First choice today was Na Carraigean... however Gladman visits very rarely go according to plan, schedules rarely kept. Who would have thought the Allean Forest would be closed due to 'forestry works'? Not I. But, hey, it's what keeps things interesting, I guess. To be honest I might have considered a bit of ill conceived - and no doubt dangerous - 'naughty, naughty' if I didn't have Clachan An Diridh as 'Plan B'.
In retrospect, parking in Pitlochry after a week and a half wild camping probably wasn't the best idea in the world. The general noise level grates, coaches disgorge hordes of tourists, wandering aimlessly this way and that like gaggles of geese. Only with much less charm. And of course I'm completely hopeless at direction finding in urban landscapes, therefore engaging in a fab sightseeing tour of dams, trout ladders and such like before reaching the Festival Hall, complete with free - I think - car park just off the A9. Grrrr!! Once across the A9, however, things begin to look up... literally, as it happens, as tarmac gives way to farm track and eventually forestry track ascending rising ground. Ruddy forestry, the curse of the stone-hunting classes. Don't even mention RSCs.
Suffice to say I don't enjoy the climb once the deciduous trees are left behind, a viewless (arrrgh!), claustrophobic approach which seems to go on, and on and on..... so it's a massive relief to approach the entrance to the clearing... exactly as a middle-aged couple approach it from the other direction. 'I don't belieeeevvve it!'. Although they are clearly 'proper', decent people, I'm therefore well chuffed when they take one snap and bugger off to leave me to commune with Clachan An Diridh in peace. Sorry, that's Peace, with a capital 'P". It really is.
So is this four poster worth all the hastle? You betcha, even though one of the stones has, to all intents and purposes, disappeared. Two of the remaining trio, however, are large, wonderful monoliths, possibly incorporating 'male' and 'female' symbolism, possibly not? The remaining upright is much smaller, but still not exactly a 'tiddler'. Grain is exquisite, the woodland setting amplifying highlight and shadow, much to the detriment of my photographic skills, but not to the vibe here. Just lie back and listen.....'hang on, I don't hear anything 'cept birdsong?'. Exactly. Good, innit?
The way up here is very easy - just follow the Clunie walk from Pitlochry. From the car park in the centre, head under the railway bridge across the road and watch out for a footpath sign-posted to the left - over the super-fun suspension bridge. At the end of the bridge turn left, and at the junction head straight over and up the hill (sign-posted Clune walk) to the A9, crossing carefully. The track continues up beside Middleton of Fonab farm and then enters the forestry plantation (still sign-posted) where it becomes narrower. It then joins on to a wide forestry track which you follow for a couple of hundred metres before turning left at the junction of forestry tracks. The circle is another few hundred metres along here, off the track to your right.
Thursday 1 May 2003
Probably a very nice walk from Pitlochry itself (and the suspension bridge is definitely great fun!) due to time constraints John and I took the (slightly) easier option.
From Faskally, we headed onto the A9 south and took a small turn right after maybe a mile towards Middleton of Fonab farm. From memory, I think it had some sort of ‘forestry walks’ sign too.
Whatever, keep your eyes on your mirrors, as the turn is likely to sneak up on you and reasonably heavy braking will be necessary – the A9 is a pretty busy road and it’s single carriageway at this point.
We (slightly more cheekily than is normal for me) drove up the hill and parked at the farm. In my favour, the lanes and farmyard are very spacious! There was nobody about anyway.
Following the paths (rather than bridleways or tracks) up the hill the drizzle started to set in. John was already wearing his Clint Eastwood kit, consisting of oiled Gore-Tex type long coat (with wacky thigh straps) and an allegedly separately bought (but matching!) wide-brimmed oiled cowboy-style hat.
Don’t go thinking he wears that to try to look ‘cool’ by the way. It seems to make him pretty much impervious to precipitation. Git. DRY git. I stuck on the not-very-waterproof, allegedly-breathable-but-not and actually-fairly-sweaty ‘Regatta’ kag that I had in my camera bag.
(It does have to be said however, that John is tall and slim enough to vaguely carry off the ‘Clint kit’. I’d look a complete pillock in an equivalent. And I don’t need a costume to look a pillock….)
Luckily we didn’t have a GPS (see Scottish Megarak visit to this site) so we followed the maps and the paths and found it without a problem. It was well worth getting a bit damp for too, but as luck would have it the weather improved as we arrived.
