Grantown Initiative recently invited us to spend a weekend in the pretty Speyside town. Being Grants we jumped at the chance to discover just how much there is to see and do in Grantown-on-Spey.
Grantown-on-Spey is often described as a great base for exploring the Highlands. And while that’s true, it’s so much more than a staging post for visiting other places. There’s plenty to keep you entertained in Grantown-on-Spey.
Here’s how our trip went.
Day one – top things to see and do in Grantown-on-Spey
The first thing we did when we arrived in Grantown-on-Spey was park at The Speyside Hotel, where we’d be staying, then head off to explore on foot.
Shop local: Croft Cafe and Produce
Grantown-on-Spey has a vibrant high street filled with a good range of independent shops selling everything from books, to whisky, homeware, clothes and more.
Fiona’s Wholefoods and Refills
Our first port of call on the High Street was Fiona’s Wholefoods & Refills. The heavenly smelling shop sells a wide range of environmentally friendly products and packaging free foodstuffs. There’s a coffee shop too, that serves cakes and hot drinks.
We met Karen from Grantown Business Association in the cafe to chat about all things Grantown over coffee and cake. Both coffee and cakes were awesome, as was the welcome Fiona and her team gave the boy (and us too). He lapped up the attention and didn’t want to leave when it was time for us to move on.
Ewe & Me Gifts
Our next stop on the High Street was Ewe & Me, a gift shop that sells jewellery, art, ornaments and toiletries, many of which are made in Scotland. The shop is a real treasure trove. Amongst the treasures in Ewe and Me is one that’s not for sale. Ben the shop Westie belongs to owner Janet. He’s a wee cutie. Casper and Ben hit it off in true Westie fashion. First an enthusiastic greeting, followed by complete indifference.
The candy Coo
Further along the High Street we popped into The Candy Coo. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the shop for you. The shelves are filled with jars of sweets that’ll take you back to your childhood.
We resisted the jars but not the ice cream counter.
So many shops, so little time
There were loads more shops we’d have visited if time was on our side. Kindly, they came to us in the form of a wonderful gifted hamper filled with goodies. We’d only been in Grantown-on-Spey for a short while and had been bowled over by the generosity shown to us.
Relax & Reconnect: The Therapy suite
After retail therapy came relaxation for me and a walk for the boys.
The Therapy Suite is located a few minutes away from the centre of Grantown. The spa offers a range of beauty and spa treatments and also has a thermal suite where guests have access to a steam room, sauna and hot tub.
I was booked in for a massage with Sheena. After completing a questionnaire, Sheena selected three oil blends based on my answers. I could smell chamomile in the first, so it was a no. The second had lavender in it which I love. Oddly, the third had no smell. I firmly believe your body knows what it needs, so chose blend two – ‘De-Stress Muscle Oil’ from Aromatherapy Associates. It sounded perfect for someone who works hunched over a desk and oftens teeters on the verge of burnout.
I started my treatment by inhaling frankincense to relax and ground me. Next, the soles of my feet were massaged with warm oil, before my head, neck, shoulders and back were worked on to tease out every last knot of tension. It was a blissful experience and I felt amazing afterwards.
Stay: The Speyside Hotel
When we arrived at The Speyside Hotel Mark was there waiting to check us in. Mark manages the hotel, while wife Jane works her magic in the kitchen.
The Speyside Hotel is located on a quiet, residential street a two minute walk away from the town centre. The hotel has a traditional Highland bar and restaurant where guests can unwind over dinner and drinks after exploring Grantown by day.
Our double room had a view of the Cromdale Hills and was fresh, modern and spotlessly clean.
The ensuite was large and filled with natural light. There were luxurious Scottish toiletries too. Hotels supporting other local businesses always win brownie points in my book.
Once we’d settled in, Mr G popped to the bar for drinks and we relaxed in our room until it was time to get ready for dinner.
Eat: Po Pia Thai
We had a table booked at Po Pia on the High Street. The authentic Thai restaurant is run by Callie and Bot. Callie (a Scot) looks after the front of house, while husband Bot rustles up dishes from his homeland in the kitchen.
