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Whisky Coastal Trail

I’d been thinking about this route for a while. Internet research had lead to the belief that it’s was worth doing but there were very few technical challenges. It would have been easy to dismiss it and go do something else instead but how wrong that would have been.

The route is not an official way marked trail but it does take in the existing Speyside Way, Moray Coastal Trail and Dava Way marked trails. These are mainly considered walking trails however they do accommodate bikers so a plan was hatched.

The rough plan was to enjoy three days of biking. Day one would be to follow the Speyside Way with an enforced road section between Grantown-on-Spey and Blacksboat. The reason for this is the ‘gates of hell’ section near Cromdale. That section of the route is reportedly full of gates which are not bike friendly and the route is fairly indirect.

Dave and George were planning to meet for days 2 and 3 so my plan was to follow the trail and get as far as I wanted whilst enjoying whatever I found on the way. In my head camping on the beach on the Moray coast was my ideal.

The Speyside Way follows Scotland’s fastest flowing river, The Spey, and mostly follows old train line routes. Luckily the train line was an important tool for the many whisky distilleries of Speyside so the cycle allows some real closeup views of a variety of them. In fact there are a few which the trail cuts through.

After lunch in Aberlour by the Spey I decided to make a slight detour to visit the new Macallan distillery. I wanted to see the new modern design for myself. A wee cheeky cycle next to it seemed to be encouraged so why not. Unfortunately the bike parking rails are in the car park hidden from the building. If it was only my bike I would have gone inside however I didn’t want to risk leaving the bike bags on show. I’m sure they would have been fine.

Next up was Craigellachie Bridge, a Thomas Telford design, the same engineer as the Nethy Bridge and the Caledonian Canal which featured in our Great Glen Way cycle.

The next target was the town of Fochabars. Getting there would be a case of following the Speyside Way route. This section starts to utilise back roads and forest tracks. to be honest the road sections were a bit of a plod but they were at least very quite. There was a fair amount of climbing, more than expected as I was essentially following the river down to the sea.

The route climbs into the woods at Ben Aigan near the Moray Monster trails. Near the summit are views to the coast which boosts the spirits. A visit to the chippy in Fochabars would also help.

Next up was making my way to the coast for a camp. Unfortunately there seemed to be a missing sign on the route so this took longer than anticipated. Note to self – bring a better map.

The coast between the mouth of the Spey and Lossiemouth are littered with coastal defences which were installed during WWII. There are anti-tank blocks lining the beach, pillboxes and lookouts. A fascinating place to spend the night.

Day 2

An early rise for sunset and planning my meet-up with Dave and George in Lossiemouth. Camp was 4 miles from Lossie so I planned to continue along the beach as far as possible. That turned into a bit of a hike a bike. I was too interested in seeing more of the coastal defences that I missed/forgot/gambled about making it all the way along the beach. This eventually turned into a hike-a-bike through dunes and across the river bed! Breakfast in Lossie was very welcome.

Dave and George had cycled in from Elgin, praising the cycle path. Why do we not have such good facilities across Scotland?

Today the plan was to follow the Moray Coastal Trail as much as possible. The route passes through a variety of coastal villages each with their own character. We all agreed that today would be about exploring and enjoying the route rather than setting the pace.

The coast from Lossiemouth to Hopeman had some lovely cliff top singletrack sections high above hidden coves and sandy bays. There were even some dinosaur footprints near the sandstone quarry at Hopeman.

Continuing along the coast to Burghead we stopped to grab some lunch. Dave recalled his memories of being brought up in the area and his insights help George and I understand the area more than just enjoying the views.

After Burghead was the magnificent Roseisle Forest where we rode along the hard packed sand towards Findhorn. Some great riding which might not be so good for the bikes but Dave’s Fatty was in it’s element. The coastal defences are not as well preserved here as the east of Lossie but still made for good exploring. Dave also explained the amount of coastal erosion in this area. Some pillboxes have been swallowed by the sea and sand over time.

Plans were hatched for a camp spot for the night over a pint in Findhorn. A few options were discussed from staying at the pub, Forres or heading back home as it was reasonably early. A couple of pint stops later and we had a plan. Visit the Benromach distillery and then start the Dava Way route looking for a suitable camp spot. George didn’t fancy a night in the bivvy so his plan was to make a day of it and head back home.

The Dava Way follows an old rail line and climbs steadily from Forres to Grantown-on-Spey. Dave and I decided to stop at the Scurrypool Bridge. A great spot however we were lucky that the dreaded midges have yet to make an appearance this year. We bid George farewell on his journey back home, arranging to meet for breakfast in the morning.

Day 3

The day started early and Dave and I plodded up through the forest to the Dava Moor. The views to the East were of the recent hill fire which started the week before. An unusual occurrence in Scotland, in April. The way climbs steadily following the rail route. The half way hut is in great condition and has loads of info in the area and some great photos of the work done making the path

There is definitely a constant climb in this direction. I made a mental note to do the Dava in the opposite direction as it would mostly be downhill to Forres.

Breakfast in Grantown-on-Spey was well deserved. From here we would split to head home. A brilliant ride which really surprised. If I had listened to some of the doom and gloom about it we might not have explored the area. A real mix of distilleries, coastal defences, villages with character and some vey welcoming people. Maybe it would have been a different weekend if we had taken up the offer of the pizza night from the Burghead wifey.

A route to be repeated over one, two or three days. A hidden gem.

Full route: Nethy Bridge -> Moray Coast -> Forres -> Grantown -> Nethy Bridge 120 miles.

Words – Eric

Pics – Eric, Dave & George

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