The River Spey & Speyside

At a height of 1143ft, across the hills from the highest distillery at Dalwhinnie, is the second longest river in Scotland. Stretching 98 miles, The River Spey, fed by the surrounding area of some 1300sq. miles, tumbles downward with growing momentum to Spey Bay in the Moray Firth. The river in spate (flood) can rise over eight feet within a matter of hours making it a dramatic and dangerous encounter.

It is a famous Salmon river although the decline in catches is a worrying phenomenon affecting many of the rivers in Scotland. (River Spey & Ben Rinnes)

 The River Spey at Ballindalloch

 The Telford Bridge

 The old Caledonian Forest, which used to cover most of the Highlands, now almost completely disappeared, is still evident in parts of the Spey Valley, particularly at Rothiemurchus. A few trees still remain below the terraced village of Craigellachie, their tortured shapes a reminder of their distant past. Scottish names are always troublesome, sometimes in pronunciation and their origin. Craigellachie literally means Spirit of the Rock; Craig meaning a Rock and Ellachie a spirit. (although other sources suggest Ellachie to mean a ford or channel for catching salmon.)


How apt is the word Spirit in this home of over 40 distilleries. The triangle of Dufftown, Aberlour and Craigellachie provides the Malt Whisky aficionado with a paradise on earth. He or she may travel in a radius of only 10 miles to be welcomed by over 18 Distilleries with Visitor Centres.

 While The Glenfiddich in Dufftown is probably the best known whisky in the world, not may people have found their Balvenie Malts. It is named after the 13th century Balvenie Castle, behind the distillery and one of seven malt distilleries in the town. I lamented the demise of the beautifully shaped Balvenie bottle, more like a Cognac in shape with its long elegant neck and primarily marketed as an after dinner drink.

The new bottle was introduced at the same time as Glenfiddich commemorated the end of The Gordon Highlanders in September 1994 with a whisky of that name.

 Craigellachie Post Office

 Whisky Bottle
 There was a moving ceremony, attended by a crowd of about 1000 people, to witness the amalgamation of The Gordon Highlanders and The Queen's Own Regiments on the old Telford Bridge which spans The Spey at Craigellachie. The south side of the river is Gordon country while the north is Seaforth Highlanders and Camerons (joined to become The Queen's Own). It was a poignant moment when the two Colonels met on the middle of the bridge to solemnise the occasion with several quaichs (Scottish silver drinking vessel) of The Macallan 18 year old Malt.

 The Macallan distillery is only two miles from Craigellachie on the north side of the River Spey and is regarded by many to be the Rolls-Royce of Speyside Malts. Visitors really must try and visit the distillery although an appointment is necessary. (Tel: 01340-871471) The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly with no pressure to hurry through the experience. The video will take you by surprise with its quirky 'Monty-Python' approach and the organ going full blast.

The Whisky Trail was launched about six years ago and continues to attract more and more visitors while the distilleries, through take-overs, rationalisation and the introduction of computers, shed jobs to a bare minimum. Gradually those 'families' of workers at each distillery are losing faith and loyalty to the owners. It is interesting to think that in a few years time a ten year old and upwards whisky was laid down by a dedicated team whose forefathers had probably followed the same skills. One wonders if the distilleries might be affected by the Millennium Bug with whisky spilling down the hillsides and creating a latter-day "Whisky Galore". Such are dreams made of.

 Whisky Bottle
 The Telford Bridge in Craigellachie

 The Telford Bridge was built in 1814 and describes a beautiful arch over the Spey. It carried the main road until a new bridge was built in 1974. At the time the old bridge was being erected the Napoleonic Wars were raging and Beethoven composing.

Two miles up river is Charleston of Aberlour, founded two years earlier. Almost a hundred years later, in 1909, a small bakery was founded which has grown to become the famous Walker's Shortbread factory, employing about 200 people. The residents were bequeathed The Aberlour Water, a stretch of the River Spey to fish as they pleased. A limited number of permits are available to visitors. The Salmon season lasts from 11th February to the end of September.

 The Speyside Way, formerly the old railway line, makes walking a comfortable and rewarding pursuit. The way is very easy from Dufftown, through Craigellachie and Aberlour and passed Ballindalloch Castle, dating from 1546 but restored in 1850, to Glenlivet. Final arrangements are under way to extend the walk to Aviemore to meet the existing railway line where passengers can board for Edinburgh or Inverness. Meantime, walkers will face a stiff climb up to Tomintoul's 1200ft location through the beautiful Glenlivet where it is alleged that at one time there were 200 illicit stills operating in this wilderness.

Grantown on Spey is about fifteen miles from Aviemore and was founded in 1766 by the Grant family and one of his sons planted 32 million trees in the ensuing sixty odd years. A unique feature of the town is the grid system applied during construction, giving broad streets and a town centre which is almost without parallel in the Highlands. The trees are nearly a hundred years old to give additional enjoyment.

Aviemore is a well known holiday resort particularly for winter skiers. The massive Cairngorms are clearly visible and readily tackled by hill walkers and climbers, some unaware of the fickleness of weather conditions. After many years of promises it appears this town will get the sorely needed face lift it craves.


 Salmon jumping
 Nearby, Boat of Garten, established in the 1860's, prides itself with its Osprey Centre and Sanctuary. Ospreys were made almost extinct by 1899 and it was not until 1954 that a nest was located and kept secret, although birds had been seen flying from as early as 1936. Ospreys may also be seen regularly during the summer at Spey Bay.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the above paintings or prints, please contact:

Stewart Johnston The Green Hall Gallery Craigellachie