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Glen More and Loch an Eilein Nature Trails

Glen More Forest Trails, Forestry

Commission, Glen More

Information Centre, Aviemore,

Highland

Glen More Trail

On ski road off B970 (at Coylumbridge)

6 miles east of Aviemore

Map reference: NH974

Three trails displaying both modern forestry techniques and natural Cairngorm flora and fauna: Shore Trail – U miles; River trail – 3 miles; Pinewood Trail – 1± miles

Illustrated trail brochure covering all three trails; Visitor Centre; picnic areas; car parks; campsite Loch an Eilein Trail Nature Conservancy Council Visitor Centre, Kinakyle, Aviemore, Highland 3 miles south of Aviemore off B

Map reference: NH898

3-mile trail around typical small Scottish loch once used as a timber-gathering pool – nearby are possible Iron Age settlements

Illustrated trail brochure; car park; Visitor Centre

Between Aviemore and Braemar rises the largest tract of mountainous land of over 3000-feet in Britain – the Cairngorms. The high, Cairngorm plateau forms a broad, undulating range broken by four of the five highest peaks

in the country and bordered by vertical cliff faces and cauldron-like corries. Steep-sided glens, deepened by glacial action, are entrenched into the plateau, fast-flowing mountain streams and waterfalls tumble over the the rockface and deep, well-hidden lochs and cor-rie lakes glisten in the sunlight. The dramatic outline of the mountains in contrast with the steep valleys gives the landscape its unique and splendid character.

The Cairngorm mountains stand prominently beside the neighbouring hills, for their granite construction has proved the more resilient to the ravages of time and weather. It was the pink felspars found within the granite that first gave rise to the old name for the Cairngorms, the Monadh Ruadh or Red Mountains.

Natural pine forest originally extended along the length of the entire Spey Valley and crept slowly into the tributaries and across the mountain slopes creating an impenetrable blanket of Caledonian pines. During the inter-vening centuries, the need for timber depleted the forest and little now remains. However, concealed within the stronghold of one such valley lies the Glen More Forest Park – 4000 acres of thick woodland, forest and heath sur-rounding the sandy shores of Loch Morlich.

Lacing through the south part of the woods, the Queen’s Forest, the Forestry Commission has established three trails. The first takes in much of the shore of Loch Morlich and is linked to the second, the Pinewood Trail, by a bridge over the Allt Mhor river (Great River) feeding the lake. The River Trail takes a tour around the woods of the Allt Mhor and Allt na Ciste valleys. All the walks are graded as easy-the Shore and Pinewood Trails are each only one-and-a-quarter miles long, while the Riverside Trail is three miles long. The trails are loops starting close to the Glen More Forest Park information centre and campsite.

Early records show that Glen More was once used as a hunting forest, first for the Stewarts of Kincardine, then for the Kings of Scotland and later for the Dukes of Gordon. In addition, the tenants of the Gordon estates were granted the privilege of collecting ‘torch wood’ and were allowed limited pasturage. Although at

the time it was a punishable offence, there is little doubt that the tenants stripped the bark to provide dyes for tanning and for roof cover. The Spey Valley was immensely rich in timber resources and despite the difficult transport problems involved, was readily exploited for its riches.

In the 17th century, a tenant could harvest timber – provided he used only a saw and an axe – for an annual rent of 25p and a pound of tobacco. By 1766 the price for a butt had risen to 16p and felling reached an astounding level. Records for a Cairngorm estate of that period show the timber contract amounted to the staggering sum of £7000. The logs were drawn by horses to the banks of the forest streams, peeled and allowed to dry naturally and, when conditions were favourable, floated down the Druie and Sluggan to join the Spey. Here, a mass of logs were joined together with horsehair ropes and the resultant raft guided down to the sawmills by a system of ropes and by one man travelling alongside in a small coracle. The timber was utilised by local boatyards or alternatively the trunks were bored out and shipped to London for use as pipes in the new-water-supply systems. , Glen More was eventually allowed to regenerate naturally and, apart from a brief spell as both a sheep and deer forest, remained almost undisturbed until this century.

In 1923 the forest was acquired by the Fores-try Commission and, when it was quickly real-ised that timber could only be grown profitably

on the lower slopes, so rendering three-quarters of the estate unplantable, the area was created a Forest Park in 1948. Replanting took place immediately with Sitka and Norway spruce, Douglas fir, Scots and Lodgepole pine and larch. Early planting relied on manual labour and it was not until after the war that machines and fertilisers were employed in any great quantities. This factor has since had a considerable effect on the character of the woods: the pre-war areas, south of Loch Morlich, are irregular in growth and planting pattern, contrasting vividly with the uniform pattern and vigorous growth of the modern, man-made, northern woods.

Scattered throughout the 4000 acres are various stands of Caledonian Pine as monu-ments to the original forest cover. The pines vary in age from two to four hundred years old and can have either tall, straight trunks with luxurious leaf canopies or be much smaller, gnarled and twisted specimens. This difference is not a genetic factor but the results of varying soil types and weather conditions.

Pines are, in general, hardy species, especially when self-sown. However, the Sitka spruce, despite the fact that it was imported from the chilly climes of North America, is susceptible to frosts. There is one distinct frost pocket on the Pinewood Trail in a forest section near the Allt Mhor, where the cold air from the surrounding hills drains and here spruce are struggling to survive the adversities.

Fire can also take its toll on the forest.

