On the third section of The Speyside Way, we awoke early like little kids at Christmas, eager to start on the trail. It wasn’t so much the joy of hiking that gave us this skip in our step, as the promise of whisky in Craigellachie. Out of all the whisky distilleries in Scotland, more than half are situated in Speyside, and in particular, where we were staying.
Nothing, not even the drizzling rain, nor the dodgy stomachs from too many greasy Scottish breakfasts, not even the several miles of tarmac trails, would put a halt to our rushing gait.
But the rally car race did a pretty effective job.
The cars sped past, growling at us as we huddled against the narrow path. As quickly as they arrived they disappeared, with only the sound of their engines reverberating through the woods remaining.
A sign for Earth Pillars pointed into an inviting set of woods just off the trail. Obviously it is impossible to ignore a sign with an awesome title like ‘Earth Pillars’, and given the rally car race broke our lightning pace, we decided that all this called for a break.
Good thing we did too, because Earth Pillars offered stunning panoramic views of the River Spey and the surrounding countryside. The area was completely still, with nothing but birdsong and the sound of the rapids in the river. It was the type of heart-breakingly beautiful scenery you would expect to see of Scotland: rugged, wild and pristine. We stayed for awhile, unable to leave the peacefulness of the place, but the hint of pine trees and promise of whisky at the end soon pushed us back on the track.
I’m sure I’m not alone here, but pine forests are one of the best smells in the world. They smell nothing like those crappy car fresheners you get in appliance stores, but fresh and invigorating. We happily strolled for miles through the pine forests, with me telling John about my plans to combine the smell of pine forests and rain to create the ultimate room freshener/laundry scent and how I would spend my millions, but our arrival in Boat o’ Brig brought my nattering to an abrupt stop.
Boat o’ Brig is a small place, but one with some big scenery. Hilly pine forests, manor houses, and antiquated train lines dot the landscape, providing postcard-perfect images.
The Speyside Way trail led behind the old tollhouse and up into Ben Aigan forest. But first, we had to deal with the prospect of some slightly menacing-looking cows……
Luckily my tacky 80’s themed vest top scared them off!
Ben Aigan forest is a collection of pine-covered hills that make even the most seasoned runner/hiker/cyclist stop for a breath or too. Combine that with the sudden downpour of rain and wind, and it was pretty hard going for a while.
Eventually the rain cleared just as we made our exit out of Ben Aigan and around the outskirts of Rothes. Along the path were some sheep, who had a rather ingenious way of shearing themselves….
Just outside of Craigellachie the River Spey slowed enough and there was a clearing by the bank that gave notion to something that had been on my mind for the past several days – wild swimming.
The thought of gracefully dipping my body in the water and floating around as the river lazily sped past around me had crept into my thoughts every time we walked past the river. In the past the dolphins and rapids had put a stop to my plans, but now was the perfect opportunity to put all my romantic notions into reality. So off went my hiking boots…
….And that was it. Because hot damn, as soon as I put my foot in the water I yelped from the cold! Why does no one tell you that the waters are freezing, even in the summertime?!
To save some face I stuck my legs into the water, and as soon as I had lost all feeling in them I threw on my boots, glad for their chunky, warm sweaty goodness, and made a break for our home for the next couple of days.
The Highlander Inn is famous for being one of the best whisky bars in the world (they also do a pretty good selection of beers and ales for you non-whisky types). The bar and restaurant walls are cluttered with shelves of crowded whisky bottles, and even the furniture in the bar is made from retired whisky casks. After throwing ourselves in the shower and racing downstairs to the bar, we spent the evening going through their amazing selection of tasting tray menus – our favourites were Ardbeg and A’Bunadh. Slainte!