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Alyth Circular on The Cateran Trail

Alyth Circular on The Cateran Trail


Postby ronnie962 » Wed May 05, 2021 11:23 pm

Route description: Cateran Trail

Date walked: 27/04/2021

Time taken: 3 days

Distance: 83 km

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The Cateran Trail (minus Blairgowrie spur) presented a relatively local longer distance hike to practice on for a crossing of the considerably longer Wainwright’s Coast to Coast in late May. The weather outlook promised low temperatures with snow and hail showers as I woke from nightshift and headed down the A90 questioning my sanity amidst heavy rain showers. The plan was two nights of wild camping with a room booked at the post-lockdown recently reopened Kirkton of Glenisla Hotel.

Day One

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With 16 kilograms on board, I set off at 3pm from the centre of picturesque Alyth and headed upwards out of the town and over the Hill of Alyth towards Bamff. My printed guide from the Walkhighlands website proffered that the trail was very well waymarked making it difficult to go wrong . . . . that felt like a challenge I had the potential to meet.
Passing through Bamff’s small ecotourist resort, I didn’t spot any of the beavers reintroduced into Scotland in 2002 after a short hiatus of 450 years. I did however get a wave from the inhabitants of two very cosy looking yurts in the field by the big house and passed up on the kind offer of free books from outside a small cottage further along.

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Leaving the resort, the remainder of the route to Bridge of Cally is mostly on a tarmac road with the ongoing rain showers blowing in from the east pushing me along past several farms. After a brief off-road section through some fields, the road is rejoined, dropping sharply into Netherton and Bridge of Cally. Any hopes of grabbing a bite to eat at the hotel were dashed as the establishment clearly hadn’t reopened.

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The showers gave way to sunshine as I headed along a track up into Blackcraig Forest and pitched the tent at a clearing (Grid Reference - NO 11952 51369) about 30m below the path.

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Day Two

A chilly but sunny morning started with a degree of surrealism as I remained semi-ensconced in my sleeping bag enjoying scrambled egg and tea, watching the headlines on BBC Breakfast TV. Was this wild camping?

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Fully packed up and leaving the pitch with an admiring glance at the zero trace of my presence, I regained the track and set off, blissfully unaware of just how long this day would turn out to be.
The track passes pleasantly through fields, some woods and diverts around farm buildings en route to Kirkmichael. Despite the chilly temperatures, the sun shone and I certainly wasn’t cold, particularly as my pace picked up when traversing fields under the close watchful eyes of those of a bovine persuasion. (N.B. If you have a real aversion to this, this is perhaps not the walk for you)
Arriving in Kirkmichael shortly after 11am, I took the very brief diversion over the bridge to purchase a sandwich from the only open shop of my entire trip. Placing the sandwich away for later, I availed myself of the convenient tables outside to consume a can of Scotland’s other national drink before recrossing the River Ardle and heading for Enochdhu.

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Passing through a charming copse and encountering a charming couple from Milngavie (a town synonymous with another walk), involved a 15-20 minute conversation which served to remind me that my rucksack felt even heavier when not on the move. Crossing the A924 at Enochdhu, the long gradual climb towards the Cateran Trail’s highest point was under way.

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The track skirted the Dirnanean Garden and meandered through a farmyard before reaching an old cottage ruin with fine views, an inviting lunch stop. Fed and watered, the weather remained a rapidly changing mix of sunshine and hail showers as I continued up through some forest.

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Emerging onto open moorland, I had a surprise encounter with a gentleman driving a laden small dumper truck carrying out repairs to the track. My comment that he didn’t have to go to all that trouble just for me was met with a look suggesting he was already having a long day. Moving on . . .

The Upper Lunch Hut invites walkers to shelter from the elements and the timing of my arrival was fortuitous as a very heavy hail shower simultaneously began to engulf the vicinity. Just as Queen Victoria had done in 1865, the visitor book was duly annotated and I enjoyed a brew and a Belgian bun before being joined for a brief chat by Fraser from Edinburgh who was heading for Spittal of Glenshee from his holiday cottage in Kirkmichael.

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My original plan considered the possibility of stopping at the shelter overnight but as it was only around 2.30pm, I would push on over the top and pitch around the Spittal. The climb to An Lairig was quite arduous as my rucksack began to feel heavier on my wearying legs.

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The descent into the village was equally as demanding on the knees and I arrived feeling very tired at 4pm. After a brief sit-down and water break, I thought I’d have one more short push in search of an accommodating spot for the night. I was mistaken.
Turning south from the Spittal, the track then crosses field after field of farmland for over four miles, all occupied by sheep and cows with no opportunity to locate a suitable pitch. Some buildings by an enclosed wood to my right, the Compass Christian Centre, looked briefly promising but there would be no divine intervention as the area was completely shut and even God himself was unable to assist, despite advertising otherwise.

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As my day’s walk passed the 20-mile mark, the grassy path skirted below a forest and was about to join an uphill track. It was flat and the sheep were some distance from this corner of the large field. This would have to do. (Grid Reference - NO 14316 65321).

