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Issue 17 - Desperately seeking Speyside

Whisky Magazine Issue 17
July 2001

 

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Desperately seeking Speyside

“To set foot somewhere is a physical connection, a sense of truly being there. I wanted to feel Speyside as terra firma.” Pictures and story by a footsore Michael Jackson

People who appreciate Scotch whisky allude knowingly to ‘Speyside', a magical source of elegant, complex, distillates, but exactly where is this place? It hides among the pines and in the glens, but where does it begin and end? Like a
mythical kingdom, it is vignetted, vague, dissolving at the edges, rather than having defined borders. It is shaped by streams and rivers, and takes its life from their waters. They become the water of life.

The Spey is not the only river but it is the biggest and fastest, the eponymous power in the kingdom. I have seen the Spey a hundred times, over the past 25 years, as I travelled to this distillery or that. I have lingered for a moment on its banks, or on bridges over its waters, but these have been brief encounters. I wanted to follow it, to walk with it for a few hours at a time.

To ‘set foot' somewhere is a physical connection, a sense of truly being there. I wanted to feel Speyside as terra firma. Because I thought that the mouth of the river would be less disputed than its source, I decided to start there. It would mean an uphill walk, but that would make the connection all the more physical. From Inverness, by road or rail, there are early glimpses of the coast. Between Elgin and Buckie, there might be the odd sighting of Spey Bay. On the coastline is the hamlet of the same name. That was the place where I wanted to begin. When I got there, I discovered that the river had moved. It keeps on moving. I don't just mean rolling ...

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