OH I do like to be beside the Speyside.
Which is to say that we used the famous salmon-fishing river as the centrepiece of a short break in Highland Scotland.
The Spey meanders through some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK.
And much of its progress is tracked by the Speyside Way, a well managed and accessible track for both novice and serious walkers that runs for 65 miles.
In order to get the bulk of the long driving out of the way, we started our trip at its most northerly point, the Tulloch Castle Hotel, in Dingwall, beyond Inverness.
As the name suggests, this is real Braveheart stuff — it’s a turreted military bastion that’s at least 500 years old, quite possibly much more, these days adapted more to the needs of the comfort-seeking tourist than the Celtic warrior.
But with all the trappings of mounted stag heads, tartan fittings and giant fireplaces it’s a great place to start — and after dark you can quite believe that it’s haunted, as the old tales suggest.
From Dingwall we went south to the even more splendidly trad Scottish-themed Craigellachie Hotel in a village of the same name just south of Elgin.
The Craigellachie got its reputation as the coolest place to stay in the Highlands five years ago when the likes of Kate Moss and Noel Gallagher had a party weekend there. The staff, I can confirm, still tell stories of that night.
It’s an incredibly chic hotel which has been designed with a beautiful eye for detail — right down to little things like a vintage Robbie Burns book on our bedroom shelves.
On the floor below the lobby is a cosy bar/restaurant, the Copper Dog, with its own whisky bar.
And when you step outside, a flight of steps through the garden leads you down right to the Speyside Way that I mentioned — and there you can see the river that you can hear from your room.
The hotel lays on pairs of chi-chi Hunter wellies so you can go forth well equipped.
We walked it for miles in both directions and it’s some of the most glorious walking I’ve ever done.
But even if you only go the couple of miles to the next village along, Aberlour, you’ll still see the beauty of the Spey, with its peat-dark water that is a key ingredient for so many world-class whiskies.
For the Spey region is very much Scotch country. There are an incredible 84 working distilleries in the region including famous brands like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan.
You can’t miss them, as they are the only sign of industry in an otherwise unspoilt landscape of rolling hills — the distilleries as dark, satanic Bushmills, as it were.
Apart from walking there is much to do and see around Craigellachie.
We enjoyed dog-walking on Cullen’s stunning sandy beach — did I say we took our two lurchers, Dash and Tammy, and only stayed at hotels that welcomed them?
And exploring farther south by car, we followed the Spey to the castle at Ballindalloch and the smart, granite-grey town of Grantown-on-Spey.
Farther afield we came upon the ridiculously romantic pink castle at Craigievar — said to be the model for the Disney castle — then enjoyed the unimaginably scenic route through Balmoral, with all its royal associations, to Braemar.
There we stopped for a sumptuous high tea at the Fife Arms, which is also heavy on the Highlands vibe — the doorman is in full kilt regalia — but mixed with the urbane cool that comes with having a Picasso and Lucian Freud on the walls.
STAYING THERE: One night’s B&B at The Bonham is from £74.50pp based on two sharing.
One night room only at The Tulloch Castle Hotel is from £35pp based on two sharing.
One night room only at the Craigellechie Hotel is from £82.50pp with two sharing.
From Braemar we drove south to Edinburgh. The A93 takes you right through the Cairngorms national park past ski centres and stupendous mountain views on what many people say is the most beautiful drivers’ route in Britain.
Having finished our Highland fling we then headed back to Edinburgh for one night of city splendour at the Bonham Hotel.
This puts you in the heart of the historic city. Our room had views of the river and was just around the corner from the sights of Scotland’s tourist captial.
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