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Additional layers were close to hand in anticipation of the forecast overnight temperature of -2°C, but being a man of a certain age, my venture outside into the frosty darkness at 3am was character-building to say the least!

Day Three

With a room booked at The Glenisla, today would be a markedly different day, spinning out a leisurely nine miles and hoping that check-in would be available earlier than the published 4pm. The early stages involved road walking, passing the impressive white-washed turrets of Dalnaglar Castle, which wouldn’t look out of place in a production of Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel, before turning left at Cray and heading through panoramic countryside to the equally impressive Forter Castle, albeit of a more traditional 16th century appearance, despite having been rebuilt in the 1990s.

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The road crosses a bridge over the River Isla only yards before joining a track climbing up onto moorland and reaching a path dropping down to the shores of attractive Auchintaple Loch.

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A long lunch break was taken at this beautiful spot, the peace only interrupted by an immature adult playing on a rope swing. Well, it would have been rude not to!

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Back on the trail, the path winds it way through the heather towards Loch Shandra and a conveniently located picnic table at the south end of the loch afforded another leisurely intermission.

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Continuing on, a steep climb around some forestry and suddenly I was looking down a short distance towards the small village of Kirkton of Glenisla. Was that a marquee attached to the hotel? Was there suddenly an added spring in my step?

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It was only 2pm and I was grateful that the staff allowed me to check in to my room as the alternative would have been drinking pints of beer in said marquee . . . how awful.
After taking a brief shower lasting only about an hour . . . I was sat in the marquee via the bar/restaurant area and enjoying my first beer of the trip, indeed my first draft beer since November! The second one lasted a bit longer before a nap was in order prior to some hearty fare in the restaurant. An after-meal return to my favourite marquee ensued before retiring for the evening . . . to a real bed!

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Day Four

Another albeit slightly shorter shower was in order and shortly after 9am, I was off for what should have been the final 10 miles. A short walk out of the village, across a field and the River Isla via a very shoogly bridge before climbing up to a stile affording good views back towards the village and hills beyond.

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The trail followed farm tracks for a few miles before reaching the community of Kilry with its many pretty cottages dispersed across a sizeable area. One lucky resident was retrieving his mail as I passed, and conversation ensued where local landmarks were pointed out. The elder gentleman pointed up the hill behind his property and advised that I would be up there soon on the Cateran Trail, a minor but important detail. A couple of hundred yards on and the signage advised to cross a stile and ascend the edge of consecutive fields up to a further stile where I instinctively turned right to follow the track uphill passing high above the abode of my latest acquaintance. With a fabulous view and clouds a fair distance away, I settled down to have my final lunch on the Cateran Trail . . . which it would have been . . . if I was actually ON the Cateran Trail!

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Refreshed and rejuvenated for the final four and a half miles, I set off once more up the hill eventually reaching a wind turbine where the path branched off in two directions. I looked around somewhat perplexed as hitherto any such intersection had been well signposted. I deferred to my Walkhighlands guide and was surprised to find no mention of a wind turbine . . . before reading back to discover that after ascending the earlier fields, I was supposed to turn left. I had given myself an unnecessary climb although I did take some secret pride on managing to veer off course on the one of the best signposted walking routes in Scotland! Besides, the view from “not the Cateran Trail” was excellent!

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Referring to the map, I carried on uphill across a field to join a vehicle track and descended until it eventually rejoined the trail at a stile indicating a path across a field. As I crossed, I sensed the pervading thoughts of the watching cows, “Everyone usually approaches from the other direction. Where has he been?”

Being amidst the peak of lambing season, a prominent feature of the walk was the multitude of lambs in the earliest stages of life, gamboling gaily around their fields until they saw the strange man walking nearby and scurried to Mum.

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Much of the final three miles consisted of roads and paths skirting the edge of such fields brimming with ovine propagation. It was in one of these fields that a ewe had duly isolated herself from the flock to give birth immediately ahead directly on the path. As the minutes-old newborn struggled to gain her feet, I sensed mum’s concern at her inability to relocate and I slowly took the widest possible berth out into the field, hopefully placating her anxiety. It was a mindful moment that provoked reflection on the entire journey as it neared completion.

A final short climb up along the west shoulder of Hill of Loyal and the little town I left 72 hours earlier came into view.

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A sharp descent returned me to the picturesque town centre and my waiting car.

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ronnie962
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Re: Alyth Circular on The Cateran Trail

Postby Gordie12 » Fri May 07, 2021 7:58 pm

This brings back good memories from a few years back when I did this to see if I enjoyed long distance walks - I must have, as I've done a few now.

Getting lost at some point on a long distance route is par for the course and like you did here it's often near the end with me (maybe the mind starts to wander), the only walk I can remember not getting lost on was the West Highland Way as every turn seemed to be signed or very obvious.

I hope you enjoy Wainwright's C2C, it's the only walk I've ever repeated and I'm already thinking about doing it a third time (but this time from east to west). Hopefully the weather stays fair and you can look forward to great days in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and finally the Yorkshire Moors (just typing this makes me want to start planning...........).
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Gordie12
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