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Pitlochry to Forres, via the Cairngorms and Dava Way

Pitlochry to Forres, via the Cairngorms and Dava Way


Postby Bearded Wanderer » Thu Oct 26, 2017 7:51 pm

Route description: Dava Way

Date walked: 22/06/2017

Time taken: 5.5 days

Distance: 140 km

Ascent: 1600m

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In which your intrepid hero crosses the Pass of Killiecrankie, ascends Glen Tilt to the Fords of Geldie, passes the hazardous Lairig Ghru and the downright treacherous Chalamain Gap in a gale, before descending to Glenmore Forest, then over the Ryvoan Pass and through the foreboding Forest of Abernethy. Finally he passes the lonely and haunted Moidach More before emerging at last near the place where the mighty Findhorn meets the Moray Firth.

In terms of routes listed on WalkHighlands, I walked from Pitlochry to Blair Atholl (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/perthshire/pitlochry-blair-atholl.shtml), up to Bynack (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/perthshire/blair-atholl-bynack.shtml), over the Lairig Ghru (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/cairngorms/lairig-ghru.shtml), through the Ryvoan Pass (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/cairngorms/ryvoan-pass.shtml), up to Grantown-on-Spey (much of this: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/cairngorms/grantown-boat-of-garten.shtml), then out to Forres (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/moray/dava-way.shtml).



Pitlochry, like several other towns in Highland Perthshire, strikes me as a set, presenting Scotland as we would like the tourists to see it: a certain modernity, and a certain amount of tartan kitsch. As someone who wears – and treks in – a kilt simply because it's comfortable, I'm not really in a position to criticise. The tourists, as I grab a decent (read: not reconstituted) breakfast as soon as I arrive, are not yet in evidence. I then haul myself through town, the rucksack fully laden for a complete solo traverse of the Cairngorms.

This is a route of my own devising, and will take me past or through several rivers, a number of passes (including two of Scotland's trickiest), two (three, if the weather holds) forests and more habitats than I can be bothered to count up. The first stretch is a boring road walk, before I descend to the upper reaches of Loch Faskally and into mature woodland. The area is popular with tourists and dog walkers and, while it's a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it's too heavily frequented to attract my attention.

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The wood near Loch Faskally

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Loch Faskally

A footpath, well trodden, but not marked on the Ordnance Survey map, takes me along the banks of the River Garry and towards Killiecrankie Pass. I ascend quickly into a wooded gorge, encountering day amblers and a number of dogs. A male bullfinch provides a splash of colour, black and orange. The woods are a mixed bag of native species – oak, ash, birch and alder - and introduced ones like sycamore, beech and some exotic conifers. The latter are being slowly removed, some of the wood used to produce charcoal in a kiln next to the footpath.

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A charcoal kiln

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The River Garry

Just below Killiecrankie I briefly enter the National Park. Passing the railway viaduct, I climb out of the gorge to request fresh water at the visitor centre. The purifier can handle much worse than anything that's likely to be in the Garry, but I'm below a major road and a lot of sheep. From there it's a short walk to the village, where a red and white flag flutters outside a cottage under renovation. Its occupant beckons me over. Curious to learn who is mad enough or brave enough to fly the banner of St George in Killiecrankie, I join him for a while. He's a Dutchman, and I quickly conclude he's harmlessly, if garrulously, mad. There are butterflies around, and a red admiral settles briefly on one whitewashed wall. It transpires that there are two flags, the other the Maori, in honour of his late wife. The bloody cross is, predictably, making him unpopular with some of the neighbours. Some people have long memories, and others – rightly or wrongly – perceived modern grudges.

I eventually make my excuses, cross the river, a couple of women on horseback coming the other way, and trek along a road along the Garry's western bank. It's little used, but most of the traffic constitutes lorries leaving a quarry a short distance away. Passing under the A9 I find myself on a less well-used road, the hedge recently brush-cut, leaving the predictable boot-penetrating splinters. The footbridge back over the Garry, shortly above its confluence with the Tilt, almost comes as a surprise, half hidden by vegetation, and I cross back into the National Park. From here it's several days to the other side, somewhere north of Grantown.

