The pink grasses in front of us rustled and swayed with just a bit more vigour than if the movement had been caused by a gentle summer’s breeze. It was enough to draw our eyes to a vision that stopped us dead in our tracks and stole the breath from our bodies.
The deer half-turned its head and observed us for a magical second or two and then with a sprightly bound it was gone…and we could breathe again. Our walk through the Blackmuir Wood was turning out to be a wonderfully unpredictable trail through what was an enchanted forest in the best Disney tradition.
The trail started in Strathpeffer where Allister Brebner’s huge, haunting sculptures carved from Douglas Firs beside the Spa Pavilion had us smiling and laughing like children finding treasure. The Norns (Viking Goddesses), giants, warrior chiefs, Pictish carvings and the famous Brahman Seer that populated the woods beside St Anne’s Church were just another of the surprising quirks that made us realise the Strathpeffer isn’t your average Highland town.
It was the first of many unexpected delights. As we headed along a forest trail on the outskirts of town we came across a wooden jetty protruding into a large pond whose black waters were mostly hidden by rushes. It was a beautifully serene spot.
As the trail headed deeper into the woods, we turned a corner to be confronted by a dour faced man lurking in the forest at the edge of the path, behind him was a smiling woman holding up a baby. A bit further on, Thor banged away at his anvil whilst squirrels, otters and owls and an eagle on the wing stood stock still – frozen mid-action: a petrified wooden community that could have come straight out of the pages of Narnia. Allister Brebner had clearly been hard at work in these parts.
We pointed out more and more of the eclectic forest folks to each other – elvish faces, an eagle clutching a dead rabbit, another rabbit whose jaws worked furiously…wait a minute. One of the woodland creatures wasn’t actually made of wood.
It was almost too much. How much magic can you take on the one walk? Apparently a little bit more.
We passed multi-coloured grasses that whispered sweet nothings in the breeze and fields of foxgloves (by this point I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a fox sitting in their midst trying them for size) before entering a part of the wood that felt denser, more ancient. Where the first section had been the haunt of Disney characters, this section felt more like the haunt of sprites, wizards and woodland nymphs…but that could just have been because of the Touchstone Maze.
The Touchstone Maze is constructed of ancient rocks dating as far back as 3,000 million years. It looks like the sort of place where wild haired women would dance naked…but alas not when we were there. To enter it is to follow a route through Scotland’s geological history. It also messes with your mind. The path takes you away from the centre until you turn a corner and…hey presto…you’re in the middle of the maze. I couldn’t quite figure out how.
From there the path left the wood for a straightforward descent back into Strathpeffer and a promise of a rewarding pint of lager at our hotel. I say straightforward; the views were pure shortbread tin lid – rolling hills, sweeping forests, castles half hidden in the trees. For most walks they would represent the scenic highlight…but then a trip through the enchanted Blackmuir Woods isn’t most walks.
Buzz Trips Facts: The Blackmuir Woods walk we followed was one of The Footpath Trust’s Paths Around Strathpeffer walks which can be picked up for a 20p donation at the tourist office next to the Spa Pavilion.