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Archive for the ‘Long Distance Paths’ Category


Day 2

Howtown (via low route) to Pooley Bridge 5 miles (approx)

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Setting off from the Hostel

The second day was purposely be a relatively short day as I was very conscious of the fact that this was my nephew’s first trail, and with a relatively hard day behind him, he might be feeling a bit worn out on day 2.  Realistically, though, had we gone past Pooley Bridge it would have made for an exceeding long day.  As it was, this walk would prove to be enough.

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The walk from the Hostel was pretty spectacular too

We left the hostel under a pretty grey sky to an initial chorus of “why can’t we take the car down?”, which quickly dissipated as we set off.  (You’re on a walking holiday pal, we don’t use the car! (is that too unsympathetic?)).  There was a convenient shop in Glenridding where we stocked up on some very nice local produce for lunch.

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Starting to climb

It was a mile or so down to the pier, give or take, but we left plenty of time to catch the boat to Howtown.  Once on the boat we settled down to enjoy the ride, getting a unique 360 degree view of the hills surrounding Ullswater.  It wasn’t the warmest on deck, nothing that couldn’t be sorted with a fleece, although the odd spot of rain did threaten – it may just have been a bit of spray off the water.  There were plenty of walkers out on the track already, a steady stream heading in both directions between Howtown and Patterdale.

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Gaining height after leaving Howtown

I’d planned the times carefully as well so we would have plenty of time before the last boat back from Pooley Bridge, you never know what might happen, and it’s always better to leave more time than necessary.  There’s nothing worse than chasing public transport to ruin a walk!

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Where the path splits

Once at the pier we set off straight away, the path rising steadily away from the lakeside. While it wasn’t steep the slope was unrelenting and we were plodding along at a relative snails pace, along with plenty of encouragement.  The upside to this was plenty of opportunity to look back over the lake.  It really is stunning.

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Booby trapped stile

We had planned to take the upper route, mainly to take in the stone circle called “the Cockpit” at the top of the hill, again part of the Westmorland Way Pooley Bridge to Patterdale section we’d walked in reverse a couple of years earlier.

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Field Work

The track so far had been like a boundary marking the edge of the relatively pastoral fields below and the rough open fell above.  Reaching the point where the path split we asked the question – he wasn’t keen on the upper route, and had we forced the issue, some consumer resistance might have come into play.

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Still enjoying it “Honest guv!”

We took to the low route, and the character of the path changed completely.  Having been on bridleway we were now walking through gentle fields, in many of which the grass had been left to grow long for winter feed.  The only downside was the occasional booby trapped step stile over walls.  The kind with the sprung gate that slams shut and tries to propel you off the top of the wall.  Evil things!

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The weather had closed in

We were dropping back down towards the water side now and passed through a quite lovely campsite at Cross Dormont.  It was on quite a slope though so I’m not sure I’d like to stay there in my backpacking tent – it could prove a bit awkward to sleep on the ground there!

The path took to a minor single track road, remarkably busy with traffic, a steady stream heading back and forth.  It just shows how popular this area is.  The road didn’t last for very long and we entered a second campsite which hugged the waters edge.  There were picnic benches here and we stopped a while to refuel.  Meanwhile, the wind had picked up and rain started to fall.  It wasn’t long before the cold set in, and to another chorus of complaints we set off again.

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Heading Back

From here there was only a mile or so to go into Pooley Bridge, firstly through the campsite, busy with tents and camper vans, then along the stoney beaches of the Lakeside, busy with walkers and families walking back and forth from the campsite.

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Out enjoying the Lake

We passed the slipway, so close but inaccessible over the water before a narrow little path deposited us virtually in the middle of the village.  With a little time to spare we took a wander round the village before heading to the pub for a well earned…ahem…lemonade.  From there it was a short walk to the pier to catch the boat back to Glenridding, giving a nice long rest before the walk back up the hill to the hostel.

Day rating 9/10

Although quite short, another lovely section of path with super views over the Lake.  The only negative the short walk along the road.  Taking the lower route brought a nice change in character from the previous day, with nice soft field walking, rather than the hard surface of the bridleway.  Pooley Bridge is lovely, slightly busier than our previous visit before the floods, and there was a real buzz about the place.

