February arrived, bringing with it the dreaded lurgy. It struck me first, then floored Mr G the next day. After ten days of flu we had a severe case of sorry-for-self-itis. It felt like months since we’d rambled around Scotland. Craving scenery and fresh air, our trip to Dufftown came just at the right time. A weekend in whisky country would cheer us up.
We left Edinburgh with no fixed plans for our journey north, other than finding somewhere to stop for a potter and a bowl of soup for lunch.
Cairngorms National Park
It was a beautiful day – even the perpetually gloomy Pass of Drumochter looked springlike when we drove through it.
Before Mr G became a hobby snapper, stopping en route to a destination was frowned upon. Road-trips involved me gazing forlornly out of the car window at multiple missed photo opportunities. So, when he suggested we stop at Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie on this trip the irony wasn’t lost on me. He’d never willingly visited the site before.
Ruthven Barracks were built after the Jacobite rising of 1715. Stationing government troops in the Highlands meant they could be mobilised quickly to deal with rebellion. In 1745 the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, rallied for another attempt to put a Stuart back on the throne. On 11th February 1746 they captured Ruthven Barracks.
On 16th April 1746 the ’45 ended with a heavy Jacobite defeat at Culloden. It was at Ruthven Barracks that the survivors learned Bonnie Prince Charlie had fled, leaving them to their fate. They torched the place and left.
An air of melancholy hangs over the site today, but it’s scenic (and photogenic) – hence Mr G’s sudden interest in Jacobite history.
A bite to eat and a VERY stiff breeze
After visiting Ruthven Barracks we stopped for lunch at the Red Squirrel Cafe in Glenmore. We wanted simple comfort food – we found it. Tattie, leek and neep soup, cake and coffee – perfect.
It was a gorgeous day, so we decided to venture deeper into the Cairngorms National Park to fill our lungs with fresh mountain air.
We parked at Cairngorm Mountain and a delighted Wee White Dug made a beeline for a small patch of snow. He rolled in it like a wild thing – he’s snow obsessed that boy.
We were in grouse territory so we scanned the hillside looking for the feathered beasties. Like most of our wildlife spotting attempts we were on a hiding to nothing. We have no patience, so wildlife spotting involves a five-minute scan of the countryside before we give up and storm off.
It was freakishly mild for the time of year. 13 degrees in these parts in February is not the norm. The gale force wind that lurks on every Scottish mountain was present though.
Into whisky country & Clan Grant territory
We continued north and into the Speyside whisky region (which also happens to be Clan Grant territory).
We couldn’t resist stopping at the fairytale gatehouse of Ballindalloch Castle on the banks of the River Avon. Ballindalloch Castle has been home to the MacPherson-Grant family since 1546.
The Wee White Dug posed proudly for a photo, then charged up to the gatehouse as if he expected to be invited in. He looked put out when I explained we weren’t castle dwelling members of Clan Grant.
After leaving Ballindalloch Castle we stopped at Craigellachie Bridge. The category A listed bridge was built by Thomas Telford between 1812 and 1815. It’s Scotland’s oldest surviving iron bridge. It’s also a lovely place to stop for a wander by the River Spey.
Golden hour fell soon after we arrived, casting a warm, amber light over everything – even the boy was aglow.
A bijou gem in Dufftown
Our accommodation was tucked away in a quiet, gated courtyard in the centre of Dufftown.
One look at the semi-detached cottage and I knew we were going to enjoy staying there. It looked really plush. It was called I Wee Kalf which appealed to my sense of humour. One week off – get it?
Inside, the cottage was decorated to a high standard throughout. It was bijou, but with a lounge/kitchen and an en suite bedroom we had plenty of space for a comfortable stay.
A welcome note from the owner sent me rushing to check inside the freezer. Woooooo hooooo ‘smoky & peaty’ – my favourite whisky ice cream from Dufftown’s very own Balvenie Street Ice Cream. I’d be tucking into that later.
There was an honesty bar too, with some fine local malts to sample – and sample I would.
That evening we had dinner at the dog-friendly Stuart Arms Bar. In two minutes we went from cottage to table. One mac n cheese and chicken curry later, we were ready to settle down for the night at our cosy but n ben.
Fleecy PJs on, I tucked into a bowl of whisky ice cream and a dram of Singleton.
A new day dawns in whisky country
We woke early the next morning, raring to get outside.
First things first though – breakfast.
Porridge (with honey for me and jam for Mr G) and wholemeal toast with Glenfarclas whisky marmalade.
The breakfast of champions.
It was lovely outside – not what we’d expected when we arranged a mid-February trip to Dufftown.
A few miles from Dufftown, Auchindoun Castle was our first stop of the day. The 15th century ruin sits in a secluded spot, reached via a short walk through farmland.
Like many Scottish castles, this one has a dark past. In 1571 the then owner of Auchindoun, Sir Adam Gordon attacked Corgarff Castle, setting it on fire and killing twenty-seven members of the household, including the lady of the house Margaret Campbell.
Today, it’s such a peaceful place that it’s hard to imagine dastardly deeds being plotted there.
Castle exploring done, we headed to Spey Bay on the Moray coast. Spey Bay is a small village that sits where the River Spey flows into the Moray Firth. It’s a good place to visit for wildlife spotting. Dolphins, seals and otters can all be seen there, if you have a keen eye and a bit of patience – needless to say we spotted nothing. We did enjoy a nice walk though.
