The main paths are wide enough to accommodate the commission’s trucks, with smaller paths and trails weaving between them through trees and over dunes. On most days the woods are peaceful and calm; walking the popular route 99 you can normally expect to see someone every 10 minutes or so. The people we meet are usually in a relaxed, friendly mood so we will often stop to chat briefly before going our separate ways. Aside from these occasional meetings there is nothing to break the peace other than the melodies of birdsong and very distant traffic.
The weekend of 22/23 November, however, promises to be very different. The Sled Dog Association of Scotland (SDAS), in conjunction with the International Federation of Sled dog Sports (IFSS), has chosen that weekend to descend on the forest for its Scottish National Championships and a World Cup Qualifying Race.
I have seen the dogs before, waiting in noisy packs ready to be allowed their head. A good team can reach speeds of around 25mph and, once the race has begun, the only sound is from the wheels of the sled as they hurtle along the track, punctuated occasionally by shouted instructions from the musher. The dogs themselves race in silence, all their efforts focused on speed and on the sheer joy of the race.
The forests which pepper the areas around Thornhall Lodge melt into the surrounding mountains. Together they create an environment that can be exhilarating to those who enjoy getting outdoors, and particularly to those who love to challenge their minds and bodies when they do so.
The area is fast becoming popular with sled dogs and their mushers, who are well on their way to finding a natural home for their sport in the North of Scotland. I can’t wait and am excited by the possibility of seeing a proper meet for myself.
Although sledding is a winter sport (dogs can overheat in the warmer months), November isn’t the only good month for it in the area. In January, the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain hold a mass event in the Cairngorms, near Aviemore, and the SDAS will also be returning to Culbin with a night and day event. In addition, The Cairngorm Sled Dog centre is nearby and offers a range of activities from a tour of their kennels and museum to a sled dog safari and even a 2-day sledding course
Thornhall Lodge is the perfect place to stay for this event. We welcome dogs, although they are not mandatory if you are more interested in watching than in taking part! We are also very close to the forest, a mere 4 miles from the main car-park at Well Hill.
We would love to hear from you if you have ever been to the area with a sled dog team or if you are a keen supporter of the sport. Please feel free to leave a comment below.