There are long stretches on road, and on old railway line too. Scenic as these stretches might be, they’re a trudge for the feet. Ideal for the less experienced walker, perhaps, but after a while it’s easy to be longing for the forest track sections that form the bulk of the remainder of the trail.
I walked the trail in April 2022 (apart from a tiny section which I had walked on my TGO Challenge of 2019), with my LDWA colleague Graham Smith for company.
See how we walked the Speyside Way
The Speyside Way also has a 15-mile spur across moorland from Ballindalloch to Tomintoul. It looks inviting, totally different in feel, but I’ve not walked it. Completion isn’t essential to have ‘claimed’ walking the Speyside Way.
There was once a spur from Craigellachie to Dufftown, still marked on some maps, but due to erosion this is no longer an official part of the Way.
Towns and villages
Start and end points are the fishing port of Buckie on the Moray coast and the Highland village of Newtonmore. It seems most folk walk the 86 miles inbetween ‘uphill’, from Buckie, but this seems perverse to me, so we took the ‘downhill’ route – though since the uphill route only gains an extra ten feet per mile on average, there’s no real difference.
There are six small towns strung along the way at convenient intervals. Walking downhill, the first is Kingussie, capital of the Badenoch district, followed by Aviemore – with little more than 3,000 souls, it’s no great size, but it seems far bigger, for this is a four-season tourist mecca with an emphasis on the outdoors. Grantown-on-Spey has a totally different feel; it’s a handsome planned town of the 1760s, designed to encourage locals to settle in an urban setting rather than the croft system then prevalent.
There’s then a long gap of more than 20 miles to the whisky town of Aberlour. Grantown has a near-twin in another planned town, Fochabers, and from here it’s a good day’s walk, almost entirely at or near sea level, to fishing port of Buckie. Its population of just over 9,000 is almost equal to the other five towns put together! Alas, the fishing trade is not what it was, and the town has had some recent struggles.
There are many small villages between the towns that have at least one, if not all four, of those walkers’ staples café, pub, shop and rooms. Newtonmore is the first; not far from Kingussie follows Kincraig; and between Aviemore and Grantown you will find Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge. Cromdale follows shortly after Grantown.
But then there’s no village with services, unless you count the ‘official’ (!) wild camp site at Ballindalloch, till Craigellachie (which has a similar site) the other side of Aberlour. Beyond Fochabers, there’s Spey Bay aka Tugnet (with a café) and, shortly before Buckie, the one-time fishing village of Portgordon.
The only rail stations * on the route are at the southern end, in Newtonmore, Kingussie and Aviemore. All are on the Highland main line from Inverness to Perth, with direct links to Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.
These three locations have bus and coach services too. Aviemore, Grantown and the villages between are linked by a good service but, other than an occasional service from Cromdale to Grantown, there’s then a gap to Aberlour and Craigellachie, which have services to Elgin. Fochabers, Portgordon and Buckie also have buses to Elgin, and indeed to Aberdeen too. Elgin is on the Inverness to Aberdeen rail line.
* Perhaps you could also count the heritage rail station at Boat of Garten.
Tourism is an important industry on Speyside, and there’s plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets. In season however, it’s wise to book ahead.
That said, there are long stretches where there’s little to be found, particularly between Grantown and Aberlour. For Graham and me, that was a bonus, as we wanted to wild camp. We used the site at Ballindalloch, and found a nice field near Boat o’Brig south of Fochabers.
A nice field near Boat o’Brig