20th May 2022: Kincraig to Newtonmore – 13.5 miles
I met another of my fellow guests last night as I was putting a bottle of water in the little communal fridge in the dining room. He was sitting at the dining table, poring over his map and we got talking about our respective walks. He was a Dutch guy, called Wim and he’d been doing a walk of his own design, but including a long section of the Rob Roy Way, which sparked my interest as that was one of the walks I’d thought about before I selected the Speyside. I could have happily sat there all night, but I still had to ring my wife, so I made my excuses and hoped we’d see each other in the morning. We both had early starts, Wim to catch the train to Perth and me to catch the bus back to Kincraig.
I slept well in the double bed (without a footboard), but as is usually the case my subconscious knew I needed an early start, so it made sure I was awake long before I needed to be, just in case! I made a cup of tea in the dining room and carried it back to my room and scoffed a couple of brioche rolls. I tip-toed back and forth between my room, my bathroom and the dining room, hoping not to disturb anyone and eventually slunk out of the house at 6.45, without seeing or hearing another soul.
It was a 10 minute walk back down to the bus stop and I arrived in plenty of time. The bus arrived punctually and deposited me at the war memorial in Kincraig at 7.20. The sky behind me looked dark and bruised, but ahead it was blue sky and white cloud. It wasn’t warm though and I was in my softshell all day, wishing I had a thicker jacket at times, but reluctant to add another layer.
Just like yesterday, today’s route would be shared between the Badenoch and the Speyside in many places, but the two routes would also choose their own way in places, so I was expecting more path confusion. I crossed the bridge at Kincraig and almost immediately selected what looked like a much nicer route beside Lock Insh, on the Badenoch, rather than walking along the road and the Speyside Way.
The path around Loch Insh provides great views of this beautiful lake, but it’s another cycle track rather than a footpath, but I was used to this by now and it was like water of a duck’s back, at least it wasn’t tarmac or pebbles. I also noticed a lot more signage today compared to yesterday, but I wasn’t overly happy with it. I prefer the little marker posts, with the thistle emblem and a simple arrow, these have been standard along all the route as far as Aviemore. Today’s waymarkers were horizontal green boards, displayed parallel to the path and with the distance to Kingussie and Kincraig displayed on them. Counting down the distance to Kingussie every quarter of a mile seemed to make for a long day and I soon began to just ignore the signs.
The scenery kept improving, once I’d left Loch Insh behind I had the outskirts of the Inshriach Forest to admire and this lovely wooded section soon brought me to Uath Lochans, two small lochs surrounded by trees. I found a couple of cars in the car park, with walkers preparing to set out on one of the dozens of trails that spread out from here. Many of these paths looked like small trails, covered in pine needles and crossed by tree routes, snaking off into the forest. The Speyside Way followed a hard gravel track wide enough for a logging truck, but obviously not used by them.
The track I was using seemed to emerge from the trees after a while and ahead it looked like it turned into a motorway! The road was huge, easily wide enough for two logging trucks to pass each other and the road surface changed as if to support this theory, becoming hard packed large stones rather than the hard packed gravel of the cycle path. I stopped on a bench for a second breakfast and finished a couple more of the brioche rolls. It was cold now though and I didn’t linger too long. I wasn’t looking forward to the new track, but I pushed on.
The surface improved as I reached the outskirts of Insh and Inveruglass and the path through the Insh Community Forest is actually pretty good, it’s more like an old forest path, with old needles providing a bouncy surface in comparison to the road. Beyond Inveruglass the forest is left behind and the path has longer views across to the hills. I was back on a wide cycle path now again but maybe it was too early, as I saw no-one else, walking or cycling.
At Drumguish I found another bench and took advantage of it, sheltered in the lee of a house, to have either third breakfast, or first lunch – it was only 10am, but I’d been going for nearly three hours. I saw my first walker of the day here, he was heading for Glen Feshie and although I offered him a space on my bench he’d only just set out and wanted to push on. I saw two couples admiring the view at the unnamed falls at Tromie Bridge and from this point I came across more people than I’d seen on this walk so far.
The path joined the road a little later, although it was segregated by a fence and the impressive ruins of Ruthven Barracks soon came into view. I’d been here before a few years ago, it’s hard to miss when while driving north and I’d actually decided to stop on one occasion and have a look around. As such, I decided not to this time and it would have actually required a diversion up and then back down the road if I’d wanted to, from the Speyside Way path. There is no gate in the fence line separating you from the road, so unless you’d decided to walk along the road, you had to walk up to the car park, then back down the road to the ruins and then back up again when you’d finished – which is daft!
Just beyond Ruthven, after crossing the bridge there was another handy bench and I stopped one final time to finish my lunch. It was only a few hundred yards into Kingussie from there. When I’d planned the route I’d looked at public transport options from here to Newtonmore, on the basis that the road walk looked like a right plod. However, now I was here I decided to finish on foot, rather than cheat.
