Now that the days are getting shorter after daylight savings time has come into effect, day hikes seem to require a bit more strategic planning. First of all, I pretty much can’t stay on a hill past 4 in the afternoon unless I am prepared to wander in the dark. Second, it got cold really fast within the past two weeks. If I even manage to get myself out of bed early on a Saturday, then I’d better make sure that wherever I go, the day is not wasted because of poor planning on my part.
Keeping this in mind, I went on my first hike after returning to Scotland from Canada. The Callander Crags hasn’t been on my list of places to go, but it caught my attention after I found out how easy (relatively) it was to access with public transportation from Glasgow. I would of course combine the trip with a visit to Bracklinn Falls, which was a convenient detour (in fact I first went to the falls, then up the crags). And I love love LOVE waterfalls, so there was no excuse not to go.
One problem was that it was forecasted to rain in Callander on Saturday, at least in the morning anyway. I had to make sure that I arrived in Callander just after it stopped raining, but not too late so that I wouldn’t be able to finish the entire hike before it got dark. I seriously contemplated cancelling the plan because rain in general was the biggest turn-off any trip, but I went for it anyway, fully anticipating slipper slopes and muddy tracks. Stupidity or adventure? You decide.
From Callander to Bracklinn Falls
Woodlands on the way to Bracklinn Falls
Beginning the hike in Callander
As I was taking the bus from Stirling to Callander, it was raining mildly (I was praying hard that it would stop raining when I started hiking). I had my rain gear ready, knowing that it wouldn’t be a dry hike, but hoped that by the time I began walking, I didn’t have to deal with an umbrella when going uphill. On the other hand, with the rain, I did anticipate the waterfalls more than I initially did, as I speculated that a rainy morning would add a lot of volume to a waterfall. I got to Callander just before noon, which meant that I had around 4 hours to cover both Bracklinn Falls and the crags if I wanted to be back before it got too dark. From Callander, I followed a marked path uphill to the starting point of the Bracklinn Falls circuit and began the search for the waterfall.
Waters of Bracklinn Falls
Chilling at Bracklinn Falls
Cashew nuts and Bracklinn Falls 😉
Obligatory selfie with Bracklinn Falls on the bridge!
Waters of Bracklinn Falls
Waters of Bracklinn Falls
Crossing the bridge
Wooden bridge across the falls
I continued on the clear path and walked on and on through meadows and woodlands until…I heard a huge roar below a gradual descent on the path I was following. And I thought…no, it couldn’t be the waterfall. Bracklinn Falls was (at least in my mind) supposed to be just a small waterfall! But alas, I eagerly moved closer to the source of the roar and indeed it was what I had been searching for – what a grand surprise! Of course, Bracklinn Falls was no Niagara Falls or Gullfoss, but it was beautiful! It was more magnificent than I had expected, even with the embellishment brought about by the rain, and at that moment, I was so glad to not have backed out. Such an amazing feeling to be standing on the edge of the drop, listening to the song of the waters and enjoying the rare, rewarding daylight. Oh, did I mention that the rain has stopped? At this point even the sun came out – how blessed was I!
Through the woodlands
Through the woodlands
On the way up
Horror movie? Fairy tale?
After lingering around the falls for a good amount of time, I crossed a wooden bridge to the other side of the falls and continued on the path leading upward. Now that I’ve found Bracklinn Falls, it was time to tackle the Callander Crags, but I had to get out of the falls circuit first and merge onto the crags loop, which meant more uphill trekking. Here came a part of the hike that gave me an out-of-this-world sensation. I strolled through a massive area of woodlands and it felt a bit…spooky. There was no one on the trail except for me, and looking left and right, I was surrounded by trees. The densely wooded area to my left, which was a downhill slope, was the most fascinating of all. The trees lined up so neatly, not allowing the sun (which has finally appeared!) to penetrate the shield of their canopies. I wasn’t able to walk through the woods, not that I wanted to…it was way too dark and mysterious. I thought the woods either looked like those that would appear in a horror movie or in a fairy tale, perhaps the same one where Snow White met the dwarves. Later when I got to the other side of the hills and looked back at how dense the trees really were, I thought…wow! That forest seemed like a beast, from whose mouth I barely escaped – it could have so easily devoured me!
