Best foot forward: Scottish walking festival returns with new routes as lockdown lifts

A popular Scottish walking festival is making a welcome comeback this year as lockdown restrictions ease.

Crieff & Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst is running a series of walks around the Perthshire countryside, with a range of destinations and difficulty levels to suit all abilities.

The charity was set up to celebrate the life, work and traditions of the people who made Crieff the cattle-droving crossroads of Scotland in the 1700s and has been running a walking festival for the past two decades.

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Its 2020 event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but now easing of lockdown restrictions means this year’s event can go ahead – but on a smaller scale than usual.

Crieff & Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst walking festival is back this year after 2020 events were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, with adventures to stunning locations such as the Falls of Tarf. Photo: Gil Martin

The festival is being held over two weekends – in May and July – allowing people to get outside and enjoy Scotland's hills and glens safely.

Small groups of hikers will be guided on a wide choice of routes, with a number of new locations to be explored.

Gil Martin, chairman of Crieff & Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst, said: “In a year when many events and group gatherings are cancelled or considerably reduced I am pleased to say that our friendly walking festival is happening – and evidently in great demand.

“With a record number of 43 walks over two long weekends, we fully expect to have a busy year guiding visitors on walks around Perthshire and beyond.”

Small groups of walkers are taken on a variety of expeditions around Perthshire and beyond, including picturesque Glen Tilt, guided by experienced mountaineers with vast knowledge of the landscape and outdoors skills. Photo: Gil Martin

Author Fiona Valpy, from Dunkeld, first took part in the festival two years ago and often walks with her friend Lesley Singers from Birnam.

The pair, now in their 50s, decided to sign up as a way of maintaining their strength and fitness.

“We started walking locally on a regular basis but decided we needed some support to take on more challenging expeditions,” Ms Valpy said.

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There are a range of routes of varying difficulty on offer as part of the outdoor festival - this picture was taken on a walk in Glen Ogle. Photo: Gil Martin

“We didn’t feel confident heading out on the hills on our own so the walking festivals are a great way to challenge ourselves and meet new people.”

As well as mountaincraft such as map-reading, walkers also learn about the history and wildlife in the places they are exploring.

“The leaders are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced and you can learn so much from them,” she added.

“The walks have deepened my understanding and appreciation of the landscapes and my ability to interpret them.

Fiona Valpy, an author from Dunkeld, is looking forward to exploring part of the West Highland Way during Crieff & Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst walking festival, which is returning this year after Covid saw the event cancelled in 2020

“But the companionship is wonderful too, walking and enjoying the surroundings with a group of like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds.”

And the festival is not all about bagging Munros, with some of the walks taking place through largely flat terrain, with a more historical focus.

One particularly enjoyable outing for Ms Valpy during her first walking festival, in 2019, was an outing following a Roman road to Scotland’s oldest free lending library, at Innerpeffray, in the heart of rural Perthshire.

“What a contrast from the day before, when I had been at the top of Ben Vorlich in the wind and rain,” she said.

“There really is something for everyone, of every age, fitness, ability and experience.

“And the best thing is how friendly and welcoming the groups are.”

She is eagerly looking forward to her next festival adventure, walking part of the renowned West Highland Way next month.

Crieff & Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst walking festival is taking place on 29-31 May and 17-19 July.

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