 

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Day 1

Glenridding to Howtown 6.5 Miles

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Home for the weekend

A long weekend in early August saw a chance to introduce my 10 year old nephew, not only his first long distance walk, but a first hosteling experience.  I’d booked the four of us into YHA Helvellyn for the weekend, a fine location high up a track above Glenridding.  We drove up the track to the hostel on the Thursday evening and parked the car, the last time we would use it until the journey home.

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Setting off

The hostel was busy and bustling with a nice relaxed buzz about the place.  I always like spending time at Youth Hostels, there’s always a special atmosphere about them.

We’d split the route into four stages using the hostel as a base and traveling round the lake using the Ullswater Steamers.

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The hills over Glenridding

After a fairly early breakfast we started with the walk from the hostel down to Glenridding,  which was still recovering from the catastrophic floods of 2015, and made our way to the Steamers Pier.  The Steamers do an Ullswater Way Pass, valid for 5 days, and while fairly expensive (£41.60 adult and £24.95 kids at the time of writing), it still represents pretty good value.

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Back on route

I’d planned to walk anticlockwise so we would be finishing the day at Howtown and coming back on the boat.  We purchased our tickets from the still relatively quiet Glennridding Pier and made our way back out to the road.  The morning was overcast and surprisingly cool.  The sky threatened rain, which to be fair, is nothing unusual in the Lakes, and as a result we were all carrying waterproofs – just in case.

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Lunch Stop

The last time we had walked here on the Westmorland Way, it had rained all the way from Howtown to Patterdale, hopefully today would be different.   We didn’t get off to the best start, missing the turning across the head of the Lake, and instead adding around half a mile to the journey by making for the minor road which would take us to the small  group of buildings at Rooking.

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The way ahead

We were now back on route, and the well worn path kept a fine height above the Lake.  Surrounded by woodland it would open out periodically to give dramatic glimpses over the water.  This was all familiar territory as the memories came flooding back from our previous visit, including how hard the stony surface was on the feet.  At Silver Point we stopped to refuel short legs who had been chattering away constantly from the start.

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Still Smiling

The path is quite undulating here, but is a really rewarding experience and as we continued round the Lake the first walkers appeared who had caught the first boat out from Glenridding, a trickle at first increasing to a steady stream.

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Starting to get busy

Just before reaching Sandwick we passed what looked like a relatively new walkers cafe, but it was decided that it was really still too early to stop for a coffee. so we pushed on towards Howtown.

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Leaving Sandwick

After Sandwick the path stuck to the water edge, a pleasant walk through fields and woods, past the spectacular Geodie’s Crag.  This heralded the approach to Howtown.  We pottered down to the pier to check the time of the boat back, before heading up to the Hotel and its tiny bar.

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Day Rating 9/10

A walk that was quite hard on the feet.  My nephew was pretty knackered at the end, but enjoyed it thoroughly.  A super days walk, the rain stayed off and it was a very enjoyable trip back to Glenridding on the boat.

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Day 6

Boat of Garten to Aviemore 6 miles

The penultimate evening was spent in the Boat Hotel, situated next to the station, along with good food and beer.  The place was surprisingly busy for a snowy December evening and there was a pleasant buzz around the place.  It did mean a precarious walk back to the B&B, as the outside temperature dropped and the ground was began to freeze.

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Boat of Garten Station

Breakfast was left until a civilised hour, with only six mile to walk we could afford to take our time.  Not too much time, there was still a train to catch!  We left around 9, after enjoying a breakfast side show of our host shouting at his theiving dog, who would pinch things from the kitchen worktop given any small oppertunity.

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This was treacherous

Outside it was freezing, the clodest start so far.  Overnight the snow had turned to ice, and both the road and pavement were like walking on a skating rink.  Ice skates would’ve been more appropriate than walking boots!

Leaving Boat of Garten we passed a series of houses, all well spaced from each other along a metalled road.  It was like learning to walk all over again, as we tottered on our way to Aviemore, the smallest slope becoming a major challenge.  I love my walking poles!

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The tarmac gradually turned to gravel, although it was difficult to tell where, and the houses thinned out, leaving the occasional isolated cottage, smoke gently rising from chimneys.  A runner passed us coming the other way, and I thought we were daft until I saw him.   A little further on a large human shaped mark in the snow betrayed where he had slipped an fallen over.

The path crossed under the railway and took to a rather attractive path leading over moorland.  There were fantastic open views of the hills around us, they seemed to have crept close without us even noticing.  I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed too, there was a sense that the Speyside Way was just beginning to get really good.

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Skis would have been better!

