18th May 2022: Grantown to Boat of Garten – 11 miles
The Ben Mhor Hotel is cheap. It’s £42.50 for a single en-suite room, so almost half the price of yesterday’s room. But that’s the only good thing I can say about the place. It’s cheap because it’s cheap! I’ve only seen one member of staff while I’ve been here, she checked me in, served me a pint, cooked my meal and she cleans the rooms. There are little buzzers in the bar and reception so you can page her to come to you. The bed in my room is a child’s bed, my feet hang at least a foot over the end and two of the slats are broken, that was originally just one, but I broke another when I sat on it. It’s also only a foot off the floor, so it’s a bugger to get out of. They don’t do breakfast in the room price. The food last night came in a cardboard box, with no cutlery. There are two TVs in the room, neither of them work and there’s only one remote, and it has no batteries. It’s a lowest possible cost operation. However, I slept OK, despite my room overlooking the main street and my sash window not being especially well fitting, so there was lots of road noise. When it rained last night the sash rattled in its frame when the wind got up, but I slept through until about 5am then snoozed until 7.30.
I’ve just finished breakfast in my room, some pains of the chocolate from the Co-op and a cup of tea. I’ll be out of here as soon as practical, given I can’t arrive at my B&B tonight until 4pm (a ridiculously prescriptive arrival time in my opinion). There is a pub in Boat of Garten at least, so I should be able to sit in there until I can get in. The weather looks pretty good too, so I should be able to stop whenever I like and kill some time out on the trail, rather than in the pub.
I’m now sitting in the aforementioned pub, lighter by £3.25 for a pint of Diet Coke, the most I’ve ever paid for that drink and 50% more than I paid for the same drink yesterday! I’m already beginning to not like Boat of Garten, irrational I know, I’ve only just got here, but the hotel bar stinks of fish, it’s horribly expensive and my B&B won’t let me in until 4pm. Turns out my gut feeling was right, but more on that in a moment.
The day has been excellent, both the path and the weather and I think this walk is getting better with each day. Today was marginally better than yesterday, although it was a close call, maybe winning out because today was so easy.
I headed out about 9am again, and was immediately surprised at how cool it was, with a strong wind not helping the temperature. I set out in my shirt, sleeves rolled up and was soon wishing I’d started in the softshell. I was almost straight back into the lovely Anagach Wood, following a broad path heavily used by locals walking their dogs. Too soon I was out onto the tarmac again though and I felt a little annoyed at the path designers, who could easily have used a path right beside the Spey, to avoid the road and the houses at Speybridge. I’d decided not to take it in case it didn’t meet up with the Way, but it did, so I was a bit grumpy for a while. From here it was back onto the old railway, into what felt like the teeth of a gale. I stopped and swapped my shirt for the softshell which deals with the wind much better.
The railway bed was at least using a good grassy surface, as it had yesterday and I was happy with some of the open views I got down the Spey on my right and some of the hills beyond. I plugged my audiobook in again, as this flat railway isn’t particularly inspiring walking, but I made a good pace along the easy surface.
The views improved as I got closer to Nethy Bridge and the wind dropped somewhat. The sky was blue now and if anything the wind was helping to keep me cool. I lost my Tilley at one point and had to chase it back down the path before I managed to get a foot on it. I secured it Mountie-style, to the back of my head to prevent losing it again.
As I entered Nethy Bridge I saw a guy and a lady coming towards me with large backpacks. Probably the first proper walkers I’ve seen on this route, so I asked them if they were doing the Speyside Way. They said they were walking coast to coast and when I asked if they were doing the TGO they confirmed they were. We chatted for a couple of minutes and they warned me that if I needed water, to get it in the village as they’d seen nothing in the forest section all morning, which I was about to enter. I wished them luck and popped into the shop to get a cold bottle of water and also bought a scotch pie for second lunch later. The Nethy House café is right on the junction and I’d planned to make a stop here for my first lunch, but also to kill some time so as not to arrive too early into Boat of Garten.
The café is excellent, albeit I’d been warned it was quite expensive (although not compared to the pub later) and I ordered ‘tea for two for one’, a slice of mint chocolate tray bake and a slice of millionaire shortcake. The cakes were delicious and they went down a treat, I could almost feel the calories loaded into them. The tea certainly wasn’t enough for two, but they refilled the pot with hot water at my request (and didn’t charge for it) so that was good. As I was lounging in a comfy chair beside the door a couple walked in, also with big packs, but not backpacking size. The lady pointed at my pack on the chair beside me and asked if I was walking. I said I was and she asked if I was doing the Speyside Way, again I confirmed I was. She said they were too and they were also heading for Boat. These are the first people I’ve come across doing this walk, it’s not especially busy, which is just fine with me.
