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Cataran Trail 5

Alyth to Blairgowrie (via the Den O’Alyth) 7 miles 

Alyth

My original plan had been to walk the “official” route over Alyth hill to Bridge of Cally and from there back to Blairgowrie, a walk of some 17 miles or so.  I had even booked an extra night in Blairgowrie to allow for a later finish.  In the end I decided to use the shorter and more direct alternative, A because I was knackered and couldn’t really face 17 miles and B because there were some family issues going on that I really should have been back home for (everything turned out fine).

Remains of church

What this meant was a leisurely start as there were no time pressures to get away, although I was still on the road by 9.  Although the alternative route is way marked, it wasn’t particularly well signed, and with it not being marked on O.S. maps I had to do a little bit of guesswork.

Leaving the Den O’Alyth

In the end it was fairly simple – the Den o’Alyth was lovely, although busy with dog walkers.  The trees were just beginning to show leaf and combined with the fine morning there was a lovely green tinge to the light filtering its way through the trees.

All to soon the woodland walk came to an end to be replaced by another road walk, climbing steadily from Bridge of Tully with views opening out behind me towards Alyth.  The road turned sharp left and the trail continued straight on into a large forest plantation.  There were way markers here, but these were for forest walks rather than the Cateran Trail.  They did mark the correct trail though.

Most of the trees here were conifer plantation, with the occasional stand of broadleaf trees appearing.  There were numerous clearings, in one of which I disturbed a Red Kite which took off as quickly as its rather ungainly flight would let it (too quick to get the camera out!).

Hungry Thrush

A couple of large ponds had some bird life on them, a swan was swimming about in the distance.  Then, on the path a Thrush was getting stuck into something (a worm possibly?).  It wasn’t keen on moving as I approached, eventually flying up to a branch next to the path where it posed patiently for me to take a couple of photos.  After moving on I turned round and it had returned to its meal on the ground.

Sun and Rain

There was forestry work going on here as well meaning that the path was diverted (although there didn’t seem to be any work going on as the forest was relatively silent).  It looked as if most of the work was thinning rather than clear felling which will make the forest quite a pleasant place to walk through.  There were a couple of places where the machines had crossed the path making things a little muddy, but on the whole it wasn’t too bad.

At one point there was a lovely moment with the sun shining through the trees reflecting the rain that was now falling steadily.  The effect was quite beautiful.

Shortly after this the forest track ended with a Cateran Trail marker!  This was the last leg as I turned on a minor road to Blairgowrie.  Here there were good views over Glen Ericht and in the distance were the now familiar hills that had been in view after leaving Blairgowrie a few days ago.  As I got closer to the town the trail even became visible on the other side of the Glen and I was able to trace the route from my vantage point.

Crossing the Ericht

Soon I was back in Blairgowrie and crossing the Ericht by the old mills to rejoin the riverside path that I had set out on 4 days before, to get to the finish.  From there it was a short step to the Wetherspoons for a short celebration and lunch before the walk back to the car which had been left at my B&B.

Day Rating 9/10

Short but very enjoyable little walk with some good views and interesting wildlife.  A nice enough alternative finish to the trail, although a little short.  I suppose that if you wanted a longer day without walking the 17 miles one could walk to Bridge of Cally and get a bus/taxi back to Blairgowrie to avoid retracing your steps (would that be cheating?)

Overall Rating 45/50 (90%)

A superb trail that passed all my expectations with flying colours.  It had everything – river walks, moorland, mountains, rolling countryside, wildlife and more.  The route is constantly under development so I would expect improvements in the future as well.  Trail walking in Scotland often ends up too reliant on roads, forest tracks and old railway beds but this had a really nice balance.  The scenery was so varied and there were few places that became boring.  That said there was the occasional section that became a bit of a trudge, but they can be forgiven.