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This footbridge marks the southern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.

I halt at the old mill at Blair Atholl for a respectable soup. I'm carrying food, but reconstituted noodles and pasta will quickly become boring. A couple of elderly gentlemen at the next table reminisce about great classical concerts at which, by the sound of it, they have performed. My feet rested from the road walk, I press on to a spot just before the road crosses the Tilt, and begin to follow the river upstream.

I've walked the next thirty kilometres or so recently, and it's impossible to become lost. I want to make the Bedford Bridge by nightfall, but I suspect that the delay in Killiecrankie has made that unlikely. I remind myself that part of the point of the exercise is to meet interesting people. Glen Tilt, while it has its attractions, is ecologically mixed. Much of it is overgrazed, especially by sheep but also cattle in the lower stretches. There is some attractive semi-natural woodland among the plantation but, as with the whole country, it is species impoverished with the extermination of apex predators and deliberate human interference.

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A birch wood in the lower reaches of Glen Tilt, one of a few less critically damaged habitats.

I stop to look for the small cow-wheat, protected behind a wooden fence, pleased to find it in flower this time. There isn't much of it, and it seems to be in trouble in this location. I make reasonable time on landrover track, stopping briefly for a snack by the Allt Craoinidh, before pressing on in the direction of Forest Lodge.

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I'm pretty confident that this is the endangered small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum). The plant is a hemiparasite, and produces unusually large seeds, to which are attached an energy-rich body called an elaiosome: this attracts ants, which help with dispersal.

With weather threatening and a new one-person tent that I'm a bit unsure of the practicalities of, I decide to call it a night near the plantation fifteen minutes or so above the one-percenter nest, leaving the rest of the Glen until tomorrow. It's not the greatest of places to camp, but it's flat, dry and reasonably sheltered. I feed myself properly, and duck into shelter just as the rain arrives, read for a while, and turn in.

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I think it's time to call it a night.

I'm up in good time the following morning, amid a light and annoying drizzle, and slip deeper in to the remoter areas of the Cairngorms. About an hour later I pass a spot that, at one time, was probably much busier than it is now. A ruined building at a place called Bothan Dail a Chruineachd marks a junction of one of the great drove roads, where cattle from the Highlands were driven south to the markets near Falkirk. There is a large area of flat ground here, suitable even today as a campsite. A map of Scotland's drove roads shows cattle were made to ford the Tilt here, and then down Glen Loch towards Dunkeld. A V-shaped notch just metres from the ruin is the same form as those places where today herds of cloven-footed animals, even wild ones, cross rivers. Today it's as vegetated as the rest of the bank, but at one time it must have been a muddy gully.

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Glen Loch. At one time this was a busy drove road.

Beyond the Bedford Bridge, an almost incongruous suspension bridge by the Falls of Tarf, the trail becomes impassable to any vehicle larger than an MTB. The trail lies above the gorge. There are a few flowers above the heather, mostly yellow or white, tormentil, bedstraw, eyebright, and vetch, but here and there blues and purples of wild thyme, pansies and butterwort, reflecting the visual systems of their respective pollinators.

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Bedford Bridge

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The Falls of Tarf

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Some of the wildflowers of upper Glen Tilt

Crossing the watershed, I encounter a man shepherding a group of DofE students on expedition from Kingussie to Blair Atholl, following a route I've taken in reverse. We pass the usual pleasantries – weather, footpath conditions, origin, course, destination. I'm reassured the Geldie is fordable following recent heavy rain, before making my way downhill towards the rivers. One of the DofE group is playing music from his rucksack, missing no birdsong on this barren grouse moor. I stop to dry the tent out and for food again by the ford, before heading downstream to the White Bridge, then take a sharp left up the east bank of the Dee.

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The Ford of Geldie, taken on a previous expedition. This ford is impassable in spate.

The trail here is a good one, professionally surfaced, for a while. It parallels a track on the opposite bank I've followed recently. Not far above the falls the track deteriorates to a simple trampled one, sometimes through bog, and the walking becomes harder. I slow down, and the consequences of two successive early mornings start to show. Eventually, I misjudge a step in a bog, sink ankle deep, slip, and my knee hits a rock.

