The first time I drove into Dufftown was during its annual Autumn Whisky Festival – the air was filled with the unmistakeable sound of bag pipes, and colourful bunting flapped against a piercing blue sky; strung from the four corners of the clock tower that stands, guard-like, in the centre of town. We were there to view a cottage and it felt almost as if the scene had been laid out just for us in welcome. The Speyside town appealed to me at once – the rolling hills, hunched and gathered at its seam, the whispers of whisky carried on the wind, the quiet beauty – and two months later it became my home.
As well as discovering the charm of other Speyside towns – like Aberlour, perched beside the River Spey – Dufftown is a good base for exploring the wider area. An hour’s drive along the A95 takes you to Aviemore and the stunning Cairngorms National Park (a gorgeous drive), but it is also only an hour to Aberdeen, an hour and a half to Inverness, and a 30 minute journey to the Moray Banffshire area with its lovely coast.
Speyside is a beautiful place to be in any season – I love the countryside in spring, when the world unravels and unfurls, with the bleat of lambs and life in bud; in summer, with the gentle drone of insects and chirping of birds, and sunlight sifting through the trees; in winter in its Narnia-like state, when the branches are doubled over with the weight of snow, and icicles adorn windows and doorways (because of its location in the hills, Dufftown is known for its large snowfall in the winter months and the day we moved in, my father joked, ‘See you next May’). But most of all, I love the countryside in autumn, with its ruddy glow and fiery forests.
If you want to experience the beauty of Speyside in autumn, here are a few things I’d recommend.
The area is known for its lovely walks. My favourite is the 3-4 hour walk to the summit of Ben Rinnes. It’s a popular hill walk with visitors and locals because of its wonderful views across the North East – the views stretch from Aberdeenshire and the Moray Coast to the Cairngorms. If you don’t want to walk all the way to the top, you can time a short walk up the hill to coincide with the sunset – it’s truly spectacular as the dipping sun showers Glen Rinnes in an amber half-light.
Another lovely walk is part of the famous Speyside Way, along the River Spey as it snakes past Aberlour. The trees lining the river put on a stunning display of burnt yellows and oranges, the path carpeted with a buttery layer of fallen leaves. Back towards Craigellachie, a cast iron bridge arches over the Spey, and this section of the river is another pretty place to walk and admire the autumn colours.
Dufftown is known as the Malt Whisky Capital of Scotland so a trip to a distillery or two is a must. For similar scenes to those I encountered on my first visit to Dufftown, plan your trip to overlap with the Autumn Whisky Festival – this year from 26th to 30th September. (I wonder if it’s a coincidence that I have developed a taste for whisky since moving to Speyside…). There are a range of events and activities to enjoy during the festival, including the ‘Seven Stills Tour’ – a bus trip that takes you around all seven of Dufftown’s distilleries (with a dram at each, of course!).
If you can’t make the festival, you can still get an insider’s guide to the distilleries – sample whiskies you’ve never tried before and step off the beaten track with a walking tour of the distilleries. Glenfiddich Distillery, tucked at the bottom of the town, offers free distillery tours and the Malt Barn Restaurant/Café is fantastic. When leaving the distillery, take a left and then a right up a short hill to see the ruins of Balvenie Castle, hidden out of sight from the road.
The scenic area of Glenlivet is only a 30 minute drive from Dufftown and, as well as being in the heart of the Malt Whisky region, it is known for its beautiful walks. One lovely walk is from Drumin Castle along the River Livet. If you’re looking for a good picnic site, the picturesque Packhorse Bridge is ideal, only a short drive from the Glenlivet Distillery.
A highlight of the area at this time of year is the Red Deer Rut, when it’s possible to see around 100 to 200 red deer in the glen between the Suie and Kymah burns. You can join a Red Deer Rut Safari for a better view of these magnificent animals. As the area is a haven for wildlife, you could also spot red grouse, buzzards and kestrels, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps also a golden eagle, mountain hare or black grouse.
Light up your autumn with a trip to Speyside and enjoy the walks, the whisky and the flushed autumnal landscapes. And if you stop by the café at Glenfiddich over the autumn months, look out for me – I’ll be sitting by the log fire, cradling a cup of their delicious orange hot chocolate.
Follow @embracescotland and @dufftownwriter for more local tips.
Emma Gibb writes about tips from the locals and hidden gems for Embrace Scotland self catering in Moray.
Images courtesy of Emma Gibb, Embrace Scotland ©