7-day Camper Van Whiskey Tour of Scotland
For all the things that make Scotland famous, whisky is undoubtedly its most iconic export. The spirit has had poems written about it, films shot in its honour and even festivals set up to celebrate its legacy, not to mention the hordes of fans who declare themselves die-hard whisky aficionados.
Yet the sheer number of distilleries in our country can make it a little disorientating to know where to start, especially for the novice.
Here, we present a 7-day guide to our finest and most distinctive distilleries. Listed by region, it’s your easy to digest guide to Scotland’s glorious ‘water of life,’ and what better way to do it than in a camper van or motorhome!
Day 1 – Lowlands
The Lowlands comprise an area of Scotland starting at the Borders and reaching up to just past the Central Belt. There are only four distilleries still in production in the region – so start south at Bladnoch, in Galloway. This distillery has been in operation for 200 years and occupies a pretty position on the River Bladnoch. Unlike many other distilleries, which are traditionally whitewashed, Bladnoch’s stone buildings cut an unusually rustic appearance. Award-winning distiller Ian Macmillan creates its malts and a recently appointed new owner marks the start of bright future for the distillery. Tours are currently not available, but there’s an on-site shop stocking its wares.
Further north is Auchentoshan, near Clydebank. It offers a variety of experiential tours starting from short tastings, to a unique, private glimpse behind the distillery doors out of hours. There’s even the chance to bottle your own Auchentoshan from the distillery casks.
Barnbrock Campsite, near the Clyde Muirshiel National Park, has a range of good camper van facilities and is only around 17 miles from Clydebank. Head here when it’s time to bed down for the night.
Days 2 and 3 – Highlands
The Highlands is a vast region encompassing scores of distilleries and their visitor centres, such as Glenmorangie, Old Fettercairn, Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis. It’s best to spend a few days in the area as travelling times between each distillery can take you by surprise. Oban Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland and also one of the smallest with only two pot stills. It preceded the town of Oban itself and underwent a refurbishment in the 1890s, though little has been done to it since. Retaining its historic feel makes it an ideal candidate to be toured. It’s possible for visitors to see the craftsmanship that goes into whisky first-hand, and the guided tour finishes with a complementary dram of Oban 14-year-old.
As scenic locations go, the Ben Nevis Distillery, at the foot of its namesake mountain, is up there with the best. Established in 1825, this distillery’s tour involves an audio-visual presentation and takes visitors round the production facility to gain an insight into how the process really works. A dram of the Ben Nevis 10, with its notes of toffee and chocolate, seals the deal.
Glen Nevis Camper Van Park near Fort William is just a five-mile drive from the distillery and is open March through to November each year.
Day 4 – Campbeltown
The town and former royal burgh of Campbeltown, in Argyll of Bute, once enjoyed an illustrious whisky producing past, but these days it is home to just three distilleries. Glen Scotia is one of Scotland’s most modest spirit producers and retains most of its original design including the stillroom and the dunnage warehouse dating from the 1830s. Small but beautiful, it boasts an attractive shop stocking its single malts.
Glengyle is a Campbeltown distillery with a colourful history, and its whisky – slightly confusingly called Kilkerran thanks to a copyright issue – is famed for is sweet, spicy nature.
Lastly, Springbank distillery is run by the fifth generation of the Mitchell family and holds claim to the fact that every part of the whisky process, from mashing to cask-aging, is carried out on site. Its tours and tastings run Monday to Saturday.
Peniver Sands is a coastal campervan and motorhome site located close to Campbeltown, ideal for leaving your Rockin Van, while spending a day at the distilleries. After all, it’d be madness not to consider trying a wee nip as you go…
Day 5 – Islay
For such a small place, Islay, one of the most southern Hebridean islands, has an awful lot going on in terms of its whisky scene. It is home to a total of nine distilleries including Port Charlotte, a new venture not yet completed. The whisky industry is the second-largest employment generator on Islay, proving how important island’s water of life is to its inhabitants. Some of its most famous drams include Bunnahabhain – which translates as mouth of the river – and Bruichladdich – or bank on the shore. Ardbeg distillery, in Port Ellen, south Islay, produces a famously peaty whisky synonymous with the island’s output: indeed, all Islay’s whiskies carry the same heavily smoky flavour. As well as a café and accommodation on-site (the gorgeously high-end Seaview Cottage), tours are held year round and there is even a bi-weekly walk to the water’s source, charmingly titled Bog Off.
The campsite at Port Mor allows motorhomes and campervans when thoughts turn to bedtime. It is dog-friendly and open from March until November.
Days 6 and 7 – Speyside
The tiny north-easterly area of Speyside, in Aberdeenshire, is unique. It has the greatest concentration of malt producers compared to any of the other regions in Scotland – some 50 distilleries making light, grassy-tasting whiskies – whch count for over half of the overall number in the country. Spend two or more days exploring some of Speyside’s best distilleries, such as Macallan, Speyburn, Glen Moray or Tamnavulin. in order to get a taste for the place.
Aberlour Distillery has a fascinating history waiting for its visitors to discover, and holds tastings of its malts not available commercially, as well as an experience tour which runs twice daily.
Glenfiddich Distillery, near Dufftown, is housed in a handsome building complete with picturesque pagoda roofs. It lies at the heart of the Speyside region and is easily reached – good news for those new to the area. Glenfiddich’s tour comprises a nosy at its warehouses, where its casks live, and a viewing of a short film about the distillery’s ownership over the years.
It’s also worth coinciding a whisky tour of Speyside with the area’s annual whisky festival, dedicated to celebrating all our nation’s best-loved spirit has to offer. The Spirit of Speyside Festival runs at the end of April each year.
At night, pitch up at the Speyside by Craigellachie Camping and Caravanning Club site in Aberlour. It’s in a good spot with plenty of local food producers for stocking up on supplies the next morning.