Walk Report: The Speyside Way

As mentioned previously, we’ve been booked up for doing the Speyside Way for quite a while now, and both Janie and I had been looking forward to it quite a bit. The plan was for Janie to be staying at Saffron Lodge, near Ballindalloch, for health reasons, while I would be camping out overnight along the way itself.

We arrived at the lodge on Saturday afternoon, and settled in, ready for the walk on Monday. Typically, the view from our bedroom was a constant reminder that the bridge was out at Ballindalloch and that we’d have to plan an alternative route to get to the lodge on the third night.

Ballindalloch Bridge

Anyway – onwards with the walk!

Day 1: Buckie – Fochabers

Day 1 didn’t start out quite how I’d planned it to. We got to Buckie, and immediately started hunting for the starting point of the Way. We drove down to the shore, where there was a sign for the Speyside Way 1 mile away. We followed the sign, but we couldn’t find the actual starting point for love nor money. It certainly wasn’t as obvious as the West Highland Way one is. After a short time, I did spot one of the tell-tale ‘thistle’ signs, used on the 4 main long distance walks in Scotland (see below), so we got Janie’s mum to stop the car, and we got out and started walking from there. When checking the map later on, we were about a half mile from the start point. We didn’t see the point in going back at that stage, though.

Waymarker

After a little bit of walking, we came across a small group of seals just before Port Gordon. There was an interpretation board here, letting us know that the seals were a mix of both common and grey seals, and that this was one of their regular haul-out points.

Seals near Port Gordon

Apologies for the quality of the photos on Day 1 – I forgot my camera, and Janie’s is a really old, poor quality one, sadly (though we’re sorting her out with an upgrade as we speak!)

Just after seeing the seals, we entered Port Gordon itself. A short stretch of walking on tarmac, and we were through it. I have to admit, it was a reasonably pleasant little village. Just afterwards, you start walking along the old railway line, towards Spey Bay. The gorse was in full bloom, and we were entertained by small flocks of Linnets and Yellowhammers, as well as the first Skylarks we’d heard singing this year. Always a bonus!

After this section, there’s a walk through woodland, where we saw our first Red Squirrel of the walk, then we arrived at Spey Bay.

We met up with Janie’s dad at the WDCS Wildlife Centre, where we stopped for a cuppa and a piece of cake. Since we’d done about 5 miles, and were at the half way point for the day, it definitely seemed like the right point to be stopping for a breather.

From here on in, we’re travelling up the course of the Spey, from the mouth, up as far as Aviemore, at the edge of the Cairngorms. I have to admit, this is one of the big appeals of this walk for me. The fact that we would start at the coast, yet end up in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park – taking in a wide range of scenery and habitats on the way (or so I thought!)

After a couple of miles of walking beside farmland, you come to a place where the Speyside Way diverts from the river, as the river had caused erosion to the original path.

We managed to find a way to join the original route, as the dry weather from the previous week meant the water levels on the river were pretty low. There were a couple of interpretation boards on the way, which pointed out that the Spey is the fastest flowing river in the UK, with a flow the equivalent to 84 tanker trucks of water per second! That’s a phenomenal amount of water!

We followed the old path next to either farmland or woodland all the way to Fochabers, where we met up with Janie’s mum at the Baxter’s Visitor Centre. It had started raining at this stage, so in my infinite laziness, I used this as an excuse not to camp, so I joined Janie and returned back to the lodge. The walk was over for day 1, with approximately 10 miles travelled, on relatively level ground, and on reasonably good paths underfoot.

The only other notable thing from day 1 was our first sightings of Sand Martins as we travelled up the Spey – they’re normally the first of the Hirundines (swallows and martins) to arrive each year, so it was definitely a good sign that spring had arrived!

Day 2: Fochabers – Craigellachie

Day 2 started where day 1 had left off, at the Baxter’s Visitor Centre. A quick crossing of the bridge over the Spey, then off we went, in what was a rather miserable, wet day.

The Spey from Fochabers

The walk starts of in a small park, which makes you think it could be a good walk, on some nice terrain. Wrong!

After about 20 mins of walking through little side streets and alleys in Fochabers, you come out onto a minor, unclassified road – which you then follow for the next 6 miles, approximately. There’s nothing worse than spending a day walking on tarmac!