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The falls at the Chest of Dee.

It's a graze, and I've suffered worse, but it bleeds, and I have to stop to wash out the injury. Inevitably, this slows me further. A raptor calls from above the hill. It's too small for an eagle, not a buzzard, too big for a kestrel, and too distant to identify with confidence. The trail dries out as it rises, and the guardian mountains of the southern end of the Lairig Ghru, the Bod an Deamhain and Carn a' Mhaim, come to dominate the foreground. The Corrour Bothy is the only shelter in this exposed landscape, but this is a Friday night and, as I approach, it becomes clear there are a lot of people in tents around it.

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Approaching the Lairig Ghru, with the Bod an Deamhain (left) and Carn a' Mhaim (right).

I'm disinclined for that much company. I locate a spot near the trail that is grassy rather than heather or a bog, and erect the tent between the two peaks at the base of the pass. Doing so, I'm reminded just how thin the soils here are as I struggle to shove pegs in to what feels like glacial till.

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A badly exposed camp site. A cheaper tent would have been destroyed.

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The same camp, with the mountain usually mistranslated as "Devil's Point" in the background.

It turns into a wild night. Perhaps the local demon doesn't want me hanging around his balls. The wind isn't constant: it gusts, the tent taking a battering before becoming still, before more air slams in to the fabric with no warning, trying to tear it down. Even in the quiet periods I can hear intermittent roaring from the surrounding high ground. The tent does well, although I have to emerge at one point to replace a guyed peg that has torn out from unsuitable substrate.

I abandon prospects for sleep not long after first light. Conditions are totally unsuited to trekking kilt and a lightweight top. I retrieve trousers from the rucksack, and layer up. The tent is packed, as I take care to ensure nothing blows away. I breakfast, and break trail. Following the switchback along the track from the bothy I find myself on good footpath. It's between first light and dawn, and visibility is poor. There are drizzly showers around. The first, boiling out of An Coire Garbh, amounts to nothing. The second, as I climb above the river, does not. My waterproof stays on, but the rucksack cover is pulled away in the gusting winds, flapping from its single point of attachment to the rucksack, acting like a sail.

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Aww, crap!

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Dawn at last.

A few minutes later, I turn to watch dawn break over the surrounding mountains, the tops partially clad in fluffy cloud, before the final push to the summit of the pass.

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The approach to the summit of the Lairig Ghru.

There are two difficult points on this walk, and this is one.

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Well, this looks like fun...

Picking my way across the boulder fields would not be especially tricky in good conditions with a day sack. These are not ideal conditions, and this is a rucksack full of the necessities for wild camping in those conditions. It's not merely a matter of calculating where to put my feet. It's a case of working out what would happen if a gust of wind were to hit me, without warning, from any direction, if my foot happened to be in the wrong place. Sometimes there is no alternative but to hunker down and wait for the gust to pass, too powerful to permit standing. The next shower is sleet, days after midsummer. Alone up here there is a sense of a presence, not human, not hostile, but aware and watching. At one point I'm positive there is someone behind me but, when I turn, I'm still alone. I'm reminded of stories of a being said to live up here, Am Fear Liath Mòr, the Grey Man of Ben Macdui. Perhaps infrasound caused by the wind is making me uneasy. Perhaps it's isolation and exhaustion: I've had little sleep, and only limited contact with humans for a while. Perhaps not.

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An Lochan Dubh na Lairige (the Black Lochan of the Lairig). There are reputed to be trout in one of these lochans, but I have no idea how they might have arrived.

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This was slightly incongruous up here. I'm pretty sure this is common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense). It's too pale and in the wrong habitat to be small cow-wheat. The enthusiast might find this habitat worth exploring for plants.

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It's slow-going through here.

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On the way down.

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Glenmore and Speyside

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Still a tricky descent.

