A Tale of Three Rivers and Many Distilleries.
Forecast showed today as being the best in a very wet and stormy week up here on Speyside. Having spent a couple of days slipping and sliding around on very wet muddy forest tracks and paths, I was finally learning the limitations of this gravel bike that’s handled pretty much everything else I’ve tried it on this last year or so. So, for a day forecast to be dry, I decided to plan a route sticking mostly to roads, apart from a few tracks I knew would be manageable and some short off road bits I wasn’t sure of, but could walk if unrideable and were necessary to avoid nastier bits of horrid A road.
I was inspired by looking at the map and realising there were quite a few roads up here that I hadn’t ridden before. I’ve been coming up to Scotland on my bike most years since I was quite young. I’m not young any longer, so in those decades have covered many of the roads north of Perth and Stirling. So was keen to have a look at these roads, the B road running alongside the Spey north east from Grantown and the B9003 which traces one of its tributaries, the Avon from Bridge of Avon with little detours around Glenlivet, following the River Livet, the Avon’s own tributary. An area which must have more distilleries per square mile than most of the rest of Scotland.
Well, it wasn’t dry. A steady, soft, quiet drizzle was in the air from the off as I headed out of Nethy Bridge following the rolling road along to the junction with the A95. I bypassed Grantown on Spey, crossing the very fast busy A95 to access the old road’s bridge that takes you through Speyside woodland and riverside tracks to Cromdale.
At Cromdale I got on to the B road. It proved to be a great little route. Hardly any motor traffic. That’s all on the A95. Leaving me this lovely rolling little ride through woodland with the river Spey, full and fast tumbling alongside, sometimes close and visible, sometimes lost in trees, but still audible. At one point, a steep gorge fell away to my left, almost exclusively lined with mature larches, still in their delicate summer green. Beautiful.
I wanted to avoid the A95 at all costs. It’s narrow, winding, and carries all the big lorries northeast from Aviemore to Moray. So I used a link back down to the Spey from Knockando and then rode the track alongside the river back past a distillery. It’s the Speyside way here, a bit rough in places but rideable. I picked the wrong track when I came to a junction and ended up having to push the bike up a steep narrow path on to the old railway bridge that crosses the Spey to Cragganmore. There’s a much easier way through the fields on to it, if you ever come that way yourself!
Back on the road I soon arrived at another junction with the A95. A short section of it is unavoidable here, even the Speyside Way follows it for a few yards. It is a particularly unpleasant few yards though. Two nasty bends before the turn off to Tomintoul, a right turn from this direction, right on a steep uphill bend. Motor traffic was not moderating it’s speed in this wet weather, massive trucks were sending up huge amounts of spray, and creating disabling gusts of displaced air. I chose to cross over on foot and ride on the grass verge. It would be so easy to put in a little path for walkers and cyclists here, maybe even a bridge.
But once back on a B road, more lovely rolling riding, alongside the Avon, this time. Lovely little river. Then a short circular detour down a much quieter road to explore Glenlivet and follow the river here for a while, then back to the B road alongside the Avon again.
A couple of miles after rejoining the B road, I took a turn down an even quieter road, crossing the Avon to its other bank. Up and down this rough little lane as the clouds above thickened, darkened and eventually the soft drizzle of the morning burst into a torrential cloudburst, so quickly and so heavily the road was a river itself in minutes, under several inches of water, more at its lowest dips and dives. My rainjacket was keeping my upper half dry enough, but I was saturated from the hips down within seconds. Luckily, the constant little climbs kept me warm and there was absolutely no other traffic.
With the ride over half done now, I almost didn’t mind the saturating downpour, the thought that a long hot soak in the bath wasn’t that far away helped me push up the last steep bend.
This quiet lane finally delivered me to the A939 just east of the Bridge of Brown. Here, the rain intensified, and as I launched myself on to the 20% descent, it felt as though bucket after bucket of water was being thrown at me from the roadside. There’s a couple of sharp bends on it, and in the wet, it was tricky to negotiate. Not quite the wild reckless blast down I have managed on past occasions.
The cafe, which sits in the low dip between the two hills, was open. I had planned to stop there. But knew if I did, it would be so hard to come back out into this weather, much harder than just powering on through, and straight up the ascent which, even through the cloud and rain, was visible, winding crazily ahead of me. I comforted myself with the knowledge from previous rides, that the climb looks worse than it is. And rode past the cafe windows, customers inside staring at me, some slightly bemused. One waved.
It may be easier than it looks, less steep than the descent from east to west. But was the toughest bit of the ride still, especially in the heavy rain, bouncing spray off the road.
But once done, there’s a lovely ride on the high road on the tops. And, despite the fairly strong headwind that suddenly sprang up, it was an enjoyable blast along the heather dressed moorland. The rain began to ease and by the time the gradient began to dip slightly once more, there was blue sky and sun. Thats Scotland for you.
Now, it wasn’t long before the sharp left turn down to Nethybridge, a steep, short, fast descent that swings you from wild high moorland to gentle fields and meadows in seconds. Warmer and drier all the time.
A last five or six flat miles in sunshine with a fresh breeze to where I had started, around 60 miles and five hours earlier, for a fresh hot coffee, and a long hot bath.