I intend to check in here when I can to report on whisky-related activities, and probably a few other things as well. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome, and I hope I'll run into one or two of you locals in a pub along the way.
Here is the basic outline of my itinerary, with likely pubs in ( ):
Sep 19: Stonehaven (Marine Hotel).
20-26: Shetland. 22 in Baltasound (Baltasound Hotel) and the rest in Lerwick (The Lounge Bar, Douglas Arms).
27-29: Craigellachie (Craig Hotel, Highlander).
30, Oct 1-2: Plockton (Plockton Hotel, Plockton Inn--I can never remember which is which).
3-4: Waternish, Skye (Stein Inn).
5-6: Inverie, Knoydart (Old Forge).
7-8: Stirling (Portcullis?).
At this point, two friends arrive, and we are on to:
9-10: Edinburgh (Bow Bar).
11: Glencoe (Clachaig Inn).
12-15: Islay (Port Charlotte Hotel).
16: Inveraray (George Hotel).
At this point the lads fly home, and I'm off to:
17-18: Isle of Whithorn (Steam Packet Inn, Queen's Arms Hotel).
19-22: tba, probably northern England.
I expect to visit Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Talisker, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Jura, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, and Bladnoch. I'll be back here in a few days--see y'all then!
Enjoy - and please don't hesitate to write a "travelogue" here at the forum!
If you're on your way to Stirling, a short detour would bring you the "Hoose o' Groose" at Glenturret. Worth a visit, as is the Tullibardine distillery on the A9 - again not so far from Stirling.
MrTattieHeid wrote:I expect to visit Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Talisker, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Jura, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, and Bladnoch. I'll be back here in a few days--see y'all then!
The steeping of the barley just began today at Kilchoman's... Lucky you to be around!
'N aire ort fhéin!
Monday 19 September 2005
Arrived in Aberdeen on KLM after changing planes in Amsterdam. On the approach, the plane dipped and weaved, and the landing was hard. "That's what we call a sporty landing," said the pilot, explaining that, in such conditions, he's mostly concerned with putting the plane in the middle of the runway, rather than trying for a soft landing. He did a good job undr the conditions, in my estimation.
Left the bulk of my luggage at the airport and took the bus into town. Visited Ottakar's, where I bought CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2006 (the most important book in my touring arsenal) and a paper copy of Peat Smoke & Spirit. A quick glance showed "Kildalton" spelled correctly throughout. There is an acknowledgement at the front to the many who helped with corrections, including a fellow named Harry Pulley.
Had lunch at the Prince of Wales,along with a pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, my favorite beer. After a year's wait, the pint I had wasn't all that good. Ah, well, that's the nature of it. The Prince has only a small handful of malts. I've heard since that the place is in receivership, so perhaps standards are a bit down at the moment. Too bad, it's a lovely pub; better days ahead, no doubt.
Took the train to Stonehaven, nodding off on the way. Dreamt I was on the plane for Shetland, taxiing on the runway. Awoke in a panic, not knowing whether I'd missed my stop. I hadn't.
My B&B is a short walk from the rail station, and I took a good solid nap. Then I had a walk through town and on the beach. Stonehaven has always struck me as a bit shabby, but it didn't seem so bad today--still quite a few vacant storefronts, but perhaps it's looking up. The beach is nice, as is the old harbor, where the Marine Hotel stands.
The Marine has in the past had some pretty good and adventurous pub food, but that has disappeared the past couple years, and the meal I had was rather ordinary. But the pint of Landlord was excellent, making up for the one at the Prince. There are nineteen malts in the Marine. I don't intend to make a list of all the malts in all the pubs I go to, but will do so here, to show how it's possible to have an interesting selection without too many bottles:
OB's: Dalwhinnie, Glendronach, Jura, Highland Park, Laphroaig, Dalmore, Scapa, Cragganmore, Glenkinchie; plus three Glenrothes, '79, '89, and '92.
MacPhail's Collection: Glenturret, Bunnahabhain, Glen Scotia.
Connoisseur's Choice: Clynelish, Strathmill, Glencadam, Littlemill.
