This particular adventure has been tricky to write. It was a 6 days that we did in 5, skipping pieces along the way (What?? isn’t that cheating?) It was described by Walkhighlands as a challenge; sometimes pathless (oh yeah!) river crossings (spah-lash) and not always clearly marked (bring it ON!!). To ramp up the difficulty, we were doing it backwards, from Aviemore to Fort William; I had printed the maps before leaving Montreal, and they would be our sole directions since a backwards description is nothing if not confusing.
I was accompanied by my favorite (only) long distance walking companion, the one and only Small. The description peaked our interest, with the aforementioned warnings; ooohh, tricky!!! She was about to embark on a major educational venture, who’s description I will forgo so as not to embarrass her (VERY proud mama). The walk was everything I wanted to see, the mighty Cairgorms, and the Highlands hills.
Day 0 (zero)
We started in the Cairgorms, arriving in the town of Aviemore the day before we were to leave. Once settled, we had a little climb just behind he hostel to get a view of this great range.
This was one of this trip’s easy climbs. A way to enjoy the scenery, warm-up the machine after an all night ferry, and give us a small feeling of accomplishment. Tiny hills can be rewarding way beyond the effort expended, and they were a useful diversion a few times on this trip.
Day 1 Aviemore to Kincraig 16.5 km
There is always a kind of thrill starting out the first day of a new walk. The unknown, the ‘just how lost will I get’. It was a good day though, through forestry and actual woods, past a spooky ruined castle on a lake and a stand of magnificent scots pine.
There were a few navigational errors, the downside to the backwards route. Looking for a left turn, we took off through some scrubby territory, and corrected by finding a path in what looked like (and was) the right direction through the woods. Leaving the Inshriach Forest we messed up again, which took us beyond our cut-off at Feshie Bridge, into Glen Feshie as a matter of fact and to this lovely view. Hard to complain when this is what a mistake looks like.
After correcting, we crossed the river Feshie, and taking a path along the side of the road, found our way into the Frank Bruce sculpture garden, another opportunity for confusion. That’s a lot of oops in one day, and by the time we reached the Loch Inch Sport Centre and Lodge, we were ready to stop, not retrace our steps (which we did) to find the Lodge. The evening, with a pint and dinner looking out over Loch Inch, was a balm and the massive breakfast a great start for the next walking day.
Day 2 Kingscraig to Newtonmore 24.5 km
Given that we spent the previous evening on the shores of Loch Inch, we skipped the first, loch-side sections of the official trail (I know, slippery slope, here we go…). The quiet road leading towards Badenoch Way was still beautiful and for wrong way walkers this particular trail was a boon, since it was signed both directions, and counted easily for ¾ of the days route. (hint: the Walkhighlands description of the Badenoch Way is in the same direction we were walking – had we known…)
The walk through the forestry was clear as were the tracks through the hamlets of Inch, Inveruglass, and Drumguich; a bucolic setting with some great views over to the Monadhliath Mountains to the north. At the far end of Inish Marsh, before leaving the path, there is a beautifully designed view point of the marsh integrated into an interpretive hut. The weather was quite warm as we walked along pavement past the Ruthven Barracks.
This could be a nice stop, but we were shooting for Kingaussie (pronounced Can ya’ See). After refreshments in the town’s central memorial park, we decide to try an alternate route up over Creag Bheag, a hill to the north-west of the town. Normally, the route goes around the base of the hill to the east but climbing is a diversion for tired legs and minds, and it did not disappoint. There were excellent views from the top (tops), a different, rocky landscape and the feeling of accomplishment.
This route down proved somewhat trickier to find and follow, but we are no strangers to picking our way down heathery slopes along a barely/non existent paths. Full open views meant that we could see the route we were trying to intercept below. The rest was largely farm track walking, sometimes mucky, until arriving at Croftdhu Steading. From here, we opted to walk right into Newtonmore, our destination, instead of detouring on the Wildcat path. We stayed at Larik Guest House for two days, the most luxurious of our lodgings over the course of this trip.
Day 3 Newtonmore to Feagour (via Laggan) 24 km (ok, prob 20)
This was day we’d been waiting for. The warnings were multiple (pathless, river-crossings, difficulty), and we were out of road range for the better part of it. The first section did not disappoint. Glen Banchor between two sets of hills cut us off from any activity and we largely followed the river Calder. Walking, I noticed many paths off through the hills to the north, and enjoyed wondering where they might take us another time.
The river crossings were manageable, and we corrected our only real misdirection by one of those (now) famous descents of a long heathery slope.
Once emerged from the valley, using a very faint path, we crossed a meadow and performed some fancy fence gymnastics because of a path problem of our own making. We were put off by a very unpleasant section of the main road (A86) to get to Laggan, and staying the course was a bit of a challenge but onward we went. The road leaving the village was charming and the views bucolic so once we arrived at the forestry we were determined to complete this section. But the best laid plans…took us out off the route via a wrong turn cutting this 8 km section in half. The day ended at the Wolftrax mountain biking centre with a lovely bowl of soup, and our lift home via the amazing scenic route through Breakachy was a bonus.
Day 4 Feagur to Inverlair (actually, Moy to Auchluchrach) 18 km
I took a whole lot of kms off this day, so that I could add a few to the end and spend the night at a lovely hostel I had stayed at two years earlier, Àite Cruinnichidh.
The first part of the walk, was largely through forestry, but with some excellent views to the hills on the other side of the Glen Spean.
Sweeter though, was the walk beyond the projected end of the day, out of a forested hill, and down to the banks of the River Spean. This was a micro landscape, skirting or walking across sheep fields, past beautiful trees and Monassie Farm, all along the base of Ben Chlianaig. Turning back, to reach the hostel, we waked along the farm road, over a suspension bridge, and along a beautiful smoothed rock rushing gorge.
Day 5 Auchluchrach to Spean Bridge 10.5 km
Although this was not a very long day initially, it did end with the very long walk, with our packs, to the Glencoe Hostel.
Our walk, which was very lovely, continued following Bein Chlainaig through farm fields, meeting some interesting characters who announced the impending holidays (Jewish New Year)
A Shofar is made of rams/sheep horns (no need to buy, just wanted to show you one, and it is not doom related, mostly lots of family and food). Further on we passed signs for Courror and Kinlochleven, leaving me to imagine future cross country walks. After a snack in Spean Bridge, we got a local bus to Fort William where we picked up our bags, some groceries, and ended our day in Glencoe, a short bus ride and long walk away.
*shofar is he rams horn, blown during the jewish new year festivals