Forests enjoyed on a cycle trip in Highland Scotland
Benedict Bate is a volunteer speaker with the Woodland Trust who has been with us for a significant number of years and an excellent ambassador for our work. He has written a wonderful piece about a recent cycle trip (of which I am very envious!). Grab a cuppa and enjoy the read!
With lock down easing and having been restricted on club cycle runs to remaining within Edinburgh City boundaries, the opportunity to embark on a longer cycle trip in Scotland, staying in hotels and eating inside cafés was too good to pass up.
My wife and I booked a train to Fort William with two bike spaces on Monday 10th May and a return to Edinburgh from Dalwhinnie on Thursday 13th May. We also booked hotels in Fort William, Inverness, and Grantown on Spey although as it turned out each hotel had spare capacity, and each was hungry for business.
We were lucky to have a following wind for most of the journey and apart from that one of the highlights of the trip were the trees and woodlands we passed along the way.
We chose to cycle to Inverness on the Caledonia Way which follows the Great Glen to Fort Augustus and then climbs onto the plateau on the south east side of Loch Ness following General Wades 18th century military road. We started in light rain, soon clearing, but this afforded some interesting views of the Ben from Neptune’s Staircase which takes the Caledonian Canal from sea level in Loch Linnie to the level of Loch Lochy,19m (62ft) higher in over a quarter of a mile of continuous locks.
Further north, just beyond Gairlochy, on the way to the Trust’s Loch Arkaig Pine Forest, there are some stunning veteran trees a few of which have been recorded in the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Inventory, my impression however was that there are more veteran trees there still to be recorded. This area is the home turf of Clan Cameron and these trees are likely to have been planted by the local laird around 1800, I would guess. When open again the Clan Cameron museum will be well worth a visit as it tells their story, their part in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, and their subsequent amalgamation into the British State, which went hand in hand with the foundation of the Cameron Highlanders regiment. The museum also tells the story of the key role the area played as a WWII training centre for Commandos. A good deal of the first part of this route is surrounded by forests, some of which is commercial belonging to Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS). Further north on the track above Loch Lochy we came across a significant tree felling operation where some exceptionally large trees were being felled. This is a useful reminder of the importance of commercial forestry in Scotland. Fortunately, FLS had a system in place whereby they halted operations to allow safe passage to cyclists and walkers.
Continuing north the route follows the south east side of Loch Oich along the route of the long closed Invergarry and Fort Augustus railway which linked these habitations to Spean Bridge from 1903 to 1933 for passengers but finally closed to all traffic in 1944. Since then, trees have grown on either side of the track bed which made for a very pleasant cycle.
The trees above the SE side of Loch Ness are mainly plantation forests but there are still vast swathes of the countryside badly in need of tree cover!
The following day we encountered heavy rain first thing so there was no incentive to linger, however we did cycle through some lovely woods on the way to Grantown, firstly to the west and south of Cawdor Castle and later in woodlands close to the beautiful Darnaway Forest followed by vast tracks of barren moorland, given over to grouse and deer hunting around Dava all the way to Grantown. The monotony is halted in Grantown by the magnificent Scots Pines in Anagach Wood which is community owned and managed for all to enjoy.
On Thursday, our final cycling day, the rain had stopped and there was a gentle northerly breeze to help us on our way, we had many wonderful forests to enjoy including Abernethy Forest and the Loch Garten osprey centre run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Most of the trees around the loch seem to have been planted in my lifetime but a few are much older and appear as veteran trees on the Trust’s Ancient Tree register. Further on we skirted Glen More Forest Park, the Rothiemurchus forests, especially lovely around Loch an Eilein, and on to Feshiebridge and Inshriach forest. As well as Scots Pine there is, of course, Birch, Rowan, and Larch none were fully out but some beautiful greens on view as the trees burst into life after a hard winter and late spring.
Once past Newtonmore, the trees are less frequent, some natural looking trees along the banks of the Truim Burn but then more vast swathes of moorland as far as the eye can see! Cycling into Dalwhinnie, 350m above sea level, to catch the train home we noticed that the trees on the roadside were barely green displaying only tight buds waiting for warmer weather to arrive!
Benedict Bate, May 2021