Also: Grant's Ale and Sherry Casks, The Antiquary, The Century of Malts, Glen Calder, JW Black, Black Bush, Jameson, Grouse, and Jack Daniel's.
I tried a few things; the one that really stood out was the Littlemill, which I tried out of sheer perversity. It was indeed a unique experience. Imagine a fairly nice but undistinctive malt; add a few drops of turpentine. Now store the malt inside one of your car's tires and drive for a week or two in very hot weather. There you have it...the worst whisky I've ever had, by far. It ruined the subsequent Clynelish, as well, even with a pint in between.
Tuesday 20 September 2005
Landed at Sumburgh in Shetland, picked up my hire car, and drove about a half a mile before stopping to consult my map, intending to go to the Ness of Burgi. Looked up to see two people running toward me, waving. They were two pretty young Dutch women, Vera and Rinske, who had been visiting Jarlshof and had missed their bus. (To be quite plain, they were half my age or less.) "Are you going to Lerwick?" They asked. "Uh, sure," I answered; likely I'd have said the same if they'd asked to go to Mars. We ended up visiting a few more sites around southern Mainland (the main island of Shetland), taking a walk to view the now-inaccessible broch on Mousa. The girls were lovely company, bright and cheerful; they are both medical students, Vera studying in Edinburgh, Rinske visiting from the Netherlands. I dropped them in Lerwick and told them that there were sessions at the Douglas Arms Tuesday (that night) and at the Lounge Bar Wednesday.
The Douglas Arms is a fairly handsome pub. The session was an informal gathering of locals, for the most part three fiddles and a guitar. Good beer is short on the ground here; there is a brewery up on Unst, the Valhalla Brewery, but very few places serve their product in the cask, and they've all stopped for the season. I'm doomed to a week of Belhaven Best and Tartan Special, which are okay. The Douglas has only a half a dozen ordinary malts, as well. The Dutch girls don't show. I'm not surprised.
I meet two older Canadian women (older than I am, anyway!) from Vancouver Island--Mary Ellen from Comox, Sue from a small island not far from there. We haven't been talking long when one says "You're the American who picked up the Dutch girls, aren't you?" News travels fast in a small place! It turns out they are all sharing a room in the local hostel. The girls were tired, they told me, else they'd have come. Likely they'll be at the Lounge Bar tomorrow.
Wednesday 21 September 2005
A short day--I'm pretty worn out myself. I spend a little time in Scalloway and the islands, accessible by causeway, south of it. I take a good nap in the afternoon, hoping to shake off the last of my jet lag.
The session in the Lounge Bar is a much more polished affair than the night before. I've never seen so many accordions in one place in my life! A Norwegian lad plays some russian tunes on the violin; his grandfather joins the general jam with his button accordion. A local fiddler who has gained some national reputation (alas, I did not catch his name) causes a buzz when he arrives and sits in for a while. The Canadians and Dutch are there. It's a wonderful evening.
The Lounge Bar has two dozen or so malts. I'm trying to taste things I haven't had before, or not in a long time. Among the surprises for me are Tobermorey 10--very cedary; I don't remember that at all--and BenRomach, which strikes me as a mild Ardbeg. I'll have to try them again later to see if my impression is the same.
The hostel has a curfew, so I say goodnight to the Canadians and goodbye to the Dutch--I am off to Unst tomorrow, and they will be gone when I get back. The Canucks are going to Unst as well, and I feel certain I will run into them there.
Thursday 22 September 2005
Left Lerwick late in the morning for Unst. First took the ferry to Yell (which belongs in the placename book next to Loudville and Bellows Falls, both near my home). Last time I was here, I gave Yell short shrift, so I spent a little time wandering about this time. The highlight was a lovely little beach called the Breckon Sands.
Ran in to the Canadian ladies on the Unst ferry. I suggested that they might come up to the Baltasound Hotel in the evening, but the hostel where they are staying is not close by. In fact, this encounter is the last I will see of them.
