Scotch Whiskey is made from malted barley, grains, or a mixture of the two. Single malt, made from malted barley and water, comes from a single distillery and is unique because no two malts are alike. Peat, sometimes used in the kilning of the barely adds a distinctive smoky flavor. The wild Atlantic Ocean has definitely bestowed its salty influence on whiskey produced on Scottish islands (such as Skye and Islay).
Since the beginning of history (and possibly before that) the world’s best whiskey has flowed from Scottish distilleries.
While the origins of whiskey are shrouded in mystery, we know that Scotland has perfected and still produces the world’s best whiskey.
The word “whiskey” (or Uisghe beatha) means waters of life in Gaelic, and in translation the social importance that this spirited liquid is clear.
Though we still do not know exactly how and when Scotland came to produce whiskey, some scholars believe that it originated in the Middle East (sometime in the 8th or 9th century) as a form of medicinal tinctures and was brought to Scotland/Ireland (then the end of the known western world). Regardless of how it began Scotland has perfected and been producing whiskey ever since.
Though Whiskey and Scotland go hand in hand today, their partnership was not always such a symbiotic one.
Until 1781 Whiskey was legal pending that it wasn’t offered for sale. It was around that time that the whiskey wars began and people began fighting in the parliament and on the rolling emerald Scottish hills for an end of the contraband. Decades of fighting and contraband continued along with the ever-changing laws/taxes until the Excise Act of 1823 combined with the Illicit Distillation Act. Today most of Scotland’s Whiskey distilleries trace their legal history back to 1823 and smuggler trails are now filled with hikers walking in the steps of histories illegal whiskey trade.
Whether you’re a whiskey lover, a history buff, or a nature enthusiast, you should get going and make plans to hike the “Scotland Malt Whiskey Trail”.
Scotland’s Whiskey Trail follows an epic path in the Speyside region winding from distillery to distillery, and trailing through some of the most breathtaking wilderness, that Scotland has to offer.
Main points of Interest along the Scottish Whiskey trail:
Planning your trip:
While planning a trip like this can seem daunting at first there are a number of great tour companies that will arrange self guided walking/driving tours, route, maps, lodging and even transport your belongings along the way. When booking with one of these tour companies the only decisions you’ll need to make are:
- The length of the hike
- Whether you want to stay at more basic accommodations (for a more affordable price) or splurge and go for the more luxurious accommodations along the way.
Planning Your Own Adventure:
If you are not easily daunted, planning your own trip is exciting, exhilarating, and might even pinch a few pennies from pricy tour company packages:
In order to simplify the process for you I have included a step-by-step list of all the steps needed for a self planned Scottish Journey.
- A topographic map: A laminated (in preparation for wet weather) topographic map is an important part of a self guided hike, because it will not only show you the trail, but it will also show different elevation as well as changes in the land. Some maps also show attractions, and points of interest along the hiking trails, as well as information about points of interest in the area. Topographic maps can be purchased online or at tourist information centers in Scotland.
- Walking: Figure out how many miles you realistically can walk in a day and make plans to camp or stay in accommodations along the way. Remember that its important to book accommodations in advance.
- Rainwear: Even if you don’t have plans to camp, I highly recommend that you bring high quality rainwear to combat the unpredictable wet Scottish weather. Remember “dry” equals warm happy hiking 🙂
- Organize your time: In order to properly organize your time, you first need to figure out what your goals are for this trip.
Are you strapped for time and just want to hike the trail as fast as possible?
Or do you want to hike the trail at a more leisurely pace and leave time at each stop to relax your legs and enjoy the sights and sounds of the distilleries, castles, and villages along the way?
If you want to “conquer” the hiking trail as fast as possible then I recommend that you train well and give yourself an extra day or two encase you need to slow down, relax and take some pictures along the way.
If you are in the mood for a more leisurely pace I recommend that you set aside at least two full days at each point of interest. One day to eat and relax your tired feet, and the second day to enjoy the sights and sounds of wherever you might find yourself.
- Pack Light: Bring all the essentials but none of the extras.
Unless you plan to stay very far away from human civilization (in which case you will need to pack light, but your bag will undoubtedly be heavy), be sure to pack as light as possible. The best way to ruin your epic hike is to weigh yourself down with unnecessary gear.
- Reserve a room in advance: Along the trail there are villages that offer accommodations ranging from family run bed & breakfasts to 4 star boutique hotels.
I suggest that you and book your accommodations well in advance. Though a “spontaneous” trip might sound adventurous, not booking a hotel or a B&B in advance can leave you out in the rain (quite literally). So be spontaneous but also responsible and plan.
Other points of Interest around and along the way:
- The Spirit of Speyside Whiskey Festival: May 3rd-May 7th
- Ballindalloch Castle (and golf course)
- Drumin Castle
- Auchindoun Castle
- Balvenie Castle
- Rothes Castle
- Speyside Trail
- Cairngorms National Park
When To Go:
Spring time; late March-late May is undoubtedly the best time for hiking in Scotland. Depending on the year, March can be fickle, some years it offers a pleasant and early spring, while other years it is cold and wet. April and May are usually beautiful months with spring sunshine and wild flowers dotting the countryside.
It is also possible to enjoy Scotland in the summer time (June-August) though you should beware of the clouds of midges and mosquitos that will most likely be hungrily following you around.
Getting There & Away:
The closest airport to Speyside’s Malt Whiskey Trail is, Inverness Airport (INV).
Though Inverness is the closest airport, Glasgow Airport (GLA) is a more direct flight for most international travelers. Once in Glasgow, you can take a connecting flight or bus to Inverness and then onwards to Speyside and the “Malt Whiskey Trail”.
Whether you are a hiking enthusiast or a whiskey connoisseur, Speyside’s “Malt Whiskey Trail” offers some of the best scenery in the Scottish Highlands plus a good insight into how whiskey is made and why this bronze liquid is called the waters of life both in Scotland and throughout the world.