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.


#Queensferry – Royal Crossing

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The coastal town of Queensferry, standing on the south bank of the Firth of Forth just a few miles west of Edinburgh city centre, is perhaps best known for the iconic structures of the Forth Road and Rail bridges, which span the Firth of Forth, linking Edinburgh with Fife.

However there has been a crossing here for centuries. When Queen Margaret (wife of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland) established a church at Dunfermline during the 11th century she paid for a ferry service to transport pilgrims, on their way to St Andrews, across the Forth Estuary at its narrowest point. Subsequently the village of Queensferry began to grow.

The monks of Dunfermline Abbey initially operated the ferry service and a variety of ferries ran for several centuries. During the 1950’s the Queensferry service was the busiest in Scotland with four ferries annually carrying 1.5 million people, 600,000 cars and 200,000 goods vehicles by 40,000 ferry journeys. However the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964 effectively ended the ferry service and when opened it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe, utilising 39,000 tons of steel.

Preceding this was the Forth Rail Bridge, one of the finest examples of engineering in the world. It took 4000 men seven years to build at a cost for £3.2 million and when opened in 1890 it had required over 54,000 tons of steel and 6.5 million rivets yielding a length of over 8000 feet.

The Queensferry Crossing will open in 2016 to carry motor-cycles, cars and heavy goods vehicles, relieving the pressure on the Forth Road Bridge, which will continue to take public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

Queensferry Harbour has also long been a focal point to the town and already existed when the town achieved Royal Burgh status in 1641.

Several industries have since taken place in and around its confines including fishing, whisky distilling and soap making. Herring used to be gutted, salted and packed here before being exported to Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

The island of Inchgarvie, which sits a little out on the Firth of Forth is named after the garvie, a local name for the young herring that brought wealth to the town.

The 18th century saw brandy being smuggled into the harbour while Queensferry’s first whisky distillery, Glenforth, was established in 1828.

During the 17th century Covenanters, rebelling against the introduction of Bishops into the Presbyterian Church by King Charles I, were forced to hide in the attics and cellars of the houses around Queensferry Harbour before taking the towns fleet of ships at high tide and embarking on a journey to the more tolerant Low Countries where they could freely practice their faith.

The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge


#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