15th May 2022: Fochabers to Dufftown – 17.5 miles
I have the full set, all nine of them: 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. I remember hearing each set of hourly chimes from the village clock throughout the night! It turns out yesterday’s 5:15am was actually a long relaxing lie-in. There’s a Velux skylight in my room and as well as it not having a blind on it, it also doesn’t shut properly, so I get to hear everything that goes on outside. The hourly chimes were just part of the cacophony of a regular Scottish Saturday night. Two harridans screaming at each other at 2am was maybe the low point for me. I think it was at that point that I’d written off any chance of a decent night’s sleep. The room next door, through a shared bathroom wall made of tissue paper, has a macerator on their toilet and the couple sharing the room (in my head at least) were tag-teaming each other to flush it every 15 minutes. The howl of the pump and the grinding of the internal mechanism startled me out of any semblance of sleep I’d managed to achieve since the last set of hourly chimes had died down. In the end I was just lying there waiting for the next flush, trying not to be startled, rather just disturbed. This has been the worst night’s sleep since Osmotherley in 2011! I’m writing this at 6am, the gulls are screaming at each other now, having taken over from the dawn chorus at 4.30! Other than that, I slept well 🙄
Yay! The large TV in the room is a Smart TV – until you try and access iPlayer then you find that it doesn’t have an Internet connection! What’s the point.
I’d arranged a 7am breakfast and was down promptly at 7:01 joining another early riser in the bright and airy dining room. We chatted for a bit while our respective breakfasts were produced (bacon buttie for him, massive fryup for me) and although he’d heard the bells his skylight shut properly and they hadn’t kept him awake like they had me. He was off to the Castle Gordon Highland Games, not as a competitor (unfortunately) but he was running a stall in their craft marquee. He sold carved stones, mostly norse and viking themed stones and runes. He’d also done most of his walking in Spain and France, doing several of the Caminos (there are more than one). My breakfast was excellent, beans safely corralled in their own ramekin, loads of meat and hold all the veg!
I’d broken today’s 18 mile walk down into three more easily manageable six mile sections. This wouldn’t help my legs of course, but it certainly helped with the mindset. Six miles is easy, I do that in 90 mins on some of my local walks, so three of them should be OK. I allocated about two and a half hours for each section, averaging 2.5 mph and allowing for short breaks as I needed them. The six mile sections also fitted quite nicely into the walk too. The first six would see me from Fochabers to Boat o’Brig nearly all of it would be along a tarmac lane that climbed and fell as it ran between the trees on the edge of the Wood of Ordiequish. I’d seen a YouTube video which showed there would be a seat at the bridge there. The next six (actually turned out to be 7) miles would be skirting Ben Aigan, a long steady climb followed by a long steady descent, ending at a pub that would hopefully be open. The final six (now 5) miles would be along the old railway track that had supported the whisky distilleries of Glen Fiddich.
Now that it’s done I can confirm that the approach worked well and although my dogs are barking and my timings were somewhat out, I arrived in Dufftown feeling tired but within myself. Not sure I could have done another 10 miles mind, but I wasn’t on my knees at least.
I was away and walking, in the early morning sunshine, at 8.15 and almost immediately took a wrong turn. Instead of following the Speyside Way marker posts I followed my map and ended up in a small wood with no path even remotely possible in the direction I needed. I swore a bit and backtracked the 250 yards or so to the last marker post and followed its lead. Despite having the most up to date OS maps on my phone, the marker posts are obviously more accurate. I stuck to following the posts from that point! Back on track and I hit the tarmac. It’s a very quiet lane and along its whole length I didn’t see a single car. In some ways the tarmac was kinder on my feet than some of the other surfaces of the day, at least its consistently flat and hard, rather than being stony, sharp and hard.
I plugged myself into an audiobook to help pass the time, the views were rare and not particularly inspiring and the book I’m listening too is really good (Blood Eye by Giles Kristian) and I wanted to hear more of it. There were a couple of steep descents into little valleys and then punishing climbs back out but it doesn’t feel as bad when you’re on a road for some reason. I find it hard to pace myself when I’m pounding pavement and not concentrating on it. I ended up doing the first six miles in just under 2 hours. Sure enough the bridges at Boat o’Brig are worth a little stop and I sat on the bridge parapet for 10 minutes and scoffed a few of the Dolly Mixtures I’d packed for a sugar rush when I needed it. I knew the next section was going to be a test of my legs, so rather than sit there dreading it, I pushed on after just a short break.
The early ascent of Ben Aigan is along grassy tracks and I loved this bit. The views begin to open up a bit and the path is initially quite good underfoot, in fact for a short stretch it was actually boggy, the first wet path I’ve come across and I danced around trying not to get wet feet – the Inov-8 Roclite 345s that I’m currently wearing have long since stopped being waterproof and if I could avoid wet socks for the next 12 miles I figured it was worth a few minutes of cautious foot placement.
