16th May 2022: Dufftown to Cragganmore – 15 miles
I imagine today’s walk report is going to be quite short. Despite the route only being a couple of miles short of yesterday’s, it didn’t hold anything like as much appeal, so I’m not sure what to write about. I suppose I should start with last night’s B&B.
The Dunvegan B&B is excellent. It’s one of maybe three or four B&Bs I’ve used over the years where there is almost nothing to complain about, no suggestion I could make to the hostess to improve the service for future guests. It’s run by a very plain speaking South African lady called Theresa and other than the garlic cooking when I arrived last night, for which she apologised more than once, there is nothing I would change, and it was £55 for single occupancy of a twin room.
After I got back from the pub I completed the walk report and being dog tired I climbed into bed about 8pm and watched a Bond film on my tablet. Amazon Prime Video has all of them available right now and I’ve been watching them all in order. The good, the bad and the dreadful alike. I’m up to Licensed to Kill – the second Timothy Dalton film. In the past I’ve watched movies on my phone, but a couple of years ago, I trimmed a lot of weight off my kit list and replaced it with a 12inch Android tablet, it’s a luxury I’m happy to carry and I can still manage a base weight of well under 6kg for a multi-day B&B walk. So far on this walk I’ve been carrying about 8-9kg with food and water and it hasn’t felt overly heavy at any point.
I had an excellent breakfast and chatted with Theresa while I ate, before her other guests came down. I’d checked the weather last night and it had looked reasonable, only 20% chance of rain for most of the day. Back in my room and I checked it again, only to find it was now 80-90% from 11am onwards. Bugger. I don’t mind the rain particularly, but it does mean I tend to arrive too early at my destination as you don’t have any chance to sit and kill time, you just plod on and burn through the miles. I couldn’t arrive too early in Cragganmore today as there’s nothing there other than my B&B. No pub to sit it and wait for a reasonable arrival time. I decided to leave a bit later than planned. I could also sit in the cafe in Aberlour and kill a bit of time if need be.
The Speyside Way spurs off into Dufftown, but doesn’t loop back to the main path in any way, and I’d decided right from the first planning session that I wasn’t going to walk the 5 miles back to Craigellachie and rejoin the main route. Instead, I’d found what I’d hoped would be a navigable route over Knock of Gownie. My B&B host in Newtonmore had said it was a route she’d used in the past so I was relieved at the time. On the way into Dufftown I’d seen a marker on a lamp post that pointed down a street, saying ‘Public Path to Aberlour’. It wasn’t quite the route I’d plotted, but once I’d looked on the map I could see where it would meet up with my route, so I adjusted my plotted route slightly to use this path out of the town.
I was out and walking by 9:20 and within a few hundred yards I found a Scottish Right of Way path marker saying ‘Aberlour 4 miles’. It turned out to be the best four miles of the day. The path uses farm access roads to begin with but soon leaves them and cuts up and through a hillside of Gorse. The path is narrow and uneven, it twists and turns and climbs steeply in places, and it’s the best path of the walk so far! It soon enters a lovely old pine forest and I followed a wide (but mostly sandy) forest road down towards Aberlour. The final mile or so was along tarmac and as it began to spit I stopped and weather proofed myself. This entails not just putting my waterproof coat on, but also putting other stuff into bags to keep them dry. I’d been pleased with the path selection and like last year’s walk along the Cross Borders Drove Road, one of my favourite paths was one that wasn’t on the official route. Go figure.
It never got much beyond spitting until I reached the Co-op in Aberlour and then it began to rain a bit more heavily. I bought stuff for tonight (no pub, so I needed food – I didn’t want to pay the £35 the B&B wanted to charge me for tea!) and I needed something for lunch today. Provisions purchased I popped into the Aberlour Hotel for a pint of Diet Coke and to kill some time. I ended up in there for about 40 minutes and I thought I’d missed the rain as it had stopped when I emerged.
I walked down to the fine old suspension bridge over the river and picked up the Speyside Way again. I had a little chat with an angler who was getting himself ready. I asked if he knew the riverside path. The map seemed to suggest I could walk beside the river for a while before linking back up with the Way, that uses the old railway bed. He wasn’t sure and I wasn’t prepared to risk being stranded beside the river with no access back onto the old railway, so I reluctantly followed the marker posts. I had 10.5 miles to go and it was all on the old railway. Initially I was quite pleased with the choice, the path was lined with Wild Garlic and I crossed a couple of properly bouncy suspension bridges, the path was comprised of well crushed gravel and it was probably one of the best hard surfaces I’ve used so far. The Spey was visible at times, through the trees to my right, running wide and slow. Now and again I could see men standing up to their chests in the water, flicking their fly rods at fish, or one or two parties in boats in the middle of the stream.
