Tomintoul nestles at a height of 354m or 1,160ft on the northern slopes of the Cairngorm Mountains, and lays claim to the title of the highest village in the Highlands. Travel south-west from here and you encounter nothing more developed than the odd track for nearly 40 miles: and meantime you will have crossed the highest mountains in the Cairngorms. Interestingly enough, if you were to take that route, you would emerge on the A9 not far from Dalwhinnie. This is actually a few metres higher than Tomintoul: but perhaps Dalwhinnie is more a hamlet than a full-blown village.
There were settlements in this area by the 1640s, but Tomintoul itself did not come into being until 1776. In the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite uprising many changes swept the Highlands, and a desire to control both political and economic activity was high on the agenda (see our Historical Timeline).
It was during this period that the 4th Duke of Gordon decided to build a new village to house the populations of a number of dispersed settlements across his estate. This may in part have been driven by a desire to improve people's fairly miserable lives. But it was also designed to make it easier to stamp out cattle reiving and whisky smuggling, both elements of a way of life in this part of the Highlands that had lasted for generations.
The location for the Duke of Gordon's new village was picked to take advantage of the military road that had been built from Braemar over the high pass at the Lecht via lonely Corgarff Castle in 1754.
Tomintoul today is an attractive stone-built place very much as the Duke of Gordon would have envisaged it. The 40 foot wide main street is part of the original design, as is the grassy Square that forms the focus of the village. The drinking fountain in The Square is a later addition, being placed here in 1915. In one corner of the Square, sharing premises with the Tourist Information Centre, is the excellent Tomintoul Museum. When we last visited, in May 2012, both the Gordon Hotel and the Richmond Hotel, shown on this page, were closed, which had a slightly depressing effect on the look and feel of the village: but we understand there are moves to return at least one of them to use.
The desire to control illegal distilling may have been part of the motive for building Tomintoul, but legal distilling has certainly played a central part in its economy ever since. In 1982 a third of the area's male workforce was employed in distilleries, of which there were 25 in production within 20 miles of Tomintoul. There are probably at least as many in production today, and this remains an enormously important industry to the area.
Seven miles north of Tomintoul on the B9008 is Glenlivet Distillery, an extremely popular visitor attraction. This is part of the "Malt Whisky Trail" and offers tours and visitor facilities that easily match the excellence of its location. A little closer to Tomintoul, but in an exceptionally remote location, are the Braes of Glenlivet. Here you can find Scotland's highest distillery, Breaval, which, sadly does not have a visitor centre or do tours. This area's strongly Roman Catholic heritage is reflected in the presence at Scalan of a seminary which operated from 1715 to 1799 and whose remains can till be seen. In the tiny hamlet of Chapeltown you can find this heritage reflected in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Tomintoul's fortunes have also been closely tied to the development of the ski centre at the Lecht, five miles south-east of the village. Tomintoul is, by a large margin, the closest settlement and the most convenient place to stay when skiing at the Lecht, and this has helped transform the village into a year round centre.
Another more recent development has been the creation of The Speyside Way, from the Cairngorms to the sea at Buckie. Tomintoul is no longer on the "main line" of The Speyside Way, which since 2000 has started from Aviemore, but it does remain the terminus for a high level 14 mile spur connecting to the Way at Ballindalloch.