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Day 3

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 Craigiellachie to Ballindalloch 12m

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Well preserved Aberlour station and visitors centre

Firstly, let me say that staying at the Highlander was an experience – a very enjoyable one.  The owner is Japanese and, for want of a better description, is a whisky nut.  Almost every square inch of wall in the bar was covered by whisky bottles, mostly Scotch, but also some award winning Japanese whisky – apparently their distillers are some of the finest in the world.

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Anyway, when in Rome and all that.  As I was nursing my beer a bottle of Craigellachie 29 year old caught my eye.  I’m not really a whisky drinker, but this was sublime – I could be converted yet.  The highlight of the evening was an American couple appearing in the bar and asking (bearing in mind that we were in the heart of whisky country) if they had any Irish Whiskey.

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Small station for a distillery

There were also comprehensive whisky tasting menus, with around six different types to sample per “flight”, ranging from common malts to unusual rare (and rather expensive) examples.  A good excuse to head back there at some point!

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Best view of the day when crossing the bridge at Carron

We started out under a murderous sky, fearing the worst after seeing the terrible weather forecast that morning.  There were one or two drops of rain early on, but nothing serious as we headed for Aberlour.  We were close to the river here and would be criss crossing it all day on the old track bed.  We were gently climbing all the time, and the path was pleasant enough without being particularly exciting.  There were lots of nice little old railway details from time to time, including the remarkably well preserved station at Aberlour.  The station also doubled as the Speyside Way visitors centre – shut for the winter unfortunately.

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A rare glimpse through the trees

The path passed into a heavily wooded area as we left Aberlour and began a long steady climb which seemed to go on forever.  I’m not a great fan of railway paths, and this one was not much different.  Distilleries would appear thick and fast close by and occasionally the trees would give way to a view or two to break the monotony.

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Another well preserved station

One of the best views was where the path crossed the Spey, an unusual set up where the railway and road shared the same bridge close to Carron distillery, one that looked as if it had recently reopened.

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Preserved signal box

Having crossed the river we were now high above it.  There were occasionally tantalising glimpses through the trees that promised much.  Ironically, these views were probably better at this time of year due to the lack of foliage.  Dare I say that a bit of thinning along the path might improve things greatly.  Once again though the woodland floors were carpeted with bluebells – a springtime walk might just be a little more rewarding.

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Soggy path stretching into the distance

The shining light of the day were the lovingly preserved stations along the route, giving rise to bags of nostalgia, especially the well preserved station building (now a visitor centre for the distillery) and signal box at Tamdhu.

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A little less well preserved station

The poor weather that had been predicted hadn’t materialised which helped greatly.  There were a couple of soul destroying moments where the line just stretched away into the distance.  At times the track was quite muddy, a stamina sapping gloop which made finding traction somewhat difficult.

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An impressive girder bridge, recrossing the river at Cragganmore marked the wind down point for the day.  There was a walkers campsite here, with basic facilities, although the former bunkhouse in the station building had closed to become a private residence.

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This was also the point at which the longer spur route to Tomintoul split from the main route which we were missing out on this occasion.  From here it was a short walk to our B&B for the evening, a lovely victorian house which was a real time capsule.

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Day Rating 7/10

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A very generous score for the day, it just scrapes it for the old railway interest which added a lot to the day.  A section of walk that promises much but is a very frustrating experience, so many places that had obscured views.  There were quite a few interpretation boards along the route as well adding to the interest.  A bit of thinning of the “trackside” vegetation would improve things markedly.  Overall a bit of a trudge which we were glad to see the back of.

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Day 2

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Rainbow

Fochabers to Craigiellachie 13.2m

A very pleasant evening had been spent in Fochabers, at the Gordon Arms Hotel.  A comfortable room, was complimented by a bar with a roaring fire and some good beer – all that a walker could possibly want.  The place was quiet, again understandably so, but there was a spattering of reps and workmen staying there, giving the bar a pleasant buzz.

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Spectacular but moody morning

The forecast for the day was somewhat mixed, although a spectacular red sky greeted us as we set off from the hotel back to the route.  From the early planning stage, I’d been dreading this section, as the first half of the day was a relatively long road walk along a country lane, pretty much right from the start.

The route meandered its way through the town eventually reaching the road after following a number of green lanes round the local school (note: it looks as if the route has changes slightly here – possibly a section that had suffered bad erosion reinstated, reducing the road walk by 1km or so).

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Double rainbow

Once on the road we began a steady climb and soon there were some fabulous views to be had over the Spey Valley.  The wind was up and rain in the air also, with broken cloud.  This provided us with a quite phenomenal double rainbow at one point.

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The road was quiet and ran high above the river, for once a road walk was becoming an enjoyable experience.  A viewpoint was marked on the map, slightly (but not too far) off route, the Earth Pillars.  We made the short diversion through some more attractive woodland (although in the wind some of the trees were making rather alarming creaking noises) to the view point, high above the Spey.  I’m still not exactly sure what the Earth Pillars were supposed to be, but the view was certainly worth the extra effort.

