ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Bridging ancient rights of way through Tilt and Feshie glens
The Bedford Memorial Bridge is a stunning landmark on any expedition into the far reaches of Glen Tilt. It was built in 1886 to commemorate the death of Francis John Bedford, an 18-year-old who drowned near here in 1879.
Since then it has been a vital link in this right of way in the heart of the Cairngorms. Repairs have recently been made to the wooden walkway that leads to the bridge itself on the north side, thanks to an agreement between ScotWays – the Scottish Rights of Way Society – and Atholl Estates.
The stone foundations below this walkway were being washed out and a fix was put in place after the issue was reported by a member of the society, which to this day continues to fight for access rights and rights of way across the country.
Reading about this relatively minor but nevertheless important repair job reminded me of a trip I took here, which, when I looked back, turned out to be almost exactly 10 years ago.
That adventure took me from Blair Atholl through Glen Tilt and across the Geldie Burn then into the upper end of Glen Feshie, with a long way out to the road at Feshiebridge.
It certainly lived up to the moniker in Harry Henniker’s excellent collection of 101 Mountain Bike Routes in Scotland, in which he states: “The interesting bike routes are the ones that you can barely manage on a bike.”
The estate track up through Glen Tilt is straightforward enough to cycle, and gives access to a number of hills, but the through route really starts to get interesting once you reach the aforementioned bridge at the Falls of Tarf.
A lovely little singletrack path leads onto the suspension bridge, which crosses a spectacular gorge onto a lovely grass area, then the route continues north-east through the narrow confines that carry the Allt Garbh Buidhe to the watershed.
It’s more vague and pretty boggy now to the ruined remains of Bynack Lodge, from where an improving track took me over a couple of fords to reach the crossing of the Geldie Burn.
With the cold water up to my knees as I fought my way across, using the bike for balance, I was relieved to be safely on the other side, where a good vehicle track made for easier going – for a little while at least.
As you turn left to follow the burn, there is now a new bothy at Red House, which is more easily accessed from Linn of Dee.
The track I was cycling on leads to Geldie Lodge, another ruin in this remote part of the hills, but my route into Glen Feshie forked off to the right on what turned out to be a nice singletrack path for much of the next section.
The next notable spot is the crossing of the River Eidart, this one undertaken on a metal bridge built by the army in 1957. It crosses high above a deep gorge as the water makes a dramatic twist through the rocks before joining the infant River Feshie.
It’s a remarkable spot, and so far from civilisation that you really do feel remote here, the sense of self-reliance is rarely so heightened.
I’d thought at the time it would only be a few more kilometres, then – as the map suggested – I would join a vehicle track that would lead me to the bothy at Ruigh Aiteachain.
It turned out not to be that straightforward, with an intermittent and either flooded or mud-soaked track, followed by the choice of an impossible fording of the Feshie or following an ill-advised route through a relatively recent landslip.
The latter was okay, although much slower going than my planning had suggested, so it was a bit of a race against the clock to reach Feshiebridge before darkness set in.
And the route along the east bank of the Feshie is never a straightforward one, even beyond the bothy, so it came as something of a relief to finally arrive at Auchlean, where the tarmac road takes over and I could pick up some speed for the last few miles.
The long-existing rights of way can be a real adventure for those willing to go well prepared and navigate their way past any potential obstacles. But I’m always grateful to organisations like ScotWays which help to not only preserve these rights, but also help to facilitate access by ensuring vital crossings and connections are kept in good order.
The work at the Bedford Memorial Bridge is just one small example of that effort, and anyone who has enjoyed a trip there should think – it was only through the society that the bridge was commissioned in the first place. Otherwise my route could have had a much bigger obstacle in the way!
Glen Tilt & Glen Feshie
Distance 40 miles / 64 km
Terrain Rough tracks and paths, narrow with very steep drops in places, steps, numerous river crossings (some may be impassable in spate), minor road. Visits remote and wild country: map reading skills required. No refreshments or shelter along route.
Map OS Explorer 394, 387 & 403/ Harvey British Mountain Map, Cairngorms & Lochnagar (shows route from Falls of Tarf onwards)
Start/finish Old Bridge of Tilt/Feshiebridge
A tough mountain biking outing involving its fair share of walking, pushing, carrying and route finding!