Walk: Glen Tanar Estate, Aberdeenshire

The aromatic scent of Scots pine permeates this spring stroll, accompanied by a varied soundtrack of birdsong, including capercaillie and the sweet tones of the Scottish crossbill

Green valley and hills
Published: January 18th, 2022 at 7:01 am
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Glen Tanar is special at this time of year for the birdlife that inhabits its ancient Scots pinewoods. The Water of Tanar, a tributary of the Dee, flows through this well-managed and protected landscape – a wide valley below the Munro of Mount Keen.


Red squirrels are common here, as are Scottish crossbills; both feed on the pine kernels. This endemic-to-Scotland, Scots pine-dwelling finch has a mellifluous voice: “choo-choo-choo”. Its song is most pronounced when calling excitedly before taking off in wide-ranging flight.

Long-tailed tits, curlews, oystercatchers, peewits and snipe also thrive due to the mixed habitats. A morning walk is the best way to experience this majestic area and to hear the myriad birds that are busy courting. 

Lekking capercaillie are another seasonal highlight. The magnificent ‘horse of the woods’, as it is also known, is the pride of this family-owned 10,000-hectare estate – one of nine national nature reserves within the Cairngorms National Park. Through employing a mix of traditional and modern techniques, protecting biodiversity is a cornerstone of the estate’s ethos.

The Glen Tanar Visitor Centre, with its informative natural history exhibition, is the starting point for many signed walks in the area.

Bird in tree
The Scottish crossbill is a Scots pine-dwelling finchh with as a mellifluous voice: “choo-choo-choo”/Credit: Alamy

Glen Tanar walk

2.9 miles/4.7km |1–2 hours | easy–moderate

1. Rumbling river

Reach the visitor centre from an adjacent car park by crossing the photogenic, steeply arched Bridge of Tanar. Follow the white markers for this gentle walk.

2. Ancient hermit

You soon arrive at the Chapel of St Lesmo. Dating from 1872, the chapel is named after a hermit who lived in this tranquil glen more than 1,000 years ago.

3. Lively lochan

Continue on the main track until you reach Fairy Lochan. Although you may struggle to spot a fairy, dragonflies are aplenty, filling the air with flashes of colour as they zip above sedges and lilies.

Walk on through stands of pine and birch before turning left on to a path that descends to the river.

4. Pleasant pools

The lovely return meanders beside the river, passing pools frequented by the ever-bobbing long-tailed tits. You may even spy salmon breaking the water. 


Glen Tanar map

Glen Tamar walking route and map

Glen Tanar walking route and map


Fergal is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland on foot and by bike.


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