Grantown-on-Spey to Ballindalloch

The weather forecast for Monday looked good on Saturday afternoon so I requested my friends to give me a lift from Ballindalloch to Grantown-on-Spey in order to pass my last stretch of the Speyside Way. Then I checked the forecast again on Sunday late afternoon and had a genuine dilemma; it was much worse than before. The main danger was the high winds predicted to develop from Monday morning onwards; no rain was expected. It took me a while to weigh up all pros and cons, and eventually one argument prevailed: with a new hillwalking season approaching I didn’t want to leave that one stretch of uncompleted Speyside Way hanging for months, left to another winter.

After being dropped in Grantown-on-Spey at about 8:30 very soon I immersed into woodland south of the local golf course. A well-maintained, pretty wide footpath was winding its way through the forest towards the village of Cromdale. I heard the wind howling above me, but not in any threatening way; on the path, sheltered by the tall trees, it was a relatively calm and pleasant walk through the pinewood. About 40 minutes later I left the forest and followed a farm track, gradually coming closer to the river Spey, and a bridge over it. The fields were flooded, the river was swollen and fast, and it looked scary when I was crossing it. Having left the bridge I went into the open space without any shelter. The wind was strong and drove rarefied rain onto me. On the right bank of the river there was a church and graveyard. I stopped at the car park there, took off my gaiters and put on my waterproof trousers instead. As it would turn out that was my only stop between the starting and finishing lines.

From there I walked along the tarmac road leading to the village, but walking on a wide grass shoulder and a narrow grassy path there. A few minutes later the path turned slightly right off the road and then went under the bridge into an old railway, turning left to the old train station. The weather was grey and gloomy, but somehow quieter for a little while. The route ran along the railway for about 30-40 minutes, leaving the village on the right and then left it behind. It was gradually closing in to the A95, then ran along, and eventually met it. There I had to walk along the busy road, against the wind and driving rain, for about 100 metres, then I crossed it and started climbing up a relatively steep forestry slope. It was a sort of regular forest track, formerly used for transportation of timber, now mostly disused. Generally that stretch was quite calm as the trees provided some shelter from the winds; only occasionally the gap created by the track worked as a funnel. My main fear was that I would have been hit by falling branches or even crushed by falling trees. Debris on the track clearly showed it wasn’t a purely theoretical threat.

Then I left the forest and started walking through far more open country. I was totally exposed to the powerful gusts of wind, pushing me off my feet and occasionally driving horizontal rain and ice (quite painful on the skin). The route ran between fenced fields, up, or down or across the slope, often very close to barbed wire with the risk of tearing the outfit when suddenly pushed by the gust. Solitary trees, completely expose to the wind, standing along the route were even more dangerous than those in the forest. One particular stretch up hill was unpleasant; it was against the strong gusty wind and extremely nasty horizontal icy downpour. When I eventually reached the spot where the path turned left and levelled, the rain suddenly stopped, and to rub some salt into my wounds, the hills on the far side of the valley were beautifully lit by the sunshine.

Finally I started going down towards the A95 and the stretch I knew from my Boxing Day walk. When I reached the busy road I turned right and took a narrow path running along in close vicinity, but much safer than walking on the road itself. A couple of minutes later I crossed the road and followed the path I knew well. In less than an hour I returned to my car, and that was my second stop on the route…