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Viewpoint

Returning to the road there was an immediate steep drop and climb to cross a small valley, leaving both of us breathless and panting on the way up.  On reaching the top a light drizzle started.  Occasional superb and moody views would appear as the road meandered through and along side plantations, high above the river valley.

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Steeper than it looks

The spectacular light and rainbow display had given way to a grey day, the light drizzle gradually getting heavier – the kind of rain that permeates everything – enforcing the donning of the waterproofs.  Despite this, it was turning into a remarkably enjoyable walk.

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View from the road

Eventually the road starting descending via a series of tight hairpins into Boat o’ Brig which marked the halfway point of the day.  We stopped a while to shelter under the impressive railway bridge that we had crossed on our journey to Buckie, the large arch providing a few minutes respite from the rain.

There was a change in character here as the route left the road and we climbed up some steps to a farm track where we were promptly passed by several land rovers, before turning up a green lane along with a sign warning that stock was being herded if the gate was closed.  Fortunately it was open.  The lane climbed steadily, emerging at a remote hamlet at Bridgeton.  The path skirted a shooting range, complete with flag poles which would warn if firing was in progress.  It was very tempting to hoist a pair of used shred dies up the pole and leave them there!

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The muddy track was skirting the edge of a large forest, and the gradual climb was proffering up some fine, if rather misty and damp, views.  Eventually the forest closed in both sides as we climbed, the path turned into a grassy track chock full of bluebells.  Even in mid winter it was lovely, in spring it would be spectacular.  The incline was getting steeper and eventually emerged on a wide forest track which us up to a quite fantastic view point, the high point both literally and metaphorically of the day.  Unfortunately the rain had turned to sleet here and more importantly it was (as we say in Scotland) absolutely chankin.

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The weather closing in

The view, however, was stunning.  Looking north right up the Spey Valley over the river and in the distance just visible through the murk was Spey Bay.

Even with gloves on my hands were like blocks of ice, not helped by the biting wind that had gradually picked up as we gained height.  Fortunately it was downhill virtually all the way to Craigellachie.  With the rather inhospitable weather we weren’t hanging around.  The trees at times helped buffer us from the wind, and it wasn’t too long before I regained some semblance of feeling in my fingers.  Even better, after a while the rain stopped allowing us to dry out a little.

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Much of the forest was again Scots Pine, and where extensive thinning had taken place the woodland was a very attractive.  Open spaces and light makes such a difference from the regiments of trees crammed in in straight lines.  Pine forest really can be very attractive!  As we neared the river again the constantly descending forest track gave way to road, a pleasant enough, but not particularly memorable trudge all the way to Craigellachie.  Being rather soggy we were keen on getting to the end of the day!

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Bluebell lined path

Eventually a bridge over the River Fiddich (a small tributary of the Spey) marked our arrival in Craigellachie, along with a fabulous wooden sculpture of a salmon.  Here there was another change to the path character as we emerged in a carpark that sat on the location of the old town station.  The next day was to be a walk along the old Speyside Railway.

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View from the high point

From here it was a short (and rather muddy) walk along the old track bed to our accommodation for the night, the Highlander Inn, which had access right on to the path.

A warm welcome and a pint were most gratefully received before heading up to a quite superb comfortable (and spacey) room.

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Close to Craigellachie

Day Rating 8/10

A very soggy and at certain points cold day which took nothing away from what was a very enjoyable walk.  The anticipation of a long road walk at the start of the day had me dreading this one, but it was very enjoyable with superb views over the Spey.  A picnic bench marked the high point of the day – in summer this would be a lovely spot to sit and savour the view – in late November with it blowing a hoolie, not so much.  Still, thoroughly enjoyable and expectations exceeded.

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Day 1

 

Buckie to Fochabers 10.5m

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At the start

So…it seems I have a bit of a backlog to update, the first being the Speyside Way walked in December 2015.

It may seem a bit of an odd choice for that time of year, but this was a relatively easy low level walk.  My father had had open heart surgery earlier in the year to replace a valve, and this was his first attempt at getting back in the saddle.

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The Moray Coast

We were walking North to South, starting in Buckie and walking to Aviemore, missing out the new extension from Aviemore which had been opened a couple of months earlier.  We would also be missing out the two spur routes, concentrating on the main line, so to speak.

I’d booked all the accommodation myself after researching hotels and B&B’s on the net, the main requirement being that they were actually open in December!  Our first stop was the Marine Hotel in Buckie after an epic journey from Glasgow.  First the train to Elgin, changing at Stirling and Aberdeen, then a bus ride to Buckie, finishing (unsurprisingly) in the dark.

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Deceptively calm in Portgordon

We disembarked from the bus a little early into a relatively balmy December evening  In the end we didn’t have too far to walk to the hotel, nestled in amongst a number of seafood processing plants which were right on the water.  The room was comfortable enough, but there was a real “Blackpool” feel to the Hotel (if you have ever stayed at a Blackpool Hotel you’ll know what I mean).  We were the only ones in residence, adding to the odd atmosphere, although one or two people did filter in for a meal as we sat and ate in the restaurant, already decorated for Christmas.