Callie welcomed us on arrival and showed us to our table. After giving us menus, she took our drinks order. Our drinks arrived quickly, along with a bowl of water and biscuit for the boy.
Everything on the menu sounded fab. I chose vegetable spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce to start and Mr G opted for Thai fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce. We traded a spring roll for a fish cake and tucked in. We’d chosen well – both dishes were amazing.
I had chicken and ginger stir fry with egg fried rice for my main course and Mr G had katsu chicken curry with boiled rice. Unlike me, he’s not a curry lover, so I was surprised when he started raving about his main. Mine was packed with flavour and equally rave worthy.
Having scoffed cakes earlier we called it a day after two lovely courses.
The service, staff and food at Po Pia were excellent and the restaurant being dog friendly was an added bonus.
Day two – top things to see and do in Grantown-on-Spey
We slept like logs on our first night at The Speyside Hotel, thanks to a comfy bed, quiet location and fresh air wafting in through an open window.
Our second day in Grantown-on-Spey was going to be action packed, so we’d need a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day ahead.
Eat: The Speyside Hotel
Once we were seated for breakfast Mark asked that all important question “Tea or coffee?”. “Coffee” we chimed in unison. With our caffeine fix taken care of, we could now focus on food. We both ordered a cooked Scottish breakfast with toast and fruit juice. The food was great and locally sourced too. More brownie points for The Speyside Hotel.
Now, we were ready for adventure.
Grantown on foot: woodland walks
Our first itinerary stop was a thirty minute walk away. We could’ve driven there but I’m glad we didn’t because we met ducklings waddling down the street.
Once we saw the ducklings safely reunited with mummy duck, we joined a woodland trail on the edge of town and followed it into a beautiful pinewood, alive with the sound of birdsong.
A short distance along the trail we spotted a deer. She spotted us too, but decided we were too far away to be a threat. Minutes later I stopped at a small lochan to coo over more ducklings. Mr G dragged me away before my love of wildlife made us late.
The last part of our ramble led us along a section of old railway line, to reach our destination.
Outdoor adventure: Craggan Outdoors
Craggan Outdoors is an outdoor activity centre based at Craggan Golf Course. The centre offers a range of activities including golf (regular, disc and foot), gorge walking, laser tag, canoeing and archery.
We were there to try our hand at archery and foot at golf.
Ops Manager Josh greeted us on arrival and introduced us to Katie – the poor soul who’d be teaching a corrie fisted pair (left handed) archery.
Left handed people are the stuff of nightmares for sports coaches, but Katie was unfazed. She found two left handed bows and set about showing us the ropes using her own left hand, so her instructions were easy to follow.
We’ve tried archery before, but using smaller ambidextrous bows and with closer targets. We were both quite good for first timers and evenly matched. This time round, not so much. Mr G still hit the target consistently, but the only thing I was consistent at was missing the target. Try as she might, Katie couldn’t make an archer out of me with a grown up bow.
Katie finished our lesson with some games, including one where Mr G and I teamed up to make a virtual pizza using the target. Hitting the white section earned us dough for the pizza, yellow cheese, red tomato sauce and blue a topping of choice. We made a big doughy pizza, with a tiny dollop of tomato sauce and teaspoon of cheese.
After our archery lesson it was time to do battle on the foot golf course. Foot golf is like regular golf, only it’s but played by trying to kick a football into a hole.
Mr G was convinced his victory would be comfortable. He was less cocky when I gave him a run for his money on the first three holes.
By the fourth hole my beginner’s luck had dried up and he raced into the lead. Despite the lack of competition in our game it was really good fun and we howled with laughter at some of the action shots I captured of Mr G ‘teeing off’.
The laughs got louder on the ninth hole when Mr G’s ball landed in a water hazard. He suggested I kick mine towards the edge of the pond, but struck by a sudden bout of overconfidence I ignored him and tried kicking it across the sizeable pond. Ten seconds later Mr G was fishing both balls out of the water. Not a glorious finish, but they say laughter is the best medicine and we had a big dose of that at Craggan Outdoors.
Grantown on foot: riverside walks
Our next itinerary stop was a short, scenic walk away from Craggan Outdoors. A riverside path next to the golf course led us along the Spey, passing a historic churchyard with a Pictish stone in it, then a small sandy beach. Grantown-on-Spey has a beach – who knew?
