Speyside casts a spell …
Speyside: to some, it means whisky – home to 50 distilleries producing more single malt than any other region in Scotland. To others, the river is inseparable from salmon, attracting visitors from around the world to ‘Spey cast’ on some of the finest beats. To all, it is an area of stunning scenery, outstanding natural beauty and unique wildlife – wrapped up in a landscape that is steeped in history. We took a drive to explore …
The river Spey is just over 100 miles long – rising 1,000 feet above sea level at Loch Spey in the Corrieyairack Forest, a few miles south of Fort Augustus. Scotland’s ninth longest river, it is the country’s fastest flowing – with many tributaries adding to its flow as it makes its way north and east from its Highlands’ source to the Moray Firth.
Our drive joined the valley at Newtonmore, just off the A9, where we called in to see an old favourite: the Highland Folk Museum. The museum is a living, breathing mile-long space that includes a whole host of 30 historical building showing how Highland people lived and worked in the valley – from the 1700s right up to the 1960s.
Each property has either been built from scratch with traditional materials or has been saved and moved to the current site, then lovingly furnished in the given period. There’s even a village school – complete with a strict teacher … so be on best behaviour!
For those of a certain age, there are many childhood memories stirred, none more so than the school (ink wells in each desk) and a visit to the wee shop selling traditional boiled sweets!
The site has a cafe selling freshly made goodies (the lentil soup was delicious) as well as a shop with local produce, arts and crafts. There are toilets, a fab playground for children and dogs are welcome, although they have to be kept in a relatively small designated area.
Leaving Newtonmore – with the 1700s coursing through our minds – we headed to the 18th century Ruthven Barracks just outside the town. Now under the watchful eye of Historic Environment Scotland, Ruthven Barracks are on the site of medieval castles built by the Comyns and the Gordons. The strategic importance of the site is obvious: it is visible from miles around and dominates the Spey valley.
Built by George II’s government following the Jacobite rising of 1715, they were designed to garrison around 120 infantry in two three-storey barracks on either side of a parade ground.
The towers housed a guardroom, prison, bakehouse and brewhouse – and there are stables beyond the barracks – added on orders of Major General Wade in 1734 – that could hold 30 horses.
For lovers of history, there’s much more on the Historic Scotland link – but the barracks did fall to the Jacobites in February of 1746 only to be retaken two months later after the Battle of Culloden. The defeated Jacobites regrouped at Ruthven and waited word from their leader. On April 20th, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s message reached them: “Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can“.
It is an historic site that is well worth a visit. There’s a free car park just off the road nearby – and a short uphill walk to the remains of the imposing barracks. The views from the mound across the Spey valley are wonderful.
Back in the car, we avoided the A9 and kept to the back roads – following the route of part of the Badenoch Way. Just to the east of Ruthven is the Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve – one of the most important wetlands in Europe.
The hides are open all year. During the winter months, the marsh floods to provide an ideal habitat for visiting flocks of whooper swans and greylag geese. You can also spy roe deer and foxes from the two hides, which give panoramic views across the marshes. Please be aware that some of the paths are a bit rugged. For those who love to snap a photo, this location is Number 8 on the Cairngorms National Park Photo Posts project …
For those with four legged friends, RSPB Scotland welcomes responsible access in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. During the ground-nesting bird breeding season (1 April to 15 August) please keep your dog close to you – preferably on a short lead and always clean up after your dog. Thank you!
Our drive on into the depths of the national park took us along tracks and roads to explore. There are houses, cottages and lodges to rent – tucked away in the landscape that are ideal getaways – places to escape with friends and family. We saw three …
Left to right – Killiehuntly, Coire Domhain and Kennels Cottage – all part of Glenfeshie Wildland. There are public rights of way, footpaths, cycle tracks and acres upon acres of woodland to discover.
One woodland, deep in the heart of Glenfeshie, is the Invereshie and Inshriach Forest. You might spot red squirrels, pine marten, crested tit and crossbill as they all make their home here. But the forest is also home to a unique trail.
The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail created by the late and great Scottish sculptor is an extraordinary series of sculptures on Scottish culture. Walking the trail, the works appear from within the living landscape. You notice they are in differing states of decay: this was very much Frank’s intention – for each work to return to the earth from where they came.
Just beyond the Trail is Feshiebridge that takes you over thundering waters into Glenfeshie. This stunning Glenis the gateway to the Cairngorm National Park less explored. Remote paths and tracks that lead into the hills and mountains – walked by those keen to bag Munros on the west of the park.
has a number of surprises. For those looking to stay and explore the area for a longer period, there’s the Glen Feshie Hostel that sleeps 16. The Lagganlia Centre provides high quality residential outdoor learning opportunities for schools, colleges, youth groups and other organised groups. They also have self catering, camp huts and run adventures and expeditions. Between the two is the Cairngorm Gliding Club. Operating for more than half a century, the Club welcomes visitors and offers lessons from fully qualified instructors. What a way to see the area!
Sadly, our clock was ticking and the autumn light was starting to fade … and we needed sustenance. One place to go …
For those who know Speyside, Rothiemurchus is a must. The Druie café offers a mouthwatering selection of home made and home baked bakes, cakes and treats. Open 9.30am – 5.00pm for breakfasts, lunch and afternoon tea, the cafe focuses on local, seasonal produce as their ingredients. You can sit in – and check out a selection of artwork displayed around the walls, selected from Loch an Eilein Gallery, or take a seat outside.
Inside, there’s the estate Farm Shop bursting with tempting food & drink produce as well as gifts galore. The shop is already decked out for the countdown to Christmas – so even more of an excuse to make the trip to discover this neck of the woods …
The cafe and Farm Shop are both open every day, except Christmas Day. There’s ample parking a plenty of information about the estate and all the activities on offer – from archery and wildlife photography to pony trekking and Land Rover safaris. Read much more here.
We’ve barely scratched the surface. Speyside extends for miles – and includes so much to see and do: from towns and villages to lochs and attractions. But we hope this day out has given you a taste of the area. Follow the links in the Blog – or those provided below – to discover more.
Looking to stay?
The area has a wealth of options. We’ve selected a few favourites …
The Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore – open every day, 11am to 4.30pm until Friday 27 October 2017.
Planning a visit to Ruthven Barracks? It is open all year – follow this link for more.
Outdoor activities? Check out the Alvie Estate for a whole range.
Walk the Speyside Way. Starting on the Moray coastline, it follows the course of the mighty River Spey up to Aviemore and on to Kincraig. Check out the Walk Highlands website for details.
For more on salmon fishing on the Spey, visit FishPal’s website via this link.
For those in search of a different catch, you can discover it here: pop the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in your diary!
Thanks for reading.