The Moray Coast Trail - A Challenge

Date walked: 19/06/2021

Time taken: 1 day

Distance: 80.7km

Ascent: 537m

Back in 2015 when completing the Pennine Way I covered 32.2 miles on my second day and at the back of my mind since then I have wondered how far I could walk in a day? In truth, I had no idea but I really wanted to find out.

A couple of weeks ago Mrs Gordie12 dropped me off at the Fife side of the Tay Road Bridge and using a fairly new pair of approach shoes I walked over to Dundee, up the coast to Arbroath then used the back roads to reach home. The distance covered that day was 29 miles with the vast majority on tarmac so these seemed to be my best bet as my feet were fine afterwards. I was confident I could get 29 miles without an issue but what would happen after that was anybody's guess.

Fitness wise, my mileage is well up on 2020, I've done a round trip from the house of nearly 5 miles most days since about mid January and over the last few weeks I've started to do the odd Graham and Corbett so my fitness levels are reasonable as long as I don't compare it to about 4 or 5 years ago as my mileage is less than half of what I was covering then.

If my feet could hold out (and that was my biggest worry) how would my legs do? Would I reach a point where the legs just decided enough was enough and I would grind to a halt? Would the mind just say stuff this I've had enough? Would the shoulders hurt from covering this distance with a rucksack on? So many questions and doubts but only one way to find out.

And so the alarm was set for 01:30am and I was in bed for about 8:30pm on a bright sunny night (recording the Scotland v England footie and preying I didn't find out the score the next day). I lay awake till well after 10pm but finally got off to sleep so I must have had about 3 hours kip before the alarm went off. On the road by 2:15am we arrived in Cullen in good time and I set off on my walk at 04:50am and Mrs Gordie12 headed off home for a sleep.

I walked under the railway arch just down from the square in Cullen and the view just instantly opened up in front of me as I walked on to the beach.

Cullen bathed in early morning light

Looking back at the harbour

Part of The Three Kings on Cullen beach


Looking down on the beach and Cullen from above Cullen Golf Club

At this early stage the weather is really good, the sun is shining and there is a decent breeze blowing whereas the forecast was for a lot of high cloud, no sun and the risk of heavy showers later in the day.

When I arrived at the far end of Cullen beach it looked like the tide was well in so I decided not to stick to the coast and instead I headed round the side of the golf club and picked up a cycle way on disused railway line that took me to Portknockie. Portknockie to Findochty was covered fairly quickly on a grit cycle path which made for easy and smooth walking.


Too early to stop and take in the view


Findochty again

The Mannie watching over Findochty Harbour

The walk from Findochty to Buckie was straight forward and I had reached my 1st goal of the day (Buckie). In my head I had broken the walk down in to stages and my targets were Buckie, Lossiemouth, Burghead and hopefully Forres so one down and three to go. The next stage to Lossiemouth would be the big one and would take me over the half way mark.

Unusual setting for a football pitch



Buckie harbour

And again

Having completed the Speyside Way in 2012 I was familiar with the next few miles (till about a mile after Spey Bay).

At Portgordon I stopped to watch the seals. There was a small section of rocks above the water line and about half a dozen seals had booked their spots early to catch a bit of early morning sunshine with another thirty odd trying their hardest to displace them. Things got a bit heated from time to time and the noise was incredible. I could have watched this all day but I needed to get on. I'm travelling light today so I only have a very small digital camera with me and the zoom isn't enough to give me any decent shots of the seals.

After having stuck tightly to the coastline and passed through a number of small villages all grouped closely together I now head slightly inland to pick up an old railway line that heads towards Spey Bay. After the end of the railway line a path meanders through woods and runs tight to the edge of Spey Bay golf club before coming out in the village. I then followed the Spey inland for under a mile before crossing over it and heading for Garmouth.

Portgordon Harbour

Old railway line

Spey Bay

The River Spey

Bridge over The Spey leading to Garmouth

Garmouth seemed like a lovely little village but I didn't find a shop so it would be Lossiemouth before I could top up my rapidly depleting 2 litres of water. After Garmouth I followed a very quiet road before picking up a wide track running parallel to the sea but in a dip so I could hear and smell it, but not actually see it and this was the case for several miles. The access bridge to Lossiemouth East Beach remains closed so I knew I needed to divert inland and take to the woods to bring me out on a road that would take me straight in to the town. A couple of times I stopped and checked my Garmin but continued on the normal path but eventually I was tempted and took a decent wide path in to the woods and away from the beach. I later discovered I left the coastal path too soon and my decision to head inland early added an extra mile and a half to the already additional 2 mile diversion. I ended up coming out of the woods much closer to Milltown Airfield than I should have been which left me with a much longer road walk than should have been the case. There was never a problem in the woods, I could see clearly the route I was taking to get out and on to the road, it was just a bad choice.

I had been on the road for about ten minutes when the rain started to gently fall, I decided it would be a passing shower and by the time I decided it was more than a passing shower it was pointless putting on my waterproof jacket as I was already soaked. I prefer not to put on waterproofs at this time of year anyway as I find that my clothes dry out very quickly after the rain has stopped. By the time I reached Lossiemouth the rain was pretty heavy and all told it rained for around 50 minutes so a bit more than a passing shower. The road walking was easy, the road is wide and fairly straight so drivers can see you from a long way away and most of the time they gave me plenty of space. In Lossiemouth I bought enough water to refill the 2L I had drunk and celebrated passing the half way mark with a bottle of Fanta. The feet were fine, no aches and pains and around 29 miles covered.

