Thursday, 19 April 2012

Spey Journey 9th to 15th April in summary...

I would like to thank all the people and organisations that helped make our Spey Journey 9th to 15th April so perfect. This was planned as a luxury trip, designed to maximise being on the river ~ at one with nature, enjoying the wildlife of the river and along the way visiting a few places of cultural and historical interest. Also, however, we wanted to ensure that following a day on the river, we would each night be tucked up in a cosy comfortable bed in a warm, welcoming accommodation which would have in the earlier part of the evening provided the hungry paddlers with a delicious dinner. Our mission was accomplished!

This Spey Journey began at the impressive Tigh na Sgiath Country House Hotel situated by Dulnain Bridge, on the Skye of Curr road. Having just arrived and in the process of completing registration, owner Ian Macdonald- Coulter welcomed us with a wee dram. The tasteful soft furnishings throughout give this lovely Victorian house built in 1903 an innate feeling of comfort and sumptuous living. The bedrooms are no exception. Our lovely room 'Ballindalloch, was exquisite ~ light and airy with lovely view towards the Cromdale Hills and extended into a quaint sitting area in the turret! The bath accommodated my 6'3" frame with room to spare! Dinner prepared by Ian's wife Elaine was delicious ~ with so much to chose from. Great breakfast choice also ~ I had probably my best kipper ever here! Tigh na Sgiath pretty much has it all.

Next day our Journey continued from Grantown-on-Spey under the A95 bridge built in 1931, on down through a 
splishy-splashy bit (technical term) to the very attractive, stone built Old Spey Bridge. With pleasant overhead conditions we paddled through Castle Grant Estate under, the distinctly in need of repair, Cromdale Bridge with on river right the imposing Cromdale Kirk and river left the attractive cottage and garden of probably the Spey's most friendly ghillie, Lionel Main. Many of my particularly English clients require a translation when Lionel and I have a riverside chat ~ often with us both on opposite banks ~ spickin like fowk like us spick.

Lunch was by the infrequently used Tulchan Estate fishing hut at the Gled Pool. Slight drizzle from the overcast skies but our piece of bank was lit by the happy large yellow daffodils 'tossing their heads in sprightly dance'. Not too many fishermen on the Tulchan beats. Ghillie Roddy and his client were both pleased having landed a large salmon that morning. Further downstream ghillies Lawrence and Robert tried to appear happy for their colleague's success when I did my El Postino bit by conveying the news of Roddy's client's good fortune.

Our place of repose at the end of this day was once the house of the pioneer of modern distilling, John Smith who, in 1969, founded Cragganmore distillery. Cragganmore House is run by Award-winning chef Tony Alcott and his wife Helen. Helen met us at the door and very kindly, spirited away for drying our wet footwear, socks and damp over-trousers. This is a lovely, 'quirky' house filled with Helen and Tony's personal antiques collection and historic prints and paintings. Once again we were lucky to be in a turreted bedroom, this time with floors than sloped at various angles, in various directions. The dinner prepared by Tony was simply superb. Presentation of each course was beautiful and the tastes exquisite. Popular with distillery tourists and Speyside way walkers, this is a lovely place to stay, with Cragganmore distillery right outside the back door. Tony does however provide these superb dinners for non-residents ~ well worth a visit.

Back on the river, we are now into the Spey's fastest moving water and more technical rapids ~ including the fast chute, affectionately known as 'The Washing Machine' and further downstream, the infamous paddlers' play-area at Knockando Rapid. This is a picturesque section of the river through Ballindalloch Estate, were close to the lovely castle (sadly not visible from the river) the River Avon flowing out of Loch Avon in the Cairngorm confluences with the Spey. A shorter day for us on the river, we had hoped to visit Cragganmore distillery in the morning. However, we learned just days before that the distillery is having a prolonged 'silent period' until early May to allow for essential maintenance, including boiler replacement. However, once at Knockando the skies cleared and we spent over an hour basking in the sunshine at this lovely location looking off downstream towards the picturesque Slioch Pool. Sadly my friend, ghillie Sandy Smith ~ always immaculate in his Knockando tweeds was on a rare day off (well Sandy says they are 'rare'!).

