Tales from the Trees: Ancient stirrings on the trail of Scotland's shyest bird

 

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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn