Friday 19 August 2022

A Walk of Contrasts: Woodland & Grouse Moor above Lochindorb

On the Walk for Harriers on Dava Moor we’d walked along tracks on the east side of some low hills. Realising that I’d never been up these hills even though they were close to home I returned a few days later to climb them from Lochindorb on their west side. 

Greylag Geese were grazing beside the wind-rippled loch. I saw no birds out on the water. From the loch shore the ruin of Lochindorb Castle looks just a low stone wall. As I climbed it’s square shape would become clear. The castle dates from the 13th century and was a favourite haunt of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, known as the Wolf of Badenoch and infamous for burning down Elgin Cathedral. He owned the castle from 1372 until 1405.

Rising from the loch shore opposite the castle is the little rocky hill called Craig Tiribeg. On this side the slopes are steep and wooded. A low fence runs round the woodland, not high enough to keep out deer but adequate to repel the sheep I saw grazing not far away.

I followed overgrown old forest tracks zigzagging up the hillside. The ascent was delightful. Amongst the Scots Pines were many little crags and open areas of thick blaeberries and heather. Many butterflies fluttered along the tracks, mostly dark brown Scotch Argus. A raptor flashed through the trees. Probably a sparrowhawk, though I only saw it for a second. A roe deer was visible for no longer.

The lower trees were young, twenty to thirty years old at a guess. Higher up they were much taller and looked older. There were little pines poking up through the heather in places and occasional birches. The wood felt healthy. The tracks didn’t go quite to the 486 metre summit, a pile of broken rocks amongst the trees. Walking the short distance there through the vegetation I realized just how lush it was, and how easily I’m distracted by tasty blaeberries.

Just beyond the summit the woodland ends and the world changes. The east side of the hill is open grouse moor. With a last look back into the tangled forest I set off along the broad ridge for the next summit, 484 metre Carn Ruigh Chorrach. The heather here was much thinner and shorter than in the wood. It made the walking easy but the land felt depleted. There were no blaeberries here, no butterflies. The contrast was great. 

Across the hillside I could see heavy machinery at work, building shooting butts for grouse shooting. I passed many mounds of peat with trays of medicated grit on top and many strips of muirburn. A managed landscape where the sole aim is to produce as grouse to shoot and be damned to the environment. I felt sad.

Looking back the Craig Tiribeg woodland was an island of green in a sea of damaged moorland. From the trig point on Carn Ruigh Chorrach I gazed across further grouse moors to the Cairngorms, a fine view other than the burnt moorland in between here and there.

A rough descent down boggy moorland grazed by sheep led to a track and Lochindorb. Around Lochindorb Lodge there was more fenced woodland, another hint of what this landscape could be like if left to nature. If only.

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