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Strathspey,  The Spey Valley.

The River Spey runs in a deep wide valley from South West to North East draining the North side of the Cairngorm mountains. There is a line of small towns and villages along the river, starting with Newtonmore in the West there is Kingussie,  Aviemore, Boat of Garten, Nethy Bridge then Grantown on Spey.  Whilst the Cairngorm & Grampian Mountains are to the South of the Spey, to its North are the Monadhliath Hills, these are lower and much less rugged than the Cairngorms but still form an impressive barrier which main roads and railways must go around not over.

The Spey Valley or "Strathspey" is dominated by the views of the Cairngorms cut through with the deep V of the Larig-Grhu Pass, this makes a route through the mountains from Aviemore to Braemar suitable for the fit, the adventurous and the just plain mad !

Strathspey forms the principal route North from the Lowlands at Perth through the mountains to Inverness. The main A9 road and the railway both follow the same route being alongside each other for much of the way.

 

Doing it the easy way.

Doing it the hard way !

Overview Map 3..jpg

So why are we so rubbish with snow ?

Basically because we don't get enough of it.  The problem with us and snow, is that in any one place, it does not snow all that often.  In most places, outside of the obvious hilly bits, there is a significant snowfall perhaps two or three times per decade.  Snow clearance equipment is expensive and councils are always short of cash.

When it does snow nit doesn't usually stick around for long, so most councils do not feel that snow clearance kit, that would only get used very infrequently is a justified cost.

The Scottish Highlands, Welsh mountains and other such places are a different matter. Here it snows much more with significant snow several times every year, so the expenditure is not only justified, it is essential.  Without snow-plows to keep the A9 open, most of Scotland north of Perth would starve each winter.

From Perth both road and rail have to climb up to the summit of the Drumochter Pass, which at just over 1,700 feet was until comparatively recent times a formidable barrier, especially as 1200 feet of the climb is in the last 18 miles. This gives an average gradient of 1:76 for 12 miles, in the days of not very powerful lorries and hand-fired steam trains, this was a SERIOUS climb. As your modern train effortlessly glides over the summit spare a thought for the poor firemen who had to get the steam engines up there.

 

As well as the gradient the weather is equally ferocious, there is nothing unusual about both road and rail being blocked by snow despite the best efforts of the snow-ploughs. Having said this, following a blizzard with deep drifting snow, the road and rail will be ploughed and opened in a matter of hours, whilst most of England will be paralysed by a couple of inches of snow.  Its a long way North and a long way up, so there will be significant snow several times every year. This makes investment in proper snow-clearance equipment  viable, (unlike most of the UK) so they have the  kit and know how to use it.

Having got over Drumochter the gradient down into the Spey Valley is much more gentle, both road and Railway run along the valley bottom as far as Aviemore. A few miles further on and both split, the main road and rail line swing North through Carrbridge then climb up to Slochd summit, then cruise down into Inverness. Whilst Slochd summit is over 1300 feet, the gradients are nothing like the climb up from Perth. After Slochd it is a gentle roll down 25 miles or so to Inverness.

After the split, the less main road and railway carry on in the Northwest direction through Boat of Garten to Grantown on Spey. The railway branch from Aviemore to Grantown and on to Forres & Elgin, closed back in the 1960's. However in recent years it has been restored and re-opened as far as Grantown, as a heritage railway, a trip along the Spey in one of their steam trains is evocative of a bygone age and well worth the effort.

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