The railway was a companion for most of the walk, and I could just imagine the steam trains trundling past in the summer, full of happy tourists, trundling past.  It was all quiet now though as we gradually approached Aviemore.

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Snowy Path

We reached a golf course which, along with a few dog walkers, heralded our approach to the outskirts of Aviemore.  It had also started to sleet, a quite horrible mix of rain and ice.    It was now a case of heads down, as we crossed under the two railway lines, the first preserved, the second the main line, and skirted a housing estate to the main road through the town.  As always on these walks busy traffic comes as a bit of a shock to the system after days of relative seclusion, and this was no different.  Despite the weather there was a bustle about the town.

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Hills looking very atmospheric

The waymarked route headed off across the road, part of the new extension towards Kincraig while we turned left to head down the mainstreet towards the station, the town looking rather gray and forlorn in the dreich weather.  We’d left plenty of time to complete the walk, so with a couple of hours or so before our train, we investigated a couple of the outdoor shops, before settling down for some tea and a baked potato in a cafe as the sleet turned to heavy rain outside.  We’d finished just in the nick of time!

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Day Rating 7/10

While a short day a pleasant enough walk between Boat of Garten and Aviemore.  The moorland section would be a delight in the summer with wildlife abounding, plus there is the railway interest as well.

Overall Rating 46/60 77%

I have to admit that my expectations for the Speyside Way were unusually low, mainly as I had a preconcieved idea that much of the walking was along old railway track bed, which I find tends to get very tedious.  In the end it was only really the one day, and while at times, it did get a little boring, there was enough about the route to keep up interest – distilleries and preserved stations coming thick and fast.

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The weather closing in near Aviemore (the camera didn’t like the sleet)

The rest of the route, however, was a very enjoyable hike without being spectacular.  The initial coastal walk (the dolphins a real bonus), the pine forest, wildlife to mention just a few few things – the weather made things interesting too.  It’s safe to say that my expectations were exceeded comfortably.  All that remains is to complete the Tomintul Spur (a weekend jaunt) to complete the route.  The only downside is that the route feels like it is just starting to get really good as you approach Aviemore, as you’re about to finish.

However, there is the potential to link in a longer walk with the (currently unwaymarked) East Highland Way which links from Aviemore to Fort William, giving a much more interesting route of around 150 miles, give or take.

It’s also a great trail to cut you’re teeth on if new to the game, as in general the walking is pretty gentle.  The worst part was the enclosed path through the farmland, which was quite frankly a pain.

So overall, an enjoyable trail without being especially outstanding and perfect for any time of year.  Oh, and there’s whisky.  What’s not to like!

 

 

 

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Day 5

 

Cromdale to Boat of Garten 14.5m

Our accommodation

 

Interlude

The camping coach at Cromdale deserves a special mention.  This is a self catering…erm…railway coach that had once served the line that passed through Cromdale.  The coach itself had consisted of a guards van at the back, and three passenger compartments linked by a corridor.  The middle compartment had been turned into a shower/toilet room, and the outer ones, bedrooms.  One had a double bed and the other bunks, complete with old photos and lovingly restored (the overhead luggage racks were still in situ).  The guards van had been converted into a spacious kitchen and lounge, with the old cast iron stove having been converted for gas canister use.  There were still pencil markings on the wall made by the men who worked in the van before the demise of the railway.

Setting off!

The snow that had started to fall as we approached Cromdale gradually increased to blizzard status as the evening wore on, effectively trapping us in the accommodation.  A call to the local pub established that, no they were not doing food, and in fact were probably about to shut due to the weather.  It was a case of improvising, a large bag of instant mash (emergency supplies, and by ‘eck, this was an emergency) and a lucky find – a box of savoury flavoured rice that had been left by previous inhabitants – followed up with jelly babies!

With the stove going, the van was soon toasty and comfortable, doubling as a drying room for our sodden kit.  Outside was like Narnia.  I know I use that comparison a lot, but this was.  There was even a proper “Narnia” lamp on the platform!  The next day would be interesting.

Eventually we braved the elements to get to the sleeping quarters and went to bed under a mountain of duvets and an electric blanket.  Being cold was not going to be a problem.

