At just under 3000 feet in elevation, Ben Rinnes is not Scotland’s highest peak; it is, however, the tallest freestanding mountain in Moray, Banffshire, east of Inverness and Elgin.
Legend and lore say that an estimated 200 illicit stills were operating just in the area of today’s Glenlivet, prior to licensing laws enacted in the 1820s. Today, it has been said that more than two dozen distilleries can be seen from the summit of Ben Rinnes, and I set out to do just that.
A popular trailhead begins at a small car park along the B9009 highway. The trail cuts through gorse-like shrubs on 1350-foot Round Hill then crosses Roy’s Hill at 1750 feet. From here the trail winds through fields of heather and spongy peat bogs.Lucky hikers may spot grouse, red deer or a mountain hare or two. During my trek to the summit, two things happened: the panoramic views of Speyside became more spectacular, and the weather deteriorated from bright and sunny to dark, windy and rainy. My Landranger Ordinance Survey map, locating distilleries amid topographic swirls, became useless as heavy mist cloaked the summit in a gray shield. Wind, rain, and fog blotted out the view and dictated an early decent down the mountain. One must remember that this is Scotland; the same winds that cut short time on the mountain are the same winds that can waft the smells of whiskies being produced throughout the valleys. Serendipity also rained down during this hike when I met Duncan Millar trudging up the trail. Duncan is a member of the Friends of Ben Rinnes, a volunteer organization devoted to keeping the paths and trails in great condition and helping to prevent further erosion of the fragile ecosystem on the steep slopes of the ben. “Our mountain is convenient for visitors exploring the Whisky Trail”, he explained. Duncan continued, “After seeing how whisky is made up close at the distilleries, it’s great for visitors to get the bigger picture of the geography of Speyside from up here”.