A tangled mass of vegetation with now visible path. So it is road again, at least for the time being.

The next few miles are really infuriating. The road is both busy and fast, with little verge to jump onto as lorries hurtle towards me. And all the time there is potentially, a perfect pathway a few meters to my right. I keep checking it out but there is no sign of any path in it.

But after a while, where there is access and it looks a bit better,  I am so fed up with the road that I give it a go. The vegetation is wet so my boots are soon soaked and it is hard work but it makes a change from leaping out of the way of speeding traffic. For a while. Anyway I have to stick with it because I soon lose my access back to the road.

But then I come to a cutting with a bridge spanning the old railway. Here the old track turns to bog. I have to make my way on the cutting slopes, clinging to trees to avoid sliding into the morass. This is fun.

And after the bridge it is completely impassible without waders and a machete. So I use the track on the bridge to get back to the road and all that lovely traffic, just in time for a protracted set of bends with even less verge than before.

Past the bends and the wonderfully named Easter Colliechat, I try the railway again and am rewarded with a spell of good walking on springy turf. Some of it even looks as other people might have walked on it once in a while.  Actually it is clear that some of this is used as a farm track and this is not entirely good news because again the cuttings have turned into bogs. Not deep enough to cause a problem to a land rover but wet enough that I have to circumvent it.

At a house by Drumvaich the track ends in someone's garden and it is back to the awful road. And it is awful. I pass a dead deer. It is quite badly bashed up but very small. I suppose it might be a young Roe faun, but the size is more muntjac like. To be honest it is a bit gruesome for a really close look. The neck is maybe too long for a muntjac but it must have been a tiny faun for a roe.

But this is the last road spell for a while. There is more forestry to my right now and a track through this takes me onto the old railway, transformed into a forestry road all the way into Callendar.

At least all the way to the river Keltie Water. There the track turns into a path and my map becomes useless.

There is network of paths all clearly new and not marked on the map, through pretty countryside where pine plantations don't actually look too bad. There is even an (unmarked) pond where a party of teal were dabbling.

There is a mum with two kids and a dog and I ask her (to be sure) if the path we are on leads to Callander. She confirms it and so on I go, happy to leave the road behind and wondering why the walk from Doune could not have been more like this bit.

Callander is a bit of a surprise. I have long been rather sniffy about Callander. When I first came here it was in the seventies and though I was used to the Hebrides I had never really encountered chintzy shortbread and haggis hunting postcard tourist Scotland. Callander was full of it. And I got out as fast as I could.

Since then I have seen plenty more places selling bottles of Scotch mist and tartan tat - but Callander seems to have changed too. In particular it seems to have gone quite a way upmarket. There was less tat on obvious display and there were some very foodie looking places. The first I passed was called Eat Mhor Fish but then there was a bakers and cafe called Mhor something too. And the cafe was great despite the pretentious, bad Gaelic pun name (it doesn't actually work because the h behind the m  makes it into a "v" sound. I had a coffee and then failed to resist a haggis and steak pie.

OK I know, that might not sound very foodie but believe me, this place was. Proper Scottish foodie. All locally sourced, organic lard. Honest!  But seriously, very nice pies.

I was running low on reading material and in the tight lipped matronly world of Blythswood religious charity shop I chance upon a cheap copy of Lolita. Now I had been meaning to read this since doing my MA and reading various people on how good a writer Nabokov was. I did read a few of his Pnin stories but though good, they did not really grip me, but I still wanted to read Lolita.

So I was fed, caffiened and literatured by Callander. And I checked the bus times when I was there too as best I could, before setting off.

If Bridge of Allen had been my default ambition yesterday, Callander was my default today. But I was doing fine, my shin splints were not giving me grief, and it was early. Also I was frustrated with the road walking. The next section, though still along the railway, was on the other side of a long loch to the road. And it was marked up as part of a long distance walk (The Rob Roy Way)  so should be safe enough. The problem was that being on the other side of the loch it would be impossible to bail if my shin started splinting or I ran out of time.

So off I set, heading down through some gardens by the river and then picking up the main track.
It ia delightful, wending through autumnal woods. I pass an old signal left from the railway days and then a whole bunch of bullfinches fly round me as I try to photograph them.

There are other people for a while. Dog walkers and ramblers. But after I cross the road at the delighfully named Kilmahog it goes quiet for a while and mostly have the wooded pathway to myself.

But only for a while. Soon  There are other walkers again as I come to a car park by the falls of Leny. There is a bridge here and I use it to take a few photos. Not exactly crowded but there are a few people around.

I am getting tired and it seems to be an age before I get to the bottom of Loch Lubnaig. I am getting great views of an almost sheer cliff, one of the shoulders of the approaching Ben Ledi. As I get nearer I realise that Ben Ledi is the hill I have been seeing since yesterday.

In fact I think it is one of the hills I saw from the Forth bridge and that it was the Trossachs rather than the Arrochar Alps that I was looking at.

