Speyside and Aberdeenshire : the land of whisky

My latest adventure in Scotland was in a really famous part of country : Speyside and around! After my trip around Inverness and Black Isle, when I didn’t had the chance to visit the distilleries I wanted in Speyside, I decided to make another trip just in the area to discover it. The nature seemed to be particularly interesting as well regarding of the little time I spent there in December.

With my friend we decided to rent a car for three days and we left Edinburgh, let’s go for the East coast!

It was end April and we weren’t sure about the weather but who does in Scotland! At the end we didn’t had too much rain so that wasn’t that bad. We even had an amazing first day : sunny and warm!

Our goal for the first day was the coastal village of Stonehaven, famous for Dunnottar castle, an iconic castle built on the cliffs. When we reached the village it was already lunch time – you can travel there in one day, its only 2h30 away from Edinburgh, you also can go there by public transports – so we decided to eat something at the Inn located on the shore, it was sunny and warm enough so we ate outside, the lunch was really nice and the view on the harbour and the sea was stunning. From the village you can reach Dunnottar castle by feet, with a nice walk on top of the cliffs. The coast is particularly beautiful and jagged, the sea almost turquoise. Half way we had the surprise to see a Memorial dedicated to the heros of the World War I and World War II. The Memorial was beautiful, full of symbolism, half destroyed to symbolised the lifes destroyed by the wars, the place was surrounded by daffodils. Once we arrived at the castle we decided to go down to the beach, if you’re lucky you can see seals, baby seals, dolphins and others marine animals but apparently we’re not lucky and didn’t saw any of them. Dunnottar castle is one of the most famous castle in Scotland and I can understand we, even if it’s a ruin the whole is really stunning : the ruins, the cliffs, the sea!

The second step in our day was Aberdeen, everyone is according to say that Aberdeen is one of the ugliest cities in Scotland, I wanted to give it a chance, and on top of that I saw a coffee shop and a coffee/tea retailer who seemed nice. Once in Aberdeen we were a bit in a rush, our host for the night expected us soon after our arrival and we still had a good hour to get there. So we only visited the city centre and went to the two places we saw : “MacBeans” a coffee roasters – because my friend is a coffee addict and as I like to discover good addresses I took him there, he bought some coffee – really good according to him – and I bought a bag of Scottish breakfast tea – I have to finish my previous one first so I don’t try it yet. The second address is “Foodstory” an ethical coffee shop who also have a vegan market and yoga classes, everything was at least vegetarian and quite nice, the pastries were a bit dry but it was the end of the day. I think the place is really nice and the same kind of place just opened in Edinburgh “Beetroot Sauvage” where everything is vegan but I’ll make a separate post to introduce this place I really like. So back in Aberdeen, it was the end of the day; the rain started to fall so we quickly walk around and took back the road to go in Moray.

Just a quick parenthesis : for the two places we went to I found them in the “Scottish Independent Coffee guide n.2”, that guide is like my bible when I want to discover a nice independent coffee shop. I think I’ll make a separate post on it as well – end of the parenthesis.

Once arrived, after driving under a heavy rain, we discover the little BnB where we were supposed to spend the night, the place was absolutely beautiful, the exact same place that I dream to live in, so charming (http://www.netherdallachy.co.uk). Our host was a sweetheart and gave us a nice address to have diner. We followed her recommendation and went to the Banff Springs Hotel, from the outside the place doesn’t look like much, I mean it’s a modern hotel but they have a great sea view and with the sunset it was perfect. I took a seafood platter and oh my god! It was so delicious! The smoked mackerel seemed a bit dry at first but it was the tenderest and delicious fish I ever had in my life. This first day ended pretty well.

For our second day we followed the recommendations of our host who advised us to follow the coast toward the East instead of only going West. First breakfast! A big part of the breakfast was homemade and delicious especially the apple and rhubarb jam, a delight! We also discover a regional specialty : the Buttery, it’s like a flattened croissant with a pinch of salt. I think I could go back in Speyside just to eat some more!!

Our first stop was Pennan, a village hidden at the bottom of the cliffs, the layout is really particular, the village his just a piece of land squeezed between the sea and the cliffs lengthwise. To get to the village you have to go down a 14% and a 17% gradients, because the road is on top of the cliffs. It was quite scary and we had some difficulties to set out again. The sea being directly after the slope when you arrive in the village, we lacked the necessary impulse to go back up and we almost ended in the sea…good stuff, good stuff, anyway! The second village, Crovie, have the same configuration but I find it a bit prettier, maybe because the sun came out, I don’t know. On this coast there is plenty of village like that and their story is a bit sad. During the Clearance they expelled people from their home, mostly in the Highlands and relocated them in those villages, created for the occasion.

After Crovie went West in direction of Cullen, one of my main goals for this trip. Cullen is a former Royal Burgh and birthplace of the Cullen Skink, a haddock and potatoes rich soup. After walking a bit around the village we went to eat…a Cullen Skink of course, at the « Rockpool Cafe », it was absolutely amazing and really filling, it’s served with a piece of bread, which was good as well. Cullen is also famous for is viaduct, he was built in 1884 because the local Earl didn’t want the railway goes on his land, so they built a viaduct that goes over the city.

Then we followed the coast and arrived in Portknockie under a massive shower. Luckily the rain just stopped when we get out of the car and the sun came back, just for us to see the Bow Fiddle Rock, a natural sea arch where thousands of birds are nesting. It was amazingly beautiful with this special light you have after the rain. Our last coastal village was Findochty, a nice fishermen’s village.

After this village we left the coast and went inland, in direction of the Speyside area, the plan was to visit two distilleries in the “Friends of the Single Malt” passport : Cardhu and Cragganmore. So on our second day we visited the Cardhu distillery, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the tour, the guide wasn’t really passionate by what she said, etc.

Then we went into the direction of Dufftown the whisky capital, with no less than 7 distilleries and a cooperage. Before reaching the village we stopped at Craigellachie to see a work of art that I studied in my old days at Uni, when I studied History of Art, the “Telford Bridge”. It is an amazing piece of industry that crosses the Spey River.

Our host in Dufftown was absolutely lovely and welcoming. For diner we decided to go to the local pub “The Stuart Arms”, after that we walked a bit in the village, it’s nice and quiet little village. We couldn’t go to bed before having a dram; after all we were in the whisky capital! So we went back to the pub and had some Speyside single malts.

For our third and final day we had planned a walk in the Drummuir Estate, that end at the Loch Park, the weather wasn’t at its best so that ruined a bit the walk but once we arrived at the loch it was forgotten, it was really pretty and charming with the “autumnal” colours of the trees, even if it was the end of April. On the embankment there was a canoe who gives to the whole thing a timeless atmosphere.

It was already time to go visited the Cragganmore distillery. This tour was way better than the Cardhu one, the guide was really passionate about whisky and we could feel it. It wasn’t a regular tour but more of a “connoisseur tour” so at the end we tried out three different Speyside single malt, one of course was a Cragganmore, the tasting room was in the former office of the first owner of the distillery, with wood panel and chimney. The surrounding was absolutely lovely and gave a special touch to the tour and the tasting.

My friend’d heard that a place on our way back toward Edinburgh was particularly beautiful : Queen’s View over the Loch Tummel, next to Pitlochry. So as it was on our way anyway we decided to stop a last time to see this famous point a view. The road to reach it is a bit dangerous, once you left the A9 you pass in a winding road where you could cross buses – because the point of view is quite touristic – on a road wide enough for one car! It’s a bit tricky and we were afraid we’d end up in the ravine. Once arrived we had only few minutes to admire the view peacefully, after that a group arrived and I have to say that it was way less peaceful, anyway the view and the loch are really worth it.

This stop concludes our trip in Aberdeenshire and Speyside. Overall the trip went very well despite some fears and it will remain in my memory as a very pleasant trip.

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