Earlier this year some friends and I decided to challenge ourselves by walking the Dava Way in one day! The Dava Way stretches 24 miles from Grantown-on-Spey near the mountainous Cairngorms to the former royal borough of Forres in Moray. The trail follows a disused Highland Railway Line through changing landscapes of woodland to desolate moorland before the view opens out to the Moray coastline ahead.
And We’re Off!
We parked near the Grantown Co-op, grabbed a coffee, and started the trail! It was beautiful spring morning with nothing but blue sky above our heads. It was shaping up to be a promising day ahead.
There were four of us doing the walk so we left one car at the start and had another car at the end of the route in Forres (free parking available at both places). Both of these small towns have a range of accommodation available but as we were doing it all in a day and had our cars at either end we didn’t need this option. Some people also choose to wild camp and there was a number of suitable places for this on the route. However, please remember to follow the outdoor access code if wild camping.
We used the OS Map and downloaded the route from Walk Highlands. We found the route very easy to follow and didn’t have to consult our OS Map often. When the track line was lost there were markers at junctions showing which way to go. There are information signs throughout the route giving details of the route and your current progress.
The Highland Railway Line
The disused Highland Railway Line that we followed first opened in 1863 and it provided the first service from Perth to Inverness. The notorious stretch across the Dava Moor is exposed, with its highest point sitting at 1052ft above sea level. This area is prone to severe snow drifts and as a result the line was closed just over 100 years later in 1965.
On the 17th December 1880, a train got caught in a terrible snowstorm and had to be abandoned. Luckily all passengers made it out and to the nearest station. The train was later found with 18 metres of snow covering its carriages. The new railway line was created to avoid a repeat of this event.
Lady Catherine’s Halt
The first point of interest on our walk was Lady Catherine’s Halt, an attractive gatehouse and entrance onto Castle Grants private estate. Lord Grant, the Earl of Seafield at the time, gave permission for the Highland Railway Line to extend across his land and in return was granted this beautiful gateway along with a private passenger halt on the line for exclusive use for him and his guests. The name ‘Lady Catherine’ is a bit of a mystery though as the name does not feature anywhere in the Grant dynasty.
As we continued along the tracks, we came to Lord Huntly’s cave crag. It is a picturesque rock face just a short detour from the main path. The craggy face sits over a wooded gorge and as is very popular with rock climbers.
The Dava Moor
As we navigated the Dava Moor stretch of the walk we felt lucky that we had good weather for it. In unsettled weather this section can feel very exposed with high winds and little protection. The Dava Moor felt remote and peaceful, and we enjoyed the still of the land for a while.
We weren’t inundated with nature during this stretch but curiously there were numerous clumps of frog spawn in small puddles on the track. We tried our best to avoid standing on them as we continued along our journey.
The path also climbs to the highest point on the route during this stretch. It requires a gentle hike to the 320-metre summit. After this point it is mostly downhill.
The Solitary Redcoat
As we continued our gradual descent a statue of a Redcoat Soldier came into view. This was erected to commemorate the battle of Cromdale in 1690, when the Redcoats (government army) marched to battle the Jacobite’s during the first rebellion. 300 of the 1500 clansmen were killed in less than half an hour in the battle and it is remembered as a dark day in the Jacobite’s history. The statue has been vandalised several times. Its hand was once cut clean off and marks around its head suggested an attempted decapitation. It appears there are still Highlanders who remember the failed Jacobite cause, although vandalising the statue is probably not the best way to mark their allegiance!
From the bloody battles of the past to the solitude of the present. We passed very few people on the route. There were a handful of people cycling, attracted no doubt by the good paths and beautiful scenery. We also saw a number of horse shoe prints on the ground suggesting it is quite a popular choice for horse riders also.
Before we knew it we had reached the half way hut which has been restored by The Dava Way Association. It has benches inside, lots of information boards and some solar panels. It’s an ideal place to stop for lunch or as a shelter if the weather is bad. We signed the visitor book before continuing our walk.
The line curves to the right and passes the eastern slopes of the Knock of Braemory, a hill that could be included in your walk if you had enough time. Further along we passed the remnants of old railway shelters and an old ruin called Bogeney farmhouse. I think if I was doing this walk over 2 days I would find a suitable place to wild camp around this section.
An Impressive Viaduct
Going over the Divie viaduct means you don’t actually get to see the viaduct from below but the views from the top looking down to the valley and River Divie below are outstanding. We decided on including a short detour so we could see the viaduct from the side. The viaduct has 7 arches and is 145 metres long and 52 metre’s high. It was built in 1860 at a cost of £10000. It is definitely one of the trails highlights and a picture of it is used as the trail’s official icon.
The final stage of the walk from Dunphail to Forres, gives a small glimpse of the Moray coast then follows forest paths, lovely burns and grazing fields with live stock.
The Cattle Line!
Livestock were historically transported on the old railway line from Moray to the major markets in Scotland and England. Dunphail was the major loading point for cattle and it once had the longest station platform in Britain.
A little further on we reached Scurrypool bridge and waterfall stream. This was a lovely spot to stop and admire. It would be a good place to stop for food as it has picnic benches. It also presents an ideal opportunity to cool your feet down in the inviting pool of water.
As we continued North to Forres we passed the Dallas Dhu distillery. It was closed in 1983 but historic Scotland reopened it in 1988 as a visitor attraction – you could definitely stop here for a tour if you have the time.
The Final Stretch!
Our feet began to ache as we walked the final stretch into Forres. Throbbing in defiance with every step. However, we persevered and soon arrived at our car, where we took a well deserved break before making the drive to Grantown to collect car number two.
We were lucky to end up with a fantastic day for walking the Dava Way. It stayed dry and sunny for almost all of the walk sections. This allowed us to enjoy the scenery and stop to take in the different landmarks. From the iconic Cairngorms, through the deserted moors, to the coast of Moray, with glimpses of history sprinkled throughout the route. It was a day we will not forget.
Our Garmin watch read 25 miles at the end of the route and our feet weren’t in any disagreement! It’s safe to say we all slept well that night with another adventure under our belts!
Remember no matter where you go to take only pictures and leave only footprints so that Scotland’s beauty can be enjoyed by everyone who visits.
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