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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 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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Day 1

 

Buckie to Fochabers 10.5m

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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.

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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.

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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!

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On track

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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The Osprey

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Reaching Fochabers

Day Rating 7/10

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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.

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Limestone Way 4

Monyash – Castleton 16 miles

 

It had been a wet night.  Terra Nova didn’t make the solar 2.2 for very long and the reason was a bit of a design flaw that would manifest itself in steady rain.  The tent remained dry (apart from some condensation), but periodically during the night I had to knock  off the pool of water that would gather in the dip on top of the tent.

As usual I woke early and lay in the sleeping bag listening to the steady rain pattering away on the tent enjoying being dry and warm, but not enjoying the thought getting up and donning my still rather soggy gear.  Eventually the pattering stopped and I used the break in showers to get the tent down and start the walk to Castleton around 7 am.

With the rain holding off, it was a short walk out of town to a green lane and it wasn’t long before I was walking through another, quite extensive campsite at Knotlow Farm, complete with Yurts.  Even with the poor weather the site was quite busy and there were one or two people up and about, most of them dog walkers.

I took a rest in a convenient bus shelter in Flagg before embarking on a long road walk as the rain started once more.  This was a trudge now in the sort of steady drizzle that insinuates its way into every nook and cranny, gradually soaking me to the skin.  The route was climbing steadily as well – on another day the views back over Flagg would have been an enjoyable distraction.

At the top of the hill the trail left the road and took to a track, the rain now horizontal.  This wasn’t enjoyable as the track became terribly stony, hammering my already sore feet.  The map showed a pub up ahead where the A6 was to be crossed, and the thought that there might be an outside possibility of it being open was the only thing keeping me going.  It wasn’t.

I was toiling badly, and with little or no shelter to be had I took a seat on the leeward side of the pub, which afforded at least a little protection from the rain.  It was downhill all the way now to Miller’s Dale on a sheltered track and as I reached the village in the Dale I was seriously contemplating just phoning a cab.  After passing under the old railway viaduct that now carries the Monsal Trail, I couldn’t even summon up the energy to walk the extra 100m or so to investigate whether or not the pub was open.

Resting a while on a convenient wall I contemplated what was coming up next.  The way down into the Dale had been relatively steep – looking at the map it was the same on the way out.  Initially the climb was steep up to a farm, then it was back to the stony track, climbing slowly all the time.  Here it looked like the cattle had digestive problems, judging by the generous number of pats along the path, creating large brown islands in the steady stream of water.

This was high above Monk’s Dale and despite the driving rain and low cloud the surrounding countryside was magnificent, even if I wasn’t really enjoying the experience.  A stone step stile in the wall offered an opportunity for a seat and a rest and it was with some surprise that a couple of older gentlemen came meandering down the path wearing no more than light jackets and shorts.  “Oh we always take a walk down to the pub this way”, was what they said when they stopped for a chat.  I’m guessing they were on the way down to Miller’s Dale, meaning that the pub had actually been open.  Bugger.  The rain was still pelting down and they didn’t seem unduly bothered by it.

Waving a goodbye, I stumbled on at a snails pace along the track emerging onto a road, which blessedly was heading downhill.  The road descended steeply into Monk’s Dale, crossing the bottom of the dale,  a rather serene spot where the steep slopes that enclose it opened out into a little oasis.  There was a very welcome bench here that beckoned, and I stopped to rest a while, guzzling a full pack of emergency jelly babies.

The way then passed into the initially narrow Peter Dale.  While the limestone here was spectacular, the going under foot was not.  Cattle had been grazed in the Dale, and where the limestone cliffs stood close together leaving just a narrow gap, the ground had been churned into a stony morass.  On another day this would have been delightful, but the mud, rain and the stone underfoot left me turning the air blue.

On top of all that the batteries on the GPS that I had just replaced decided that they had no charge in them, meaning another lengthy stop to replace them with new ones.

Still, the path improved as I made my way up the dale, the sides becoming less steep and the ground open.  It was actually fairly pleasant, for a while at least!

Moving on to Hay Dale I got the sense that I was on the last leg, even if at this stage it was all up hill.  This was a bit easier under foot, no cattle here but sheep, which thankfully tend to have less of an impact on the condition of the ground.  The rain had come back with a series of regular squally showers and it was head down as I rejoined a section of the Pennine Bridleway before emerging on a quiet road and a quick breather.  The path had gained some height here and there were dramatic views to be had back over the ground I had covered early in the day.  Next was a weary scamper over a busy A road and one final steep climb which eventually opened out onto the hills above Castleton.

