The Speyside Way is one of Scotland's Great Trails and it runs for 116km from Buckie on the shore of the Moray Firth coast in a south-westwards direction to Aviemore and Kincraig on the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains.
For much of its route the trail follows the valley of the River Spey and passes through the heart of the Speyside Whisky region. This area has the largest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland and the whiskies produced in the more than 30 distilleries there include some of the most famous in the world, such as Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and The Macallan.
The first section of the route, from Spey Bay to Ballindalloch, was opened in 1981. This has been extended over the years with a number of additional route options such as a loop walk to Dufftown, the home of Glenfiddich, and a spur from Ballindaloch to Tomintoul which passes by The Glenlivet distillery. The route is currently being extended past Aviemore and Kincraig to Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie.
The well marked trail offers, for the most part, easy and level walking, often on former railway tracks, a military road and on forest tracks. As well as the many distilleries along the route there is also plenty of nature and wildlife and the route passes through pine and birch woodland, over heather moor and along riverside tracks.
Map (with distilleries shown as small 'stills', locations with 'golden stills' offer visitor facilities)
The Speyside Way Whisky Trail starts at Buckie on the coast of the Moray Firth, a large roughly triangular inlet (or firth) northwest of Inverness. The trail follows the coast to the mouth of the river Spey at Spey Bay. Here the route turns south and follows the course of the river to the town of Fochabers and onwards past Rothes, located on the other side of the river, to Craigellachie. Rothes is home to a number of well known distilleries, such as Glen Grant, and the famous Macallan distillery is located near Craigellachie.
At Craigellachie many hikers pay a visit to the fascinating Speyside Cooperage, where whisky barrels are made and repaired using traditional methods, before taking a detour on the Dufftown loop, which passes the Glenfiddich Distillery and Balvenie castle. The Speyside Way then continues along the Spey past Aberlour, home to Walker’s famous shortbread, towards Ballindaloch.
Here many hikers will take another detour which crosses some higher ground as it leads from Tomintoul to Glenlivet, with its distillery, and back to Ballindaloch. After Ballindaloch the trail again shadows the River Spey on its way to Grantown-on-Spey where the route enters the Strathspey, or wide valley of the Spey. From Grantown the route leaves the river Spey for a while and passes through Nethy Bridge and close to Loch Garten, with its Osprey Visitor Centre. From Boat of Garten the trail follows the tracks of the Strathspey Steam Railway to Aviemore and you might see passing steam trains.
Aviemore has been the finishing (or start) point of the Speyside Way Whisky Trail for many years. It is located at the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains which form part of the UK’s largest national park. The town is famous for outdoor sports and is known as the winter sports capital of Scotland. The route is currently being extended past Aviemore to Kincraig and onwards past Loch Insh to Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie. However, at the time of our last visit in early 2019 this work had not been completed yet.
For much of the route the Speyside Way Whisky Trail follows fairly level and well-maintained footpaths and tracks. They often run beside the river and on former railway tracks and pass through woodlands and heather moors with good trail surface throughout.
While the route slowly ascends from the mouth of the Spey towards Aviemore the climb is generally slow and gentle. The main route stays in the valley of the Spey and for the most part looks towards the hills and mountains rather than climbing into them. The exceptions are the Dufftown Loop and the Tomintoul Spur which are more undulating and cross higher and, in places, more exposed ground. But here as well the paths are good and the climbs are short and not difficult.
Aggregate ascent over the whole route is approximately 2,400m, and there are almost no sustained or steep climbs. The highest point on the Speyside Way is Carn Daimh with 570m above sea level. It is located between Tomintoul and Glenlivet, on the wildest and most spectacular section of the trail.
Elevation Profile (Main route, not including the Dufftown Loop and Tomintoul Spur)
Terrain by Stages
Buckie to Fochabers: Gentle, well maintained trails along grassy paths and forest tracks, with a short section of road walking through Portgordon. Initially beside the North Sea, then turning inland, next to the fast-flowing River Spey.
Fochabers to Craigellachie: Roads, forest tracks and paths. Fair amount of up and down, slightly muddy in places. Long sections of asphalt walking.
Dufftown Loop: First half to Dufftown offers easy walking along an old railway line followed by more rugged trail from Dufftown to Aberlour. One steep but short climb.
Craigellachie to Ballindalloch: Flat terrain next to the River Spey on paths and tracks along the line of the old Speyside Railway.
Tomintoul Spur: Clearly defined paths and tracks across beautiful, though exposed, mountain side and moorland. A gentle climb to the highest point on the trail at Carn Daimh and a moderate climb to the hill of Deskie between Glenlivet and Ballindaloch. Can be slightly muddy in places.
Ballindalloch to Grantown-on-Spey: Rolling hills and forest tracks interspersed with sections along the old railway line.
Grantown-on-Spey to Aviemore: Pleasant hiking mainly along the old railway line but also on peaceful forest paths and tracks.