Watt on the Wild Side

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Take an enchanting walk through one of our national nature reserve as the path winds through the trees.

Follow the ants for a richly varied trail through atmospheric old oakwoods and thriving new woodland, rich in history and wildlife or gently stroll through the coppiced hazel woods to a quiet picnic area by the River Nant.

Glen Nant, one of the nation’s many forests managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES), is a woodland with a long history of human influence.

More than 150 archaeological sites have been recorded in the woods and many are charcoal hearths from the era of Bonawe Furnace in nearby Taynuilt. At that time, the trees were harvested to generate wood for shipbuilding and to make charcoal which was then utilised at the furnace to produce iron for industrial use. The furnace even produced cannonballs used during the Napoleonic War.

Glen Nant is a great place to go and stretch the legs on two way-marked walking trails. I chose the popular Ant Trail, a two-mile track which follows narrow gravel paths with some uneven sections.

It has some long, steep slopes and several sets of rough steps. There are some exposed tree roots and potentially wet sections and it includes some narrow bridges … but it’s well worth the effort.

I climbed up the stone steps off the forest road and immediately entered another world. The trees were dripping with moss and lichens and the only sounds were the burn and the birds. These lush Atlantic oakwoods are a patchwork of oak and birch, with hazel, ash, rowan, holly and willow distributed throughout.

This special place is internationally important, not only for its impressive trees, but also for the copious quantities of non-flowering plants. The peaty ground is home to blueberry, heather, bluebell, wood sorrel and wild honeysuckle. There are also areas of lime-rich soil with primrose, wild garlic and wood anemone in abundance.

There are some interesting snippets of information on the way round the trail which help you to spot features of interest, including the ant nests which are built from woodland debris and given a thatch of tiny twigs. The nests themselves can rise to two metres tall.

You can also listen for warblers, redstarts and woodpeckers, and watch tits, jays and treecreepers. Sunny glades attract many butterflies and moths, and you may see signs of deer, pine marten and red squirrels.

It was a cool day when I was there but I was glad of the breeze by the time I got to the top of the hill where I was rewarded with a phenomenal vista of Ben Cruachan. There were also some lovely views of the burn as I dawdled over the bridges at the far end of the loop.

As I started walking back down the forest road, I looked forward to the prospect of a flask of coffee at the picnic table on the Riverbank Trail. The Riverbank Trail is a much shorter, quarter of a mile walk and is on a firm gravel surface along its entire length.

Walking down the road, I looked across at the areas where the conifers have been cut down. These might look a bit messy just now but they’re being managed to encourage the natural regrowth of the broadleaf species.

There is a lot of heather growing on these sites so visit again in September when they are a lovely shade of purple.

In the past, Glen Nant was a busy industrial site with hundreds of people working in the forests – a very different scene to the tranquillity of the woods today.

For further information, please visit www.scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/glen-nant.

Helen Watt is Communities, Recreation and Tourism Manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland in Oban.