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A Toast to the Dava Way

A Toast to the Dava Way

Postby davidbrownie » Tue Apr 05, 2016 7:46 pm

Route description: Dava Way

Date walked: 31/03/2016

Distance: 38 km

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A Toast to the Dava Way!

An Easter caravan holiday in Nairn with wife, kids and grandparents had been carefully chosen to allow access to prime Highland walking country. I had spent an enjoyable Monday ticking off the Tomintoul Spur of the Speyside Way with fellow hill wanderer Karen Brown in anticipation of some future ticking off of the whole route. Now, with the promise of a lift to Grantown from my parents, I was primed for a longish but flattish march across the moors – a better option than the snow-clad Cairngorms for someone yet to replace their old winter boots, and yet to remove their winter layer of subcutaneous fat.

So off I strode from my parents’ car in Burnfield Road in alternating sunshine and mist, stopping only at Grantown Co-op to buy an emergency half bottle of scotch – potentially vital, should I need to clean wounds or light fires, and that sort of thing. Not realising Grantown strayed so far from its High Street, I arrived at the start of the Dava Way, Dulicht Bridge, around 10.45am. A bit later than ideal but, with the clocks just having gone forward, nothing which would necessitate a head torch at the other end.

The first section of gentle incline, up to the Lady Catherine’s Halt bridge over the Grantown-Dava road, is a pleasantly leafy introduction to the walk. I even met a local dog walker. Although two engines would have been needed to pull a train up here, my 43-year old knees barely knew they were hauling over 14 stone of lard. After the bridge, there are a few detours off track to dodge around buildings. At one point, the path is right on the roadside verge. A little further on, after the Dava Way regains ownership of the old railway track, there is another optional diversion 200 yards down a steep bank to view Huntly’s Cave Crag, a historic and picturesque rock-face retreat above a tumbling, wooded gorge. This is perhaps the scenic highlight of the route.

Upon rejoining the railway, the route soon changes in character, leaving behind the woods for increasingly desolate moorland. As the route levelled out, I encountered two German walkers going south by the wooden statue of a Dragoon, who would also have been marching south but to quell Jacobites. After a long, straight stretch of embankment above a silent moor which gave fine views 30 miles northwest to the snow-cloaked hulk of Ben Wyvis, the outbuildings and former station at Dava are reached. A little way beyond, a rather uninviting workmen’s hut, with sludgy floor, is encountered as the route aims for the imposing Knock of Braemoray before veering around its eastern flank. But soon, a much more inviting building is reached. Even though I was not hungry or thirsty, it was past lunchtime, and it would have been churlish not to stop awhile in the lovingly restored Halfway Hut, with its benches, information boards and PIR lighting. I spent a leisurely 15 minutes drinking water, eating, writing in the visitor book and finding to my surprise that mine was the fourth entry of the day (the third being, I presume, the two Germans by the Dragoon soldier). To celebrate the endeavours of those who had provided so selflessly such a welcome facility, I decided to crack open the emergency scotch to have a toast. Now, Co-op’s sub-£7 home brand 3-year old blended whisky may not be the most refined taste (unless you have recently gargled with brake fluid), but it did put a little renewed spring in my step.

Squinting at the bright sun, I emerged from Halfway Hut and headed north once more, but now slight downhill, past Bogeney’s wooden sculpture of a gift-bearing sheepdog (?) and down to Divie Viaduct, where I encountered a whole four people – by far the busiest section of the walk. The viaduct itself is impressive from the valley, but walking over it you only really see its parapets. However, the view down into the gently wooded valley to the east is impressive, as is the view down to the idyllic residence to the west, so I felt obliged to toast the people responsible for this fine civil engineering achievement with some cheap whisky before heading back through the woods to Dunphail, with its excellent, open-fronted wooden shelter and its vicious but thankfully tethered guard dogs.

Despite being something of a mountain goat, my favourite part of the walk was the final third from Dunphail to Forres, where it reveals a tantalising glimpse of the Moray Coast, before weaving playfully through forest glades, over charming burns and past fields of grazing livestock. This was also helped by my determination to finish my whisky before the end. The warm inner glow from the scotch, the ease of the walking and the pleasant surroundings all combined to make this final leg an enchanting experience. “What a great thing to do!”, I said to myself – aloud – upon reading how AJ Engineering of Forres designed, built and installed for free a fine metal footbridge over the Altyre Burn. “What a fantastic spot this is!”, I exclaimed to myself – aloud, and beaming – upon reaching the secretively situated Scurrypool and Squirrel Neuk Bridges. “What a great place to live!”, I declared to myself – aloud, and emphatically – as I looked down an embankment to see a little community of executive homes nestling in the woods a few miles south of Forres. At that moment, the first human in around two hours appeared unexpectedly in front of me. I made a big show of talking to her labrador, which had bounded up to see me, but the lady’s half-nervous, half-amused facial expression told me that I had been busted talking to myself, and no amount of diversionary dog-focused repartee was going to undo that.

A short stroll later, I passed the distillery – something I had been unable to do a few days before on the Tomintoul Spur of the Speyside Way, where the sirens of Glenlivet had lured me inside to buy expensive miniatures. In all honesty, Dallas Dhu was closed when I passed, but I did have my very last drop of the half bottle there – as a mark of respect to all those fine people who have toiled so hard in this industry over the years. It was the least I could do. My parents, returning from a day’s touring, phoned to offer me a lift back to Nairn, and I met them at 6pm by the Tollbooth. Despite spending the final couple of miles practising being totally sober as I wandered through the lovely southern suburbs of Forres past Sanquhar Loch, my budget whisky fumes were unsurprisingly detected by Mrs Brown senior less than ten seconds after I stumbled into their car. Once more, I had been busted for draining too enthusiastically the emergency supply of wound cleaner and fire accelerant.

I thoroughly enjoyed this walk. I want to go back soon and do it again. Maybe I could take a phial of cheap LSD next time, see how psychedelically the second half of the walk unfolds, and write a review in the style of Ken Kesey or Timothy Leary or Hunter S Thompson. Maybe not. I think I would walk it south-north again, not because it involves less ascent (which it does), but because the landscape opens up and the walk matures subtly and gradually, like an epic novel. I certainly fancy cycling this one – the surface, distance and gradients are perfect for a pootler like me on a hardtail. I could cycle south to Grantown one afternoon, stay the night, and walk back to Forres the next day. I don’t think I would want to do both legs in one day, unless I cycled them both, but I can think of plenty of walkhighlands people who might. A toast to the Dava Way – slainte!
Munro compleatist
Posts: 14
Munros:186   Corbetts:2
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Joined: Aug 9, 2013

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