The railway runs flat, which is nice, but it’s also arrow straight in places and you can see for miles down the path, which is rather dispiriting. Some sections were lined with birch or old growth pine trees and although it’s nice to walk through a wood like this, there are no views to speak of. At Dailuaine Halt I finally decided that it wasn’t going to rain, so I took my coat off. I wasn’t so confident that I packed it away though, I just strapped it to the outside of my pack, for easy access. There’s a bench here and I took my right boot off and adjusted my sock, which felt like it was bunching just behind my toes, but it wasn’t, it’s just the foot is sore there. A mile or so further on and the path enters Carron, which has the most modern distillery building I’ve seen, all glass and curved steel with the massive vats visible through the windows. It had started raining again and I was back in my coat, hood up and head down.
Beyond Carron the path surface changed, for the better. It looks like it’s been resurfaced recently, it’s sandy gravel hard packed but quite comfortable to walk on. It doesn’t feel especially durable though and I wondered what the life expectancy would be for it.
The old railway stations punctuate the day’s walk and the next one up was Tamdhu. The rain was coming down harder now and I was feeling tired, but not so tired I was just going to sit in the rain. There are a couple of buildings on the platform and I wondered if perhaps one of them was an old waiting room (unlikely I know on an essentially goods railway). No such luck, but the buildings were all unlocked and I checked a couple of them. The second one was an old store room, filled with chairs! I pulled one off the rack and perched it just inside the open door of the building. I sat in the dry, looking out onto the station as the rain came down. I fully expected to be moved on when someone saw the open door and came to investigate, but I wasn’t prepared to risk closing it and maybe getting locked in, besides there were no windows so it would have been pitch black! I had a relaxing 10 minutes then pushed on, replacing the chair as I’d found it and bolting the door behind me.
Leaving Tamdhu and the path got harsh, sharp gravel that played havoc with the soles of my feet through my Inov-8s. After a couple of hundred yards it reverted back to the sandy, fine, hard packed gravel again and both I and my feet breathed sighs of relief.
At the next station along, Blacksboat, I came across a work party laying the lovely smooth surface I’d been enjoying for the last couple of miles. It really had been layed recently! I was half expecting to be told I couldn’t go any further, and be told about some unrealistic diversion I’d need to take and I steeled myself for an argument. No problems though, the guys just ignored me and I walked around their vehicles. The problem now was that I’d reached the end of the nice sandy surface and I was back on the sharp stone chippings which I endured for the remaining mile or so, until I reached Cragganmore. Some other work was going on here, and a diversion sign seems to be pointing walkers off the Speyside Way path, so that could be an issue for tomorrow. We’ll see I guess.
I walked along the road to find my B&B for the night, Cragganmore House. I met the host as I was walking up the long drive to the house and he walked up with me asking me how I’d got on today. At the house he handed me over to his wife who was all business. She took my boots, which she said would go in the ‘boiler room’ and showed me to my room and my bathroom. The house is huge and old and seems to be filled to the brim with bric-a-brac. There’s no shower, but the bath is huge and once I’d let the hot tap run for a while I managed to draw a deep, hot bath and sank my aching feet and most of my body into it. This is not an inconsequential comment. I’ve never been in a bath this length. I can sit up and have all my legs submerged. Or I can lie down in it and just have my knees sticking out. It’s awesome. If you have to have a bath, this is the bath to have it in.
After my relaxing soak, I wandered downstairs to get the WiFi password and as I got to the bottom of the stairs a little bat flew past me! When I told my hostess she was visibly deflated. She said she thought they’d seen the back of them, apparently they mange to get in through a window in a part of the building that’s not used (it’s a big house!) and they’re a bugger to get rid of. As they’re protected, ‘you can’t just hit them with a tennis racquet’ you have to hope they fly out, or get someone in.
Anyway, it’s been a tough day, but only because of the harsh surface on the path. I’ve had my picnic tea in my room and I’m going to watch another Bond film. The WiFi is rubbish so this will be another post with no pictures.
Post-walk update: If you watch the Iain Robertson Rambles show on BBC Scotland (also on iPlayer) he stays in this B&B and also enjoys a soak in this immense bath. It’s a show you should watch if you’re considering the walk. He begins at the source and walks to the sea (and beyond) and gives some great insights into this route. Link here: Iain Robertson – Speyside Way