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Glen Tilt

Start location: Fenderbridge, Blair Atholl (NN 880 667)
End location: Linn of Dee (NO 061 897)
Geographical area: Perth, Kinross and Stirling (part), Cairngorms National Park
Path Type: Drove Road
Path distance: 33.8km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes

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Route Description

Newsflash: 2020 sees 175 years of the work of ScotWays in upholding public access rights - a great excuse to celebrate the history of public access in Scotland. One such key event was the Cairngorms signposting delegation of 1885, led by Walter A Smith, which ultimately led to the Jock’s Road court case. Glen Tilt was another of the routes signposted on that trip. In commemoration of their efforts, ScotWays is inviting you to join its 175th Anniversary Challenge, a virtual journey in the footsteps of these nineteenth century access enthusiasts. Broadcaster James Naughtie will be reading WAS’s diary along the way, so while taking our daily exercise we can all share the story of their endeavours and learn more about the landscape they passed through and its cultural heritage. We look forward to virtually travelling together with you!

For those who walk in from Braemar to the Linn of Dee, the public road could be taken, but our surveyor recommends that instead paths through the Morrone Birkwood be followed to a conifer plantation at its west end which has stiles at entry and exit before meeting the public road just east of Corriemulzie. The walker can then continue by Mar Lodge to Linn of Dee avoiding the worst of any traffic.

From Linn of Dee to the Geldie Burn a good estate track exists. At the Geldie Burn there is no longer any bridge. After this serious river crossing, a rougher track and footpath (avoiding further river crossings) leads to the ruins of Bynack Lodge. From there a track leads on for about 1km then becomes a footpath leading as far as the watershed. From there a clear path, leads to just south of the Bedford Memorial Bridge at the Falls of Tarf where a reasonable estate track is met. This continues to Auchgobhal where this old right of way rises out of the glen as a grassy track until Kincraigie farm from where a farm road and tarred public road lead to Blair Atholl.

This route is a serious undertaking with a potentially difficult remote river crossing near the north end.

The route is cycleable on good tracks except for the section between the Tarf and the Geldie where bikes will often have to be wheeled or carried. For a taster of part of the route, here's Ben Dolphin's video story of his bike ride from Blair Atholl to the Falls of Tarf and back again, with lots of history shared along the way.

OS Landranger 43 (Braemar & Blair Atholl)

Heritage Information

This old route is one of the great historical rights of way in Scotland. In 1847, a party of University of Edinburgh botany students led by John Hutton Balfour had an acrimonious encounter with the Duke of Athole and his ghillies, which became known as the Battle of Glen Tilt. This resulted in a lengthy legal battle between the Scottish Rights of Way Society and the Duke to establish the route's status, a dispute which ultimately went to the House of Lords and vindicated the right of way. It is likely that this case did more than any other to raise public awareness of rights of way; and it established that the Society could represent the public's interest. 

In 1785, Glen Tilt had been the first of the key sites which evidenced geologist James Hutton's Plutonism theory and revolutinised our concept of time. Hutton's findings meant the glen was famous to scientists around the world. The behaviour of the Duke of Athole in denying public access led Hugh Miller to write in 1847: "There is scarce in the Kingdom a better-known piece of roadway than that which runs through the glen" and that "if the Scottish people yield up to his Grace their right of way through Glen Tilt, they will richly deserve to be shut out of their country altogether".

The route is said to have been a drove road. However, due to the narrowness of Glen Tilt, although it was used as such, other nearby routes may well have been better suited to this type of traffic.

The Tarf Water is crossed just below the Falls of Tarf via the Bedford Memorial Bridge. On the bridge, a plaque reads: "This bridge was erected in 1886 with funds contributed by his friends and others and by The Scottish Rights of Way Society Ltd to commemorate the death of Francis John Bedford, aged 18, who was drowned near here on 25th August 1879". This young man had died trying to ford the Tarf. Queen Victoria did the same crossing in 1861 on a pony - those who led her steed had been almost up to their oxters in the water.

Glen Tilt's story continues to inspire. Ben Dolphin filmed a heartfelt short video Access All Areas about Glen Tilt's important part in the story of securing public access rights in Scotland. He reminds us all: "our access rights have been hard won, so please don't take them for granted!" The Atholl Expedition by Alex Roddie is a fiction set in the aftermath of the Battle of Glen Tilt. Fraser MacDonald writing about Time and Space in Glen Tilt links us to those that went there before us. Each in their own way tell us the stories of this special glen.

March 2018 saw the story of public access to the Scottish outdoors told in BBC Scotland's programme The Battle for Scotland's Countryside. Although no longer available on the iplayer, its accompanying article rightly features Glen Tilt alongside the Jock's Road case as one of five key incidents in the struggle for public access. If you missed the programme, this clip Stand-off on the Atholl Estate gives a taster.


Copyright: Richard Webb

Copyright: Tom Courtney



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