I don’t have particularly fond memories of my previous walk along this stretch of the Speyside Way. Strong wind rendered any stops nearly impossible – unpleasant in the open and dangerous in the forest. Since that day I’ve been planning to walk it again in better weather. Such an opportunity came today. For my fellow walker this presented a chance to complete the Speyside Way – so we could kill two birds with one stone. No worries, no animals were hurt in the process!
We left the centre of Grantown-on-Spey at about 8:30am heading towards the river Spey. In the outskirts of the town the route led through pleasant woodlands towards the village of Cromdale. It was chilly (barely above 0 degrees) but crispy and dry, so we walked quite briskly and made good progress. Soon we left the forest and, following a farm track, reached a bridge over the Spey, which we took and then followed the tarmac Road towards the village. Before we reached the village, the path led us slightly away to the right and then turned left under the old railway bridge. The route reached the old railway track, dismantled after the line was closed in the 1960s. Cromdale Station looked pretty impressive, but the sign informed we couldn’t enter the platform without its owner’s permission so we went past it and carried on. A mile or so further on, a herd of sheep behaved rather odd. Usually sheep run away (is it my appearance?) but these were really curious. They followed us on the other side of the fence, then we stopped and leaned against a gate. The sheep stopped on the other side a couple of meters away and then, one after another came close and started sniffing at my dog, who was equally intrigued by the animals he’d been trained not to chase. We were standing there for a couple of minutes pretty amazed by what was going on. We avoided any sudden movements not to scare the animals, so sadly no photos taken – shame!
After that unusual encounter we left the track, climbed towards the main road and walked along it in the opposite direction for about a hundred yards. All that time the friendly sheep were watching us as if regretting that we didn’t spend more time with them. We lost their sight when we crossed the road and entered another forest. For quite a while we we climbing up; eventually the track levelled and we could enjoy occasional views in the gaps between the trees.
The next stretch of the walk led around flat area of fields; however the path itself was anything but flat. Narrow and often boggy it wound its way up and down, giving a wide berth to the fields below. After a long walk and passing through immeasurable number of ‘kissing gates’ we reached another forest high up the hill. Just before the entrance there was a patch of open field with excellent views and a very comfortable rock, so we stopped there to have lunch. It was almost like summer; the Sun was shining, the temperature was very pleasant and there was no wind. An extremely tranquil moment! Even Pole the Dog, usually with no manners while eating, was munching through his lunch in a dignified way while comfortably lying in the grass.
The next leg of the walk led us through the forest, then downhill towards a stream and a footbridge over it, followed by a climb to another patch of woodland. There we found a wide forest track which took us downhill at a very gentle angle towards a short and narrow path that led us to the main road. Along it ran a footpath, so we didn’t have to risk our lives on the busy road. About 10 minutes later we crossed the road and through another gate entered a path between two fences. I said that after the crossing the only remaining possible obstacle would be cattle a bit further down the route. I should have kept my mouth shut tight! At the end of the path there was another gate, behind it a field and another gate on the far end. Unfortunately a herd of cattle occupied the field, showing unhealthy interests in us. Based on my previous experiences I wanted to avoid messing with a herd of cows looking after their young. After a long deliberation and considering all options we decided to go round the herd. That required going back to the main road, walking along it for a while and then tackling another fence. Thankfully we found a gate that could be opened; that spared us jumping over barbed wire. Then we went down the field just behind the gate that was our goal. From there the final leg of our walk was plain sailing. Through the fields we reached the banks of the River Spey and the old railway line. That eventually led us to our destination, Ballindalloch Station where we boarded my car and headed back home.
After having completed the Speyside Way twice I can say that this stretch is my favourite one, on par with the Tomintoul to Ballindalloch fork. Both are properly ‘hilly’ walks, rugged and gently challenging. With good weather either is an excellent walk to present the beauty of Scotland in one walk.