On the trail of the wildcat
By Tom McIntyre
The Wildcat Trail is an easy six mile leg-stretcher encircling the Speyside village of Newtonmore. It links a series of peaceful native woodlands, two old crafting townships and some impressive waterfalls. The River Spey section passes through an area of special scientific interest and a flood plain boasting a particularly large concentration of native orchids.
The trail was created by the Newtonmore Community Woodland Trust with support from two local estates and Highland Council. The wildcat is used as a logo as this elusive beast has long been associated with the village. A guide, priced at Ł2, is available locally with details of both this route and other walks in the area. Interpretive panels and directional signs are to be found along the way.
From the village square head south-west along Main Street, following the A86 to Calder Bridge. Don’t cross, but turn right, following a path along the river bank. As you proceed there’s a good view of the Banchor Cemetery, located on the site of an early Christian cell dedicated to St Bride. On your left, over the River Calder, are the craggy slopes of Creag Dhubh – the black crag. Look out for circling buzzards overhead, blackcock or, if you’re really lucky, a golden eagle. The way passes through recently planted native trees including rowan, alder and the rare aspen. Across the water are the ruins of an old mill and lade.
The trail rises to Milton where the remains of an old township can be seen. A plaque here outlines the history. Further along there’s a bench and a viewpoint indicator naming the surrounding mountains.
Approaching Glen Road, you pass the remains of two ancient corn-drying kilns. The way continues through Milton Wood, an established plantation of conifers. Continue by following signs for the Craggan section of the trail which is reached by turning up the access road to Upper Knock. The track climbs past three houses and forks left at a sign to Craggan. Proceed round the back of the hill past the Craggan sheepfank. Along the way you pass the remains of an old slate quarry which provided roofing material for many of Newtonmore’s older houses.
From Craggan there are panoramic views over the town, east towards the mountains of the Cairngorms. Continue east across Strone moor, passing the remains of a hut circle where the foundations of primitive Pictish structures can be found.
The path follows the bubbling Allt Laraidh down past a series of waterfalls and the remains of a corn mill. It skirts through natural woodlands to join the main A96. Rare orchids can be seen here in May and June and you may also spot red squirrels and woodpeckers among the trees.
Near the remains of the old road bridge there is a grassy path leading to a layby on the A96. At the layby, turn right towards Newtonmore and follow the path through the woods. It runs south-west, parallel to the road, until a sign pointing left down a side road towards the golf course and River Spey is reached. Follow this track across the railway bridge and along the burn until you reach a footbridge over the water. Do not cross the golf course fairway but follow a signed path to stepping stones leading to the Eilean na Cluanaich. Up to the right you will see a reconstructed 17th century township, Baile Gean.
Continue along the river bank for a mile and a quarter to the south-west end of the golf course where a signpost points to the village. Don’t follow this (unless you want to cut the walk short) but continue along the trail as it follows the river upstream. This section of the route runs through the Insh Marshes, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to an array of flora and fauna including herons, sandpipers, dippers and otters.
The riverbank vegetation is generally sparse and weedy due to frequent flooding. The Dale of Newtonmore, on which the golf course sits, has a large concentration of native orchids and other wild flowers. The river itself boasts salmon, trout and eels.
Approaching the junction of the Spey and River Calder there are views again of Creag Dhubh and Glen Truim. The trail passes under the railway line and a short way on arrives at Spey Bridge, built on the orders of the Duke of Gordon in 1765. Cross the road and the trail continues along the east bank of the River Calder to reach Calder Bridge. Turn right here and follow the A86 road back into Newtonmore.