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Getting closer to nature on the Dochgarroch loop in Inverness during lockdown


By John Davidson

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Mature trees in the golden winter sunlight at Dochgarroch Lock.
Mature trees in the golden winter sunlight at Dochgarroch Lock.

Usually, this run is a peaceful affair, a Sunday morning escape from the crowds – but things have changed in the world.

Admittedly, I set off a little later than planned – which often happens to me when I try to head out for an early morning run at the weekend – but it is the middle of winter and this time last year I reckon I might have seen no more than half a dozen people on the more distant part of the canal towpath.

A number of recent studies have shown an increase in people walking locally since the first lockdown back in March, and this was borne out by my experience here in Inverness, with a constant stream of walkers and a handful of runners making their way to or from Dochgarroch from the Tomnahurich Bridge in Inverness.

Ice was underfoot, so I was grateful to have my running spikes on, which made it easy to keep my distance as I jogged through frozen puddles and sheet ice to keep on track.

Thankfully there is plenty of space on Scottish Canals’ Dochgarroch loop, a seven-mile circuit between Tomnahurich and Dochgarroch.

Along with many people in the Highland capital, I am able to access this route easily within a couple of miles from home. The stay-at-home message – with exercise being one reason you are allowed to head out and about during this lockdown – means I haven’t been able to explore the winter hills or venture very far from home during January.

A couple of kayakers enjoy a fine morning on the Caledonian Canal in front of the former Torvean quarry.
A couple of kayakers enjoy a fine morning on the Caledonian Canal in front of the former Torvean quarry.

It’s made getting outdoors even more important for me, and I’m trying to slow down and embrace the natural surroundings as much as I can.

Two weeks of WinterWatch on the telly has been a good bit of inspiration, especially watching the otters in the River Ness.

I once saw one of these magnificent creatures in the canal, a couple of winters ago, when I was running with a friend after dark. Having head torches on, its green, reflective eyes poking out of the water were our first sight of it. Then, bang! It gave a huge tail slap on the water to warn us off.

That was such a memorable encounter, so it’s great to see the close-up views that the experts are now getting of these creatures in their wild habitat not far from the city.

There were no such encounters on this run, but there was plenty of birdsong to hear in the trees and the light of the low winter sun seemed to warm the heart as well as the earth.

On the far side of the canal, as I headed back towards Inverness, I saw swans on the mostly frozen little lochan through the trees.

Walkers on the canal towpath heading for Dochgarroch.
Walkers on the canal towpath heading for Dochgarroch.

It was just the sort of uplifting bit of exercise I needed, with the added boost of a rare bit of vitamin D for good measure.

After returning to Tomnahurich, I decided to run via the West Link bridge and along the riverside trail rather than the shared-use path alongside the road.

The river was just low enough for me to drop down to the water’s edge, where it’s possible, with some hopping over pools, roots and rocks, to stick to a little path almost level with the surface. If you come at the right time of day, you can sometimes see dippers and various ducks along this stretch.

I’d left it too late on this occasion, unfortunately, but it’s nice to know these trails are within reach even during these testing times.

Many of us in the Highlands and across Moray and Grampian are lucky to be able to access the countryside relatively easily from our doorsteps. In Inverness, we have trails such as the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail, as well as forestry walks on the edge of town, which offer variety as well as somewhere to get out.

Some people I know live close enough that they can still access the mountains under the current restrictions. Those of us further away with a love of the outdoors, however, are still yearning for these more remote parts of the Highlands, where we find our peace and strength.

A little trail close to the water's edge on the River Ness.
A little trail close to the water's edge on the River Ness.

It’s great to see so many people out enjoying these local walks, though, and I hope more will continue to embrace the joys of the outdoors once life becomes more normal again.

There’s a whole world of wonders that we need to experience and be connected to once again, and bringing more people closer to nature can only be positive for helping to protect and enhance the natural world in the future.

  • Send us your photos of your local lockdown walks – email activeoutdoors@hnmedia.co.uk

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