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The Cateran Trail
After looking at this for a while I decided to bite the bullet and I went for it on Saturday (14th).
Rather than the usual “walking” start point of Blairgowrie, I opted to start at Kirkton of Glen Isla (which is the closest point to where I live in Angus).
Parking in the car park a little ways on from the Glen Isla hotel at 7am (chilly start of just 2’c) I rode the trail towards Alyth and then onwards to Bridge of Cally. I nice mix of farm track, walking track and field edges got the blood pumping nicely. A couple of steep hills (especially Alyth Hill) got the legs warmed up and 2.5 hrs, and 20.5 miles, later I rode into Bridge of Cally.
The section from Bridge of Cally to Kirkmichael (8 miles) starts with a nice wooded section on forestry tracks in the Blackcraig forest before narrowing to some slightly overgrown but still very ride-able singletrack. About 3 miles from Kirkmichael the trail opens out onto open hillside and the trail becomes very faint. The general rule is keep heading North and keep your eyes open for trail markers (although these can be a bit obscure at times). Kirkmichael made for a nice stop to refuel a little and give the legs a rest for 10 mins.
The next section, Kirkmichael to Spittal of Glen Shee (8.5 miles), starts with a nice easy wooded section, rocky and rooty at times but not too challenging in the dry (in the wet might be a different matter altogether though). This leads onto a sheep field before heading onto farm roads and then crossing the A924 and starting the long climb up to Calamanach woods. Through the woods and the trail continues to climb up towards An Lairig. About halfway up this you’ll come across the “Upper Lunch Hut” (I never saw a lower lunch hut). Nice place to stop for a moment and sign the visitors book before continuing the (steep, off the bike) climb up to the top of An Lairig and some great views into Glen Shee. The descent down to the Spittal of Glen Shee hotel is fast and loose, just watch for walkers and the monstrous drainage gutters. The Spittal of Glen Shee hotel makes for a good lunch stop (they serve good coffee too).
The next stage from The Spittal of Glen Shee hotel to Forter is in my opinion the least enjoyable of the whole ride. The trail is vague, large sections are unride-able and there is too much livestock in the fields (I’m always wary of cows with calves, even more so when there is a bull thrown into the mix). The route markers are very difficult to spot as most are nailed to fence posts and it quickly becomes a game of find the marker. I had a few “sense of humour failures” on this section. They have also specifically made the foot bridges 745mm wide (5mm narrower than my bars). The short road section between Dalnaglar castle and Forter castle was actually a welcome break.
Just after Forter castle it’s back offroad for the climb up towards Auchintaple loch (a nice easy lower gear climb). A little way after the Loch is another fun wooded descent (after yet ANOTHER stile climb over a deer fence) before opening out onto some nice singletrack heading towards Loch Shandra. At Loch Shandra the trail turns back to farm track which leads directly back into Kirkton of Glen Isla (14.5 miles later).
A nice pint in the Glen Isla hotel and celebrate 52 miles and 9 hrs of offroad goodness.
The books, etc will list the trail as being 63 miles but as I missed the Bridge of Cally to Blairgowrie section (which would have made no sense considering where I started) my total came to 52 miles.
Did I enjoy it? Yeah, it was a great days biking in some fantastic scenery.
Would I do it again? Not this year I won’t……………… 😆
Would I recommend it? If you enjoy the wilder side of biking, with numerous hike-a-bike sections and some easy navigation then yeah, I’d say go for it. Certain sections are definitely more fun than others but then you have to take the rough with the smooth don’t you?
Don’t worry about hillwalkers, I met the grand total of 5 during the whole ride and they were all in the same place, just about the Spittal of Glen Shee.househusbandFree Member
Excellent report – many thanks.
I’ve thought about doing it, perhaps even at a slower pace and having an overnight camp/bivi somewhere along the route.
Upper lunch hut would probably make the ideal overnight stop if your planning on splitting the trail into a 2 day ride.
