The river also supports Scotland’s other famous export: Scotch. The Speyside region has the biggest concentration of malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. More than 50 whisky distilleries access their water from the river Spey and its tributaries, and a huge number of them can be found within a short distance of the village of Craigellachie.
With that many distilleries to hit, I’m not sure what’s going to give out first: my legs, or the space in my rucksack. I decide this is a problem for ‘future Kirsten’.
“With that many distilleries to hit, I’m not sure what’s going to give out first”
Our morning starts at The Macallan, one of Speyside’s most famous whisky distilleries. From the outside, Macallan’s visitor centre has been designed to resemble Scotland’s ancient hills. However, on first inspection, there’s no denying that it does also resemble the Teletubbies’ residence somewhat.
Inside, it’s all enormous copper stills and oak casks. After a lengthy tasting session John and I stumble out into the sunshine, eager to continue our tipsy journey to Aberlour.
Compared to Macallan, Aberlour distillery is smaller but more snug and homely with its cheery red paint and brickwork. A tour is just starting, so we hurriedly pay and latch onto the back of the group.
“Aberlour has been producing whisky since 1879, however whisky, or uisge beatha, has been made in Scotland much longer than that,” the tour guide explained.
“Written records show whisky was produced as early as the 15th century, but when the Scottish Parliament enforced taxes on whisky in the mid-17th century, many producers resorted to illegally distilling and distributing it.
“Throughout the Speyside region, distillers disguised stills in the hillsides and smugglers developed networks of secret trails to avoid the exciseman, or taxman. They even hid their whisky in churches and coffins to deter them!”
“Perfect whisky smuggling terrain, I think to myself”
Secret whisky trails? My ears perk up at this. Visions of silent steps along overgrown trails illuminated by moonlight spring to mind. Turning my head, I note Aberlour’s surrounding forests and numerous burns. Perfect whisky smuggling terrain, I think to myself.
“Can we see some of the trails on the tour?” I ask eagerly.
The guide laughed. “Not here I’m afraid, but you can walk old smuggling trails at Glenlivet Estate near the Glenlivet distillery. Some of the old smuggling trails are known, some may still be undiscovered.
“There’s an old settlement called The Cabrach in Speyside, which was hugely active in illegal distilling and smuggling back then. Lucky for us though, we have a slightly easier journey to getting a glass of Scotch. Follow me inside.”