Walk Report: Cateran ‘Mini’ Trail

I decided a week or so ago that I’d like to do a decent overnighter, but I didn’t really want it to be that close to home. After a bit of searching, I found that there was a small overnighter on the Cateran Trail, called the mini trail. It’s only a 20 mile walk, but covers some of the best scenery of the trail as a whole – so I figured I’d give it a go.
I had a bit of a long weekend booked for this weekend, so decided I’d do the walk on Friday & Saturday.
Not surprisingly, as is normally the case when I make plans for an overnighter, the weather forecast got progressively worse as the weekend approached.
I made the decision to stick to the route, but rather than camp overnight in the tent, as I had originally planned, I’d spend the Friday night at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel. As I’d be staying in a hotel on the Friday night, instead of in a tent, it gave Janie the opportunity to join me after she finished work on the Friday night, and to walk with me on the Saturday.

Friday

Friday started a bit dull, and to be honest – it didn’t improve much, either!

I arrived at Kirkmichael just after 11am, with the car park situated right next to the lovely bridge over the river (shown below). I have to admit, as the car park isn’t shown on my map, I was a little worried on the drive up about how easy it would be to find a reasonable parking place.

Bridge at Kirkmichael

The car park was also, luckily, just about 20m from the Cateran Trail, so it didn’t take long to get going. The walk between Kirkmichael and Enochdhu was quite nice. It started along a farm track, then after a bit, started through some woodland. At first, it started with a bit of native birch woodland (shown below), but after a while, moved into some loose plantation woodland. During the birch phase, it felt truly alive with early spring birds. You just can’t beat the sound of Robins, Chaffinches, Song Thrushes and the like, singing away. I also managed to hear a Jay calling, which is always good to hear.

Woodland between Kirkmichael and Enochdhu

Although the plantation woodland isn’t as good for biodiversity in itself, it is good for approaching things unaware. Just as I was approaching the exit from the woodlands, I noticed a Red Deer hind in the adjacent field. Sadly, after getting a few poor, distant shots, my attempts at getting much closer failed miserably, so the photo below is the best you get.

Red Deer Hind

Walking through Enochdhu doesn’t take long – to the extent that you’ve walked through it before you realise that it was a village!

It’s just after Enochdhu that the uphill begins. The path is pretty gentle, and at no point does it become particularly challenging, if I’m being honest. It’s not long before you hit the real plantation woodland, though. The real thick stuff, that is really nothing but a blight on the landscape, with little to no biodiversity value. It carries on for a good couple of miles of the walk.

Plantation woodland

For a wee bit of controversy – I’d rather see a wind farm than this… at least you can see through a windfarm, and things can grow underneath it!

Anyway, I digress.

I stopped for lunch just before the end of the plantation (my staple when backpacking – oatcakes and cheese. High calorie, low weight), so that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the walk. The views start almost immediately upon leaving the plantation woodland.

Its a shame it was such a dull day, with the cloud being so low (just above or on the tops of the hills I was walking through), but there was still plenty to see. I can imagine it would be spectacular in early September, when the heather is in bloom – a sea of purple!

The walking stays on the dirt track most of the way from here, so again, is pretty easy walking. There are a few pools in the drainage ditches on either side of the road, and I was surprised when I found fresh frogspawn in a couple! The 2nd March must be a pretty early spawning time for this sort of altitude, I reckon!

Frogspawn

Just after finding the frog spawn, I turned a corner and found the lunch hut. I’d been told about the hut up here by several people, and I have to admit, I was getting a little concerned that I’d seen no sign of it. It had simply been hidden behind a tiny piece of hill!

Off I went in for the obligatory signing of the visitor’s book.

Lunch Hut

Just after the lunch hut, the track deteriorates a little to a more basic path. It’s still easy walking, but there are a couple of bits where it’s a little boggy underfoot, but nothing to be concerned about. It was just at this point that I saw a bird taking off on the hill behind the hut. This is only the second time I’ve visited the Glenshee region, and it’s now the second time I’ve seen a Golden Eagle. Much impressed!

Now, if only I could take a reasonable photo of these things, rather than the blurry monstrosity below!

Golden Eagle - Honest!

The path turns at this point, and goes uphill at a gradient much steeper than anything on the walk so far. It’s still not particularly serious. The view looking back at the path was pretty stunning, though!

Looking back

Just over the top, and it’s downhill all the way, with Spittal of Glenshee in view, and some stunning views up Glenshee (at least they would be on a clear day!).

Glenshee

Now it was just a 30 min walk downhill to the Spittal of Glenshee hotel and a bit of warmth.

I was really quite happy with the walking on Friday. Between leaving Kirkmichael and arriving at Spittal, I didn’t see another person. It was really peaceful, and I got to see (and hear!) so much wildlife, too. I also got really lucky with the weather, too. The forecast had been for showers on Friday, but I’d not felt a single drop of rain all day (although it looked like it was going to for most of the afternoon!)

Janie arrived later on that evening, we had some food, read our kindles for a bit, then went to bed, ready for a reasonably early start the following day.

Saturday

We woke on Saturday morning at about 7:30 to rain. After we’d packed up, had a cooked breakfast, etc, it was about 9:30 before we left the hotel… and it hadn’t stopped raining at all.

Spittal of Glenshee hotel

Janie had made a bit of a blunder. She’d misplaced her waterproof overtrousers. We decided we’d give it a go, anyway – the rain couldn’t last all day, surely?!

We managed about 2 miles before we turned back. Not only did the rain keep up, it got much heavier. Add to that the fact that the path was a veritable quagmire, and it was less than pleasant. We both had wet legs (Janie due to lack of overtrousers, me due to lack of breathability in mine!), Janie was feeling exceptionally cold (according to the car upon our return, it was 3.5°)

Someone had been moving cattle along the farmland over the past few days, and the path was particularly vile when near gates (as shown in the photo below). There were pretty much no opportunities to get shelter out there, too.

I think we were both disappointed to be calling it quits, particularly me, as for the first time this year, I’d felt good, fit and healthy – it wasn’t my own health that was stopping me!

We’re both quite keen on walking the whole Cateran trail now, though. Whether it’ll be feasible for Janie with Dialysis or not, we’ll have to see. It’ll definitely be a logistical challenge.

Even if Janie can’t go along, I’ll definitely be doing the complete trail later in the year, when hopefully the weather will be a little better!

____________________________________________________________________

Although we didn’t complete the Mini trail, I’ve got no real hesitation in recommending it as a 2 day walk. The only part of the walk I’ve not seen is the section from Lair back to Kirkmichael, and it looks quite good. If you like a bit of solitude and like wildlife, then this walk will definitely be a good choice. Reasonable parking at Kirkmichael as well as the convenience of the Spittal of Glenshee hotel makes this a good one for a weekend.

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3 thoughts on “Walk Report: Cateran ‘Mini’ Trail”

  1. Glad you enjoyed what you saw of the Mini Trail. The section from Lair to Kirkmichael is one of the best bits . . . and also the wildest.

    If you and Jane are thinking of doing the full Trail, some hotels and B&Bs now offer a pick up service at the end of each day’s walking. That way you’d only unpack the heavy gear once, and can get by with daybags while walking. You can get more info at http://www.bepta.com

    1. I’m hoping to try the Mini Trail again this weekend, if the weather holds, and I can escape. Hopefully I’ll get to experience the section between Lair and Kirkmichael then!
      I’ll probably camp out overnight in the tent, though, rather than use B&Bs and the like.

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