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Woodland walk at Contin Forest is one to savour

By John Davidson

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A stretch of trail in the woods at Contin.
A stretch of trail in the woods at Contin.

Standing in the middle of a near-silent forest on a rainy autumn day, you can almost convince yourself that we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic.

I paused for a moment, listening to the sound of the raindrops dropping on my waterproof jacket. Other than that, there were no other human sounds; just birds singing, the trees swaying in the gentle breeze and more water dripping from the canopy above.

Recent months have brought their stresses and strains to everybody, so it was nice just to get out for a while and enjoy being out – even in this awful weather.

I think most people had stayed at home, as I didn’t see a soul in these woods that are often teeming with walkers and mountain bikers.

I set off from the Blackmuir Wood car park at the north end of Strathpeffer, from where you can access the tracks and trails to Knockfarrell. However, my route would take me away from there, back to the road and into Contin forest.

War memorial to those who died in the Korean War at Loch Kinellan.
War memorial to those who died in the Korean War at Loch Kinellan.

Heading back to the road, I turned left past the building that was once a youth hostel, before crossing and turning right up the dead-end lane to Kinellan. This climbs gently to pass an unusual circular house, just after which you follow a track off to the left marked with a path sign to Garve.

There’s a little car park here with a new path leading to a bench overlooking the tranquil Loch Kinellan. The war memorial here lists the names of soldiers from the Black Watch killed in the Korean War, and a well-kept garden includes a small Korean pine.

This touching memorial was largely down to the hard work of Strathpeffer man Kenny Stewart, who died in March 2016, aged 83, who fought alongside his comrades listed here. He commissioned the granite plaque and had it set into a large stone taken from his croft.

The walk continues along the track from here, skirting the shore of the loch which was full of coots, mallards and other wetland birds enjoying what was, as they say, perfect weather for ducks.

Ignore a track off to the left after the house and go past a gate to veer right and climb away from the loch. As the track bends right again, turn left up a little steep section on loose rocks then go left again onto a slightly narrower path.

This was familiar territory to me from taking part in the Strathpuffer mountain bike event many moons ago. It was always a tough little climb here but the route soon levels out as it goes through a clearing which usually has a nice view over to the right to Ben Wyvis. Not today, though.

I continued through a little gap past a rock, then downhill through the pine trees to eventually reach a junction where a wooden signpost marks the way to View Rock to the left.

Sign to View Rock and Contin.
Sign to View Rock and Contin.

The route follows this lovely trail – marked with green-ringed posts now – as it winds down then up, twisting between tree trunks and taking a large sweep of a right-hander before coming to another short, sharp climb.

It’s not far now through more of this delightful forest until the route turns right, still following those green posts, to climb to View Rock itself. There wasn’t much of a view here today, either, as the low cloud hung onto every bit of land it could find.

Carrying on down the main route, I descended alongside an old wall for some of the way, following the trail round to the right lower down as it straddles the edge of a relatively recently cleared section of trees.

The contrast is stark, giving a more open outlook while remaining close to the more established forest. The path descends more and I was now able to see a little further ahead, overlooking Torr Achilty – the prominent hill across the glen – as the trail drops to cross a forest track.

Where the route forks ahead, head left and drop down to a gap in the wall, where you turn left to soon emerge at the end of a road. Follow this straight ahead to a right-hand bend just before the main road, then cut left onto a path that emerges behind a bus stop in Contin village.

Hay bales in the field beside Coul House.
Hay bales in the field beside Coul House.

The walk now follows the pavement through the village, and the rain was still coming down as I turned left up a lane immediately before the garage. After a few houses, the lane peters out to a track, passing Coul Mains and out into open country.

The hay bales were rolled up but they certainly weren’t drying as I plodded up to the high point of the track, where there are a couple of seats carved out of ancient tree trunks. I wasn’t going to be sitting on them today in these soggy conditions, though the outlook from them was pleasant enough still.

The track drops from here before meandering, keeping straight ahead, and emerging at a house beside the main road between Contin and Strathpeffer at Jamestown. Carefully cross the road here and follow the side road into Jamestown.

You can’t miss the dominant ruin of the old free church along here. Built in 1861, the privately owned building is now roofless but nevertheless attractive.

A path leads off to the left immediately before the building, heading through the woods for around half a mile to return to the car park in Strathpeffer.

An old stone dyke within the forestry shows its age with mosses and lichens.
An old stone dyke within the forestry shows its age with mosses and lichens.

Route details

Contin forest walk

Distance 5.5 miles / 9 km

Terrain Forest paths and tracks, pavement

Start/finish Blackmuir Wood car park, Strathpeffer

Maps OS Landranger 26; OS Explorer 437

A nice autumn walk through mixed forest in Ross-shire

The ruins of the old free church at Jamestown, where a path leads back to Strathpeffer.
The ruins of the old free church at Jamestown, where a path leads back to Strathpeffer.

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