An Adventure on the Speyside Whisky Trail.
If you’d like to take off on a whisky-filled adventure through scenic Speyside, and you don’t want to argue over who’s driving, check out the Stagecoach ‘Whisky Trail’ bus.
For me, being in transit is as much part of the travel experience as the destination itself. Public transport is the prelude or finale to my adventures, and I always look forward to the journey. First, there’s the wee sense of accomplishment when I’ve successfully managed to get on the correct service with all belongings still in my possession (there have been a few close calls). Then, there’s the wave of contentment in knowing that I don’t need to be anywhere else for the foreseeable. I can fully indulge in the views through the window, and in my thoughts.
On this eagerly anticipated trip, I travelled to the Speyside region, which is densely populated with single malt distilleries. Speyside is like the Disneyland of Drams, and I was delighted to discover that I could travel there without having to borrow someone with a car. My trip to Dufftown involved a glorious glamping pod, a vintage train journey, a goat stew, and a visit to the Glenfiddich Distillery. This was all thanks to the Stagecoach ‘Whisky Trail’ bus.
STAGECOACH ‘WHISKY TRAIL’ BUS – ELGIN TO DUFFTOWN.
The Stagecoach ‘Whisky Trail’ route 36 is a bonnie wee bus which travels from Elgin to Dufftown into the heart of Speyside. The speedy, scenic service passes through Forres, Elgin, Rothes, Craigellachie, Aberlour and Dufftown, with a pick ‘n’ mix bag of distilleries along the way; even stopping directly outside some of them, for your convenience. From 1stJuly – 12thAugust, the bus operates 7 days a week, at least once an hour. You can view the timetable here.
A WEE INTRO TO SPEYSIDE WHISKY.
Geographically, Speyside is in the Highlands of Scotland, however it has been divided into a sub-region, thanks to its superabundance of distilleries. Speyside is home to over half of Scotland’s whisky distilleries, which means that it has the highest concentration of whisky producers in all of Scotland’s regions. If you’re just starting to treat your taste buds to single malt whisky, Speyside is a great place to start.
Speyside water sources are pure and plentiful, therefore the whiskies are typically subtle and fruity on the palette. The characteristics of a whisky will predominately be determined by the cask it was matured in; bourbon casks gives a light and sweet finish, while sherry is more rich and fruity. If you do a tour of a Speyside distillery, and you don’t like the dram you try, you can always just set off down the road to a different distillery!
Dufftown is in the heart of Speyside, and is the last stop on the Stagecoach ‘Whisky Trail’ service. After some deliberation, I chose Dufftown as the basecamp for my scenic whisky-themed adventure. Dufftown is a picturesque wee place, which sits on the River Fiddich in the foreground of the Conval Hills. The town’s wide and pretty streets lead off from the Clock Tower, which dates back to 1839. There are a whopping ninedistilleries in Dufftown, and that’s not all the town has going for it.
THINGS TO DO IN DUFFTOWN.
1. Visit Glenfiddich Distillery
I’m sure you need little encouragement to add a distillery visit to your list – it wouldn’t be a trip to Dufftown without one! Glenfiddich has been producing whisky since 1887, and it’s the world’s best-selling and most awarded single malt. The Glenfiddich Distillery sure knows how to make a positive first impression; the setting itself is beautiful, from the water-feature and manicured gardens, to the vintage vehicle and statue of a stag.
Inside, I was delighted to learn than despite the size and scale of the operation, Glenfiddich is still a traditional, family-run business. They even have their own cooperage on-site, which allows them to carefully look after the insanely important casks. I enjoyed a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs in the Malt Barn restaurant, before joining my tour with the lovely and super-knowledgeable Emma.
- The tour at Glenfiddich Distillery lasts 1.5 hours and costs £10
- You can book your tour online on the Glenfiddich Distillery website
2. Stay at Hillside Havens
I LOVE glamping, so choosing where to stay in Dufftown was easy. Hillside Havens are exactly that; gorgeous glamping pods with bonnie vistas of stunning Speyside. The pods are at the high-end of the ‘glamping’ scale, and come complete with a kitchen, bathroom, TV, super-comfy double bed, and underfloor heating. The use of space and attention to detail are amazing, from the wee wardrobe and fold-away dining table, to the cosy throws and Scottish accessories. Eleanor and Derek were the loveliest of hosts, and I genuinely did not want to leave.
- You can book Beaters Bothy on Airbnb for £90 per night on Airbnb
- If you haven’t book with Airbnb before you can use my discount code for £25 (I get £15 in travel credit too – so it’s a win win)
3. Ride the Keith and Dufftown Railway.
As a public transport enthusiast who loves a bit of vintage, taking a trip on this retro railway was a no-brainer. A team of volunteers look after the whole operation: the maintenance of the railway, driving the train, manning the ticket office, and looking after passengers etc.
