Normally my car boot is full to the gunnels as I subscribe to the ‘everything plus the kitchen sink’ school of packing. When I set off last Monday I was forced to be rather more compact. This time around the car boot space needed to be shared with someone else’s rucksack. My friend Ellie had foolhardily agreed to join me on my latest running roadtrip. We headed up to Perthshire and set off from Aberfeldy both feeling tired from our weekend exploits. In Ellie’s case the elation of achieving a half marathon PB was subsiding into realisation of the inevitable post-race stiffness. As for me, I was wondering why I had ever thought it would be a good idea to go running the day after a three day ski mountaineering weekend. I was soon back on familiar ground as to our surprise the snow hadn’t yet melted from the track under the trees.
Snowy hills from the Rob Roy Way
Snow has an insidious ability to sneak into shoes and we squelched our way down through the Birks of Aberfeldy back to the car. Next stop was Manny and Brenda’s in Kingussie. The following day turned out to be a day of two lochs. A trot round Loch Gynack in the morning with Manny was followed by a (very) brisk walk round Loch an Eilein in the afternoon with Brenda and Maisy.
Babies run too!
An appreciation of natural beauty seems to be something that comes with age. Maisy slept the entire way round the loch despite, or perhaps because of, the jolting of her buggy over tree roots and through puddles. The all terrain buggy is quite an impressive invention! By the time we got back to Inverdruie it was a glorious sunny evening. Spring is definitely here and I can’t wait for the clocks to go forward so that we get even longer evenings – bring on British Summertime!
The sun shone in Perthshire as if to order. One of my best friends was getting married in her home town and sunshine was maybe not an essential ingredient but certainly a nice-to-have. Before the ceremony I persuaded several friends to go for a run in Glenartney on a route recommended by the Strathearn Harriers. We followed a map printed off from their website and only got a little bit lost when trying to join up the two good tracks by a pathless section of hillside. We accidentally took a shortcut which turned out to be quite lucky as otherwise we wouldn’t have had time for both a swim and an ice cream before getting changed into posh frocks for the afternoon’s celebrations.
Running into Glenartney on good hill tracks
On Monday morning I met up with a few very friendly and welcoming Strathearn Harriers. According to their website they meet at Taylor Park but confusingly the signposts at the car park all say MacRosty Park, rather than Taylor. Fortunately I’d managed to get to the right place and Liz, the club secretary, decided we’d run the route of the Crieff 10km race. It’s all on woodland trails and farm tracks so perfect research for me. We trotted round quite happily in an hour and were very glad that the shady woodland protected us from the hot sun. The run headed back to Crieff by Lady Mary’s Walk along the bank of the River Earn. This piece of land was gifted to the town in 1815 by the father of the Lady Mary after whom the walk is named. She had good taste in walks as can be seen from the picture below!
Reflections in the River Earn along Lady Mary's Walk
After the pleasant woodland of Crieff I headed over to the Grampians for a much more rugged and remote run along the Cateran Trail. Rather than attempt the full 62 miles I’d decided to follow a shorter loop from Kirkmichael. The path is very well signposted and stiles have been constructed at all fence and wall crossings as well as at many gates. Care is still required as I managed to lose the way in several places due to lack of attention! As it’s so well signposted I quickly learnt that if I hadn’t seen a signpost or if I felt a bit uncertain then I needed to retrace my steps and find out where I’d gone wrong. The route from Kirkmichael goes through wonderfully remote upland and passes over a high bealach before plunging down to Spittal of Glenshee on a brilliantly runnable grassy track. Naturally I had to stop and investigate the Upper Lunch Hut where I discovered from the visitor’s book that I was in good company – Queen Victoria had also stopped here. Her party had to wait while a forgotten kettle was retrieved from Spittal of Glenshee before they could have tea. I had no such wait, but alas, also no tea.
After the Spittal the Cateran Trail links together paths and tracks on the east side of the Blairgowrie-Braemar road. They make pleasant running through grassy grazing fields with good views down the valley. Quite a contrast to the first part of the route. In places one has to be quite alert to changes in direction and occasionally a trackless section is required to link the good paths and tracks. No doubt a path will be worn as more people do this route. I passed signs warning me not to disturb sheep during the lambing season but curiously there were none to warn me about the vicious ground-nesting lapwings who repeatedly dive bombed me as I innocently attempted to cross “their” field. After bitter experience with terns in the Arctic I not never underestimate the damage that can be done to tender scalps by hard beaks. I ran across the field waving my cap in the air above my head. I don’t think there was anyone around to see – anyone watching from afar would have thought me mad!
After Dalnaglar Castle I left the Cateran Trail and crossed the main road at Lair to get onto a footpath marked on the OS map that would take me back to Kirkmichael. There was a Scottish Rights of Way signpost saying Footpath to Kirkmichael at the side of the road which seemed very promising but belied the reality. The footpath up the stream petered out almost instantly and then it was bog, tussocks and sometimes both together. Having said that, the route was adeqately signposted by yellow topped posts each of which was just visible from the one previous. After crossing the watershed the path improved markedly and was really rather good as it headed down into Coire a Bhaile. On the other side of the valley I joined a track which ran past a small lochan and down to Ashintully Castle. The castle owners are really rather keen on encouraging walkers to keep off their land! At least they’ve reacted in a literally constructive way. The route around the castle grounds has been signposted and substantial stiles installed at every crossing point. Although there weren’t necessarily paths the going was on generally good ground so I was hopeful that the final descent would be a firm grassy field that would be a pleasure to run down. It wasn’t to be. The field wasn’t terribly tussocky, but going fast and breaking an ankle wasn’t on my to do list for the day so I walked. The final hundred metres or so were on an overgrown path through a narrow strip of woodland. I emerged out of the darkness of the woodland onto the side of a driveway with wind chimes dangling from the branches in front of me. It felt slightly surreal. Luckily the village shop in Kirkmichael sells tea and home baking which quickly restored me to the real world. To sum it up – the path from Lair to Kirkmichael isn’t brilliant, but it is a good way of turning the northern end of the Cateran Trail into a circuit. It heads back into remote mountainous terrain with good views and has one excellent section of path around the shoulder of Cnoc Feanndaige. Just don’t embark on it expecting terrain and waymarking of equal calibre to the main Cateran Trail.
Heart waymarkers for a heart-shaped trail. Or are they shaped like that because we love the route? Or because it's in the heart of Scotland? Or...? Answers on a postcard...
Having done the northern section I’m now quite keen to go back to where I left off following the loveheart waymarkers to see what the rest of the Cateran Trail is like. That won’t be until the autumn as the early summer has flown by and it’s nearly time for me to head north for the summer. Before leaving for Spitsbergen I’m planning to pack in one more trip. This time to the West Highlands and some routes best accessed by train. The West Highland line is arguably one of the world’s most scenic – so will the surrounding trails be as good? I reckon they almost certainly will be!