Category Archives: Walking Reports

Reports on some of the walks we’ve completed, routes taken, mistakes made, etc.

Pain on Auchnafree Hill

Should be two relatively easy days” said Nick, via Twitter.

The simple fact that I’m writing this at 5am, when I’m supposed to be asleep in my tent at the start of day two should be an indication that things haven’t quite gone to plan.

That plan really was simple. I’d start at the car park by Loch Turret on Thursday, climb Auchnafree hill and drop down into Glen Almond, where I’d camp overnight. On Friday, I’d climb back out of the glen and up Ben Chonzie, then back to the car. On both days, taking in some minor tops along the way.

I had even changed the plan since talking with Nick, to make it even easier. I was now going to do a circular walk to Auchnafree hill on day 1, and another to Ben Chonzie on day 2, so that I didn’t need to drop down to Glen Almond, but more importantly, didn’t need to carry all the camping gear all day. I was a little worried about my general levels of fitness to carry the gear in deep snow.

I knew there would be a fair amount of snow, so I would bring the snowshoes along, to make life that little bit easier.

Things started just fine. I arrived at the car park just after 10am, threw on the boots and gaiters and off I went. Things carried on fine for a couple of hours, trudging through the snow (the snowshoes were a major blessing along the way!) Until a point just before the big cairn on Choinneachain Hill.

I was hit by a sudden pain to my upper right thigh and groin, that was building in intensity. I needed to sit down!

After sitting down for 5 minutes, everything seemed fine, but after 20 minutes or so of walking, the pain started to come back again. It varied in intensity, but it was a constant companion on the way back to the car. Sometimes it felt like a dull throb in my upper thigh, whilst sometimes it felt like my hip was about to pop out of its socket, which was quite excruciating!

You’ll have noted by now that I’d started the return trip pretty much as soon as it happened, even though it felt better.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time it has happened, so I knew what was coming. This is what did it for me when I first attempted the West Highland Way 2 years ago, and it was this that caused me so much bother when Janie and I walked the Mell Circuit the same year (interestingly, we’d been talking about the problem and her concerns about me doing long days in case it came back just a few days ago!).

I know the problem isn’t muscular. If it was, sitting down wouldn’t alleviate it that quickly, and I’d still be in a fair amount of pain just now… That means it’s either a nerve or joint problem. I’m not even 35, so I’d like to think there’s nothing wrong with my hip… I don’t know, though, so another trip to the doctor and physio is on the cards, I reckon.

In saying all that, what I did manage of the walk on the hills, I enjoyed, so it didn’t completely get the best of me! Below are some photos taken yesterday, highlighting just how stunning it is up there!

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Loch Turret and Carn Chois, taken on the return trip
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Looking back the way I'd come
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The way ahead
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Looking down towards Crieff, with the Ochil hills in the distance

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The Blue Craigs, looking stunning
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Loch Turret, at the end of the walk

The walk wasn’t a total bust in other areas, either. From a wildlife perspective, I got my Mountain Hare fix (these hills are one of the best areas in the UK to see them), as well as getting to see Red Kite soaring above. Stunning!

I also got to test a few new bits of kit, to see how they went, and everything seems fine so far. My new boots, in particular, were exceptionally comfortable.

This was also my second outing with snowshoes, and much as I have to admit that they’re still hard work, they definitely do make a difference when compared to trudging through the snow just in boots!

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Here’s hoping I can get this all sorted in the next few weeks! I’m supposed to be walking the West Highland Way from the 11th May!

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More of a challenge than expected

The plan was simple.

We’d spend Thursday travelling from Fife to Fort William by train, with a short walk to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. Friday, we’d walk from Fort William to Staoineag bothy. Saturday, we’d walk to Culra bothy and finally, on Sunday, we’d walk out to Dalwhinnie.

Things don’t always go as planned, though.

The plan for Thursday went perfectly. My friend Bill and I boarded the train at Inverkeithing at 10:39am, and 2 changes later, we arrived at Fort William a little after 4:10pm. A wee trip to the shops (I just can’t help myself!) later, to collect a couple of bits that Bill had forgot to pack, and then we were off to the youth hostel. We arrived before 6pm. Job done. A nice, uneventful day (though long and boring, in the whole!).

Friday dawned and the alarm went off as planned. Down we went to the canteen for a cooked breakfast, to see us on our way. Duly eaten, off we went.

The forecast was for a little fog first thing in the morning, to clear and leave a generally cloudy day, with sunny intervals. The forecast was wrong. There was barely a cloud in the sky, and watching the sun come up on the distant peaks as we walked was really amazing.