The one hour journey through the countryside between Dufftown and Keith is slow and relaxing. I liked the experience so much, I’ve written a whole blog post all about it! Check out ‘Keith and Dufftown Railway: A Nostalgic Journey through Speyside’.
4. Check out Balvenie Castle
Balvenie is a bonnie brute of a castle. Standing tall and wide above a circular ditch, the structure is prominent and imposing. Since the fortification was built in the 12thcentury, Balvenie Castle has been home-sweet-home to three powerful Scottish families, the Comyns, the Douglases and the Stewarts. Situated behind the Glenfiddich Distillery, your castle experience is supplemented by the strong smell of whisky in the air. It doesn’t get much more Scottish than that.
- Balvenie Castle is open from 09.30 – 17.30 (1 Apr to 30 Sept)
- Entry is £5 per adult and £3 per child
- For more information, visit the Historic Scotland website
5. Lunch at the Bakery
If the town I’m visiting has a bakery, I’m all over it. J & I Smith’s Bakery in the centre of Dufftown was established by the Smith family in 1969. Local workmen emerged clutching bags of freshly baked goods and sweet treats, and I wasn’t far behind them. Imagine my excitement when I spotted a pie I’d never come across before. STOVIES! I obviously had to order one, plus a vegetable soup, costing a mere £2.60. I sat on a picnic table outside the Clock Tower with my pie and soup, in my element.
6. Gift shopping at Rustic & Roses
Rustic & Roses is a lovely little gift shop and florist. The shelves were filled with pretty trinkets and homeware, which were so cute, I just couldn’t resist buying a wee gift for myself. My hand-painted wooden plaque is now proudly hanging in my kitchen. It says ‘A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes’, which Disney lovers will recognise as the song in Cinderella. I made a sharp exit before I was tempted to buy anything else.
7. Dinner at Seven Stills
Seven Stills is a historic pub with a warm welcome and great atmosphere. The food came highly recommended and I wasn’t disappointed. Always keen to try something a bit different, I ordered the goat stew with tomato and cashew nuts. The meat was ridiculously tender, and the rice was laced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Patrick, the French owner & chef, even came popped out of the kitchen for a wee blether. Dessert was raspberry cheesecake, followed by a dram of Balvenie 12. The bar stocks over 230 kinds of single malt whisky, as well as craft beer, Scottish gins, and various other alcoholic delights.
- Seven Stills is open from 16.30 – 22.00 every day apart from Thursday
- Check out the full menu on the Seven Still website
BUS CONNECTIONS TO THE WHISKY TRAIL.
The ‘Whisky Trail’ Service 36, connects in Elgin with the Stagecoach Service 10 between Inverness and Aberdeen. I took full advantage of this, and decided to top and tail my adventure with a stay in both Inverness and Aberdeen. The route between Inverness and Elgin takes 1 hour and 29 minutes, while Elgin to Inverness takes 2 hours and 32 minutes.
The newly refurbished buses are kitted out with a decent WiFi connection which actually works, so I used the time between destinations to write and daydream; two of my favourite pastimes. Check out my recommendations below for Aberdeen, Inverness and Elgin.
You’ll find tons of inspiration for the Inverness area in my 15 Things to Do in Inverness blog. My suggestions involve a magical bookshop, Jacobite history, friendly pubs, a luxury lodge, and bottlenose dolphins.
- Visit Elgin Cathedral – wander around the beautiful ruins of the 13thcentury cathedral and check out the display of intricate stone carvings which were recovered from the rubble and restored by a team of experts.
- Manna for a healthy lunch – healthy eateries are few and far between in remote towns, and this is a surprising exception, just a short walk from the bus station. Pick up a sandwich, salad box or smoothie for a guilt-free lunch, unless you can be tempted by one of the fabulous cakes on offer.
- Go to the Beach– walk the long coastal stretch of Aberdeen Beach, and visit the wee settlement of Footdee (of Fittie as the locals say), for photos of charming fishing cottages with colourful doors and pretty street lanterns.
- Long Dog Café– if you’re a fan of cute dogs and brunch, this place is for you. Try the bacon naan with spicy ketchup and tzatziki, and try to refrain from clapping every single furry friend that comes into the dog-friendly café.
- Madame Mews– this unassuming wee gem is hidden in Aberdeen Market. The Thai café has a varied and very reasonably priced menu. The portions are also huge.
- Angus & Ale– formerly the Adelphi Kitchen, this cosy establishment serves the best burgers. I can personally vouch for the venison burger, which I ordered with smoked Arran cheddar and sweet potato fries.
- Stay at the Rox Hotel– located a two-minute walk from the bus station, the hotel is mega-convenient, with friendly staff, and comfortable lodgings. My 5thfloor junior suite was huge and had great views of Aberdeen Harbour.