|River Spey looking north from Fochabers Bridge|
In the mid-1800s adding the suffix ‘Glenlivet’ to your distillery or whisky name was the way of trying to identify with the then prestige brand name of the area. Many distilleries around here are recorded by Barnard as such, or with the location ‘Glenlivet District’ which was used as far afield as Glen Lossie Distillery near
An English translation from the Latin of John Blaeu’s 1654 Atlas of Scotland records the following description of the River Spey that encapsulates some of its majesty:
“The Spey, huge, most clear, most rapid, largest of all after the
Tay, emerges from a small loch of the same name, in the ridges which lie between Badenoch and Lochaber. For the most part it is carried in a rushing course to the north-east, girded by high mountains on all sides and crowned with woods, increased by many rivers and innumerable burns from the precipices of the mountains, until it approaches within six miles of the sea, then turning directly to the north, cutting through plains and cultivated land, and causing much damage to the neighbouring fields, it reaches its mouth.”
I turned off the main road at Fochabers Bridge, the closest traffic crossing to the mouth of the river, and drove the five miles along its east side to the small village of Spey Bay. You don’t see too much of the river when driving along as the road turns away from its banks to avoid the wide flood plain that is often inundated. The River Spey is the fastest flowing river in
|Where the River Spey meets the sea|
The power of the Spey is evident and a display board provided by the Scottish Wildlife Trust shows how the meandering river mouth changes the shape of the shoreline as the spate floods force their own route from year to year. The bay is lined with boulders to protect the coast, surrounded by banks of smooth pebbles that have tumbled and worn their way down from the central Scottish massifs over the millennia since the glaciers retreated. The shingle also extends upstream to form ‘rakes’ in the tidal basin, carried here in the power of the floods and deposited as if the river was trying to build a dyke to contain itself, only to be burst open at a different point the following year.
|Spey Bay looking towards the Bin of Cullen|
Although Barnard didn’t record visiting
An extensive rail network once opened up more of the region to distillers as grain, coal and casks became easier to transport in larger volumes to and from further destinations. The major expansion in the railway took place in the 1850s and 60s, particularly with the opening of the Strathspey Railway in 1863 connecting Dufftown to Boat of Garten (and from there the main
Barnard’s journey was at a time when many separate railway companies still ran their own sections of the network. The Fochabers Station mentioned above was on the Great North of Scotland Railway Co. Moray Coast Line, at a point less than a mile from Spey Mouth and around 3 miles from the
One thing that confuses me about this is why he would have gone to that station? The sequence of reports in the book appears to suggest that he travelled from Keith that morning, but if so, why stop at Fochabers? If he went all the way round via
Perhaps he just wanted to see
First, there is a newspaper report dated 21 May 1886 that I have yet to research but which apparently records flood damage to the Spey Viaduct at Garmouth, just a month after it opened. The viaduct carried the railway over the river near its mouth and can just be seen on the right of the photo below (click to enlarge). Its central span is 368 feet long and the approaches on either side each have three spans totalling over 300 feet, all necessary to cross the meandering and unpredictable channels of the river. Throughout 1886/87 local newspapers record regular flood damage, changing river patterns and strengthening of embankments to ensure the ongoing survival of the viaduct. This may have meant that Barnard had to stop at Garmouth on the west side.
|Final stretch of the River Spey before its mouth, railway viaduct far right|
Either possibility would also make sense with regard to his description of his immediate carriage journey inland from the station, towards
But then he goes and spoils my whole reasoning by stating that, while travelling up the Spey, “behind us rose Benaigen and the rugged and massive hills of Benrinnes”, which were, of course, not behind but in front of him! This means that anything he recorded here could just be scene setting with no thought for accuracy of route. Ah well, it was an interesting theory I had for a while, but as Barnard himself states at this point “we were now in the midst of scenes which no pen could justly describe or pencil delineate, but which have left traces on our memories never to be forgotten.” Except, perhaps, after a few whiskies?
To complicate my research further a separate Fochabers Branch line was opened in October 1893 and the station at the end of this, situated at the west end of the Fochabers Bridge on the opposite bank of the Spey from Fochabers village, was also named Fochabers when it opened. This station was renamed as Fochabers Town a year later but the first Fochabers Station, the one that Barnard states he arrived at, continued to be called Fochabers until 1918 when it was renamed Spey Bay (I am desperately resisting the urge to just say ‘Foch it’ here and forget all about it!).
|Remains of original 1806 Fochabers Bridge on left with main span from 1852|
The coastal railway line was closed and dismantled in 1968 but the Spey Viaduct remains and is now part of the 50 mile Moray Coast Trail that connects Forres and Cullen. I will return to Inchgower Distillery at a later date, as Barnard did, as now the journey heads south of
The railway information here is mainly sourced from www.railbrit.co.uk and the newspaper articles are recorded at http://libindx.moray.gov.uk. Additional information from RCAHMS and maps held by the National Library.