Not having much else to do, we went for a wander round the town to find the start, have a look at the christmas lights, and more importantly attempt to find a decent pint.  One out of three wasn’t bad – we saw the christmas lights (“Seasons Greetings from Buckie” being the absolute highlight)!  After a short wander, and a rather awkward pint in one of the pubs in the local square we retired back to the hotel.  Listening carefully you could almost hear the sound of “duelling banjo’s” in the background.  Almost…

I’m probably being a tad unfair to the place – nowhere is really going to be at its best on a late November evening!

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On track

With only ten and a half miles to walk we had late start after a leisurely breakfast in a morning that was more akin to an early autumn day than mid-winter.  It was only a short walk to the official start, easily missed, which we had wandered past in the dark the previous evening, completely oblivious to its existence.  The start itself was marked by a couple of information boards and a rather attractive stone “gate” in a small park, close to the “Seasons Greetings from Buckie” lights.

The first part of the day was a very enjoyable walk along the coast, firstly through what looked like an old fishing village, the cottages surrounding streets that led directly down to the water.  Here you could almost imagine the small fishing boats hauled up on the beach, and the nets layer out to dry in front of the cottages.  If not for the modern cars it could easily have been a scene from the 19th century.

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View from the railway path

As we reached the western edge of Buckie we stopped for a chat with a couple of locals, one of which pointed out a pod of dolphins that were just a short distance off the coast.  It took a moment to spot them, but once seen their grey bodies, around 6 or 7 of them, appeared with a regular rhythm from the water.  They were heading in our direction and seemingly keeping pace with us.  A very enjoyable way to start a new walk.

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Through the woods

The quaint cottages gave way to a stony shingle beach, a bit hard on the feet, until Portgordon, another pretty (although a bit gloomy in the grey morning) little village, this one with its own harbour.  The wind was up also and with the tide in, we were treated to a rather spectacular display of water crashing off the sea wall.  It wasn’t a place to hang around, mainly to avoid being drenched in salt water!

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The Ice House

Once through Portgordon the route took to the old railway line, a pleasant and grassy walk over typical “links” ground.  Old telegraph insulators were still visible under some of the old bridges, the wires and poles all long since gone.

Abruptly the railway path ended, the old line pressing straight on under a bridge clogged with gorse and other prickly shrubs.  We entered a conifer plantation, with plenty of wind blow.  There was also a smell here, coming from a landfill site, the constant drone of engines and irritating beeps of reversing vehicles entering our world for a while as the path skirted it.  The noise quickly abated, the smell lingered a while, but this became another pleasant meander through what was, in fact, some very pretty, if a little thick, forest.

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The Osprey

After what seemed like an age we burst out of the Pine Wood into Spey Bay.  There had been a hotel here, which was now apparently being redeveloped for residential use, which was a great disappointment (it would have been perfect for lunch), but a sign pointed us in the direction of the Golf Course Club House which was a very satisfactory alternative.  They are very welcoming to walkers and have a pretty good menu too.

At the mouth of the Bay, the Scottish Dolphin Centre was (unsurprisingly) shut, although we did get a few good photos of the huge ice houses, and a quite wonderful statue of an Osprey.

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Looking across the Bay

The Bay itself was stunning, a place to linger during the summer – not so much on a dull winters day though.  Here our westward march ended, and we turned south, following the river separated from us initially by scrubby (and very soggy looking) woodland.  On the other side were fields of long harvested wheat or corn, the stubble tall and bleached.  Deer were hiding in amongst the stubble, almost invisible with their coats blending in perfectly with their surroundings.

There were a few more folk around here too, runners and dog walkers out making the most of the weather on the grassy track.  The route would take to the river bank occasionally, but any views were prevented by the substantial flood bank, although at one point I did climb to the top just to get a photo!  Overhead there was interest too, large flocks of geese noisily passing on their way to (or from) feeding grounds.

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Sun starting to set in Warren Wood

We passed into Warren Wood, which provided us with one of those special moments.  Made up mostly of Scots Pine, it was lovely and open.  The sky had cleared and dusk was on its way, early in the afternoon.  With the sun low in the sky we were treated to a wonderful show of light, the rosy bark of the Pine almost glowing luminously.

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Lovely Scots Pine

It was here that a passing runner stopped and surprised us both by saying that she was a follower of the blog.  Apologies – firstly I don’t think we got your name – and secondly for taking so long in finally getting round to writing this.  Thanks for reading! (I’ve got a lot of catching up to do).

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Finally by the river

On reaching a road, a rather rude intrusion to what had been a very peaceful walk, the Scots Pine gave way to Beech and ground that was swathed in bluebells.  Come the spring the woodland must be an amazing sight.  With the sun setting we passed under the road bridges that marked the edge of Fochabers, for the first time actually walking along the bank of the river.  Sand Martin burrows marked the opposite bank and there were some fine views across the river before the path turned away and we made our way to the hotel.

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Reaching Fochabers

Day Rating 7/10

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A very enjoyable first day (especially the latter half), without being spectacular.  Highlights were the dolphins, Spey Bay and the Pine forest (something that would become a feature of the trail).  Loads of wildlife too.  A good start to the trail which exceeded expectations comfortably.

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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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