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The walk along Glen Nevis was relatively uneventful, with the minor interruption of a small herd of highland cows. This actually worked to our favour, to a certain extent, as they kept the cars at bay, so we could walk a fair bit without being forced from the road!

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All around us, as we walked, the views were spectacular.

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The road ended, and then the walk really began. We quickly passed through Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls, and then into the open glen. The views were spectacular, with views of The Ben from angles I’d never seen before, and some generally stunning views. Bill kept saying that he felt like he was in a scene from Lord of the Rings or the like.

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As the day progressed, the walking got more and more difficult. With the clear sunshine and warmth, the valley was getting rather warm. It wasn’t long before I was stripped down to a baselayer (and the Tuff pants were getting decidedly warm!). The drawback of this was that any hint of a frost on the ground had disappeared. The walking got more and more difficult, as it got more and more boggy, and each mile felt like a struggle.

Between my poor footwear choices (this really wasn’t the path for shoes, as opposed to boots) and Bill’s load (he hasn’t quite embraced the lightweight revolution, so he was more than a little overburdened!), it was proving quite a challenge.

At the same time, even though Bill was struggling with his pack weight and I was less than impressed with my soaking feet, we were still surrounded by some truly amazing views!

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Eventually, we passed the Meannanach bothy, which told us we were close to our destination. A quick look back highlighted just how amazing the views had been!

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We arrived at the bothy at about 5:30, both feeling a little the worse for wear. We’d originally planned to sleep in the tents outside, but decided a bothy night would be best. I suspect we were both in bed at about 8:30pm, knackered!

Saturday dawned, and I have to admit to feeling quite a bit refreshed. A fresh pair of socks on dry feet was all that I really needed. We’d tried to help Bill reduce his pack weight by getting rid of some of the excess that he’d packed (yes, he’d packed 2 400g tins of stewed steak amongst other unnecessary items!), so things should have been a bit easier for him, too.

The day wasn’t anywhere near as stunning as the Friday had been, but as it was quite a bit cooler, it was a lot more comfortable for walking in. The path initially carries on next to the river for a mile or so, with the same issues that we’d had the day before (it was boggy, having to jump channels, clamber over rocks, etc), but eventually came to a simple track, next to Loch Treig.

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From here, the walking massively improved for a few miles. Sometimes you forget how easy it is to walk on a landrover track. The views back down to Loch Treig were quite impressive, too, with the occasional break in the cloud.

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As this section of walking was predominantly uphill, it was at this stage that Bill decided he’d had enough and was giving up once we reached Corrour station. I don’t believe in trying to pressure people to carry on, so I was happy to go along with this.

The last couple of miles to the station were back to boggy quagmire, and yet again, my feet got soaked and ruined, so I have to admit, I was happy to end the walk. Had I carried on, I doubt my feet would be particularly pleasant by the end of the day! Besides, the section from Corrour through to Dalwhinnie I’d walked last year, so I wasn’t going to be missing anything I hadn’t done before.

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All in all, this was one of the best walks I’ve been on, in terms of scenery, but one of the worst, in terms of conditions underfoot. I think both Bill and I came out of that having learnt things. In Bill’s case, I suspect the load will be getting lighter in the near future. In my case, I think I’ll be relegating my trail shoes to day hikes, where wet feet aren’t nearly as much of an issue. I’m now on the lookout for a decent pair of leather boots (I don’t like fabric boots. Yes, they tend to be lighter, but they simply don’t have the longevity of a decent leather boot) for backpacking.

I also realised that I was being maybe a little over enthusiastic with my camera gear. I took my tripod and all 3 lenses with me, though all bar 3 of the photos taken were using the 20mm pancake lens, and the tripod was only used a handful of times. I think in future, I’ll just get a smaller case and bring only the basic camera and pancake lens, leaving the kit lens, zoom lens and tripod behind (and saving me almost 2kg in the process!)

Am I disappointed that things didn’t go to plan?

A little.

I’m glad we went, though, and even though it was more challenging than I expected, it was definitely a worthwhile walk, which I’d be more than willing to do again!

Coire Ardair, Creag Meagaidh

I’m currently spending a bit of time on a wee outdoors adventure of sorts. I’ve had a long weekend booked off work for quite some time, but had never really gotten around to booking anything in for it. Then, at the start of December, I got an email from the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA), advising that any stays booked for January which were made before the end of December, would get a 30% discount. That, coupled with a new camera and a desire to get out and about to use it, sealed the deal! A 4 day trip, with 3 nights at different youth hostels was planned!

Coire Ardair

When planning my trip, I wanted places that would be scenic, hopefully provide good photo opportunities, not too long, but included some walks that I hadn’t done before.