I rang the host from my B&B on the first night, in Newtonmore, and told him I was about an hour away. He has my car keys and I wanted to make sure he was in when I arrived! The final 2.5 miles are along a cycle path (nothing new there then) beside the main road and I plodded along it making good time. I was passed by about 20 or 30 cyclists along its length, so I made sure to keep left as much as possible as I had my headphones in and wouldn’t hear them coming.
The finish line was 300-400 yards beyond my B&B, so it was with reluctance that I breezed past my car and onto the small standing stone and shinty stick benches that make up the start / end of the Speyside Way in Newtwonmore. It was exactly 12:00 and after paying my respects, I turned around and walked back to Clune House and my car.
John was there waiting for me and he made me a cup of tea as I divested myself of my boots and knee braces. We discussed the walk and state of some of the TGO walkers he’s had through the door in the last week. He’s a very amiable chap and I could happily have chatted for ages, but I still had 350 miles to do, so I said my thanks and headed home. The journey home was as uneventful as the one on the way up and I finally arrived home at around 7.30pm, glad to get a shower and a comfy chair!
One Last Moan
I’m all in favour of long distance paths evolving over time, and I said as much when I updated the Pennine Way guide book in 2014. There are portions of that route that could easily be moved to slightly different paths to the benefit of walkers. However, the evolution needs to be beneficial and not just change for the sake of change and I think the end of the Speyside Way falls into this category. Since 2015 the route has been extended twice, first from Aviemore to Kincraig and then onward again to Newtonmore, via Kingussie.
The section from Aviemore to Kingussie is mostly fine. Although you’re beside the railway for a while and there’s some road walking it also has some lovely forest sections and you even get to spend some time beside the Spey. That’s as far as it should have gone though! I know there’s pressure to include towns and villages in long paths, helping to boost the tourist footfall and spend in these places, but the extension from Kingussie to Newtonmore is an embarrassment for the path. Perhaps there’s a longer term goal to extend it further, but the little standing stone suggests not, and it would be difficult to send most walkers into the wilds towards the source.
It’s not even like they could use the excuse that they needed to reach a public transport hub – Kingussie has bus stops and a train station, just like Newtonmore and it has all the other facilities you’d like to find at the end (or the start) of a long walk. I don’t understand therefore, why the path designers would send you on an additional 3 mile walk beside the A86, because that’s all it is. There is at least a cycle path beside the road, but it’s still on tarmac and has no views of the Spey and no scenic appeal at all as far as I could see.
I had no illusions about this walk, I knew it was a walk through the region called Speyside, rather than a walk beside the Spey. I was OK with that at the time of planning and quite happy about it as I was walking it. It turns out that the Spey is a big river. It lacks the charm of most rivers I’ve walked beside, it just feels like a huge grey monster carving its way to the sea. There are no waterfalls that I saw and almost no white water at all – that’s not to say the Spey doesn’t have these, it’s just that the path doesn’t reveal them to you. I felt no particular attraction to the river, it complemented the walk at times and added interest to some long views earlier in the walk, but it never felt like a companion. I’ll be walking the Yoredale Way again in August and that’s a river you can learn to love as you walk beside it. The Spey wasn’t like that for me.
The biggest complaint I made throughout my daily journals was the state of the path and there were times when I hated it. This was the case much more so in the earlier sections – on the first and second days in particular – but this improved in the later sections. If I’d finished the walk after three days I would have not been able to give it a favourable review and if I’d finished it after two days I would have slated it. I was pleased I walked it north to south (just not when I was walking into a strong headwind) because the path got progressively better – except perhaps for the last day, for the reasons mentioned above. When I say the path got better, I mean both the overall surfaces and the surroundings.
It’s unfair to blame the path surfaces completely when I knew the soles on my boots would not protect me from harsh surfaces. I chose to walk in lightweight boots with thin soles, even though I’d done my research and I knew that there were long sections of road / tarmac ahead of me. What I wasn’t prepared for though was the amount of cycle path on the route. The enjoyable sections of traditional ‘footpath’ through the forests were immediately noticeable because of how rare they were. It was a joy to walk on pine needles and over twisted tree routes, splash through puddles and dodge around muddy sections, because the alternative was a wide, cambered, crushed gravel track. These at least allowed me to raise my eyes and look at the views, of which there were many and some of which were spectacular, whereas some of the forestry roads were so harsh I had to watch every step to save my poor soles!
The walk grew on me as the days went by and I look back on it now with a smile rather than a frown. Like the little ‘sentiment’ boards they used to have outside the toilets on the motorway services and as you left you’d press a smiley face or a frown, depending on the sort of service you’d had. I had an overall good time on the Speyside Way and I would recommend it, especially (or maybe only) if you like walking through woods and forests. The woodland sections made this walk for me, and I wasn’t expecting to say that I must admit. Trees kill views and often when I’m walking it’s all about the views, but this time the immediate surroundings came to the fore.
The Speyside Way has not been my favourite walk, it’s probably not even in my Top 5, but I did enjoy it.