Wednesday, 21 November 2012


There were many raised eye-brows and quizzical looks from passers-by as I unloaded, on to the pavement in the centre of Glasgow, a 15 foot open-canoe. I had arrived at The Arches to bring to the Glasgow Whisky Festival the perfect way ~ by canoe~  to truly experience Speyside and, en route, partake of Scotland’s greatest export ~ visiting some of the many distilleries peppered along the Strath of the majestic River Spey.

Once tethered to its trolley, everything I required for the day fitted neatly into the boat ~ table, lap-top, data-projector, screen, roll-out banners, whisky for sampling ~ even purpose-built trestles for canoe to sit on and a handcrafted, wooden table top which fits snugly inside the canoe to form the perfect whisky-serving area. The Festival’s excellent helpers came in the form of members of the Glasgow Whisky Club. Young Bobby who helped me roll my loaded canoe into the venue surmised that somewhere in the boat I had actually succeeded in including the kitchen sink.

My good friend Willie Gibson had travelled by train from ‘the other side’ ~ Edinburgh(!), in time to help set up and support me on the Spirit of the Spey stand throughout the day ~ with, we hoped, occasional breaks for us to visit and liaise with other exhibitors at the Whisky Festival (~ never happened!!). Willie is, by anyone’s standards, an eminently well qualified helper on a Spirit of the Spey stand at Whisky Festival. A long-standing member (~ let’s not get into the falling over bit!) of the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, Willie appreciates fine malts.  Also, an active member of the highly successful Carnethy Running Club,, Willie has in the last eleven years brought various Carnethy members, as well as friends to paddle with me on, mainly 4-day river journeys, from Kincraig to Spey Bay. Willie, along with his friend and Carnethy colleague Nick MacDonald are my two most loyal Spey clients ~ both now having completed with me 12 Spey Descent from Loch Insh to the Moray Firth, plus various other odd days here and there. (Nick sorry you could not be with us on Saturday ~ definitely next year!) Willie normally paddles as a double-act with his wife Cathi and Nick with his daughter Sarah. However, we did organise one Boysie trip during which Willie & Co all paddled solo.

Another helper for the day was my Glasgow-based Social Media coach/adviser Louise Wightman. Louise kindly stayed for a couple of hours to support us on the stand which was fantastic because, once the doors of The Arches opened Festival visitors poured in to sample their first ‘pouring’ of golden elixir.

Many were attracted to our stand by the sight of a canoe and in the background, bringing Speyside to Clydeside ~ rolling, action pictures on our ‘big-screen’. As well as pouring and talking whiskies, throughout the afternoon we were able to extol the virtues and pure joy of paddling the beautiful River Spey, learning paddling skills/techniques; being at one with nature; witnessing wildlife ~ birds and animals unperturbed by our silently gliding by; meeting and talking with fellow river users ~ including anglers and their tweed-clad ghillies and along the way, whilst in Speyside being able to sample Speyside malts and visit some of the many wonderful Speyside distilleries.

On our ‘canoe-bar’ we were able to offer visitors to our stand contrasting malt expressions ~ from the top end of the Strath, Badenoch we had, produced at the small, picturesque ‘Speyside’ distillery close to Kingussie their 12 year old and also, very popular with the Scandinavian market, their 8 year old ‘Drumguish’. From Glenfiddich we were also offering ‘Rich Oak’, finished in American and Spanish new-make oak casks ~ well liked by many who visited our canoe-bar. The Balvenie flag-ship malt, favourite of many ladies and very often the malt that bring people to realise they actually can and do like whisky ~  ‘Doublewood’ was popular as ever, as was the Balvenie 15 year old Single Barrel bottled at 47.80%. However, reckoned by many to be ‘Best Dram at the Festival’ was The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask ~ finished in new-make oak casks seasoned over a long period with three fine rums, blended by the guru himself ~ The Balvenie Malt Master of now 50 years ~ David Stewart.

Willie’s and my hope to visit various other exhibitors at the Festival did not bear fruit. Especially following the departure of Louise, things went like the proverbial fair, with folks wanting to know more about the expressions we had on offer and details relative to this fantastic idea ~ to many a new and exciting concept ~ of paddling the Spey, en route, incorporating whisky experiences ~ What time of year?; How long?; How many?; How much?; How to book? Can I bring my staff? & so on.

Answers to many questions can be found on at but the short answer is ... ‘almost anything is possible’. A day’s coaching for family/friends; corporate days with a difference; (~ having to work in tandem in steering an open-canoe provides natural, non-contrived team-building.) Also, Journey’s over several ( 2 to 7) days.

One should though be fully aware that Journeys with Spirit of the Spey are more than just about learning to canoe. Yes, client comfort, confidence and safety is paramount, thus competence through learning basic skills is required and this is done with a highly qualified, experienced canoe-coach. However, Spey Journeys with Spirit of the Spey are unique, memorable, experiences. Some who have paddled with me have said it was ‘a spiritual ...’, even ‘life-changing’ experience.

The traveller, coached and led by the Spey’s most experienced River Guide, is provided with an intimate introduction to lovely Lady Spey ~ her history ~ social & natural; culture; people; places. During this unique journey clients stay in first-class guest-houses/hotels. (Possible Speyside accommodations include Tigh na Sgiath, Grant Arms Hotel, Cragganmore House, Cardhu House, Craigellachie Hotel but to name a few.) We realise that clients may not mind getting their feet (or even, sometimes, a ‘little more’!) wet during the day but we want to make sure you have a warm and comfortable environment throughout the evening and overnight ~ with, during the evening, a delicious dinner and a few exquisite malts ~ just to ensure a good night’s sleep. Then, the next morning starting out warm and dry ~ refreshed and fuelled by a hearty Scottish breakfast, ready to fully enjoy a new day on a new and contrasting section of the wonderful River Spey. This is Scotland’s most beautiful and ideal canoe-touring river ~ with more than half of Scotland’s malt distilleries and their delicious, golden expressions awaiting our company.

