14th May 2022: Buckie to Fochabers – 11 miles
Oh my goodness, I’m in post-walk heaven! I’ve had one of the best showers I’ve ever experienced outside my own home, and I’ve just finished a triple scoop chocolate waffle ice cream! The actual walk was pretty good too, so at the moment I have very little to complain about. However, I’m sure I’ll remedy that situation in the next few paragraphs.
I spent all day yesterday (Friday), driving up from home to Newtonmore. It was uneventful, even for a Friday and I took it really easy, hoping to minimise my fuel consumption and offset the ridiculous cost of filling my tank right now. The 345 miles took me about 6 hours and then I pootled into Kingussie for chips and arrived at my B&B around 5:30pm. When I told John, the very friendly and chatty host that I’d been for chips he said ‘Ah, we’d better cancel the table we booked for you at the hotel’. I’d completely forgotten he’d offered to do that for me, but my heart had been set on battered sausage since about the House of Bruar and it must have pushed the promised hotel restaurant booking aside in its desire.
Clune House B&B is lovely, run by two of the friendliest hosts I’ve ever come across. I dropped my bags in my room and went down to the lounge to enjoy tea, flapjacks and a good blether about all sorts of things. I was also offered a lift to the train station in the morning, which was a massive boost for my morning routine, as the station is a good 20 minute walk away. The first train leaves at 6:20 and it meant I could have an extra few minutes in bed.
I slept well and was awake before the alarm, around 5:15. Although John had offered to provide a bacon buttie, I’d declined – working on the basis that I’d already put him to enough trouble with the ridiculously early departure and now he was taking me to the station. He was also going to look after my car for the week I was away walking. An all round great place to stay if you’re doing the Speyside or the East Highland Way.
John dropped me at the station a few minutes before the train was due and he wished me luck – he also offered to come and get me from Kingussie on my final day if the weather was bad. Thanks John!
The first train of the day was bang on time and I tried to get into the rear most carriage, only to be told by the guard that it wasn’t open and to try the next one. As it was I had to walk the full length of the train to reach the tiny First Class section right at the front. I was the only person on the whole train and when I reached the end at Inverness, no one else had got on. It was like personal public transport! As the track is a single line for long stretches along this section, there are long stops at a couple of the stations, allowing trains coming in the other direction to pass. We had a 20 minute wait at Kingussie and the driver popped his head out of his cabin to inform me of this. We ended up chatting for a while and he told me this was the last time this particular train would be running. The new timetable starts tomorrow and this early train has been axed. Talk about cutting it fine! It seems like Scotrail is cutting huge swaths out of the current schedules and this is just one of them. Good luck getting from Perth to Inverness before 9am next week!
We arrived in Inverness right on time and as I had an hour to kill and no breakfast other than a pain au chocolate inside me, I headed into town. I had intended to find the Greggs and get a bacon roll and a big cup of tea, but I came across a McDonalds first! In my opinion, the only good meal they do is breakfast and I wasn’t disappointed this time either. The place was empty too, which is always a bonus. Sausage Muffin meal demolished and a hot chocolate washing it down, I headed back to the station for the second leg of today’s public transport marathon. The train to Aberdeen (which stops at Elgin) was also on time, despite some balls ups at the barriers where the scanners refused to recognise anyone’s tickets. I only had a carriage to myself for the first part of this journey, and that soon began to take on additional passengers at the next couple of stops. It also arrived on time though, miracle of miracles! Not sure I’ve ever had two consecutive trains do that!
At Elgin I had a half mile walk across town from the train station to the bus station. Why they can’t put them next to each other is a mystery, but as the train had arrived on time, I knew I could stroll the distance without any worries. When I got there, a helpful old boy at Stand 2 asked where I was going and when I said Buckie, he confirmed I was in the right queue and we got talking about walking. He’d guessed I was doing the Speyside and was a bit embarrassed to admit that he’s lived in Buckie for years, does loads of walking but has never walked any of it. He said he did most of his walking in Spain, on the Camino, or possibly Caminos (is there more than one?) You have no idea how flabbergasted I was when the bus left on time and also arrived in Buckie on time! The old boy got off with me and pointed me to the starting stones for the Speyside and I waved farewell and went off to find them.
Buckie looks like it’s seen better days and it all felt a little run-down, but I don’t think it’s substantially different from many English seaside towns and I’m sure if I spent more time there I could have had my mind changed. I found the starting stones and followed the signs down towards the sea front. Within a hundred yards I spotted a credit card on the pavement. I picked it up and checked the expiry date, it looked quite new and the card was still valid. I couldn’t see anyone around, although a young couple with a baby had passed me, but they were out of sight now and I wasn’t going to chase them on the off chance it was theirs. I spent a frustrating 10 minutes on the phone to Bank of Scotland, trying to speak to a person, rather than being taken down the automated ‘I’ve lost MY card’ route. I eventually manged to get through to someone and explained the situation. She said she’d cancel the card and inform the owner and I should destroy it. I know it will be a ball ache for Miss L Smith who’s lost the card, especially as it’s a Saturday and she was probably off out shopping and expecting to use it. But at least it wasn’t picked up by a scrote and won’t now spend the day doing the rounds of local shops tapping out dozens of small purchases. Win some, lose some.
