If you love whisky and enjoy hiking (or the other way around), Scotland’s Speyside Way is the place for you. The picturesque long-distance hiking trail takes you through enchanting landscapes into the heart of the Speyside whisky region. This is the area with the largest number of distilleries in Scotland.
The Speyside Way offers you the chance to combine hiking in the stunning scenery and nature of Scotland with tasting some of the finest whisky in the world, learning more about the history of whisky at each stop.
In this post, you will find all of the information you need to plan a hike in this unique region.
Hiking the Speyside Way
1. Where is the Speyside Way?
The Speyside Way is located in northeast Scotland. This 116km trail begins in Buckie on the coast and then runs south to the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains and ends in Aviemore. It follows the river Spey for long stretches and takes you from its mouth to its wide river valley.
The Speyside Way can also be supplemented by additional routes. The circular route at Dufftown or The Dufftown Loop, as well as the detour to the Tomintoul Spur, take you to other distilleries and can be used for alternative route planning. A recent 34km extension has also been added to the route from Aviemore to Newtonmore.
2. How long does it take to hike the Speyside Way?
The length of a hike on the Speyside Way depends on how many kilometers you want to hike each day and which route you choose. 5 to 8 days should be planned for the entire trail depending on your desired daily walking distance and route. If you want to be on the path longer or shorter, you can choose a different starting point or run the additional routes mentioned above. With Hillwalk Tours you can book tailor-made hikes and choose between gentle, moderate and challenging levels.
It is also worthwhile allowing enough time for visits to the more than 20 distilleries near the trail so that you can fully enjoy your visit to the region.
3. What is the difficulty level of the Speyside Way?
The Speyside Way is classified as a moderate hiking trail and is suitable for beginners. The path is well signposted and has a total ascent of only 2,400 meters (for comparison: the more demanding West Highland Way has a total ascent of around 3,900 meters). The ascent is gentle and especially the first sections are relatively flat.
The Speyside Way uses old railway lines, forest paths and good-surface footpaths for walking over long stretches.
4. How can I get to Speyside Way?
The nearest airports are in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. From here, public transport buses will take you to your starting point in Buckie, Fochabers, Aberlour etc.
If you want to travel by ferry from mainland Europe, you can take a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull, in the middle of England, even without a car. Long-distance buses also run between various European cities and Great Britain. Most of the time you have to change trains here in London and then take the train or bus to Scotland.
Further information is available on the Travel Info tab on Hillwalk Tours tour information site.
Highlights on the Speyside Way Whisky Trail
The highlights on the Speyside Way revolve primarily around the acclaimed drink for which Scotland is so famous. In the numerous distilleries you can not only taste the different whiskies, but also visit their production facilities. Wondering why it’s called whisky in Scotland? Find out here.
In Craigellachie, you can also see how traditional oak barrels are made and repaired at the Speyside Cooperage, a cooperage. The tradition of the Scottish cooper goes back 5,000 years and its production is therefore a direct link with the past. The oak barrel also influences the taste of the whisky and is an important part of the quality product.
Other highlights of the region include beautiful castles like Ballindaloch and Balvenie Castle, historic bridges, and even a steam locomotive that is still in service.
The Speyside Way is not just a special experience for whisky fans. The Scottish mountain landscape of the Cairngorms, lonely moors, quiet forests and the prospect of observing wild animals make the Speyside Way a first-class travel destination for nature lovers too.
The Cairngorms National Park is actually the largest nature reserve in the UK and was chosen by National Geographic as one of the 20 most beautiful places in the world.
5. What makes Speyside whisky so special?
There are a total of 50 distilleries in the Speyside region. 60 percent of Scottish whisky is made here. The Speyside malt whisky is famous for its lightness and its sweet, fruity taste, which, as connoisseurs say, contains vanilla, raisins and spices. The purity of the mountain water, the good growing conditions for barley and a climate that is perfect for whisky maturing have always made Speyside a first-class whisky region.
6. Which distilleries are there?
Glenfiddich is probably the most famous distillery in the region. Founded in 1886 by William Grant, this distillery is still a family business today. It is located in an idyllic valley in Dufftown and offers various guided tours.
A tour not only includes a tasting, but allows you to experience the production of the whisky live. The special highlight is the moment when you witness how the master distiller captures the heart of the distillate from the uniquely shaped copper bubbles.
The Strathisla Distillery was founded in 1786 under the name Milton Distillery and is the oldest distillery in the region that is still in operation today. The distillery has a turbulent history of regular changes of ownership and even bankruptcy. In 1950, the Chivas brothers bought the production facility and since then it has been considered “the home of the Chivas Regal”, a famous blend.
During a tour of the Strathisla Distillery, not only are you allowed to taste and familiarize yourself with whisky, but also to mix your own whisky. The distillery is located in Keith, approximately eight miles from Fochabers and the Speyside Way.