Anyway it is fantastic to be walking through this loch filled defile, because this is real Highland countryside now. I am in it not just looking at it from the distance.  I have walked from Islington to the Scottish Highlands. And it is a beautiful autumn day.

The river at my side becomes sluggish and broad, fringed with marshes where a heron hunts. And then finally it becomes the loch proper.

The woods give way to a clearing. a Couple of houses set in a few fields. This is a gorgeous spot but slightly marred by the traffic noise from the road on the other side of the loch.

A little later the track takes me into a village of forestry log cabins. There is even a shop though I don't stop. It is called Strathyre Cabins, which strikes me as a bit strange as Strathrye is miles away, at the top of the loch, until I realise from the map that the this area is actually called Stank and that the last village to the south was Kilmahog. I am guessing that the Forestry Commission marketing department baulked.

A sign informs me that I am entering Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. This is a pleasant shock as the last time I walked through this forest park was on the banks of Loch Lomond, and it emphasises that I really am in the highlands. I know, I know, the evidence is all around me but it still seems a bit unreal.

A fine hoggin type cycle path,  straight as it is on an old railway, a mountain on one side tumbling down to a highland loch. Autumn trees in every shade of orange, russet and green. I am tired now but I am still enjoying this a lot.

I pass under the crags of Ardnandave Hill, sheer rock decorated with birch, forming a sort of gateway with the steep hill on the far side of the loch. Past this and I really do start to believe that I have penetrated the Highland line.

I am pretty much on my own now. There are not even any cyclists though this is a way marked cycle track. The only people I see for a long spell are a couple of guys working on the power lines. I often have musical tracks running through my head as I walk along and their radio is playing Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. This resets my internal juke box, dispalcing Beyonce who has been provding my default sound track,  and I stroll on with it in my head for several kilometres.

The path rises for a while above the loch, never far though sometimes it is screened by trees. A family pass me cycling, the smallest in a trailer pulled by dad, but otherwise I have it to myself.

At Laggan the track descends. Again there is an open area with a farm house and a very sophisticated boat house down at the loch side. The path passes between them. The sun is coming out intermittently and lighting up big beech trees which look glorious.

A little way past Laggan I have a choice. The old railway goes on, marked on my map, looking easy enough but not so well kept that I exactly trust it. On the other hand the well made and marked cycle track goes off to the left, quite unmarked on the map.  Because of this morning's problems I elect to take the track. But this zig zags brutally uphill and I am soon cursing it.

However, it puts me on a high forest road which takes me into Strathyre without further difficulty.

And being high I get a couple of good views back down the loch.

Strathyre is almost lost in the plantation. It feels a lot like Kielder and I guess it is a forestry village or at least was expanded when the plantations came to the area. There is a shop, a hotel and a dilemma.

I have a bit more than an hour until the bus and there are a bit more than three kilometres to Kingshouse which is the next point where I can be sure the bus will stop for me.  It should be plenty of time and I don't particularly want to hang around in Strathyre for an hour or so. My foot/let is OK but a bit twingey.

It might seem obvious that the sensible thing to do is to call it a good day here. The problem is that tomorrow is a long day without, as far as I can tell, any public transport all the way to Crianlarich. If I can steal three kilometers now it will make it a lot easier to manage the task tomorrow. Unless I overdo it to the point where I trigger the shin splints badly, in which case it would be better to finish now and hitch if need be for the last part tomorrow. Or just press on knowing that I have an easy day after that.

In the end I decide to go for it. There is a path marked on the old railway line which is a good sign and I pick it up from the road just out of the village. The first path is clearly not the railway line though as it follows the meanders of the river and I start to worry about how much time I am losing.

But it soon enough winds back and soon I am clearly on the line of the line again. Now a sort of farm track.

This gets me about two thirds of the way before degenerating completely. It may be that I can find my way through the fields ahead. But time is far from on my side so I take the chance to scramble back on to the road.

This is no fun. The road here is, if anything faster than ever.  At least I get views up the glen towards Balquidder and the mountains look beautiful in the evening sunlight. But mostly I need to focus on not getting knocked over. So the last kilometre is no fun and the no fun is compounded by the fact that my left ankle has started, unsurprisingly, hurting as I hurry along the tarmac.

Kingshouse is not how I remember it. I was here once, years ago, with a guy I had met in Crianlarich hostel. Since then they have build a massive superfast by pass. Why? I don't believe that there were ever huge traffic jams here. Just up the road it is still the old A road. But this handful of houses, pub and shop have been given a huge, horribly intrusive by pass as if it were the size of Portsmouth.

Too much Euro money maybe?  Whatever, it explains why the traffic was so fast coming up to it. I eat the rhubarb pie I got in Callander and then the bus comes; a little minibus driven by a slightly gothy young woman with long blonde hairShe drives me down the other side of the loch that I just walked up and drops me in Callander where I, eventually connect with the bus to Stirling. Back to Doune, back to Deanston, back to the Blair Drummond Safari park and then finally, back to Stirling.

I get back to my room eager for a shower. The BT engineer guy is there, brushing his teeth, again.



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