A Great Place for Close Encounters with Red Squirrels, Pine Martens and other Highland Wildlife
Alt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve is on the north shores of Loch Arkaig in Lochaber. The reserve is managed jointly for the conservation of butterflies by the Forestry Commission and Butterfly Conservation.
This pleasant scenic short walk passes through grassland, heath and open deciduous woodland. An interpretation board and accompanying leaflet provides an introduction to the reserve.
The grassland supports a diversity of flowering plants, including eyebright (Euphrasia agg.), milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), tormentil (Potentilla erecta), devils-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) and common cowheat (Melampyrum pratense). The heath consists of heather (Calluna vulgaris),and bell heather (Erica cinerea), with lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica),, cross-leaved bell heather (Erica tetralix), cotton grass, bog myrtle (Myrica gale), bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragu) , insectivorous sundews (Drosera spp), Juncus species and Carex species in the wetter areas. There are several orchid species on the reserve, including Lesser Twayblade, (Neottia cordata) Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea), Heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata).
The wooded section consists of some fine specimens of oak, birch, alder, rowan, and hazel, many cloaked in lichens and bryophytes.
There are some lovely views of Loch Arkaig and the surrounding hills. Look out for a range of woodland birds, including flycatchers and warblers, as well as the tracks and signs of pine marten. Look out for raptors and corvids over the hills and heathland. Look out for dippers and otters along the burn.
Look out for a range of butterfly species flitting from flower to flower in the grasslands and heath, including the rare chequered skipper, only found in the UK within a 30 mile radius of Fort William. The chequered skippers is best seen between mid May and end of June feeding on bugle, bluebell and marsh thistle. The Scotch Argus and meadow browns are particularly noticeable in midsummer.
The path can be very boggy in places.
The reserve is just west of Clunes off the B6014. Park in the reserve car park on the north shore of Loch Arkaig.
Go through the wooden gate and follow a broad grassy path, way-marked by reserve posts through grassland and heath studded with mature trees. The route follows the tree-fringed burn up the hillside, with its evocative soundscape.
The path eventually passes through another gate and onto a forest track. Turn left and cross a wooden bridge, taking time to admire the burn, cutting through the hillside with its many small waterfalls.
Follow the forest track for approximately 100 metres before turning left as directed by the way-marker post. The route now heads back down the hill on a grassy path. The descent affords some fantastic views Loch Arkaig and the surrounding hills, as well as the burn with its steeped side ravine, whose sides are cloaked with dense patches of hard fern (Blechnum spicant), male ferns (Dryopteris spp) and scattered stunted birch, guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and oak.
The path passes by some deserted stone buildings and then crosses a small stream on stepping stones.
Pass through another gate and descend onto the single track road.
Turn left and walk back along the tree-fringed to the car park, with the shores of Loch Akraig on your right.
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