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Sunset run makes perfect timing in autumn forests of Nethy Bridge

By Jenny Gillies

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Shadows from the low sun.
Shadows from the low sun.

Forests truly come into their own during autumn. As the trees change colour, wildlife also seems to make the most of the change of the season, so it seemed natural to head to the “forest village” of Nethy Bridge.

As well as boasting an impressive network of paths around the village itself, the tracks heading into Abernethy Forest also act as a great starting point for a whole array of adventures either foot or on two wheels.

I wanted to make the most of some late afternoon sunshine, so set off up the well surfaced riverside trail couple of hours before sunset.

From the information board at the start of Dell Road, this path runs up the side of the River Nethy, and I found it covered in a carpet of fallen leaves. The path wound through native woodland, before reaching a side road where waymarkers directed me to carry straight on.

A footbridge spanning the river here gives the option to make your way up to a viewpoint across Abernethy at Lettoch on another of the waymarked trails.

Old pines in Abernethy Forest.
Old pines in Abernethy Forest.

Rejoining Dell Road, I turned left and an unusually large lay-by would have been a mystery had I not been up this road in previous autumns, when this pull-in was full of TV crew vehicles for Autumnwatch. The yurt used by the programme still stands at the base of the drive for the Dell of Abernethy despite the show having moved on to forests new.

The metalled road ends at a small car park and I was soon well into the forest. The forest track had many potholes, each with its own take on a puddle, and despite taking an erratic course trying to pick out the driest path, my feet were quickly on the wet side of dampness.

I passed a family walking early on but, bar the odd red squirrel darting across the track ahead of me, I was on my own among the oranges and browns of the late autumn day.

The track dried out and I made easy progress through the forest, the shelter from the tree keeping the air still enough to mean that I was soon carrying more layers than I was wearing.

A metal gate ahead marked where the track met the access for the RSPB Forest Lodge car park, currently closed to the public, and one of the reasons for starting this run in Nethy Bridge.

Rights of way sign at Forest Lodge.
Rights of way sign at Forest Lodge.

Turning left up the track it was a quick half a kilometre to reach the RSPB’s remote complex, and a Scottish rights of way sign helpfully pointed left again for the return route to Nethy Bridge. I was on familiar territory here, and part of the enjoyment of today was giving myself time to step outside my usual loops to try out a couple of variations.

Passing a polytunnel, I continued to follow the signs directing me back towards Nethy Bridge. Climbing gently upwards before reaching a crest, the short effort was worth it for the favourable incline that followed. I carried straight on as tracks peeled off first right then, a kilometre or so further on, left.

After the second junction the track became much more overgrown and the short heather was making a good effort to reclaim the track back into the forest. The puddles to navigate here were dark, with a slight oily sheen on the surface from the peat.

The track descended and ended abruptly at a stile, beyond which an enticing path seemed to lead directly towards a distant sunlit hill. The change from forest track to this narrow trail through sparse birch woodland was strangely uplifting and, as the way curved round towards the sun, tree trunks cast geometric shadows across the path.

I met the outward track at a kissing gate, and turned left here to head back towards Nethy Bridge, but I soon halted as I noticed another path heading off left along the line of a broad break in the trees.

The path leading out of the forest on the return leg.
The path leading out of the forest on the return leg.

A quick check of the map gave me the confidence to try the detour out and the single track was a pleasant alternative to the tarmac road, the only issue being that it bore exactly due west, so that the setting sun made picking my way across the rooty and boggy forest floor very tricky.

Underfoot became even rougher and wetter, sometimes giving up on the semblance of a path and disappearing into bog, and I would have give up had it not been for a string of random basic bridges indicating a past incarnation as a maintained path.

Shortly after a particularly large and tussocky bog, the rough trod suddenly deposited onto one of the very well-surfaced village paths – and I was decisive in my right turn to head back to village. The path took sweeping curves between the trees to the very edge of the village and an information board that confirmed my position.

It was then a simple case of following the minor road between houses back to Dell Road and the beginning of the route just as the sun finally dipped below the horizon behind the village roofs.

  • Jenny Gillies offers guided runs in Moray and the Cairngorms –see www.runspeyside.co.uk or facebook.com/RunSpeyside
The old boggy path through the forest break back towards Nethy Bridge.
The old boggy path through the forest break back towards Nethy Bridge.

Route details

Nethy Bridge and Forest Lodge

Distance 8 miles / 13km

Terrain Forest tracks and path, parts very wet but all straightforward

Start/finish Car parking near the community centre in Nethy Bridge

Maps OS Landranger 36; OS Explorer OL57

A gentle route through pinewoods on generally good paths that gives a real feel of Abernethy

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