In the midst of the Jacobite rising of 1689, a government soldier named Donald MacBean found himself on the losing side at the bloody Battle of Killiecrankie. Realising his peril, he fled, crashing down through the wooded Pass of Killiecrankie to meet the churning waters of the River Garry.
With nowhere to go but over, MacBean took a leap of faith, miraculously clearing the 5.5m-wide torrent – so the story goes – before fleeing
These days, those visiting the legendary Soldier’s Leap would be wise not to attempt the same feat. Instead, take a picnic and relish the power of the cataract from the safety of the viewing platform.
Spotted flycatchers and wood warblers can be seen skipping across the rocks in the summer months, and, at dusk, pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats throw shadows through the fading light. By September, the bright, variegated hues of summer are on the wane, allowing the subtler notes of the forest to shine: a huddle of toadstools clinging to the buttressed roots of an old oak; a drilling woodpecker, and a red squirrel on the hunt for nuts and seeds flowing through the forest’s tired rafters like a cinder from the fire.
In Gaelic, the Pass of Killiecrankie – Coille Chneagaidh – translates to ‘wood of shimmering aspen’. It’s an appropriate name, especially at this time of year when the trees are bathed in late-summer light, and one could do much worse than grab a hamper of food from nearby Pitlochry and find a spot by the river to enjoy it. Head to Scottish Deli in Pitlochry’s town centre for cheese, bread, chutney and cooked meats, while Mackenzie’s Bakery offers an array of pies, tarts and cakes.
Soldier’s Leap is a worthy place to lay your picnic blanket, but I prefer the quieter south bank west of Killiecrankie, where the river arches around a mass of bone-white pebbles and into the pass.