This has been my 6th Scottish Trail and it beats the rest hands down – including the West Highland Way – it’s far quieter too.  I have a suspicion that it will be difficult to better this in Scotland too.  A super middle distance trail that has loads to offer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cataran Trail 4

Kirkton of Glenisla to Alyth 11 miles 

Leaving Glenisla

I’d had a pleasant evening in the bar the previous evening with a couple of other walkers – although just before retiring for the evening I was accosted by a farmer (although I’m not really sure whether he was telling the truth – he claimed to be an airline pilot at first) who started a pretty impressive rant about beavers (the furry variety – not the Scouting Association version).   I sat there pretty much open mouthed before excusing myself and heading up to the room.

Bouncy Bridge

Breakfast was superb, again and at the rather civilised time of 9 a.m. I made my way out into the fine sunny morning.  It was a short walk along the road to a rather bouncy suspension bridge across the river Isla.  Here the path started to climb quite steeply, over boggy ground at first, up to Cairn Hill.  Soon the village was nestled below in a quite wonderful setting.  The views to the north were superb and I lingered a while enjoying them from a rocky outcrop where the ground levelled out.  This was a really enjoyable section of path, across moorland then onto a meandering route through the attractive Whitehill Wood.  Coming out the woodland I paused for a moment to watch a farmer moving some sheep across the path.

River Isla

It was downhill now, losing some of the height gained from the initial climb, to a farm track which was still high above the river.  For a while it was a pleasant stroll along typical gravel tracks, eventually turning to road.  Gradually the views dissipated and the route passed through thick forest plantation turning the walk into a bit of a trudge.  Meanwhile the blue sky was being replaced by plenty of grey marching cloud.

As I passed an old school house the rain (and hail) started to fall, forcing me to adorn my waterproof jacket.  Finally the path left the road and started to rise through fields chock full of sheep finally reaching a green path.  The views had opened up again, and some of the hills to the north were now covered in thick snow.  The rain was heavy now, but the lane was surrounded by mature trees providing at least a little cover.

Pleasant woodland

The track then started a soggy climb up the lower slopes of Knaptam Hill, a route which seemed a little unnecessary as it could easily have contoured round the field to end up at a stile at another track.  Here a large group of deer thundered across the fence close by and quickly vanished up onto Ardormie Hill.

The undulating path had once again become enjoyable, helped somewhat by the cloud beginning to break and some blue sky poking through.  The river Isla, which the path had pretty much followed from the start of the day, had left it’s glen and was now in more open country below, a distinct change from the semi-mountainous terrain I had walked through the previous couple of days.  The landscape was softer and more rolling here making a nice contrast to the pretty spectacular landscapes further north.  The track took a sharp turn onto a farm access road for around a mile or so, dead straight and a bit of a trudge.  Eventually the route became a green lane, the gate sporting a rather unique warning of “wild boar loose on Alyth Hill”.  At least it meant I was nearing my destination!

The Hill of Alyth loomed up before me, and I have to say that I was quite glad that the route passed between it and Hill of Loyal, meaning that there wasn’t to be another steep climb right at the end of the day.  Suddenly Alyth was spread out below and it was simply a case of walking the last mile or so downhill to the town centre and hotel.

Day Rating 8/10

Great start and pretty decent end to the day.  The centre section was a bit of a boring trudge with more road walking than I would have liked.  It all started so promisingly with a great climb and enjoyable walk high above the River Isla.  Still a decent day with plenty to enjoy.

Approaching Alyth

 

 

 

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Cataran Trail 3

Spittal of Glenshee to Kirkton of Glenisla 14 miles 

Look South over Glen Shee

I had a very enjoyable evening at the hotel, chatting to a some fellow walkers, a group of four who were a day ahead of me and who had been really enjoying the walk so far.

I met them at breakfast again as I had to wait for my transfer back to Glenshee, not arriving there until 10 o’clock.  Much later than I would usually start for a walk of 14 miles.

Isolated farm in the Glen

I quickly sorted out my gear and crossed the A93, and was soon on a rough farm track climbing towards an isolated farm.  More importantly, I had turned “the corner” and was now heading in a Southerly(ish) direction.  The path hadn’t gained much height, but just enough to give fine views of the hills to north  (many of them with a heavy dusting of snow), and Glen Shee which I was now walking down.

