Itinerary - Whisky and Castles - Self-Guided
11 Day: Self-Guided: Road/Touring
Day 1: Inverness
Your self-guided redspokes Scotland cycling tour begins in the Highland capital, Inverness. Flights to Inverness are routed from destinations across the UK and Europe. There are good coach and rail links to Inverness as well. From the airport, coach and rail stations taxis are readily available to take you to your hotel. For details see Essential Information as well as your Joining Instructions. On arrival, you have a free afternoon to explore the area. You could visit Inverness Old Town, the Victorian Market or St Andrew's Cathedral or take a circular walk from the castle along the river and through the Ness Islands.
There will be a group meeting at 6pm this evening at your accommodation with introductions and a tour briefing for your forthcoming self-guided tour.
Accommodation: Beaufort Hotel (B)
Day 2: Inverness to Grantown- on-Spey
You set off today on your Castles and Whiskey tour with a gentle climb out of Inverness to historic Culloden Moor, famously the location of the final battle of the Jacobite uprising of 1745. We will enjoy views across the Moray Firth. Nearby is Clava Cairns a well-preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring and kerb cairns and standing stones in a scenic location. Around 2,000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which remain today. Use of the cemetery resumed about 100 years later; new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns. Three smaller monuments were built including a 'kerb cairn'. Remains of a smaller cemetery can also be seen at Milton of Clava, a short distance away. Archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence of farming on the site before any of these monuments were built.
For the next 6 miles we’ll be climbing again; we then drop for 2 miles before beginning another uphill for next 10 miles to our highpoint of the day 1,150ft. Finally, we drop down into Grantown-on-Spey. Once we’ve checked into our accommodation we can relax and visit one of the local hostelries for a wee dram. A just reward for your day of cycling.
Cycling Distance: 41 miles (65 km)
Total Ascent: 2,200 ft (670 m)
Total Descent: 1,500 ft (457 m)
Accommodation: Haus Alba B&B (B)
Day 3: Grantown- on-Spey to Dufftown
On today’s ride you’ll be taking in some of the highlights of the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail. This morning we’ll begin riding a 14-mile undulating route to Ballindalloch Castle and gardens. After a gentle beginning over the first few miles you cycle a steep short climb followed by a steep downhill setting the pattern for a ride of ups and downs for most of the day. Ballindalloch is known as the ‘pearl of the north’. The 16th C fortification is regarded as one of the best examples of a Scottish Baronial Castle; the surrounding gardens were landscaped in the 19th century.
You ride on to the Cardhu Distillery, crossing back and forth over the Spey, Scotland's fastest flowing river, as you cycle through the scenic countryside. Cardhu Distillery was founded by smuggler John Cumming and his wife Helen. The still dates from 1811 and ran as an illicit concern until its licence in 1824. You set off once more, riding uphill again following an up and down hill route for the next 4 miles before you drop down in a steep descent over the next 3 miles.
The next place of interest along your route is the Speyside Cooperage, where the ancient craft of oak cask production is practised according to traditional methods. You’ll be riding uphill again at this point before rolling down to reach the famous Glenfiddich Distillery, located in the ‘valley of the deer’. The first whisky production began here on Christmas day 1887. Just beyond Glenfiddich you will pass 13th Century Balvenie Castle. The castle has a rich and at times bloody history. Mary Queen of Scots was a guest here in 1562. You will ride on just a few miles further onto Dufftown your stop for the night.
Cycling Distance: 35 miles (56 km)
Total Climb: 1,950 ft (590 m)
Total Descent: 2,025 ft (617 m)
Accommodation: Dunvegan B&B (B)
Day 4: Dufftown to Tomintoul
You’ll be riding the hardest part first this morning, cycling uphill over 9 miles to an elevation of 1175 ft, our highpoint of the day, before you roll downhill for 2 miles further to reach the Glenlivet Distillery in the remote and secluded Livet Valley. King George IV visited the still in 1822 for a discreet illicit tasting. Two years later, owner George Smith became the first legal distillery in the parish of Glenlivet much to the displeasure of his bootlegging counterparts. Glenlivet's stills are lantern shaped with long, narrow necks, which helps to produce a light flavour.
You ride on climbing again out of the valley over the next 12 miles to the Cairngorm Mountains, the highest massif in the British Isles, to reach Tomintoul the highest village in the highlands situated between the Rivers Avon and Conglass. The Cairngorm National Park was established as Scotland’s second national park in 2003.
Cycling Distance: 25 miles (40 km)
Total Climb: 1,750 ft (530 m)
Total Descent: 1,225 ft (373 m)
Accommodation: Hotel Square (B)
Day 5: Tomintoul to Ballater
Departing Tomintoul, you begin again this morning with another ascent over 5 miles cycling through wide open countryside as you approach a road climb known as The Lecht. This area is often referred to as The Snow Roads, and the ski centre here is regarded as one of Scotland’s best resorts during the winter season. On a fine day you’ll enjoy sunshine emerging from scenic morning mists and hopefully you’ll avoid crosswinds as you summit the peak. The road begins to narrow as you make the final ascent. You drop down again over the same distance you have just climbed on curving road with a 20% gradient at times, to reach the tiny Hamlet of Cock Bridge. 16th Century Corgarff Castle is a short distance away. The defensive tower has a rich history from its involvement in rebellions to the surveillance for whisky smugglers.
