Before taking the first wee steps on the 100 mile-long walking trail known as the Speyside Way, we needed some breakfast. And where better to have said breakfast than at the Cairngorm Brewery? The tour and tasting offered liquid courage and calories for the long road ahead.
The brewery tour guide was an affable old gent, a skilled storyteller who weaved many a yarn as we sipped samples of Blessed Thistle, Nessie’s Monster Mash, and Sheepshagger’s Gold. We even understood more than half of what he said, which is a pretty good percentage. He obviously wasn’t Glaswegian.
We thanked the old man profusely for what must have been the most entertaining brewery tour we have had, and let it slip that we would be taking a bottle of Blessed Thistle with us to open in commemoration of our first day of a distance walk.
“The Speyside Way?” he shook his head, derisively. “What are you doing that for? That’s a boring walk.”
How could walking in a whisky wonderland be construed in any way as boring? He felt a little bad for deterring us, and clarified his verbal trolling with a suggestion to take the Tolmintoul Spur. Everything else is terrible, he said.
We did not let Negative Nellie, or Negative Nessie (ha!), ruin our day. Bottle of Blessed Thistle and package of smoked oat cakes in hand, we set forth on our first-ever long distance walk.
If we did not want to visit more than a dozen distilleries, Walker’s Shortbread, and the only Scottish cooperage open the public, then maybe we might have found the Speyside Way “boring,” and we could have completed the entire journey in about five days. But the whole point of the Speyside Way is that you’re walking along the River Spey, which feeds the heaviest concentration of Scotch whisky distilleries, from small ones you’ve never heard of to giants like Macallan and the Glenfiddich.
As far as the Toumintoul Spur is concerned, it was known for being a fairly difficult stretch of the journey. But it’s not all that bad. We nailed it. In fact, we both absolutely loved everything about the Speyside Way, spur or no spur.
I don’t know what the Cairngorm guy was talking about, this is a really special experience. The walk itself was varied, alternating between flat riverside terrain to tramping through mud. Parts were on former train tracks, others went through fields of cattle and heather, and the spur especially involved highland hill treks. Ironically, the spur was not the most difficult stretch of the walk. We found the most difficult stretch to be the one between Grantown-on-Spey to Ballindalloch due to the poor conditions of the trail.
But there was plenty to do and see along the way, which is why this walk seemed much more appealing than say, the West Highland Way. Given the presence of centuries of whisky history, Walker’s Shortbread, and the chance to visit a working cooperage, the the Speyside Way is about the heartland of Scottish culture. You can see, smell, and taste whisky all along the journey. If you are considering the walk, we can highly recommend it.
We did not plan ahead, but except for a few minor stressors, we managed alright with accommodations in August. For the record, planning ahead would be advisable. The walk itself was uncrowded, and we only passed one or two other groups of walkers the entire way–just the way we like it.
One of the visual highlights of the walk was also the many different types of mushrooms we saw along the way. what I liked least about the walk the ending point being at Buckie, which is admittedly a horrible town with no saving grace. It would be nicer to end the walk in a more pleasant way and perhaps in the future they will consider extending the official Speyside Way to a more appropriate endpoint. I also felt that the food along the way was grim and overpriced, but such is the case with most of rural Scotland.
If you have completed the Speyside Way, tell us about your experiences. Did you enjoy it, or find it “boring”?