Having had fairly low expectations of finding it in the forestry and as a result of the OS Landranger calling it ‘remains of’ we were pleasantly surprised on both counts. (Has to be said that much as I love OS maps, their use of ‘remains of’ in relation to circles is annoyingly inconsistent.)
So often using a Landranger something that looks right next to the path is 100 yards or more away, and particularly in dense forestry that cam be as good as 10 miles. Lucky that Clachan an Diridh sits in a clearing that runs as far as the forestry track.
There are only a few stones left in the circle, but they’re good ‘uns – blimey, I should write books with my grasp of all the technical jargon! What I’m actually getting at is that the remaining stones and the site of the circle manage to communicate pretty well what the site would probably have been like, at least if you’ve seen a few others.
The views would certainly have been stunning pre-forestry, but Mr Bigsweetie is right when he says elsewhere that the trees do give this circle a pleasant air of tranquillity and peace.
I’d missed out on this one up until this trip just because I’d never really had the time to tackle the hill. Glad we made the effort. The return journey to the car flew by, almost literally, as we crashed back down the hill, soggy but happy.
When the Clachan an Diridh stone circle was built, it would have had magnificent views to the NE across the River Tummel to Ben Vrackie and the Grampians beyond, and to the SW down the River Tay. It was these views that prompted the antiquarian Daniel Wilson to write in the mid-nineteenth century: "Amid this wild Highland landscape the huge standing stones, grey with the moss of ages, produce a grand and imposing effect; and from the idea of lofty height the distant mountains suggest, they convey a stronger impression of gigantic proportions than is produced even by the first sight of the giant monoliths of Salisbury Plain."
Despite continual planting since the 1920s, the site is still magnificent. The stones stand at the centre of a large clearing, and while the views are no longer visible, the thickly-planted pines surrounding the circle, with the sun streaming through their branches, creates a magical atmosphere. The trees also contribute to the silence, even though the circle is only a couple of kilometres from the busy A9.
A four-poster circle, 3 of the stones are probably in their original positions, while the fourth is broken and has obviously been disturbed over the years. When Coles visited in 1908, he described three stones standing, and the fragments of the fourth scattered across the ground. The fourth stone, or a piece of it, has been re-erected at some time, as it now stands in it's probable original position.
Local tradition has it that the stones were visited on the first day of May, when a procession was made around them in a deiseil (clockwise) direction. And in 1925, John Dixon wrote: "Another theory about the
"Clacnah an Diridh" is that the stones marked the scene of some periodical religious meeting or ceremonial of which nothing is now known."
This is a beautiful place, and it was a pleasant sunny afternoon in November when the Megaraks visited. Sadly, there was evidence that some idiot had lit a small fire in the centre of the stones. Fools are everywhere, and unfortunately even remote spots like this suffer from them. However, we tidied up a bit, and the area remains a nice place to visit, as the photographs show.
8th August 2000-Clachan an Diridh, Pitlochry
The woods are ALIVE! It's fly-city up here and I've gone and forgotten the insect repellent! There are so many butterflies out as well. It's been like walking through a tropical forest to get here as its so humid and nothing moves. Thankfully its now starting to rain and the flies are starting to disappear. The stones look really different in the summer- wow- the rain has just stopped, the flies have gone and the amazing silence of this site is once more. The New Year offerings have all gone and it's lush green grass all around. I'm having to finish this back in the van cos although this is "Rite-in-the-Rain" paper it's not a write in the rain pen I have and the weather got the better of it! I never seem to spend enough time at the Clachan an Diridh and today the insects got the better of us. Swarms of flies, ticks, massive dragonflies the size of small planes were all out and I managed to get bitten by both midgies and clegs. Harrydog and Kat were both being devoured by our exoskeletal friends so we had to beat a hasty retreat- oh well- it was great to be back there even if for a flying visit!
