After our kick off dinner in Sale (don’t try googling “Sale United Kingdom” – a place name will not be your first hit) and a night in Buckie at the Rosemount Guest House, we got a relatively early start for our first and easiest day – about ten miles to Fochabers.
Fortified by Indian food the night before, and a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, which seems to be a Highlands favorite (and kippers for some!), we retraced our steps to the trailhead we had supposedly already located. After a few wrong turns that took us down some alleys we made our way to the edge of the Firth of Moray. We walked on a well laid path by glassy silver water, passing small cottages where various inhabitants gave friendly, but rather bemused greetings to our party of six hikers.
It was five miles to Spey Bay. Wild flowers were everywhere – scarlet poppies, pink and purple foxgloves, brilliant yellow gorse. And lots of animals, too. Many dogs were being walked; sheep grazed contentedly; and a family of grey seals swam beside us for part of the way.
We stopped for lunch at Spey Bay, which is part of a dolphin research center. It features two old ice houses, a small museum, a path to the sea amid the rocks, but most importantly, a bathroom and a picnic table. We were also introduced to the dread Scottish midges we’d been warned about.
The trail then cut inland through varying landscapes – planted pine forests of serious uniformity, native forests filled with an abundance of different trees, riverfront with anglers fly fishing and wearing thigh high waders, and small paths between fields. The weather changed from rain to sun and back again on a steady rotation. At one point we passed someone who must have been a birder – wearing a most peculiar garment that may have been an oil cloth coat – something I’ve read about but never actually seen. Not a lot of hikers though.
We arrived in Fochebers in mid afternoon. Entering the very small town via a park with a river vista and a manicured bowling green, we made our way to the Gordon Arms Hotel, and managed to find the sole pub in town for a post-hike pint. The hotel, a faded, rambling place, had the only actual restaurant in town. We sampled six different Speyside Way scotches, and feasted on game pie (venison, partridge, and pheasant), haggis in cream sauce (surprisingly good), and cullen skink, a thick soup boasting smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions.
Day 2 of the hike was supposed to be more difficult, and our one reserved distillery tour at The Macallan, as it’s known, was at 3 pm. Hence, we took off early and set a brisk pace, even counting breaks, which were few and far between. Day 2 presented fields, forest, and some very muddy uphill that was the equivalent of 160 floors according to my faithful Fitbit. And wildlife today included two deer and rabbits (which seem exceptionally large and warrant the title of hare, I think).
After 13 or so miles, we arrived in Craigellachie about 1:30. We stayed at a lovely small guesthouse, likely the nicest place we would stay. There was a beautiful garden and slippers in the rooms (which the daughters and boyfriends took and used religiously for the rest of the trip – I’m sure they will end up back at their homes in Boston and New Orleans).
After a picnic lunch in the hotel lounge we decided to forego the walk to the distillery and splurge on a taxi. The Macallan is very aware that it is an impressive operation – they don’t even let you take pictures in the manufacturing areas – lest their secrets be revealed I suppose.
Craigellachie is a very small and seemingly high end tourist town- with an expensive dress shop and nowhere to buy food. It seemed like an appropriate place to have dinner at The Copper Dog, a well known Scottish restaurant that, according to J, is being replicated in Dubai!
Finished the day with wine in the drawing room of the hotel – contemplating the number of miles tomorrow would hold.