After some searching on the Walk Highlands website, I found the walk for Coire Ardair, in the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve… With an estimated walk time of 3.5 – 4.5 hours, it was about right for the first day.

I got up early, and made the 2 hour drive to the start point. Having never been here, I had no idea what to expect. I was surprised to find almost a dozen cars in the car park… Clearly this place is popular, as most people will have returned to work today! (Though I only actually met one group returning as I was walking!)

Immediately upon entering the path, you enter into woodland. The amount of lichen on the trees was quite astounding! (This is actually a good sign… Most of the lichens on these trees only grow where there is good air quality!)

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The standard visitor path leads up a fair bit, then eventually comes to a viewpoint overlooking Loch Laggan below, and the surrounding mountains.

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It is at this point that the (very clearly signposted) path breaks off for Coire Ardair.

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The walk is relatively steady uphill, but not too steep. Initially, it progresses through Birch woodland, with the occasional gap to view the way ahead.

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The further you go, the more you can see of your destination, and it gets to the point where you can barely keep your eyes on the path… You just want to see what is round that corner!

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At this point, I got to witness my first Golden Eagle of the year! Result!
Annoyingly, while I was frantically struggling to switch to the 50-200mm lens, it flew directly overhead, really close! I did eventually get the lens on, but the eagle was much further away by then… Still, at full screen, you should be able to tell what it is!

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A little bit more walking and the destination is beginning to show

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A little further on, and yet more can be seen. Nearing the end now!

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And there it is, the Lochan within Coire Ardair!

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After a brief stop for a snack, I quickly turned around and made the return trip.

I have to admit, this walk has really rekindled my love of the Scottish countryside, and just goes to highlight the hidden gems that can only be found if you put one foot in front of the other. All in, the walk took me pretty much 4 hours exactly, which isn’t too bad… Particularly when you consider how many times I stopped to take photos, etc!

It left me on a bit of a high… Now, can the other days achieve the same?!

I’m currently writing this in the Glen Nevis youth hostel, having transferred the files wirelessly from the camera to my tablet. Now I just need to pop along to use the free Wi-Fi at McDonalds, to upload it for the world to see!

A couple of short trips within Glen Nevis tomorrow… Hopefully they’ll be just as interesting!

The Loch Leven Heritage Trail and a first look at the Samsung NX1000 camera

I’ve walked the Loch Leven Heritage Trail several times, but I’ve never quite got round to writing about it. If you’re a keen hillwalker or backpacker, the almost completely level nature of the walk will be of little interest to you. However, if you’ve got a love of wildlife, it really is an amazing place!

I decided to spend the morning on Christmas day walking the trail from Kirkgate Park in Kinross to Findatie, near RSPB Vane Farm, a walk of about 8 miles in total. There were a couple of reasons for the walk… Mainly to get out from underfoot with the whole cooking of Christmas dinner, etc and to give my new Samsung NX1000 camera a bit of a first outing.

About the camera

The Samsung NX1000 is my first break from the standard point and shoot camera, so for me, there is quite a big learning curve to go through to get to grips with it. Its a Compact System Camera, which basically means it has changeable lenses and a sensor similar to that of a DSLR, but in a more compact, lightweight body. photo below of the entire kit.

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My NX1000 kit includes the following:

Samsung NX1000 body and 20-50mm kit lens
20mm Pancake lens
50-200mm zoom lens
Hoya UV filters for all lenses
Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW carrying case

Pretty much everyone I know will tell you that I like to dive head first into an idea, when I get one.., thus there’s a whole lot more kit there than most people would have right from the offset! Still, it gives me a wide range of gear to play with.

The Walk

I arrived at Findatie at about 9:20am, just before sunrise. As I had a little bit of waiting to do, I figured I’d try and take a couple of shots in the pre-dawn gloom. These are shown below

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Not long afterwards, my lift arrived, and drove me to Kirkgate Park. (There are plans to make the trail a complete circuit, but until completed, you need to organise transport from the start/finish) Now I could get on with the walk itself!
There are signs at every point where you can join the trail (of which there are several), detailing the route, and normally highlighting wildlife that can be seen at the particular time of year, as shown below

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Almost immediately, your eye is drawn to one of Loch Leven’s main attractions… The castle. This is where Mary, Queen of Scots spent a large part of her life, as a prisoner. Boat trips and tours can be had during the summer months, but don’t run at this time of year.

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Already, there was plenty of wildlife to be seen an heard, with Wrens in the undergrowth, Buzzards being flushed from the trees and a myriad of wildfowl species on and around the loch. Only a few minutes later, you reach a sign advertising a wildlife hide… But the hide itself is no longer in evidence. Only a few support struts remain to show that it was ever there.