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The walk

We set off in the dim morning light.  Sometime during the night the snow had stopped and the skies cleared, leaving a couple of inches of light crisp snow on the ground.  It was a short walk along the old railway bed in the snow to a road which would take us across the river, then by way of Anagach Wood to Grantown-on-Spey.  The road was completely covered in snow, deeply rutted where vehicles had passed overnight.  A small church stood next to the bridge, Christmas lights shining in the window and making the whole scene feel like a real life Christmas Card.  In short, the landscape was stunning.

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Bridge over the Spey

We crossed the river and turned off the road, into community woodlands.  We were now walking on virgin snow, apart from the many criss-crossing prints of rabbit, badger, fox and deer.  We had entered a veritable winter wonderland, and with the sun starting to shine it looked like we were to be in for a corker of a day.

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Entering the woods

The amount of snow that had fallen overnight was incredible, small pine trees next to the path had been cloaked in snow.  At times we would each be given an impromptu shower if we accidentally brushed an overhanging branch.  This was easy walking, though, and there was an added bonus when a stag stood still long enough to get a photo.

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A rather nonplussed Stag

As we reached Grantown there were quite a few dog walkers out and about and a few even came bounding up to say hello.  Leaving the woodland we re-crossed the river by way of the original Speybridge and joined up again with the old railway track bed, which would takes us all the way to Nethy Bridge.  It was along this section we tried our hand at a bit of inadvertent droving, a herd of sheep that had been sheltering in a cutting, deciding that they wanted to lead us along the path for over a mile.  It reminded me a bit of a few scenes from Wallace & Gromit!

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Mr Tumnus?

The track here was actually a joy to walk, with the sun out and the gentle crunch of snow underfoot.  It was gentle walking too and was mostly open with fine views to be had over the open countryside to the hills beyond the Spey, all this with the river flowing past lazily.  For once I was enjoying a railway walk!  Even this early on in the day the shadows were lengthening quickly, meaning we really were in a race against time.

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We reached Nethy Bridge, passing the old station building and bunkhouse, before heading to the very welcome sight of a Spar next to the path, (having established that the hotel was very shut), leaving the old track bed for the last time.  Lunch was duly bought and we rested a while in a bus shelter whilst enjoying our much needed sustenance.

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The route from Nethy Bridge to Boat of Garten was a complete contrast.  Leaving the village we passed through some lovely woodland for a short distance before entering Abernethy National Nature Reserve and what can only be described as a huge forest of Scots Pine.  The forest has a reputation for it’s bird life, including an Osprey Centre (off route) and Crested Tits.

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The view from the old Speybridge

This was wonderful walking, if somewhat more strenuous than the morning, through an ever changing landscape, all decked in white.  It was teeming with wildlife too, with numerous Deer and the odd Red Squirrel popping up from time to time.  The path dipped in and out of the trees, and at times was undulating, so much so that the walking poles became invaluable tools for getting up even the smallest hill in the snow.  Passing through trees, glades and woodland rides it was a constantly changing landscape.

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Back on track

There were magical moments with the sun shining through the Pines bringing out the pink hue of the bark.  Eventually a road appeared before us, marking the approach to Boat of Garten.  To the left was the Osprey Centre, around a half hour diversion each way apparently, and one that would have been pretty pointless anyway at the start of December.  In any event, the already long shadows were getting longer and we still had at least a mile and a half to walk.

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Stupid Sheep!

There was one last special moment as we crossed the Spey again into Boat of Garten.  The hills which had been hidden to us for the afternoon were now visible in all their snowy glory.  A couple of fantastically carved bears stood guard over the road as we entered the village.

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It was with some relief we made it to the B&B, right through the other side of the village.  Typical!

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One of the Highlights of the day

Day Rating 9/10

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So, so lucky with the weather.  Potentially had the snow kept up the day could have been a disaster.  It wasn’t, however and we were rewarded with quite possibly the best days walking so far.

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Some truly outstanding sections of path, and this could be a real joy during the summer, especially for wildlife enthusiasts.  Real variety in the walking too, which is always a bonus.  It would be remiss of me not to say it – the snow really made the day.  Brilliant.

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Sentinals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 4

 

Cragganmore to Cromdale (11.5)

 

It had snowed over night.  Not heavily, but enough to leave the ground covered in a thin white sheet.  It was wet snow as well, the sort is like a white version of liquid mud – well the exceedingly slippery kind at least.

Snow covered railway path

It took only a few of minutes to walk back to the path from the B&B and it was like entering another world.  The old track bed was pretty much covered despite the thick woodland surrounding it and the snow was still falling gently.  Not even a breath of wind stirred the surrounding branches and there was that wonderful peaceful silence that seems to only occur when snow is on the ground.

