When I was planning this trip, in my imagination I saw a succession of sunny days (with a light breeze to keep the insects away, naturally). As we all now know, that was not the reality. Just why did I feel it necessary to lug sun protection round Scotland?
However, notwithstanding the appalling weather of the previous days, suddenly the sun had come out and it was just as I had imagined it. Still a lot of water about though, so we took the decision to cross the Spey by a tried and tested method. This meant a few miles along a quiet and rather lovely B road before rejoining the Speyside Way (again an old railway here) at Delnapot. The countryside here is lovely beside the Spey - the only detraction being the extreme proliferation of 'Strictly Private' and 'Keep Out' signs along this stretch - are they totally necessary, one wonders, particularly at what are clearly the entrance to private houses?
Riding along old railways can be a mixed bag: long and straight (of course), they can sometimes be rather dull, especially if you go through many cuttings with no view. Sometimes the going underfoot can be flinty too. This is a good section though, with nice footing, and excellent views of the Spey. Just one minor obstacle - this suspension bridge (too narrow for Doogs with his packs on) which, though well-constructed and perfectly safe, it doesn't half get a fair wiggle on when you're half way across! I landed lucky with a passing walker, who, having seen me unload, picked up ALL Doogs' packs (not quite in one hand, but you get the idea) and manhandled them across the bridge for us. Show off - and where was he when I was labouring over those mountain passes, eh? - Doogs.
The other lovely thing about this stretch is passing all the distilleries - the boys simply loved these! I assume it was the smell of the malting barley and not the thought of a large dram. Doogs insisted on posing next to this one at Knockando.
We left the Way, somewhat reluctantly at Carron, to locate friends of friends who lived nearby - somewhere! I got directions in the village from a woman - we were somewhat humphed to find there was about another four miles to go following her complicated directions - not what you want to hear at the end of a longish day.
How wonderful then, to find, on asking again, that my first informant was clearly some sort of escaped lunatic, and our destination was in fact only a mile or so - oh joy! That mile was one of the quickest we've ever done, notwithstanding that we were tired and it was all uphill, as passing a stud of ADHD galloping Shetlands didn't half get the boys fired up.
The Scotts at Archiestown were kindness itself and made us so welcome. The boys were given extra time in a hayfield too, while I did a couple of interviews with the BBC and Horse and Hound. We were all mightily reluctant to leave...by this stage of the journey, packing up routines were beginning to slow down altogether. Today though, we were to turn our last 'corner' and start heading south - towards home.