Again, on the Pinewood Trail, stands a grove of pines blackened by a fire during the last war. The young saplings and thin-barked trees were all destroyed and only those older, thicker-barked trees have survived to mark the event. Near to the shores of Loch Morlich another native British conifer has taken root. The juniper flourishes at Glen More and, apart from its brewing and culinary connections,

is an important winter food source for deer during the particularly long and harsh Highland winters.

Herds of red deer are not common in Glen More, but visitors are likely to come across a group of roe deer amongst the pine or birch woods. The rutting season for red deer begins in October and it is often possible to hear the boastful stags roaring in the forest clearings on a clear, autumn evening.

The roe is a shy creature and lives in small, family units. The bucks establish distinct ter-ritories within the woods and, to the great consternation of the foresters, identify their domain by fraying and stripping the young trees of their bark. The deer population can at times become too great or damage to plantations excessive and it then becomes necessary to cull the herds.

Photographers wishing to capture these magnificent beasts on film can arrange to use a forest hide for a minimal fee.

On a miniature scale, the insect population of the forest is huge and yet often goes unnoticed. The ant is a highly energetic and important woodland worker and can be seen during the summer months climbing the seemingly gigantic pine trunks and carrying a cargo of litter, resin and other insects. It is thought that the fastidiousness of the ants helps to prevent disease within the forest and visitors are asked to avoid damaging the numerous anthills. These can often be up to two feet high and may be camouflaged with leaf mould.

The mischievous red squirrel is often very tame and has learnt that visitors usually mean food — even if retrieving it means upturning a wastepaper basket or two! Their staple diet is pine seeds and often if a chewed pine cone should fall from the tree above then its a fair assumption that a cheeky squirrel, having finished his lunch, is taking a pot shot at you!

Foxes, badgers and wildcats all live in the forest but are difficult to observe; one is more likely to stumble over a badger sett, smell a fox trail or hear a wildcat cry than actually come

The pure waters of the Spey are an important ingredient in producing Scottish malt whiskies and several distilleries in the valley open their doors to visitors. As anglers will know, the Spey’s claim to fame is not in whisky alone for there are trout, sea trout and salmon to be caught in the clear waters. Further afield there are trout at Loch Vaa and Avielochan and salmon in the Feshie and Dulnain rivers. For novice anglers, there is a fishing school at the Aviemore Centre.

Aviemore, the now famous ‘alpine’ village is just a few minutes drive from the forest. Within the modern complex are housed an exhausting range of leisure facilities, entertainments, shops and restaurants — guaranteed to appeal to all age groups. The Centre is open for business all year round and in winter is transformed as the heart of British skiing. There are fourteen pistes, all requiring varying degrees of skill and six schools to give tuition. Chair lifts and ski-tows are in operation all day to transfer skiers to the higher slopes.

A lazier way of enjoying the valley is to hitch a ride on the Strathspey Steam Railway as it chugs backwards and forwards becween Aviemore and Boat of Garten. An alternative is to view the valley on horseback; there are pony trekking centres at Carrbridge, Nethy Bridge, Laggan and Aviemore.

Keen golfers will have to resort to a car drive to follow their sport in this part of the Highlands. There are woodland and moor courses at Grantown-on-Spey, Boat of Garten, Nethy Bridge, Kingussie and Newtonmore.

Whilst in the Glen More region, visitors should certainly try to visit Loch an Eilein, some six miles south east of the forest. Here a 15th-century, ruined castle stands romantically on the tiny islet, surrounded by gently lapping waters and lush woodlands.

The lands surrounding the loch are part of the Rothiemurchus estate and the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve, however, the Nature Conservancy Council have recently established a nature trail which allows visitors to walk the entire perimeter of the loch.

The trail starts from the northern point of the water and meanders through natural Scots pine woodland rich in wildlife, small mammals and birds while the loch itself supports an abundance of brown trout, pike, eels and otters. Butterflies are colourful visitors to the loch-side meadows and dragonflies – flashing by in a haze of azure blue – are a common summertime sight.

The trail is some three miles long and, as the paths are not arduous, should take the average walker no more than two hours to complete. The Loch an Eilein area is continuously under strict surveillance as a Nature Reserve and visitors are particularly requested not to disturb the beauty and tranquillity of the area.

The loch is also under observation and is therefore out of bounds to bodies and boats alike! A loch-side cottage has been converted as an information centre and the Reserve wardens will advise on Cairngorm wildlife.

Across the real thing. Persistent observers should make an early start to catch a glimpse of a fox returning to his hole after a night’s hunting or sit at dusk, downwind from a badger’s sett, to see the whiskered, black and white face emerge.

Visitors wishing to camp within the forest can use the Commission’s own site of twenty acres backing on to the shores of Loch Morlich with 221 level, grassy pitches to choose from. There are three modern toilet blocks, a well-stocked shop, restaurant and laundry room. Alternatively there are additional sites at Boat of Garten and Aviemore.

Loch Morlich is itself a major attraction for visitors. The sandy shores are ideal for picnics or sunbathing and the waters for canoeing or sailing. The Loch also attracts a variety of water birds throughout the year; mallard, teal, widgeon, duck, swan and geese can be seen.

If you have a head for heights, view the forest from above by taking the ski lift from near the Glen More campsite to within 500 feet of the summit of Cairngorm. On a clear day the views are breathtaking; to the north is Ben Wyvis, to the south Ben Nevis and below sparkles the Spey Valley.

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