The path between Garmouth and Lossiemouth

Looking back towards the start

Lossiemouth, in view since Buckie but finally feeling like it's getting closer!

The River Lossie as I cross it on the way to Lossiemouth along the road

The closed bridge over to Lossiemouth East Beach

After Lossiemouth I was on familiar territory as I know the whole area well as far as Forres but I have never walked here so that would be new to me.

The walk along Lossiemouth West beach to Covesea lighthouse and beyond to within a few miles of Hopeman was brilliant. The sand was firm and really easy on the feet and having seen Covesea lighthouse countless times (from Lossie) it was the first time I had seen it close up and it is impressive. After Covesea lighthouse I continued along the beach till it ended and then followed a narrow path initially climbing uphill away from the beach then levelling off and following the high cliff tops. It was on the way to Covesea lighthouse that I passed through the 32.5 mile barrier so everything from this point on was a bonus. Once up on the path above the cliffs I saw a sign for Hopeman (two and a quarter miles) and then about twenty minutes later another sign (Hopeman - two and a quarter miles), So in twenty minutes I had gained nothing, that didn't help the mind games!!!

Eventually I saw the colourful huts on the outskirts of Hopeman and I walked on to the harbour where another two cans of cold cold Fanta orange awaited me. After Hopeman it was a short 2 to 3 mile walk to Burghead and my third target town of the day. This section was covered quickly on a cycleway and with the warm sun shining down and tarmac underfoot I could feel the feet for the first time. Nothing bad, just slight discomfort. At Burghhead I stopped for a few minutes to have something to eat and drink. I now had around 13 miles left and for the first time started to believe I could make it to the finish.

Covesea Lighthouse

Coastguard lookout

Hopeman Huts

Between Hopeman and Burghead looking back towards Hopeman

Approaching Burghead

Whilst I needed to stop and eat it was probably the worst thing I could have done. As soon as I got up and started to walk my feet felt uncomfortable and my muscles had tightened up. I was now walking at a slower pace as I went through a caravan park and on to the Burma Road that would take me through the woods to Findhorn ( 7 miles away). Ordinarily the track surface would be fine but after the distance I had covered I found that I was feeling every bump and it felt like hard going even although the terrain was flat. At one point there was deep sand covering the path and it felt like walking through treacle. Anyway, after a few miles I reached a large car park in the woods and a lot of people seemed to be camping and having a BBQ. The smell was so appealing then a few yards off the track I thought I saw a large burger van. At this point I wondered if I was hallucinating and seeing burger vans in out of the way car parks but then I saw a lorry beside it advertising a catering company. After eating a bacon roll that tasted like the best bacon roll I had ever eaten rinsed down with the best bottle of coke I had ever drunk I was fortified for what lay ahead.

I could still feel my feet on the track so decided to take the next path on my right and head over to the beach and this was the best decision I had taken all day as the walking was instantly easier and the views down the Moray Firth and over to the Black Isle were terrific. The next few miles to Findhorn were definitely a highlight of my walk.

On reaching Findhorn I now had 6 miles left but they would all be on tarmac. The sun was still shining, it was a beautiful evening but the wind had picked up and for the first time since setting off it was in my face. Passing RAF Kinloss (on a cycle track running alongside the B9011) I soon reached the junction with the B9089 and that just left 2.5 miles. This bit of road was busier but I was still on a cycle way so quickly reached the pedestrian bridge over the A96 and entered Forres where Mrs Gordie12 was waiting for me.

The Burma Road

And again

Findhorn Beach with WW II defences about to be submerged

Early evening light on Findhorn Beach

The end in sight over Findhorn Bay

Entering Forres

And so I made it to the end, the scratch was itched. I ended up covering 50.1 miles due to my extended detour in the woods to the west of Lossiemouth and my need to visit and wander round every harbour I could find. The Moray Coast Trail was always where I was going to try something as daft as this as it is so flat but it is a really beautiful route and one that I would go back and do again (but maybe over 3 days the next time!).

Back at the car (8:10pm) and having removed the approach shoes I could see a couple of tiny blisters so the shoes really did a good job of protecting my feet bearing in mind the mileage covered.

The data from my Garmin showed as follows.

Mileage - 50.1 miles
Ascent - 537m
Moving Time - 14:00
Stopped Time - 01:20
Moving Average 3.5mph
Overall average 3.2mph

Right, now for the football.............

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Attachment(s) Grahams: Creag Bhalg
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User avatar
Location: Nr Forfar
Activity: Wanderer
Pub: None (I like them all)
Mountain: Ben Macdui
Place: Tiree
Gear: Platypus Hydration System
Member: None
Ideal day out: I love a long walk into a good hill (doesn't need to be a Munro)

Munros: 112
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Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Borders Abbeys Way    Cateran Trail    Dava Way    Fife Coastal Path    Great Glen Way    John Muir Way    Moray Coastal Trail    Speyside Way    St Cuthbert's Way    Rob Roy Way   

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