A late-in-the-day addition to the rail network, giving a more direct route to Perth via the Forth Bridge (1890), the Glen Farg line brought the North British Company advantages in passenger traffic between Edinburgh and the Highlands. There was also heavy coal traffic from Fife to the North. And the gradients were a proving ground for the latest locomotives of the early 20th century. John had last travelled on the line in the 1960s, just before the Beeching cuts, and recalled the exhilarating sprints of steam days down into Strathearn.
If coming from the south, follow the B996 through the village of Glenfarg, under the M9 and into wooded Glen Farg for half a mile. Park on the left hand side just before the road crosses a burn, map ref 150126. The obvious line of the railway, on the east side of the road, can then be followed back.
The carefully engineered ruling gradient soon disappears beneath, as we guessed, dumped material left from the construction of the motorway, but typical railway fence-posts still remain. Continue as far as a barbed wire wooden fence; the turning point, for ahead the line is swallowed by the M9. By contrast, return to the start point then go deeper into Glen Farg, where the double-track roadbed was uncompromisingly, yet not too obtrusively, imposed on the landscape. Cross a few awkward fences to continue through a cutting. The line then leads to a deeper cutting, crosses high above the B996 and so to the first tunnel – high-arched, wide and handsome – and soon very dark. Having forgotten to take a torch it was a slow shuffling walk in the gloom. The tunnel, at least at the beginning, has been partially used on the sides as a rubbish dump, including one car. The tunnel was mostly dry and with a torch it would have been an easy walk. Even with a torch, it might be better to go on a bright day.
On leaving the tunnel, the immediate line is somewhat muddy and overgrown. However, with the road on the right below, the next gently graded section, fringed by silver birches, is the prettiest part of the walk. The second tunnel is almost debris-free. Back into daylight and with open fields on either side, a considerable embankment leads to a many-arched bridge over a deep gully and so to a minor road. With the bridge over the road now removed, this is the end of the line. (Nearby is the M9 where the line disappears.)
The minor road has a steep ascent at first, then a noisy crossing to the west side of the motorway. Going parallel to the M9, follow the road south for one mile to another bridge, signposted Meikle Fieldie, map ref 143135. A smooth Tarmac road goes south-east, then at the first farm building on the left turn right (south) onto a track, taking care to lock the gate. The gravelly track descends to a burn, but before crossing the burn, turn left through two small gates to descend through the wooded strip.
With the little gorge gradually getting deeper, the descent is on a small overgrown grassy track and, with the sound of the babbling brook on the right, so pleasant after the motorway, it is a charming return to the B966.
A Good New Year to one and all!
Map: Ordnance Survey map 58, Perth to Alloa
Distance: 5 miles
Terrain: Old railway line and quiet minor road
Start point: B966, Glen Farg road, map ref 150126, ½ mile north-east of M9
Time: 2-3 hours
Nearest village: Glenfarg
Recommended refreshment spot: Glen Farg Hotel, Glenfarg