Not the OMM: Two days by the Spey

The weekend just gone we were meant to be running The Original Mountain Marathon in Langdale, but with apocalyptic rain and high winds in the week leading up to the event, the organisers took the sensible decision to cancel. We got notice of the cancellation on Thursday, and with the Friday already booked off work, food for a weekend of running in stock and grandparents lined up to childmind, we quickly came up with an alternative plan. The weather was looking best to the North, so we booked in for a discounted two night stay at the Coylumbridge hotel just outside Aviemore, bought a map of the Speyside Way and instead of heading to the Lake District, set off up the A9!

Saturday: East to Grantown-on-Spey

We were up early on Saturday morning, ready for breakfast as soon as it opened. We’d had a buffet the night before so were fairly restrained at breakfast, but still made sure we had plenty of fuel on board for a good day’s running. We planned on about 40 miles in total as an out-and-back run down the Speyside Way. Unfortunately there is little bus service back to Aviemore from beyond Grantown-on-Spey, unless you committed to running ~60 miles right through to Fochabers, and even then the latest bus/train back (via Inverness) made it impractical. We decided to run as far as Grantown or Cromdale, and then return by the same route.

Setting off just after 8am, it was just over a mile down the road into Aviemore where we officially joined the Speyside Way and followed the main road through the town. Turning off right, the way headed under both the main rail line to Inverness and the heritage Strathspey Railway, then through some lovely old woodland before climbing gradually up and over the hill to Boat of Garten on well-maintained paths through a mixture of open heather and forestry plantation with the railway on the left. No trains this early in the day though!

Passing through Boat of Garten, the route drops down to cross the Spey before winding its way through Abernethy forest, on a mixture of stony tracks and forest single-track. Only about 10 miles in to the run, both of us were starting to feel a few niggles as this was both of our longest runs since the London Marathon and Pilgrim’s Ultra respectively. I must admit we were both a little bit grumpy at this point, what was planned as a nice easy day out was in danger of turning into a bit of a grind… definitely glad we didn’t opt to run through to Fochabers! Around mile 12, the path pops out of the woods into the village of Nethy Bridge, which neither of us had visited since Edinburgh University Canoe Club days in 2003 and 2004.

From the old platform – all that remains of Nethy Bridge Station – the route follows the alignment of the Strathspey Railway, so is essentially flat all the way till Grantown. The railway passes through farmland, so lots of gates and stiles, but mostly good terrain underfoot. After about another five miles the route crosses the busy A95, heads past the old Grantown-on-Spey (East) station, and back over the river again. The Speyside Way doesn’t actually pass through Grantown itself, instead via Speybridge and into Anagach woods and off towards the river again at Cromdale. We went a little way further and turned around when we’d made it to 20 miles!

Retracing our steps to the edge of Grantown, we detoured into the town for a quick cup of tea at Maclean’s coffee shop and bakery. We didn’t stop for long, but even so we’d both started to seize up – must have been quite a sight watching the two of us hobble off back in to the woods! Once back on the Speyside Way it was back the way we came, but just a little bit slower than on the way out. The rain came on for a while, giving a welcome reason to stop for a walk while putting on jackets. One highlight to note was a sighting of a steam train on the Strathspey railway in the distance.

By the time we reached Nethy Bridge on the way back we were both struggling to keep up a good pace and we made the sensible decision to cut the run short. We both agreed we had been overambitious with the aim of 40 miles! Definitely a good decision, and we both immediately perked up and actually had a very nice walk back through Abernethy woods to Boat of Garten. We literally missed the Aviemore bus by 30 seconds, so took advantage of the conveniently-located hotel – The Boat – and popped in for a welcome drink and warm up before getting the next bus back to Aviemore an hour later!

In the end we covered about 32 miles, which was more than enough… not counting the extra couple of miles back from Aviemore to the hotel, or the same twice over as we went back out for dinner to Macdui’s bar! We were both knackered and were fast asleep by about 9.30pm.

Sunday: West to Kincraig

With the bonus extra hour due to the clocks going back, we had both banked around 11 hours of sleep and with a more modest mileage planned for the day we were able to have a leisurely start, and a bigger breakfast! We packed up, checked out of the hotel and leaving our car in the hotel car park, set off around 9.30am.

This time we headed straight across the road into the Rothiemurchus estate and followed lovely woodland paths for a few miles before reaching Loch an Eilein. A good track leads around the loch, and we caught up with and overtook a group of about 30 teenagers and a few adults – maybe a school group? A handful of the more enterprising youths gave chase (good naturedly!) for about a quarter of a mile before giving up. We were nice enough not to tell them we’d already run 30 miles the day before 🤣

Past the loch, we took the route marked “Path Not Maintained” – Iain’s kind of route! A couple of miles of rocky and rooty forest paths and we popped out onto wide foresty roads leading down towards Feshiebridge. While the morning had started with the same good weather as the day before, the predicted rain duly arrived. Fortunately it didn’t hang around too long and had largely cleared up by the time we crossed the River Feshie, headed to Kincraig. We managed to make a bit of an accidental detour here, missing the main path and instead following the river bank for about half a mile before cutting back across tussocky fields to rejoin the road.

Passing through Kincraig, the Speyside Way shares its route for a while with the Badenoch Way. After a short windy section through woodlands, the route runs parallel to the railway on a gravel path for about five miles back to Aviemore. A cold wind was blowing in our faces on this section but our legs were feeling much better than yesterday, despite having covered around 15 miles already! Before long we had reached the outskirts of Aviemore and turned off for the familiar mile or so back up the road towards Coylumbridge and the waiting car.

After a stop for tea and cake at the Rothiemurchus “Barn” shop, we set off back down the A9 to return to reality! The rain really hammered down for most of the drive home, so we felt luck to definitely have had the best of the weather over the weekend.

Despite a hard day on Saturday, we’d covered roughly 50 miles together – our idea of a relaxing weekend away 🤣 The entire Speyside Way is over 80 miles long, and we had only run about 25 miles of it. We liked what we found so don’t be susrprised if we’re back again next year – maybe for another family walking holiday, who knows?

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