Ballindalloch lies within the historic county of Banffshire, mid-way between its sandy beaches and picturesque coastal towns and villages in the north and the spectacular scenery of the Cairngorm Mountains at its southernmost point.
Climb Ben Rinnes, our local hill, and you will be rewarded with a view of the county from the sparkling waves of the Moray Firth to the heather-clad mountains, a patchwork of fields, woodlands and hills, dotted with settlements and cut through by shining salmon rivers.
Chief of these, and best-known, is the River Spey; renowned the world over for its salmon fishing, it is Scotland’s second-longest river but undeniably its fastest. It is joined in the grounds of Ballindalloch Castle by the River Avon, at the end of its 38-mile journey from Loch Avon, high in the mountains. The area’s third great river is the Findhorn, which flows serenely into pretty Findhorn Bay after a tortuous passage through a series of dramatic gorges in its upper reaches.
The Moray coast has been rated as one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines. It has everything from sandy beaches and pretty fishing villages to striking cliffs and rock features, and it is also a nature enthusiast’s paradise with its resident bottlenose dolphin colony, and a variety of other wildlife such as seals, ospreys, ducks and otters, and even an occasional Minke whale. The seabird population, in summer, includes puffins, gannets, fulmars, shags, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills. On a completely different note, venture a little further east to the quaint little fishing village of Pennan, one of the locations for the 1983 film ‘Local Hero’, and you will see the red telephone box (now a listed building) which featured in the film!
Further inland, you may care to explore some of the area’s towns and villages, such as Dufftown, Aberlour, Archiestown, Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, where you will notice the old stone houses set on generously wide streets, all arranged upon a regular grid system. These ‘planned villages’ were built by landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries to attract much-needed skilled labour to the Highlands of Scotland. Many of these settlements remain today in broadly their original form, though the industries upon which they were founded are long gone, and tourism has now become very much the basis upon which they survive.
Our local cuisine is rather special too: wild salmon, seafood, venison and game, and possibly the best beef and lamb in the country are all found hereabouts in abundance. The area’s rich seafaring and agricultural traditions not only survive, albeit in more modern form, but are flourishing too, and the quality of our local produce is second to none. Not for nothing have some of our larger food producers attained international acclaim – think Baxters of Speyside, Walkers Shortbread, Lossie Seafoods. Then we have whisky …
More than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries are situated in the Speyside area; among them are famous names such as Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Tamdhu, Cardhu and Macallan. Banffshire alone has 29 distilleries, including our own Ballindalloch Single Malt Distillery. Over 40 are listed on the ‘Whisky Trail’ (although not all of them are in Banffshire), including the historic Dallas Dhu, which no longer produces whisky and is now run by Historic Scotland as a museum. Also open to visitors is Speyside Cooperage, the only place in the UK where you can experience the ancient art of coopering.
Those whose interests incline to the historical will find traces of the area’s past are everywhere. The first Pictish settlers left their mark on the landscape with the standing stones, cairns and stone circles that scatter the moorlands. The real Macbeth was crowned King of Scotland in 1040 at Pitgaveny near Elgin, and Balvenie Castle, seven centuries old, lists the names of Edward I of England and Mary Queen of Scots in its visitors’ book. Our own Ballindalloch Castle and the neighbouring fortifications of Brodie Castle and Gordon Castle recall the time when Scotland’s most powerful clans called this their home.
Old clan traditions are revived during the annual Highland Games which take place throughout the area in summer. It is believed that these events were originally held in order for clan chieftains to choose the fittest and strongest athletes for their warriors and bodyguards, but they are now much more social occasions – although competition can be just as fierce! Most towns have their own Highland Games, where you can expect to see hammer throwing, tossing the caber, putting the shot, tug-o-war, highland dancing, solo piping, drum and pipe bands, and stalls selling souvenirs and local produce.
From coastal paths and trails to more strenuous hiking in the mountains, Moray offers some spectacular walking opportunities. There is plenty of sport to be had too, and private estates like Ballindalloch offer game shoots in season, as well as day permits and ghillie support for keen fisherman. Swap the waders for plus-fours and you’ll find an excellent array of golf courses locally. Within easy reach we have the Royal Dornoch, ranked as one of world’s top ten golf courses, the Nairn Golf Club, host to Walker Cup and Curtis Cup competitions, and Castle Stuart, three-time host to the Scottish Open.
So whatever your reason for visiting Speyside – whether you’re here to relax and enjoy the beaches and the scenery, explore the castles and follow the ‘Whisky Trail’, walk the mountains, take in a festival, fish the Spey or Avon, play some golf, or travel far and wide – we’re sure you will enjoy your stay.
Haste ye back!
Where to stay
For accommodation options in the area, you can do no better than head to one of these local sites:
Photo credit: Graham Lewis