Thursday, 16 July 2015

Blair Atholl

A tough day today, with a strong headwind all day and little shelter on the uplands, including on the twenty mile slog up to the Drumochter pass. A beautiful day too though, particularly the first half through the forests of the Cairngorms National Park.

Forest is a word with negative connotations in much of the Highlands, implying those vast tracts of dark green sitka spruce plantations that spread like a malign rash over hundreds of square miles, only to be replaced when they are clear-felled by a landscape as desolate as the Somme.

These were different sorts of forests though, at once completely still and alive with a mystery that no bare heathland can approach. In some places they were forests of stately birch and oak, with hazel and willow crouching at the edges where the woodland petered out into heather moor. Elsewhere though it was Scots pines that predominated. Superficially similar to sitka spruces they give a much more open cover, their reddish trunks bare of branches right up to the crown and mottled with silver-grey lichen.

And this openness allows more light, and so more life down to ground level. So the forest floor was textured with soft mounds of spaghnum moss and undulating carpets of heather, just coming into flower. Elsewhere there were great spreads of blaeberries in fresh green leaf, drifts of multicoloured foxgloves and even clumps of lupins, the predominant shade a deep blue.

Though you could sense that the forest was alive with birds and small animals it also provided plenty of cover so I actually saw very little, aside from a jay that sprang up out of a small bush just as I approached, and on one occasion an adder sunbathing on the road.

Whatever else a journey like this does, if it gives you the opportunity to meander on quiet byways through forests like those then it is worth the hours battling headwinds alongside the A9, in my book.

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