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Basically, during the colder winters of 2009 & 2010, when the loch froze, the pressure of the ice buckled the supports and collapsed the hide, and it hasn’t been rebuilt. It’s a little annoying, as this particular location was one of the best spots to watch the geese at dawn from, in mid October. You can’t beat watching 10,000 geese taking off all at once just after dawn! It really is a sight to behold!
Sadly, at this time of year, the number of geese is significantly smaller, so there was much less of interest to see.

The path itself was showing signs of having suffered a bit from the recent spate of bad weather, with plenty of puddles, and even flooded in places later on.

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After a wee stretch next to some open ground, the path quickly turns into a patch of woodland, next to the loch. These patches of woodland are amazing places for wildlife… Little pockets of life, which,enduring the spring and summer, in particular, are alive with birdsong! At this time of year, the number if birds is slightly less, but the mosses, etc are vivid in colour (particularly after such a wet year!)

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Once out of this patch of woodland, there’s another small patch of farmland before you cross a river by a wooden bridge.

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It’s at this point where things started to get a little interesting. There’s a bird hide here, with some nice views across the loch… I was happily taking photos with the zoom lens of a distant male Goldeneye when the light changed and the sun started to make a real effort (it was almost 11am at this point, so I’d been walking for a little over an hour at this stage). A quick change to the 20mm lens, and my favourite photo of the whole trip was taken!

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I know my point and shoot simply couldn’t have pulled off the photo above… Really chuffed with it!

The walk continues to Burleigh Sands, past the car park and through a stand of pine trees. It was here I decided to see the difference between the 50-200mm lens and the 20mm lens, so took the same photo at 50mm, then at 20mm with the results below (I forgot to mention… I didn’t bring the 20-50mm kit lens for this trip!)

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The difference in colour, let alone scale is massive! It was this point I realised that any landscape photos at all should be captured with the 20mm, where possible!

Below are two more photos from the same stand of woodland. The Kestrel shot was a lucky one, as it flew in just as I’d changed to the 50-200mm lens!

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The walk then continues past some more farmland, then on to the goose roost, where thousands of geese can be seen in the autumn months. It’s at this point where Loch Leven’s Larder can be found, which is a small cafe and farm shop (though if you plan to eat there, be prepared to remortgage your house!). This more or less marks the half way point of the walk.

The second half of the walk is much the same, in terms of immediate surroundings. Woodlands and farmlands, with the loch on your right. Unlike most walks, which would quickly become boring, this one stays fresh and interesting throughout, mainly due to the wildlife content. On Christmas day, however, there was an additional bonus, in the form of Bishop Hill. It was looking rather stunning, with a lingering cloud top!

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With the hill looking so stunning, it was a good time to test the panorama mode of the camera, as seen below

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I have to admit, I’m quite impressed with the results. It looks pretty sharp throughout!

At the entrance to Levenmouth woods, the final straight, I was greeted with something I was hoping not to see.., a suitably flooded path! And yet again, another one (which, unlike the first, was impossible to skirt round) about 500m further on. At that stage, though, there really wasn’t any choice but to carry on (since my car was about a mile and a half away!). Obviously, it wasn’t really an issue for me, but could be for those who come unprepared.

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Both of the above shots were taken with the 50-200mm lens (too lazy to switch at that stage!)

There is another hide in Levenmouth Woods, at the pools, where I stopped for 10 minutes. Sadly, there wasn’t much of note to see. In the past, though, I’ve seen Otter from this hide and a variety of waders, some quite rare for the area. U

On leaving the woods, you cross the river Leven as it flows from the loch. Seeing a Heron along here is almost a guarantee, too. You don’t normally get to see them as close as this, and they really are quite beautiful, in a primitive sort of way.

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That more or less had me back at Findatie, where my car was, but with enough time before going home to unwrap presents and eat Christmas dinner for one last shot in panorama mode of Loch Leven in all it’s glory!

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Walk Summary

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ve done this walk several times, and each time is slightly different. I’ve never once failed to enjoy it, though. The wildlife never fails to amaze and impress, and that’s the main focus of this walk, rather than the scenery.
It’s definitely not a walk for the die hard backpackers, as it’ll be a bit too easy and boring. However, if you’ve got an interest in wildlife, particularly bird life, this is a great walk! I don’t think I’ve ever done this walk in less than 3 hours, but I reckon 4 hours is the norm for me. There’s just so much to see!

Camera thoughts

I love the NX1000! It’s as simple as that, really!
I took in total 274 photos while out, but a large proportion of those were burst shots. As the camera can take photos at 8fps, it’s a good way to try and get photos of birds and other mobile wildlife.
I clearly need to get to grips with the 50-200mm lens in terms of getting the right settings, as the photos ain’t turning out brilliantly.

