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Fairy Glen RSPB Nature Reserve (Inverness)

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Enjoy the waterfalls in the wooded glen located in Inverness, Scotland.

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      25.05.2009 16:00
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      Visit the fairies of the glen.

      The Fairy Glen is a steep sided, wooded valley in the small town of Rosemarkie on Scotland's Black Isle. The reserve is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

      The paths on the walk can be very muddy and the route does have a few steep sections, so it's worth making sure you have stout footwear when attempting this walk. There are no facilities on the walk itself, but Rosemarkie has several pubs if a meal and drink is required.

      This is a lovely area to wander through, with some nice scenery and wildlife to see. Rosemarkie is very close to Chanonry Point; nationally famous for its dolphins, so this walk can be combined with a visit to the point.

      The area gets its name from a legend that fairies inhabit the woodlands of the glen. In times past, local children used to perform "well-dressing" at a pool in the glen, scattering flowers upon its waters in the hope that the fairies would keep the water clean for the townspeople's use. It is, apparently, customary to greet the fairies when entering 'their' wood.

      Let me take you on the walk that I did with my family on our recent trip to the Highlands.

      The start of the walk is unprepossessing, a car park containing recycling bins. The walk follows a path under a bridge, along the Markie Burn; a fast flowing clear stream.

      Once under the bridge, away from the road and car park, the walls of the wooded valley close in and straight away, legends of fairies seem almost believable! The broadleaved woodland canopy is quite dense; even in sunlight, not much light reaches the ground and what light does get through creates dappled shade interspersed with shafts of golden sunlight; a lovely effect.

      The path continues upstream and uphill following the course of the burn. A walk in spring (like ours) or summer will be filled with birdsong. Birds such as willow warbler and blackcap will be singing away, not often glimpsed, hidden in the dense foliage, but their lovely songs follow the visitor throughout the glen.

      The stream is home to specialised water birds, too. Grey wagtails are common and nest next to the stream. You will see these lovely birds living up to their name, wagging their tails as they look for tasty insects on and next to the water. Dippers also act out their name; these gorgeous brown and white little birds can be seen 'dipping' under the water in search of insect larvae and other inhabitants of the stream.

      After a few hundred yards, the stream widens out into a large mill pool. During the last century, in the days before refrigerators, ice was collected during the winter from this pool to stock the local ice houses and keep the salmon catch fresh. The pool appears tranquil and empty, but look carefully and you'll see trout moving below, ready to snap up any insects unlucky enough to land on its still surface.

      Beyond the pool the path crosses the stream and rises above the water level. Still gradually climbing, the path moves into a less densely wooded area and it becomes possible to see the sky again. Buzzards, and possibly red kites, can be seen soaring above the trees on a sunny day.

      Within about half a mile, the apparent end of the walk is reached. A rushing sound will be heard as the path rounds a bend and in front of you appears an impressive waterfall. It's possible to get right up to the waterfall and enjoy its 20 foot drop from close quarters. Moss, which loves the wet conditions, can be seen growing on the slippery rocks at the falls' sides. It's possible to sit here, on some natural rock formations, watching the waters rushing towards the sea.

      The walk has another surprise, however. The visitor may (or may not) notice a path set into the side of the waterfall. This needs care to negotiate as it's steep and slippery, but it leads to the top of the falls and beyond. As you get to the top, you realise that there's another, even more impressive waterfall behind!

      The path opens out into a well lit glade, surrounded by trees, with the towering waterfall at its head. There's a large pool at the base of the falls that appears deep and mysterious in the middle, but shallow and inviting at the edges. On a sunny day, the centre of the glade is well lit, with butterflies fluttering across the pool, yet the woods surrounding it appear dark and mysterious. Surely the fairies live here!

      Evidence that many people believe they do is soon encountered. A massive dead log is situated at the left side of the pool. This log appears to have been here for many years. The log is completely covered in coins pushed into its soft wood! Visitors to the fairy glen leave gifts for the fairies by adding to the collection of coins in the log.

      This is a beautiful place for a picnic; there are places to sit next to the pool if you have a coat or sheet to sit on. The rushing water and the sunlight glowing greenly through the canopy create a lovely scene to watch as the food and drink is consumed.

      This is the end of the walk. To return, simply follow the path back to the car park. Don't forget to say goodbye to the fairies.

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