The Great North Road, the A9 Highway slices northwards into the Highlands at Dunkeld and then follows the Rivers Tay and Tummel to Pitlochry before reaching a formidable barrier at Killiecrankie. For centuries the narrow gorge and steep mountain slopes looming large above have provide an engineering challenge for any road builder carving a route north into the Central Highlands and beyond. A tough knot of rock, which forms the sharp peak of nearby Ben Vrackie runs across the River Garry about four miles south of Blair Atholl, causing the river to cut down rather than meander as it does further upstream. The result is the dramatic Pass of Killiecrankie.
Killiecrankie is also an evocative name, jumping out at us from the pages of Scottish history; for it was here in 1689 that the Jacobites (supporters of the exiled king, James VII) led by their inspirational leader, John Graham of Claverhouse defeated the government forces in battle as they sought to recapture Blair Castle. Unfortunately for the cause, Claverhouse was killed at the very end of the skirmish and the cause floundered two weeks later at Dunkeld.
In those days a very rough track made its ponderous way through the defile close to the river; but later road designers, chiefly General Wade chose to place the main route further up the hillside overlooking the gorge and the wide Vale of Atholl beyond. Little changed until the 1990s when a new 4-lane highway was constructed at considerable expense and one of Scotland’s great bottleknecks was by-passed. The village of Killiecrankie then returned to a peace and quiet it had not enjoyed for centuries. Today the detour though the village is worth it; or for the more adventurous the road on the other side of the gorge through Tenandry affords some fantastic views. Chief among them is a stop near the Garry Bridge, where you can look right up the pass to the snow-capped peaks of Beinn a Ghlo. In autumn, when the trees are a blaze of colour there are few places in the country that can dazzle the senses as Killiecrankie.