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Dream routes: Scotland
Omnibus Magazine

Dream routes: Scotland

Waves, wind and whisky.

Right up in the north east, Scotland shows off its best side: the Malt Whisky Trail takes visitors to idyllic fishing ports and over gentle hills into the Highlands to the most famous whisky distilleries in the country. A dream route for any bus driver – with a few challenges.

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.

Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo
Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo

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 28 Discoveries 29 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.

Facts.

  • 180 km
  • 47 whisky distilleries
  • 230 years of whisky tradition
Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo

Idyllic villages present a challenge: narrow streets, bridges and thoroughfares require the driver’s full skills.

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.

On the coast for instance, where idyllic harbours and fishing villages like Findochty, Cullen or Portsoy invite visitors to stroll through the streets or take a walk on the nearby sandy beaches, where the screeching of seagulls is mixed with the swishing of waves, and the wind smells of saltwater and seaweed.

“They must have drunk a lot of whisky when they built these roads.”

Gordon Mayne, coach operator

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.

And which whisky from his home region does Scotsman Gordon Mayne like to drink best? The answer is as brief as it is sober: “I don’t drink whisky. I drive a bus.”

Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo

Nice views: on narrow roads, past historic ruins, the route leads to the best-known whisky distilleries in Scotland.

Schöne Aussichten: Auf schmalen Straßen, vorbei an historischen Gemäuern führt der Weg zu den namhaftesten Whisky-Brennereien Schottlands.

Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo
Dream Routes Malt Whisky Trail Tourismo

Maynes Coaches.

The family business founded in 1947 has been managed in its third generation by Gordon Mayne (64) since 1982. With its fleet of 24 coaches and nine minibuses, the company has specialised in bus hire travel for groups and tour operators. Besides the depot at the headquarters in Buckie, Maynes runs two others – one near Elgin and one on the Orkney Islands. The fleet includes six Mercedes-Benz Tourismos, which are used for tours in the region as well as throughout Great Britain and on the mainland.

Maynes Coaches has always attached great value to quality and service to the customer. That refers to the fleet – most vehicles are less than three years old – as well as the drivers, who attend regular training sessions. In 2017 Maynes Coaches was crowned UK Coach Operator of the Year.