The way South

The route maintained its height while meandering round buildings and rocks, varying between track and grassy path, sometimes walking through open fields with copious numbers of sheep.  Surprisingly there were a large number of Gulls resident here, often whizzing about on the wind performing acrobatics.  There was also a large number of Oystercatcher (one of which seemed to be trying to make me dizzy by flying round me in a circle – I guess I was near a nest) and the occasional Curlew.

The scenery was constantly changing, as was the weather, clouds zipping overhead and bringing the odd short, sharp shower.  Thankfully the wind was up meaning the broken cloud and the showers passed on quickly.

This whole section was a joy to walk with mostly easy dry path, few stiles (apart from a couple of ladder stiles) and super views.  I even took the opportunity to climb away from the path to sit and rest on some rocks with clear views up and down the Glen.  The only problem place was where the path circled round an outdoor education centre – the field had been grazed by cattle and churned into a swamp in places – it was, however, the exception and not the rule.

Looking back

A plethora of signs at a very stony and eroded track marked the edge of the Dalnaglar estate and also the start of quite a long road walk.  In truth, for once it was a bit of a relief to get on the road and it was quite pleasant once I had turned onto the main B road towards Glenisla.

Red Deer

There were consistently good views down the Glen, and I got a huge bonus when a large herd of Red Deer appeared on the slopes of the hills right in front of me.  Just before Forter Castle a way marker was pointing the wrong way – some wag must have turned it round – but I continued past the castle and over a bridge with a post box embedded in it – pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Forter Castle

Here the trail left the road and started to climb a forest track up the side of Glen Isla, turning North once more and once again I was treated to some great views of the mountains to the North.  This led up to open moorland, Auchintaple Loch laid out below glittering blue as the sky had cleared once again.

Looking into Glen Isla

All the height that I had gained was almost immediately lost as the route turned from the main track and headed into some Pine Forest.  There was some work going on here thinning trees and in places the track was a little muddy.  Down to the loch side it went, then through relatively new plantation – here it looked like a mixture of Scots Pine and native species.  The forest track led almost to Loch Shandra, but then took to a muddy route through moorland.

Heading North again

I stop for a while to chat with a dog walker at a picnic bench.  As we are talking there is a neat little bonus to end the day.  An Osprey was flying over head scanning the Loch.  We weren’t lucky enough to see it fishing as after a few minutes if flew off over the hills and out of sight.  From there it was another mile or so to the hotel, which I was glad to see

Close to Loch Shandra

Day Rating 10/10

Blurry Osprey!

Best day by far.  Great views, ever changing scenery and bags of wildlife.  Even the road walking was an enjoyable experience!

The end at last!

 

 

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Cataran Trail 2

Kirkmichael to Spittal of Glenshee 9 miles 

A relatively short day which would see the trail attain its high point at An Lairig above Spittal of Glenshee.

Due to the shorter distance I had a later start taking a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, not needing to be on the road until 10 o’clock.  The sky was overcast and ominous, but so far had remained dry.  Despite the extra time in the morning, I had still managed to put my gaiters on the wrong feet and was struggling to remember as to whether or not I had packed my phone and watch into the rucksack.  Senility is definitely kicking in.  All this meant that I hadn’t even managed to leave Kirkmichael before taking off the pack, switching the gaiters to the correct feet and ascertaining that yes, I had in fact packed the phone and watch.

Muddy track through woods

Finally getting under way I passed through the remainder of the village, having to double check the route where a fingerpost pointed to a “riverside walk”.  A confirmation waymarker here would have been very useful (only a small gripe as it had constantly been superb).