Found my B&B in Baltasound; it is a working farm, and all the folks were out counting sheep or some such. How do they stay awake? But I checked in and then drove up to Skaw, the most northerly house in Britain. The pavement ending there is the most northerly road in Britain. Everything around here is the most northerly whatever in Britain. There is a nice little beach nearby, and as I walked on it, I came across a bird sitting on the beach (I'll have to look up just what it was). It did not move as I approached. It was alert and had no obvious injury, but was very weak--it tried to stand at one point and flapped its wings, but fell flat on its beak. It was covered with foam from the surf, so I picked it up from behind and left it in a small stream where it might rinse itself off. But I don't think the foam was the problem, and I left it to nature's whim.
Went to the Baltasound Hotel for dinner--it's the only game in town. It looks like a typical remote Scottish island hotel rather badly in need of renovation, but the lounge bar looked like a comfortable place for a meal. Unfortunately, it was booked solid, and I had to make do in the somewhat shabby public bar. There were two handpumps with Valhalla clips on them, but they were not on. Dinner was good enough. Did not note what malts I had after; there was a modest selection. At the time of this typing, my memory is failing on that matter. I will make an effort to make rudimentary notes from now on.
'very enjoyable reading - thanks Mr. T... I'm hopeful that if rudimentary notes is all you'll be able to supply here for the time being - that you will treat us all to the full details at a later date.
P.S. I received a videomessage from two friends who were visiting Glenfiddich this week - after a week on Islay... great fun.
I can't recall if your itinerary will take you that way to make it possible for you to send us a videomessage - but if so, that could be a first for this forum...
I believe Mr T. takes pride in only using 8mm filmcamera so I wouldn't hold my breath. After all, Mr T admitted in the "podcast-thread" that he only knows how to operate the turntable technology so the fact that he managed to find this forum is indeed a "serendipity"
Mr Fjeld wrote:About that videomessage Dave........
I believe Mr T. takes pride in only using 8mm filmcamera so I wouldn't hold my breath. After all, Mr T admitted in the "podcast-thread" that he only knows how to operate the turntable technology so the fact that he managed to find this forum is indeed a "serendipity"
Ahhh - thanks Christian - but therein lies the beauty of this Shakespearian serendipity - for if all the world's a stage - all we need is for Mr. T to be a "mere actor"... and the folks at Glenfiddich will take care of bridging the gap to the 21st century...
Next stop: the lawyers...
WestVanDave wrote:I think I see a book in the offing... and a movie deal perhaps. Any thoughts on who would play Mr. T? (And who might be cast as Mr. Picky?)
Brad Pitt for Mr T, of course.... We need to find a young Tony Randall type for Mr Picky.
Thanks for your comments--now I'll get on with it. I'm sitting in the library in Aberlour and Glenfarclas awaits!
Friday 23 September 2005
There is an older English couple in the B&B, and over breakfast we all discuss such Shetland issues as the all-time worst storms and the possibility of buiding a tunnel between Unst and Yell. I opine that one such tunnel in the Faroes, between Leirvik and Klaksvik, has eliminated the most beautiful ferry ride on earth, and is probably helping more people to move off the island it serves than to stay. Well, it's their island, I suppose. But I'll be surprised if anyone ponies up the cash to build a tunnel to serve 700 people.
After poking around the island a bit, I head for the Herma Ness nature reserve. In the parking lot I find the English couple--or at least, the missus sitting in the car; the mister is just disappearing over the hill. She has (wisely) declined to join him, as the wind is blowing hard from the south, and the sky is not promising. Or rather, it is promising things we don't much care for. I get my shoes on and start on the trail. The stiff wind is at my back, which means of course that it will be in my face on the return.
The trail splits about a half-mile up, forming a sort of misshapen backwards P. The last time I was here, I went straight up over the hill and tried to return around the loop, opposite to what is recommended; I got lost and almost sank forever into a bog. This time I take the western loop. About halfway to the cliffs, rain begins to fall. No, it isn't falling, it's being driven horizontally by the wind, and stings even through the clothing. If I had any sense, I would turn around, but I don't, and I feel compelled to make it to the end, as my entire trip would otherwise feel incomplete. So on I go, and in a matter of minutes, my trousers are soaked through. I am not wearing waterproof ones for two reasons: one, I don't own any; and two, they are strongly recommended against, as a stumble on the steep slopes above the cliffs could result in a fatal slide. My shoes are waterproof, but after a while, water wicks down my socks, and my feet are as wet as though I'd gone into the bog again.
