“Experience one of Scotland’s ‘Great Trails’ on an adventure of a lifetime as you explore whisky Country, the hills of the Cairngorms and discover the true peace and serenity of our countryside.“Visit Moray speyside
The Speyside region of Scotland is renowned for its stunning landscapes with the River Spey and Cairngorms Mountains, its rich heritage which is closely connected with its famous whisky production, and an undeniable sense of community and pride for the traditional culture here.
This 8-day itinerary allows us to walk village to village and inn to inn, with two distance options each day ranging from 6 to 15 miles. Along the way we’ll explore the sites, meet the locals, and relish the hearty traditional food. This is also our first ever ‘whisky trail’ which ensures daily stops for tours and tastings to learn about and savor the craftsmanship that is integral to this region.
The Speyside Way is the most famous Scotland trekking route, following the valley of the Spey – Scotland’s second-longest and most dynamic river. The Speyside Way covers just over 65 miles from Buckie on the Moray Firth coast to the village of Aviemore in the foothills of the great Cairngorm National Park, passing through the heart of whisky country, and crisscrossing the river. It is considered one of the easiest of Scotland’s long-distance hiking routes, but still provides a good challenge traveling through an ever-changing landscape. The quiet path follows the course of the river through villages, forests, mountain highlands, moorlands, and river valleys.
The trekking is all inn-to-inn, meaning you get your exercise during the day but sleep in a comfortable Scottish inn at night. Distances average 10 – 12 miles for the long route each day, which is highly doable but quite an effort when you do this for a week running. Short route options average 5 – 7 miles and involve a shuttle.
Scotland’s reputation for dramatic landscapes makes it an ideal destination for outdoor lovers. What makes the Speyside even more unique is its long-standing tradition of whisky culture intertwined within the remarkable terrain. The Speyside route is actually most famous for being the area with the largest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland, and is home to some of the world’s most celebrated single malt Scotch whiskies
The art of whisky production is passed down through generations in Speyside. The distilleries here often follow traditional methods, emphasizing craftsmanship, attention to detail, and quality, which is reflected in the rich flavors and distinctive characteristics of Speyside whiskies which are typically floral, fruity and fragrant, as well as smooth and subtle. We visit on average a distillery each day with options for other whisky tastings; you do not need to be a whisky drinker to enjoy this tour.
The Ideal Scotland Trekking Route
We think the combination of the Speyside Way and the concentration of whisky distilleries makes the Speyside Way the ideal Scotland trekking route. Beyond the picturesque and tranquil landscapes and the deeply ingrained whisky culture, however, we think you’ll enjoy the people of Speyside who are known for their warm hospitality and strong sense of community, the numerous historic sites and castles that offer a glimpse into the historical significance of the area, and simply enjoying all that is magnificent about Scotland.
Note: For a similar trek, consider our Hadrian’s Wall Trekking Adventure in England.
Photo credit: Visit Moray Speyside
Private Tour Info
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- Dates: September 19 - 26, 2024
- Cost Per Person: $4,400
- Single Supplement: $800
- Private Tour Minimum: 4
- Activities: Trekking, whisky tasting, history & culture
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Guides: Sally Bruce, Stephanie Vidergar
- Hiking inn to inn along the Speyside Way Long Trail
- The ultimate Scottish experience of exploring the whisky country
- Experiencing the Tomintoul Spur via the highest village in the Scottish Highlands
- Admiring the vast peaks and breath-taking surroundings of the Cairngorm National Park
- Becoming wiser about authentic whisky as you indulge in the drams
- The accomplishment of completing a long trail from the largest national park in the UK to the Moray Coast
This trip is doubly fulfilling as you get to both hike a ‘long trail’ and discover the ‘water of life’ (whisky) of the region. We follow the full trail with the exception of two 'spurs' we'll explore; one that is considered the most spectacular day of the trip and a second to visit the quaint and historic whisky capital of the world. Each day we’ll walk inn to inn, with the long route mileage averaging 10-12 miles. For the short route option we’ll start out together, and you can expect to hike 5-7 miles before getting picked up at a designated location. Most days we’ll have a plan for a scheduled and informative whisky tour and tasting (optional) or we’ll provide the group with details about the opportunities where you can stop, explore, and taste on your own. Whether you are a whisky drinker or not, the history and culture of the traditions here are interesting enough to simply enjoy the learning along the way.
