The Source of the Mighty Banvie Burn

Afternoon sun, Glen Banvie

The Banvie Burn starts in the hills above Blair Atholl and in its 8km life passes through some gorgeous scenery before it joins the River Garry. Every time we are up in Blair Atholl we always have at least one walk along its banks and it must qualify for my prize of “most frequent riverine lunch-stop” award. Today the weather looked favourable for a decent saunter into the Atholl hills following part of the old Minigaig Pass with the goal of discovering the source of the Mighty Banvie Burn.

Jazz at cairn on Mingaig track

OK, this isn’t Livingstone looking for the source of the Zambezi, but I didn’t have as much free time as him, so the goal was a bit smaller: follow the old Minigaig track to Bruar Lodge at the foot of Beinn Dearg then back to Blair Atholl by going down Glens Bruar and Banvie.  This track was the old main route through the hills to Speyside and makes for easy walking 1.   Beinn Dearg is a Munro and this route is the standard approach, but as there was stalking today (and strong winds) we were content to stick to the tracks through the glens and check out the hill for a future visit.

Sun-burst, Banvie Woods

The track starts at Old Blair and follows the Banvie Burn up through some beautiful mixed woodland.  The path emerges onto open moorland that looked lovely in its autumn colours.  We followed the track on the east side of the Glen passed a prominent cairn.  It is pretty desolate here and so a natural place for a series of rain showers to hit us.  After a couple of hours from the start the track reaches the well-kept Allt nan Dearcag bothy where a path branches off for Beinn Dearg.  This made an excellent lunch-stop out of the wind. A new track (not on the OS map) zig-zags up the adjacent Beinn a' Chait and would make an easier way up.

Jazz looking for deer in Glen Bruar

Allt nan Dearcag bothy with Beinn Dearg behind

We continued north along a squelchy path heading for Bruar Lodge near the head of Glen Bruar.  This is an active hunting lodge and today they were in business.  It is an isolated spot that you can rent out and would be ideal for people like me who like a bit of quiet on holiday! It’s also superb for wildlife. As we approached, a small group of Red Deer crossed the path down into the glen. My keen working dog completely missed them until she found their scent five minutes later. Hopeless. Then something caught my eye along the ridge-line: a Golden Eagle soaring along. Without a wing-beat it flew over us and then soared up and away. Hairs-on-back-of-neck time: magical.  That this was my first Goldie in Atholl made it even better and an excellent excuse 2 for a nice celebratory red tonight.

Bruar Water after the dam

Dam on the Bruar Water

Beinn Dearg and Beinn a’ Chait from Glen Bruar

We crossed the Bruar Water at the bridge near the lodge and head south down Glen Bruar.  The river at this point is wide, fast and what you’d hope for in a highland river.  However, after a couple of miles this all ends at a out-of-place concrete dam.  The river simply disappears leaving just a dry, stone-strewn river-bed.  I think this is an intake for the Tummel hydro-power scheme and certainly the outflow pipes are well hidden: the river is completely cut off. Given that this river is the one that eventually goes over the famous Bruar Falls, they must have been so much more impressive before this dam was in place.

Source of the mighty Banvie Burn

Near the old Cuilltemhuc cottage we branch off on the path heading for the head of Glen Banvie. Just as we near Banvie Woods we finally reach our goal for the day: the source of the Banvie Burn.  I’d been building up the expectation for the last hour or two and Jazz was in a frenzy of excitement at the thought of bathing in its magical waters. Cruel of me, but it passes the time. The actuality was a teeny bit less than she’d been expecting – a mossy little pool – and I almost felt sorry as she headed off for a dip.

Glen Bruar

Jazz before her dip

After a conciliatory sandwich her spirits were restored and headed on the good track down the glen between the river and the wood.  This is a lovely wood with a different species of trees at different ages with lots of open areas with heather, blaeberry and  deer grass: so unlike the monotonous forestry of D&G.  It is protected all the way round by high deer fencing that has bamboo markers intertwined to make it visible to low-flying birds such as Black Grouse and Capercaillie.  This combination of ideal habitat and good fencing is obviously paying dividends because half-way down the glen we had a fly-over of 25+ male Black Grouse as they left the wood and flew over to the moorland on the other side of the Glen.  I’ve never seen this many individuals in one go: previously the best was perhaps half-a-dozen at a time. Today this was a spectacular sight and an encouraging one given the serious decline in this species in recent years.

The track re-enters the lovely Banvie Woods for the last few kilometres downhill back to Old Blair. This was a full-day walk through some gorgeous scenery in beautiful autumn light and colours. The sight of a Golden Eagle and so many Black Grouse made a memorable one.  And unlike Livingstone, we found the source of our river!


  1. At least at this stage: it looks a lot harder further north!
  2. As if one were needed!
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