Dream Routes by Bus: Scotland
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Dream Routes by Bus: Scotland

Only 20 cm to the left and right? It is enough. With over 40 years’ experience, Gordon Mayne routinely steers the 2.55 m wide Mercedes-Benz Tourismo over the 3 m wide “Boat o’ Brig”, a historic steel bridge over the River Spey, which needs to be crossed on the way to the next destination on this day. The owner of Maynes Coaches from Buckie in the north-east of Scotland is behind the wheel himself today on a trip that he and the drivers of Maynes Coaches do nearly every day with tour groups from all over the world: the Malt Whisky Trail, a 180 km round trip to the most renowned distilleries in the Scottish Highlands.

Here in Moray Speyside, a region halfway between Aberdeen to the east and Inverness to the west, the highest density of whisky distilleries worldwide can be found. Over just a few square kilometres, more than 40 distilleries come together with such resounding names as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Cardhu, Strathisla or Glenfarclas. The whisky distilleries are mostly off the beaten track, far from towns and main link roads. That is not only due to the first-class spring water that can be found there that is of great importance for making whisky. Nearly all these world-famous companies started off as bootleg distilleries and as such were able to be run much more safely in the remoteness of the Scottish Highlands than in the city.

For visitors, however, that means mile after mile on narrow roads, which are barely wide enough for two oncoming vehicles. Still for Gordon Mayne it is a dream route – even if, as a driver, he cannot usually enjoy the landscape as much as his passengers. The latter, however, get their money’s worth on the drive through Moray Speyside, even if they are not so interested in the high-proof delights of the region.

The modern 3.60 m high Mercedes-Benz Tourismo almost looks like a foreign body between the historic stone houses: after all, many of the small houses only come up to the window line on the giant high-decker. The houses are so tiny, the streets so narrow. For Gordon Mayne, however, no reason to be nervous. He knows every bollard, every wall here and whatever else could be in the way and manoeuvres the 12 m coach majestically between the tightly packed houses down to the harbour and back out.

Via the A95 and the A941, the journey goes from the coast into the mountains. The steering wheel is never still whilst the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo winds along the narrow roads through the first gentle hills of the Highlands. One bend follows another with barely any straight stretches of more than 500 m. Only rarely does the road run in line with the topography or other obvious factors. “They must have drunk a lot of whisky when they built these roads,” jokes Gordon Mayne whilst already heading for the next bend.

The needle constantly moves up and down on the left side of the tachometer: just 20 km/h on blind bends, at the most 60 km/h on the few straight sections. Both hands on the wheel, Gordon Mayne masters the relentless back and forth with amazing calm. He confidently leaves the gear changing to the automatic transmission, with which he prudently equips all buses operated by Maynes Coaches.

Driving and rest periods are not really required on the whisky tour through Speyside. Although the driving stages require full concentration, they are never longer than an hour. And there are more than enough breaks. Up to four distilleries are on the itinerary during a typical whisky tour. Be it Strathisla, the oldest whisky distillery in Scotland and home of Chivas Regal, or Glenlivet, the first licensed distillery in the region, be it Cardhu, the distillery for Johnnie Walker whisky, or Glenfiddich, the only Scottish distillery that is still family owned – there truly is no lack of attractive destinations to choose from for the coach travellers. Most distilleries offer guided tours, whereby each one has something special and is a bit different, just like the many different whiskies, which you can try here in small measures and naturally also buy.