There’s a well-preserved ice house at Spey Bay too – a remnant of the salmon fishing industry that thrived there for centuries.
It was time for elevenses, so we drove to the nearby village of Garmouth in search of caffeine.
In June 1650, the exiled Charles II landed in Garmouth. If he landed there today, he’d be able to enjoy a good cup of coffee and some delicious home baking from the Speyside Coffee Roasting Co – a small batch coffee roastery and cafe located in the village. It’s one of our favourite coffee stops in Scotland.
Whisky galore at Glen Moray Distillery
A weekend in whisky country wouldn’t be complete without visiting a distillery. As luck would have it we’d been invited to visit Glen Moray Distillery. Fay and Graham Coull who live there (Graham’s the Master Distiller) are Twitter buddies of mine.
I’m still a novice when it comes to whisky (and Mr G is frightened of it, even in ice cream form) but we’re both fascinated by the whisky making process.
When Graham opened up one of the distillery’s duty-free warehouses to let us peek inside we both uttered an awestruck “WOW”. Rows of whisky barrels stretched off into the dark recesses of the warehouse. It was an incredible sight.
We also got to visit the malt silo and copper stills. The copper stills are easily the most iconic thing you’ll see on a distillery tour.
It was a fascinating visit and such an honour to have Graham and Fay show us around. We’ll definitely be doing the full tour (sans The Wee White Dug) as soon as we find the time.
Rothes – The Dounie Walk
We were keen to get a decent walk under our belts, so we stopped in Rothes to do The Dounie walk there.
Setting off from Rothes Castle (or what’s left of it) we headed uphill towards the town’s golf course.
Reaching the golf course we cut across the top of it and down a steep path into The Dounie.
The Dounie consists of a pair of leafy glens – Little Dounie and Muckle (big) Dounie. Once immersed in the leafy loveliness it feels really calm and remote. It’s hard to believe there’s a town with a thriving whisky industry a stone’s throw away.
The return leg of our walk took us back through The Dounie, then into the centre of Rothes via Glenrothes Distillery. We were wheezing slightly as we climbed the steep wee hill to Rothes Castle where we’d left the car.
We’d managed a modest (but respectable post flu) five kilometre walk. We were back in the game and it felt so good to be rambling around Scotland again.
Time to relax
After a takeaway dinner (lazy self-catering at its best) we spent a relaxing night listening to music. I indulged in another large bowl of whisky ice cream.
The Wee White Dug spent his evening loafing like a sultan, puggled (tired) after his fun-packed day.
A morning in Dufftown
We woke the next morning to another lovely day. I cooked us a healthy(ish) fry up as Mr G packed the car.
I Wee Kalf had been an excellent base for a weekend in whisky country.
Bacon and tattie scones are tasty but they need to be walked off, so after leaving our cute cottage we set off on a local walk.
The Giant’s Chair (a rock formation) can be visited as part of a circular walk.
We started our morning hike at Mortlach Kirk. The kirk was established in 566 making it one of the oldest continuously used Christian worship sites in Scotland.
Mortlach kirkyard is entered via a gate decorated with a Pictish stone. It’s a depiction of a stone that stands inside the kirkyard.
The stone is weathered and the carvings are hard to make out. The serpent is easiest to spot and I could just make out the man on horseback, but the rest was invisible to me.
Can you see them?
The Giant’s Chair Walk
Leaving the kirkyard we followed a sign for Giant’s Chair. The path led us along the grassy bank of a burn, before climbing into a steep, wooded gorge.
Along the way we passed stones carved with quotes inspired by nature.
The boy was in his element until we reached a wooden bridge. He won’t walk on anything with holes underfoot, so Mr G had to carry him across.
We stopped briefly, to watch a waterfall tumbling, down into the gorge.
A while later we reached the Giant’s Chair – neither of us could fathom out how it resembled a chair.
Far more interesting was the Giant’s Cradle a short distance away. The Giant’s Cradle is a large pothole, which was carved by ice.
We crossed a very shoogly bridge to reach it (only narrowly avoiding falling into the rocky burn below).
Mr G tried to coax the boy inside but he was having none of it. When I climbed in he jumped in after me and happily posed for photos – he’s such a mummy’s boy.
The final leg of our walk took us along a quiet country road towards Dufftown. The boy led the way with a spring in his step.
We all had a spring in our step – it was a lovely morning, we were surrounded by gorgeous scenery and doing what we loved.
Walk over, it was time to say goodbye to Dufftown.
One last stop at Speyside Cooperage
The last time we passed the Speyside Cooperage Mr G wasn’t a keen Instagrammer – he paid little heed to the barrels piled up at the site. This time round he nearly lost his mind when he saw them – snap, snap, snap went his camera. If you’ve known the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, take that excitement and double it!
The cooperage is one of the last remaining in the UK where barrels are made by hand. It’s also the only one with a visitor centre, so you can watch the coopers in action.
A weekend in whisky country turned out to be exactly what we needed to recover from the lurgy.
The accommodation for this trip was provided by Sykes Holiday Cottages to allow me to create content for their #bucketlistbreaks campaign on Instagram. All opinions are my own.
Until next time ……………