DAY 1: Aviemore to Boat of Garten
We’ll meet after lunch at ‘The Snug’, aka the Speyside Distillery visitor center, in the quaint and touristy town of Aviemore for a welcome dram of whisky to send us off on our adventure properly. After introductions we’ll head out of the village on the Speyside Way Trail — surrounded by Cairngorms National Park — through the woodlands and across the moorland of the Strathspey. While the trail does not parallel the River Spey this day, it is a great introduction to the trail and the landscape. Our destination is the village of Boat of Garten, where the trail follows the tracks of the Strathspey Steam Railway offering the chance to see passing steam trains. We’ll arrive to our hotel, nestled in a picturesque setting, with time for a welcome drink and hearty dinner to prepare for the adventure ahead. Distance: 6 miles
DAY 2: Boat of Garten to Grantown-on-Spey
Today is an easy-going section of the Speyside Way surrounded by gorgeous scenery as we head toward Cairngorms National Park — the UK’s largest — awash with mountains, glens, lochs, culture, heritage, and the darkest skies. Leaving Boat of Garten we’ll head into the northern part of Abernethy National Nature Reserve and the largest remaining area of ancient Caledonian pine forest in Scotland and then follow the old railway line to the charming village of Nethy Bridge with its four Telford bridges and historic drinking fountain. We’ll continue on along forest paths of the Anagach Woods toward Grantown-on-Spey, founded in 1765 by Sir James Grant as an industrial town of mills and factories. Today there remain several streets lined with grand stone buildings, offering quaint shops and pubs to explore. After time to wander the town and find lunch on your own, we’ll meet for a 25-minute shuttle to our destination for tonight. Tomintoul is a classic Highland town, (and the highest village in the Scottish Highlands) featuring Victorian architecture against a backdrop of pine forests. For those ready for their daily whisky, we’ll meet at the Whisky Castle Shop with the rarest malts and the largest bottle of whisky in the world. We’ll taste a couple of their suggested drams, then enjoy dinner at a local restaurant in the village. Distances: 11 or 5 miles
DAY 3: Tomintoul to the Glenlivet Distillery to Ballindalloch
The route today is the most challenging of the trip, along a ‘spur’ of the Speyside Trail that is said to also be the most spectacular section. The Glenlivet & Tomintoul Spur of the Speyside Way takes walkers off the main long distance route to discover the higher and more rugged parts of Speyside. It runs from Tomintoul, through Glenlivet, joining the main path again at Ballindalloch. Leaving Tomintoul, the path climbs over the moors up to the panoramic viewpoint of Carn Daimh looking out at the surrounding Cairngorm Mountains, before descending to the famous Glenlivet Distillery. Founded in 1824 as the first licensed distillery in the area, it sits in a wild and remote glen with a history laced with drama and intrigue. This is a great place to wander and learn about their history, as well as enjoy the whiskies by the dram or as a cocktail in the Drawing Room Bar. You’ll have the choice to linger at the Distillery and take a shuttle to the end of today’s route or continue on the route, crossing the River Livet and over the Hill of Deskie descending to Ballindalloch where we’ll join the main route again. For those who prefer whisky over more hiking, this afternoon we’ll plan to visit the Cragganmore Distillery in Ballindalloch for a tour and tutored tasting of three of their finest single malt whiskies. Tonight we stay at the Delnashaugh, a historic inn nestled within the wooded glens of Ballindalloch Estate. We'll celebrate our day with a locally sourced dinner in house. Distances: 15, 9 or 6 miles
DAY 4: Ballindalloch to Charlestown of Aberlour
Today’s section of the trail is a lovely hike on easy terrain, following the banks of the river with sections along the old former railway line — now a flat and grassy track — through mixed scenery of wooded valley, riverside, and farmland. We also begin the official descent into the true heart of the whisky country as the names of settlements you pass like Knockando and Aberlour reveal. Today also offers a choice of less hiking and a bit of history and culture instead. Start the day with a visit to the Ballindalloch Castle & Gardens in the morning to explore 500 years of Highland history, acres of formal gardens, and peaceful woodlands — one of the finest surviving examples of a Scottish Baronial Castle that has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546. If you choose the Castle visit, you can also enjoy lunch at the Castle Tearoom before taking a shuttle to meet the group for the second half of the day’s route. If you prefer to hike the full route, we’ll head all the way to the village of Charlestown of Aberlour and be sure to arrive in time for our daily distillery visit there at either the GlenAllachie Distillery or Aberlour Distillery. Or you can treat yourself to a traditional afternoon tea in town. Dinner tonight will be at the historic Mash Tun Pub & Whisky Bar. Distances: 12 or 6.5 miles
