Native wild cats are rarer than hen’s teeth in the Highlands of Scotland, but they have their haunts near the village of Newtonmore, in the Spey valley between the Cairngorm and Monadhliath Mountains. This is prime hiking country. The gardens and shop windows of Newtonmore are full of brightly coloured ceramic cats, and the village’s excellent walking advice office is known as the Wildcat Centre. Scarcely surprising, then, that the superb waymarked walking circuit that skirts Newtonmore has been styled ‘The Wildcat Trail’.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A country lane led me out of Newtonmore, up a grassy bank through groves of gnarled old silver birches, to a ridge track waymarked with prowling little wild cats. To the north and east the view was properly wild, the jagged peaks of Creagh Dubh and Creag Mhor standing high over rolling moors and sedgy ground. South and east across Strathspey, the piled mountains of Cairngorm hid their heads in smoky streams of clouds, as far south as the hills guarding Drumochter Pass.
I walked through newly planted woodland of aspen and silver birch, down to the former crofting township of Strone where one family now works the land that supported eight households a century ago.
The Wildcat Trail led beside the crashing white falls of the Allt Laraidh, down to cross the road and railway in Newtonmore, and on beside the rushing shallows of the River Spey. This is a mighty salmon river, untamed and unspoiled, veering as it pleases into new courses, unleashing huge boulders from its glacial banks, flooding or dwindling unaffected by man and his attempts at control. The freshwater marshes along the river have been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest to safeguard the salmon, the lampreys that prey on them, the otters and the freshwater pearl mussels that thrive here.
I threaded the quiet woodlands and lush damp meadows beside the village golf course. The River Spey swept away south, and I followed its tributary River Calder, up on a narrow ledge over a gorge of black and green rocks where the river thundered and frothed.
Walking down Glen Road into Newtonmore I thought of the village’s good fortune in its beautiful setting, and gave thanks for the stroke of inspiration that created this wonderful trail.
Road: A9 to Newtonmore.
Walk: (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 402): Cross Main Street; up Glen Road; round left bend; right opposite Neadaich house (714992) up tarmac track. In 300 m, go between cottage and barn (714995); over stile; left up fence. Left through gate at top; up hillside path; right at ridge (713998) on track through kissing gate.
Follow Wildcat Trail symbols (‘WT’) for 2/3 mile; descend to cross burn (721003). Up track for 50 m; right (WTs) across rocky upland, down beside Allt Laraidh stream to A86 (729999). Right on path (WT) by road for 1/3 mile. Beside first house across road (‘Tari Mara’), cross A89 (724996); down roadway (WT), across railway, to River Spey (727993). Bear right along Spey, then River Calder for 2½ miles to Calder Bridge (706987). Cross A86; left through gate; along River Calder. Pass Banchor graveyard; up bank; left (705990) above Calder gorge for 2/3 mile to road (703997); right into Newtonmore.
Lunch: Pantry Tearoom, Newtonmore (01540-673783).
Accommodation: Greenways B&B, Newtonmore PH20 1AT (01540-670136)
Scottish Wildcat Association:
Wildcat Trail: leaflet guide with maps, from Wildcat Centre, Main Street, Newtonmore (01540-673131;
Info: Aviemore TIC http://white.visitscotland.com