The northeast Highlands are dominated by the majestic Cairngorms mountains. The Spey River remains one of Scotland’s more productive salmon rivers, and surrounding Speyside is the heartland of the Scottish whisky industry. Queen Elizabeth II has her summer retreat at Balmoral on Deeside, and parts of the castle are open to visitors when no members of the royal family are in residence.
In May 2015, Scotland opened a beautiful drive, the North Coast 500. Beginning in Inverness, the 500-mile circular route takes drivers up through Brora, on to John O’Groats, west to Durness, then south to the dramatic Applecross Road. The route shows the Highlands at their best, with mountains, glens, castles, seaside cliffs and stunning beaches. More than half of Scotland’s distilleries can be found in the northeast Highlands. I particularly recommend a visit to Glenlivet, maker of the world’s best-selling single malt.
This is one of the two principal regions for single-malt production (the other being the Hebridean island of Islay), with more than half of Scotland’s distilleries. I particularly recommend a visit to Glenlivet, north of Tomintoul. Maker of the best-selling single malt in the world, The Glenlivet, this distillery gives an exceptionally detailed and informative tour.
Our Favorite Book About Scotch
To keep track of single malts, I turn to “Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.” Sadly, Jackson died in 2007 before completing another edition of this wonderful book, but a group of other writers jumped in to finish the sixth edition in 2010. I had the pleasure of knowing Jackson — we met at a whisky tasting several years ago and stayed in touch — and I enjoy the echoes of his highly opinionated voice in these pages. I am delighted that a seventh edition appeared in fall 2015 with significant updates by Dominic Roskrow and Gavin D. Smith, who both knew Jackson and know a good dram when they taste it. I find the ratings are in keeping with Jackson’s taste and that the reviews retain Jacksonian pithiness.
Mention of Cawdor Castle, just south of Nairn, summons the ghost of Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor. The earliest documented date for the castle is 1454, long after the events dramatized by Shakespeare. It is complete with towers, fortifications, stone gables and a drawbridge and is surrounded by lovely manicured gardens. The interior is filled with historic paintings, gorgeous tapestries, fine portraits, period antiques and beautiful furniture and is still home to the Cawdor family.
The Battle of Culloden Visitor Center
Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the Catholic House of Stuart to the British throne, but his Highland army suffered a crushing final defeat at the battle of Culloden (six miles east of Inverness) on April 16, 1746. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil. Among the touching sights here are the simple stones carved with the names of clans to mark their communal graves. The excellent visitor center contains exhibits of weapons and shows an informative film.
The North Coast 500
In May 2015, Scotland opened a beautiful drive, the North Coast 500. Beginning in Inverness, the 500-mile circular route takes drivers up through Brora, on to John O’Groats, west to Durness, then south to the dramatic Applecross Road. The route shows the Highlands at their best, with mountains, glens, castles, seaside cliffs and stunning beaches.