I reach the stunning cliffs and struggle to take a few photos. As I walk north along them, the prize comes into view: Muckle Flugga, the northernmost outpost of Britain, a jagged rock with a Stevenson lighthouse perched impossibly atop it. Despite the wind, it is very hazy, but I manage a couple photos, anyway. Before turning up the hill, I mark a waypoint on the GPS: N 60 deg 50' 23.7", W 0 deg 53' 43.7".
It is a hard slog back, directly into the wall of wind; the worst of it is not being able to look where I'm going. Fortunately the trail is fairly clear the whole way. It's about a five-mile hike in all, not normally a very tough one, but I'm beat when I get back to the parking lot. I'm relieved to find Mr and Mrs English sitting in their car, as I did not see the fellow the whole way; he'd gone straight over the hill and straight back. They are waiting for me to get back safely, bless their kind hearts. No one else has been foolish enough to go out on Herma Ness today.
Changed my clothes and zipped back to Lerwick via the two ferries. Near Weisdale, high on a hill with a lovely view (for it has now cleared), is a hotel with a bar serving cask ale, the only such in Shetland at the moment, I think. I stop and have a pint. Back in Lerwick, dinner is at the Queen's Hotel, and pints and (alas, unnoted) drams are at the Lounge Bar. I will sleep well.
Saturday 24 September 2005
The alarm this morning woke me out of deepest dreamland. I'm off to the south of Mainland today. First I visit a couple of ruined brochs. Most of these ancient stone towers were built on hilltops or on small islands, but the one at Clumlie is in the middle of pastureland, and is curiously surrounded by much more modern (but equally ruined) farm buildings.
At the far south of mainland, just past Sumburgh Airport, two headlands extend southward, parallel to one another. One is Sumburgh Head, which rises to a high knoll surrounded by cliffs, on which sits a lighthouse. The other headland is the Ness of Burgi, and that's where I'm headed. It is much lower, rolling land, and toward the end of it, there is a restored ancient "blockhouse". The walk out is pretty straightforward, except for a short stretch where the sea is steadily working at making the Ness an island; one must walk along a jagged ridge for a hundred feet or so, with sheer drops to either side. This is not quite as hairy as it sounds, for a chain handrail has been mounted through the worst of it. Still, it's pretty exciting.
The blockhouse is interesting enough, but the spot itself is just enchanting, and I hang around for half an hour or so, all alone, the sea crashing almost on all sides.
Back near the airport, Jarlshof is my next stop. This is a fascinating site--five different civilizations have built here, one atop the other. There are substantial ruins of Bronze Age houses, early Iron Age houses, an Iron Age broch with surrounding wheelhouses, Viking longhouses, and atop it all, Earl Patrick Stewart's medieval castle, its corner sitting atop the wall of the broch. This is one of Shetland's two great archeological treasures, the other being the nearly complete broch on Mousa.
Saturday night in Lerwick...much like Saturday night in any small town in Britain, much too noisy and rowdy for an old f*rt like me. I have a few pints and drams and go to bed. (I promise, more detailed whisky stuff shortly.)
The Stevenson Lighthouse must have been a dramatic sight to see. The high winds and pelting rain of the day made me think of of the horrible conditions that builders of the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse must have endured day in and day out. It makes the Lighthouse construction all the more spectacular. I am glad you had a quick change of clothes awaiting you at the end of your hike, but the weather certainly added to the atmosphere of your journey that day.
Your trip sounds wonderful.
Sunday 25 September 2005
Spend today driving around the north and west of Mainland. Lots of driving out to the end of roads, turning around, and coming back. Most of it not worth reporting, except to say that it is all very scenic.
Drive through part of Ronas Voe, a very rugged and beautiful fjord, on the way to Esha Ness, where relatively flat tableland ends in dramatic cliffs above the sea. It is very windy here and I do not linger long, but I do walk along the precipitous gash running a couple hundred yards inland from the water. The sea washes in and out. Offshore, bizarre stacks jut out of the ocean. One strange islet, Dore Holm, looks like an enormous horse drinking from the surf.
