Bikepacking on the Moray Way – from Grantown to Lossiemouth via the Speyside Way and NCN
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“This looks like it’s going to be a three ice-cream kind of ride,” the WhatsApp message flashed up from Jim. On a hot summer’s day, it certainly sounded like our laid-back approach to this two-day bikepacking expedition was the perfect way to start the summer holidays.
We were meeting in Grantown, where Jim Sutherland, who had organised this little outing, lives and where the Bothy Bakery, just out of town, made for the perfect starting place.
The bakery was officially closed, but that was part of the reason we would be riding over a Sunday and Monday, so that a few staff from the bakery could join us. It also meant we could enjoy a peaceful coffee before we took to the saddle for the first day of our micro-adventure.
Along with myself and Jim, Jim’s son Eoghain would be joining us on an e-bike as well as Sarah Williamson from the bakery and friend and mountain bike leader Laura McAuley. Jim had hoped we would also be joined by bakery owner Kirsten Gilmour and her partner Al, but unfortunately family commitments meant that only Al could join us for a few hours at the start of the first day.
With the team in place and introduced, and a good shot of caffeine to get us ready, we hit the trail, led by Eoghain, who also works part-time in the bakery before school. He led us on a nice little route over the Old Spey Bridge and onto a track alongside the River Spey.
We would more or less follow the river downstream – downhill all the way, as Jim promised more than once – from here to the Moray Coast. While much of our route would be on the Speyside Way, local knowledge suggested that we would make better progress by following the B9102 from north of Cromdale to avoid the plethora of gates along this stretch of the long-distance trail.
Al was also riding an e-bike and the increasing popularity of these part-powered pedal devices became a topic of conversation over the two days. Al turned to an e-bike after going through chemotherapy as a way of being able to continue riding, and he told me he wished he’d got one much earlier.
Eoghain played about on his hired e-bike as we went along, and it really came into its own on the couple of really steep climbs at Boat o’ Brig and Ordiequish – as the rest of us cursed under our breath while he powered up with ease!
To me, e-bikes are a great way to allow people to stay active, travel further or continue cycling when they otherwise might not. They are also great for day-to-day travel and more and more for local business deliveries, while high-spec mountain bike versions really open up a whole world to those who might struggle to explore wild places without that extra bit of help.
Back on the route, we rejoined the Speyside Way proper at Blacksboat, where the old station building transports you back in time. Al headed home from here while the rest of us continued, now on the old rail route, to Aberlour, where we stopped for a hearty lunch.
True to his word, ice-cream number one for Jim followed a fabulous burger, all enjoyed in the summer sun as we relaxed on the green. It wasn’t easy to leave this wonderful spot, but we still had more than half the day’s ride to complete, so we made our way along the riverside route to Craigellachie and up a minor road and forest tracks behind Ben Aigan.
What I would have given for an e-bike here! Finally, as we rounded a corner, the view down to the Moray Firth opened up for the first time and, not for the first time, there was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that it was all “downhill from here”.
Between here and Fochabers there were the two aforementioned steep climbs, complete with twisting hairpin bends, as well as more fantastic scenery as we made our way closer to the sea.
After making our way through Fochabers, we hit the road for a spell before finding a forest track back on the Speyside Way – then losing it again as we headed too close to the river which had cut off one or two of the alternative routes closer to the water.
We retraced our tracks before continuing to the former railway bridge at Spey Bay, which makes for a spectacular crossing of the river’s meandering channels to reach Garmouth.
The bridge originally opened in 1886 and was closed in the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. Today it takes walkers and cyclists over its 950ft length and is part of the national cycle network, which we would now follow towards Elgin as we made our way to Lossiemouth, where we would spend the night under canvas.
Minor roads lead through the rolling Moray countryside until we turned right off the cycle route and joined the busier B9103 that leads into Lossie from the east.
We made our way through the town and out to the campsite beside the Covesea Lighthouse, where we enjoyed a well-earned chippie and a beer or two as we watched the sun set on the perfect evening.
There may even have been another ice-cream or two as the light stretched long into the evening, turning the sky a fierce red behind the lighthouse and suggesting that the next day might just bring its own delights as well.
* Read about the final day of the trip in next week’s Active Outdoors.
The Moray Way – Day One
Distance 55 miles / 88km
Terrain Tracks, paths, minor roads
Map OS Landranger 27, 28 & 36; Harvey Speyside Way
A Spey descent with plenty of ups and downs