I was staying at Tummel Bridge on holiday, and as I do, I had a search of the internet for nearby geocaches. A geocache is a treasure hunt of sorts, where the treasure is searched for using a GPS. Each cache is placed by a ‘cacher’ for various reasons. Some are roadside ‘cache-n’dash’ affairs, some involve the solving of clues, others require stealth to retrieve. My favourite caches are ones which take you off the beaten track and introduce you to places not found in the guide books.
Top of the list was McGregors Cave, and a squint at the map showed it to be only a short drive from where we were to Dunalastair Water. However the printed map and the one on my GPS were different in a small, but major, factor. A bridge. The paper map was years old and showed a bridge at NN 709 586, the GPS mapping showed no such feature. I decided to head along and see if the bridge was there, if so I could cross, if not I would leave it as it involved a long detour through Kinloch Rannoch.
Throughout my week in the Highlands I noticed a number of old red telephone boxes still in use. I parked up near the phone box at Balmore, outside a cottage which used to be the local post office, now a holiday home for rent. A land rover track leads south towards the loch and runs around the eastern edge, before turning east and following the River Tummel. There must be little traffic here now, as the track is heavily overgrown, a clue to the soon to be revealed non-existance of the bridge. Across the river is Bridge Cottage, another holiday home for rent, and below the cottage a mess of twisted metal disappears into the water. Perhaps No-Bridge Cottage would now be a more suitable name.
The rain which had held off for a short while came back on. I was already soaked from the waist down from the wet grass, now I was getting soaked from the top as well. I decided to follow the track on uphill, and soon came to the remains of Dunalastair House. I wasn’t sure whether it was occupied or not, it can be hard to tell, and was about to head for the road when I noticed a sign for the “Chiefs Burial Ground”. This isn’t marked on the 1:50,000 map, but is on the 1:25,000. The path heads through thick woodland for about 300m, before arriving at a walled plot. Once this must have had a fairly commanding view of Dunalastair Water, but it is become a bit hemmed in now.
Inside there are four grave markers, Chiefs of the Robertson sept of the clan Donnachie, including that of Alasdair Stewart Robertson, born in Jamaica, perhaps a sign of the family trying to escape the poverty of Scotland for a better life and a fortune in the colonies. The most recent stone marks the resting place of Alexander Gilbert Robertson, the 19th Chief. This recent recent addition and the fact the plot is well tended show that these Chiefs are not forgotten.
A few days later I had the chance to return, this time from the other side of the water. I parked the car at Crossmount and within seconds the car was surrounded by a thick cloud of flies. I didn’t waste any time going down the track, and was soon passing Bridge Cottage. Just before the cottage the path goes uphill, and passes through a deer fence into some stunning woodland. Huge firs, oaks and larches, birch trees, sycamore and chestnut, thick with moss and lichens. The path is well defined and twists and turns, climbing up away from the river, before crossing down to stepping stones over a burn, then rising again below cracked crags. I noticed a small rock jutting out, an ideal viewpoint for photos. To the east the River Tummel, across the river Dunalastair House and Beinn a’ Chullaich, and to the west a stunning view across Dunalastair Water and Loch Rannoch to the silhouette of Glencoe, 35 miles away!
So entranced was I with this view I almost forgot about the cave, and was gobsmacked when I turned round and found I had been standing outside it for 10 minutes without seeing it. I’ve read that this was used by the McGregors, perhaps even Rob Roy himself.
This is unlikely as in reality the cave was perhaps an overhang, modified in the mid 1800’s into a summer house. It has two doors, a window and a chimney, and has a small partially tiled section, perhaps used to prepare food.
The trees are reducing the visibility now, but when it was first built I imagine the views were amazing. Time was ticking away, so I headed off to find the geocache which is located nearby. The plastic box may have been the final prize, but in reality the real treasure was found on the way.