I take a walk to one of my favorite spots in Shetland, the broch at Culswick. There is no one on the mile-long farm track save the usual sheep and a friendly calico cat. At the end, high on a knoll, sits the shattered broch, overlooking the churning Gruting Voe. The last time I was here, it was a splendid sunny day; today it is overcast, but it's still a special place.
On the way back to Lerwick, I drive by the area where Blackwood Distillery is supposed to be built. There is a large, vaguely Scandinavian-looking structure going up by the road, but there is nothing to indicate whether it has anything to do with the enterprise or not. Nothing firm to report.
A quiet night in the Lounge Bar. Among other things, I revisit Tobermory. I can detect the cedar flavor I found so strong the other night, but the dram now tastes much more like the rather unpleasant malt I remember. What did I eat that night? No matter, I doubt I'll have another Tobermory for a good long while.
Monday 26 September 2005
I've done well--I've seen just about everything I wanted to in Shetland, save for a ruined broch here or there, and so when today turns out rainy and miserable, I am able to take a town day without regret. I spend most of the morning at the tourist office online, posting my pearls to you. I also manage to get laundry done for an exorbitant fee (worth it to me--few things I hate more than hanging around a laundromat). In the afternoon, I shop up and down the twisting main street of Lerwick, poking into virtually every shop; it doesn't take all that long. I buy some Shetland knitwear for Mom for Christmas, but the one souvenir I want to find is not to be had--a small Shetland flag, a white Scandinavian-style cross on an azure field.
The island of Bressay protects Lerwick's harbor and is a seven-minute ferry ride from the pier. At the other end, the tiny Maryfield House Hotel stands but yards from the landing. I've been planning to get over here all week, and this is my last chance. I'm a bit worried at the small and empty lounge bar when I arrive, but it's early, and the place livens up a bit later. The hotel is run by an expatriate South African, and my dinner of scallops is maybe the best one I've had in Shetland. The Pulteney that follows is smoky and sweet and just the thing after seafood. I fall in with a couple of lads, one local, the other a displaced Londoner, for several games of pool, under the peculiar local rules. Not having played in ages, I quite naturally shoot very well at first, but the more I think about what I'm doing, the more my play deteriorates. It's a fun evening nevertheless; I wish I'd thought to come over here on Saturday to escape the madness. Of course, the place may have been filled with crazed Bressay youth, as well.
Reluctantly, I catch the 9:30 ferry back to Lerwick, standing on the car deck, watching the lights of the town grow larger. A nightcap in the Lounge Bar caps off my Shetland sojourn.
Tuesday 27 September 2005
Land in Aberdeen and pick up my hire car. I usually get something on the order of a Renault Clio, but I have friends joining me in a couple weeks, so I have moved up to the "compact" class--a VW Golf Plus, and I love it. It's spacious enough for the three of us without being too big to drive on the narrow roads, and best of all, it has a reasonably glute-bootin' cd player. I am carrying mostly neotraditional music from Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, and Scandinavia--Battlefield Band, Old Blind Dogs, Alan Stivell, Annbjorg Lien--but I cannot resist blasting one of the late Martyn Bennett's bizarre works as I roll out into Aberdeenshire. It's techno stuff, which doesn't normally interest me, but it is blended with "found" vocals which are very traditional Scottish stuff; the end product is mind-blowing goosebump material. Not every day!
I've scouted out some ancient monuments to see along the way, but am disappointed to realize that I have seen three of the four of them in past visits, and the fourth is essentially a pile of dirt. However, the Tomnaverie Stone Circle is worth a revisit, as it was fenced off for restoration when I last saw it. It had nearly been destroyed by an adjacent quarrying operation.
Roll into Craigellachie in late afternoon. Settle into the B&B and step into the Highlander for dinner. I've never been here before, but there is a lot of talk about how the new management, in place for a few months, are doing good things. It's a nice pub, good pints of Cairngorm Trade Winds, lots of whisky-oriented folks to talk to. There are Germans, French, Japanese, and even a Scot or two (you can tell them because they ask for Bell's or Teacher's or Grouse). The malt selection is excellent, if not the largest, and I have quite a few this evening--a Craigellachie and a couple different Glenrothes for starters. I try the BenRiach Curiositas, which I find mildly smoky, but utterly lacking in any kind of body; it's like smoky water floating over my tongue. Then it's a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Wow! Not sure I like it; it tastes of raw wood and salty prosciutto. It'll get another chance, though.
