By having an early breakfast we were able to book onto the first tour of the morning in the nearby Cragganmore Distillery. We were the only two so had a private trip with guide. This is only a small outfit and we got to see, and smell, all of the processes at close hand. The distillery was set up in 1869 to take advantage of the Craggan Burn and the nearby railway. Cragganmore Single Malt is one of the most complex Speyside Malts. The distillery’s unique flat topped spirit stills and the slow condensation in traditional worm tubs, promotes Cragganmore’s complexity. The whisky is stored in either Bourbon casks imported from the states or Sherry/Port casks – each giving a different taste. There were vast bonded warehouse spaces filled with ageing casks, quite a sight.
The whole process from mash to spirit is now computerised and can be virtually run by one man from a central console! At the end of the tour we got to sample two of their single malts and as we were the only ones a couple of other malts as well. Unusual to start a days walking fuelled by whisky.
The day continued with a whisky theme as the walk followed the Speyside railway for 10miles past several other distilleries and their abandoned halts. Speyside has the greatest number of distilleries of any whisky producing area. First we crossed the Spey itself on the iron girdered railway bridge.
At the far end we were awarded the sight of a red squirrel in a nearby tree – giving a good photo opportunity. We in fact saw red squirrels most days of the walk, so hopefully they are thriving up here.
Easy walking gave us fast progress with the river close at hand. Several other way walkers were encountered and the abandoned line was popular with cyclists. Abandoned railways can often become monotonous to walk along but somehow today had plenty of interest.
Eventually we arrived in the pleasant small town of Aberlour for afternoon coffee and then the last couple of miles along the Spey to the even smaller Craigellachie. This consists of a distillery, a handful of houses and two hotels. We were staying in The Highlander, the more modest of the two. Greeted by a Chinese girl with blue hair! Also serving on were a Thai and a Dutch girl. What’s going on? Not a Scot’s accent in the place, which is renowned for its collection of malts in the bar. They have over 400 different malts, which is nothing compared to the hotel across the road which has 750! The Whisky ‘menu’ was a volume in itself, I restricted myself to sampling the malts from the local distillery in the village. Everyone in the bar were enjoying themselves and all seemed very knowledgeable about the whisky, particularly the large number of German visitors.