THE bonnie purple heather is at its best from late summer into autumn and there was acres of it on this great ride around the Cromdale hills.
It starts from a car park beside the road just south of Grantown, where I saddled up ready for a fair bit of climbing early on.
A short stretch on the A95 towards Keith leads to a filter for the A939, signed to Tomintoul. The road climbs quite steadily, rounding the southern end of the Cromdales, with expansive views across the moorland.
There’s little respite until the high point, when the road descends steeply to a sharp zigzag over Bridge of Brown, spanning the eponymous burn flowing below.
To paraphrase the words of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his famous work Leviathan, the climb out is “nasty, brutish and short”.
A sign at the bridge welcomes you to Moray and “malt whisky country”, with more distilleries than you can shake a stick at. I got into the granny gears and puffed up the hill, which twists to make life more difficult, with a campervan struggling behind me, unable to get by until the top. From here on the route is devoid of such nastiness, unless you’re into masochism of course, and I know some cyclists revel in steepness.
A sweeping right-hand bend leads to a minor road on the left – one of the quietest and best sections of the ride. On the right just after the turn is an isolated stone chimney. This is Fodderletter Lum – one of a series of chimneys used by road menders in the 1920s and 30s.
After a day’s work they would erect a portable shelter against the chimney and build a fire in the grate for warmth and to cook a meal.
The minor road wends through farmland for about six kilometres, following the River Avon through Strath Avon. It was a delightful ride on a lovely sunny day with an early autumn chill in the air.
The road comes to an end at Silver Bridge, opened in 1998, where I crossed to the east side of the Avon and turned left on the B9136 signed to Glenlivet, synonymous with whisky production.
On the left, approaching the hamlet of Glenlivet itself, there’s a minor road to the ruins of Drumin Castle – a medieval tower house built in the 14th century. It is thought it may have been erected by Alexander Stewart, the notorious Wolf of Badenoch. The son of King Robert II, he was one of the most evil characters in Scotland’s history, brutally ruling the lands of Badenoch, burning the homes of those who crossed or displeased him.
I crossed the River Livet to a junction with the B9008 and turned left towards Craigellachie, continuing along Strath Avon past the northern end of the Cromdales to a junction with a sharp bend in the A95.
To the left this goes back to Grantown, but there’s a much better way for cyclists to get there, so I turned right on the A road for around three kilometres to Marypark. Here I took a left turn on the B9138 signed Knockando.
The road dips down to a substantial bridge over the River Spey – a picturesque spot where they Speyside Way passes underneath. I decided to take a break by the river before riding on uphill a short way to a junction with the B9102.
Knockando, and yet another distillery, lies to the right. But I turned left to ride back to Grantown, just over 20 kilometres away on this quiet country road. It switches back, up and down, with views of the Cromdale hills to the left.
The road joins the A939 into Grantown where I turned left to return to the car.
Around the Cromdales
Distance 42 miles / 68km
Terrain Mostly quiet roads with sections of busier A roads
Start/finish Parking area beside the River Spey south of Grantown
Maps OS Landranger 36 & 28
A ride through whisky country round the spine of the Cromdale hills, separating Strathspey and Strath Avon