Cataran Trail 1
Blairgowrie to Kirkmichael 17 miles
A week off in April saw me take on the Cataran trail, a 60 mile circular walk starting and ending in Blairgowrie. I’d never really walked in this part of the country, so was a little unsure as to what to expect from the trail, and a little dubious as many of the Long Distance Paths in Scotland tend to follow fairly mundane route, keeping to quiet country roads or forest tracks.
I’d decided quite late on to walk this as well, so instead of spending time booking accommodation I used one of the many walking holiday companies to book it for me.
For once I was using the car rather than public transport and was able to leave it at a B&B in Blairgowrie having travelled up the evening before I was due to start, a pleasant drive in fine weather up the M90 then the very attractive A93.
In the B&B I soon discovered my first mistake – I had always pronounced Cateran as “Kate-eran” before arriving in Blairgowrie. It was in no uncertain terms that I found out that the correct way to say Cateran was, well, Cat-eran. That was me told!
The day started with light wispy cloud and the sun shining as I made my way the half mile or so to the start via a sandwich shop. There’s not really a “proper” start as such, so made my way to the fingerpost at the main bridge over the Rover Ericht which proclaimed “The Cataran Trail, River Ericht Walk, Gallery and Antiques”. It was a lovely location, the river burbling away as I set off up the path. It was still early so there were no visitors to the rather impressive looking play park although a number of dog walkers were out making the most of the weather.
The river walk was a delight, although the path is officially closed due to a landslip and a rather roundabout diversion set up. As I pondered whether or not to proceed a couple of dog walkers passed through. Judging by the state of the protective fence, the “closure” was routinely ignored by the locals. It was a case of “sod this” and I passed through as well. I guess it was pretty much an arse covering exercise by the council to avoid liability if the path (which seemed fairly stable) did collapse.
Incidentally, I’m not in any way suggesting that the path is completely safe – if you pass through it is entirely at your own risk (as it was for me).
That said, it was worth it. The woodland was teeming with birdlife, Chaffinch , Coal Tits, Yellowhammer and Wrens amongst others. At one point I even spotted a couple of deer on the slope above the river. The woodland floor was carpeted in wild garlic, all just about ready to burst into flower. A couple of view points over the river were essential diversions, the exposed rocks and trickle of water through Cargill’s Leap and a salmon observation platform bringing home just how dry it had been over the winter.
The riverside path then passed through several ruined mills, eerily overgrown, a legacy of Blairgowrie’s Jute and Flax industry.
Leaving the mills behind I started to climb up a quiet road and views began to open up over the river and Rattray. I turned off the road onto a farm track which continued to rise gently. Views were opening up of the mountains to the north, many of which were getting a bit of a pasting from the black clouds which were looming over them. There was a lot of snow on some as well, suggesting that as I headed north things could get a little interesting.
A section passed through fields, emerging on to a quiet road which climbed through a farm onto open moorland. Here I encountered the first of a series of carved waymarker posts, part of the Cataran Geotrail. This was an old drove road, dead straight and a little boggy in places. Most importantly it was a change in character, something that was to become a feature of the trail. This path led down to Bridge of Cally and the point at which the trail splits. The signpost said 5.5 miles to Blairgowrie and 8 to Kirkmichael. I wasn’t convinced as my GPS was reading 7 miles, even with the walk from the B&B and the short diversions I’m sure I hadn’t covered an extra mile & a half.
There was another change of character here. I was on a forest track and climbing through pine plantations – Blackcraig Forest. Unusually some of these were very pleasant having been thinned extensively and allowed to mature. Just goes to prove that pine forest can occasionally be attractive. Normality did return though with thicker newer plantations further along the path. Suddenly I burst from the trees and I found myself looking out over Strathardle with super views North and South.
The route now interchanged between path, road and track, undulating along the lower slopes of the Glen. The area is surprisingly well populated with many isolated clusters of houses. The character was constantly changing, passing through fields, woodland and forest, then eventually out onto open moorland. Here it was hard work, with rough eroded and muddy paths. The wispy cloud of the morning had given way to the slightly more threatening variety and I was being subjected to an occasional (thankfully) gentle shower. The sun was, however, hanging on in there in between.
Passing a small loch a sign said “Kirkmichael 2 miles”. My GPS was reading 15 – 8 miles more than the 7 it had been reading back at Bridge of Cally. I was beginning to think that the official distances on this walk were a load of bollocks (even allowing for errors with the GPS)! I was nearly crying.
The path returned to track, then as I was nearing Kirkmichael it turned into a hellish farm track that was loose stone – utter purgatory for sore feet. Eventually I made it to the village, and my stop for the night – the Kirkmichael Hotel. I have to admit, I was bloomin’ knackered.
Day Rating 9/10
Super varied days walk. Lovely river walk, moorland, forest and farmland. Nothing spectacular, but a really enjoyable day, despite being very tired by the end. Lots of wildlife and plenty of interest – the day completely exceeded my expectations.