The 20mm pancake lens is producing some stunning shots, though! It’ll definitely be my main lens when out backpacking, with the 20-50mm as backup. I’ll probably leave the 50-200mm at home, unless going somewhere where the main focus is the wildlife.

The Smart aspect of the camera is really appealing to me, too. With the built in WiFi and the Mobilelink app, I can transfer all the photos directly from my camera to my Nexus 7. It’s brilliant, and I can see the uses when backpacking… The ability to write blog posts out in the middle of nowhere, and add high quality images will make blogging so much easier!

And for those that are interested, after taking 274 photos, then transferring them all to the Nexus 7, I only just went beneath 50% battery life. I’ll definitely need a spare for multiday trips, but they’re easy enough to get!

I reckon in time, I’ll get to grips with the camera more (remember, this is the first time I’ve moved from a point and shoot), I’ll be able to improve the quality of the pics. Even more so, if I can find a suitably cheap lightweight tripod that I can use on the hills (suggestions welcome!)

Long story short, I’d highly recommend the NX1000, based on the limited use I’ve had of it so far. As a step up from a compact, it’s very simple to use, and the WiFi features are brilliant (some people see those as gimmicky, but I’ll wager the big brands have wireless enabled phones in no time!)

The Ben Shee Loop and the Re-wilding of the Ochil Hills

Sometimes the interesting walks are not the day walks or the overnight backpacking trips. A short walk of a couple of hours can have as much, if not more interest, particularly for those with an interest in wildlife.

I’ve been particularly interested in certain parts of the Ochil hills over the past couple of years. Most notably the Glen Quey and Glen Sherup areas, which are now owned by the Woodland Trust. These areas have been quite extensively planted with a range of native tree species.

The hope is that the trees will establish themselves and a thriving woodland community will return to the area. For me, the chance to watch this happen, as it’s actually happening is a great opportunity, and with it being so close to home, I can pop along at any time, really!

Incidentally, the other site where the Woodland Trust are doing this work that I’ve been to is Glen Finglas, where Janie and I walked the Mell Circuit last year – that one is a full day’s walk, and  good fun, too!

Anyway, since taking over the land, the Woodland Trust have been quite keen to promote access to the area, so have created a few walks in the area of varying length, from the 1.25 mile Castlehill Loop to the 9 mile Reservoirs Trail and have released a leaflet with the walks on.

Last weekend I decided to head along and take a walk around the Ben Shee Loop – a reasonably good walk of 6 miles, taking in some of the quieter parts of the Ochils, and some of the main Woodland Trust plantation.

I’m not going to go into a blow by blow account of the walk, as, well, frankly there really wasn’t much to see.

One thing to definitely bear in mind, though, if you’d consider walking in this area is that it is VERY boggy! You’re pretty much going to get wet feet, unless, like me, you go when it’s cold enough to freeze and hold your weight!

In the spring and summer it’ll be a bit of a nightmare, though. In saying that, it’s probably what makes the area so quiet, with so few other walkers, so I’ll happily consider it a bonus, if it gives me (and the wildlife) a bit of peace and quiet.

In terms of actual wildlife, there wasn’t that much to be seen, but being December and with a dusting of the white stuff, that’s to be expected. A single Raven, Buzzard and Kestrel were seen, along with the usual Robin and Wren to be found in the area. There was also plenty of fox scat to be found, to show that there is still some mammal life about. I suspect that as the area is not being kept artificially short by sheep and deer (it’s all fenced off, to allow the trees a fighting chance to grow), there will be significantly more mice, vole and shrew activity than in the surrounding areas, too!

Anyway, a couple of photos can be seen below from the walk. By the end of the month I’ll have a new Compact System Camera, so hopefully the picture quality will improve as I get to grips with the camera and use it a bit!

Glen Sherup Reservoir
Glen Sherup Reservoir
Looking back to Glen Sherup from the slopes of Ben Shee
Looking back to Glen Sherup from the slopes of Ben Shee
The Ochil Hills from the high point of the walk
The Ochil Hills from the high point of the walk
Planted trees on the slopes of Ben Shee
Planted trees on the slopes of Ben Shee
Lower Glen Devon Reservoir in the distance, from more new growth trees
Lower Glen Devon Reservoir in the distance, from more new growth trees

I’m hoping to make this walk a bit of a recurring theme, so that people can see the changes, not just year on year, but in seasons, too. As I mentioned earlier, I’m getting a new camera in a couple of weeks, and I’d love to use this simple walk (took about 2 and a half hours, yes, there’s a fair bit of uphill and downhill, but nothing that can’t be managed – the boggy ground is the bigger issue!) as a regular playground to test the camera, and to showcase the wildlife that comes in, etc.

