Monthly Archives: May 2013

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Fochabers – Buckie.

Our last day.

The weather has changed again and this morning there is a bitter north wind with heavy showers forecast. We walk down to the banks of the Spey and then along under a new bypass – which explains why the town was quiet last night. Continuing through mixed woodlands with gorse and broom in flower made for pleasant progress. There were glimpses of the river in full flow with the persistent fly fishermen. You never see a woman participating in this sport.

Heavy sleety showers passed quickly through and eventually we came out at the shingly mouth of the Spey.

In 1768 a salmon fishing station was built here. The large Tugnet Ice House [1830] still remains. Only a third shows above ground level. Ice was gathered in winter  and stored in the ice house to keep the salmon  fresh. The buildings have been converted to be used as The Moray Firth wildlife and dolphin centre.

We didn’t have time for any dolphin watching and the next storm was blowing in so we headed to the  Spey Bay golf links and their welcoming clubhouse/cafe. The near by hotel has closed but we were able to enjoy a coffee here and listen to the banter of the golfers who were not in a rush to set forth in the rain and wind.

Braving the weather we continued, the Speyside Way now taking the same route as the Moray Coast Trail. For three miles we were in the sheltered woods just inland of the links so had no view of the sea. The last of those damn metal squeeze traps was passed.

We emerged at the small harbour village of Portgordon looking rather bleak in today’s weather.

Amazingly in this run down place we came across the small Lennox Inn and enjoyed a pint in the tiny cosy bar. The landlady was only too pleased to chat, took us back a few decades in time.

Traditional hospitality.

Traditional hospitality.

A little further along the coast we had a view of seals basking on a rock just offshore.

Maybe because of the beer we managed  to loose our way in the gorse bushes around the next golf course but eventually arrived at the  harbour of Buckpool which was the end [or beginning] of The Speyside Way.

The End.

The End.

This seemed a little unsatisfactory leaving us to wander through streets for another mile into the unpretentious town centre of Buckie. Would have been preferable to continue on the coast to Buckie harbour and then up to the centre.

All that remained was to catch the bus into Inverness for the night and the traditional end of walk curry. Oh and the long train journey home the next day.

So I would highly recommend The Speyside Way. It has given us six days varied walking through grand scenery. There were lots of interesting diversions along the way, we met some lovely friendly people and enjoyed the wildlife. It gave me a good chance to catch up with my old mate and we probably both put on a few extra pounds! I look forward to our next annual hike.

Take a look at the official web site for all the information you need – http://www.speysideway.org

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Craigellachie – Fochabers.

The day was much brighter with some blue sky showing through the previous grey clag. A short stretch of old railway bridge over the River Fiddich and an old inn on its banks.

By all accounts this is  an unique place steeped in the past, wish we had had the foresight to visit last night before supper.

We were now walking on a minor road into the Ben Aigan forest. We slowly were gaining height in a beautiful  woodland setting.

The gradient was so gentle that we reached the highest point on the Way before we even realised, having expected a tough ascent. There were views down the Spey northwards  to road and rail bridges at Boat of Brig, we would arrive here an hour later. The Moray Firth was also visible and can just be made out at the top of the photo if you click to enlarge. Lots of walkers were met coming the other way, the characteristic mid way rush hour.

The route was very undulating from here on and we didn’t see a soul on this section of minor road. At one high point there were rather restricted views back south to the snowy Grampians from where we had come.

The gorse was in full bloom on this stretch.

We diverted to a high view point over the River Spey. There were men stood in the river up to their thighs with a stick and line. Apparently they pay up to a thousand pounds a day for this! And I thought long distance walkers were verging on madness.

We eventually arrived in the sturdy, granite constructed, traditional village of Fochabers.

A no nonsense B&B and a no nonsense fish and chip shop were our delight followed by a couple of pints in a no nonsense inn.

Fochabers is the home of the  Baxters food company, of the Royal Game Soup fame. As I was walking with a Baxter had hoped to get a photo of him outside the factory. Unfortunately it was well off route!

Photo from the bus.

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Ballindalloch – Craigellachie.

By having an early breakfast we were able to book onto the first tour of the morning in the nearby Cragganmore Distillery. We were the only two so had a private trip with guide. This is only a small outfit and we got to see, and smell, all of the processes at close hand. The distillery was set up in 1869 to take advantage of the Craggan Burn and the nearby railway. Cragganmore Single Malt is one of the most complex Speyside Malts.  The distillery’s unique flat topped spirit stills and the slow condensation in traditional worm tubs, promotes Cragganmore’s complexity. The whisky is stored in either  Bourbon casks imported from the states or Sherry/Port casks – each giving a different taste. There were vast bonded warehouse spaces filled with aging casks, quite a sight.

The whole process from mash to spirit is now computerised and can be virtually run by one man from a central console! At the end of the tour we got to sample two of their single malts and as we were the only ones a couple of other malts as well.           Unusual to start a days walking fueled by whisky.

The day continued with a whisky theme as the walk followed the Speyside railway for 10miles past several other distilleries and their abandoned halts.  Speyside  has the greatest number of distilleries of any whisky producing area.  First we crossed the Spey itself on the iron girdered railway bridge.

At the far end we were awarded the sight of  a red squirrel in a nearby tree – giving a good photo opportunity. We in fact saw red squirrels most days of the walk so hopefully they are thriving up here.

Easy walking gave us fast progress with the river close at hand. Several other way walkers were encountered and the abandoned line was popular with cyclists. Abandoned railways can often become monotonous to walk along but somehow today had plenty of interest.

Eventually we arrived in the pleasant small  town of Aberlour for afternoon coffee and then the last couple of miles along the Spey to the even smaller Craigellachie. This consists of a distillery, a handful of houses and two hotels.  We were staying in The Highlander the more modest of the two. Greeted by a Chinese girl with blue hair! Also serving on were a Thai and a Dutch girl. What’s going on? Not a Scot’s accent in the place which is renowned for its collection of malts in the bar. They have over 400 different malts which is nothing compared to the hotel across the road which has 750! The Whisky ‘menu’ was a volume in itself, I restricted myself to sampling the malts from the local distillery in the village. Everyone in the bar were enjoying themselves and all seemed very knowledgeable about the whisky, particularly the large number of German visitors.

Another varied day.

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Cromdale – Ballindalloch.

Again a dull morning but enlivened by a great breakfast served by the lad who is a highland marathon champion. I bet he has porridge. Off again along the railway and soon into a gull colony where we attacked by the BIRDS.

Black Headed Gulls. No damage.

For a couple of miles it was easy going on the old track but then suddenly we were faced with steep ascents into the forest. With the mist down the woods took on an aerie atmosphere.

The undulating route took us out of the woods and up onto a ridge which would have given us views back to the Cairngorms if it had been clear. We met a man going in the opposite direction who was 77 and recovering from a hip replacement – impressive.    The ground was rather difficult being boggy and bouldery  so we made slow progress.The days walk was characterized by the style of stile on route. A sort of squeeze stile updated into a springing metal trap. Must have passed through a hundred of these today.

Speyside Way 151 We were often fenced in by barbed wire, to separate us from the cattle, but it was not a good walking experience.The woods we traveled through were heavily encrusted with lichens which gave an added aspect to the scenery.

Eventually we dropped down to the old railway  by the Spey for the last couple of miles to our Ballindalloch B&B – Cragganmore House. this large house had been the property of the founder of the close by Distillery back in the 1860s. the present owners have furnished in a period style making it popular with visiting tourists.

Speyside Way 170We thought the £32 evening meal a little pricey so survived on cup-a-soups and biscuits in our room. Very peaceful night in the middle of nowhere.

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Nethy Bridge – Cromdale.

It rained all night. The superb breakfast was enhanced by the tales from the three crazy bird watchers . The whole region is busy with twitchers hoping to see the Osprey and the Capercaillie.  Suitably fortified we wandered down beside the River Nethy to join the old Speyside Railway.This section of the railway has not been reopened although the enthusiasts would like to extend the steam route to Grantown. The railway originally started in 1863 and linked Aviemore to Forres.  This line was heavily used by the whisky distilleries that set up beside it. Beeching closed the passenger line in 1965. Goods continued till 1968. The well graded route gives good walking and we were soon on the outskirts of Grantown crossing the Spey on an old bridge.

The morning had been rather dull but as we walked up into town the rain started, fortunately we soon reached the welcoming Chaplin cafe.Too cold for ice cream but we had lovely toasties and pots of tea whilst we dried out. Forcing ourselves to leave we braved the afternoon rain with a superb walk through the Anagach Woods. These woods are home to the Capercaillie but of course we never saw any.

Crossing the Spey by a metal bridge we see an enthusiastic fisherman casting in the river, no doubt at great expense.

Past the old picturesque Cromdale station …..

……and soon we were in the unpretentious but friendly Haugh Inn in Cromdale. What a great little hotel. Good room, good food, friendly staff from the Wirral and a fine selection of beers and whisky. Whilst Mel sampled the Windswept 6% Dark beer from a new micro brewery I started on the single malts from the Spey we had walked so far.

THE SPEYSIDE WAY. Aviemore to Nethy Bridge.