The name Glenlivet comes from the Livet Valley (Glen), in which the distillery was founded in 1824. Since then, the region has proudly maintained the quality standards of the region. Even the King of England and many nobles were fans of this whisky. The standard was hotly contested and gladly imitated, so that in 1884 a court ruling forbade other manufacturers to name their whisky Glenlivet.
You can follow traces of this history today if you take a stroll around the distillery on the smugglers’ route. The Glenlivet Distillery itself is open to visitors and offers various tours and tastings. The distillery is located in Ballindalloch on the branch of the Speyside Way, which leads from Tomintoul.
7. What other sights are there on the Speyside Way?
Balvenie Castle dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest castles in all of Scotland. The well-preserved curtain wall is an imposing example of medieval military architecture and was supplemented by later Renaissance buildings. Allegedly, the annual rent of the castle at the time of construction was one red rose per year.
Ballindalloch Castle was built a few centuries later (1546) and is still habitable today. Mysterious events run through the history of the building. At the time of construction, what was built up during the day was torn down every night until the condition of a mysterious voice was met.
The ghost of James Grant is also said to haunt the castle. You can get to the bottom of these legends during a visit.
The Old Packhorse Bridge at Carrbridge is in fact the oldest stone bridge in the Scottish Highlands. Erected in 1717, it enabled residents to cross the Dulnain River. During floods, the dead could not be brought to the cemetery on the other side of the bank and buried. The construction of the bridge was therefore a great relief and was financed by the municipality.
The Craigellachie Bridge is an iron arch bridge that spans the Spey itself. It was built between 1812 and 1814 and is located in Aberlour. The bridge is considered a masterpiece of engineering and can still be used today by cyclists and pedestrians. She once even inspired the composer William Marshall to write a dance piece.
On the 16km long railway line between Aviemore and Broomhill there is a rare sight in summer: a steam locomotive pulls its plume of smoke through the landscape. Forty years ago, volunteers put this historic form of transport back on the rails of the original highland railway line. The Strathsprey Railway runs parallel to Speyside Way and delights hikers with its nostalgic tooting and rattling.
Accommodation and Food
8. Where can I stay on the Speyside Way?
On the Speyside Way, your next place to stay is never more than a day’s hike away. In the cozy B&Bs along the trail, you can rest your tired feet in the evening and enjoy a warm shower. Due to the popularity of the region and the many yearly whisky festivals, it is worth booking a place to sleep as far in advance as possible.
There are also campsites near the Speyside Way. Even wild camping is legal under Scottish law , as long as you behave responsibly.
9. What is the food like on the Speyside Way?
On the Speyside Way there is not only excellent whisky, the (other) side of physical well-being is also more than taken care of. Along the hiking trail you can stop to eat in hotels, pubs and restaurants, or go shopping in supermarkets. Vegetarians and vegans also get their money’s worth in the restaurants on Speyside Way.
Probably the most famous specialty made in Speyside is Walker’s Shortbread. Shortbread is a type of rectangular Scottish shortbread that is exported all over the world. In addition to the biscuits, you can try other delicious pastries such as meringues, oat biscuits and cakes at the factory in Aberlour.
Close to Fochabers, you can also visit Baxters Highland Village, where the grocer has made more than 100 products, including sauces, canned soups and much more, for over 150 years.
Equipment for the Speyside Way
10. What is the weather like on the Speyside Way?
Scottish weather is famous around the world but Speyside is actually considered to be the driest and warmest region in Scotland. Located between the coast and the mountains, the geographic conditions here still ensure variability and a certain unpredictability for weather forecasters.
The months from April to June are generally considered a favorable time to travel in Scotland. Then there are the most hours of sunshine and less rainfall than in the following summer months. You can find more information about the climate in Scotland here.
11. What must be in your backpack on the Speyside Way?
Your equipment on the Speyside Way must do one thing above all: be prepared for different weather conditions. The following things should therefore not be missing in any hiking backpack:
- Rainwear (jacket and pants)
- Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen)
- Water and refillable drinking vessels
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Hiking socks (pack spare pair)
- Blister plasters and petroleum jelly for foot care
- Snacks for in between
- Hiking map (GPS, mobile phone, compass, depending on your preference)
These are the basics that you should always have with you in your daypack. On multi-day hikes, you will of course need other items, such as warm layers, spare clothes, care products and personal valuables.
When you book a hike with Hillwalk Tours, the luggage that you don’t need in your daypack will be transported for you to your next B&B each day. This has the advantage that you can carry a lot less weight with you and just focus on enjoying the walking.
12. When is the best time to hike the Speyside Way?
May is normally one of the most popular months for hiking in Scotland. The days are long, the temperature rises and the average rainfall is lower than in the other summer months.
But also the spring with the reawakening of nature is a magical time to visit. Autumn radiates romance and coziness with the beautiful changing colours of the leaves and landscape, which goes perfectly with evenings filled with whisky and shortbread.
In winter some of the accommodations are closed and snowfall can make hiking trails impassable. The hiking season here generally lasts from March to October. During this period, it is entirely up to you which time of year you prefer to hike the Speyside Whisky Trail.