On the last Sunday of June six friends, family and work colleagues rode off from The Bothy Bakery, Grantown on Spey on the inaugural Moray Trail Twenty20. The team consisted of John Davidson a friend and journalist from Inverness, my son Eoghain who would be joining us on an e-bike as well as Sarah Williamson from the bakery and friend and mountain bike leader Laura McAuley. I had hoped we would also be joined by bakery owner Kirsten Gilmour and her partner Al, but unfortunately family commitments meant that only Al could join us for a few hours at the start of the first day. Originally I wanted to share our adventure using a PechaKucha style of presentation but eventually decided that a written piece might work better for our SixMoonDesigns newsletter. (Twenty20 refers to riders taking Twenty photos of their ride and donating £20 to a local charity.)
Starting and finishing in Grantown on Spey at the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains, the Moray Trail offers 100 miles of beautiful, varied and accessible trails with 3517 feet of ascent over the route. You will follow the mighty River Spey, past distilleries all the way to the Moray Coast at Spey Bay. Next head west on quiet country backroads and sandy trails in pine forest above secluded beaches with history, all the way to the mouth of another big river, the Findhorn. Finally a steady, gentle climb south on a disused railway line through rich farmland to the dramatic space of Dava Moor before descending back into Grantown on Spey through Castle Grant Estate.
After a coffee at Kirsten’s bakery Eoghain took us on some tracks and lanes to reach the riverside trail. This then cut through some farmyards and forest to reach a nice quiet back road which we followed for ten miles. Our choice of route was not boring and on the way we met two groups of friends who were also enjoying the river, sun and freedom which is apparent from Sarah’s huge smile in one of the shots!
We finally left the pavement after fifteen miles at the curiously named Blackboat where there is a disused railway station. Al had to leave us here and head back over the hills home to Grantown on Spey. Our ride then continued on the Speyside Way past tempting swimming pools, sunlit clearings, distilleries and other folks out on the water in canoes.
The main climb of the day took us across the west flank of Ben Aigan where we were treated to a grandstand view down and across a patchwork of fields, the mighty River Spey and over to the north coast with the mountains of the Northern Highlands visible in the distance. I joked that it was downhill all the way to the sea from here; Laura got the joke as we had ridden this entire section in driving rain in growing darkness on a previous loop!
For a couple of years now Al has switched to riding an ebike to allow him to continue adventurous riding despite an ongoing illness. For this trip Eoghain had rented an ebike to check out how accessible the route was to riders using these amazing machines. It is important to think about how the terrain will deplete the battery, choosing where to switch to manual if possible, or a less draining setting. Resupply stops allow for a quick recharge if the owners of shops and cafes enroute can set up the kit easily. Finally the most important consideration is finding overnight stops where the bike and/or battery can be recharged. Our campsite was super helpful which bodes well for future ebiking on this route.
Upon arrival at our campsite we ordered fish & chips and beers before pitching tents. We enjoyed the usual joy of stopping, sharing the day and joking that all hikers and bikers take part in after a day on the trail. Our five tents were finally pitched on a clean, level and quiet section of the site nicely bookended with a Deschutes tarp at one end and a Haven at the other. Before turning in there was the chance to watch a glorious sunset where the illuminated lighthouse gradually came to life as darkness fell.
The plan for day two was to mix up the route a little with a short section of backroad, a coastal path and finally a trail through the iconic Culbin Forest to the eco-village of Findhorn where a second breakfast beckoned at The Phoenix Cafe. Waking up, campsite coffee, breaking camp, loading bags, cleaning your site, checking the route was all done in a very relaxed manner as we only had 45 miles to ride with no major climbs. However I was conscious that once we did get moving there was at least a Golden Hour with no glitches - there weren’t. By 1130am we were at The Phoenix Cafe enjoying delicious sandwiches, soup, coffee and ice creams all as planned. Eventually we left this peaceful place and got locked into the arrow straight Dava Way which was going to take us home to Grantown on Spey. The twin track allowed us to ride close together to talk about this mini-adventure with a short swim in a pool to break it up a little. As the Cairngorms Mountains (and home) got closer and closer. John asked me if I was happy with how it had gone and I answered that this inaugural ride with some great people had gone as planned.
The Moray Trail Twenty20 will take place on the last Sunday of June each year to celebrate the strength, determination and kindness of Al & Kirsten Gilmour.