The Speyside Way is one of four officially designated long distance walks in Scotland (the others are the West Highland Way, the Southern Upland Way and the Great Glen Way).

It largely follows the course of the majestic River Spey from the Moray coast to the Cairngorms National Park gateway town of Aviemore. Along the route one passes myriad whisky distilleries and stands of ancient pine and birch woods.

The route principally follows the wide and peaceful Spey Valley and passes through some of Scotland's most beautiful landscapes. Alongside, the river – the fastest flowing in Scotland – is glimpsed regularly and walked next to, though not continuously.

Pack horse bridge, Carrbridge scotland

Pack horse bridge, Carrbridge

Speyside Way

Distance: 65 miles (105km)

Duration: Five to eight days

Start point: Buckie

End point: Aviemore

Difficulty: Easy to moderate – well-marked route; few steep gradients; some stiles to negotiate

Suitable for: Most walkers, family friendly sections

It springs from the Cairngorm mountains, a vast subarctic plateau where reintroduced reindeer thrive. Not surprisingly, the Spey has shaped the landscape and character of the lands through which it passes. The pure waters have given rise to a staggering number of malt whisky producers across Speyside, more than half of the total distilleries in Scotland. You’ll literally smell them before you see them from the trail!

In the 1600s pine logs felled in the ancient forests under the Cairngorms were transported downriver in rafts. The timber was used for railway construction, and later for shipbuilding where the river meets the sea at Kingston and Garmouth, from where more than 500 vessels were launched.

The Speyside Way route

Lace up your boots to leave Buckie, formed from a string of villages during the 19th-century herring boom years, to walk pleasantly to the mouth of the Spey. This is a fine walk from all the family and leads to the Scottish Dolphin Centre. The nutrient-rich Spey waters mean fish flourish here which in turn provides a haven for wildlife including bottlenose dolphins, ospreys, grey and common seals, the occasional otter and many coastal birds. The free-to-enter centre is located in an 18th Century salmon fishing station.

A further easy five miles leads inland with stretches of riverside path that are flower-lined in the warmer months. Take your time, bring a picnic, and soak up the atmosphere on a lazy summer´s day. Afterwards, in the village of Fochabers, you can eat well as there is a good range of excellent local produce from the surrounding fertile lands.

Heading south Day 3 is considerably longer (at 13 miles) and harder (graded moderate) as the Way negotiates hillier ground on woodland paths, roads and forestry tracks. A highlight is the view from the steep wooded slopes of Ben Aigan, which looks down over Speyside. From there a descent leads back down to the river before the mighty Spey is crossed on a road bridge by charming Craigellachie. A must-see is the Craigellachie Hotel, where the unique Quaich bar stocks some 900 single malts!

Scotland Speyside whisky

Speyside whisky, a highlight of the Speyside Way

The next day´s stretch is very pretty. Note that the narrow riverside path with views to famed fishing spots can get muddy here.

Stroll through woods and tunnels before reaching a park by Aberlour, or Charlestown of Aberlour, as it is known in full. The linear town is home to the famous Walkers shortbread factory, and, of course, the Aberlour distillery. If you’re feeling peckish, the butcher shop sells a superb steak pie.

The Speyside Way visitor centre (open April-September) is located in the old Aberlour railway station and has displays on the natural and local history, including archive footage of the former railway.

Carry on, rising gradually, to follow the river bank downstream through mixed woodland and cross the river below. Knockando distillery is passed in a couple of miles. Close by are the distilleries of Tamdhu and Cardhu. The latter runs tours which will proudly tell you how it was the first distillery in Scotland to have been set up by a woman. Further on, you will recross the Spey on a lattice girder bridge to reach the old Ballindalloch station building, near the Cragganmore distillery (tours).

Continuing south to Grantown is the hardest section of the route (graded moderate/hard). It´s hilly and rough and wet underfoot with two burns (streams) to cross on stepping stones; these may be difficult to cross in flood conditions.

Once completed, the remaining three days to Aviemore are a breeze and nice and flat. The villages passed through all have good facilities with lots of home cooking in the cafes. Ancient pine woods are walked through by Nethy Bridge and the final leg gives superb views across the Spey Valley to the Cairngorms´ mighty northern faces.

Speyside Way day by day

The official Speyside Way website describes the Way from the sea inland to Aviemore, but notes that this is a matter of preference. With this walk, one can just as easily hike downstream. It´s up to you. On the whole, there is a lot of accommodation choice for hotel, B&Bs with a more restricted choice for hostels and campsites.

You may struggle to get accommodation for one night in Ballindalloch. If you are doing the Way independently a simple workaround is to arrange for a taxi to pick you up from Aberlour.

There is also a hard 15-mile spur to Tomintoul from Ballindalloch. This mainly uses rough hill tracks.

Day 1: Buckie to Spey Bay (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 2: Spey Bay to Fochabers (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 3: Fochabers to Craigellachie (13 miles)

Day 4: Craigellachie to Ballindalloch (12 miles; family friendly)

Day 5: Ballindalloch to Grantown (13 miles)

Day 6: Grantown to Nethy Bridge (6 miles)

Day 7: Nethy Bridge to Boat of Garten (5 miles; family friendly)

Day 8: Boat of Garten to Aviemore (6 miles; family friendly)

About the author

The Speyside Way

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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