Tarmac, more tarmac, and a bit more tarmac

There was only one slight redemption on the first half of the walk. There was a small woodland marked as ‘Earth Pillars’, which had a viewpoint marked. Janie persuaded me that we needed to leave the path and take a look. I’m quite glad we did, as the photos below were taken there.

The walking was a bit uneventful for the first 6 miles. Although it was a minor road, we only met 4 vehicles in the whole section, and 2 other walkers coming the other way. In terms of scenery, you’ve seen the best of it. Most of the walk was in either farmland or woodland, which I find a little uninspiring.

Just after the half way point, we stopped for a bite to eat at Boat O’ Brig (below), before heading off for the second half of the day’s walk.

Boat O' Brig

The path at this point finally left the tarmac, and became something a bit more comfortable underfoot.

Sadly, to offset the slightly better walking conditions, it was almost entirely in woodland, with little to no views. There was also a slightly dodgy moment with a fallen tree we had to walk under.

Fallen tree

It was also at this point that the first proper uphill of the walk happened. Up until this stage, the walk had been mostly level (or very gradually sloped) ground since Buckie, so it was nice to get a bit of a change in terrain. After the ascent, the path merged with a forestry track for a bit. At the highest point, there was a break in the monotony of the tree, for a stunning view of the Spey valley below!

Spey Valley

Sadly, due to the horrible weather, the photos really weren’t turning out well.

Not long after this, the forest track merges with another unclassified road for the last 2-3 miles into Craigellachie and the end of day 2.

In total, I reckon of the 13 miles walked that day, about 10 of them were on tarmac, which was less than pleasant. Janie and I both had sore feet and knees by the end of it! As the forecast was for snow overnight, and because I’d forgotten to bring the crossing poles for the Scarp, I decided to sleep at the lodge once again.

Day 3: Snow stops play!

The plan for day 3 was to walk from Craigellachie to Ballindalloch. This plan was given up on immediately after getting up in the morning. I just don’t think, at that stage, I wanted to be moving my car – particularly as there were reports on the radio of several nearby roads being closed due to the snow!

Janie and I went for a bit of a walk around the area surrounding the lodge in the morning (photos below), then in the afternoon, once the roads were clear, we drove to Dufftown, where we took the tour of the Glenfiddich Distillery.

Saffron Lodge

Ballindalloch Station
Me walking in the snow
Janie, in the snow
Waymarker
Camping, anyone?!

If you’re looking for a report on the section between Craigellachie and Ballindalloch, we don’t have one, I’m afraid. We decided to simply skip it completely.

Day 4: Ballindalloch – Grantown-on-Spey

Janie wasn’t feeling particularly good when we got up on the Wednesday morning, so decided to skip this one. I was left to walk it alone. There was still a fair bit of snow around from the day before, and overnight there had been another dusting of a an inch or so.

As I was starting from the lodge itself, it was definitely much easier to get going. Just up, showered, dressed, bit of breakfast, then off I went! All pretense at camping had gone at this stage, so Janie agreed to come pick me up at the Grantown end when I finished for the day.

According to the Speyside Way website, this is the most challenging day of the walk, and I can confirm it definitely is. It would be, even if there wasn’t snow to contend with. In saying that – it wasn’t all that bad.

The path starts off going past the old Ballindalloch station, and following the old railway line from there for a bit. It then goes uphill for a bit, so that you get decent views over to the Tormore distillery. After a little while, the views open up further, to the hills on the opposite side of the A95.

You’ll notice from the picture above that the Speyside way appears to be in a bit of a ‘run’, between two fences. According to the official website, this is ‘Refuge Fencing’, designed to protect you from cattle and other livestock which you’re likely to find in the fields. I personally felt that it was all just a bit too restrictive for my tastes.

Anyway, the path crosses the A95 not long after this and runs parallel with it for a short while, before heading uphill into woodland.

The woodland track carries on for quite a while, with little to no views. Eventually, you do get out of the woodland, back into more farmland (you see how this goes now?)

With more Refuge Fencing

Before heading into more woodland

Which ended in an actual view of some hills

Before heading to more farmland, with more Refuge Fencing

This time, they’re even putting a hedge up next to the Refuge Fencing, to make you feel even more penned in, and once grown, reduce what little views you’ve got!

Next… you guessed it… woodland!