Eventually, my pace slowed to little more than a crawl, I obtain my first view of Glen More and Speyside, and begin the downward trek. The difficulties don't stop suddenly. It's more of a petering out, as good track alternates with shorter stretches with more boulders. The wind gusts begin to ease. Perhaps a slow hour later I find myself at a spot below Creag an Leth-Choin, where the burn, a tributary of the Allt Druidh, emerges from a jumble of boulders.

Parts of my misspent youth involved reading epic fantasy novels, and this spot has always seemed atmospheric, resembling an entrance to a land hidden beneath the mountains, complete with delicate semi-aquatic flowers. I stop here for second breakfast. I've averaged no more than a couple of kilometres an hour since Corrour, and I need to rest and refuel. A grey wagtail calls from the rocks before vanishing. I disclose trail and weather conditions to four university students, heading for the plateau, but they appear properly equipped.

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Where the wagtail calls.

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Starry Saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris) grows here. (HT to user CharlesT for prompt identification). "Saxifraga" means "breaker of rocks" (although the connection turns out to be more prosaic than poetic!).

Three ways meet here. Coming off the pass, one footpath leads straight down into Glen More and Rothiemurchus Forest. The other follows the direct route, through the Chalamain Gap. I know the former as a straightforward trail, but not the latter, although I am familiar by reputation. I've crossed one pass before breakfast (okay, second breakfast). I might as well cross another.

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From here you can descend straight to the forest in Glenmore and Rothiemurchus, or take the high route into the Chalamain Gap.

I make good time on the approach on a surfaced footpath, the cloud beginning to clear, encountering more day walkers.

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This is easy enough.

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Hmmmm...

The easy part stops as I enter a narrow defile, finding it clogged with boulders. A small guided group, complete with a “leader”, is just emerging, and I wait for them, watching their moves before beginning my own descent.

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Ahh. This might take more time. Eag Coire na Comhdhalack (The Ravine of the Corrie of the Assembly), today better known as the Chalamain Gap.

The wind, not surprisingly, is being funnelled through the gully, and my short legs and big rucksack are definite hindrances over these large boulders. Fortunately, most seem solidly wedged in place, but there are some deep, leg-snapping gaps. Just as I think it's over, I pass a crest, and discover I'm only half way through.

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It's not over yet. At this point, you might as well go down. The notch in the centre in the distance is the much lower Ryvoan Pass, which is on the route.

A day walker encounters me here, and we exchange pleasantries before passing on. In the distance I can see Glenmore Forest and, behind that, hills, with a low pass between them. I have no intention of fighting a map here, but I think that's the Ryvoan. Some way down I meet a tall Australian guy, up from London, making an easier job of it with longer legs and a much lighter pack.

I emerge again onto good footpath and follow it downhill, encountering more walkers, occasionally having to hood against intermittent showers. I cross a burn, then parallel it, finding the trail increasingly busy with humans and dogs on short walks out of car parks no more than a couple of kilometres away, including the one at the Cairn Gorm base station. Part of a walkway on the far side has been obliterated by a landslide.

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The Gap, centre, from the footpath lower down.

Dropping down to the semi-natural pine wood of the Glenmore National Nature Reserve, I haver briefly. The Ryvoan Pass is perhaps an hour distant; beyond that is Abernethy Forest, home of all kinds of interesting wildlife. Glenmore is certainly full of tourists. On the other hand, my body demands food that isn't pasta, textured vegetable protein, noodles, dried fruit or chocolate, my primary rucksack food groups. I opt for the café. It's unlikely to be a positive experience, but I require vegetables. The forest here is a mix dominated by birch and Scots pine, but it becomes less interesting the closer I approach civilisation. I encounter humans every few minutes, often with dogs, and the likelihood of encountering wildlife approaches zero.

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One of the many footpaths through the woods in Glenmore.

I find a café attached to a visitor centre opposite a profoundly unappealing mass campsite. I clean up, brush my hair and beard, and attempt not to look like someone who lives in the hills, then negotiate soup, a baked potato with vegetable (vegetable!!) chilli, and coffee. The coffee is naff, and I'd rather drink honest stream water. The soup is passable. The potato and the vegetables are overcooked, and several incentives for a vasectomy run riot, whose caregivers make no apparent effort to distinguish public space from playroom.

I skip dessert.

