Touchstone Maze: A family walk at Strathpeffer

Up in the woods above Strathpeffer is a labyrinth of rocks, the Touchstone Maze, brought from quarries all over the Highlands. The rocks themselves are ancient, but the maze itself was built in 1994, celebrating the rich geological environment of the Scottish Highlands. The walk up to the Touchstone Maze runs through Blackmuir Woods along the slopes of Cnoc Mor, with beautiful views down over Strathpeffer. The route as far as the maze is buggy-friendly.

Distance: 2.25 miles / 3.5km

Parking: Forestry Commission Scotland have a car park in Blackmuir Wood. There is no charge. If you are coming into Strathpeffer from the south on the A834, look out for a large white building on the right. Take the next right turn, just before a house signed West Park. You will also see a green sign on the left indicating a walking route to Knockfarrel down the track you are about to take.

Follow the signs into the carpark. IV14 9BT is the nearest postcode area.

Amenities: there are no toilets or other facilities on the walk, but there are public toilets less than a mile away. You can find them just off The Square in Strathpeffer, next to ‘Square Wheels’. There are a number of cafes and shops in Strathpeffer, which is a lovely Victorian spa village.

Buggy/bike friendly? We took an all-terrain double buggy (a Mountain Buggy Duet) and balance bikes with us on this walk. The terrain was reasonably flat with some moderate slopes. The route was a combination of unmetalled tracks and gravel paths. There were some bumpier sections and large tree routes in the path, so I would recommend an all-terrain buggy for this route.

The route is a circuit going up and down a hill. Our balance bikers grew weary on the uphill but enjoyed the long straight downhill at the end.

Touchstone Maze Walk: The Route

The walk is a circuit which you can take in either direction. We went clockwise, and would recommend this as you get the more interesting winding stretch along the edge of the strath (valley) on the way uphill, which helped our children to keep going.

From the carpark, follow the green signs for the Touchstone Maze Trail.

1. The track passes through a small section of woodland before turning right up an unmetalled road.

2. Follow the track as it climbs gently uphill for about 100m, and then take the turning on the left signed for the Touchstone Maze.

3. The path climbs gently through woodland, with beech trees, silver birch and conifers. On the left the trees open from time to time to reveal beautiful views across the strath. You can see Castle Leod, the seat of Clan Mackenzie, on the other side of the valley.

4. After about a mile, you will reach the Touchstone Maze itself! We enjoyed spending some time here running around and climbing on the different rocks.

5. Continue on up the signed green trail a little way further, and then turn right along an unmetalled road. This track continues fairly straight along the side of Cnoc Mor, with yellow gorse bushes on either side, and more views down into the valley.

For those on legs rather than wheels, there is a turning off on the left to climb up the Cat’s Back to the summit of Cnoc Mor.

6. The track bends to the right and continues down through the woodland back to the car park. Just before you turn off to the car park there are a couple of houses on the left with some interesting wooden sculptures outside.

What is the terrain like?

The route is a mixture of gravel paths and unmetalled road. The paths are nice and wide, but they are rather bumpy at points with rocks and the occasional tree root. The photos below give more of an idea of the terrain. We took an all terrain buggy and we were happy that it was suitable for the terrain, but we did go more slowly over the rougher patches.

There are no steep slopes on the route, but there are a few moderate slopes where it took some effort to push the buggy uphill.

The optional extension up the Cat’s Back to the summit of Cnoc Mor is not suitable for buggies.

What is the Touchstone Maze?

The Touchstone Maze is a labyrinth, made up of 81 rocks from quarries all over the Scottish Highlands. The layout was inspired by prehistoric designs, and showcases the different types of rocks, and also the alignments of the sun and moon throughout the year.

All of the main types of rock are represented:

Metamorphic rocks from the Outer Hebrides and the West Coast, such as Ballachulish slate and Lewisian gneiss.

Sedimentary rocks laid down on the East Coast, including Old Red Sandstone from Tain.

Igneous rocks originally formed from molten lava, such as granite from Nairn and Aberdeen.

There is an excellent detailed guide to the different stones, their origins and astronomic significance, on the Strathpeffer village website. Forestry Commission Scotland have also produced a leaflet guide which you could print and take with you.

Look out for the rock with a hole running right through it – our children enjoyed shaking hands through the hole!

Things to look out for:

Look out for wild raspberries, ponds, wooden statues, fungi and wildflowers (including orchids!) on your route. There are also a couple of geocaches to search for.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Touchstone Maze, and would like to go back again with a guide to the rocks to find out more about them. A great walk, especially for families with young children looking for interesting things to spot, and a good path.

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