I’d suggest starting in Alyth though to give a more even mileage split.The-DukeFull Member
Thanks for the write up, I pass the trail markers on the road out of Alyth when I’m driving to work at the windfarm and always wondered what it would be like, might have to give it a go soon
Thanks for that, it’s a trail I’ve been meaning to link into for a while – now’s where’s all the pictures? 😀
Great, thanks for sharing!mugsFree Member
Nice description. I’ve done bits of this trail over the past couple of years. First attempt was heading north from Glenisla, looking back it was the wrong time of the year and trudging through the fields and through the burn between Shandra and the woods at Auchintaple took the shine off an otherwise nice morning out, I think I only got as far as Little Forter. The next time I started at Blairgowrie intending to go to Bridge of Cally and maybe Kirkmichael. I lost the trail almost straight away at Lornty and couldn’t work out where the hell I was meant to be going. I gave up and went to Meiklour/Burrelton instead. That was poor preperation on my part, but I don’t like the assumption that because its such a famous route that they can have long stretches with no markers. For novices like myself its daunting to just ride in a direction without knowing if its right.
Good to read though, it inspires me to give it another crack.yorlinFree Member
Very nice! Great ride, good description!
I’m super nosy -what’s the inside of the Upper Lunch Hut like?
Edit to add – the Spitall place is entertainingly like something out of a timewarp, but in a good way 😀
I don’t like the assumption that because its such a famous route that they can have long stretches with no markers
It’s pretty bad in places, I found myself standing in more than one field scanning around looking to see if I could see the next marker. On the plus side I did have the “Footprint” map with me which was a great help. 🙂
what’s the inside of the Upper Lunch Hut like?
It’s like a garden shed with a couple of old wooden tables and bench seats. It would be okay for a bivvy at night and great to shelter from the elements. Nothing else there apart from a visitors book.
the Spitall place is entertainingly like something out of a timewarp
That’s the perfect description of the Spittal hotel, it’s like they’re having a 70’s party all the time. 😆ahugFree Member
Nice report Arachnidlover. Don’t know if you’ve come across the Making Tracks event planned for the 29th Sept on Alyth Hill. Mountain Bike Orienteering and a few of the best trails on the hill flagged out to play on. As well as BBQ and plenty of chat. Come along the more the merrier and all in support of Trail development on Alyth Hill https://www.facebook.com/pages/AHUG-Making-Tracks/185006218224791?ref=tn_tnmncrispFree Member
A September 2014 Update – did the whole route from Blairgowrie (apart from the ‘strict’ circular return back from Bridge of Cally at the end).
Not sure if exactly the same as arachnidlover because he did not mention the hike-a-bike start out of Glenisla, but many thanks for inspiring me.
Full write up here:
Note that the Spittal of Glenshee will be some time before a rebuild takes place.
Nice write up crisp, I didn’t mention the “hike-a-bike” section but I remember it well. I actaully fell off the bike just after coming out of the carpark in Glen Isla, not exactly the inspiring start I was hoping for to a 52 mile ride. LOL….
It’s a decent enough ride, I might take another crack at it next year, pity about trail damage due to heavy machinery.
I might just boot it down the A93 rather than take on the section from the Spittal to Forter next time though.highlandmanFree Member
I’d suggest skipping the first section south from Spittal, ride down the A93 to the entrance of the Compass place and re-join there. You could also go a little further on the road and go in across the bridge at Dunmay, for a simple option and still a bit less main road exposure. The next bit of trail to Dalnaglair is more easily followed plus has less high stiles and annoying gates.
The bike trails that AHug referrred to on Alyth Hill are now open for business, with a mellow downhill trail in the upper wood joining a dirt jump section. There’s also a great little pump track for added fun, all just on the wooded slopes N of the Alyth Den. Combined with the singletrack on the open hill above, there’s a decent amount of riding. This would make an interesting diversion to riders doing the whole Cateran, better than going down the Lands of Loyal landy track descent- you could turn west as the official trail enters the woods on the hill above Alyth, run along the top past the ‘beacon’ and join the new trails at the far end of the hill. Then drop down to re-join the official route before it starts up the Drumderg road.
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