Buckie to Fochabers 10.5m
At the start
So…it seems I have a bit of a backlog to update, the first being the Speyside Way walked in December 2015.
It may seem a bit of an odd choice for that time of year, but this was a relatively easy low level walk. My father had had open heart surgery earlier in the year to replace a valve, and this was his first attempt at getting back in the saddle.
The Moray Coast
We were walking North to South, starting in Buckie and walking to Aviemore, missing out the new extension from Aviemore which had been opened a couple of months earlier. We would also be missing out the two spur routes, concentrating on the main line, so to speak.
I’d booked all the accommodation myself after researching hotels and B&B’s on the net, the main requirement being that they were actually open in December! Our first stop was the Marine Hotel in Buckie after an epic journey from Glasgow. First the train to Elgin, changing at Stirling and Aberdeen, then a bus ride to Buckie, finishing (unsurprisingly) in the dark.
Deceptively calm in Portgordon
We disembarked from the bus a little early into a relatively balmy December evening In the end we didn’t have too far to walk to the hotel, nestled in amongst a number of seafood processing plants which were right on the water. The room was comfortable enough, but there was a real “Blackpool” feel to the Hotel (if you have ever stayed at a Blackpool Hotel you’ll know what I mean). We were the only ones in residence, adding to the odd atmosphere, although one or two people did filter in for a meal as we sat and ate in the restaurant, already decorated for Christmas.
Not having much else to do, we went for a wander round the town to find the start, have a look at the christmas lights, and more importantly attempt to find a decent pint. One out of three wasn’t bad – we saw the christmas lights (“Seasons Greetings from Buckie” being the absolute highlight)! After a short wander, and a rather awkward pint in one of the pubs in the local square we retired back to the hotel. Listening carefully you could almost hear the sound of “duelling banjo’s” in the background. Almost…
I’m probably being a tad unfair to the place – nowhere is really going to be at its best on a late November evening!
With only ten and a half miles to walk we had late start after a leisurely breakfast in a morning that was more akin to an early autumn day than mid-winter. It was only a short walk to the official start, easily missed, which we had wandered past in the dark the previous evening, completely oblivious to its existence. The start itself was marked by a couple of information boards and a rather attractive stone “gate” in a small park, close to the “Seasons Greetings from Buckie” lights.
The first part of the day was a very enjoyable walk along the coast, firstly through what looked like an old fishing village, the cottages surrounding streets that led directly down to the water. Here you could almost imagine the small fishing boats hauled up on the beach, and the nets layer out to dry in front of the cottages. If not for the modern cars it could easily have been a scene from the 19th century.
View from the railway path
As we reached the western edge of Buckie we stopped for a chat with a couple of locals, one of which pointed out a pod of dolphins that were just a short distance off the coast. It took a moment to spot them, but once seen their grey bodies, around 6 or 7 of them, appeared with a regular rhythm from the water. They were heading in our direction and seemingly keeping pace with us. A very enjoyable way to start a new walk.
Through the woods
The quaint cottages gave way to a stony shingle beach, a bit hard on the feet, until Portgordon, another pretty (although a bit gloomy in the grey morning) little village, this one with its own harbour. The wind was up also and with the tide in, we were treated to a rather spectacular display of water crashing off the sea wall. It wasn’t a place to hang around, mainly to avoid being drenched in salt water!
The Ice House
Once through Portgordon the route took to the old railway line, a pleasant and grassy walk over typical “links” ground. Old telegraph insulators were still visible under some of the old bridges, the wires and poles all long since gone.
Abruptly the railway path ended, the old line pressing straight on under a bridge clogged with gorse and other prickly shrubs. We entered a conifer plantation, with plenty of wind blow. There was also a smell here, coming from a landfill site, the constant drone of engines and irritating beeps of reversing vehicles entering our world for a while as the path skirted it. The noise quickly abated, the smell lingered a while, but this became another pleasant meander through what was, in fact, some very pretty, if a little thick, forest.
After what seemed like an age we burst out of the Pine Wood into Spey Bay. There had been a hotel here, which was now apparently being redeveloped for residential use, which was a great disappointment (it would have been perfect for lunch), but a sign pointed us in the direction of the Golf Course Club House which was a very satisfactory alternative. They are very welcoming to walkers and have a pretty good menu too.
At the mouth of the Bay, the Scottish Dolphin Centre was (unsurprisingly) shut, although we did get a few good photos of the huge ice houses, and a quite wonderful statue of an Osprey.
Looking across the Bay
The Bay itself was stunning, a place to linger during the summer – not so much on a dull winters day though. Here our westward march ended, and we turned south, following the river separated from us initially by scrubby (and very soggy looking) woodland. On the other side were fields of long harvested wheat or corn, the stubble tall and bleached. Deer were hiding in amongst the stubble, almost invisible with their coats blending in perfectly with their surroundings.
There were a few more folk around here too, runners and dog walkers out making the most of the weather on the grassy track. The route would take to the river bank occasionally, but any views were prevented by the substantial flood bank, although at one point I did climb to the top just to get a photo! Overhead there was interest too, large flocks of geese noisily passing on their way to (or from) feeding grounds.
Sun starting to set in Warren Wood
We passed into Warren Wood, which provided us with one of those special moments. Made up mostly of Scots Pine, it was lovely and open. The sky had cleared and dusk was on its way, early in the afternoon. With the sun low in the sky we were treated to a wonderful show of light, the rosy bark of the Pine almost glowing luminously.
Lovely Scots Pine
It was here that a passing runner stopped and surprised us both by saying that she was a follower of the blog. Apologies – firstly I don’t think we got your name – and secondly for taking so long in finally getting round to writing this. Thanks for reading! (I’ve got a lot of catching up to do).
Finally by the river
On reaching a road, a rather rude intrusion to what had been a very peaceful walk, the Scots Pine gave way to Beech and ground that was swathed in bluebells. Come the spring the woodland must be an amazing sight. With the sun setting we passed under the road bridges that marked the edge of Fochabers, for the first time actually walking along the bank of the river. Sand Martin burrows marked the opposite bank and there were some fine views across the river before the path turned away and we made our way to the hotel.
Day Rating 7/10
A very enjoyable first day (especially the latter half), without being spectacular. Highlights were the dolphins, Spey Bay and the Pine forest (something that would become a feature of the trail). Loads of wildlife too. A good start to the trail which exceeded expectations comfortably.