Apparently, this area has seen Black Grouse and Red Deer in recent years, and if true (I saw no signs of either, including no signs of prints or droppings), would be a great thing to capture. I have, however, seen plenty of sign of other species in the spring/summer, such as Wheatear, various warblers, there’s apparently Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary butterflies to be found in the area, too. It could be a great place to explore the changing wildlife, as the place gets ‘Re-wilded’

I’m looking forward to it!

The Hermitage and Braan Walk – Short, but definitely sweet!

Last Sunday, Janie and I decided to go for a bit of a walk. I had originally planned a full day’s walk of 10 miles or so, but Janie wasn’t really up for it, so we decided to do the Braan Walk and Hermitage instead.

We’ve done this walk more times than I can remember, but it’s one we keep coming back to if we’re just looking for a simple walk of an hour or two. It’s also quite a good one for initial trials of new footwear, I find, too, as you tend to cover a reasonably wide variety of terrain. Just as well, really, as I was taking my new Scarpa Vortex XCR shoes out for the first time.

The walk starts at the Hermitage car park, which is conveniently just off the A9, after Dunkeld, and is well signposted. The Hermitage is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and the car park has a charge of £2 for non-members. Parking is free for members.

It’s only about a 10 minute walk to Ossian’s Hall through some ancient woodland (one of the tallest trees in the UK is right next to the waterfall. A massive Douglas Fir), and the waterfall, where, as always, the views were pretty spectacular.

Ossian’s Hall

The walk then continues through the woodland for another little while, before crossing a little burn (below) and then through a small field.

After the field, there’s a small walk along a minor road until you come to Rumbling Bridge. Now, this bridge really does earn it’s name. You can hear it long before you can see it!

And the cause of the noise? Yet another waterfall. The photo below was taken from the bridge itself!

Once across the bridge, the walk carries on uphill a little, until you get to a bench, with a view over to the bridge. It kinda gives a bit of scale as to how deep that waterfall is – considering it’s level with the bridge on one side, and approx 200 feet down on the other!

The path then carries on through some woodland, before crossing the A822, after which it’s a gentle uphill walk for a bit before a sharp left turn. After a small walk uphill at this point, the views open out, so we could see a snow-topped Ben Vrackie in the distance.

There’s also a lone tree here, which impresses me every single time I see it, and I can never quite figure out why… I’ve got photos of it in pretty much all seasons now, though only the photo from last weekend is shown below.

From here, the walk goes through some birch woodland before entering plantation woodland (below). It then arrives at the small village of Inver, where it’s just a short walk back to the car park.

And that’s basically it. The walk itself is only a little over 4 miles, and takes under 2 hours to walk, but it’s a real beauty of a walk. I’ve seen some lovely wildlife on the walk in my time, including Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary butterflies, common lizards, Red Squirrel, buzzards and so many more, as well as getting some lovely views, without having to overly exert myself in the process, or go too far out of my way.

I’d highly recommend this walk to anyone who is looking for something pretty easy of a morning or afternoon.

Walk Report: Cateran ‘Mini’ Trail – Success!

After the failed attempt at walking the Mini Cateran Trail the previous week, we decided to give it another go last weekend, as the forecast was looking much better.

The plan was very similar this time to the previous attempt. I’d walk the first day myself, from Kirkmichael to Spittal of Glenshee, where I’d meet Janie (who had family commitments on the Saturday and was unable to join me then), stay overnight at Spittal, then walk the second part of the Mini Trail together on the Sunday. The difference this time was that we’d camp out overnight, rather than stay at the Spittal Hotel.

Saturday

I’ll not concentrate too much on the first day’s walking, as the majority of that was covered in my previous post. The weather was very similar on Saturday, being quite overcast, but dry. It was, however, much windier.The highlight for the walk this time was on the woodland section between Kirkmichael and Enochdhu. As I was walking along, I saw a small mammal with a creamy white tail cross the path about 30 feet in front of me – a Red Squirrel! It quickly climbed up a tree, but it turns out the tree was already occupied, and the occupant wasn’t too pleased to have the company. A chase ensued, which I just stood and watched. In total, there were 4 Red Squirrels, all chasing each other around. Eventually, things calmed down a bit, and they all went their own separate ways. I was lucky, in the sense that one of them decided it had a bit of a hankering for a pine cone no more than 15 feet from me – so I managed to get the photo below. It’s just a shame that it’s so dark underneath the trees, as it was a struggle to get the photo sharp.

Red Squirrel

In terms of wildlife, that was, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole walk for me. On the first day, there wasn’t as much to see as the previous time – mainly due to the strong winds.

