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Hike old thieves' roads in a forgotten part of Scotland — Cateran Trail

Neillwphoto (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hike old thieves' roads in a forgotten part of Scotland — Cateran Trail

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson



33:58 h

74.4 mi

8,325 ft

The Cateran Trail is a spectacular long-distance loop that follows bygone bandit tracks through a forgotten yet beautiful part of the Scottish Highlands.

Exploring peaceful glens, majestic moors, wild hilltops, ancient forests, pastoral farmland, and pretty lochans, the diverse landscapes and charming settlements along the way afford a real flavour of Highland culture.

The trail is named after the Caterans; groups of blood-thirsty bandits who rustled cattle from wealthy landowners in the glens between the 14th and 17th centuries. Much of the trail follows the same tracks used by these fearsome thieves, as well as drovers’ roads used by farmers in times-of-old.

Whilst the trail explores a surprisingly-little-hiked part of Scotland, the entire 64-mile (103-km) trail is fully-waymarked throughout and never strays more than a few miles from some kind of civilisation. As such, it is a great choice for both beginners and experienced walkers.

The trail begins along a spur from Blairgowrie town across Cochrage Muir and into Bridge of Cally. You then start the loop through Blackcraig Forest along Strathardle Glen and into the Cairngorms National Park briefly at Spittal of Glenshee. The trail then winds around Mount Blair (an optional detour) through Glen Isla to Alyth. The final section passes over moorland and farmland to Bridge of Cally and retraces the spur to Blairgowrie.

With towns and villages at decent intervals — complete with welcoming inns serving food and wee drams — as well as breathtaking mountain views, plentiful wildlife-spotting opportunities, and historic sites, the Cateran Trail always has plenty to pique your interest.

Whilst this is by no means an easygoing hike, the walking is generally steady with mostly mild ascents and descents. There are a couple of tough sections, of course, but the trail is good for all abilities.

In this Collection, I split the route into five stages, each averaging 15 miles (24 km), and complete it clockwise. This is essentially the tried-and-tested itinerary for the trail. As Stage 2 and Stage 4 are both quite short, though, I have included worthy extensions to make both full-day walks.

Every stop is relatively well-served with accommodation, with the exception of Spittal of Glenshee. However, places to stay can be limited so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly. Whilst civilization is never too far away, there are not always places to resupply en route, so it is worth making sure you have enough food and water.

To get to the start/finish, your best bet is catching a train to Perth, which has direct services from Edinburgh and Glasgow and connecting services around the UK. From there, you would need to catch the 57, 57A, or 57C bus services from Elibank Street, roughly a five-minute walk from the train station (for the timetable, visit: stagecoachbus.com/routes/east-scotland/57a/dundee-perth/xhbo057a.o).

On The Map


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Cateran Trail

65.2 mi

6,600 ft

6,600 ft

Last updated: November 12, 2021

Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Blairgowrie to Kirkmichael — Cateran Trail

    15.7 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,625 ft
    1,125 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage explores Strathardle Glen and takes you over lonely hilltops with lovely views.


    With 15.7 miles (25.3 km) of distance and 1,625 feet (495 m) of climbing, this is a challenging hike but certainly not the toughest in this Collection.


    You begin from the 11th-century market town of Blairgowrie

    by Dan Hobson

  • Difficult
    13.7 mi
    2.0 mph
    2,925 ft
    2,525 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You reach the highest point of the Cateran Trail on this stage and will hopefully catch glimpses of eagles soaring along the way.


    From Kirkmichael, the trail rises gradually along the edge of Kindrogan Forest and crosses the River Ardle near Enochdhu.


    The climb continues and you reach the highest point

    by Dan Hobson

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  • Difficult
    14.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    950 ft
    1,250 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Serene lochs, spellbinding scenery, and a sumptuous sense of solitude combine on this hike.


    With 14.7 miles (23.7 km) of distance, 950 feet (290 m) of uphill and 1,250 feet (381 m) of downhill, this stage is easier than the previous two but still tests your fitness and ability.


    For the first 6 miles

    by Dan Hobson

  • Difficult
    13.4 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,150 ft
    1,600 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Glorious views over Glen Isla await on this stage, which takes you to the stunning town of Alyth.


    With 13.4 miles (21.6 km) of distance, 1,150 feet (351 m) of uphill and 1,600 feet (488 m) of downhill, this is one of the easier stages on the Cateran Trail.


    From Kirkton of Glenisla, you cross the River

    by Dan Hobson

  • Difficult
    17.0 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,675 ft
    1,850 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage takes you to a magical Bronze Age stone circle and explores wild hilltops with awe-inspiring views.


    Challenging throughout, the Cateran Trail does not let you off-the-hook with an easy finish. At 17 miles (27.4 km) long and with 1,675 feet (511 m) of climbing, the plentiful pubs and restaurants

    by Dan Hobson


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    74.4 mi
  • Duration
    33:58 h
  • Elevation
    8,325 ft

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