The Dava Way
The Dava Way is a cracker of a, mostly, off road cycling and walking trail in north east Scotland. It may not be easy family riding in parts, however it is definitely not technical MTB. It is best described as ideal gravel riding, and will give a reasonable challenge to many families leaving them with a real sense of achievement.
For 23 miles (37 km), it winds its way south from Forres across Moray's wild heather moorland, pine forests and peaceful farmland to Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park, mostly following the route of the now dismantled Highland Railway. It has been designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland's Great Trails, and can be used to link the Moray Firth Trail to the Speyside Way in the south.
Since closure of the Highland Line in the mid 1960's, some of the former track and associated buildings have been sold. Therefore the trail is directed away from the railway at three locations to avoid private property. It is also diverts from the trackbed at another location to avoid a flooded section. These four detours are clearly signposted.
There are a few gates to negotiate along the Way. However, many of these are self closing so you don't have to hop on and off your bike too often.
There are no cafes or shops on the trail, so make sure you carry some water and a snack with you.
The Dava Way passes through (or close to) many places of interest including Nelson’s Tower, which stands proudly on Cluny Hill, overlooking Forres, Sanquhar Loch, the Dallas Dhu Distillery museum, the stunning seven arched Divie Viaduct, the Dava summit, the Halfway Hut (restored as a shelter and picnic point), Huntly’s Cave crags, and Anagach Woods. Additionally, there are numerous interpretation boards along the route pointing out items of interest.
The Route of the Dava Way
Under wheel you can expect a variety of surfaces ranging from ash, railbed stones, and tar. There are a couple of very short soft patches though the route is generally firm. A bike with wide tyres is recommended, for example a gravel bike or mountain bike.
The trail is shared with walkers and occassionally horse riders, so do watch out for them, pass slowly and wide, and exchange a friendly hello.
Where Does the Dava Way Start?
The Dava Way cycle route starts in Manachie Avenue, Forres. See the start point in What 3 Words.
From Forres Town Centre
From the Tolbooth in Forres town centre, go down Tolbooth Street and cross the roundabout following the signs for the swimming pool to join Sanquhar Road.
Continue past Applegrove Primary School on your right, the playing fields, the swimming pool, Forres Academy, and Sanquhar Loch weir where you go up a slight rise and veer right into Loch View Road.
At the end of Loch View Road a path links across into Manachie Rise. Here, take a left leading into Manachie Avenue.
The start of The Dava Way is signposted on your left.
From Forres Rail Station (and the A96)
From the station car park take the cycle path to the A96. Cross the dual carriageway, and take a left following the sign for Town Centre. Continue along the side of the A96 to the first road on the right, the A940 signposted Grantown-on-Spey.
Continue to the A940 to the roundabout where you take the second exit, still signed for Grantown-on-Spey.
Follow the A940 Grantown-on-Spey road and take the third turning on the left onto Manachie Road.
Continue up the hill on Manachie Road, and take the sixth turning on the left onto Manachie Avenue.
The start of The Dava Way is signposted on your right.
The Way begins by winding its way through Sanquhar Woods, home to some very popular MTB Trails. If you are tempted to explore the trails then continue on the Way to the first bridge where you can leave the Way and climb a flight of stairs and head into the woods.
The route then continues past the rear of the former Dallas Dhu distillery. The distillery filled its last barrel in March 1983. The buildings were reopened to the public in 1988 as a museum, run by Historic Environment Scotland.
Shortly after passing the distillery the trail gradually climbs onto a high embankment giving great views to the Burn of Mosset below, and then further on to the far reaching arable landscape.
After descending from the embakment you encounter the first detour from the old track line. It is a short, well signed detour to avoid an often boggy stretch. The detour leads through the adjacent woods to rejoin the former rail line at Squirrel Neuk bridge.
The trail continues past Scurrypool Bridge, a Grade B listed structure which is in effect two linked bridges - one crossing the Dava Way, and one crossing the Altyre burn.
The trail continues towards Cowgreens Wood, and soon again crosses the Altyre Burn, this time on top of a new iron bridge.
The former trackbed now exits the woods and continues south to pass under Peathillock Bridge - pictured here.
You can leave the Dava Way at Peathillock Bridge to visit The Olive Tree cafe at Logie Steading. It is just shy of a mile from the Way, on a quiet tarred road.
A dedicated and way-marked link path between the Dava Way and Logie Steading is currently being designed so access will become easier and clearer in the future.
The former trackbed now passes through grazing land, so expect a few gates before reaching the station at Dunphail. The long platforms, station building and stationmaster's house all still remain and are easily spotted. However, the route avoids passing through the old Dunphail station which is now private property. Again this short diversion is well signed.
