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Following the ‘red water’ into an enchanted wood at Cawdor

By John Davidson

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The attractive bridge over to Cawdor Castle from the woods.
The attractive bridge over to Cawdor Castle from the woods.

SITTING immediately to the south of the village, Cawdor Wood contains a wonderful maze of tracks and trails, and it’s no accident that they’re here.

This landscape has been sculpted since the 17th century and is still managed by the Cawdor family who have resided at nearby Cawdor Castle for hundreds of years.

Looking at the map, the wood seems to be enclosed by minor roads running up into the Nairnshire moors – excellent for cycling by the way – but there is no sense that you are enclosed in here.

In fact, you could be a million miles away, as the peaceful sounds of the wildlife and the tumbling burns take over from anything else. It’s a great place to come to escape the hustle and bustle.

The walk begins near the fantastic Greystone Bridge, which you can reach by turning right (if heading from Inverness) off the B9090 just before entering the village of Cawdor — just a few yards after the brown tourist sign. About half-a-mile up the single-track road there is very limited parking on the right-hand side of the road (don’t park in the passing place on the left) where a forest track crosses the road at a right-hand bend.

The alternative start point, at Achindown Bridge, has next to no parking, so the best alternative is to start at the village and walk up the road or — if you are planning a visit to the castle — to start on trails from there, though this involves paying an entry fee.

From the Greystone Bridge entrance, go through the forest gate and follow the track down to the bridge over the Auchindoune Burn. The bridge itself is hidden by the creeping life of the wood, which swamps anything man-made and leaves you feeling as though you are in a genuinely wild place, despite its controlled nature.

The wood covers more than 750 acres — so it’s best to take a good map! After the bridge, you can just about make out the "grey stone" after which the bridge is named — a giant boulder on the riverside overgrown with moss and lichens. I’m not sure what the history is to this stone, but I’d be curious to find out.

Ignore a track on the left then further ahead turn right on a track and immediately right onto a footpath, where marker posts direct you on green and yellow routes.

This wonderful narrow path follows the Achindoune Burn (marked on the map as the Allt Dearg or "red water") upstream and there are quite substantial drops down into the gorge in places, so it’s not a place to let children roam free.

After an obvious steep climb you’ll meet a vehicle track at the corner of a field. The track right would take you out to the road at Achindown Bridge but you want to head left, almost doubling back into the woods.

The obvious track leads you right a short way ahead and through a bright, open area. The great thing about this wood is the variety, with its mix of native and non-native trees, and the spread of the canopy lets plenty of light in to allow the undergrowth to flourish. That might help explain why there are more than 131 species of lichen here, including some very rare ones.

Stay right at the next junction, again keeping to the track and on the yellow and green trail. A grassy track off to the right can be ignored as you continue downhill until you come to a marker post where the green and yellow routes split. Go left here to follow the one pointing to the castle rather than the woods.

When you reach the bridge, turn left before crossing it — you need a ticket for the castle to go the other side — and follow the excellent little path which keeps to the edge of the burn much of the way. At another bridge, go straight on to follow the path as it swings left to keep inside the Achindoune Burn and return towards Greystone Bridge, where a right turn will take you over it and back to the road again.

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