At the attached visitor centre I check the weather report, which suggests it's going to be reasonable for the next couple of days, before rain is likely to arrive the day following. I can certainly reach Forres, but the walk out to Nairn is likely to be downright miserable. In the meantime, Nethy Bridge is fifteen kilometres away, but I've had a pre-dawn start, followed by a difficult walk through two of Scotland's trickier passes. The trail for the Ryvoan Pass begins next to the reindeer centre, running parallel to the road past the Glenmore Lodge. This road turns to landrover track as I climb, passing a man with his pre-teen son, walking more slowly than I did over the Lairig Ghru. I stop briefly for photographs of the Lochan Uaine, a spot where I had considered camping, but I want to cover another few kilometres. Behind me I can see the notch of the Chalamain Gap, reminding me I've actually had a decent day's walking. I pass the Ryvoan Bothy, a family tent just outside.

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Lochan Uaine.

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The way to Braemar, but I'm going North.

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Approaching the top of the Ryvoan Pass. The notch of the Chalamain Gap is on the horizon, almost dead centre.

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The Ryvoan Bothy.

Passing a sign for the Lairig an Laoigh, the Lairig Ghru's lesser sister pass out to Braemar, I'm out of the mountains, and there is no real sense of remoteness, but Abernethy Forest remains one of Scotland's largest and most biologically diverse stretches of pine forest, one of the final strongholds of the pine marten and the capercaillie. Red wood ants seem more common here than they are in Glen More, and, while it's classified as a very similar Pinus sylvestris woodland, with blaeberry common in the under-storey, it has a very different feel, with more large trees, often more widely spaced. It's also much quieter, with considerably less human activity. I pass a small group with a tent near a junction in the trail, but have no desire to interact with them after the chaos of the Glenmore Tourist Trap. There is more cow-wheat, but I think it's the more common species.

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Some time later I descend to the Nethy for water, and begin seeking a campsite. The tent has a tiny ground profile, but traipsing through these woods during the capercaillie breeding season seems grossly irresponsible. Fortunately, I encounter a local out for a run. He turns out to be one of the RSPB employees managing the reserve, and he advises me. It's not, as far as I'm concerned, an ideal location for a tent, but it is one that will cause minimal disturbance. I feed, and birdwatch – the usual tits, plus the crestie, a personal favourite, and a thrush singing in a tree, but none of the rarer denizens of Abernethy Forest.

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A view from near the tent.

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A red wood ant (Formica sp.) nest, with 2-litre reservoir for scale. Wood ants are major predators on the larvae of several moth species that, unchecked, can do massive damage to conifer woodlands.

I sleep heavily, spending a more peaceful night, and emerge later than usual. Distractions include birds, flowers and wood-ant colonies and so, in spite of good tracks past the second Forest Lodge I've encountered on this expedition, this a base for the RSPB, I make poor time into Nethy Bridge. I run into the first dog walkers a kilometre short of the metalled road, eventually passing a woodland full of exotic trees, followed by a row of expensive, well-kept cottages. The church seems occupied.

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A dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, on the edge of Nethy Bridge. Not exactly a native species, but an impressive specimen.

Nethy Bridge boasts a small, unstaffed visitor centre but, sure enough, there is a juvenile human running around and being obnoxious in it, so I abandon it and seek brunch in the village shop. Bread, hummus and salad. Greens! I eat at a picnic table opposite, cross the Nethy, dodging buses, turn left, pass a delicatessen, then follow the Speyside Way.

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At the opposite end of the difficulty scale from the Chalamain Gap.

This stretch is disused railway, straight and well surfaced. The abandoned station has been converted into a bunkhouse which appears open. The temperature begins to rise, and I strip down and cover exposed skin with sunscreen. It's not an interesting habitat along here. There are patches of verge with wild flowers, bees and butterflies, but nothing to cause great excitement. I pass the odd stretch of birch woodland, its groundcover impoverished, but most of the surrounding land is given over to grazing. There is avifauna – these fields are wet, with little other management, and the plants are not being grazed to within millimetres of their existence, but the species I see are common ones.

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Not the most exciting of woods.

As I approach Grantown, a misleading sign leads me into a dead end. I'm clearly, judging by the boot prints, not the first person to have made this mistake. I retrace my steps, cross the main road, and follow better signage across the Spey.

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This signpost is misleading.

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This is the wrong way!

This close to Grantown a wide avenue leads me towards the town. There are a few day walkers and more dog walkers around. The town is of moderate size, with cafés and places for resupply. I feed (vegetables!), before walking up a road for a kilometre or so, then climbing some steps by a bridge. This is the start of the Dava Way, which mostly follows the route of a disused railway line as far as Forres, about forty kilometres from Grantown. The first stretch is an easy walk over a good surface, and much of the old embankment is certainly more biologically diverse than the grouse moor and sheep-wrecked landscape of much of the Cairngorms.

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There is certainly some wildlife around.

I pass the remains of a halt built for the then landowner, as a condition of permission for construction of the line across “his” land. Weather threatens, and just before I detour briefly off the line rain arrives. I have a brief conversation with a couple of walkers coming the other way. I'm the only other wayfarer they've met on this trail. The next few kilometres take me through some boring plantation woodland (pine martens have been reported here but none are in evidence) and past cattle grazing, invisibly leaving the northern border of the Cairngorms National Park close to a detour, which I ignore, down to Huntley's Cave, before I emerge from plantation a few minutes after the rain clears.

I'm close to the road here, and there are a few scattered pine trees that line the footpath. The surface is heavy gravel, uncomfortable under my boots. On both sides are hectares and hectares of stuff all, otherwise known as yet more grouse moor. My perhaps extended halt in Grantown means that sunset approaches.

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Heading out on to the moors.

Not far from the highest point on the route is a statue of a redcoat soldier. At the end of April 1690, word reached the government garrison just outside Inverness of a Jacobite force near Cromdale, a few miles from Grantown. A force of Redcoats was marched down the old military route over the moors, the latter part of which closely follows the Dava Way. The resultant government victory over the Jacobite insurgency resulted in the suppression of the rebellion for a generation.

I find it disappointing, but not surprising, that no parallels are drawn between the quashing of Highland language and culture and the present state of the moors. The walk between Carn na Crioche and Bantrach Wood is almost entirely across grouse moor. This is pitched as having a barren, windswept beauty. I perceive it differently, as a wet desert, where the natural predators and a number of other species have been deliberately exterminated by a minority of the entitled rich, the indigenous people having long since been removed by the descendants of the victors of the Battle of Cromdale. This was all a consequence of the destruction of Highland culture that followed the final defeat of the Jacobites in 1746.

While it's certainly plausible to argue that the Jabobite insurgency had much to do with which dissolute, womanising fop would sit on the combined thrones of Britain there is a definite failure to connect the dots. The modern tourist industry reflects the status quo, showing Scotland as a minority want it perceived, claiming that the denuded grouse moors attract tourist revenue, neglecting to mention that this is for the few, not the many. The Jacobite insurgency was closely linked to Gaelic language and culture, as well as patterns of tenure that were deliberately suppressed in a process of ethnic cleansing. While it might be argued that these same processes would have obliterated Highland culture regardless, it can also be argued that vast swathes of Scotland are covered in grouse moor, with all that entails for healthy ecosystems – and small cow-wheat is endangered – because the Jacobites lost.

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A puffball (species uncertain), in its sporulating phase.

My last night on the trail is spent semi-sheltered in plantation coniferous woodland next to the trail. A sign board not far away tells the story of an occasion when an ill-advised attempt to reach Grantown resulted in a snowbound train. The midges attack quickly, so I settle in with a book, seeing no reason to waste time looking for wildlife, knowing it's been exterminated.

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There is a better spot for a tent a hundred metres or so further on.

I rise early the following morning, finding the windspeeds low enough for midge activity, so I skip breakfast in the hope of finding a location where I won't be on the menu. I have no idea whether the portacabin lavatory near the habitation at Dava is a permanent fixture. It would be possible to break the journey here, because there is main road access. A few hundred metres beyond the woodland and back on the route of the old line I halt for breakfast, finding myself quickly overwhelmed by midges. I'm near the boundary of the blanket bog of the Moidach More, a habitat type receiving a high degree of protection.

