I woke to a white world – it had snowed all night.
The trees were burdened with snow on this long section following the disused railway track, and big flakes fell steadily for hours turning everything into a fairytale frosted landscape.
Mine were the only footprints.
I was walking deep into the heart of whisky country. Speyside has the greatest concentration of distilleries on the planet. There were several small distilleries along the trail, and you can smell them before you see them, that fruity malted honeyed smell. You don’t have to like whisky but you can love the smells!
And each distillery I passed – Cragganmore, Tamdhu, Knockando, Aberlour, Macallan – exhaled a slightly different smell.
Like wine and its ‘terroir’, whisky is a product of its own particular location: the water from the well or burn that filters through the land and vegetation around it, the kind of barley used, the skill of the distiller, and above all, the secret’s in the wood – the stain, the flavour, the smell of what was in the casks before.
Last night I walked up to the Cragganmore distillery and stuck my nose through the broken panes of the warehouse and inhaled. The air was toffee, caramel, fruit, toast and honey, spiked with something dangerous and heady and intoxicating.
The path followed the Spey all the way, easy walking if it had been dry but the snow balled under the instep of my boots and got pressed into solid lumps of ice, more on one foot than the other for some reason. I was walking along like Jake the Peg…
I met an elderly man with a tattered back-pack trudging through the snow, listening to an ancient transistor radio as he walked. As I hadn’t seen another soul all day I asked him if I could take his photo to add some human interest to the landscape.
“Aye, nae bother”, he said ” I’ll just go up a wee ways for you and turn back”.
“No, no, you’re all right as you are” I said, but before I could stop him he set off at a shuffling run until he was a tiny dot in the distance.
“Stop, stop!” I yelled, and he began to walk back ‘naturally’. I ran towards him to get a closer shot, but he turned and ran further up the track again. This went on for several minutes before I gave up the chase and waved goodbye.
By Aberlour distillery the snow lessened and I walked up through the woods to the thundering Falls of Linn, cataracts of melt water pouring over the rocks and into the river.
Now at the B&B in Craigellachie, looking out of the bedroom window as snow falls again. Across the valley I can see the turrets of Telford’s Gothic bridge, and the lights of the Macallan distillery begin to twinkle in the gathering dusk.