The Speyside region, in north-east Scotland, is mainly known for one thing: whisky. And with good reason – this small area is home to as many as 50 distilleries out of a total of some 120 distilleries across Scotland. So it goes without saying that the destination is popular with whisky aficionados. Yet the area around the River Spey has more to offer than Scotland’s beloved spirits. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenery, adventure activities and a fascinating history in Speyside. So here are 8 alternative reasons to visit Speyside for your perfect highland hiking experience.
8 Reasons to Visit Speyside
Not a fan of whisky? Don’t worry, the Speyside Way could still be the perfect walking route for you. After all, the path not only passes distilleries, but also through unique natural areas and along fascinating historical heritage. Those curious about the landscapes, castles, adventures and wildlife of the Scottish Highlands will not lack anything on this walking route. And did you know that in addition to the famous whisky, Speyside also produces unique beers?
1. Walk the versatile paths
The Speyside region is in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. The Speyside Way is a walking route of 116km (72 miles), that runs right through this natural area. The trail passes dozens of distilleries, hence it is also called a whisky trail, but that’s not all. This route offers hikers a special variety of landscapes to enjoy.
The Speyside Way Whisky Trail traverses heather, past mountains, through forests and along rivers. The start of the route follows the coast of the Moray Firth, where walkers can enjoy beautiful views. The route ends in a national park, filled with the special flora and fauna of the Scottish Highlands.
2. Ballindalloch Castle
About halfway up the Speyside Way Whisky Trail is a special historical landmark – Ballindalloch Castle. If you are curious about the history of Speyside, you should definitely take a look at this impressive building. The history of the castle dates back to the 15th century.
During a tour of the castle and gardens, visitors can learn all about this history. For example, you can find out about the different periods in which parts of the castle were built. View the rare artifacts and paintings on display in the building. And discover which members of the Macpherson-Grant family have inhabited the castle over the years.
3. Spot dolphins in Spey Bay
The River Spey, after which the Spey region is named, flows into Spey Bay. This nature reserve is known as one of the best places in Europe to spot dolphins. Sometimes the dolphins can even be seen from land! The area surrounding Spey Bay is a vibrant ecosystem that is home to seals, otters and ospreys in addition to dolphins. Can you spot any of these wild animals in Speyside?
4. Travel back in time in Dufftown
There are many idyllic villages in Scotland, but Dufftown has to be one of the most picturesque places in Britain. The traditional buildings, wide streets and iconic clock tower – which used to serve as a prison – give Dufftown a particularly nostalgic impression.
If you really want to take a trip back in time, you can visit Balvenie Castle one kilometer north of Dufftown. This is a different experience from the aforementioned Ballindalloch Castle, as Balvenie Castle only has ruins left. Still, the castle ruins give a good idea of what this original twelfth-century castle once looked like.
5. Go on an outdoor adventure
The end point of the Speyside Way Whisky Trail is the town of Aviemore, located in Cairngorms National Park. This versatile environment offers numerous possibilities in the field of sports, outdoor and adventure. It is not without reason that Aviemore is seen as the Scottish capital of adventure.
Those who enjoy a challenge or are looking for an adrenaline kick can go here for a wide range of activities. There is more than enough to do for the adventurous traveler. For example, take an adventurous walk in a ravine or go downhill on a mountain bike. Keep your cool while rappelling down a mountainside and try to keep your feet dry on a white water rafting trip down the river.
6. Watch the steam trains
The history of Speyside is not only in the whisky and the castles. Part of the Speyside Way Whisky Trail runs along old railway lines that are part of Scotland’s National Heritage. For example, at Dufftown the path crosses a National Heritage railway. The route also follows a historic railway line between Boat of Garten and Aviemore, the last leg of the Speyside walking route. Fun fact: these railways are still in use. Hikers therefore have a great chance of seeing a steam train pass by.
7. Visit Cairngorms National Park
The Speyside Way Whisky Trail ends in Cairngorms National Park, one of Scotland’s most scenic areas. This mecca for hikers and nature lovers consists of mountains, extensive forests and heath. This variety of landscapes also ensures a great diversity in animal and plant species.
About a quarter of the UK’s rare and endangered species are found within the boundaries of the Cairngorms National Park. It is therefore an important protected natural area within Europe. Cairngorms National Park is home to wild cats, snow hares and capercaillie, among others. Get to know this special environment and its inhabitants on one of the hundreds of hiking trails in the national park.
8. Try locally brewed beer
Not a fan of whisky, but curious about other alcoholic drinks in Scotland? Speyside not only has distilleries, but also several breweries. Those who prefer to hand in the glass of whisky for a specialty beer are still in the right place in this region.
Get to know one of the local breweries on a guided tour, or ask for Speyside beers in the pub in the evening.