The Speyside Way – Day 5

August 3, 2010: Ballindalloch to Craigellachie

Footbridge over the Spey as the route leaves Ballindalloch

Footbridge over the Spey as the route leaves Ballindalloch

After a restful night we woke to a bright morning and made our usual preparations. We went downstairs at 8:00 and had a lovely breakfast, with Gavan managing two sausages this time. Our packed lunches were ready (Gavan always carried both of these) and we were able to make a quick start at 8:40. We had twelve and a half miles to go today – this seemed like a rest day after yesterday’s rigors – and we knew that our progress would be much easier on a route that followed the old railway embankment almost all the way. To make matters even simpler we would encounter neither gate nor style at any point today; for that matter we had seen the last of these impediments for the rest of the trip! Still, Gavan could never quite understand why it was that he felt stiff at the outset of each venture – when I did not. (He carried some pulley apparatus with him and often did stretching exercises in our bedroom.)

We quickly dropped back down to the Way and continued forward to the rest of Ballindalloch village. This included a walk past its former railway station, now used as a hostel, and a well-maintained stone property before a left hand bend brought us out to the river itself. A covered pedestrian suspension bridge had been provided and we took a number of photos both upstream and downstream. The Spey was on our right now and we could occasionally see fishermen at work. At one point Gavan spotted one chap in a rowboat, fishing away while his partner stood in the water, steadying the vessel.

After an hour or so we reached the old Blackboats station and sat down on a bench at a picnic table next to the station house (someone had left two cans of beans here). I fished my phone out and had another go at calling Linda. This time I received the proper signal and soon I was getting an update on my dog – who had settled in quickly at the Taggarts, bonded with Rob, and had even gone with our London friend Janet to dinner at Dan and Davide’s (sometimes I think my dog has a more exciting social life than I do – but to understand who these people are you have to check out my books in the dog people of Paddington Rec series). I was greatly cheered by all this news and we soon started off again. It had been sunny at Blackboats but a few minutes later there was a brief shower. I had to pause anyway since the bandage had come off the sore spot on my arm and I needed to pluck a replacement out of my pack.

Whiskey barrels make a fine train in Carron.

Whiskey barrels make a fine train in Carron.

We crossed the Calley Bridge and the weather soon cleared up as we approached the first of several whisky distilleries on our left. Tamdhu (which also had an interesting old station with stained glass windows) was followed by Knockando (surely not pronounced No Can Do). The latter, appropriately salmon pink in color, had seats in its smokers lounge made out of old barrels. A little over a mile later, after passing a Chivas property and a Labrador led by a boy named Tommy (or so his Man U red shirt said), we entered the village of Carron. Alas, there was no pub here but on the village green there was a toy train whose cars (more recycled barrels) served as flower planters. Gavan assumed a seat in the driver’s seat for the obligatory photograph.

A short distance beyond Carron brought us back to the Spey and the Carron Bridge. By crossing it (rail and road shared the same bridge here) we returned to the river’s right bank – and here we found our route for the rest of the trip. Our embankment worked its way through woodland, just below the roadway to our right, and here we began our search for a place to sit down and have our lunch. There was a picnic table at Dailuaine, but it was occupied by a portly mother and her teenaged son – who was reading a magazine. There were several other disappointments as we worked our way north, crossing paths with a number of Germans making their way south. At last we found an appropriate bench and sat down to enjoy our lunch (I found that the juice carton, often supplied by our landladies, could be saved for the evening, when it helped the pills go down).

After lunch we met a young lad who had cycled down from our destination village to meet up with a local lass. We had only a couple of miles to go before reaching our next village, the sizeable town of Abelour, and a special countdown was taking place as we approached, because not only did it have a pub but today would be the first time that Gavan could partake of alcohol. After passing church and cemetery we discovered The Mash Tun on our right and soon we has made ourselves comfortable in its deep leather upholstery.

Gavan gets ready for his first dram at The Mash Tun in Abelour

Gavan gets ready for his first dram at The Mash Tun in Abelour

I had a pint of Stella and a dram of the local whiskey (both spellings of this word were in evidence hereabouts). Gavan did too (though he disapproved of my partaking of both at the same time). I noticed that this place actually had Irn-Bru, the Scottish soft drink, on tap, and the nice young barman and I traded lines from its famous commercial (He: “made from girders.” Me: “unpronounceable too.”) I had my picture taken next to a shelf of whiskey bottles, used the loo, and we were ready to leave after forty minutes or so. Before returning to our path we also made a visit to the Speyside Way Visitors Centre and I signed the guestbook.

We now had just two miles to go (with a tunnel provided for us at one point). The riverside scene retained its charm as we approached another of Telford’s bridges; high above us on the opposite shore stood the Macallan Distillery, a large establishment. Behind the Highlander Inn on our right we located a walkway up to the pub and Gavan went inside to check out dinner arrangements before we rounded a corner into the village of Craigellachie. We passed several galleries and the flower-festooned post office and soon located a flight of stairs already described to us by the Swiss couple last night.

There were 100 steps required to get us up to Leslie Terrace, where we turned left, soon locating our b&b for the night, Speybank. It was 4:40. Our host, Peter, answered our knock, and lead us upstairs to our room. He chatted a bit about the amenities on offer in Craigellachie and we had a bit of a rest. I showered. Then we descended the 100 steps, turned left, passed by the Highlander and entered the bar of the nearby Craigellachie Hotel. We had come here, on Peter’s recommendation, because the place was something special.

The comfortable lounge here was really a form of library – but instead of books there were whiskey bottles on the shelves, over 270 labels if I remember correctly. We asked for a taste of Cragganmore, the product of the distillery behind last night’s b&b, but there wasn’t enough to fill even one glass and the bartender said that it would therefore be on the house. We then ordered two drams of the local Criagellachie label and sipped these slowly. The room was provided with a notebook in which tasters could record their reactions to each of the sampled products. (I liked this afternoon’s Abelour best.) More pictures were taken and the bartender even took one of Gavan and me together, seated side by side on the red leather of a comfortable sofa, the only time on the trip this happened – if you don’t count the timer shots of us at lunch.

Then at 6:30 or so we drifted across the street and took up a table in the Highlander bar. The staff here were very efficient; they were headed by a Japanese barman with a Scottish accent, quite an unusual combination. The people passing in and out of the place included many faces we had seen on the trail that day but I also saw a woman in the livery of Glenfiddich (the Fiddich, a Spey feeder, being just ahead of us now). We had the vegetable soup and I had the scampi while Gavan ate a steak. It was a nice relaxing meal and we were well satisfied.

There was still plenty of daylight as made our way home – but this time we walked past the steps and on to a back road that reached our b&b at a somewhat more humane angle. In the front yard we met our landlady for the first time as she worked on her garden. She quizzed us on our sandwich requirements (“Tuna mayonnaise, please”). Reading and TV did not go on for long. I lowered the tartan blinds and we were soon asleep.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day Six: Craigellachie to Fochabers