Whisky Magazine Issue 6
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Nature and native cunning have nurtured the distillery industry on the banks of the Spey. Tom Bruce-Gardyne took a trip through a whisky wonderland
Pity the poor wine-lover visiting Bordeaux for the first time only to discover the finest châteaux amassed on the dreary banks of the Gironde estuary. No such disappointment awaits the devotee of Speyside malts – for here the setting of the distilleries is truly worthy of the spirit they produce.
Of the three great rivers that split Scotland west to east, there is something unique and magical about the Spey. The fastest flowing river in Britain seems to capture the untamed beauty of the Grampian Highlands in its 100-mile journey from south of Loch Ness in the Monadhliath Mountains down to the Moray Firth. Indeed the river, in its headlong rush for the sea, has helped fashion the landscape, especially in the middle sections through periodic flooding and changes of course.
Time has been the main factor though – 400 million years of bad weather and The Ice Age have smoothed peaks that were once as high as the Himalayas and exposed rock once miles beneath the surface. Today the river's tributaries are fed by melting snow and rain that cascade down the steep slopes and impervious granite. The cold, pristine waters of the Spey help make it one of the greatest salmon rivers in the world, with an average annual catch of almost 10,000 salmon and grilse – the young salmon that has been only once to sea.
Most visitors to the region first encounter the Spey at Kingussie. Here the A9 road crosses and then follows the river for 10 miles. Some way before then, as the road climbs...