the drink that is most readily referred to as scotch or single malt, as with the various strains of cycling, has been divided even further by the aficonados of the so-called amber nectar. though frequently touted as scotland's national drink (which it may or may not be), scotch whisky is the product of six distinct regions and classified as such. there are single malt distilleries on both the scottish mainland as well as on one or two of its islands, though islay is the only one of the latter that has had its own region bestowed upon it. all the others simply exist under the heading islands.
islay's close mainland neighbour, campbeltown, also counts as a single category, though as i understand it, there is currently only one distillery where once there were considerably more.
the remaining regions consist of the lowlands, highlands and speyside. the latter, due to its considerable concentration of distilleries and holder of an annual whisky festival, is occasionally positioned as islay's great rival. in fact, by comparison to islay's eight, plus the sole flag bearer on neighbouring jura, pages 120-121 of alan castle's book list a total of fifteen speyside distilleries, all within relatively easy reach of each other. i make mention of this distinction on the basis that tourism within the speyside region is every bit as likely to be driven by the whisky factor as is that of islay. and despite the superb scenery to be found in this region of scotland, there can be little denial that whisky can be every bit as much of an attraction.
as cyclists, we are rather obviously far less intrigued by the alchemy of water, barley and yeast. with bodies often compared to that of temples, the mere hint of the aroma that surrounds any malt whisky distillery, would surely have us sprinting on by, or turning to head in the opposite direction. except, it seems perilously likely that so doing would simply have the bicycle head in the direction of yet another.
for those who may be taking a second, quizzical look at the book's title, though blatantly described as a walking guide to the speyside way, the author courteously makes mention that "Moreover, cyclists... can also use many sections of these trails, which provide safe, traffic-free routes." granted, in this he may be unwittingly restricting potential travellers to the saddle of either a mountain or cyclocross bike, but nowadays, that is likely to be an attraction many will find hard to resist. just remember that, if or when doing so, take care to co-exist cheerfully with both walkers and horse-riders.
this particular volume from cicerone is the first i've come across that arrives inside a laminated pvc sleeve, containing not only the book itself, but a full colour ordnance survey 1:25,000 route map booklet. (the map booklet is also available separately at a cost of £7.95) if you can't make it from aviemore to buckie utilising the guide and the maps, you probably shouldn't consider leaving home in the first place. but, as with the majority of cicerone guides, the overall route is broken up into more appetising, bite-size chunks.
for those unfamiliar with this part of scotland, other than the bottle or two they may have purchased from the local branch of oddbins, mr castle has provided ample introduction, including how to get there in the first place. he also advises of the best times of year to visit and in which direction you might prefer to ride, walk or both. there is also a convenient box-out on page 30 discussing the three official mountain bike trails conveniently situated within the area. should you wish to cycle a modified speyside way from aviemore to buckie, you may do so by linking the official rideable offroad sections with public roads. this option, in my opinion, ought to favour a 'cross bike more than a springy farm gate.
if your map reading and planning skills are as rudimentary (ie, non-existent) as are mine, i'd advise purchasing a copy sooner rather than later. aside from the logistics of scuttering hither and thither across many of the remoter sections of scotland's countryside, it might make good sense to sample drams from those fifteen single malts at the planning stage to ensure the more favoured distilleries are not missed en-route.
tuesday 3 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................