North East 250: Day one
I took four days to drive the new North East 250 circular route. Here are the details of day one.
Spittal of Glenshee to Aberlour
Distance: Almost 70 miles.
Spittal of Glenshee is situated at the head of Glenshee in the Highlands area of eastern Perth and Kinross. It seemed like a rather odd place to begin a journey but I quickly forgot about this as I headed into the scenic mountains of Glenshee. (It is more likely that visitors to Scotland will start and finish in the city of Aberdeen if they arrive by plane or train but from Glasgow the journey is most obviously started in Glenshee.)
The long ascent from Spittal of Glenshee to Glenshee Snowsports Centre on the A93 (an old military road) always surprises me because it is so very long but I reminded myself I was on a road trip and I could pootle along at whatever speed I wanted. Every so often I would pull over into a layby to take a photo and take in the view from every direction.
The Glenshee mountains are plentiful and rounded – and the summits never seem too far away from the road (Glenshee car park sits many hundreds of metres above sea level). Yet, the atmosphere is of a wild and raw beauty.
It was a weekend at the start of spring and snow still covered most of the higher summits, offering a fabulous contrast of shimmering white and brown heather. While it was windy, the sun was out (on-and-off) and I could follow the line of the chairlifts at the ski resort from bottom to top.
After watching the to and fro of the skiers and boarders at Glenshee for a while I started on the long descent towards the popular tourist town of Braemar. Running alongside the road is a river, which was full and fast flowing. Again I was drawn to park the van and get out for a closer view.
Despite the size of the Fiat campervan, I felt like a very small traveller amid this vast and remote glen.
Braemar to Aberlour
At Braemar, the NE250 follows the same road east to reach Crathie – a village that is home to a kirk visited by the Royal Family when in residence at nearby Balmoral Castle – and then turns north on to the smaller B976.
Narrower and seemingly more remote, the road winds upwards again through the village of Cock Bridge and to Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands. En route, drivers discover another ski resort, Lecht 2090.
Signposts, showing the way to the first of many whisky distilleries start to pop up at Tomintoul. The list includes Tomintoul Distillery itself, Glenlivet, Ballindalloch, Glenfarclas, Cardhu, Aberlour and Glen Spey, Glenrothes, Glen Grant at Rothes.
I recall many of these names from the Dramathon running event that I took part in last autumn.
With such a wide choice, I decided I would visit Aberlour Distillery because it was close to the campsite. On the way, however, I found myself diverted by a brown tourist sign pointing towards a church and Pictish stones.
Taking a narrow road that winds downhill through a landscape of lush green fields I discovered a gorgeous wee church with a Gothic style porch and pretty geometric stain glassed windows. As I marvelled at the outside of Inveravon Church, I wondered where the stones might be.
A sign at the end of a private road tells me, rather pertinently, they are not along there. Instead, it says, they are inside the porch. Although I had imagined a circle of stones set in a green meadow and against the backdrop of a setting sun, I found them propped up inside the porch. Still, it had been a fascinating detour and Wispa the Wonder Whippet enjoyed nosing around the stones.
This was something that I would go on to discover while driving the NE250: If you see a sign that points to something interesting, definitely detour. For this is how you find some great gems and attractions.
Walk to Linn Falls
Of course, by the time I reached Aberlour the distillery had closed. So, I consulted Walk Highlands and saw a short walking route that would take me to a Linn Falls, on the Linn of Ruthrie.
As I walked the easily found path alongside the river and on the opposite side from the distillery, I drank in the smell of the whisky making process. It made me feel heady and I didn’t mind the following climb towards a viewpoint for the falls. The falls were in full flow and I stopped to take in the superb sight and sounds. Wispa wasn’t sure about the noise but she was happy to be free of the van for a brisk walk.
Overnight at Speyside Gardens, Aberlour
At Speyside Gardens campsite, on the edge of Aberlour, owner Olly made me feel very welcome. I had a large plot on gravel and with electric hook up. The newly built shower, toilet and laundry block is superb. There are toilets and showers for women only, men only and families. It is definitely a site that I would return to thanks to location, peace and quiet and smartness.
The evening meal at Dowans Hotel was lovely. The surroundings are what I would call posh-casual. It is a place to go for a treat meal. The whisky bar is fantastic, although I wasn’t able to have a dram because I was driving.
Just to note, the car park at the hotel is small and quickly fills up. It is also accessed along a narrow road and through stone pillars. I found myself stuck in the big van and had to get assistance to turn the beast around to get out of the car park. (Thanks Olly for going beyond the call of duty of a campsite owner.)
Other places to visit on this section of the NE250
- Ski or hike at Glenshee or The Lecht, depending on the time of year.
- Walk one, two of three of the “easier” Munros, the Cairnwell Munros.
- Ride a range of mountain bike routes at the Glenlivet Estate.
- Or walk the Smugglers Trails at Glenlivet.
- Take a tour at one of the many whisky distilleries, such as The Glenlivet or Aberlour.
- Visit Ballindalloch Castle. I am told the grounds are very dog friendly and a walk here is a treat.
See North East 250.
Also checkout Introduction to North East 250.