2nd January 2000-Clachan an Diridh, Pitlochry
These are just the most quiet peaceful woods, the silence is amazing up here. Kat and Harrydog have gone further along the old Strathtay route through the forest. Unfortunately the path up here is now waymarked and leafleted so we have passed hordes of people, but luckily the two crowds of about a dozen folk each have turned off before the stones. The path up to this place is still like a river- I remember the first time we came up here about 5 years ago and it was snowing really hard. The woods were even more silent then as the falling snow muffled out all sounds and I remember coming up to the clearing off the main track and walking round the stones in huge snowfall. I'm sitting near the edge of the circular clearing with the stones in front of me. The Clachan an Diridh are now three uprights- one almost a completely square slab with the oppostie stone being similar but having a huge quarter notch out of the top. The third stone is smaller and leans slightly. This forest was planted around the 1920's I think and is a dense forestry commission job so any sightings with the notch in the large stone are now lost in the trees. I'm now in the middle of the stones, listening. All I can hear is the water from a distant hill burn and the silence of this site- too many people from the main path in here and the silent signal is lost in human static. It looks like there has been some Hogmanay revellry or similar as there is a small fire scorch between the two largest stones and in the ashes I can make out pound coins and 50 pences! I thought of clearing it out of the stones, but decide to leave other folks luck and Nature to clear it away with time.
This site is a beautiful four-poster high above Pitlochry on forestry commision land. The whole area is planted with managed and processed confierous growth, but a large clearing has been left around the circle itself. Although only two stones retain their original size, the evidence of the others can be seen, and each stone is beautiful in itself with large seams of quartz running through it.
Although the original setting was obviously all about the view, the clearing now around the circle adds an air of magic and Rite. This is still a Powerful Place, as evidenced by the worn path, and evidence of recent fires. My favourite four-poster.
Clachan an Diridh can be found by following the 'Clunie' trail from Pitlochry dam, and taking the signposted turning for Strathtay. It's approximately 1.5 hours from Pitlochry, and is fairly steeply uphill. Walking boots are a must, and if you intend to follow the trail all the way back, a compass, map and proper clothing are strongly recommended. In all the trail took us about 5 hours. - Well worth it though.
"On Fonab moor rather more than half way between Pitlochry and Strathtay and sixty yards to the north of the path connecting those places there are two fine standing stones and the remains of two others called "Clacnah an Diridh" or "Stones of the ascent (or brae)". Some people call it the remains of a circle, but there is no appearance whatever of there having been any other stones or of the remaining stones ever having been in a circle. On the contrary, they more resemble a large oblong dolmen such as we have described and the appearance of their site is quite consistent with there having originally been a mound of earth over them which was afterwards scattered around. But they are not near enough to each other to be a dolmen. Another theory about the "Clacnah an Diridh" is that the stones marked the scene of some periodical religious meeting or ceremonial of which nothing is now known."
From "Pitlochry Past and Present" by John Dixon 1925 pages 56-57.
"The once celebrated Clachan an Diridh ('stones of the ascent') lie, now almost forgotten, to the south of Pitlochry near the ridge of Carra Beag ('little rock') and An Suidhe ('the seat'), which together are popularly known as Fonab Hill. At the begining of the twentieth century, the Clachan an Diridh stones would have stood majestically on bare hill and are now half hidden in a clearing, within forestry, but there are signs that after the Second World War trees were planted as close as a metre to each stone. Originally a four poster, although only three stones now remain, this site was visited on the first day of May each year, the religious rite being to go round the stones deiseil ('sunwise'-that is, clockwise)."
From "Pitlochry-Heritage of a Highland District" Colin Liddell 1993.
In an old guide book of the area I found the following in reference to the standing stones of the district;
"Now there won't be heard the song of my fame,
The stranger will not know of my grave,
He will see a grey stone with ragweed o'ergrown,
And he will ask 'whose grave is this',
'We know not', the children of the glen will say,
'The song of his fame has not lived to our day'"
From "Pitlochry District" by Hugh Mitchell 1923.
Directions - Head N from Perth on the A9 (sign-posted Inverness). After about 40.0km, take the turn-off to the left for Pitlochry. This road (the A924) takes you back under the A9, and follows the River Tummel into the centre of Pitlochry. Look out for the car park on your right hand side, close to the church more easterly church marked on the map. Park here, then cross the main road, and walk towards the centre of Pitlochry (ie W). Turn left down the road which passes under the railway, and follow this road round until you see a track leading off to the left through the trees. This takes you to the Port-na-Craig suspension bridge, over which you cross the Tummel, and which brings you out at the Festival Theatre. Cross over the car park here, and you'll find a path up to the A9. Cross here, taking care as it is a very busy road. Once over the road, you will see a sign for the Forestry Commission's Fonab Moor plantation. Following this track as it meanders through the forest will take you to Clachan an Diridh (after about 1 and a half hours' walking), which sits in a clearing 200m to the right of the main track, and clearly visible. Alternatively, you can follow the Clunie Walk (brown sign-posts) - see links below.