Cycling World UK Magazine

A Welcome In The Woodland

A Welcome in the Woodland

When route 78 of the National Cycle Network was being planned by Sustrans the people at Highland Titles Nature Reserve got very excited. Route 78, also known as the Caledonia Way, runs from Oban to Fort William, along some beautiful country: round the Lynn of Lorn, Loch Creran, and trailing along the eastern shore of Loch Linnhe where Highland Titles Nature Reserve sits just south of Duror. Heart-warming scenery comes with the territory.

Highland Titles Nature Reserve has been under construction for two years and they are beginning to see results. The restoration of original deciduous woodland and with it, indigenous flora and fauna, is a long undertaking for Highland Titles Charitable Trust, which uses profits supplied by Highland Titles Ltd from the sale of souvenir plots to people all over the world.

When Highland Titles acquired this land, most of it was planted with sitka spruce, a non-native variety of conifer which couldn’t support Scottish wildlife. This is being felled and replaced with native trees. They already boast native species of oak, birch, rowan, alder, holly and hazel and plan to re-introduce Scots pine. 2013 saw the restoration and development of two lochans that will in time increase water bird populations. Most significantly rare wildlife is already coming back into the area, including the red squirrel, pine marten and the chequered skipper butterfly.

As one of their volunteer experts, Stewart Borland, puts it: ‘Nature can’t be hurried, you just can’t rush environmental repair – not if you want to do it properly, with lasting results which will endure for nature, for wildlife, for visitors and for the planet.’ What has all this got to do with the National Cycle Network and route 78? Well, a large section of route 78 follows the path of an old railway line that used to run between Connel and Ballachulish. In 1966 it was closed along with so many branch lines during the Beeching Cuts.

For the most part, Sustrans has managed to secure this old railway route for NCN78. Unfortunately in the intervening years small sections of railway land have been used to restructure the A828 which borders Loch Linnhe, and in some cases parts have reverted to farm land.

Such is the case on a section between the villages of Dalnatrat and Duror, along the side of Loch Linnhe, where for commercial reasons a local farm can no longer allow access for the National Cycle Network to pass through.

Negotiating with land owners for use of and access over their land is a major occupation for the tireless leaders of Sustrans, and not everyone can bend to their vision. So in Sustrans’ detailed map of route 78 on their excellent website it says the following:

‘Dalnatrat to Duror – 2 miles. Land negotiations mean that it has not been possible to build a path on this section. Cyclists must use the trunk road for almost two miles. Look out for the cycle route signs to the right as you enter Duror village.’

A Welcome in the Woodland

The A828 is the stretch of trunk road which has to be negotiated, contending with heavy goods lorries and other traffic. The alternative, which Highland Titles Charitable Trust hoped Sustrans would take them up on, was to use their nature reserve. The main pathway which runs South to North through the reserve could by-pass the road altogether until much closer to Duror, where cyclists would meet up with the National Cycle Track again.

In the end this didn’t happen. The two reasons Sustrans gave for turning them down were that the A828 would have to be crossed in order to access their traffic-free route, and also that near the end of the nature reserve the incline becomes too steep for cyclists. Route 78 already requires cyclists to cross the A828 several times south of Dalnatrat, so the first reason didn’t seem too much of an obstacle. As far as the incline is concerned, it is a very short section of the path and they are still convinced that a small steep hill in a forest is a much less hairier prospect than a major trunk road.

Confident that cyclists would rather take advantage of the nature reserve to cycle through than negotiate two miles on the A828, Highland Titles Charitable Trust have invested in a suitable road surface for cyclists. They admit it’s a little more rustic than the Sustrans cycle track would have been. There is a small stream to ford, and there’s little they can do about the section of uphill towards the end of the route where some might have to get off and push (though they are looking at the possibility of levelling the track). But on the whole it’s better than tackling the A828 in normal traffic conditions, with heavy goods lorries thundering past.

What they would like is for cyclists to give the path a try and give them some feedback. They are considering whether it is worth investing in their own brown road sign indicating it as an alternative route for cyclists. As Peter Bevis, one of the directors, says, “please, cyclists of Scotland and beyond, ride through our land!

We have a welcome cabin at the southern end of the reserve, and if you like what you find here you can ring your bell when passing the cabin to show your appreciation!

You can even stop for a chat with one of the volunteers who are usually on hand to say hello and discuss what’s happening on the reserve.”

You can find Highland Titles Nature Reserve easily on Google maps, and the entrance to the site is clearly signposted just off the A828. So polish up your bell and give it a try!

A Welcome in the Woodland

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