Attractive Pine Forest

The path stayed high above the river giving good views to the North and South.  Eventually the track I was on petered out at an isolated cottage, the route passing through a kissing gate into some woodland.  The route was now soggy and muddy as I passed through the trees, changing between broadleaf to pine and back.  A rustling caught my attention during a short rest on a bench, and a Red Squirrel popped out the trees close by.  As is usual for these situations, by the time the camera was out and ready the squirrel had disappeared back into the trees.  This was a magical place – the air was perfectly still and was filled with delectable bird song  – I could’ve sat there all day listening to it.

Leaving the trees behind

Once again the path passed through pine forest, extensively thinned with plenty of light getting through. More attractive pine forest.  What’s the world coming to?  A sign, slightly off the path, caught my attention.   Curiosity getting the better of me I wandered over to find it was warning of archery – I couldn’t help but imagine a group of Kilted outlaws bursting out of the trees a la Robin Hood.

Close to Enochdhu

Suddenly I was out of the trees, the hills to the North almost on top of me.  Passing a large house the path then crossed over an old bridge to the tiny village of Enochdhu.  Crossing a main road the path immediately started to climb, passing gardens which open to the public during the summer.  I was half hoping there might be a small cafe, but everything was well and truly shut, not opening for at least another few weeks.  There were a couple of Peacocks strutting their stuff along with a few nags being put out to pasture!

The trail was climbing steadily now, past Home Farm and out on to open moorland.  It wasn’t long after this that a heavy sleet began to fall making the crossing of the rather large ladder stile into Calamanach Wood somewhat treacherous.  In contrast to earlier, this was now everything I hate about forest plantations.  It was an uphill slog through densely packed spruce with very little to break the monotony.  On the flip side, there were a number of odd  small lean-to’s by the side of the path, and I eventually relented and sheltered in one for a while.  It was a little snug, with not enough room to stand up in, and just about enough room to keep the sack in.

The weather was closing in

The sleet was turning to snow, and getting heavier, so eventually I had to relent and just carry on.  Finally, via another ladder stile, the forest was left behind and I was once again walking in open moorland – this time with a distinct mountainous flavour – steadily climbing towards a rather white looking summit.  This was bleak, brooding and quite simply stunning country.  Seemingly out of nowhere the upper lunch hut appeared from round a corner.  As I arrived two other walkers (the first I had seen since leaving Blairgowrie) were just leaving – a Dutch couple who were on their first walking holiday in Scotland.  I stopped for a while in the hut, signing the visitors book and reading the graffiti that adorned most of the surfaces on the inside.

Open moorland at last!

From here the path became steeper, wetter and muddier, not helped by the copious amount of snow that was now lying on the ground.  On the flip side this gave me plenty of opportunity to rest and admire the view back towards Enochdhu.  Eventually I made the top the pass, passing through a gate with the rather optimistic sign suggesting that Spittal of Glenshee was a mere 20 minutes away.  Aye right!

Passing over the top (in a blizzard), the path began to descend steeply and after only 50m or so I was below the cloud and the snow line.  All at once the cloud cleared and I was left with a fantastic view of the hills to the North of Glenshee which would last almost all the way down to the village.  The weather had changed so much that I had to put the sunglasses on.  Needless to say, I took my time enjoying the descent – one of the highlights of the trail.

Inside the Lunch Hut

Unfortunately the Inn in the village had recently burnt down, meaning that there was nowhere for refreshments open, or accommodation.  This meant I had a transfer to my accommodation at Kirkton of Glenisla where I would be spending two nights.

The cloud breaks

 

Day Rating 9/10

Spittal of Glenshee

Despite the short distance this was a varied walk of two halves.  A lovely 1st half through old woodland with plenty of wildlife followed by an enjoyable climb to the high point.  The only let down being the boring forest walk through Calamanach Wood, which didn’t really last that long.

 

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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!

Leaving the start

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.

River Viewpoint

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).

View over the Ericht

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.

Yellowhammer

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.

Carved Waymark

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.

View up Strathardle

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.

Pine Forest

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.

The hills to the North getting a pasting

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.

Open Moorland

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.

Waterfall

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.

Rainbow

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