The End!

There was the distinctive bulk of Mam Tor in the distance heralding the end of the walk.  The paths were well trod, and the going was easy, for a while at least.  To cap it all off, as if by magic, the cloud which had been dropping copious amounts of water on me at various points of the day parted to reveal blue sky and sun.  Suddenly I was too warm in the waterproofs as I began the descent into Castleton in glorious sunshine.

What a great finish it was too, through the spectacular Cave Dale.  Moments before I had been alone on the path, but as if by magic walkers appeared from all directions, as seems to be the way when approaching honey pot sites.

It was slow going, however, a mix of fatigue, sore feet, loose rock and the limestone (which had all the characteristics of sheet ice) all playing their part on the way down.  It was with some relief then, that I reached the entrance to the Dale and the signpost marking the end of the Limestone Way.

Day Rating 8/10

Despite the rotten weather on the final day this was a good days walk.  Interesting Limestone features mixed in with some dramatic scenery.  Would it have scored better in better weather?  Undoubtedly!  There was also the small matter of a reduction in pinch stiles for the day, which certainly helped things move along.  The finish was worth waiting for, and the sun coming out made for a nice bonus at the end of the day.  Needless to say, I made for the nearest pub where I lingered for a while before walking the last leg to the YHA.

Trail Rating 33/40 (82%)

A hugely enjoyable, and different trail with real marked changes in the landscape between Staffordshire and Derbyshire really adding to the sense of the journey.  Hedgerows giving way to walls, giving way to limestone Grassland and rolling hills changing to rugged limestone crags.  Interesting historical sections like the old turnpike just outside Thorpe.  The way marking in Staffordshire may well have been non-existent, meaning if you tackle the Limestone Way a map with the route on it is vital.  In some places it is so seldom walked there was very little evidence of a path on the ground!

There was a huge improvement once across the border into Derbyshire.  That’s not to say that the way marking was perfect, just that they cropped up on a fairly regular basis!

The scenery was great, the hospitality and pubs great and this is a little gem of a path – with one down side.  Pinch stiles.  They are everywhere on this route and essentially turn it in to a 50 or so mile obstacle course, especially with a large pack on.  It’s a minor gripe though, and one that is quickly forgiven (if not forgotten).

Having accidentally booked the train a day later than planned, I also had an extra day to explore Castleton, taking some time to visit the ruins of Peveril Castle, with its stunning views high above the town, and Peak Cavern, taking a tour down this fascinating cave.  All in all a very pleasant way to round off a walk!

 

 

 

 

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Limestone Way 3

Bonsall – Monyash 12 miles

Leaving Bonsall

Despite the extended party going on in the village, I had turned in for about 9pm, the steady beat of music lulling me to sleep in the tent.  I awoke early and packed the gear away, drying the dew laden tent as best as possible.  It was a fine morning, but the weather forecast was ominous predicting heavy rain after lunch.  Fortunately the pub had an outside loo which the landlady kindly left open for me, meaning I had access to the cludgie, and more importantly water as I used much of mine making breakfast.

Nice wide grassy track leaving Bonsall

It was 7 o’clock by the time I hit the road having a steep climb up some narrow village roads back to the path.  This section carried on through Bonsall to Matlock, 3 or 4km away and the original start/finish of the trail before it was extended to Rocester.  Passing through the upper town I was soon in fields and climbing steadily with fine views back to Matlock in the distance.

The paths here were wider and well worn and even at this time of day there were a few other walkers out and about in the distance.  The pinch stiles were coming thick and fast once again, many of which had an added booby trap in the form of a highly sprung gates.  These resembled a bear trap in the way they would snap shut while I was trying to negotiate them, switching between trying to trap me or propelling me forward like a rocket as they shut behind me.

One of many booby traps

The way marking here wasn’t great, but the path was obvious and widely used through to Winster through lush grassland.  Despite the booby traps this was again delightful.  There was plenty of cattle around too which varied between non-plussed and curious in demeanour, including a very large bull sat in the middle of the path – it didn’t bat an eye as I passed.

The route passed high above Winster, and having covered the 4km or so from Bonsall fairly rapidly I took a breather on one of a number of conveniently placed benches.  On another day this was a place to linger and admire the rolling Derbyshire Countryside.