DAY 5: Charlestown of Aberlour to Dufftown to Craigellachie
Ready for trekking in the heart of whisky country? Detouring off the Speyside Way one more time, we’ll head to Dufftown, where once there were at least nine thriving distilleries, including one of Scotland’s best-known: Glenfiddich. Leaving Aberlour we’ll take on a gradual climb with a nice highland view at the top, then a downhill, with Dufftown in the distance. Today you’ll have plenty of time to wander on your own to explore the town, enjoy lunch, and visit the Whisky Museum or the Balvenie Castle. Our hiking route takes us around town and through the Glenfiddich warehouses so we’ll meet up again for a tour of the family-owned distillery to learn about the whisky makers, the history of Glenfiddich, and the whisky-making process, and of get the chance to taste the Glenfiddich 12, 15, 18, and maybe even the Gran Reserva —a 21-year-old spirit finished in rum casks. Filled up with ‘Fiddich, we’ll take a magical downhill walk along the River Fiddich to make our way back to the Speyside Way and to the town of Craigellachie. This afternoon you can choose to relax at the lovely riverside Fiddichside Pub, or go more sophisticated at the iconic 120 year old Quaich Bar located at our hotel — said to be the world’s leading whisky bar, boasting around 1,000 single-malt whiskies from around the globe. Dinner tonight will be at The Spey Inn, the former old drovers inn dating back to 1703, now a hub of the local community that sources ingredients from the local region. Distances: 7 or 4 miles
DAY 6: Craigellachie to Fochabers
We’ll start the day with a special visit to the Speyside Cooperage, home to the ancient art of coopering since 1947. Each year, the Cooperage produces and repairs nearly 150,000 oak casks used by the surrounding Speyside distilleries. After the tour and back on the trail, the route from Craigellachie sets off on quiet country roads for a climb over the shoulder of Ben Aigen via the Craigellachie Forest, and provides our first glimpse of the North Sea. A steep downhill takes you back along woodland paths overlooking the river once again. We’ll make a stop where you’ll have to choose between walking or whisky. We’ll meet up with our shuttle for a five minute drive to the small town of Rothes and a visit to tour The Glen Grant Distillery & Garden of Splendours. Or continue on the trail for the final stretch to Fochabers, a lovely wee town with independent shops to wander around and scenic spots with views of the River Spey. We’ll stay the night at a former coaching inn (from back in the horse and wagon days) that has been serving guests for over 200 years and enjoy dinner in the hotel restaurant where you can relish local favorites such as Cullen Skink or their famous steak and ale pie. Distances: 13 or 7.5 miles
DAY 7: Fochabers to Buckie
Today we head to the sea! With a coastal vibe, our day of walking takes on a whole new scenery and history, passing old fishing villages and watching out for sea life. Leaving Fochabers, we spend the first miles through woods and fields mainly along the river. Right before we reach the coast, we’ll enter the Spey Bay Wildlife Reserve, home to the Moray Firth dolphins — the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world — as well as a haven for ospreys, seals, otters, and many coastal birds. This is also where we say goodbye to the River Spey as it flows toward the Moray Firth, the largest firth (inlet or estuary) in Scotland with about 500 miles of coastline. We turn east on the Speyside Way to hike the coast along an old railway until we reach the end of the trail in Buckie. We’ll meet up with our shuttle for a 10 minute drive to the quaint fishing village of Cullen, famous for their namesake fish soup and homemade ice cream. The hotel for our last night boasts the best ocean views, and we’ll take one more short walk into town for a lovely farewell dinner. Distances: 10 or 5 miles
DAY 8: Final walk of the coastline
For those who have time this morning we’ll take a five mile round trip walk from the hotel to the Portknockie Cliffs with time to return and clean up before checking out and saying our goodbyes to send you on your way home or elsewhere in Scotland. Distance: 5 miles
THE BOAT COUNTRY INN / BOAT OF GARTEN
Nestled in a picturesque setting in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, this Victorian-period hotel offers cozy rooms with great views. The restaurant serves hearty seasonal food and Scottish craft beers, gin, and malt whiskies.
