Scotland – Days 12 and 13: Hiking and Whisky

We’re back from our Scottish vacation but I still have so many adventures to share. I’ve already posted about our time near Loch Lomond, in Fort William, on the Isle of Skye and around the seaside town of Nairn. Our next destination on our road trip was the Cairngorm Mountains and the Whisky Trail.

Aviemore is a fairly short drive from Nairn – less than an hour – so while we got a late start out of Nairn, we still arrived in Aviemore before lunch time and after a quick stop at the visitor centre were shortly in the Cairngorm National Park. I hadn’t really planned what we’d do in the park, so there was quite a bit of back and forth before we settled on a short walk in Glemore Forest Park. You can pick up a free map of the area from the visitor centre and then you just have to pay for parking at one of the parking lots if you decide you’re going to park and hike.

We parked at the Alt Ban car park (which was quiet, only two other cars) and walked along a road before we connected with a path that lead to the “Green Lochan”. It is a very easy walk in, and only about 2.5 km so once we reached the lake we decided to carry on and finish the loop that heads up to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

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The Green Lochan

The trail is easy to follow, and while not the highest of mountains, it is a climb. Scottish trails seem to feature a lot of rock steps which are great to go up but are painful on the way down. Still, the views were pretty impressive and while we could see dark clouds on some of the surrounding mountains we were in the clear.

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Climbing up the last pitch to the summit
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The view from the summit
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On the way back down

The trail is a loop – we hiked it counter-clockwise but we saw lots of people doing it both ways.

The hike was only about 8 km, but we were pretty tired after we finished so we headed out of the park to our B&B in Granton-on-Spey. We stayed at Strathallan House B&B and I cannot say enough nice things about this B&B. Our room was beautiful, and the owners have put so much thought into the room amenities. We made cups of tea, and sat in the little sitting area before heading out for dinner at the very interesting Craig Bar.

The next day we headed out to do the other activity that the area is popular for – whisky tasting. Jon booked us the first tour of the day at Tomatin Distillery where we took a fantastic tour of their whisky making facilities. We’d seen a distillery at Talisker but this time we got to see a few different parts of the distillery (including a chance to smell the insides of the different casks and see how to empty the aged whisky casks) and three different whisky samples. Well worth it – even if I don’t like the taste.

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Watching them empty barrels that are ready to be shipped for bottling

 

From Tomatin we headed south to the Dalwhinnie Distillery (which is a free tour with your “friends” pass). We didn’t do a tour, but instead opted for a tasting option that paired three whiskies with three different chocolates. I didn’t think the chocolate improved the taste of the whisky, but it was interesting to try the pairings.

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I’m pretty sure I make this face every time I sampled any of the whiskies
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Our tastings came with notes to explain the pairing of each whisky with the different chocolates

From Dalwhinnie we drove up to Speyside Cooperage, where we took a tour to see exactly how the whisky casks are made. Most whisky is aged in casks that have been used for other things (like bourbon or port) so the coopers also spend a lot of time fixing casks. Part of the tour involved a rather boring movie, but for the rest of it you get to go to a viewing area where you can watch the coopers work on repairing or building casks.

Then it was over for a quick stop at the Knockando Woollen Mill before stopping at the Cardu Distillery. We didn’t stay to taste any whisky, but we did spent quite a bit of time photographing some Highland cows.

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At Knockando they use the same processes that have been used for hundreds of years to make woollen goods
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These guys were too adorable not to stop for

We made one final stop on our whisky tour at the Glenfarclas Distillery. Jon sampled a few whiskies and I took a few photos of the distillery.

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Fun fact – each whisky distillery has their own shape of copper still which apparently contributes to the unique flavour of the whisky

Our day ended up being way busier than we thought so we were both exhausted by the time we finished the short drive home and only had the energy for a drink and a pie at Craig Bar before retiring for the night. With only a day and a half, we certainly didn’t see more than a small fraction of the different distilleries in the area, and we only had time for one visit to the Cairngorms but it was a nice “taste” of the area and a chance to see some different highland scenery.

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