What better way to celebrate the end of summer, than with a multi-day hike through the Scottish Highlands -- a place (Sarah warned me) where we would need both heavy waterproof gear and anti-blister bandages? Where we could expect to be soaked to the bone with horizontal rain at least one day out of six, and intermittently drenched the other five days? Not your standard sales pitch, to be sure, but I couldn't resist.
I flew in to Edinburgh on August 31, caught a city bus to Waverley Station, then a train to Inverness, and another train to Elgin (surprisingly pronounced with a hard "g"). From Elgin, I planned to take a bus to Buckie, the northern end of the Speyside Way. At the Elgin train station, I looked around for the bus depot, but didn't see any sign of it. There were no area maps posted, and the rail station clerk gave me ominously vague walking directions to the bus depot. As I turned to go, steeling myself for a walk of uncertain duration to an unclear destination, my fellow-walkers Bob and Frank swooped in and rescued me with a lift to Buckie. Hooray!
As anticipated, we met up with Sarah and Bill at the hotel's pub. After a good night's rest, and entrusting our luggage to the care of our taxi service, the five of us moseyed down the street to the coast for the beginning of the Walk.
The official northern end of the Speyside Way features a pair of stones on either side of the path, marked "START" on the side facing north and "END" on the south side. We all posed for group photos with the "START" side showing. We kidded around about taking pictures with the "END" side showing, to create the false impression that we were just as cool, calm and collected after hiking 77 miles. Our biographers should note that we had the strength of character to resist that particular temptation, and that we later paid a heavy price for it (see Day 6).
The Walk started out rather flat. From Buckpool Harbor, the route hugs the shoreline to Portgordon.
There were plenty of wildflowers, especially pinks and purples, as the the path turned from street and track along the coast to "old railway and forest":
The path was flat and wide, and - amazingly - it was not raining. (In fact, we had phenomenal weather throughout the trip.) Everyone was in good spirits.
We soon reached "Speybay, at the mouth of the river." Here is a glimpse of the river Spey from the path. Although the current is quite strong, it is a popular fishing area. Garbed in waterproof wading overalls, fishermen (and the odd fisherwoman) pay for licenses to stand in the middle of the river and seek out salmon.
We went in and out of forest, alongside the river. The trees at some points looked suspiciously aligned, a fact that may suggest to some that this is not ancient forest.
We saw some bright orange flowers in the woods.
We stopped at a small park on the edge of Fochabers, looking out over the Spey.
After dinner, we came back to this area to look for wildlife (a recurring theme). We saw several bats swooping low over the water in great ellipses, chasing insects.
The first day was a short and sweet introduction to the Walk. Sarah and I had the opportunity to explore the town, scope out the best sandwiches, and chat with the owner of the Runners' Shop (per the awning) a/k/a the Leisure Shop (per the sandwich board). The shop primarily sold running gear, but the owner looked to be more on the leisure side than the runner side of things. He was curious about us, however, and very friendly and helpful. He gave us a recommendation for our next port of call on Day 2, which proved to be a good one. Meanwhile, Bill befriended the owner of our B&B, who then staunchly resisted our attempts to provide him with salty porridge for breakfast (he had already placed an order for salt-free porridge with milk and honey). Alas for mischief averted!
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