THE ARGYLE HOUSE / TOMINTOUL
Rural charm, individually decorated rooms, a fabulous choice of hot breakfasts and warm and welcoming inn keepers are all highlights of this guest house located in the highest village in the Scottish Highlands.
THE DELNASHAUGH / BALLINDALLOCH
Situated within the grounds of Ballindalloch Estate, overlooking the River Avon and in the shadow of Ben Rinnes, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time at this historic inn.
ABERLOUR HOTEL / CHARLESTOWN OF ABERLOUR
The Aberlour Hotel is a lovely family run hotel, situated in the heart of Scotland’s malt whisky country, located on the mile-long High Street in the center of the village. Each charming room is individually decorated, and the morning starts with a traditional Scottish breakfast.
CRAIGELLACHIE HOTEL / CRAIGELLACHIE
The beautiful and historic Craigellachie Hotel combines style and elegance of a bygone era with the most modern of hotel facilities. The hotel is also home to the world-renowned Quaich Bar, where you can savor over 1,000 single-malt whiskies, and of the Spey Inn, a 300 year old pub in the heart of the local community.
THE GORDON ARMS / FOCHABERS
A former coaching inn based in the attractive village of Fochabers, the hotel is famed for good food and fine malts and for serving guests for over 200 years.
THE CULLEN BAY HOTEL / CULLEN BAY
A friendly and relaxed hotel located on the Moray Coast with spectacular views out to the sea, and plenty of opportunities to spot the coastal wildlife. Recently refurbished, the rooms vary in size and character, all guaranteeing comfortable beds.
Arrival & Departure
Being a long trail tour that moves us a distance during our time together, this is a trip that is worth considering flying in and out of different airports depending on your travel plans.
We’ll meet in the village of Aviemore midday on the first day, allowing you to arrive that morning on an overnight flight or extend your trip a day by arriving early to adjust to the time zone. Aviemore is well served by the train system in Scotland so is easy to get to from multiple locations. The fastest way to get directly to Aviemore is to fly to Inverness which is only 30-45 minutes away by regular ScotRail service — but does require a plane change in another city in Britain or Europe (such as London or Amsterdam). There are direct flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh from the eastern United States, and then a 2-3 hour train or shuttle.
For the departure, the closest airport to your final destination is Aberdeen at just over an hour away, and is similar to Inverness, in that flying to the US from there will require one-stop in another major city in Britain or Europe. Otherwise, you may choose a return trip from Inverness at 2+/- hours away, or Glasgow or Edinburgh at 3-4+/- hour away, with all the airports served by train, coach, or shuttle.
- One professional Zephyr guides and one professional local guide
- Our trip prices are based on double occupancy. You have the option to pay the single supplement to get your own room if you don’t want a roommate. If you are coming on a trip solo, we will find you a roommate of the same gender.
- Breakfasts and dinners are included.
- All your transportation is included once you meet your guides on the first day and until our last morning.
- We generally provide one scheduled distillery tour and tasting per day. Additional tastings are optional and at your own expense.
NOT INCLUDED: Beverages during meals, desserts, lunches, optional activities, gratuities to your guides, personal expenses and travel to and from the destination.
Changes to Your Itinerary
While everything under “What is Included” will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.
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