Eat: Andersons Wood Fired Pizza
Andersons Wood Fired Pizza is located on a small industrial estate (nicer than it sounds) near the Old Spey Bridge. Owner Adam Anderson set up the takeaway pizza business during the pandemic and his pizzas were a hit with the locals. Adam isn’t the only talented foodie in the family. He shares his premises with brother Steve who owns Cairngorm Leaf and Bean Coffee Roasters.
We ordered a small salami piccante pizza topped with spicy salami from Calabria, San Marina tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, roquito peppers and chilli honey each. Adam convinced us to try a pulled pork roll too, so we agreed to share one.
We sat outside in the sunshine while we waited for our food. Our pizzas and hog roast roll arrived arrived along with a portion of chocolate churros with salted caramel dipping sauce.
One bite of pizza told our taste buds this wasn’t your average takeaway pizza. It was easily the best we’ve had at home or abroad.
The hog roast sandwich was tasty too and the churros were divine.
Get crafty: Smarty Art
After lunch we waddled back to the centre of town to get creative.
Smarty Art is a ceramic painting shop owned by Nikka and Declan Gallagher. Declan welcomed us to Smarty Art and showed us the ropes. Then we each chose something to paint before carefully selecting colours. When I say carefully – I carefully selected colours for the little fairy I was going to paint. Mr G chose one shade of grey for the fighter jet he’d picked.
Colours selected, I started to make my fairy look pretty and was soon immersed in what I was doing. It whisked me off down memory lane to the high school art classes I loved as a teenager.
While I painted, Mr G yakked to Declan about football. We only spent an hour at Smarty Art because he wanted to rush back to our hotel room to watch football. After listening to him talking about football incessantly for sixty minutes, I’d now have to sit through ninety minutes of it too.
Mr G might have won at archery and foot golf, but when it came to ceramic painting I reigned supreme.
History & Heritage: Escape Cairngorms
After relaxing back at the hotel for a couple of hours, we were raring to try another fun activity.
Escape Cairngorms have two escape rooms inside The Pagoda – a cool restaurant that looks exactly like it sounds.
One of the rooms has a WWII POW escape theme. The other is based on local bad egg Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan aka Wolf of Badenoch, who burnt down Elgin Cathedral in 1390.
We chose the local themed room.
Before starting our games master Russell gave us a rundown of the rules. We’d have 60 minutes to escape from the Wolf’s lair. Russell would watch us on camera and if we waved he could offer us clues on a screen, but wouldn’t be able to hear or speak to us.
Inside the first room we got to work hunting for keys and trying to decipher riddles. With some help from Russell we progressed to a second room.
As we searched that room frantically the clock continued to tick away. More hints from Russell followed and we finally progressed to a third room. This room went all out to bamboozle us with riddles, combination locks and hidden keys. Eventually, after a gazillion more clues from Russell we escaped.
At 59 minutes and 46 seconds, we’d made it out by the skin of our teeth.
Eat: The Pagoda
After our escape room adventure it was time to head through to The Pagoda restaurant for dinner. Lots of greenery, Bhudda statues and ambient light in the restaurant give the place a nice mellow vibe.
After running around like headless chickens in the escape room we’d worked up a drooth (thirst) that only soft drinks would quench, so as soon as we were seated I ordered soda water and lime and Mr G ordered water.
We gulped our ice cold drinks down as we studied the menu.
After learning the soup of the day was tattie and leek, we both ordered it to start. It was served with artisan bread and was really tasty.
For my main course I had homemade chilli con carne with rice, tortilla chips and dips. It was the perfect comfort food after a busy. Mr G had breaded haddock and chips with tartar sauce, which he really enjoyed.
With sugar from the churros we’d eaten at lunchtime still coursing through our veins, we skipped dessert and headed back to The Speyside Hotel for an early night.
It didn’t didn’t take us long to fall asleep after such a fun-packed day.
Day three – top things to see and do in Grantown-on-Spey
Eat: The Speyside Hotel
We woke the next morning looking forward to discovering more of Grantown-on-Spey before it was time for us to head home. First, we had another of Jane’s tasty breakfasts to look forward to.
