17th May 2022: Cragganmore to Grantown – 15 miles
Day 4 on a long distance walk is when stuff begins to hurt. I’ve done plenty of two day walks this year, I’ve even done plenty of 6 or 7 consecutive local walks, but they’re only 4 to 6 miles normally and even over Easter, when I did 30 miles in four days, it’s still not a proper simulation for a multi day walk. So things begin to hurt on day four. Right now my biggest pain is in my feet. I have a small blister on the bottom of each of my pinky toes where they get crushed by their fat neighbours and the centre part of the balls of both feet are bruised and sore, thanks to the nature of the Inov-8 soles, but at least they aren’t blistered. My left calf feels a bit tight, but nothing close to how bad it was a couple of years ago. Other than that I feel fine. In previous years I’ve had sore shoulders, from carrying a heavier than normal pack, but I’m not feeling that at all, which is great.
I slept OK last night, not great. They have a grandfather clock that chimes the hours! I heard the back end of the midnight peel and the 2am and 3am, but nothing then until 6am when I was hovering on the brink of awareness anyway. The bed has a foot board which is never good for someone my height and I was expecting to be kicking it all night, so I covered the board as best I could with a spare blanket from the wardrobe and although I was subconsciously always aware of it in the night I manged to sleep diagonally across the double bed and avoid breaking any toes. The bathroom is down the far end of the landing, but the room has a sink…. I’ll just leave that there.
I’m typing this up while I wait for my requested breakfast time of 8am and a check of the MetOffice weather app shows a very promising day ahead, lots of sunshine icons and highs of 16°C. I’ve verified that with the Mk.1 Eyeball© and it looks about right. There’s a mist clinging to the tree-lined slope on the other side of the valley, with scattered white clouds overhead, it should be a grand day!
Right, I’m in Grantown on Spey now, that was quick eh! Day 4 has been the best of the lot so far, much better paths (mostly), better views, better weather, all round my favourite day of the lot.
Breakfast in Cragganmore House was OK, not great and there’s wasn’t much of it either; one fried egg, one sausage, two rashers of bacon, one round of toast and the smallest pat of butter ever. I wouldn’t mind but this is the most expensive stay of the trip, at £75. I asked for a sausage buttie for lunch, not a full packed lunch or anything, just a couple of bangers stuck between a couple rounds of bread, that was an extra £5. I know prices have gone up and post pandemic demand is driving that rise, so it’s sort of understandable, but I demand value for money and this wasn’t it. Tony and Helen, are both lovely and we had a good chat this morning, but they need to review their prices, it’s maybe no wonder they’ve had so few walkers this year.
Anyway, I was out the door at 9am and meeting back up with the old railway bed just a few yards along from where I’d been diverted away from it last night – they’re doing some bridge repairs by the look of it – I couldn’t believe the difference in the path surface this morning though! Into Cragganmore the path is essentially a cycle path, as you leave Cragganmore it’s a lovely grassy surface that’s obviously grown over a cinder or similar older surface. It’s an absolute delight to walk on, even where it’s soggy and wet from yesterday’s rain. The views are still quite restricted by the trees growing either side of the path, but it was loads better than yesterday. I wondered if their plan was to rip this all out and put the cycle path surface over it. I hope not.
After a mile or so I got pushed off the old railway bed, as the path turned left and climbed away from it. I rejoin it again in about 10 miles, which proved to be the best 10 miles of the walk so far. The next mile climbs beside an old pine forest along a springy, needle strewn path and then turns to run between a sheep fence and a deer fence. It was boggy in places but duck boards and stones had been placed to ease the passage and I loved this bit. It’s the first path that feels like a walkers path rather than something you could cycle along, or drive a logging truck along. I was surprised to find bike tyre tracks in the mud, but also rather annoyed, not because bikes had been using it, quite the opposite in fact. It seems the path authorities are keen to make long lengths of the Way cycle friendly, by making smooth, boring ‘multi access’ paths, when they just don’t need to. If cyclists want to use the path they can, and even where it’s wet, boggy and covered in big stones they can obviously still use it. There’s no need to sanitise the path to the point where it’s great for cyclists but bloody awful for walkers. Rant over.
I finally had the long views along this section, that I’d been hoping for the last couple of days. I’d had some views down onto the Spey yesterday, but this view was full of hills! They’re mostly still brown and drab, but they were beautiful to me. The path became really tight in places, almost as if the landowner had begrudgingly allocated as little land as possible to the path and I was pinned between hedge and fence, until the path met the busy A95 and crossed it. When looking at this on the map I was half expecting to have to walk on the road, but there’s a thin, uneven and overgrown grassy track beside it. My boots were quickly sodden and I half wished I’d walked along the bloody road. The path is uneven and the long grass hides little perils, and I post holed at one point into a rabbit burrow nearly breaking my bloody leg. You’re also only 10 feet from the road so you still get all the noise. It wasn’t a long section though and the path soon turns away from the road, uphill again.