You are now riding one of the most beautiful stretches of road in Scotland. You’ll ascend two more peaks today both challenging but at gradually lowering heights with a plateau stretch between them known as Glas-allt-Choille which marks the border between the Dee and Don valleys. Following this you cycle a gentle 8-mile incline and a final drop into Ballater, situated in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and close to Balmoral castle.
Cycling Distance: 31 miles (50 km)
Total Climb: 2,675 ft (810 m)
Total Descent: 2,675 ft (810 m)
Accommodation: Balmoral Arms Hotel (B)
Day 6: Ballater
You have a day off the bikes today to rest your legs and explore the local surroundings. Aberdeenshire has more than 260 castles, stately homes and ruins, hence being referred to as 'Scotland's Castle Country'.
The grounds and gardens of nearby royal residence Balmoral Castle are open to visitors during the summer months. Aside from royals the other famous residents here are scurries of Scotland’s favourite mammal the red squirrel. You may like to visit Royal Lochnagar Distillery, warrant issued by Queen Victoria in 1848. If you wish to take whisky tour it is best to book in advance. You could also join a wildlife tour or ride the chairlift at nearby Glenshee for a panoramic view.
Accommodation: Balmoral Arms Hotel (B)
Day 7: Ballater to Bridge of Alford
As you leave the Victorian village Ballater, renowned for its spring waters you'll pass the Muir of Dinnet national nature reserve. You ride a few gentle ups and downs before you have a significant climb over 5 miles to reach Craigievar Castle. This pink harled-walled edifice is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairy tale citadel in Cinderella. You can take a tour of the castle, with no artificial lighting beyond the ground floor and absorb the atmosphere. You continue your ride with one more climb before you descend into Bridge of Alford on the banks of the river Don which was regarded as a sacred river in ancient times.
Cycling Distance: 25 miles (40 km)
Total Climb: 1,300 ft (396 m)
Total Descent: 1,475 ft (450 m)
Accommodation: Haughton Arms Hotel (B)
Day 8: Bridge of Alford to Banff
Today you'll be taking in a few ups and downs during the course of the ride as you cycle gradually north towards the coast to the picturesque sea town Banff. The town is popular for golfing with several courses in the area. Historically it was a fishing town; other local industries included weaving and soap making. Some of Scotland’s most highly regarded silversmiths were based here. Banff Museum houses some of the oldest surviving silver teapots in Scotland. An attractive 7 arch bridge reaches across the river Deveron to Macduff village, the last place in the UK where deep water wooden fishing boats were built. Duff House in Banff is one of Scotland's architectural masterpieces. Designed by William Adam, the historic house is a cultural arts centre. It also boasts extensive grounds and woodland walks by the River Deveron.
Cycling Distance: 42 miles (68 km)
Total Climb: 2,003 ft (611 m)
Total Descent: 2,403 ft (623 m)
Accommodation: Seafield Arms Hotel (B)
Day 9: Banff to Lossiemouth
Today you’ll enjoy riding a considerably flatter route than previous days with scenic coastal views of the North Sea. After around 14 miles we reach Portknockie and you’ll be able to see Bow Fiddle Rock; a Quartzite metamorphic sea arch. Riding on you reach Spey Bay where the Scottish National Dolphin Centre is based.
From here you’ll head inland riding to visit Elgin Cathedral. Described as the 'Lantern of the North' this majestic medieval ruin has two towers: West Front and Chapter House, that remain intact. Climbing to the top of one of these towers you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the area. You head back to the coast riding the last few miles of the day to Lossiemouth where there are beautiful beaches, a lighthouse and woodland walks.
Cycling Distance: 41 miles (67 km)
Total Climb: 1,350 ft (410 m)
Total Descent: 1,325 ft (403 m)
Accommodation: Links Lodge B&B (B)
Day 10: Lossiemouth - Fort George- Inverness
Today ride starts along the coast to Burghead before cutting inland, staying parallel with the shore. After 25 miles, you'll encounter the splendid 16th-century Brodie Castle, home to the Brodie clan for over 400 years, now managed by the National Trust. Inside, marvel at impressive art collections, decorative ceilings, and fine furniture. Outside, explore beautifully landscaped gardens and a nature trail.
Next, the captivating town of Nairn awaits, renowned for its two championship golf courses and sandy beaches. A little further lies the enchanting Cawdor Castle, offering an immersive experience of castle life through history. Relish a delightful lunch at the renowned Cawdor Tavern, known for its excellent cuisine.
As you continue, the route meanders along the scenic south side of the Nairn valley, passing under the majestic masonry arches of the Culloden Viaduct, enhancing the allure of the landscape. Your tour concludes in the vibrant city of Inverness.
Cycling Distance: 53 miles (85 km)
Total Climb: 1,600 ft (487 m)
Total Descent: 1,600 ft (487 m)
Accommodation: Inverness House B&B (B)
Day 11: Inverness
redspokes self-guided Whisky and Castles cycling tour ends this morning.
"The self guided tour is an excellent way to see the country at your own pace with the freedom of not having to carry all your gear. The tour was..."
Janice and Simon