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On the whisky path: a weekend of wee drams in Moray Speyside, Scotland | Scotland holidays

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The world outdoors my sleeper-train compartment was black and white: timber with feather-like branches silhouetted towards snowy fields; the gray stretch of the A9 after which the glossy metal of a river; white candy-floss clouds towards an ever paler sky.

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Whisky map

By the point I used to be in my rent automobile, driving east from Inverness, color was slowly returning to the panorama, although the hills beneath the milky solar have been nonetheless cloaked in snow. I used to be heading for Moray Speyside, edged by the Cairngorms within the south and the huge Moray Firth within the north. Over the course of my weekend, the water of the latter dipped out and in of view, whereas the mountains remained tantalisingly distant.

Salmon boats line the River Spey at Craigellachie. {Photograph}: Jasperimage/Alamy

The area is legendary for its whisky and justifiably so. Moray Speyside is residence to greater than 50 distilleries, greater than a 3rd of Scotland’s complete. Regardless of figuring out this, the variety of brown distillery indicators that greeted me got here as a shock – no sooner would I cross one pagoda-marked arrow than I’d see one other.

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It appeared solely proper that whisky needs to be my first cease, and so I headed seven miles south of the small city of Forres, winding by way of quiet single-track roads lined by muddied, tyre-tracked snow, to Dunphail Distillery.

That is the latest child on the whisky-making block, although it doesn’t look it, set as it’s in 160-year-old farm steadings. Probably the most attention-grabbing factor about Dunphail in the meanwhile isn’t really its whisky, which has solely simply began being produced and must be matured for 3 years to be thought-about scotch. It’s that its house owners have determined to strip the processes proper again, away from the computer systems and off-site maltings that are actually frequent throughout Scotland’s distilleries.

The seaside at Findhorn. {Photograph}: Björn Abt/Getty Pictures

Our affable information, Mike, took our group right into a low-ceilinged room the place an ideal rectangle of barley rested on the ground whereas it germinated. We took it in turns to rake it with a contraption that one of many distillers had long-established out of an enormous rake and a few hammers to copy a standard hand software. In the primary distillery room, the place the yeasty, fruity odor of the mash circled us, the spirit secure (normally locked) was left open in order that the distillers might work together with the spirit being produced – the brand new make – somewhat than depend on laptop readings.

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Within the absence of its personal single malt, the tasting session on the finish concerned attempting this new make which, at 63.5% ABV, is considerably stronger than what will likely be bought in bottles. “It makes me consider standing in a baker’s doorway,” Mike stated as I dipped my finger into my glass (I used to be driving, in spite of everything) and I might see what he meant – at first fruity earlier than the low, savoury notice of barley got here in, it had all of the sensory hits of that have, coupled with the anticipation of what’s going to are available in just a few years.

It’s a little bit of bother, this distillery-visiting enterprise, once you’re driving. Fortunately, this was shortly rectified at my resort, The Dowans, a stately Victorian pile overlooking the Spey valley from simply outdoors the village of Aberlour. After dinner, I holed up in The Nonetheless, their slender whisky bar – although, with greater than 500 bottles lining the partitions, it felt extra like a library than a bar. In fact, I’d come to the area unconvinced concerning the deserves of its whisky (I’m a diehard Islay fan), however with the assistance of receptionist turned bartender Courtney I used to be launched to 2 very totally different native drams that shortly proved me mistaken.

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The Dowans Resort

The 107-mile River Spey winds its manner alongside the north-western fringe of the Cairngorms nationwide park to spill out into the Moray Firth. I had caught glimpses of it shimmering in valleys under me the day earlier than, nevertheless it was solely in Aberlour that I actually noticed it – as darkish as a well-matured scotch. On the advice of Steph Murray, who owns and runs The Dowans together with her youthful sister and oldsters, I walked the Speyside Manner two-and-a-bit miles east to the small, next-door village of Craigellachie; only a smidgen of the 65-mile strolling route that follows the river from Buckie, on the coast, to Aviemore. The trail was thick with ice, and I spent many of the stroll crunching by way of the inch-deep snow along with it to keep away from a comedy fall. Although the primary street stored me firm for many of the manner, I used to be barely conscious of it, my eyes as an alternative on the huge, speeding river, and the sheep that stared at me from the floodplains. It was a straightforward, comparatively flat route which, on a standard day wouldn’t have felt like sufficient of a stroll, however by the point I reached The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie the ice had given my calves sufficient of a exercise that I used to be grateful to have the ability to cease for a half pint within the cosy bar.

On my final day, with my again to the now virtually snow-free hills, I headed north, decided to make it to the coast, which so typically by way of my travels had shimmered temptingly within the distance. I drove out to Findhorn, a small seaside village of low, tightly packed homes, the place I clambered over dunes after which shingle to the pale sand, which even within the fading half-light of the afternoon appeared to glow. I walked across the hook of the headland, continually adjusting my hood to the stop-start rain, and took a seat by the big window at The Captain’s Desk, festooned inside with fairylights. Whereas I waited for my meals, I watched a solitary boat bob within the bay, the gulls swoop in low, and the clouds shift continually of their dance between rain and solar.

Contained in the Dunphail Distillery

“Folks don’t realise how a lot there’s to do right here,” Steph had stated to me that morning, “in order that they find yourself coming again, repeatedly.” This was true of my journey, too: each street I drove meant passing numerous others with indicators pointing to a stroll, or a distillery, or a village I’d by no means heard of. When, lastly, I dragged myself again to Inverness, the panorama progressively flattening out round me, I did so figuring out it wouldn’t be too lengthy earlier than I returned.

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Transport to Scotland was offered by Caledonian Sleeper. Lodging was offered by The Dowans resort (doubles from £234 an evening B&B). For extra info, see Go to Moray Speyside

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