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Searching for fairies on Reelig Glen forest walk

By John Davidson

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Clara enjoys one of the new interpretation posts at Reelig Glen.
Clara enjoys one of the new interpretation posts at Reelig Glen.

If there’s a chance of seeing fairies, my daughters can usually be persuaded that going for a walk may be a worthwhile venture.

Thankfully there are a few Fairy Glens dotted about the Highlands, so today Clara and I were off to explore Reelig Glen, a beautiful woodland between Inverness and Beauly which contains some of Britain’s largest trees.

When I first visited here there was a sign to show you Dughall Mor, a Douglas fir that had been measured in the year 2000 at 64 metres tall, the highest tree in Britain at the time. On more recent visits the sign had gone, and we struggled to recall which tree was the right one!

So, when I heard in the last few weeks that Forestry and Land Scotland had installed new interpretation posts and a family-friendly quiz in the glen, I was keen to go back for another look.

When we arrived, Clara was eager to get going and soon spotted the first of 10 new posts on the Tall Trees Trail. She is an avid reader and is at that stage where she is soaking up information, so the little snippets of information on each pop-up post were perfect for testing her reading as well as learning a few new words.

The trees grow really tall at Reelig!
The trees grow really tall at Reelig!

Each of the new posts also has a true or false quiz question at the bottom, with the answer on the reverse, and we enjoyed trying to guess the answers and learning if we were right or wrong.

As well as the posts, there are plenty of ‘unofficial’ trails in the woods and Clara was keen to explore off the beaten track.

We saw plenty of wildlife as we wandered through the gorge, which narrows as you approach the turning point in the walk at a wooden footbridge. There were wrens and chaffinches, slugs and bugs, and on the way back to the start a buzzard swooped low between the trees towards us – a truly memorable sight.

We didn’t see any of the resident red squirrels today, but we did see some evidence of them in the leftover pinecones they had been munching.

At the head of the glen is a stone folly, built in the 1840s to create work for local people during the clearances. The Fairy Glen name here comes from the fact that each morning when the workers returned, they would find their previous day’s work undone. Who but the fairies could have been responsible?

More than that, though, the glen oozes that fairy feeling, with mosses dripping from the trees in the moist air as the Moniack Burn cuts through the gorge before running out towards the Beauly Firth. Clara searched for signs of the elusive beings and spotted what could have been a fairy meeting place – a hollow tree stump perfect for such secretive gatherings!

Moss drips from the trees - a number of rare species can be found here.
Moss drips from the trees - a number of rare species can be found here.

Some of the mosses that cling to the branches here are rare species, while many of the trees themselves were planted by James Baillie Fraser, whose family owned these woods for around 500 years before selling them to the Forestry Commission in 1949.

After passing the folly and returning down the east side of the burn we came across Dughall Mor once again – with a fresh interpretation post to help locate the famous specimen. It turns out a neighbouring fir took its crown in 2014 when it was measured at an impressive 66.4m.

Reelig Glen is also home to Britain’s tallest European larch and common lime trees.

Approaching the end of the trail, the route crosses the road bridge over the burn to return to the car park, but Clara was keen to look at the other walk here, which climbs steeply into the community-owned woodland at Upper Reelig.

Clara on the xylophone on the Upper Reelig Trail.
Clara on the xylophone on the Upper Reelig Trail.

With plenty of time – and snacks – I was happy to plod along too, so we followed the blue marker posts through the beeches, pines and firs that grow on the hillside above the gorge.

We rested on felled logs on our way up and kicked our way through the carpet of leaves below our feet. I knew there was a wooden xylophone on this route, so the thought kept Clara going even when she was getting tired. Spending a bit of time at the instrument, we even managed to make some sort of tune with it between us!

We continued past the community wood cabin then, at the top entrance to the woods, turned left down a track following the Upper Reelig Trail sign. The blue markers take you down another path to the left and eventually it swings round to meet the outward route below the xylophone.

Route details

Reelig Glen walks

Distance 3 miles / 5km

Terrain Woodland paths, some steep slopes and loose areas, as well as steep drops beside path in some places

Start/finish Reelig Glen car park, Moniack, near Beauly

Maps OS Landranger 26; OS Explorer 416; Forests of Inverness leaflet, available from: forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/reelig-glen

Exploring two trails at a historic woodland that contains some of Britain’s tallest trees

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