We had it on good authority that Jane was something of a porridge making whiz. Apparently it was so good that it was worthy of a golden spurtle – a wooden implement used to stir porridge and the ultimate accolade in porridge making circles. We ordered porridge and bacon butties too.
Our breakfast arrived along with a sausage for the boy. The sausage lasted as long as our porridge did. Mark was right. Jane’s porridge was awesome and we should know as we’ve eaten it all over Scotland.
After breakfast we packed the car and said goodbye to Mark and the wonderful Speyside Hotel.
History & Heritage: Secret Strathspey
We might have packed the car, but we wouldn’t be using it quite yet because we were meeting Marcus from Secret Strathspey for a walking tour.
Marcus worked as a high school history teacher in the south of England, until deciding to relocate to Scotland with his wife so they could enjoy a more relaxing pace of life.
After moving to his new home, Marcus decided to make a career move too. He set up Secret Strathspey to offer history themed walking tours in and around Grantown on Spey. We were given a choice of tours and picked a two hour ‘Folk Tales and Legends’ tour.
We set off from The Speyside Hotel and Marcus and I were soon nattering about our shared love of history. Our tour proper started when we reached some woodland trails a short distance from the hotel.
As soon as we set foot inside the woods, Marcus began pointing out wildflowers and plants we’d probably have missed. They were linked to tales of alchemy, giants, extremely clever fish and mysterious fairy folk.
Historically, many of the plants was saw had been used to treat common ailments. We learned that the daisy, or day’s eye was believed to cure eye problems. The fact daisies looked like eyes was taken to be a sign from god.
Don’t much on a hunch
We climbed up through the woodland, listening intently as Marcus entertained us with his natural ability for storytelling. When we reached a clearing in the woods, we learned some foraging tips. The most important being ‘don’t munch on a hunch’. Good advice for sure. We picked berries from a juniper bush and made juniper tea, which we drank as Marcus foraged for sheep’s sorrel for us to eat. I thought it would taste nondescript, but it had a strong citrusy flavour and was really nice. Even Mr G who rarely gets involved with that sort of malarkey tried it and was pleasantly surprised.
Our tour drew to a close at a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the Cromdale Hills. We lingered there a while and listened to Marcus recount the events that led up to the lesser known Jacobite battle that took place at Cromdale in 1690.
The time we spent with Marcus flew by. His tour was informative, engaging and fun. We’ll definitely join him on another tour when we’re next in the area.
Eat: The Grantown Diner & Takeaway
Before leaving Grantown, we had one last treat in store – lunch at Grantown Diner & Takeaway.
Jon Wood opened the eatery in June 2020 with his wife Anna after he lost his job at a local four-star hotel due to redundancy.
I love American diners, but never expected to find such an authentic one in Grantown-on-Spey. It’s like a little piece of the USA in the heart of Speyside.
With a CV like Jon’s, Grantown Diner & Takeaway was never going to be a run of the mill burger joint. He cooks to order, using fresh, quality ingredients and a pinch of creative flair for good measure.
We started by ordering banana milkshakes. They were delicious. Food wise I had a chicken burger served with fries. The filling was fajita spiced chicken breast, topped with peppers, onion, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. It was braw and the fries were cooked to perfection. Mr G had Cajun dusted Scottish langoustine scampi with crispy fried potatoes, salad, slaw and homemade tartar sauce. He loved it. The boy wasn’t left out either. He got a sausage.
If your idea of diner food is flimsy burgers served with soggy lettuce on a dry roll, then you need to visit Grantown-on-Spey, because the Grantown Diner & Takeaway will knock your socks off.
Grantown-on-Spey – a wonderful visitor destination
We arrived in Grantown-on-Spey thinking we knew the town well, but after spending three days there it was obvious we’d only scratched the surface before. Our itinerary included loads of cool things to see and do, as well as great places to eat, drink, shop and sleep. And despite packing so much into our visit, we left Grantown with a list of things we still want to see and do there.
Our accommodation, food and experiences were provided on a complimentary basis as part of a paid partnership with Discover Grantown, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …