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The Cateran Trail 3 days / 55 miles (88km)

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CateranTrail LogoDate: 13 May 2019
Start / Finish: Blairgowrie.
Maps: 381 Blairgowrie Kirriemuir & Glamis + 387 Glen Shee & Braemar + 388 Lochnagar Glen Muick & Glen Clova.

Cateran Trail: Website

Day 1Moss of Cochrage & Strathardle14.0miles / 2052 feet (22.5km / 625m)
Day 2An Lairig, Glen Shee & the Glen Isla lochs26.8miles / 3910 feet (43.1km / 1191m)
Day 3Hill of Alyth, Den of Alyth & Glendams14.1miles / 1736 feet (22.7km / 529m)
The approach to An Lairig

A 3-day solo backpack of the Cateran Trail (CT) waymarked circular route through Perthshire and the Angus glens in south-eastern Scotland, a varied low-to-mid level route following old tracks and drove roads used by the notorious Cateran cattle raiders in bygone times.

Scotlands Great Trails

The original 64-mile (103km) route, the one outlined by Scotland's Great Trails and the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust (PKCT), repeats the initial 7-mile (11km) section from Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally on the return leg.
On this backpack I took the documented alternative route variant from Alyth to Blairgowrie via Den of Alyth and Glendams, sometimes called the Drimmie Woods alternative route and signed as such in Alyth, that returns on a direct line and eliminates that lengthy repetition.

Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust

This trail had been lurking on the books for a good few years and a forecast of a few days of fine, sunny weather in May was a good opportunity to tackle it, my first venture into this region of Scotland. The CT is very well waymarked and the PKCT are clearly keen on the "Cateran Country" moniker.

Once above Blairgowrie and onto the CT proper, I saw only three other walkers, all on day 1, thereafter the whole area appeared deserted and I saw nobody at all until the end, quite a surprise.

Day 1 - Moss of Cochrage & Strathardle

The trail begins on the west side of the River Ericht at the road bridge in the town. The picturesque riverside walk is soon diverted left up wooden steps to a higher level track and a CT sign indicating the route directly uphill through woodland to the Knockie road, a good vantage point over the town.

The CT continues as an access track ascending the slopes above the Lornty Burn and crossing it to climb to Moss of Cochrage, an almost flat expanse of moorland where the first glimpse of the distant Mounth mountains came into view, the highest retaining the last vestiges of snow.

Trail head at the bridge at the River Ericht
Trail head at the bridge at the River Ericht (13 May 2019__13:50:02)
The River Ericht
The River Ericht (13 May 2019__14:01:05)
The trail across Moss of Cochrage
The trail across Moss of Cochrage (13 May 2019__15:51:45)

After the Bridge of Cally turnoff the CT enters Blackcraig Forest and ascends to Croft of Blackcraig. For a few miles on the western flanks of Strathardle the CT is a mixture of forest road, farm track, woodland and finally a rough moorland path emerging at a footbridge on Pitcarmick Burn. There are good views from the open sections over the glen and northwards to the hills.

Approaching Cultalonie, a farmer passed on her quadbike and we chatted about the trail and my backpacking plan. I said I was hopeful of a great view from An Lairig tomorrow and she commented that the last remaining snow on the Mounth tops had retreated significantly today in the sunshine.

It was getting late and I was looking to find a good pitch but I was low down in the glen, not ideal but necessary on this occasion. With some ingenuity I found a relatively secluded spot close to the River. With a high-confidence weather forecast for dry, near-calm conditions I tried leaving the flysheet in my pack and pitching the tent inner-only. It felt rather odd at first but I quickly grew accustomed to it and appreciated the moonlight and view of the stars.

Strathardle view from near Dalnabreck
Strathardle view from near Dalnabreck (13 May 2019__17:56:44)
Pitcarmick Burn
Pitcarmick Burn (13 May 2019__18:36:23)
Pitcarmick Mill
Pitcarmick Mill (13 May 2019__18:46:56)
Dalvey Loch
Dalvey Loch (13 May 2019__19:14:40)
Strathardle view from near Cultalonie
Strathardle view from near Cultalonie (13 May 2019__19:34:14)
Pitch by the River Ardle
Pitch by the River Ardle (13 May 2019__21:01:15)

Day 2 - An Lairig, Glen Shee & the Glen Isla lochs

Pitching close to the river by trees brings… owls. I was awakened by an owl in a nearby tree in full-on screech mode and, through the tent mesh, I saw it - or its mate - alight on a branch as a silhouette with a silent swoop against the moonlight backdrop. Then an oystercatcher chimed in with a series of short, sharp "pheeps". Completing the sonic package around dawn was a squawking pheasant. Such are the joys and perils of backpacking but I needed an early start for the long day today. There was also a temperature inversion and the glen was cold enough to produce frost on the solid parts of the tent inner.

Walking through Kirkmichael and arriving at Loch Cottage, there was a pleasing view of the small loch in the early sunlight. Beyond Enochdhu on the ascent through Calamanach Wood, the temperature rose rapidly and I was again down to a baselayer to begin the highlight of the CT - the traverse over the pass of An Lairig. Emerging from the wood, the route is a glorious easy promenade below the cone of Elrig and passing the Upper Lunch Hut to begin the final ascent to the pass. I rested a while at An Lairig to absorb the great prospect of the hills ahead.

Loch at Loch Cottage
Loch at Loch Cottage (14 May 2019__05:58:24)
Standing Stone near Elrig
Standing Stone near Elrig (14 May 2019__07:00:27)
Elrig (14 May 2019__07:31:01)
View ahead from below Elrig
View ahead from below Elrig (14 May 2019__07:32:38)
The Upper Lunch hut
The Upper Lunch hut (14 May 2019__07:56:02)
View back from the final ascent to An Lairig
View back from the final ascent to An Lairig (14 May 2019__08:36:20)
View from An Lairig
View from An Lairig (14 May 2019__08:46:46)
View from An Lairig
View from An Lairig (14 May 2019__08:46:57)

An easy descent alights on the local road in Spittal of Glenshee where an information board describes the climactic 1606 Battle of Glen Shee in which the Cateran raiders were finally defeated by the glen Clansmen. The forlorn shell of the hotel remains as a sad reminder of the day it burnt down.

The CT meanders pleasantly around the eastern flanks of Glen Shee, passing Dalnaglar castle and arriving at the B951 road that takes the trail eastwards over to Glen Isla. The pictures give a flavour of the area.

View back to Spittal of Glenshee and An Lairig
View back to Spittal of Glenshee and An Lairig (14 May 2019__09:53:58)
Barn near Mains of Runavey
Barn near Mains of Runavey (14 May 2019__10:57:55)
Hills north of Glen Shee
Hills north of Glen Shee (14 May 2019__11:08:42)
Shee Water
Shee Water (14 May 2019__12:40:13)

A hike eastwards along the road brought me to Forter Castle and Little Forter where the CT crosses the River Isla and begins the ascent around the moorland north of Auchintaple Loch on the southern flank of Badandun Hill, bringing fine views of Glen Isla and the distant mountains.

Extensive forestry operations were in progress on the eastern slopes above Auchintaple Loch and many trees have been felled, though the route was not affected by any diversions. The CT does use some unsurfaced forestry vehicle tracks thereabouts that were dry, dusty and pleasant to walk on today but I can imagine a right mudbath after rain. The near view of the loch over the felled area was unflattering, I was content with a distant view over the water to Mount Blair.

From the southern tip of the forest the CT descends to Loch Shandra, just visible in the distance, and climbs around more forestry for a descent into Kirkton of Glenisla. The local Post Office is no more and the public toilet building at the visitor car park was locked and deserted.

View of Glen Isla from ascent around Auchintaple Loch
View of Glen Isla from ascent around Auchintaple Loch (14 May 2019__14:33:04)
Ascent towards Badandun Hill
Ascent towards Badandun Hill (14 May 2019__14:33:34)
Auchintaple Loch
Auchintaple Loch (14 May 2019__14:59:33)
Loch Shandra
Loch Shandra (14 May 2019__16:08:35)
River Isla at Kirkton
River Isla at Kirkton (14 May 2019__17:10:01)

The CT crosses the river and climbs to Cairn Hill, just missing the summit and entering Whitehill Wood on an excellent woodland path. The descent to the valley track waymarked at a stile has a second post adorned with the carved face of a Cateran. A final walk along the track through a couple of farms and it was time for a pitch: this time I found a spot between the young trees near the road and the established conifers behind, hardly scenic but quite functional.

Day 3 - Hill of Alyth, Den of Alyth & Glendams

Another cloudless morning brought a fine walk resuming the track down to a minor road. A gentle climb on the far side brought me to a traversing track along Knaptam Hill with refreshing early views over the valley.

A point of navigation worth mentioning: my 2015 mapping gives a misleading picture of the trees on Knaptam Hill and can easily lead to error, they actually extend farther eastwards to meet the CT at NO242533. Reaching a tiny footbridge, an adjacent CT waymark post indicates directly onwards, but just after this there is another raised waymark, easily missed, pointing rightwards steeply uphill along the edge of the trees.

Early view from the slopes of Knaptam Hill
Early view from the slopes of Knaptam Hill (15 May 2019__06:24:09)

The approach to Hill of Alyth is a very pleasant path, if a little muddy, today showing the finest and most dense cover of gorse I've ever seen, the whole eastern side of the hill was a solid mass of yellow.

The descent path into Alyth alights on the B952. A short way south-west is an information board about the old Herdsman of Alyth who would walk through the town each morning tooting his horn to alert the people to bring out their animals for herding up to Alyth Hill for grazing, bringing them down each evening and repeating the call. The modern Toutie Street heads downhill to the town centre from this board in commemoration of his tradition, but my route today was westwards along High Street, as signed by a tall fingerpost, to arrive at a T-junction: just to the left of the junction is the entrance to Den of Alyth.

Hill of Alyth
Hill of Alyth (15 May 2019__08:09:03)

The Den is an excellent woodland path alongside the Alyth Burn, flanked in part by vertical stone faces and a delight this morning with the early sunshine glinting through the trees. Hugging the burn for around a mile the path arrives at the Bridge of Tully.

The narrow lane from the bridge heads westwards to East and West Tullyfergus, continuing as a track where the road bends left. This is another very good track that arrives at the main loch of Glendams where a resident swan obligingly swam into the camera field of view. Not seen in the picture are the giant wind turbine blades peeping out above the trees on the north side.

In the Den of Alyth
In the Den of Alyth (15 May 2019__08:55:01)
Glendams (15 May 2019__10:12:16)

The waymarked path continues westwards, briefly entering a dark, silent forest of dense conifers, to join a good open forest track that emerges on a country lane for an easy descent to the outskirts of Blairgowrie. The lane arrives at a minor road, I crossed this road and continued to cross the A93 and join the riverside track back to Blairgowrie centre.