Aberlour is one of Speyside’s loveliest small towns, and shelters in the lee of Ben Rinnes, Moray’s highest mountain. It’s whisky ‘The Aberlour’ also benefits from Ben Rinnes as its water source, and its hard to travel far around here without the distinctive profile of ‘The Ben’ looking over you.
The south side of the mountain oversees Glen Rinnes, and the distillery it’s named for. Here Eight Lands Organic Gin is created, yet another quality spirit this region can be proud of. Productive arable farmland, fine beef and lamb, grouse moors and game shoots, plus the River Spey itself all contribute to a peerless area of food production and, as you might expect, an abundance of creative chefs all making the most of this bountiful larder.
It’s a great excuse for a weekend away, or just a day trip if time is short. Within an easy hour and a bit from both Aberdeen and Inverness, this peachy part of Moray is worth getting to know a little better. We would suggest basing yourself at The Dowans Hotel in Aberlour, or one of the delightful self catering cottages nearby. Daleigh Cottage at nearby Advie is gorgeous for up to 4 guests, and Woodburn Cottage within walking distance of The Ben has three double bedrooms. Both happily allow dogs too. There are a collection of B&B’s, and some camp sites too. Check out the Gincyclopedia for the full selection.
If you do choose to self-cater, Aberlour is perfectly packed with provisions! Why not start at Walkers Shortbread shop on the High Street. This global brand began life here in Aberlour, and the main production plant is at the end of the town. The shop offers a comprehensive range of their finest products. After all, everything tastes better where it’s made. Opposite the Walkers Shop is The Speyside Whisky Shop. We say whisky, but it has a great selection of Scottish Gin too, as well as glassware and accessories. Expert advice is on hand, and mail order is also available, so don’t be shy!
Purchases, Pairings & Pure Deliciousness!
Just along, on the far side of the square is The Spey Larder, a lovely traditional delicatessen, with a completely awesome selection of cheese from all over Scotland and elsewhere. Grab a selection to pair with your whisky and gin – both work really well (see our blog on food pairing here). Coming out of the deli cross the road to S.A. Mackie Butchers shop to pick up something for breakfast or supper. A few paces further down brings you to an irresistible art and gift emporium The Gallery in Aberlour & Spey Sport. I challenge you to reappear without a purchase. I never have. Think ahead to the next birthday gift you’ll need to buy, and look for it here – you’ll find it!
Aberlour also benefits from it’s proximity to the River Spey which borders the town to the north west. Fishing beats break up the river banks. Fishers can be seen wading deep into the Spey from early February until mid September.
These days any salmon that are caught are released. This is so that they can continue to reach the spawning grounds further upriver. Not before a selfie in most cases! The Spey is one of Scotland’s longest rivers, and the fastest flowing. None of the water from the river actually goes into the local whiskies. The water from the nearby springs does, and many tributary rivers are used for cooling purposes and for the power that they generate.
In the 18th & 19th centuries timber from the forests of Rothiemurchus and Glenmore was floated down the Spey to the shipyards of Garmouth and Kingston. Thomas Telford’s beautiful bridge at Craigellachie was completed in 1814.
So, you have your accommodation, supplies, and some background knowledge. But, what to actually do? Well it won’t have escaped your notice that this is a spirited place! Take your pick from Gin, Whisky, or even Vodka, and you will find plenty to be discovered.
Travel In Style
At this point I should also mention some great local transport companies who will happily ferry you to and from your chosen victualler, in case you find the product as irresistible as the landscape. Speyside Executive Hire, More in Moray, DM Executive, and Moray Firth Tours all offer a range of vehicle sizes, some with a guide, others without. Click the links highlighted to learn more.
Several of the existing whisky distilleries have recently had makeovers, so even if you’ve been before, the tours are new and you’re sure to learn something fresh. Cardhu Distillery is now welcoming guests into a previously private part of the site, as it connects more closely with its giant Johnnie Walker brand, and The Macallan has a completely new distillery and visitor centre in a splendid architectural marvel on the hillside, overlooking Craigellachie. One of our favourites is The Glenallachie Distillery, just a mile or so outside Aberlour. It changed ownership recently and has just opened it’s doors to the public for the first time. It’s independent, picturesque, and produces some award winning whiskies which are finding new friends all around the world. We recommend a visit here.
Glenrinnes Distillery is also a newcomer. Producing fully organic vodka and gin in it’s modern distillery on the flanks of Ben Rinnes itself. The water comes from a mountain spring and the spirit is produced from a mixture of wheat and barley. Eight Lands is a London Dry Gin, and is making itself known in stylish cocktail bars. Tours are available, so discover your stylish side here in Speyside!
Of course many people come to the region to conquer ‘The Ben’. There are two main options here: either you follow the main track from a small parking area off the ‘Beatshach, a small road linking the Spey Valley and Glenrinnes, or you go the other way! Find the tall red chimney of Ben Rinnes Distillery (not open for tours unfortunately), and park at the ‘Ben end’ in a row of kindly laid out parking bays.
Follow a narrow path up between fields and through some old birch woods until the vista opens out to heather moors and the sandy track ahead to take you up the Ben. You may choose to climb to the top, via the second summit at the northern end of the plateau, or take the base route. This follows the contours of the front of the mountain, crossing burns as it goes.
This ‘low road’ is actually longer than the ‘high road’ above, but not as strenuous. The ups are matched equally by the downs, and none are overly long. However, after a lot of rain the burns become a raging torrent, so it might be best avoided then unless you like to paddle? I prefer the low road. You’re likely to see no one else and to see far more non-human life. Look out for grouse, partridge, red deer, buzzards, long tailed tits, and lizards on warm days, plus the occasional sighting of a golden eagle every now and again if you’re lucky.
Of course there are also low level walks following the River Spey and the Speyside Way. Take a tiny taste of it by walking from Aberlour to Craigellachie and visiting Thomas Telfords beautiful arched iron bridge as it crosses the gorge under the tree smothered cliffs above. With it’s own sandy beach, you can get right to the waters edge for a paddle. It’s roughly a 2.5 mile round trip back to Aberlour, or stop off in Craigellachie for a dram at The Copper Dog or the Highlander Inn next door.
Take a Ginspired Guides
Once you’re done, you will have all those lovely whisky, gin, cheese, meat, and shortbread goodies to look forward to. Or enjoy a gorgeous meal of locally produced ingredients at your hotel. What could be better?