The Restless #RiverSpey

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The River Spey is a restless river, one filled with salmon and sea trout, bounded by vast tracts of woodland, backed by several of Britain’s highest mountains and surrounded by a staggering diversity of wildlife.

Garva Bridge
The River Spey and Garva Bridge

Its voyage results in an ever-changing landscape as each year the river, swollen with snow melt, unleashes a massive volume of water, which subsequently carves new channels and islands, generating its own course and one that is perpetually evolving.

Lonely little Loch Spey, which sits above Loch Laggan in Lochaber, beneath the big, rounded Monadhliath, marks the beginning of the River Spey and a wild and wonderful 107-mile journey.

Scotland’s fastest and second longest river quickly descends alongside General Wade’s historic road then underneath Garva Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Spey.

It then carves its course through the scenic splendour of Badenoch & Speyside, one dominated by the remarkable barrier of the immense Cairngorm plateau.

The hills reduce in size as the River Spey enters Moray, renowned the world over as whisky country.

From here the backdrop is more understated as the river twists and turns towards the coast, eventually spilling into the North Sea at Spey Bay, in-between Lossiemouth and Buckie.

Creag Bheag
Speyside from Creag Bheag above Kingussie

It has taken a long time for the River Spey to find its path – four ice ages, or several hundred million years, to be a little more precise. Over this almost unimaginable timescale the river system has slowly weathered and moulded its course over a bed of schists, gneiss, granite and sandstone and this amalgamation of rock types makes the River Spey one of the cleanest in Scotland.

As it hits the wide alluvial plain of Strathspey the riverbed is looser with the Spey pushing soil and sediment along. When Spey Bay is approached the river begins to pick up speed, dragging enormous amounts of shingle with it, altering its shape and route to whatever the Spey decides.

The derivation of the name Spey is unclear with several suggestions as to its meaning, including Hawthorn river or, perhaps more pertinently, Vomit or Gush. Certainly the speed at which the River Spey travels means this may be the appropriate label.

Like much of Scotland the Bronze and Iron Ages saw people lay down more definite roots and by the time the Romans marched northwards around the 1st century AD, several small settlements existed.

It was The Picts who were most successful in settling in the region, particularly in the great Caledonian pinewoods of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy. Along with the Gaels they were the dominant race in the northeast and formed a redoubtable force against the Roman advance.

Many of the hill and place names along the River Spey reflect the languages of the Picts and Gaels. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberlour and Abernethy have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Braeriach, Meall a Bhuachaille, Craigellachie and Buckie.

Whisky has become synonymous with the river and pumps millions of pounds into the local economy annually, and Moray is its spiritual home.

The River Spey
Spey Bay

Originally hailed for its medicinal qualities whisky has now become one of Scotland’s major exports and fundamental to the survival of the towns and villages along much of the River Spey, particularly when it travels through Moray.

The mild climate, pure, clear spring water and abundant supplies of fragrant golden barley provide the ideal ingredients for the ‘water of life’.

The Spey supports a plethora of whisky distilleries (over half of all the distilleries in Scotland) including Glenfarclas, Cardhu, Aberlour and Craigellachie as well as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the 2 biggest selling whiskies in the world.


Focus On: The #RiverDee

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Braeriach, the source of the River Dee
Braeriach, the source of the River Dee

The landscape surrounding the River Dee is one of extremes. It is bounded by some of the highest mountains in Britain, where the plateaus and tops can be benign one minute before being blasted by ferocious winds and blizzard conditions the next.

It plummets from these mountain slopes but then decelerates as the landscape softens and the gradient eases, finally culminating at Aberdeen.

With the possible exception of the River Spey, the River Dee may well travel through the most diverse, iconic and scenic landscape in Britain. It certainly has the highest source of any river in the British Isles, beginning at over 4000 feet above sea level on the colossal mountain summit of Braeraich.

It then travels for another 87 miles, tumbling down gorgeous waterfalls, through remnants of the great Caledonian Pine Forest, along by lochs, and through historic towns and villages such as Braemar, Crathie, Ballater and Banchory to reach the North Sea.

The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone
The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone

The landscape and weather have also been critical in determining the extraordinary array of wildlife that live both in and around the River Dee, a list that includes otter, water vole, golden eagle, osprey, dotterel, ptarmigan, pine marten, red deer, red squirrels, and the Scottish crossbill (the only bird unique to Britain).

The meaning behind the River Dee is a complex one. Its derivation from its Gaelic name Dé, is god whilst its Celtic origin is from Deva, meaning female divinity, a connotation also shared with Aberdeenshire’s other great river, The Don.

It was The Picts who were most successful in laying down roots in the region and, along with the Gaels, were the dominant race in the northeast and many of the subsequent hill and place names along the River Dee reflect both the Pictish and Gaelic languages. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberdeen or Abergeldie have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Ben Macdui, Clachnaben, Ballater and Banchory.

Tourism has certainly benefited the prosperity of the people and places along the River Dee, but nothing would have such a profound effect on the local economy than the discovery of oil, off the Aberdeenshire coast, in the early 1970’s.

The North Sea at Aberdeen
The North Sea at Aberdeen

However oil is not Aberdeen’s first big industry. Granite quarrying, which has been used to striking effect in many of Aberdeen’s buildings, has taken place for several centuries whilst both fishing and shipbuilding grew from the 15th century onwards. Aberdeen Harbour is regularly referred to as the oldest business in Britain.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city and provides a fitting journey end to the magnificent River Dee. Both the urban and coastal setting of Aberdeen sit in sharp contrast to the mountainous and rural scenery along much of the River Dee’s length, simply emphasising the incredible diversity of landscape it flows through.

#BenRinnes Spirit-ual Home

The shapely mountain of Ben Rinnes stands deep in the heart of whisky country, in Northeast Scotland, and rises above the flatter plains of the Morayshire countryside.

Therefore its long ridge can be seen from many miles around whilst the panorama from its summit is extensive. Good paths line a superb walk to the top although the final 300 metres are steep. However the route begins from a height of around 350 metres making Ben Rinnes the perfect mountain for a morning/afternoon stroll and for younger children to climb.

Ptarmigan may well be spotted across the summit plateau, one studded with several granite tors, which give Ben Rinnes its name ‘Hill of the Sharp Point’.

Granite tors are regularly found in northeast Scotland, most notably on the high Cairngorms (Bynack More, Beinn Mheadhoin and Ben Avon for example) and lower hills such as Clachnaben and Ben Rinnes. Some rise to over 15 metres in height and have been caused by differential weathering and erosion – simply put, the solid granite of the tors weather at a slower pace than the immediate surroundings and over several million years the softer rock  has been eroded leaving the tors standing proud.

Ben Rinnes does not give itself up easily and neither do the views. It is only once you attain the 840-metre top, and the peculiarly named summit of Scurran of Lochterlandoch, that an extraordinary panorama reveals itself.

To the east and Bennachie’s distinctive profile is clearly visible, heading north and the rounded hills of Ben Aigan and Bin of Cullen draw the eye to the Moray Coast, with Lossiemouth way in the distance, whilst the southern aspect is dominated by the magnificent barrier of the Cairngorms, including that of Lochnagar.

Moray is the spiritual home of whisky and several distilleries can be also seen from Ben Rinnes.

Glen Rinnes from Ben Rinnes
Glen Rinnes from Ben Rinnes