As the cafe filled up on the approach to lunch, I began to feel guilty hogging two of their chairs and packed up and paid. £7.50 felt like a fair exchange for 40 minutes of comfort and two superb cakes.
The second half of today’s walk was sublime. The path runs through Abernethy Forest and it’s at least on a par with the best of yesterday’s forest paths and probably slightly better. It’s old pine forest again, all the trees are dripping with lichen and it all feels ancient. The paths are brilliant, thin, snaking through the trees, hard but not as uncomfortable as those I found on the first couple of days. I didn’t need (or want) to keep one eye on the footing, I could spare both for the surroundings. Every now and again I’d pass a standing pool, lit by the sunshine breaking through the canopy. I loved the whole afternoon walk.
I had 4 hours to kill between leaving the cafe and getting into my B&B, so I tried to take it easy, stopping when I found somewhere handy and walking as slowly as I could. I met the two walkers who’d greeted me in the cafe earlier, the ones doing the Speyside Way and we said hellos. I was glad they didn’t try and engage in a longer conversation, I didn’t want to be antisocial, but I also didn’t want to talk, or walk with anyone right now, I just wanted to tune out everything and enjoy the path and the quiet of the forest.
The nice thing about today is that there’s very little tarmac walking between the end of the forest section and the outskirts of the village, so before I knew it I was walking up the road towards the Boat Inn. It was only 2pm, all my stops and slow walking had only managed to slow my pace to 2.5mph for the afternoon. I’d still thoroughly enjoyed it though. I popped into the Boat for a drink and a sit down. I managed to make my single pint of ridiculously expensive Diet Coke last two hours!
Wow! If I thought last night’s hotel was cheap, it made tonight’s accommodation look like the Ritz! I arrived at Boat House B&B exactly at 3:57, despite the fact that I had been told no earlier than 4pm. The garden looked like a landfill site, there were three lawnmowers, mostly in bits, in the porch and a sign in the door saying to ring a mobile number to check-in. Great! I rang several times over the next 10 mins and got no answer, just ring, ring, ring, dead air. I was getting a bit pissed off now. About 4:10 a guy was dropped off outside the house and walked in through the front door, he invited me in, as I was hovering outside. He was just a guest, but a regular and told me Harry would probably be back soon. Inside, the house was worse than the garden with crap stacked everywhere, dust on every surface and an underlying smell of damp and dirt. I explained to my helper that I’d been ringing the number provided, but with no answer. He tried calling the number too, then he messaged him, then he called him from the house phone, hoping that would help. Eventually Harry called him back and I could hear him say that I’d been double booked, but he’d found a bed for me next door. I thanked the guy, who’d been a lot more helpful than bloody Harry, and headed out the door as quickly as I could. The place was obviously a workers bunkhouse / hostel type place rather than a traditional B&B and I’m absolutely convinced I dodged a bullet there. My helper even said next door would probably be a lot nicer than this place.
I’m in Fraoch Lodge now, which is also not a traditional B&B I think it also caters to workers rather than walkers. You don’t get a key, each door has a combination door lock thing and you’re asked to strip your bed before leaving in the morning. The lady that showed me to my room told me I have a ‘light breakfast’ included in the room rate, or I can upgrade to a cooked breakfast. I’d been planning on making my own arrangements for breakfast, so this is an unexpected bonus.
I had a shower, which serves all three rooms in this part of the building, but I’m the only occupant tonight so it’s all mine! Helpfully the room also has a sink.
The shop in the village is beside the pub, about quarter of a mile from the B&B. I noticed it shut at 6pm, so I needed to walk back to the shop to stock up, prior to going to the pub, but as I didn’t want my shopping at my feet while in the pub I walked back down to the shop, back to the B&B and then back down to the pub again. I’m knackered now! I did at least manage to catch up with my mate PilgrimChris while I was walking back and forth up and down the village.
I’ve been fed and watered in the Boat, really nice food, but it cost me an arm and a leg. I’m making my second pint of Stag last so I don’t need to go back to my room until as late as possible. The WiFi in the room is nonexistent (literally) and I have bugger all mobile signal, so I’ll hang out here as long as they let me.