The walk: The Sma’ Glen – An ancient pass full of historical interest

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Location: Perthshire

Grade: Moderate hillwalk

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 4-6 hours

I’M sitting in the shelter of a twelve-foot-high cairn. Obviously, from its construction and dimensions and the fact that it tops a rather insignificant hill that is neither a Munro or Corbett, it is of some antiquity. A smaller, less ancient cairn lies about twenty paces away.

Mist has turned the world into monochrome and the grouse are grumbling all around me. Twenty yards away a mountain hare lifts its head from the long tufts of grass and appears to be quite undisturbed by my presence.

He has a boldness about him – or perhaps it’s just my fertile imagination. Mountains hares are notorious creatures of myth and magic.

The hill I’m sitting on is an outlier of Meall Tarsuinn, which in itself is a pretty insignificant hill. However, my cairned top gives way to a rather nice ridge that the Ordnance Survey call The Scurran and below it lies a steep-sided defile, the Sma’ Glen.

Before the modern A9 offered a faster route, I would often drive through here when heading south from my home in Badenoch and thought of it as a mini-Glen Coe.

You enter its steep-sided jaws from the gentler landscapes of Perthshire and the change of scenery is sudden and dramatic. But not only is the Sma’ Glen dramatic in a landscape sense (its old name is An Caol Ghleann – the Narrow Glen), it’s also rich in historical drama.

Ancient cairns, like the one I’m sitting beside, and the sites of old forts line the hill tops that surround the glen.

A Roman signal station was once sited near the south entrance to the glen. General Wade built a military road through here and in doing so disturbed an ancient grave, said to be the final resting place of Ossian, the bardic son of the renowned Celtic warrior Finn MacCumhail.

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven through this peaceful place but I thought it was time to re-visit the Sma’ Glen and climb the hills that form its skyline. It turned out to be a great hillwalk with wide-ranging views. The lonely hills of upper Glen Almond make a strong impression on the senses and those wild views are in direct contrast to the comparatively lowland scenery of Strathearn in the south. Some years ago the glen was threatened by plans for a windfarm.

The hills that form the skyline around the Sma’ Glen rise steeply and abruptly from the wide green strath that cradles the infant River Almond. The western hills offer the best route, after a steep climb up from Newton Bridge at the north end of the glen. The narrow path that runs down the length of The Scurran treads delicately close to a steep drop into the glen below before descending to the curiously named Giant’s Grave, another ancient site. Across the road the River Almond bars the way to the eastern hills but where it widens and shallows across some gravel bars it is easily waded. Take great care though and don’t attempt this crossing if the river is high or in spate. There is a bridge about 2km downstream.

The Dun Mor ridge that bounds the the east side of the glen is delightful, and a prehistoric fort graces the hill’s 466m summit. The walking is great, the views are expansive, there is a lot of historical interest and thank goodness Perth and Kinross Council threw out the windfarm plans that would certainly have ruined the ambience of this lovely place.

Cameron McNeish

ROUTE PLANNER

Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 52 (Pitlochry & Crieff)

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Approx Time: 4-6 hours

Start/Finish: Car park at Newton Bridge on A822 (GR: NN889315).

Transport: None.

Information: Crieff TIC, 01764 652578

Route: From the car park follow the road N for a few metres and go through a gate on the left to a path beside the River Almond. Follow this path for a short distance before taking to the open hillside on your left. A rising traverse on steep ground takes you on to the N ridge of a hill that is crowned by a large cairn. From the cairn walk E for a short distance and follow a walkers’ path that runs SE along the ridge called The Scurran. Follow the natural line of the ridge down to the Giant’s Grave. Cross the road and wade the river. DO NOT ATTEMPT to cross the river if it is in spate or in high water. There is a bridge at Dallick House, 2km downriver. From the river’s east bank, climb steeply to the Dun Mor ridge which is then followed N and NE. Descend to the A822 just N of Newton Bridge and return to the car park

Due to current restrictions, we are running our favourite previously published walks. Please follow the Scottish Government’s latest coronavirus restrictions, see https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19

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