Climbing away from the railway path

Here and there animal tracks, mainly rabbit, deer and the occasional fox, criss crossed the path.  After about a mile we came to the end of the railway track bed (at least until the very end of the day) as the path took a sharp left turn up hill.  With the snow on the ground it was tough going through what was some very attractive woodland.  At its edge the surrounding landscape began to emerge in monochrome, a world decked in black and white.

The path was now penned in between two fences, channeling walkers towards the usually busy A95.  Here and there short boardwalks had been installed over boggy or wet patches with some still sitting stacked to one side waiting to either be installed or removed.  It was difficult to tell which!  More noticeable was the sheer number of deer, always ready to make a quick exit when they became aware of our presence.

The snow came harder as the road was followed for a short distance before turning up into a large plantation of Scots Pine.  At first the path was promising, a nice meandering route through the trees, but at the top of a climb it emerged onto a typical forest track, covered in snow and sporting many deer tracks.  The track didn’t last long, however, as the way turned sharply back downhill, through the trees.  It was a steep, slippery and at times treacherous descent and it took some time to reach the edge of the trees where we rested a while, having covered only four or five miles.  We were heading down into an unseen dip to cross a small burn, and as we rested a fox ran through it, unseen, its eerie bark echoing back and forth between the hill sides.

The snow came down

We emerged out the trees onto a farm track which I can only describe as a swamp, most of the damage caused, it seemed, by cattle.  It took some navigating and for once it was a relief to get a section of enclosed path which would get us across the burn via a well constructed bridge.

Snowy Scots Pine

Up the other side, slipping and sliding all the way, led us into the Woods of Knockfrink, another large Scots Pine plantation.  At first the trees were thick round the track, but as we walked through they thinned, eventually leading to a quite lovely open forest which was a pleasure to walk through, giving us all round views of the surrounding country.  Surprisingly, this side of the hill seemed to have suffered less snowfall, and the farmland around the river was remarkably free of the white stuff.  There were more deer here, a large herd running along the side of a deer fence as we walked through the woods.

We now lost the hight that had been gained earlier, not before we were treated to a wonderful open view over the Spey.  The farmland we were looking over became our route, and it was quite frankly 2 miles of hell through narrow enclosed paths with numerous metal pinch stiles (if you ever walk this path, you will learn to hate them with a passion).  Honestly, there’s no real reason for the paths to be enclosed through farmland like this (although officially it will be to “protect” walkers from livestock) – my guess it was a stipulation by landowners when new rights of way were created to stop walkers from straying too far from the path.  It seems to be a Scottish “thing” which I’ve noticed on a few trails (Cataran Trail, Annandale Way and Borders Abbey’s Way amongst others).

 

What is more concerning is the poor state of the path in places, with the fences on both sides being topped with barbed wire and only really room for one walker to pass at a time.  A slip in the wrong place could end in disaster.

Looking over the Spey

Eventually the farmland ended at the Mains of Dalvey, and miracle of miracles, the sun came out.  Blue sky!  Not that it helped raise the temperature any, it was still pretty baltic.

A hated pinch stile

Another burn needed to be crossed, so down we went before an attractive climb up into yet another plantation of Scots Pine.  As we walked through we even met another walker, a local out for an afternoon constitutional.  The light was beginning to fade and more worryingly, the blue sky had given way to ominous grey and a light snow had started to fall.  A steady descent on good forest track signalled the end of the forest and the last couple of miles.  The snow meanwhile had started to fall with a vengeance and by the time we reached the A95 again, full on blizzard conditions were in full swing.

Enclosed Path

It was back to the old track bed now, and with only a mile or so to go it was head down and plough through the snow.  A field next to the path contained a horse who had spied someone out in the fields (for whatever reason).  It was not a happy Dobbin, and was pretty much going apoplectic, I guess about being left out in the snow.  I have every sympathy with it!

Nearing the end

Finally we reached our accommodation, the wonderful Cromdale Camping Coach at the old, and brilliantly preserved, Cromdale Station.  The day, thankfully was over.

Day Rating 8/10

Cromdale Camping Coach

A rather enjoyable walk, despite the weather, spoiled somewhat by the stupid routing and enclosing of the path through farmland.  A major improvement on the previous days walk along the railway path, though, with plenty of variety to keep the walker interested.  It was bitterly cold and we really did just make it to the accommodation in the nick of time.

