Speyside is the vibrant heart of the Scotch whisky industry. Home to roughly half of the country’s distilleries, the region extends from the sunny Moray coast to the Cairngorms National Park – a beautiful slice of the Highlands of Scotland, with rich farming land and bountiful rivers, which earn it its reputation as Scotland’s larder.
To paraphrase the immortal words of Howard Moon, “Speyside is a state of mind.” In the cold hard words of the Scotch Whisky Regulations however, Speyside is a largely arbitrary collection of British electoral wards. Ultimately the real definition of the region lies somewhere in between, burnished by generations of whisky marketers who have painted a picture of a romantic Highland valley, with a distillery, a loch and a rainbow around every bend in the narrow roads.
Focused on the River Spey, the region also includes the valleys of the Deveron, Lossie, Livet and Findhorn rivers, to name but a few. These, and the healthy rainfall, feed the lush farming land to grow the barley and provide the source water for the area’s many distilleries.
Whisky has been produced in Speyside for hundreds of years – its relative inaccessibility until the railway arrived in the mid-nineteenth century kept the excise men at a healthy distance and allowed illicit distilling to flourish. By the time of George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822, the illegally produced spirit was of such high quality that upon trying one of the many whiskies made in Glen Livet, the King was moved, upon his return, to pass an Excise Act to create the licensing scheme for the first legal distillation of whisky in Scotland.
Today the region is known for two main styles of whisky: the light, sweet style of The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, or the full-bodied sherried style of The Macallan and Glenfarclas. However, more attuned palates talk of further divisions, as many as eight, based on where the distilleries draw their water from. Only this level of classification really allows you to fully comprehend the wide variety of whiskies produced in such a small area. Here’s our whisky travel guide for what to see, do and taste and where to stay in Speyside, Scotland.Read less
Domestic and international flights to Aberdeen or Inverness provide the best access to the region. Unfortunately, the area is now poorly covered by rail services, but stations in Nairn, Forres, Elgin, Keith and Huntly are served by trains roughly every two hours on the Aberdeen to Inverness line. The heritage Keith and Dufftown railway runs three return trips a day, seasonally.
The Scottish currency is the Pound. Despite the different bank notes issued by Scottish banks this is the same currency as the rest of the UK, so English, Scottish and Northern Irish bank notes can be used across the UK. At the time of writing, there are approximately 0.9 Pounds to the Euro and 0.75 Pounds to the US Dollar.
When to go
Scotland is famous for its changeable climate and you can expect to see evidence of all four seasons in one day at any time of the year. You can improve your chances of getting more of the good by visiting between May and September when temperatures are likely to be between 14°C and 19°C. Winter can be crisp and clear although there is a risk of snowfall between December and February. Average temperatures at this time of year are likely to be between 6°C and 9°C. In short, you don’t go to Scotland for the sunshine, but if you get some, it’s a bonus!
If simply visiting distilleries is not enough, look out for the annual Spirit of Speyside festival which offers over 500 whisky related events every May.
As Speyside is only lightly served by public transport, your best option may be to hire a car. Do remember, however, that Scotland has a lower drink driving limit than the rest of the UK. Fortunately, many distilleries offer takeaway samples at the end of the tours, so the designated driver doesn’t need to miss out.