Scottish Field

REGAL RAMBLING

Whether you’re hoping to find the perfect picnic spot, seek out native wildlife or follow in the Queen’s own footsteps, there is little that Moray, Speyside and the Cairngorms can’t offer, finds Jamie Dey

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Pretty walks and picnic spots in Moray, Speyside and the Cairngorms

What a fantastic range of countrysid­e there is in this region. The sandy beaches and rugged coastline of Moray give way to the bucolic pastures and rounded hills of Speyside, backed by the open spaces of the Cairngorms where the terrain changes from secluded lochs and glens to some of the highest mountains in Scotland.

For starters, Moray’s coast is world class. If the temperatur­e was ten degrees higher in summer it would be attracting the sort of numbers the Mediterran­ean has. Advocating a rise in global temperatur­es is definitely not a good thing though, so let’s hope halting climate change will keep this corner of Scotland in the tranquil state it currently enjoys.

Nairn’s sandy beaches are said to have restorativ­e properties and first began welcoming visitors in the Victorian era. A traditiona­l day of ice creams and sandcastle­s can be interspers­ed with a good stroll in these parts. Further east, the birdlife of Findhorn Bay can be enjoyed before Burghead, while along the coast the mighty River Spey pours into the Moray Firth; another good place for twitchers. For more rugged coastline, Cullen is a place to head with walks towards Portknocki­e. To the east of Cullen, a wild walk to the last remaining ruins of Findlater Castle is sure to excite the senses.

Inland, the Dava Way links Forres to Grantown-on-Spey. This 24-mile route is too much for one day but can be enjoyed in sections, and as it follows the old Highland Railway line it is not too strenuous. Above Fochabers are several family trails in Winding Woods – with the incentive of a bowl of Baxters soup in town afterwards. Meanwhile Meikle Balloch is a great little hill above Keith with superb views across Moray and Aberdeensh­ire.

Speyside has a different feel – lush countrysid­e with endless distilleri­es that define the region. Ben Rinnes, near Dufftown, has its own distillery as well as superb views over to the Cairngorms. Another hill walk from Dufftown takes you up Little Conval and Meikle Conval but for a more genteel stroll head to Craigellac­hie, and afterwards the Copper Dog bar at Craigellac­hie Hotel.

Upriver is the smart town of Grantown-on-Spey, a great base for walking whether it be looking for capercaill­ie in Anagach Woods or heading over to Loch Garten and trying to spot osprey. The Cromdale Hills are nearby and offer a more remote, quieter feel than the summits of the Cairngorms.

The majesty of the Cairngorms cannot be underestim­ated though, with its soaring summits and long glens, dotted with lochs and lochans.

Aviemore is a hub for walkers, and the Old Bridge Inn is one of the best post-walk destinatio­ns in Scotland. Just up the road to Glenmore is Loch Morlich which has become a successful centre for watersport­s. It also has a good range of marked trails around it, below the Northern Corries, standing like ramparts to some magical kingdom. Loch an Eilein in the Rothiemurc­hus Forest is another beautiful stretch of water – a great spot for a picnic.

Above it all is a range of high mountains. Summits like Braeriach are pretty strenuous, but others are more easily achievable. The obvious one is Cairn Gorm which, because of the start high up at the Coire Cas car park, is manageable by most moderately fit people.

A good viewpoint in this part is Meall a’ Bhuachaill­e, reached by passing the Ryvoan Bothy. Here, walkers are rewarded with the sight of the northern edge of the Cairngorms on a clear day.

To the south is Upper Deeside – the Munros near the Glenshee ski centre have the advantage of being easily reached because of a high starting point. But for a hill which lets you gaze across the beautiful region, look no further than Morrone which rises above the birch woods near Braemar. Lower down you can also explore the Linn of Dee and Linn of Quoich, places where mountains meet the ancient Caledonian pine forests.

You may miss the Queen, but it is always worth exploring the lower reaches of the Dee, east of Balmoral. There are places such as the Burn o’ Vat at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve where you can clamber through a narrow crack in a huge rock. Lochnagar is the popular ‘big mountain’ and makes a great day out. For a gentle walk, you can go around Loch Muick. This is Royal country and to call the scenery regal would be an appropriat­e descriptio­n.

The majesty of the Cairngorms cannot be underestim­ated

 ??  ?? Left: Path around Loch Muick in the Cairngorms National Park.
Above: Copper Dog bar at Craigellac­hie Hotel. Below: A hiker and their dog descending Ben Rinnes.
Left: Path around Loch Muick in the Cairngorms National Park. Above: Copper Dog bar at Craigellac­hie Hotel. Below: A hiker and their dog descending Ben Rinnes.
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