Rene’s taking down the bunting on the clock tower, so it’s bye to him too. Back to the B&B to pick up my bags – and fix them securely to the bike, but I manage to break an arm of my glasses – the spare pair are deeply embedded in my luggage of course, so it’s an impromptu repair, which doesn’t work too well – until now on the train, I realise that headphones will help keep them on!
Some of my ideas aren’t so good. The notion of taking a scenic route to the train to get home from Dufftown seemed good at the time, but either I didn’t read the map carefully enough or underestimated the struggle of getting my fully loaded bike over the Cabrach to Rhynie and thence onward past Ardmore Distillery to Insch. I also neglected to look at the weather forecast, and what started out as a sunny if windy day turned out very windy, cold and rainy for a while.
Anyway, I didn’t want to use the normal route to Keith, as I had until 18:00 to get to Aberdeen, so off to the Cabrach. At least the A941 south of Dufftown was less busy than the A920 to Huntly had been last year, and it’s only a few metres higher at the highest point (70 actually), what I hadn’t spotted was just how low the route got between two highs. Hardly out of Dufftown, stopped to take my bearings, when Colin, whom I’d first met on Friday, pulls up in a van that would have been eminently capable of getting the bike in it – but he’s heading for Elgin, so I decline the chance to alter my plans – despite starting to realise the wind is stronger than I thought and seems to be against me.
The route would also give me the opportunity to visit the famous Grouse Inn near Cabrach – an amazing whisky bar in the middle of nowhere - 273 whiskies on optics! Plus an amazing collection of other whiskies on display. But that was still to come after the first “peak”, which was certainly a struggle with the luggage. And the downhill sections can’t be fully appreciated because of the wind.
The first hill is brought to an end by descent into the upper reaches of the Fiddich after it’s passed Auchindoun Castle. Colin has pointed out that the property he’s renovating is next to the Castle, but I must have got the wrong view or wrong angle as I couldn’t spot one. But it’s soon back to the uphill struggle – apparently this road is the Glacks of Balloch, think I may want to rearrange some of those letters. Once at the top, as predicted the descent into the valley of the Deveron (it doesn’t seem to warrant a Strath according to the map, or even a Glen despite what Macduff Distillery call their whisky) is slow thanks to the wind. Near the bottom, Bridgend gives the choice of following the Deveron to Huntly or head on into the Cabrach. Choosing the latter soon brings you to the star attraction – the Grouse Inn. It’s about 3 miles from the hamlet of Cabrach, and the only other thing nearby is Barrel Creations who sell old whisky casks made into all sorts of things – next door to the pub.
I can’t do the place justice on this fleeting visit, but have time to look around and promise a return visit. The location is spectacular, even in the uninspiring weather today – on a good day…
I’m assured that the next hill isn’t as bad as the one between the Grouse and Dufftown – and so it proves – though a higher and longer climb it’s steady and never steep, as the road follows the Deveron towards its source on the slopes of The Buck, not as high as Ben Rinnes, but still dominating this area. As with Ben Rinnes, The Buck still has a few patches of snow left.
Finally the top of the pass and the drizzle that has accompanied the climb ceases, to be replaced by a break in the clouds and soon some sun – but it’s still cold and windy. At the top I choose to veer off onto the B9002 for the descent to Strath Bogie. Leaving The Buck behind, the Tap o’ Noth dominates the Strath and the small town of Rhynie. Music suggestion for the day: I keep remembering a song sung at one of the first Spirit of Speyside Festivals I attended – “I’ve nivver bin tae Rhynie” and I’ve found the lyrics! Having now been through Rhynie…didn’t seem to be much there.
Hurrying on, a right turn under the Tap o’ Noth’s little brother the Hill of Noth for a cut through to Kennethmont and the Ardmore Distillery. Not much to see that’s different from last year at the Distillery from the outside – must get a visit next year. But I thought I’d noticed that the old station buildings had been done up as we rushed past on the way up, and sure enough there’s a couple of guys working on it to turn into a des res. Would be convenient if trains still stopped there!
Still 5 miles to Insch and I’ve got 50 minutes to get there having discovered that the train is at 16:02 not 16:16 as I’d thought – plenty of time though it’s hard going into the wind. Unfortunately, I reach Insch with time to spare so head into the village intending to get a roll or something. The baker I went to last year is closed until further notice for staff training(?). So Costcutter across the road, but I don’t take enough time to get off the heavily loaded bike properly, and end up sitting in the road under the bike. Declining the offer of help to pick up the bike from a passing white haired lady with a stick(!), I do eventually need some assistance from the shop staff who help me pick up the bike. A few cuts and bruises, but I’ve somehow cut my index finger under the nail I think, and it won’t stop bleeding. I’ve probably left a trail of blood along the street back to the station, and there was definitely some blood on the platform - I didn't have the presence of mind to leave blood on the tracks.
This rather dominates the trip to Aberdeen, keep pressure on it but to no avail. Something to keep my mind off the tossers who insist on putting luggage in the bike storage area, and the noisy sproggs joining the train at Inverurie. Having injured myself hurrying for the train, I now discover the Leeds train is 18 minutes later than I thought and the following train would have done nicely. Still what better way to spend an early evening than bleeding in Aberdeen’s Union Square – particularly as the only ATM available wants to steal £1.99 for the privilege of getting at my money. I’ll manage with plastic thank you, I’m bleeding enough already!
Eventually manage to stop bleeding enough to go into a shop without getting strange looks for some food for the journey home. At least the train is announced early and I can get on and start typing with some fingers. Anyway the weather’s getting worse – Tay Road ridge barely visible when we cross the Rail Bridge – then suddenly heading across Fife it’s turned into a beautiful evening – I’ll have to take some pictures from the Forth Bridge.
Now to look to some of those samples, Mike was doling out on Monday night. I’m not on a ScotRail train, so apparently I can drink on the train after 21:00 without waiting for the border!
Pictures from Wednesday are on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633490359748/