Escape to the last untouched isolated wilderness in Scotland: the Rannoch Moor. Situated in Perthshire, this vast plateau of streams, lochs and wildlife stretches from Perth and Kinross all the way to Argyll and Bute. This idyllic and isolated land covers 12,800 hectres and is surrounded by mountains. The Rannoch Moor has a lot to offer the twenty-first century explorer; despite harsh reviews by Sir Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel Kidnapped: ‘a wearier looking desert a man never saw’.
Wandering through the wilderness you can be perfectly at one with nature, joining the curlew and the grouse, particularly in the areas most densely populated with heather, on their trips through the Moor. More fortunate travellers may also see Roe deer and a number of the herds of red deer which have made Rannoch Moor their home. The early bird catches the worm and the early walker sees the Roe deer which typically graze in the early morning on open ground; otherwise they are greatly camouflaged by thickets and wooded areas. Also, now rare for British wildlife enthusiasts, the Red Squirrel can be found among the pines and the beeches particularly along the South shore of Loch Rannoch. Quite a sight for humans would be the infamous Scottish wildcat, however as they are wary around humans, sightings are rare. Those interested in the Red Deer could easily spot them during the cooler months where they frequent lower ground, the woods and even the roads of Rannoch moor. Alongside these animals live and fly a large number of birds, in particular birds of prey, such as golden eagles, hobbies, kestrels, hen harriers and ospreys.
The once great Caledonian Pine Forest is situated on the Rannoch Moor; now at only one percent of its original size, it is three miles long; a very manageable size for most walkers to explore. Within the heritage site ‘The Black Wood of Rannoch’, many rare types of tree can be found. These native trees include Birch, Alder, Goat Willow, Scots Pine, Bird Cheery and even Juniper. Of course the trees aren’t alone in loving this forest, many animals take the Black Wood to be their home too. Living in the wood are Capercaillie, the Green Woodpecker, the Scottish Wood Ant, the aforementioned Red Squirrel, Pine Martin and the Cross-bill. As a favourite of Victorian naturalists, including Donisthorpe, many varied fungi and beetles can be found throughout the wood. Autumn is the prime time for any fungus enthusiast to wander through this native pinewood; as many as 699 species are said to reside there. The Rannoch Glen is beautiful and a haven for walkers of most abilities. The views over Schiehallion and the Glen Coe hills in the West make for picturesque settings for any photographer.
There are many other things which the Rannoch Moor has to offer its visitors, in addition to its flora and fauna. The railway springs to mind when thinking about Rannoch Moor; not least because of the memorable and powerful film Trainspotting. Relive the journey of the film’s characters and escape to this wilderness. The famous West Highland Railway is a fantastic experience for anyone, and especially for train enthusiasts, stretching across twenty-three miles of moorland; it has been open since 1894. The West Highland Line can also can take you to Fort William, Mallaig or even Glasgow. For the foodies amongst you, the Fish Market restaurant at Mallaig specialises in freshly caught delicious fish. It overlooks the busy fishing harbour which sees some of the largest catches of prawns in Western Europe.
The Rannoch Moor is steeped in history. The Clan Trail around Loch Rannoch tells of the local Scottish clans and the great deeds of courage, battles and horror which took place on and around the Moor. The information boards around the lochs recount the local history throughout the centuries. It seems that the Moor was not always the peaceful escape it is now: the clans which lived on the moors competed for territory and dominance of the wilderness.
For those who have enjoyed walking or who prefer to cover greater distances of land at a greater speed, land rover tours are available. The information centre at Dunalastair provides information about how to book land rover safari tours across the Rannoch Moor. Especially in winter months, this can be a very good way of staying warm and seeing the deer amid the snow.
For further information and maps of the local area; the Rannoch Moor Visitor Centre was opened by Professor David Bellamy in September 2005. This centre is focused particularly upon Rannoch Moor’s historical development, flora and fauna and the importance of the West Highland Line to the Moor. At the time of writing, it was open between March and October between 10am and 5pm.