Garvault Plantation sounds awful, like a penal colony for trees, but it’s lovely, an old pine plantation but with the trees set well back from a wide forest road which the Way now followed. The sun was shining strongly now, and I had a stiff breeze in my face so I was warm but not too warm and even the forest road was good underfoot, lots of grass having grown over the hardcore. It’s obviously not heavily used by vehicles anymore. Between this plantation and the Woods of Knockfrink I had to drop down across some rough ground to find a farm track and I missed my footing and went (quite literally) head over heels, doing a forward roll and scaring myself quite badly. I was also worried I may have broken the screen on my tablet, which sits upright, parallel with my water bladder, and which I’d obviously just put quite a lot of weight on (turned out it was OK though). I missed a marker post around here somewhere too, and ended up having to scramble a small bank and climb a fence to get back on track.
The mile or so of forest track around Knock Frink was fantastic. Easy on the feet, easy on the eyes and although the views were limited again, the old forest is atmospheric and the trees are covered in old lichen, with big gaps between them to let the light in. As I left the forest I got a good long view down the Spey and found a handy stump to sit down on, have a quick snack and admire the vista.
The next 2 or 3 miles were a bit disappointing, the Way runs through a series of fields, along bumpy farm tracks, often penned in a narrow strip between two crappy old fence lines. Many of the paths are shared with cattle which make a right mess, not just with their pats, but the way they cut up a field, which then dries out to create ankle breaking divots and holes. I was glad when I was finally climbing away again, towards the hills.
I found a wide metal stock gate, hanging by one hinge from its post, which made for quite a comfortable seat. I’ve seen no benches so far today so was having to make do with whatever I could find. As I was sitting down I noticed two long streaks of blood running down my arm. Horse fly (clegg) bites I guessed, that I hadn’t noticed. I had my shirt on today, sleeves rolled up to help manage the heat of the day.
After my short break, I entered another splendid old forest, this one was Tom an Uird Wood and the best so far, more old growth pine forest. The path was kind on the feet too, and my feet felt better today even with another 10 miles on them, than they had yesterday. There were some muddy sections through the wood and I slipped a couple of times as I was trying to avoid getting any wetter, and invariably made things worse. My feet were now wet and that just leads to blisters and sore feet, but nothing for it but to carry on. Leaving the wood the state of my feet was compounded by joining an obviously heavily used logging road where they’d layed large sharp stones to surface it. It was only a mile, but it felt like a lot more, and I was glad to reach the tarmac of the A95 again. Here it rained for about 2 minutes while I was sitting on a handy bench having another snack, I thought about putting my coat on, but figured it wouldn’t last long, and sure enough it soon stopped. I was back on the old railway bed now, with fine springy turf beneath my feet. I put my audiobook on and forgot about my wet feet, just metronomically pounding out the steps, each one bringing me closer to an ice cream!
At Cromdale station, wonderfully decorated with period advertising and bedecked with railway memorabilia, I left the railway and headed into the woods again. Grantown Community Woods (Anagach Woods on the map) were the highlight of the day, the paths are lovely and the woods feel ancient and quiet. I met only a couple of people enjoying the tranquility beneath the trees. The paths are well signed too and even though there are loads of routes to choose from, the Speyside Way is easy to keep on. I found a bench just before the end of the woods and sat down to finish my drink. I’d filtered some water from a stream earlier, pumped some Robinson’s Mini Apple & Blackcurrant into it and been enjoying the cold juice for the last couple of hours.
The lure of the ice cream I promised myself when I get into Grantown eventually got me moving and I pushed on to complete the last mile. The town is great, loads of facilities, a chippy, Co-op and an ice cream parlour! I checked into the Ben Mhor Hotel, had a cracking shower and then went on the hunt for supplies.
My bathroom sink is now full of ice and it has Irn Bru, Diet Coke and a small bottle of milk for tomorrow’s breakfast in it. The hotel wanted something daft on top of the room rate for breakfast, so I’m going to picnic it in my room. Yes, I am a cheapskate! The hotel has a burger bar, so I ordered a burger, chips and a very nice local IPA, all for under a tenner. I was surprised when the burger arrived in a cardboard box rather than on a plate and there’s no cutlery anywhere that I can see. At least it was palatable!
Tomorrow’s walk is a short 11 miles and there’s a village half way with a Co-op and a cafe, so an easy day compared to the last three days. Today was three fewer miles and on Memory-Map it said it had significantly less height gain than day 2 and yet today felt harder on my legs. So I’ll be glad of an easier day tomorrow.