Dava Way: Grantown-on-Spey to Forres

This is part two of my hike from Aviemore to Forres during a mild December 2015. This section follows the entire course of the Dava Way and ends with an overnight camp in the Culbin Forest at Forres.

The Dava Way for almost its entirety follows the path of the disused Highland Railway line between Grantown-on-Spey and Forres. It’s around 22 miles long and could be walked in a day. It’s much easier to do it in two days, but this requires either smart planning or an overnight wild camp.

We’d spent the night at Gortock Hill in Grantown-on-Spey close to the start of the Dava Way. After a breezy night, we made an early start, moving quickly away from Grantown out towards Dava Moor.

The stretch across Dava Moor is without question the highlight of the walk. The views across the moor are stunning and you have a feeling of wilderness despite being close to the A939 for the most part.

As you approach Dava, there is more woodland and a little shelter. At the entrance to Dava you are routed around the community through woodland and a steep bank. Seems a shame it’s not more welcoming as it feels there is plenty of history here.

Leaving Dava the landscape is dominated by the Knock of Braemory. For the next few miles it becomes very remote. The views are fantastic throughout, and as you push on around the back of the Knock of Braemory there is Halfway Hut – an open shelter maintained by volunteers.

This was the evening of Storm Frank. The winds were picking up at this point, and whilst my tent was freestanding I was looking for somewhere a little sheltered. There isn’t much to be found. I took my chances in a small wooded cutting and then remembered how difficult it can be to get tent pegs into packed ballast!

UPDATE: A word of caution from the Dava Way Association regarding pitching tents across the Dava Way pathway following an incident in the summer when a moorland land manager in his 4×4 almost ran over a tent in the low light of dawn.

It was a wild night. Something pinged at one point; sounded like a guy line, but next morning everything was fast – probably debris from the trees.

I had a poor sleep and struck camp in the dark to push on to Forres. The storm was still set in for a few hours and a short distance along the track came across a healthy tree that had been snapped in half and was blocking the way. A lucky escape more than judgement on this one.

After crossing the Divie Viaduct you reach the Breathing Space at Dunphail – a small woodland shelter and perfect for breakfast.

The Dava Way now starts to make its way over farmland towards Forres. Apart from one farm where the fences were damaged, you are away from the livestock. More trees had fallen in the night blocking the path in several places.

The woodland at Clashdu and Phorp is delightful with the Altyre Burn meandering alongside the path. Flooding near Scurrypool means there is a pleasant but lengthy  diversion after which there are only a couple of miles left to Forres.

Finally the weather improved with the sun breaking through as we were nearing the Dallas Dhu Distillery. I realised at this point it was two days since I had seen another person!

Now I had a dilemma. My car was in Aviemore and I planned to take the train to collect it. It was 30th December and the Highland Main Line had just been closed because it was flooded. At the station, word was that I could probably get back tomorrow. So we headed off the Culbin Forest for the evening. The Findhorn River was probably the highest I’d ever seen it.

Settling in for the night I had a fright when something landed in the tent. A frog had jumped in! Soon the frog jumped out again, and back into the pond – followed by Inca.

The next morning was cold with a heavy frost. A beautiful sunrise and the river had completely subsided. The trains were good and arrived back in Aviemore around lunchtime. The Speyside Way there was now completely flooded.

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