Soon after leaving Dunphail you reach the magnificent 7-arch span of the Divie viaduct. The viaduct is dipicted on the waymarkers along the length of the Dava Way.
The viaduct is an impressive feat of Victorian Engineering. It is over 470 foot long (145m), and stands at 106 feet (32m) above the River Divie below. Built between 1861 and 1863 for a cost of £10,231 it has come to be, for many people, the highlight of their visit to the Dava Way.
After the line closed Lord Hector Laing, Baron Laing of Dunphail, bought the viaduct for £90 to prevent it being demolished. It is said that since then over £100,000 has been spent on the bridges upkeep. Most people crossing the viaduct, either walking or cycling, will consider that money well spent.
Further on, the line passes the abandoned farmhouse of Bogeny before curving round the eastern slopes of the Knock of Braemory, a rounded, dome-shaped hill of less than 500m.
Soon you reach another detour, this time through Dava School Plantation, to avoid the private dwelling at Dava Station. Again this is well signed so you shouldn't go wrong.
Leaving Dava School Plantation the Way starts crossing Dava Moor. This is a wide open space, desolate and bleak in bad weather. It is also the highest point on the trail at 1052 feet (320m).
You descend from the moor into a tree lined cutting where you can take a short diversion to Huntly's Cave and Crags. The story goes that the cave is named after George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly is said to have hidden here after his Royalist force was defeated in the early 1640s. The crags above the cave are popular with rock climbers.
After exiting the woods the way leaves the old rail trackbed for a short section at Cottartown, before rejoining it just before Lady Catherine's Halt. Lord Grant gave permission for the Highland Railway to cross his land if they a private halt on the line for him and his guests. This has come to be known as Lady Catherine's Halt.
At Lady Catherine's Halt you cross the road, and then wind round the back of the Caravan Site before. Immediately after passing the caravan park, leave the railway and follow the road into the centre of Grantown-on-Spey.
If you want to follow the Dava Way on an a paper map then you'll need either the Sustrans Cycle Map of the Cairngorms & Moray, or a map of the Moray Coast Trail, or the local OS map (all available from Amazon):
Other Nearby Cycle Trails to Try
Other family friendly cycle trails to explore in the north east of Scotland include:
The Isla Way
The Isla Way is a 13 mile cycle route and walking path joining the world's malt whisky capital, Dufftown, to the market town of Keith. It follows the River Isla for much of its way using a mixture of tracks, paths and public roads.
The Formartine & Buchan Way
A long distance cycle route and walking path running from Dyce railway station through rural Aberdeenshire along the route of the former Formartine and Buchan Railway Line, with links to Peterhead and Fraserburgh.
The Tarland Way
The Tarland Way is a family friendly 6 mile route joining the historic village of Tarland with the bustling town of Aboyne. A great combination of purpose built path, and quiet country roads through the Howe of Cromar.
The Deeside Way
The Deeside Way is a 41 mile long, disused railway line that runs from Aberdeen to Ballater. With loads of ways to get on to the Deeside Way your cycle can be as long, or as short as you want making it ideal for cycling, and especially family cycling.
History of the Dava Way
Prior to 1863, if you wanted to travel by train from the central belt of Scotland to Inverness then you had no choice but to travel via Aberdeen. However in July 1861 an Act of Parliament was passed which allowed a railway, the Inverness and Perth Junction Railway, to be constructed between Forres and Dunkeld. The stretch between Forres and Aviemore was opened just two years later in August 1863, and it is this stretch, or at least the stretch between Forres and Granton-on-Spey, that is known as the Dava Way. This new railway cut around three hours off the journey time, and was well used with 2,367 passengers recorded as using it during the last week of January 1865.
The Inverness and Perth Junction Railway combined with the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction Railway to form the Highland Railway in February 1865.
As locomotive technology improved it soon became possible to climb the Slochd and Drumossie Muir from Inverness. So a more direct line was built between Inverness and Aviemore, opening in 1898, and in so doing relegated the Highland Railway's Forres to Aviemore route to a secondary line. Despite this, the Forres to Aviemore line continued to operate until October 1965 when it was closed as part of the Beeching Cuts.
After closure, parcels of land that were once associated with the line were sold, and nature took over. However, in 1997 a voluntary organisation, the Dava Way Association, was set up to redevelop the Forres to Granton-on-Spey section. Negotions started with landowners, and by 2003 sufficient landowners were on board to allow clearing work to begin. In January 2004 AJ Engineering designed, constructed and donated a bridge that allowed the major crossing of the Altyre Burn. This major part of the redevelopment allowed the Dava Way to be officially opened on 18th September 2005. Since then the Dava Way Association has continued to put in hundreds of hours of volountary work maintiang, and improving the Way. Find out more about their work on their website.