After this batch of woodland, the route crosses the A95 again, and follows the path of the old railway (through farmland, of course!) into Cromdale. I have to admit, one of the things that both Janie and I have enjoyed about the Speyside Way was the old train stations, which have been restored. Cromdale’s was another good example of this (shown below).

Cromdale Station

The path then joins a minor road, before crossing the Spey (below) and then entering Grantown Community Woodland for the last couple of miles into Grantown itself.

Crossing the Spey

Don’t get me wrong here, day 4 was probably a little more interesting than I made it out to be. It was definitely more challenging than any of the other days, with a significant amount of ascent and descent. The snow also helped make it that little bit more interesting, and certainly added to the views, when you get them!

Day 5: Grantown-on-Spey – Aviemore

Well, this was supposed to be the longest day of the whole walk, at 17 miles, but it was also supposed to be relatively easy, on level ground throughout.

Janie was well enough to join me on day 5, so her mum dropped us off at Grantown on the Thursday morning.

Back we went, into Grantown Community Woodland for a little bit, before coming out onto a minor road before crossing the Spey.

Me, with the Spey in the background

The path crosses the A95 again, just opposite the Spey Valley Smokehouse. Not the best place for a corssing, it has to be said, and a rather busy section of road, too!

After that, the route joins the old railway route again, but like previously, the terrain was all woodland and farmland. We did, however, manage a reasonable pic of a Red Squirrel. A cyclist pointed it out to us, otherwise we wouldn’t have noticed it (although we did hear a Goldcrest alarm calling in the same tree, and were trying to spot that!)

Red Squirrel

And the obligatory bridge photo, that comes with every old railway walk.

Janie with bridge

Admittedly, this section of the walk did stay next to the Spey itself a bit more, so we got to see Dippers and the like on the water, which is always a bonus.

After a bit, we reached Nethy Bridge and stopped for a quick bite to eat. By this stage Janie wasn’t feeling too good. Under normal circumstances, I can normally jolly her along and perk her up to see her through the walk, but I think by this stage she’d picked up on my lack of enthusiasm for the walk as a whole.

As a result, it didn’t really take much persuasion for me to leave the walk and take a minor path to Broomhill Station, where we could catch the Strathspey Railway to Aviemore – at least then we’d still be arriving at the end of the Speyside Way, but in a significantly more interesting way!

Broomhill Station
Steam Train

Conclusion:

Well, As you might have guessed by the report above, I didn’t find the Speyside Way particularly enthralling. Frankly, it was a bit too easy, and a bit too boring, with too little in the way of habitat changes. If you happen to be a fan of farmland and woodland, this probably is the walk for you. If not, it’s probably not going to be too inspiring.

I think a big part of the problems is that you can see hills throughout the walk – on the last couple of days, there’s some lovely views of the Cairngorms – but you never actually get into them, so there’s never any feeling of wildness or remoteness.

Would it have been any different had I camped? In honesty, I doubt it. As the stopping points were at villages, there certainly wouldn’t be any sense of wildness in that.

Would it have been any different had we completed day 3 and day 5? Almost certainly not. we drove past the Craigellachie to Ballindalloch section several times, and it would have been the same mix of woodland and farmland. At the other end, from Nethy Bridge onwards to Aviemore, you’re in tourist territory, so you’re never going to feel remote. At the same time, Abernethy Forest is one of the most beautiful woodlands in the UK, at least for me (Janie and I have walked through there several times before)

One thing I would say, though. On our way home, we took the road to Tomintoul, which DOES cover moorland, hills, etc, so it might just be worthwhile for someone walking the Speyside Way in future to include the 15 mile Tomintoul Spur section, to give them that little bit of wildness and remoteness. (I’m assuming at this stage that the route will also cover wild land)

So, although the walk was a bit dull and uninspiring for me, personally, it might be a great walk as an initial introduction to long distance walking and backpacking, due to it’s relative ease.

I’m certainly not going to be let down by this, and I’m already planning my next backpacking trip – this time in some wilder country!

2 thoughts on “Walk Report: The Speyside Way”

  1. Hi there I was planning doing this walk next year but having second thoughts.
    What British walk’s have you done and would recommed

    1. I’d recommend the Cateran Trail or Rob Roy Way over the Speyside way.
      I’d also recommend the West Highland Way if you’ve got an extra day or two to spare.

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