I stumble back to the B&B, glancing at the Craigellachie Hotel down the street. Tomorrow.
Wednesday 28 September 2005
The library in Aberlour is open for exactly two hours on Wednesday, and I use it all to catch up on business online. Then I drive up to Glenfarclas for the 1:00pm tour.
It's a good, basic tour, no surprises, and a good refresher for what's coming tomorrow. There are half a dozen other folks taking the tour, and at least half of them are what you might call casuals--not real enthusiasts. This is my first tour in Speyside, and it occurs to me that one of the great things about Islay is that there are not likely to be many such people wandering through. Anyway, the guide is very knowledgeable and clear, and does a good job of explaining the basics to those who know little of the process, while answering the more arcane questions that come up (there aren't many) without hesitation. At the end, we are all given a dram of the 10. I discreetly produce the voucher I printed off the Glenfarclas website, which entitles me to a dram of the 25, as well. For some reason, both drams taste bitter to me; there's something enjoyable under there, but I can't pull it out. Just one of those things, I guess.
I've decided to go up to Elgin this afternoon to pay my respects to Mr Gordon and Mr MacPhail, but a map-reading error on an attempted shortcut leaves me wandering around forestry roads on the Knockando Estate. I don't mind at first--I quite enjoy getting lost sometimes--but after a bit I realize I'm going nowhere fast. Finally I descend to a point within sight of paved road, only to find a locked gate. I have no choice but to turn around, which is what I really hate to do. Eventually I make it back to the critical junction and go the other way. I watch as the little dotted lines on the GPS screen describe a wide loop and bring me to within yards of the other side of the gate. I've lost about an hour; had I taken the main roads, I'd have been in Elgin in twenty or thirty minutes.
I pass Dailuaine, charmingly nestled in a hollow on the south side of the Spey, and Imperial, a charmless and inactive factory on the north side. The latter is up for sale, for redevelopment.
Elgin itself is another matter. It's not a big city, and I've been there a few times before, but I am approaching from a new direction, and the access roads are a maddening maze of roundabouts. Eventually I find myself next to the ruined cathedral, which is in the care of Historic Scotland. I've become a Friend of Historic Scotland this year, so I can get free entry by showing my card. This I do, and spend an hour wandering around this splendid ruin, parts of which date to the early 13th century. Well worthwhile, and some good photos, too, I think.
Alas, it is now quite late in the day, and the Gordon & MacPhail shop is closed. I return to Craigellachie empty-handed.
I have a salmon double-header at the Highlander--smoked for starters, poached for the main course--and decide it's time to visit the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel, which is but a couple hundred feet away. I'm surprised at how small the bar is, and how much whisky is wedged into it--over 700 bottles on shelves lining every wall. I sit in a leather chair and spend fifteen or twenty minutes perusing the list. I choose an Old Malt Cask Brora, and it turns out to be a fine choice--a profound dram, similar in character to the current Clynelish 14 but ten times as intense. Tiny rivulets trickle over my tongue for the following forty-five minutes in the quiet of the bar. Several other patrons are equally lost in their own experiences; a pair whisper their thoughts to one another, but otherwise there is no conversation. I'm sure it is not always like this--during the Speyside Festival last week, it must have been quite a different scene. But just now it feels absolutely right--a house of worship.
On the table in front of me is a book of tasting notes. The top page is signed by one Jeroen Kloppenburg, who has preceded me by two weeks.
More than an hour has passed when I return to the Highlander, and they close early on weekdays--11:00pm. I have time for two pints and a dram, a Flora & Fauna Ben Rinnes, which is quite dark but very dry. I fall into conversation with Tom, an oilman from Houston who came to Aberdeen on a temporary assignment fifteen years ago and is still here. Shades of MacIntyre! He is friendly and generous, but Scotland, however much he loves it, has not changed his basic personal style. You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the boy. A real good guy.
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