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Day 3

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 Craigiellachie to Ballindalloch 12m

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Well preserved Aberlour station and visitors centre

Firstly, let me say that staying at the Highlander was an experience – a very enjoyable one.  The owner is Japanese and, for want of a better description, is a whisky nut.  Almost every square inch of wall in the bar was covered by whisky bottles, mostly Scotch, but also some award winning Japanese whisky – apparently their distillers are some of the finest in the world.

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Anyway, when in Rome and all that.  As I was nursing my beer a bottle of Craigellachie 29 year old caught my eye.  I’m not really a whisky drinker, but this was sublime – I could be converted yet.  The highlight of the evening was an American couple appearing in the bar and asking (bearing in mind that we were in the heart of whisky country) if they had any Irish Whiskey.

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Small station for a distillery

There were also comprehensive whisky tasting menus, with around six different types to sample per “flight”, ranging from common malts to unusual rare (and rather expensive) examples.  A good excuse to head back there at some point!

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Best view of the day when crossing the bridge at Carron

We started out under a murderous sky, fearing the worst after seeing the terrible weather forecast that morning.  There were one or two drops of rain early on, but nothing serious as we headed for Aberlour.  We were close to the river here and would be criss crossing it all day on the old track bed.  We were gently climbing all the time, and the path was pleasant enough without being particularly exciting.  There were lots of nice little old railway details from time to time, including the remarkably well preserved station at Aberlour.  The station also doubled as the Speyside Way visitors centre – shut for the winter unfortunately.

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A rare glimpse through the trees

The path passed into a heavily wooded area as we left Aberlour and began a long steady climb which seemed to go on forever.  I’m not a great fan of railway paths, and this one was not much different.  Distilleries would appear thick and fast close by and occasionally the trees would give way to a view or two to break the monotony.

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Another well preserved station

One of the best views was where the path crossed the Spey, an unusual set up where the railway and road shared the same bridge close to Carron distillery, one that looked as if it had recently reopened.

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Preserved signal box

Having crossed the river we were now high above it.  There were occasionally tantalising glimpses through the trees that promised much.  Ironically, these views were probably better at this time of year due to the lack of foliage.  Dare I say that a bit of thinning along the path might improve things greatly.  Once again though the woodland floors were carpeted with bluebells – a springtime walk might just be a little more rewarding.

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Soggy path stretching into the distance

The shining light of the day were the lovingly preserved stations along the route, giving rise to bags of nostalgia, especially the well preserved station building (now a visitor centre for the distillery) and signal box at Tamdhu.

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A little less well preserved station

The poor weather that had been predicted hadn’t materialised which helped greatly.  There were a couple of soul destroying moments where the line just stretched away into the distance.  At times the track was quite muddy, a stamina sapping gloop which made finding traction somewhat difficult.

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An impressive girder bridge, recrossing the river at Cragganmore marked the wind down point for the day.  There was a walkers campsite here, with basic facilities, although the former bunkhouse in the station building had closed to become a private residence.

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This was also the point at which the longer spur route to Tomintoul split from the main route which we were missing out on this occasion.  From here it was a short walk to our B&B for the evening, a lovely victorian house which was a real time capsule.

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Day Rating 7/10

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A very generous score for the day, it just scrapes it for the old railway interest which added a lot to the day.  A section of walk that promises much but is a very frustrating experience, so many places that had obscured views.  There were quite a few interpretation boards along the route as well adding to the interest.  A bit of thinning of the “trackside” vegetation would improve things markedly.  Overall a bit of a trudge which we were glad to see the back of.

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Day 2

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Rainbow

Fochabers to Craigiellachie 13.2m

A very pleasant evening had been spent in Fochabers, at the Gordon Arms Hotel.  A comfortable room, was complimented by a bar with a roaring fire and some good beer – all that a walker could possibly want.  The place was quiet, again understandably so, but there was a spattering of reps and workmen staying there, giving the bar a pleasant buzz.

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Spectacular but moody morning

The forecast for the day was somewhat mixed, although a spectacular red sky greeted us as we set off from the hotel back to the route.  From the early planning stage, I’d been dreading this section, as the first half of the day was a relatively long road walk along a country lane, pretty much right from the start.

The route meandered its way through the town eventually reaching the road after following a number of green lanes round the local school (note: it looks as if the route has changes slightly here – possibly a section that had suffered bad erosion reinstated, reducing the road walk by 1km or so).

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Double rainbow

Once on the road we began a steady climb and soon there were some fabulous views to be had over the Spey Valley.  The wind was up and rain in the air also, with broken cloud.  This provided us with a quite phenomenal double rainbow at one point.

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The road was quiet and ran high above the river, for once a road walk was becoming an enjoyable experience.  A viewpoint was marked on the map, slightly (but not too far) off route, the Earth Pillars.  We made the short diversion through some more attractive woodland (although in the wind some of the trees were making rather alarming creaking noises) to the view point, high above the Spey.  I’m still not exactly sure what the Earth Pillars were supposed to be, but the view was certainly worth the extra effort.

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Viewpoint

Returning to the road there was an immediate steep drop and climb to cross a small valley, leaving both of us breathless and panting on the way up.  On reaching the top a light drizzle started.  Occasional superb and moody views would appear as the road meandered through and along side plantations, high above the river valley.

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Steeper than it looks

The spectacular light and rainbow display had given way to a grey day, the light drizzle gradually getting heavier – the kind of rain that permeates everything – enforcing the donning of the waterproofs.  Despite this, it was turning into a remarkably enjoyable walk.

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View from the road

Eventually the road starting descending via a series of tight hairpins into Boat o’ Brig which marked the halfway point of the day.  We stopped a while to shelter under the impressive railway bridge that we had crossed on our journey to Buckie, the large arch providing a few minutes respite from the rain.

There was a change in character here as the route left the road and we climbed up some steps to a farm track where we were promptly passed by several land rovers, before turning up a green lane along with a sign warning that stock was being herded if the gate was closed.  Fortunately it was open.  The lane climbed steadily, emerging at a remote hamlet at Bridgeton.  The path skirted a shooting range, complete with flag poles which would warn if firing was in progress.  It was very tempting to hoist a pair of used shred dies up the pole and leave them there!

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The muddy track was skirting the edge of a large forest, and the gradual climb was proffering up some fine, if rather misty and damp, views.  Eventually the forest closed in both sides as we climbed, the path turned into a grassy track chock full of bluebells.  Even in mid winter it was lovely, in spring it would be spectacular.  The incline was getting steeper and eventually emerged on a wide forest track which us up to a quite fantastic view point, the high point both literally and metaphorically of the day.  Unfortunately the rain had turned to sleet here and more importantly it was (as we say in Scotland) absolutely chankin.

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The weather closing in

The view, however, was stunning.  Looking north right up the Spey Valley over the river and in the distance just visible through the murk was Spey Bay.

Even with gloves on my hands were like blocks of ice, not helped by the biting wind that had gradually picked up as we gained height.  Fortunately it was downhill virtually all the way to Craigellachie.  With the rather inhospitable weather we weren’t hanging around.  The trees at times helped buffer us from the wind, and it wasn’t too long before I regained some semblance of feeling in my fingers.  Even better, after a while the rain stopped allowing us to dry out a little.

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Much of the forest was again Scots Pine, and where extensive thinning had taken place the woodland was a very attractive.  Open spaces and light makes such a difference from the regiments of trees crammed in in straight lines.  Pine forest really can be very attractive!  As we neared the river again the constantly descending forest track gave way to road, a pleasant enough, but not particularly memorable trudge all the way to Craigellachie.  Being rather soggy we were keen on getting to the end of the day!

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Bluebell lined path

Eventually a bridge over the River Fiddich (a small tributary of the Spey) marked our arrival in Craigellachie, along with a fabulous wooden sculpture of a salmon.  Here there was another change to the path character as we emerged in a carpark that sat on the location of the old town station.  The next day was to be a walk along the old Speyside Railway.

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View from the high point

From here it was a short (and rather muddy) walk along the old track bed to our accommodation for the night, the Highlander Inn, which had access right on to the path.

A warm welcome and a pint were most gratefully received before heading up to a quite superb comfortable (and spacey) room.

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Close to Craigellachie

Day Rating 8/10

A very soggy and at certain points cold day which took nothing away from what was a very enjoyable walk.  The anticipation of a long road walk at the start of the day had me dreading this one, but it was very enjoyable with superb views over the Spey.  A picnic bench marked the high point of the day – in summer this would be a lovely spot to sit and savour the view – in late November with it blowing a hoolie, not so much.  Still, thoroughly enjoyable and expectations exceeded.

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