Peering over the infamous Soldier’s Leap I wonder if I’d have been able to vault the precipitous gap with a gaggle of hulking Jacobites baying for my blood. All around gnarly rocks offer no respite. The only way is across the yawning gap of Killiecrankie Gorge or straight down into the foaming black waters of the River Garry. Yep, today I’m testing myself with a round-robin tour of Highland Perthshire, the UK’s number one adventure sports playground.
It always amazes me when I see British travellers jetting off to the likes of Austria, Switzerland or even New Zealand in search of wild adventure. They could be saving themselves an expensive flight by nipping up to Scotland instead, where Highland Perthshire offers a deeply dramatic wildscape alive with every daft and terrifying active sport imaginable, from hiking and mountain biking, through to whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. Basically the only problem is deciding what to do, so you know what? I decided to try a bit of everything – in a bone-crunching couple of days in the great outdoors.
This part of Perthshire could have been sculpted with the needs of adventure tourists in mind – an epic region where sweeping mountain ranges rise up from silvery lochs and surging rivers rampage their way through a landscape which hosts more deer than people. Indeed this is a heartland for red deer – the largest land mammal in the UK – as well as rare red squirrels, black grouse and golden eagles.
The area around Aberfeldy and Pitlochry is easily accessible by car and is home to a smorgasbord of adventure sports companies, including Highland Safaris, who hosted my first endeavour. After lunch in their lovely wee café, we set off into the wilderness by Land Rover on little used tracks that become rougher and rougher the deeper we go. The company offer myriad options, whether you just want to just sit back and take it all in, or are game for challenging yourself with a more hands-on stint at the wheel.
Another established adventure operator, Nae Limits, specializes in water-bound activities like kayaking and whitewater rafting, and, er, river tubing – a great option as anyone can get the hang of it in seconds. After being kitted out in all the neoprene gear and a quick safety briefing we got straight into the water in giant rubber rings to take on a run of rapids and rough water – exhilarating stuff, interspersed with easier stretches where we could appreciate the scenery too. Splash Rafting offer similar types of activites from their old petrol station base, and they take me deep up Keltney Burn for a taste of canyoning, the next hour disappearing in a whirl of bashing across slippery rocks, tumbling down waterfalls and diving into the peaty waters from a volley of cliffs. The last jump is from a cliff that gazes down at the burn from a lofty perch higher than my two-storey house.
Next up a mercifully dry experience, quad biking with Scottish Quads – though not the easy scream around a muddy field that is the stuff of stag parties but bashing over rock slabs and boulders as you tackle the unlikely task of hauling your machine right up the side of a craggy hill. If that sounds too much like hard work, you could opt for a more traditional adventure, maybe tackling one of the region’s rich bounty of Munros (mountains over 3000ft or 914m) with Atholl Estates, yomping up the flank of the mighty Carn a’ Chlamain and experiencing snow showers, hail and spells of brilliant life affirming sunshine in one aftrrnoon. Limbs straining, our hearts and souls pumping, we made the summit and sat in silence living entirely in the moment. Bliss – and there's nothing like a wee dram when you feel like you've worked hard for it.