I hope I might, in the very near future, have the pleasure of your company on The River. I would consider it a privilege to share with you the River Spey ~ outside my family ~ my life’s greatest passion.

Many thanks to all who helped make our day with ‘Spirit of the Spey’ at the Glasgow Whisky Festival such a successful event, especially ~ Willie Gibson,
The Balvenie UK ,
Speyside Distillery
Mark Connolly at The Good Spirits Co
The Glasgow’s Whisky Club member/helpers
‘Whisky Boys’ Nicola & Jim

Hotels mentioned ~

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Cairngorms Business Partnership Conference


From the stage of the MacDonald Aviemore Resort auditorium, Cairngorm Business Partnership (CBP), chairman, Duncan Mackellar kicked-off the proceedings by extending a warm welcome to the 130+ delegates attending the 2012 Business Conference. 

Alan Rankin CEO of CBP then outlined the programme and procedures for the day and later explained existing and unveiled the launch of new membership benefit schemes in partnership with the Business Conference sponsors, the Route Organisation.

Mid-morning, Sandra Middleton; Sustainable Business Programme Manager with the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) delivered a thorough, indeed inspirational presentation, clearly outlining the aims of the CNPA and how sustainable business development is an integral part, essential for the future well-being, of any National Park. Sandra gave a compelling vision for the future of nature and people thriving together.     

After Sandra’s excellent presentation, delegates rotated through three very different workshops which extended into the afternoon, following an excellent buffet lunch.

Workshops ~

i) There was an introduction and full explanation as to how members could effortlessly maximise savings through the CPB recently forged link with the Route Organisation.

ii) As always, social-media guru Rene Looped of TuMinds enthusiastically waxed lyrical about how best to utilise and ensure effective use, thus generate business from the various media options ~ Facebook, including use of PicMonkey & adding features to allow ones website to become ‘mobile friendly; Twitter ~ the key being to be friendly by retweeting and honing in on key words to see what potential clients might planning. However, Rene’s main message for this session was to get one’s business ‘mobile friendly’ by ensuring existing and potential customers could easily find your business. Certainly influential in modern business promotion comes through ‘recommendation’ on sites such as Trip Adviser. A key phrase used by Rene was ~ ‘good reviews make for easy choices’. Reading a good review takes away a lot of the uncertainty for potential guests. It’s all now very much ‘Word of Mouse’!  

iii) Two young ladies from the Energy Saving trust delivered a double act on how to access new grants, advice and cost savings schemes on energy efficiency, including low/neutral carbon vehicles.

‘Making it Happen’ was an amazing address to delegates delivered by the Olympic Park Manager ~ London 2012, Clive Stephens. Clive Stephens has been involved in the running many businesses of varying size. Before taking on his senior role Olympic Park he managed Alton Towers. He had concluded that fundamentally, although the actual nature of our respective ‘Parks’ were rather different, the actual management strategy and modus operandi were fundamentally the same ~ all with a mission to provide the best possible ‘customer experience’.

In sharing his model for project/business success, Mr Stephens listed several key essential factors including ~

  • Creation of a vision for the business with clear aims and objective ~ led from the top
  • Fill the structure with the most important resources ~ the best people and allowance of time ~ do not take shortcuts
  • Train staff well, giving people wide ranging skills
  • Foster teamwork and collaboration through detailed planning and rehearsal to ensure processes are effective and staff confident, able to adapt to change/remain calm in the event of any challenges
  • Investment in people and planning will pay dividends. 
Never having been to the Highlands before, Mr. Stephens was clearly very impressed by the Scottish landscape and quality of service provision within the Speyside/Cairngorms area. He began his talk by sharing with his audience the big ‘Wow! Factor’ he had experienced when stepping on to the platform at Aviemore Station and finding himself compelled to rotate through 360 degrees to fully  appreciate the vista. Clive stated very clearly ‘l’ll be back’!

Clive Stephen’s reaction to his first experience with the Scottish Highland for me echoes the experience of so many delegates who attended the 2010 Adventure Travel World summit held in Aviemore. Very few of the delegates had ever been to Scotland before. Indeed many people, includes Scots, had doubts about Scotland as a viable Adventure Tourism destination. However, ATWS showcased Scotland as a most excellent Adventure/Wildlife Tourism Destination to a worldwide audience, in a way never done before or since. Delegates were blown away by our Highland scenery and huge range of high quality outdoor activities available ~ walking both low level & mountaineering; canoeing; kayaking; sailing; golf; biking ~ on & off road; wildlife watching; snowsports, etc., ~ with something for everyone and all within easy travelling distance.

As one of our French lady guest recently exclaimed, ‘I never realised that Scotland was such a big(!) small country. Next time I am coming back for a month!’

Once people have experienced Scotland’s ‘Wow-Factor’ they, like Clive Stephens want to come back.

With the Cairngorms National Park, our vision must focus upon attracting the visitor to Scotland ~ they will then want to come back and will also enthusiastically tell their friends in all sorts of ways ~ by word of mouth and by word of mouse!