I came across the first trees across the path, but the gap beneath them was just enough to stoop under without going down on my knees and for the amount of downed trees I’ve seen on this walk, it’s impressive that these were the first ones I’ve had to negotiate. After a mile or so of lovely wooded paths, I exited a particularly steep climb to find myself on a wide forest road, big enough to support the largest trucks. The going was now hard on the feet and I began to look carefully at foot placement again, this time to avoid standing on stones. Again, as comfortable as these Inov-8 boots are, they don’t offer much protection from stones and my soles were already beginning to feel quite sore.
If we set aside the sore feet and the tough path, this section was fantastic. I had occassional long views down onto the river Spey and the valley it runs through, and it was great walking through some atmospheric old pine forests. The weather was hot now and the sun was high and I was sweating heavily on the long ascent. Around 11:30 I was rather surprised to find a picnic bench, just randomly placed beside the forest road. I was glad of another break and decided to have my first lunch. Last year on my long walks I got into the habit of having two lunch breaks, one around 11ish and another around 1:30pm or so. I drank some warm Ribena that I’d bought in the Co-op last night, and finished the last two ‘pains of the chocolate’ followed by a few more Dolly Mixtures. I’d been using my buff as a bandana, under my Tilley, to try and keep the sweat out of my eyes. This was now hopelessly soaked and I wrung it out as best I could and replaced it. A couple of minutes after leaving the bench I spotted a little ‘viewpoint’ sign pointing through the trees, which I followed on a whim. It led to a distinctly average view, but had more benches and was nice and shaded. Three benches in about 300 yards, but there were no more for miles!
The descent continued and it soon left the forest road and spilled me out onto another tarmac lane. This was a bit busier (one car and four cyclists) and it seemed to go on forever. My GPS app suggested I’d done 12 miles already and I was still 2 miles from the end of the section. It turned out the GPS had been glitching and had recorded a couple of extra miles, and I’m sure that contributed to my feeling like this was a never ending section. The road went on and on, always gently downwards but never ending. Until it ended of course, at the pub on the Bridge of Fiddich. Joy of joys it was open! I took a 20 minute break here and downed two ice cold Diet Cokes, chatting with the barman as I did. I was the only guest.
The pub heralded the start of the final stage into Dufftown. It’s about 5 miles and it’s almost imperceptibly uphill all the way. The path is easier on the feet thankfully, albeit still a gravel track and as 2pm arrived I tuned into Radio 5 Live on my phone and listened to the West Ham vs Man City game. The path is scenic enough through the forest for the most part, with tantalising views down onto the burn that runs beside the old railway line. It felt like more than 5 miles though and the last couple were along pavements beside a busy road, but this is just a spur of the Speyside Way and not the main path, so it can be forgiven I think.
I arrived at my B&B at 3pm (City were 2-0 down by this time) and was immediately assaulted by the overpowering smell of garlic. My hostess was cooking something, but the whole house was overwhelmed by the smell. I took a quick shower and headed out as quick as I could. I thought I’d seek sanctuary in the pub. Turns out I jumped from the frying pan (literally) into the fire (metaphorically). The pub was heaving, but they had the match on so I found a stool and ordered a pint of Caledonian Best. City equalised and then missed a penalty to finish 2-2, but the majority of the entertainment was provided by a very drunk young lady, dancing quite provocatively to anything that was played on the juke box. The locals were almost as bemused as I was I think and she kept pestering them to put more music on. After studiously trying to ignore her, and concentrate on the match, she eventually turned her focus on me.
‘What’s your favourite song?’ she asked me. I struggled to come up with an answer, but she pressed me, much to the amusement of the locals (it turned out they’d all had the same treatment before I arrived). I eventually gave in and suggested ‘Nationwide’ by ZZ Top, as much in the expectation that the juke box wouldn’t have it, than anything else. Turns out the juke box is Internet connected and has everything! After she’d done her dance she got bored with me and went off to pester a new local who had arrived.
I’d booked a table in the pub and now asked if I could bring the booking forward to 5pm. Thankfully the manager seemed pleased to accommodate me and I moved to the restaurant to eat. I had some excellent chicken strips and home made chips and another pint, which still came to less than last nights Steak & Ale pie!
I stopped by the Co-op on the way back to the B&B and I’m now in my room, with the windows open trying to purge the smell of garlic. I can already feel my lids getting heavy. Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me – in fact I’m going to post this without even checking it, so please forgive any errors. I’ll come back to it when I get home, edit it, fix any errors and add some photos. Sorry!