Sunbathing over we then walked up the hill to our third luxury abode of this trip ~ Cardhu House, a former 7 bed-roomed manse.  Owned and run by Tina and Norman MacGeoch. Norman is a builder to trade and has made an amazing job of renovating this fine stone-built house into a house of contrasts. Outside one views a beautiful stone exterior ~ an excellent example of 19th century Scottish stonemason craftsmanship, clearly recently pointed to perfection. However, once inside one could believe with the white walls, clean lines, window shutters but no curtains, minimal furniture and no clutter the rooms as that of a new build. There are, however, providing in tastefully fashion a 'Scottishness' in the form of attractive tweed soft furnishing on beds and cushion-covers. A nice dinner and breakfast were served in the spotless, airy dining room. Before and after dinner guests can sit by the warming log-fire. Being very close to Cardhu distillery Tina is always very happy to set up visits for her guests.

 Being previously a manse, lovely Cardhu House is situated right next to the most attractive, award winning, modern build Knockando Church. Complete with fine turret, the glass apex to the roof sheds excellent light to the interior of this most attractive church and illuminates the stunning stained glass windows which depict local scenes. After admiring the church we headed off down the hill to another historic gem in the form of the Knockando Wool Mill. A project many years in the making, the complete refurbishment of this still fully operational mill is a joy to behold. It's official opening will be in June once all the final exterior ground-works are completed and finishing touches are put to the repaired and refurbished machines, including huge looms. All credit must go to those folks who have had a passion to see this project to a final worthwhile conclusion and their efforts bear fruit. Visitors can enter the mill free of charge of by prearrangement pay a small amount for a guided tour. Alternatively, for just a few pounds more, visitors can actually try their hand at weaving on the ancient machines. 

Once afloat we steer a course on downstream towards the impressive Carron Bridge, designed originally to carry the main roads and the Speyside railway now still carries the road and the Speyside Way, since sadly in the 1960's the Speyside line fell victim to the axe wielded by Dr Beeching in his rationalisation of eth British Railway system. Having admired and drifted silently beneath the much photographed Victoria Bridge ~ a white painted, metal suspension footbridge ~ we stop at 'Sandy Hole' where we park our craft and walk towards the bustle of Aberlour's attractive village green ~ and into the cosy Pantry for some lovely hot soup.
Within 25 minutes of casting off from Aberlour we have passed below the huge warehouses of The Macallan and reach my favourite bridge on the Spey, the wonderful structure designed by Thomas Telford. Apart from the impressive arching span of the bridge the castellation at either end of the span are stunning.

From the bridge we walk the short distance from the river towards the grand frontage of the Craigellachie Hotel. Entering by the hotel's very sensible 'Sportsman's Entrance' we remove wet footwear and hang them in the warmth of the basement room we have entered. At the Craigellachie Hotel the welcome is as warm as the  cosy, comfortable bedrooms ~ many with a great view towards the Telford Bridge. Internationally famous is the Craigellachie's whisky-bar with the walls literally creaking with shelves loaded with all manner of whiskies ~ mainly from Speyside but others from around the world. Dinner in the Craigellachie Hotel is served in the stunning upstairs dining room, whilst the very ample breakfast is in another smaller room at ground level.

Last day on the river takes us through some of the Spey most expensive and most productive salmon fishing pools. Delfur estate in particular has a over the years landed some of the Spey's biggest monsters ~ pools with names of 'Holy Bush' but particularly 'Two Stones' have yielded salmon of up to 48 pounds. Once again only a few fishers on the banks as we quietly pass by. All anglers encountered were friendly and helpful to us in our passage downstream towards Fochabers and the Moray Firth. Soon we are gliding under the busy bridge on the main road through Mosstodloch and Fochabers. Hereafter to the sea, the channels of mainly shingle and peppered with the skeletal remains of large trees ripped from the riverbank in spate conditions.
Once through beneath the metal lattice-work of the Garmouth Viaduct, we are close to Tugnet and the rollers of Spay Bay, where the fresh meets the salt. The Spey is unique in that it is the only major Scottish river to confluence at a rural location ~ most others before gifting their waters to the sea travel through towns ~ e.g. the Tay through Perth and Dundee.

Once again i would thank all those credited above who helped make this Spey Journey so successful. Thanks also to the staff at the Spey Bay Whale and Dolphin Centre for allowing us to park our vehicle safely in their carpark for 4 days.

Having now completed in excess of 140 Spey journeys I still feel strong emotions when I arrive at Spey Bay. Clients voice great satisfaction having spent 3 or 4 days paddling this beautiful river and arrival at the sea is a great achievement. Once all canoes and canoe equipment is loaded up in the waiting vehicle then we head back up the route of our lovely river ~ home to Newtonmore, at the top end of Speyside ~ where Lady Spey is still but a mere young lassie.

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