The weather was picking up. It had been absolutely baltic in Inverness earlier and I’d wondered if I’d brought the right jacket. It was cloudy now, but warming up and I could see patches of blue ahead of me. I met a strong head wind as I reached the ‘promenade’ and left my Tilley strapped to the pack for the time being, I had no wish to spend the next hour running around chasing my hat. I also needed to find a bench to complete the final faff of the morning – putting my knee braces on, which means taking my boots off and dropping my trousers. I found one overlooking the sea, with enough distance from everywhere else that I was unlikely to attract too much attention. There is no real path beside the sea shore, rather a series of grassy paths beside the sea wall and loads of little roads that run along the back of the houses on the main street. The houses all have little drying areas behind them, little grass patches with loads of washing poles and lines, many had washing on them already (it was 11am now) taking advantage of the stiff warming breeze. I’m sure the clothes must all smell of the sea when they get brought in?
After a tweet from @RickTheRambler I spent most of my time along the front looking out to sea, searching for any sight of dolphins or seals. Unfortunately, I saw nothing other than gulls and a couple of dogs chasing sticks. After a couple of miles (just beyond Portgordon) I left the coast line and followed what must have been an old railway line. It was lovely. Flat, straight and lined with yellow-flowering Gorse. It ran arrow straight for about a mile and then transformed itself into an even nicer path through woodland. A huge storm had blown through here at some time and there were hundreds of trees down, many of them had fallen across the path, but unlike my experiences on the Southern Upland Way, these trees had been cut up and removed to the sides of the path. Although the woodland was lovely, the path was a bit hard – small cobbles or large sea pebbles made up the surface, albeit covered in many places by ages of pine needles and grasses, it was still harsh on my feet after a while. The gorse was a constant companion beside the path and its yellow blossom provided a lovely counterpoint against what was becoming an increasingly blue sky.
I hadn’t really stopped so far and as I was approaching Spey Bay I spotted a couple of picnic benches in the grounds of what looked like a small business park. There was no one around, so I parked my bum and got my lunch out. At that moment a young lady came out and asked me not to sit there. She said it was private property and for the use of guests. I was going to ask where her guests were and I’d move if they came along, but she had a face like thunder, so I decided not to start an argument and I moved on.
At Spey Bay there’s a dolphin centre. It was mad busy, hundreds of folk all milling about, some getting tea and cakes and some on the pebble beach looking out to sea. There was nothing to see, unless you’re into people watching. I decided I didn’t need tea badly enough to fight over a limited supply of seats and share my space with so many people, so I pushed on. The path for the next couple of miles was a gravel track, hard on the feet again, but with occasional narrow grass stripes down the middle. There was nowhere to stop so I plodded on, until I found a couple of stone steps leading off to the river bank, presumably used by fishermen. I sat down thankfully and ate my lunch. As I was leaving I saw that I’d been sitting on what looked like a series of small holes in the hard packed dirt beneath the steps. Into and out of these little holes, small bee-like insects were coming and going. I’ve never seen burrowing bees before, but I’ve heard of solitary bees and I wondered if this is what they were. I took a little video of them for later reference and pushed on.
The final section of the day, once the gravel track ended, was the highlight of the day for me. Warren Wood is delightful and although the path is still hard on the feet I absolutely loved this bit. It soon runs beside the Spey too, and although views are somewhat restricted, I got my first good view of this impressive looking river. I could see a party of anglers enjoying afternoon tea on some benches beside a wooden hut. The little path looks secluded, but with the Spey on one side and the main road on the other, it’s actually quite noisy and despite this it was still an excellent finish to the day. I was soon in Fochabers, looking for my hotel. It wasn’t where I was expecting and as I walked down the length of the village I missed it completely and had to walk back again to find it.
This is where I am now, after my brilliant shower and a massive ice cream. I’ve been out for tea too now. They don’t do evening meals in this hotel, so I had to go down the road to another one. I had what is probably the most expensive and at the same time the smallest Steak and Ale pie ever. Not a winning combination unfortunately.
I have 18 miles to do tomorrow, along with about 2600 feet of ascent, so a big day (one of the biggest for a couple of years at least). I’ve been able to arrange a 7am breakfast at least, which isn’t bad for a Sunday morning I don’t think. Fingers crossed the weather plays its part and I don’t have to contend with anything other than big miles and the ascent!