Exploring the Highlands

Exploring the Highlands

In the latest in our series on places to visit we look at some of the lesser known distilleries in Eastern Scotland.

Travel | 24 Jul 2009 | Issue 81 | By Rob Allanson

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The Highland region of Scotland is a vast and sprawling one, stretching on the mainland from Glengoyne which straddles the Highland Line, to Old Pulteney up at Wick. It stretches from Glen Garioch and Fettercairn in the East to Oban in the West. It would take you the better part of a week just to travel round the 20 or so distilleries which are open to the public, let alone visit them all.

But despite the distances between them,many of the distilleries do have similarities.Many are very old and traditional, almost rustic in style. Many have traditional production methods such as condensing worms and wooden washbacks. Many are light on high tech production systems.

Because of the large geographical area the Highlands cover we've divided Scotland with an imaginary line from Inverness to Stirling, and in this feature focused on the handful of distilleries to the east of it. The greatest concentration of distilleries here is of course around the River Spey but we have taken Speyside out of the calculations and focused just on the distilleries which class themselves as in the Highlands region. The list contains some of Scotland's lesser known, but nevertheless most intriguing and pleasant distilleries.


Small and utterly charming distillery with modern café and recently refurbished shop. The distillery is open all the year round and offers free tours. Bus parties welcome by appointment.
Tel: +44 (0) 1796 472095


Close to the town of Pitlochry, Blair Atholl has been producing whisky since the 1790s and is one of Scotland's oldest working distilleries and the home of Bell's. There is a small exhibition about the history of the blend on site. A small charge is made for tours redeemable against a 70cl bottle of whisky.
Tel +44 (0) 1796 482003


Home of the Famous Grouse and the all-singing all dancing interactive visitor centre for the blend can overshadow the distillery. Predating Blair Atholl by 23 years, this can lay claim to be the oldest working distillery in Scotland and it is packed with rustic charm. Tours are included as part of the Famous Grouse Experience.
Tel +44 (0) 1764 656565


This small distillery isn't particularly well known but it's whisky is good and it offers select tours on Monday to Thursday afternoons and by appointment.
Tel +44 (0) 1356 622217


Owned by Morrison Bowmore, Glen Garioch had a visitor centre and shop built on to it and it offers tours every hour on weekdays, ending with a dram of fine malt.
Tel +44 (0) 1651 873450


Home of Dewar's World of Whisky and another 'two for the price of one' offering. The Dewar's part of the operation is modern, interactive and a lot of fun. Aberfeldy Distillery is beautifully kept and a fine example of a Highland distillery.
Tel +44 (0) 1887 822010


Fettercairn is another typically Highland distillery full of charm. It's a bit off the beaten track so attracts only modest numbers. Visitors may fill their own bottle of distillery-exclusive malt.
Tel +44 (0) 1561 340205


Close to the Balmoral estate, Royal Lochnagar is Diageo's smallest distillery and a whisky lover's dream. It's pretty and traditional, with worms and wooden washbacks and tours are intimate. A more advanced tasting tour can be booked in advance.
Tel +44 (0) 1339 742700


Tullibardine offers an extensive range of different tours from a standard 45 minute one for £5 through to a connoisseurs' one which needs to be booked in advance. There is a café and visitor centre here, too.
Tel +44 (0) 1764 682252


Confusingly now with a malt under the name anCnoc and with an address in Speyside, this distillery resolutely describes itself as Highland. It doesn't have a visitor centre or tours as such, but they will show you around if you ring prior to a visit.
Tel +44 (0) 1466 771223


Now owned by the team behind BenRiach Distillery, Glendronach is a charming distillery with its own woodland walk that will increasingly be put into the spotlight as it is given the love and care it deserves. There are plans for organised tours once the new boys get sorted but in the meantime they'll probably show you around if you phone ahead.
Tel +44 (0) 1466 730202


Edinburgh is the main international airport serving the region and Aberdeen covers a large range of international destinations too. Although small, Inverness has been expanding rapidly as an international airport for the budget airlines. The rail links from England and Edinburgh and Glasgow are good but to visit most of these distilleries you'll need a car. There are several hire companies offering very reasonable prices to hand.


The Highlands offers an extensive range of accommodation to suit pretty much all budgets, from camping and caravan parks to bed and breakfasts through to sizeable hotels. In Aviemore you'll find the family-orientated Highland Resort, with play areas and swimming leisure complex.


The Highlands are of course an outdoor pursuit lover's dream. The Cairngorms National Park offers a wide variety of choice when it comes to walking, climbing, skiing, cycling, off road driving and trekking. There is a big choice of wildlife and bird-watching options, the region boasts fine fishing and the sight-seeing is at time breath-taking. Loch Ness offers boat cruises and the Highlands are rich in historical significance, with a large number of castles to visit as well as Culloden battlefield.
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