Robin Hood’s Stride

There was a bit of a missed opportunity here as well, a pub high above the village with a campsite attached which was quite busy.  The extra milage added on to the previous day would have been a struggle though.

There were a few dog walkers out and about here and I even passed a large group of rather miserable (and overloaded) looking DoE award hopefuls. I always wonder how many of these kids are put off backpacking for life by the amount of gear they end up hauling around with them.

The fields were left behind for a while as the path took to a rough track then road, descending steeply towards the prominent limestone crags at Robin Hood’s Stride.  The crags themselves were impressive lumps, lying almost jumbled on the ground and looking like large pieces of rubble that a passing giant had dumped there. Disappointingly  there were quite a number of warning signs to discourage walkers, the usual “Private Keep Out” and “Keep to the Path” nonsense.    A rare excursion through some woodland followed, a murky walk through a conifer plantation.  Leaving the wood the path turned back on itself, and turning a corner, Youlgreave was spread out in front of me marking the approximate halfway point of the day.

The official route didn’t go into the town, instead following the bank of the River Bradford which had carved out its own, fairly deep, river valley below the town.  In all honesty, at this point I was knackered and so I made my way up the steep bank to find somewhere for lunch, only to find everywhere closed (it was still only 1130) for at least another hour.  This left me with a dilemma – do I wait for the pub to open and risk the weather (the weather front had been following closely most of the morning but had yet to catch me up), or just push on and hope that I could beat it to the campsite at the end of the day.

Being knackered, the first option won out – I figured I was going to be beaten by the weather anyway, so I would only be postponing a soaking by pressing on – I needed a good rest and lunch so waited for the pub to open, reading my book in the meantime.

The rain came on during lunch, but I had a good long break and rest, leaving around 1.30.  Waterproofed up to the hilt I walked back down to the river, the still water dimpled by the steady rain.  It was slippery, much of the path worn down to the underlying limestone (treacherous at the best of times) and as I started the steep climb away from the river I got a soaking from the lush vegetation surrounding the path.

Youlgreave

The gradient eased as the path took to a road for a while then continued through old estate land.  I was sweating with the effort too meaning that even with the waterproofs on I was soaked to the skin.  The rain was now horizontal and sweeping across the land in visible waves.

For a while the trail took to open country, blessedly with few stiles, and there were a few other hardy fools braving the weather, mostly in the distance.  The world was grey and hazy, the rain coming down in a thick mist that blanketed almost everything.  There was, however a bleak, brooding and almost majestic feel to the land as Lathkin Dale approached.

And the rain came down

This was one place I wasn’t looking forward to.  It looked steep on the map and it was.  The way down had slabs of limestone set into the ground as steps, but it was treacherous in the wet and a painstaking business getting to the bottom.  On a dry, warm day this would have been one of the highlights of the trail, and even in the rain it was spectacular.  The way out was a worse, with the steep steps like ice and I have to admit to being pretty drained once out the other side.

The steps down into Lathkin Dale

Passing through One Ash Farm there was an old bunk barn selling ice cream on an honesty basis in what used to be its kitchen/common room.  Glad of the chance for somewhere dry I sat for a while listening to the rain pattering relentlessly on the roof.  It was a bunk barn no longer, and being nosey I stuck my head through a door into what had been the sleeping accommodation.  The place was filled to the ceiling with junk, giving a clue as to why it had fallen (sadly) into disuse.

From here it was less than 3km to the campsite at Monyash and there was nothing else for it other than to get back out and brave the weather.  From here the trail left the open fields and took to an old lane, possibly an old packhorse route, squeezed in between two stone walls.  While this did mean an end to the pinch stiles for a while, the lane was thick with high vegetation which encroached on the narrow path.  By the time I reached Monyash my trousers and boots were sodden.

I’ve never been so glad to reach a campsite in my life.  The site was soggy, and my tent even soggier as I put it up, but once inside I warmed up nicely getting into some dry gear before donning my soggy boots again and walking to the pub.

 

Day Rating 8/10

Despite the weather a really good days walking.  The morning was superb (and dry), and despite the rain I did manage to appreciate the afternoon – in a pseudomasochistic kind of way!  Fortunately the pub was open, doing food (and good beer), although it was going to be rather wet overnight.

 

 

 

 

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