Tales from the Trees: Ancient stirrings on the trail of Scotland's shyest bird
Saturday 13 April 2013
Dawn blooms and stirs the trees of Abernethy Forest into life. This far north, winter still battles spring for the primeval ground. Mist hangs between incalculable ranks of pines; silver light spills and glimmers over a deep carpet of green moss, russet blaeberry and frost-tipped ling. A waist-high ants' nest bubbles from the ground. From the corner of my eye, a pine bough appears to ripple as a red squirrel skitters along. Then the birds strike up: coal tits, a greenfinch and, from somewhere imperceptible in the thin fog, the cork-popping aria of a male capercaillie.
It's the sound I have come to hear. And I have come a long way. I stepped off the train only a few miles away in Aviemore, but to walk into the largest tract of wild Caledonian Forest is to make a greater journey. After the last Ice Age, this type of pine and birch covered our island before climate and humans forced a retreat north. Now managed by the RSPB, Abernethy's 4,000 hectares remain a thin window into ancient Britain.
To hear a capercaillie, the UK's largest and shyest black grouse, is lucky. To see one is almost impossible. By the time I've heavy-footed through the undergrowth, only a mound of the animal's dinner from last night remains. But "spoor" is not to be sniffed at and, like some scatological Sherlock Holmes, I am on the scent of this wood's other inhabitants. Twisted black pine marten poo is everywhere, fox and red deer droppings too. "There are otters on the loch," a mountain biker shouts, making me jump. I follow directions to tranquil Loch Garten and brew up soup. The air clears and the brooding, snow-capped Cairngorms are reflected in it. There are no V-shaped wakes of otters razoring the water, but an inquisitive crested tit hops about above. There is total, serene, spirit-calming silence. Soon ospreys will be back from Africa to nest and fish here. After being hunted to extinction in the British Isles in the 19th century, they picked this spot to begin a tentative return. Who can blame them?
Abernethy Forest (Nethybridge, Inverness-shire, PH25 3EF) is in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, two miles west of Boat of Garten, abutting Nethy Bridge to the north. The nearest station, Aviemore, is a 15-minute drive and is on East Coast's direct service from London King's Cross to Inverness. Stay overnight at a delightful Victorian B&B, Moorfield House, at Boat of Garten (01479 831646; moorfieldhouse.com). Doubles start at £78, including breakfast. Book a table at the Boat Hotel, bar and bistro in Boat of Garten for hearty dinners by log fires (01479 831258; boathotel.co.uk).
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 5 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...
Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...
£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...
£25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...