Crossing the Keltie Water
Waterfall at the Keltie Water crossing.
The forest was a beast that tried to devour me, but I escaped!
The sun has appeared!!
Moorland. Vast, majestic hills.
Emerging from the woodlands, I finally saw…light! The “exit” was like the hope at the end of the tunnel and at the end of the tree-filled trail, what welcomed me had me gasp with dropped jaws. The moorland. Vast, endless hills right in front of my very eyes, so close, yet so very very far away, they seemed. How majestic this was. It’s difficult to describe how I felt at that very moment, except if there is such thing as pure contentment, then that must be it. I mean, what else can I say? When you feel like nothing, yet you’re here, all alone in the wild, surrounded by those silent hills. All I thought was, “How small I am!” And I started humming a Mandarin song named “Small” as I made my way downhill to the Keltie Water, admiring the view in front of me every step along the way and being in awe over and over at how I ended up here. And you know, the blue skies made the whole scenario exponentially more pleasant and I couldn’t be more thankful that my God sent me that wonderful day as a gift.
Up to the Callander Crags
Chocolate crêpe and the hills 😉
View from the Callander Crags toward Loch Venachar.
At the Jubilee Cairn – summit reached!
As you walk through these little winding paths, down to the valleys, across the waterfalls, and around the hills, you think you have conquered the hills, but have the hills conquered you instead? With this fascination, I continued to the final leg of the hike, which was Callander Crags itself. Now, it was a lot tougher than I had expected because (1) the earlier rain made the paths very muddy and slippery, and (2) I chose a very minor route through more woodlands that had rocky sections that very easily could have trapped me. WHAT. Turning back was not an option, so my only choice was perseverance – I was aiming for the Jubilee Cairn at the summit as my final destination before descending, and I had to make it quick because darkness was approaching! After what felt like an eternity of climbing, feeling like I would faint, and almost giving up hope of ever finding the cairn, I saw it, right there, at the top of the crags. Such a moment of victory! Oh, and so worth it. The views, the wind, the sweat, they all spoke of an unforgettable experience as if giving me a pat on the back. To the left you see Callander from above and to the right – a stunning Loch Venachar in the distance with layers of rolling hills in the background, still illuminated by the dimming afternoon sun. And was this not enough of a reward for all that legwork? 😉
Back to Callander
View of Callander from the Crags.
Callander town centre.
Ben Ledi behind Callander.
Callander War Memorial.
Autumn in Callander.
When I was descending the hills on my way back to Callander, I met a local tour guide, Andy, who informed me that the route I intended to take was closed and that it was definitely NOT recommended to try to venture through it, especially with the wind and evening approaching. We ended up walking together, me following him as he knew where he was going. Andy was a cheerful, chatty fellow who was very enthusiastic about Scotland, and he told me many interesting and silly stories about the country, Callander, even Glasgow! I actually learned the name of Loch Venachar thanks to him, found out that the mountain looming over Callander was Ben Ledi, and got lots of inside tips on places to visit around Skye. Thanks, Andy! Eventually we arrived back in Callander, but it was a pity I didn’t take a photo with him, my unexpected hiking buddy for an hour! If you ever want to look into private, themed, or tailored tours of the Scottish highlands, do give Andy a shout and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his company and expertise!
Yes, Callander. A whole blog post later, I finally come back to this little town, the starting point of my Saturday adventure. It was a small town indeed and the bus only came once an hour, but small towns are often the ones that have the most characteristic and charm, even though they most likely will ever serve as passing points for other destinations. Then again, I always think that a place becomes special, no matter how significant it may seem, because of the people you meet. Like my friend Andy, who made Callander memorable even though I didn’t even stay for more than an hour in the town. Chris in Perth, Terrence in Oban, “the Seducer” in Bratislava…these were all people who gave meaning to places and made them more than merely a “stopover”.
And I end with the three points that I jotted down in my notebook at the end of my hike, summarizing the entire trip: (1) Man is so, so, so small and insignificant. (2) Cameras and photos will never be able to replace experiencing the moment with your own senses. (3) The most subtle and unexpected sense of human touch can be found in any corner of the world!