You have to feel sorry for red grouse. They’re nurtured from young birds on managed grouse moors, then just when they think life is dandy and everything on the moor is rosy, they’re blasted out of the sky!
Opinion is divided on the issue. On the one hand, a survey ahead of the grouse shooting season this year on the “Glorious Twelfth” of August found that estates contribute, on average, £500,000 in support of local economies.
On the other hand, animal rights activists regard grouse shooting as an anachronistic blood sport which should be banned. And there’s no doubt that some over-zealous gamekeepers believe any threat to their treasured birds must be eliminated.
In May, a report by Scottish Natural Heritage found that a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles had died in suspicious circumstances. And there are many other instances where protected raptors have been found dead in grouse moor territory.
This walk east of the A9 ventures into the heart of grouse moorland – part of the Speyside Moorland Group’s patch. The guns were out, fortunately at a safe distance, and could be heard as we set off from layby number 94 on the A9, just south of Cuaich cottages and north of Dalwhinnie.
It’s most frequently used as the start point to climb Meall Chuaich – a rounded Munro rising above Loch Cuaich. But on this blustery day with rain threatening, Rosemary and I were after lesser fare – a Graham called Creag Ruadh on the west side of the loch.
Just north of the A9 layby a gate gives access to a track with a Speyside Moorland Group information board giving details of moorland management and the wildlife that can be seen in the area.
The track leads to a viaduct where we turned left on the track alongside it, heading towards Meall Chuaich, prominent ahead. Our Graham lay on the other side of the broad strath, across the Allt Cuaich.
The grouse were everywhere – on the track and in the heather, taking off as soon as we got near them and making their comical “go back, go back” calls.
Just after inlet 12 on the viaduct we clambered over a gate on the left and crossed rough ground to the Allt Cuaich, which is easily crossed, aiming for another gate on the far side of the burn.
This gate leads to a quad bike track, rather messy in places, which can be followed up the south-west shoulder of Creag Ruadh to reach the top at 658 metres, where there are two cairns and extensive views.
There was more wildlife interest on the way up with mountain hares darting about – still brown and not yet turning into their winter whites.
To extend the walk and make a circuit out of it we continued north-east along the ridge line to a bealach, then up over the next top, Druim nan Sac. After it, a quad bike track veers off to the right and descends to a substantial, well-surfaced track north of Loch Cuaich.
By now the wind had brought some rain with it so we donned waterproofs for the walk down to Loch Cuaich and along its shore in the defile between Creag Ruadh and Meall Chuaich.
Nearing the end of the loch we met a party of ladies dressed for the part in tweeds, Barbour jackets and Hunter boots, who stopped to chat for a few minutes before we went our separate ways.
From the loch the track leads on to a Scottish and Southern Energy power station and back alongside the viaduct to the start.
Distance 7 miles / 11km
Terrain Lots of pathless ground, though animal tracks can be linked. Good track for the return leg
Start/finish Layby 94 on the A9
Maps OS Landranger 42, with a short overlap onto 35
Something a bit out of the ordinary on a hill not often climbed in the heart of grouse moorland