Sue & Mike’s Speyside Adventure
By Sue Williams
For this year’s Fam Trip I opted for another Scottish adventure with my husband Mike. I chose the Speyside Way this time as I liked the idea of walking from the coast into the highlands, absorbing the changing scenery of the journey. The opportunity to sample a whisky or two was also a bonus!
The Speyside Way is generally walked from Buckie to Aviemore. You can add additional sections to include a circular walk to Dufftown from Craigellachie and the Tomintoul spur. Our walk included both of these optional sections. Without the spurs the walk is about 65 miles roughly following the river Spey. We added a further 12 miles for the Dufftown circuit and 15 miles for the Tomintoul spur. These take you away from the river Spey for a wider adventure. For the latter option Mickledore provide a taxi to Tomintoul and you walk back to Ballindalloch.
We had a lovely meal at our accommodation on the evening of our arrival and a fabulous breakfast with some locally smoked fish the following morning. There was plenty of choice if fish for breakfast isn’t your thing. Starting out along the coast was delightful. We sat on rocks to watch the seals for a while and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of two dolphins near the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay. They were a good way out to sea though. The bay was a lovely place to stop for lunch particularly with the sun shining. The Osprey were fishing at the mouth of the river during our visit although we didn’t get to see them.
Turning inland the path takes a straighter route to Fochabers than the river so the views of the water come and go. Garmouth viaduct is not far from the route and was worth the short detour to see the bridge itself and the views of the river.
We saw a lot of barley fields with a good crop of grain likely to be malted for the whisky distilleries. The ice cream parlour at Fochabers was a great place for coffee and cake, or ice cream of course. Our accommodation at Fochabers was a little way out of the village and our host kindly picked us up from the village centre and welcomed us with home-made cake.
The trail between Fochabers and Craigellachie was a real mixture of both terrain and views. There was some walking on country lanes and the trail climbs away from the river a couple of times so you get fantastic views along the valley.
The section of track and path through the forest around Knock More and Ben Aigan was stunning. On reaching Craigellachie we stopped for a drink at the recently re-opened Fiddichside Inn before the short final walk to the accommodation we are staying at for the next two nights.
The circuit to Dufftown heads out from Craigellachie along the river Fiddich, following a path along a disused railway. There are distilleries at Dufftown and if you do wish to visit it is worth planning them into your trip.
Tours are not offered every day and currently there are no tours on a Monday or Tuesday.
We took a different path into Dufftown than suggested in the guidebook so that we could pass Balvenie Castle. After the fairly flat walk to Dufftown the trail heads for a short up and over through fields and moorland to drop back to Aberlour. As is so often the case, the effort is rewarded with great views. A huge piece of cake and a coffee set us up for the final wander along the railway path back to Craigellachie.
We now return to the main Speyside Way route, onwards to Ballindalloch. This is a day following the route of the former Strathspey railway line. There are many interesting bridges on the Speyside Way, road, rail and foot bridges.
We took our time to explore a few and admire the views along the rivers as we crossed over. About a kilometre from the trail at Tamdhu station is Knockando Woolmill. We paid a visit for coffee and cake (they don’t do sandwiches).
The restored old mill (1784) with a waterwheel, spinning and weaving machinery was a fascinating addition to the day.
Ballindalloch is very small and our accommodation was farther away from the trail than most but was handily situated for our Tomintoul spur. The taxi chat was an interesting start to the day and we then set off to walk back to Ballindalloch.
This option adds a hillier day to the itinerary and we very much enjoyed it. Most of the walk is across moorland with sections of woodland in between. The views from Carn Daimh are impressive. It was a bit too windy for us to spend long admiring them and we quickly dropped from the summit towards the Glenlivet distillery.
We paid a visit to the lounge bar at the distillery where they have a huge range of whiskies on offer but we opted for coffee. The weather having taken a turn for the worse we headed out across the moors and Hill of Deskie to return to Ballindalloch. The weather did not seem to bother the deer that we could see running across the open ground to the side of us.
A whisky at the bar in our accommodation now felt well earned.
Having completed both of our side excursions we followed the Spey valley for the final two days. Firstly to Grantown-on-Spey and then on to Aviemore.
Most of the route between Ballindalloch and Grantown-on-Spey is away from the river. You climb up and drop down a few times through fields and woodland, some of these are steep but none are very long.
The path is varied with some sections rougher underfoot and others on wide forest tracks. Once you have descended to Cromdale the walk to Grantown is pretty flat.
You cross the river Spey near a pretty little church and the final section of the day is mostly through woodland. This special community woodland is a home to capercaillie. We didn’t see or hear any as we passed through.
Having seen us off with a cracking breakfast, Mike had some whisky with his porridge. We left our hosts at Grantown-on-Spey for the last leg of our adventure. Initially near to the river the trail on this section is easy going with a lot of the distance on well formed tracks. We started another day of great bridges with the Old Spey Bridge built in 1734 followed by the bridges at Nethy Bridge which are a tourist attraction in themselves.
We stopped for a drink at Boat of Garten before the beautiful walk to Aviemore with it’s stunning Caingorm views and passing steam trains. If you did not wish to walk this section you could take a trip on one of the trains if the timetable works for you. We were happy to walk and soak up the views on this final section of our trail.
The Speyside Way is a varied trail from the fabulous Moray coast through fields, woodland and moorland with stunning mountain views as you head into the Cairngorms National Park. The river Spey is a link to all these elements which although not always by your side is at other times viewed in the valley, glimpsed through trees or crossed on bridges old and new. We saw a real mixture of wildlife with other birds and animals around that we just weren’t lucky enough to catch. If you want a Scottish adventure that touches the sea and mountains to the east, this may just be the walk for you.