The Ghost Train runs along The Dava Way, the disused train route between Grantown on Spey and Forres. The walk takes place every two years and I took part in the first on in 2009, but I had first walked the route in 2007, (sorry, no pics) with David on my first ever backpack. I saw this years Ghost Train advertised and suggested David and I walk together this time and he agreed. As the solstice approached, it became clear that the ankle injury David had acquired was still giving him some grief, but he still wanted to walk with me if I slowed down a bit for him, so we set off last Saturday evening to register at 8pm at the pick up point in Forres before taking a bus to Grantown on Spey, as I had done before. The journey went better than last time, buses can make me feel ill, but we were soon in the village square getting ready for the off.
There were about a hundred people at the start, I think 107 had applied and 97 registered to do the walk on the night. At about 9:50pm, the Station Master gave a welcome speech, gave thanks to the volunteers and safety advisers and set us on our way a little ahead of time (when does that ever happen on a real train!) and off we went! Initially, we left the square heading for the caravan park, where the Dava Way heads north into the woods and follows the old railway fairly faithfully towards Forres, with one or two slight detours around obstacles or particularly unpleasant ground where the old track floods.
The walk continues north to Cottartown, then from Lynmore heads NW to Huntly's Cave before turning north again to head east of the Knock of Braemoray. As we were heading across this open stretch of moorland, the sun dipped behind Carn na h-Ath-aoil and we continued on in the semi-darkness, it never quite gets dark at this time of year.
There were refreshments offered at Dava, but there were midgies and as the coffee was not particularly drinkable, we ditched it and ate the sandwiches we'd brought as we continued walking. I cannot say that I was particularly enjoying myself at this point, I have poor vision in the dark and found the stony ground difficult at times at the speed we were walking (it was quite quick, quicker than I had thought or expected) and I was very quiet. In the trees at Bantrach, the full size carving of a Jacobite soldier is now standing, (it has been vandalised on three occasions over recent years, presumably by some idiotic anti-English Scot) we were able to see him from some distance as he had a lamp hanging from his hand. I was not however expecting the train whistle from somewhere over to our left and I may have sworn as it made me jump (sorry Pete). As we walked over the viaduct at Edinkillie, I saw some movement above the side of the wall, but did not react to it. Nor did I react to the chap that was hiding in the dark to my left who said hello. David did start a bit at the movement at what turned out to be a ghost, I don't think he was aware of the chap to my left at all. We continued on our way through the trees to the next refreshment stop.
There were breakfast rolls and hot drinks available at Edinkillie Village Hall, Dunphail, and here we did take a break inside away from the biting terrors, used the facilities and donned an extra layer, hat and gloves before heading out again. We knew that although it had been warm through the night as we'd walked, the temperature would drop around dawn, and so it did. It had also clouded over and so there was not much to see at dawn. It did however improve my mood, which was a good thing, and I was enjoying myself again. Not long after leaving the village hall, a skeleton spoke to us, hidden by the hedge beside a gate. I swore again. Sorry! We were now on familiar ground even to David as this is part of the route we use for our training runs, and our half marathon route, so we strolled along onto Altyre Estate and to the Scurrypool Bridge, where upon another ghost tried to give us a fright, but we'd seen him arrive and were not surprised this time.
In no time at all, we were arriving at Dallas Dhu Distillery, where we signed back in having completed The Ghost Train almost two hours quicker than on my last. We received medals, which I was not expecting, took a photo, then continued for another mile or so to collect the car and make our way home and to bed.
The Station Master
Lady Catherine's Halt
Ben Rinnes in the twilight
Dallas Dhu Distillery
Total Distance 22.4 miles, total ascent, 1150 ft moving time 6 hrs 36 mins and 37 seconds