I must confess to not having any knowledge of The Speyside Way until  searching for an annual pub-to pub walk with an old mate. We decided upon this trail because it offered an interesting [and non arduous downhill!] route, 68miles following the River Spey, from Aviemore to Buckie on the Moray coast. It was conceived in 1981 and is waymarked with the thistle logo.

Speyside Way 334

Miraculously we met on the train from Edinburgh and arrived in Aviemore to a sunny evening with the background Cairngorms resplendent in alpine condition.

The next morning dawned crisp and sunny so we set off from the centre of Aviemore in high spirits.

We were confident that the way marking would be obvious and soon found ourselves trying to find a way out of a housing estate on the edge of town.

As housing estates go this couldn’t be bettered with lovely countryside on it’s doorstep and the Grampian mountains in the background. [don’t mean to be patronising to housing estates] Once extricated we had a great mornings walk through heather and birch upland with  views back to the Cairngorms.

The walk was made more interesting with a steam train passing on the adjacent Speyside Railway [more later].

Soon we were in Boat Of Garten and enjoying first a coffee and cake stop outside the excellent convenience store and then a pint at the Boat Hotel. We happened to be here on the day that a new sculpture was being erected by the railway to represent the wildlife and railway juxtaposition. An impressive 15ft Osprey feather constructed from a metal from the railway.

See  http://www.boatofgarten.com/community/our-heritage-project/

Also by the same metal worker was a horse and cart, to be installed, to show how the railway was central to the early distribution network.

All very impressive and with the artist Michael Job of Black Ox Arts to chat to very informative.  Dragging ourselves away we crossed the Spey on a bridge replacing the ferry of old – hence the name Boat  of Garten.

Walking through pine woods next to loch Garten [famous for its Ospreys] was delightful on a warm afternoon.

Soon we were in Nethy Bridge and ensconced into one of the best B&B I’ve stayed at, a wonderful  friendly and helpful hostess in a fantastic situation. Enjoyed an evening at the local hotel.  Deuchars 80 shillings ale was perfect.  Quite a full day.

A DAY TRIP TO SPAIN!

Jet2ing away.

I was out several days at the end of April walking with a pack to try and achieve some fitness for a further trip along the GR7 in Spain. I am hoping to finish the route this year. After May it gets too hot in Spain for comfortable walking. So last week my son dropped me off at Manchester airport [he only lives 10 mins away] for an early morning Jet2 flight to Alicante.

I have to say flying with Jet2 is far more pleasurable than with some other well known cheap airlines. Friendly staff, sensible boarding routine and good leg room. As usual the plane was full of noisy stag and hen parties on their way to Benidorm, they drank the plane dry! My sympathies go out to the air hostesses who have to cope with this crowd, but I do wonder about the wisdom of all the commercially driven alcohol sales in the airport and on the plane. I was mentally comparing my imminent trip into the mountains with theirs into the clubs.

We arrived on schedule, thankfully no trumpets, and I caught the cheap bus into town. It stops at the train station so I bought my rail ticket for the afternoon train to Xativa.

Wandered into the town to a useful climbing shop I know  to buy some gas for my stove. [www.elrefugiodeportes.com]  Then found a cafe for lunch and realised I wasn’t feeling too good, hot and flushed with a racing pulse. I hadn’t been rushing around so couldn’t explain why my pulse wouldn’t go below 100. Returned to the station and sat outside, but my pulse wouldn’t come down. When the the departure time came I decided against traveling to the interior.   What to to do next?  Stay in Alicante for the night and possibly have to seek medical advice or get back to England. Jumped onto the airport bus and was soon buying an expensive ticket back to Manchester! Fortunately there was an evening flight. My pulse eventually returned to normal. The new terminus at Alicante is quite comfortable for waiting around in.

Alicante Airport

Alicante Airport

Landed in Manchester at 9pm and returned to my bemused son’s house. Quite a day really – but one I could have done without. Back to square one and apparently no worse for wear.

To get back to an outdoor theme it was a lovely bank holiday weekend, who needs to go to Spain. At a loose end, and with the garden up to scratch, I did some local walks through the fields which are starting to green up.

Longridge Fell with Pendle behind.

Longridge Fell with Pendle behind.

I always find something to complain about on these local walks – not the scenery or the wildlife – usually the abuse of the environment by persons unknown.

Quite a collection.

Quite a collection.

With the weather being so dry and warm I couldn’t resist some bouldering despite my painful toe. I thought a short session would do me no harm. So had a trip up to Kemple End quarry for some morning sunshine, actually very warm on Bank Holiday Monday. The rock was in perfect condition for some traversing and easy soloing – felt much better for that.  ‘Feeding the rat’  if you know the connection.

Bit of a mixed post but next week off to Scotland so should be more interesting.