Salmon fishing and whisky drinking make for the perfect Scottish break

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THE sky is clear, the temperature soars and the sun dances across the sparkling waters of the River Spey.

But my husband and his best pal are not happy.

Both are keen anglers and this was their first attempt at fly-fishing for salmon.

But the glorious September sunshine in Scotland has seen their elusive prey even more difficult than usual to tempt from the cool waters.

“Salmon don’t have eyelids,” explains their genial ghillie Craig. “They’re not keen on swimming close to the surface when the sun is so bright.”

Craig’s passion for the salmon on the Kinchurdy Beat he patrols is obvious.

He patiently explains the best ways of luring the fish from the depths, offering tips on the best places to fish along the three scenic miles of river near the unusually named village of Boat of Garten.

The boys are in it for the long haul and, for us girls, we’re free to explore the treasures of the Cairngorms National Park, twice the size of the Lake District and a jaw-dropping mix of mountains, forests, lochs and rivers.

And there’s no more exhilarating way than on a quad bike with Cairngorm Quad Treks. After a safety demo and practice, we’re soon zipping through the Alvie Estate in Aviemore.

In winter, Aviemore is Scotland’s No1 ski destination but September sees us able to storm across rolling moorland taking in the endless blue skies and views.

It’s not all easy riding, though. Our guide soon has us taking on rivers and ravines as we cross into dense forests following woodland tracks and even through rushing waters.

An hour flies by in a blur of spinning wheels and stunning countryside.

We’re keen to make the most of the warm weather so stop off for a wander around Loch An Eilein in the nearby Rothiemurchus Forest.

Fringed by mountains and forest, it features romantic 14th- century castle ruins on an island in its centre.

Tranquil pathways take you on a three-mile walk around the loch through ancient pine forests.

After another wee stop to admire the shores of Loch Morlich, it is time to pick up the fishermen — hopefully full of tales of epic battles with salmon and trout.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and our brave boys returned empty-handed to our base, the cosy Bynack log cabin at Pine Bank Chalets.

The friendly and family-run self-catering apartments, lodges and cabins are just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Aviemore.

Our particular rustic wooden gem featured two bedrooms, a compact kitchen, a lounge-diner with wood-fired stove and a lovely terrace on which to sit and admire the views.

Fish may have been off the menu, but we still made use of the barbecue to rustle up dinner. And with beers in hand and sausages sizzling, we watched the sun set in style.

Next morning the boys resumed their fly-fishing adventure, planning tactics with Craig in the beat’s fishing hut over steaming mugs of coffee.

We had a different drink in mind as we took to the Malt Whisky Trail (maltwhiskytrail.com) to discover some of the many distilleries, large and small, that call the Cairngorms and Speyside region home.

The nine distilleries in the trail all offer guided tours and, of course, the chance to sample a dram or two along the way. A favourite for me was the Speyside Cooperage in Craig-ellachie.

This family-owned business has been creating casks from the best American oak since 1947 and is the only working cooperage in the UK where you can see the ancient art in action.

After a spot of retail therapy in the gift shop, we’re back on the road, stopping off to admire the unique Craigellachie Bridge, with its cast-iron arch and its mock-medieval towers complete with arrow slits and miniature crenellated battlements.

We also stop off in Grantown-on-Spey, a traditional Highland town with plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants to explore.

Back on the road, we’re unable to resist afternoon tea at Grantown East, a former railway station that now houses the Highland Heritage and Cultural Centre.

There’s a shop and local crafts to admire, as well as the chance to settle down for cake in one of two beautifully restored railway carriages.

Back at the Kinchurdy Beat, the boys pack up their fly-fishing equipment for the last time — their two days on the river rewarding them with just one tiddler of a trout, so small it was released back to swim another day.

They may not have caught a salmon but the chance to learn a new angling skill in such spectacular surroundings more than made up for it.

Dinner that night at the Old Bridge Inn, a few minutes’ walk from our log cabin, sees pints of local ales and ciders followed by some high-end pub grub, with locally sourced fish — finally — and some cracking Scottish sirloin steaks.

Heading back to Inverness on our last day, we take the long way round, driving through the national park up to the south coast of the Moray Firth.

At Lossiemouth, the golden sands are a magnet for kite fliers and dog walkers, all making the most of the clear blue skies.

We wind our way through a host of coastal villages, stopping off for a late lunch at The Bothy Bistro in Burghead for some spectacular shellfish, including freshly dressed Hope-man crabs and lobsters and Shetland mussles.

Scotland has astonished us with its beauty — and balmy weather — and we return to Inverness airport rejuvenated, refreshed and with tales of whisky, fine food and, of course, the ones that got away.

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