(196) Culbin Forest-Hill 99-The Gut Circuit (Moray)

Route Summary
There are some interesting features, along the way, to break up this hike in a huge area of unique coastal pine forest. This is a very special protected natural environment, and attracts some rare birds and butterflies. After enjoying the views at the Hill 99 fire tower, the mid-section of the route passes alongside a large tidal area of mudflats and salt-marsh.

Duration: 3 hours.

Route Overview
Duration: 3 hours.
Transport/Parking: No public transport nearby. Parking charges at the F&LS Wellhill car-park at the walk start/end point.
Length: 9.03 km / 5.61 mi. Height Gain/Loss: 42 meter.
Max Height: 11 meter. Min Height: 2 meter.
Surface: Moderate. Mostly good forest roads, steps at the Hill 99 viewpoint, steep sandy path after the Hill 99 tower, some walking on pebbles in The Gut shoreline section. The circuit is not suitable for off-road mobility scooters due to the steep sandy path leaving Hill 99, and the pebbly beach at The Gut. The published Hill 99 walk should be OK (but not the steps at the viewpoint tower). See: F&LS – https://tinyurl.com/52v7k57p and Euan’s Guide – https://tinyurl.com/526xv7yw
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
Child Friendly: Yes, if children are used to walks of this distance.
Dog Friendly: Yes, but keep dogs on lead at the car-park, and at The Gut during the nesting season for wading birds.
Refreshments: Options in Forres, and at the nearby Brodie Countryfare cafe/retail complex.

This is essentially a forest walk, where you are surrounded, for the most part, by high Scots Pines, which were planted from the 1920s to the 1960s to stabilize what, at the time, was the largest area of loose sand dune desert in Britain. The Culbin Forest, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, covers over 28 square km, with an extensive network of inter-connecting rough roads and tracks, and stretches for 13 km along the Moray Firth coast between Findhorn Bay and Nairn. In the initial section, our route partially encircles an open area where there are attractive ponds formed from gravel pits, with convenient picnic benches on the banks. Progressing onwards through the forest, the focal point of the route at “Hill 99” is reached. Here, ascending on steps to a high viewing platform enables panoramic views over the tree-tops, particularly on the northern aspect, across the Moray Firth, taking in Ben Wyvis, the Black Isle, the Sutors of Cromarty, and the hills of Sutherland and Caithness. To assist, hilltop summits and other points of interest are etched all around the wooden viewing platform handrail. Moving on, at the mid-point on the route, there is a 1.5km section along the shoreline of “The Gut”, an unusual tidal area of mudflats and salt-marsh. Huge sand spits partially enclose the tidal basin, one of which, the “Old Bar”, is the largest sand spit in Scotland. The whole of this coastline is an important breeding ground for birds, particularly wading birds, and is protected by the RSPB. On the final leg, the route makes a short diversion to the “Hidden History” feature. Here, almost hidden in the trees, there is a stone inscription, and a physical representation of the chimney of a buried house with some of the roof trusses also just visible on the surface, implying that the rest of the “building” is buried beneath a sand dune. This feature reconstructs the overwhelming of farming communities in the Culbin area by shifting sand dunes, reputedly culminating in a catastrophic event, the Great Sand Drift of 1694.

Photos from walk
Download Route Guide (PDF with illustrated Waypoints)
Download GPX file (GPS Exchange Format)
Access Walk on OutdoorActive
Access Walk on OSMaps
Access Walk on Alltrails
Access Walk on Wikiloc

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