The scenery was just as stunning the second time round, though, even with the dark, brooding clouds threatening!

The other noteworthy aspect to the Saturday was the Upper Lunch Hut. Someone had been along in the past couple of days before, with fruit. People really need to learn that leaving banana and orange peel behind really isn’t a good thing. These take years to break down properly. I left a message in the visitor book, requesting that people take their rubbish away with them in future. Sadly, as I didn’t have an empty bag for the rubbish, I wasn’t really in a position to remove it myself.

As there was a chance that Janie was going to be arriving on the Sunday morning, as opposed to the Saturday night, I’d packed the Scarp, just in case. She was going to come along with the Banshee in the evening.

As it was still blowing a bit of a gale, I decided to erect the Scarp with the crossing poles, so that I could get somewhere nice and warm to relax while I cooked my evening meal and waited for Janie to arrive.

Scarp

It also gave me a proper chance to test my Clikstand stove, as well as the home-made dehydrated meals I’d been making. I have to admit, I was impressed with both of them. The Clikstand works so well with my Alpkit MyTiPot (minus the handle, which is awful – I use an MSR LiteLifter to grip the pot) and the meal tasted pretty good (though I am biased!)

Clikstand + Alpkit MyTiPot

Janie arrived at about 9:30pm, so we set up the Banshee in the dark, used the Scarp for storage, then went to bed.

Sunday

We woke on the Sunday morning to an absolutely glorious day. The sun had just come up, and was providing a fair bit of warmth. It was still windy, but nowhere near as bad as it had been on the Saturday, and the relatively clear skies more than compensated for that!

After a quick breakfast of porridge and a cup of tea, we packed up all the gear, and headed on our way.

Looking back towards Spittal of Glenshee

What a difference a week makes!

The path was dry, most of the puddles had dried up, and the walking was relatively easy. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few boggy sections, still, but they were significantly more manageable. We did come across a couple of sections which were really boggy, and would have been near impassible the week before, but in general, the walking was significantly easier.

It meant that in general, we could pay attention to the scenery, rather than constantly looking at where our feet were – definitely a good thing!

Although the first part of the walk is more or less parallel with the A93, it didn’t intrude on you (unless a motorcyclist was going past at speed, which happened a fair bit!), and it didn’t really affect the views, either.

The way ahead

The first half of the walk on the Sunday follows farm tracks most of the way, and was relatively pleasant. There were a few places where the path diverts a fair bit around farm buildings, or outdoors centres, but in general, it was pretty straightforward. A word of warning, though. I know a lot of people who are more than a little uneasy about walking through fields with cattle in them. If you are, then this walk might not be for you.

Cattle

The path was, at this point, very well waymarked. In fact, every part that was on the main Cateran Trail was exceptionally well waymarked. You’d be unlikely to get lost when walking the Cateran Trail. The bridges are well built the (many!) styles are well made – in all, the trail seems well maintained.

We reached the half way point of Dalnaglar castle at about 1pm, so we stopped for a bit of lunch at the side of the road. I reckon they’ve missed a bit of a trick here, it has to be said. I suspect most people will stop for lunch in this area, but the castle itself isn’t open to visitors, there’s no tearooms, etc or anything like that in the nearby village of Lair, either. I reckon if the Cateran Trail becomes popular, it would be a potential money earner. Still, as it stands, I suspect there’s not enough people walking the trail to make it financially viable.

Dalnaglar Castle

Now… this is where the walk gets a bit more ‘interesting’.

After the castle, you walk along a bit of tarmac road until you come to a junction. Go left and you’ll continue on the Cateran Trail towards Glen Isla, go right and you’ll go to the village of Lair, and the Mini Trail route back to Kirkmichael.This is where the waymarking effectively ends. If you’re doing the Mini Trail, you’re more or less on your own at this stage.

You can’t really get lost following the route down to the village – it’s a road, after all! However, once you cross the A93, it becomes a different story.

First of all, the crossing of the main road itself. The location for this really isn’t the best. You’re basically crossing the road at a point between two blind bends. Luckily, the road isn’t that busy, but I’d definitely not have liked to have met a vehicle when crossing!

road crossing

The photo above shows the crossing – you walk up the little road junction to the right, and if you look closely at the picture, you can see the people who have just made the crossing on the left (a group of 4 people walking the same route as us – but starting from Spittal, instead of Kirkmichael. This was their first day)

Having made the crossing, this is where the path gets… interesting.

