Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Spey Valley – The weather best guess

Most of my spare time last week was spent scouring the weather forecasts in the slim hope of finding a bit of the country, just a corner or even a sliver, offering some better fare than the wind and rain that’s dominated of late. On Friday evening, the Spey Valley looked promising with a forecast of light winds, no rain and even a few chinks of sunshine. So bike buddy Graham and I headed to Newtonmore for a mini tour on loaded bicycles. However, the advertised weather never materialised and the forecast might have been more aptly named the “weather wishful thinking” or the “weather best guess”.

Extending northeast from Newtonmore, the Spey Valley is a green swathe forging a way between the Cairngorm Mountains to the south and the Monadhliath to the north and straddling one of Scotland’s great rivers, the Spey. It's dotted with attractive villages, woodlands and wetlands, and some great mountain landscapes. Despite the storm fronts that were always at our heels, there were some pockets of sunshine on our cycle through the glen. 

As we set out from Newtonmore on Saturday morning, early sun broke through gunmetal grey clouds and drenched the valley in a soft, peachy light. Then as we lingered at the Falls of Tromie a few thin rays picked out the lichen-covered branches of the bare winter birch that hung above the foaming waters. Even on a grim day there are plenty of distractions from the weather along this route such as the dramatic ruins of Ruthven Barracks. The barracks are the remains of a fortification from the Jacobite days of the 18th century and sit atop a grassy knoll with a commanding view down the valley. And if you want to get out of the rain you can hide yourself away in one of the bird hides that overlook the wetlands of Insh Marshes nature reserve. In grey weather, the flashes of colour in the blue tits that eagerly pecked at nuts hanging outside the hide really brightened the day.

It stayed dry a little longer as we pulled off the back road to make a cycle-through visit to the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail, tucked in the trees near Feshiebridge. Born in 1931, Frank Bruce was an Aberdeenshire labourer before turning his hands from manual work to sculpture. The pieces interspersed through the woods are all hewn from local trees and rock, and the idea of his sculptures is that one day the elements will eventually return them to the soil. Though some of the sculptures are mildly eerie, it made an interesting distraction from our bike ride. 

The Spey Valley is liberally forested with birch woods and Scots pines, and we hugged those forests as much as possible as we cycled, trying to glean some protection against the gales that almost blew us off the road. At Rothiemurchus, where rolling folds of land are home to one of the biggest native pine forests in Scotland, we voluntarily left the road to cycle around the rough, grey waters of Loch an Eilean and deeper into the woods below snow-covered, stormbound mountains. We nervously pitched the tents under the shelter of a copse of grand granny pines, trusting that trees that had stood here for hundreds of years would survive upright for another night of storms. In the end, we needn’t have worried. The winds eased in the evening, the sky cleared and a gibbous moon illuminated our campsite with enough silvery light that we cast shadows in the darkness.

Sunday morning kicked off with another pocket of sunshine as we kept company with the Spey to Boat of Garten and crossed to its north bank for our return journey to Newtonmore. As we cycled along the Speyside Way, morning light filtered through the birch trees and the forest trail was crosshatched with their long shadows. On our left the snow-covered Cairngorms brooded under a blanket of cloud. We lingered only long enough in Aviemore for Graham to buy a pork pie for lunch and then cycled on passed sulking skiers forced off the slopes by the storms. Spots of wind-driven rain amalgamated into a shower then organised themselves into a downpour. The pork pie was consumed with the rest of the picnic lunch sitting on the cold, concrete floor of a bus shelter at Kincraig, the only protection to hand from the now torrential rain. Whilst its nutritional benefits may be dubious, the pork pie at least provided some calorific value for the battle with headwinds on the last few miles back to Newtonmore.

By the end of the weekend, bad weather and punctures and distractions meant that we hadn't covered much distance on our bikes but it was fun and invigorating and challenging to be out in the wild, winter elements. If you asked me how many miles we cycled then quite a few wet ones would probably be my best guess. 

For all the photos click here or on the Flickr logo.

Fact File
Start/finish: Newtonmore served by Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness trains
Maps: OS Landranger 35 and 36
Route: From the main street in Newtonmore cycle northeast towards Kingussie, picking up the bike path/National Cycle Route 7 signs at the folk museum. Follow NCN 7 signs to Kingussie and towards Aviemore along the B970. Just after Kingussie you'll see Ruthven Barracks then the RSPB Reserve at Insh Marshes on your left. Then south of Feshiebridge the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail is signed to the left. Access to the forest trails of Rothiemurchus is via Loch an Eilean which is signed to the right about 3km before Inverdruie or via the start of the Lairig Ghru route which is signposted at Coylumbridge. The main trails in the Loch an Eilean and Loch Morlich areas are very well made/good surfaces. From Rothiemurchus/Coylumbridge stay on the B970, eventually taking the turn-off for Boat Garten. Turn left in Boat of Garten opposite the shop to pick up the Speyside Way trail to Aviemore. The trail surface is again very good. From Aviemore you can return to Kingussie via the B9152 on the opposite side of the valley to your outward route. We found this road was a bit too busy and switched back to the outward route on the B970 at Loch Insh.  
Tip: If you need any spares or repairs (we needed for Graham a new tire, tube and rim tape) then Mike's Bikes in Aviemore are very helpful - on the main drag, just after the Rohan and Mountain Spirit shops, below the Skiing Dooh bar.


  1. I have it on good authority that a pork pie is highly nutritional :-)

  2. I'm with you on this one Graham. I can't believe that it could be in any doubt (shakes head in disbelief)

    Nice trip though.

  3. You'll be saying next that Guinness is good for you!!!!!!