Winter on the Wildcat Trail

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I’VE only three or four months left to get bike-fit for my Irish cycle ride between Mizen Head and Malin Head in May so I’ve been putting the miles in on the bike since the turn of the year.  

It’s been going fairly well, and the generally mild winter weather has helped a lot but getting the consistency of training that I’d like has been difficult. For example, I have to go to Turkey tomorrow for some BBC filming (oh, woe is me), so it’ll be a while before I get my bum on a bike again.

Despite that, I just wanted a change yesterday. The wind was blowing ferociously and I’m a little fed up cycling into the teeth of a gale so I opted for a wee change – a nice walk around my home village of Newtonmore’

Our local Wildcat Trail is a lovely little route that links some 45 hectares of varied woodland, moorland and riverside walking around Newtonmore, offering some fabulous views over the Monadh Liath and Cairngorm mountains.

Winter, so often dour and sullen, can change its face in a magical way that portrays familiar landscape in a completely new light. Humdrum views come alive in the intensity of cold light and the hills, as ever, look different when swathed in a blanket of snow.

The great feature of the Wildcat Trail is the diversity of landscape. One moment you’re walking alongside a wide and mature River Spey as it flows along in stately fashion and a few minutes later you’re being entertained by the cascading waters of one of its tributaries, the River Calder, as it bursts over ice-crusted rocks and boulders. Further on the contrast between dense forest and the wide open moorland almost overwhelms the emotions, a sensory bombardment that leaves you speechless.

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From Newtonmore signposts guide walkers to the trail that runs alongside the River Spey. This trail runs below the railway bridge and the old A9 road bridge, a great spot for listening to the cailleach-cackle of mallards. I often stop at this spot on my wanders to listen to the croaking gossip of the ducks and sometimes watch a pair of goldeneye float happily out mid-river.

Beyond the road bridge the trail leaves the Spey and follows the chuckling River Calder. You have to leave it for a while to cross the Newtonmore to Laggan road but you rejoin it immediately and follow it behind Banchor Mains Farm to where it joins up with the River Calder trail, a great stretch of footpath that looks down on the boiling, churning rapids of the Calder gorge.

Once you reach the Glen Banchor road you turn right, heading away from the hills, but signposts lead you through part of the forest before you come back out on the road again. From here the trail climbs gently towards Upper Knock and through the birch woods behind Craggan, dropping down the edge of the wide moorland behind Strone towards the Ault Larie. The path follows the burn down to Aultlarie Bridge and the main road but a new stretch of footpath runs back towards Newtonmore parallel to the road.

Just beyond the Folk Park the route turns left down a lane and over the railway bridge to where signposts lead you towards the River Spey again. From here delightful paths run past what was once known as the Dale of Newtonmore, and is now Newtonmore golf course, all the way back to the start.

It’ll take most folk about 3 hours to wander round the Wildcat Trail’s 7 miles, and while underfoot conditions are generally good there are one or two wet sections that would make it sensible to wear walking boots or wellies. There is little climbing involved and plenty of opportunities to cut the route short and wander back into Newtonmore.

 

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