BY 1893 the Caledonian Railway line had been extended from Perth to Crieff. However, the extension to St Fillans and finally via Lochearnhead to Balquhidder took until 1904, only to close in 1951.
The track bed offers a surprisingly varied 7 mile walk, partly through a wooded area masking sight of the A85 at times if not Loch Earn. The section near St Fillans would appear to be a popular walk for local residents and for those staying at the caravan park on the site of the once large St Fillans station, located above the eastern end of the village.
Construction of the railway involved cuttings, embankments and one short tunnel, as well as viaducts to traverse the numerous side streams. One major viaduct is no more, many of the cuttings are overgrown and wet (spare Wellington boots in the rucksack will help) and the tunnel is now barred. All these difficulties, however, can be detoured.
Rhona and I covered the section from Lochearnhead to Woodhouse, by the Loch Earn Sailing Club. Weeks later I completed the walk to St Fillans on a stormy and very wet day. However, the forecast for a temporary easing around noon proved to be accurate and once in the snug Village Store Coffee Shop I was well satisfied.
From the car park in Lochearnhead, map ref 592238, go up Auchraw Terrace, turn right past Lochearn Lodges and right again on a track, signposted Wester Auchraw. This leads to the track bed, avoiding an overgrown cutting on the left.
At first a long straight line above the village, the track bed then curves into a forest. You reach a farm shed built on the track, beyond which is a wet cutting; both can be avoided by climbing to the south side. Later the grassy embankment gives lovely views over Loch Earn to Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin.
The next obstacle is an impassable overgrown cutting surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire. Continue on the upper side of the fence to a stile by a metal gate, then turn right over rough ground to regain the track bed. A grassy embankment can be followed irregularly to the Beich Burn. The viaduct, overgrown with saplings, is still walkable. The track bed goes through Ardveich and Derry Woods and so to Glen Tarken, from where a side track, map ref 668247, gives easy access to the A85.
The immediate very wet, mossy cutting, avoided by climbing to the right hand rim, leads to what must have been an impressive viaduct over the deep gorge in Glen Tarken. Even on a good day an immediate scramble into the gorge may be inadvisable. On my day of rapid snow melt, the burn was a raging torrent and dangerous to cross even near the road. Return to the side track, descend to the A85, cross the burn, then climb to the far bank, regaining the track bed by a small bridge.
On the approach to St Fillans through Glentarken Wood there are many side streams and gorges, but luckily all still with viaducts. A deeper, wetter and more overgrown cutting leads to the short tunnel which appears to be in excellent order. It is a pity that nowadays it is barred by a high metal gate. Retreat from the cutting, climb to the loch-side rim and follow a well-worn path to regain the track at the far end of the tunnel.
An embankment, high above the village, leads towards the caravan park. Chalets and static caravans bar the way, however a public footpath on the right leads to Station Road and so to the A85.
Map - Ordnance Survey map 51, Loch Tay & Glen Dochart
Distance - 7 miles
Height - Negligible
Terrain - Railway track bed, mostly good but in places wet and overgrown
Start point - Lochearnhead car park, map ref 592238
Time - 3 to 4 hours
Nearest villages - St Fillans and Lochearnhead
Recommended refreshment spot - Village Store Coffee Shop, St Fillans