The path is an old Right of Way between Lair and Kirkmichael, and I think it’s fair to say it’s not used much. In fact, the term ‘path’ in itself is a bit optimistic in places! There are posts used as waymarkers, to point out where the path is, but sometimes these can be hard to find (the other group missed a couple completely, and tried to make their own route), and the path itself, well, it was non-existant in so many places.

A hint of path
Post showing the 'path'

The path was like this for the first mile or so, and the walking was really hard going. We spent a lot of time trying to work our way through patches of heather, across boggy ground, etc, hunting for signs of the path. Had the weather been poor, and the visibility  reduced, this would have been downright dangerous.

We met up with the other group having a rest break once the path had become clearer, and we all agreed that the walking was simply awful. I think Janie was done in at that point, and I wasn’t exactly full of energy, either. There really wasn’t much choice but to carry on at this stage, though – what with the closest car being at Kirkmicahel, then end point.

In saying this – yes, the path was awful to non-existent, but it did afford some stunning views at points, both towards the Glenshee range and back towards Blairgowrie and the lowlands, so it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely negative thing.

Looking towards Glenshee
Towards the Lowlands

The next couple of miles were pretty straight forward, now that the path was becoming easier to walk. The only other comment I’d make at this stage is about Styles. They’re everywhere! When I was walking on the Saturday, and the first half of the Sunday, I was thinking that it might have made a good route for a mountain biker, but as we progressed, we came across more and more styles, all of the ‘step ladder’ variety, climbing over brick walls. The section near Ashintully Castle (also closed to the public, and clearly signposted not to enter their grounds… not friendly to walkers, I’m guessing!) was particularly bad for this. The path was again non-existent, but wasn’t challenging, as you could simply follow field margins at this stage. Every single field had one of these styles on it, though, and although we tried to avoid them, by using gates where possible, sometimes there was no choice, as the gates were padlocked, etc – needless to say, the styles were hard work.

After what had been a long, hard day’s walking, Kirkmichael eventually came into sight – the end was near!

Kirkmichael

Sadly, the final field down to Kirkmichael was another one where there was no path, and very little indication of exact route. The field was wet, boggy and full of tussocks. I think we both tripped a couple of times on that last downhill field.

Just before the end, yet another style before the final short path. This one was a more simple, lower one, but, sadly broken. Much as I’ve commented on my dislike of the large styles on this walk, I think it’s fair to say that in general, they were well maintained. There were a couple that could have been modernised, but they were robust – so, it was a bit of a shame to find a broken one right at the end. Sometimes that’s just the way of it, though.

Broken Style

Conclusion

Well, it was certainly an interesting walk. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely. The first day was spectacular in terms of scenery, and parts of the second day were amazing. I do feel the section between Lair and Kirkmichael lets the Mini Trail down quite a bit, though.

It’s not that the path is indistinct, or non-existent in places, it’s the fact that there’s little to no warning of it. When we got into Kirkmichael, the sign pointing back to Lair does warn you of it (shown below), but that was the only time I saw any warning. If I’d known to expect it from the outset, I wouldn’t have been nearly as disappointed by it.

warning sign

If you go to the Official Cateran Trail Website, it advises the following about the mini trail:

The Route – Mini Trail

20mls/32km A weekend break/Cateran Trail circular sampler

Friday Night: Stay over at Kirkmicahel

Saturday: Kirkmichael – Enochdhu – Spittal of Glenshee (8mls/13km), stay over at the Spittal

Sunday: Spittal of Glenshee – Lair – Kirkmichael (12mls/19km)

No mention there about potential problems with the walk. Go into the FAQ on the site, and it advises the following:

Most of the route follows varied gentle terrain on good forest tracks and farm roads. In more open country you can encounter boggy ground and the need to cross a number of small burns. 

Hills are moderate, the steepest slope being on the Glenshee section, with an ascent to 2130 ft (650m) before descending to the Spittal. In some places the Trail crosses fairly steep ladder stiles. These are easy to use but care is needed. 

There are also some short sections on quiet country roads that PKCT has been working to reduce.

As the Mini Trail is supposed to be a ‘sampler’ of the main Cateran Trail, you’d expect it to have the same sort of terrain and restrictions. I couldn’t find anything, anywhere on the website to warn of the issues on the Lair – Kirkmichael section.

In saying that, though. I would definitely consider doing it again, and I’d definitely like to do the full Cateran Trail later in the year. I suspect the full trail will have significantly better paths than the Mini Trail. As long as you know what to expect, it’s an enjoyable two day walk.

It also gave me a chance to give a few bits of kit a proper test, and I’m happy with all of the things I’ve been using – which is good, since they’re all out of my own pocket! 😉 It also served as a good bit of training for the Speyside Way, which we’re doing in 3 weeks time. All in all, it was a good weekend, with only one small section to let it down.