A wide S-curve takes me past high ground to the north before I pass an old signalman's hut that contains more on the history and locality, and that would provide shelter in adverse conditions: it's very exposed up here.

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The old signalman's hut. It's at slightly less than the half way mark.

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From here it's pretty well all downhill.

Apparently there are stories of a ghost train, but I have no support for its existence. From this point the line descends, and I'm surprised to see a brown hare near a small woodland only a few minutes further on: gamekeepers hate hares because they carry diseases that affect grouse, and go to great lengths to wipe them out.

There are sheep here. A sign explains that these are present in order to clear the land of ticks that might affect the grouse. They're removed every few months and drenched in an acaricide. The same sign is also open about the deliberate extermination of resident predators, while alluding to the profits to be made by the landowner.

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Some spots have greater diversity than others.

From here I descend slowly on a railway-suitable grade, leaving the grouse moor at coniferous Bantrach Wood, where I'm surprised to encounter a pair of speckled wood butterflies, engaged in a mating flight, then over the impressive Divie viaduct, before detouring through some relatively botanically diverse birch woods in order to avoid a private house. Dunphail is also a suitable spot for breaking the route, although public transport is apparently limited.

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The Moray Firth in the distance.

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A speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria)

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Scurrypool Bridge carried the railway in Baronial style: this bridge is similar to one at the other end, near some rich person's house.

Much of the Way from here is through a mixture of grazing land and semi-natural woodland, most of it deciduous. By this point, I find it difficult to raise much enthusiasm. The Moray Firth comes into view, and I find myself hoping the weather is going to hold long enough for me to investigate Culbin Forest on the coast between Forres and Nairn, a habitat related to the pinewoods at Rothiemurchus and Abernethy, but on a different substrate and inhabited by species that have colonised it during the last century. It's difficult to decide whether the nadir of the walk is the grouse moor or the pig farm just south of Forres. There is simply little to comment about over this underwhelming final stretch: the polite term is “pastoral”. The route ends near a school, and I follow signs into the centre of Forres.

I find the museum and information centre at Forres closed, and locate the library to request a weather forecast. It's clear that the extension through to Nairn, while feasible, is going to be less than enjoyable, and will have to wait for a future expedition.

I have mixed feelings about this route. The passage through the Cairngorms, especially solo, presented challenges and genuine excitement. Weather conditions in the higher passes were difficult, even potentially dangerous, only a few days after midsummer: I faced gale-force gusts and sleet in the Lairig Ghru (attempting this alone at 7am might be considered unwise). The traverse from Blair Atholl to Nethy Bridge was certainly worth the effort. To my eye the surroundings are severely species impoverished, even within the National Park, and were considerably worse outside it. In the absence of noticeboards explaining culture and history most of the Dava Way would be outright boring. I encountered few other wayfarers on the Dava Way, and can't recommend it. There is public transport to Pitlochry, Killiecrankie, Blair Atholl, Glenmore, Nethy Bridge, Grantown-on-Spey and Forres.
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Location: Fife

Re: Pitlochry to Forres, via the Cairngorms and Dava Way

Postby EileanB » Fri Oct 27, 2017 9:11 am

Enjoyed the walk report, I like the idea of long distance walks where you link up routes yourself rather than following a trail with attendant waymarks and guidebook. Nice photos, liked the flowers.
EileanB
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Re: Pitlochry to Forres, via the Cairngorms and Dava Way

Postby Malkie » Sun Oct 29, 2017 11:42 pm

A very good report and it was interesting as i have walked the same way. When i did a coast to coast.
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Malkie
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Joined: Nov 9, 2014
Location: Dalkeith

Re: Pitlochry to Forres, via the Cairngorms and Dava Way

Postby beech » Thu Nov 02, 2017 8:33 pm

Looks like you had a really great time. Interesting route because you headed out of the Cairngorms to Forres which I hadn't thought of up until now. Great wildlife photos.
beech
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4 people think this report is great.
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