Thursday 29 September 2005
It’s funny how a certain expression, saying, or even joke that you’ve never heard before, or not in a long time, will suddenly crop up several times in short order. Three or four times in the past few days, in both Shetland and in Craigellachie, I’ve heard someone ask someone else what the “best”, or their “favorite”, malt is, and the answer come back “a free one” or “one someone else buys”.
This morning I set out to visit Balvenie. The tour is reputed to be fairly intensive (for a £20 fee, it had better be!), and they suggest you arrange transportation to and from, rather than drive, so, at the suggestion of my landlady, I take the bus. Looking at the timetable, I note that the service is very good, and it would be easy to visit quite a few distilleries this way. Aberlour next year, I think.
I arrive at the Glenfiddich visitor center–Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie are all on the same grounds–and we wait a bit for someone who called yesterday about the tour, but who does not show. It’s just Tom, the guide, and I, then. He drives me over to the Balvenie corner of the property and tells me something of the history of the company, which is independently owned by the Grant family. (The very same can be said of Glenfarclas, but they are different Grants.)
First, we visit the floor maltings. Upstairs are small mountains of Optic and Chalice, and at the end of the room are two steeping tanks end to end, maybe twelve or fifteen feet long, six or eight feet wide, and a couple feet deep. These are filled about a foot deep with grain, which is then covered to a depth of six inches or so with water at ambient temperature. In a couple days, the grain will have absorbed all of the water, and it will then be pushed through holes in the bottom of the tank to the floor below.
At one point, I get to thinking about how much land will produce how much whisky, and I ask Tom about yield per acre. He doesn’t know, but calls his father, a farmer, on his cell phone, and gets the answer. I wish I could remember, for your benefit, the math we worked out, and I hesitate to give a ballpark figure based on hazy recollection; I seem to recall a figure of four bottles or so an acre, but I can’t swear to it. Anyway, I was impressed by Tom’s efforts to satisfy my question.
Downstairs, we see the malt spread out on the floor, and chat with the two men who are charged with turning it to keep it from getting too warm. There is a machine that looks a bit like a snowblower for the job, and it is pulled along a cable, making their work far less back-breaking than the old method of using wooden shovels. Still, it is very labor-intensive. Malting is not done in the summer, as it is too warm, and Balvenie will not run tours in the summer months for that reason.
Next we saw the mash house, which houses two stainless steel mash tuns; the larger is Kininvie’s. Kininvie’s product is intended entirely for blending, and I suspect that one of the reasons for building it separate from Glenfiddich is to vat the product headed for the blenders so that none will end up in the hands of brokers and subsequently appear as IB’s of Glenfiddich (or Kininvie, for that matter). But I wonder, wouldn’t many of us be interested in an IB of vatted Glenfiddich/Kininvie, anyway? No matter, they are obviously very careful not to let this happen.
Then the stillhouse. This and the mash house are essentially like any stillhouse and mash house on any tour you’ve ever been on, but of course the stillhouse is, visually, the centerpiece of any tour. Tom remarks that everyone’s face lights up when they step into the room, and mine is no exception. I do my best to take some worthy photos, and will post them when I get the slides back. (It will be a while.)
Tom wants to get us through the cooperage before the workers there take their lunch break, so that’s next. Safety glasses are mandatory, as are ear plugs–it’s a very noisy place. It’s quite a large, one-room building, where I see barrels being broken down, others being reassembled, and all manner of repair work. A cooper pounds the barrel top into place, stuffs the cracks with a length of reed, and tightens the hoops. Another puts an old, tired cask on a machine that scrapes out the inside, then on another that rechars it with an alarming blast of flame. I am too slow to get a photo. I look inside the finished barrel; the new char looks more like a light toasting. It will be good for one, possibly two more fills.
Outside is a vast yard with endless stacks of empty bourbon barrels, sherry butts, port pipes, and no small number of unidentifiable oddball vessels of various dimensions. Tom tells me that Balvenie no longer rebuilds 200-litre bourbon barrels into 250-litre hogsheads.
Into the warehouse. We see barrels ranging in age from a few years old to forty and more. Tom pulls the bung on a barrel of 1967 vintage and invites me to stick my nose in it. It smells absolutely wonderful, but to be quite honest, if you have a bottle of 15yo Single Barrel, you can experience pretty much the same thing. Of course, you won’t be standing in a dark, damp Balvenie warehouse with your hands resting on a dusty barrel full of thirty-eight-year-old whisky, surrounded by hundreds of similar. Now, every time I open my bottle of the 15, I will be.
All that’s left is the tasting. Tom takes me to a room in a small building that was once the distillery manager’s office. There he pours us each full drams of the Founder’s Reserve 10, DoubleWood 12, Single Barrel 15, PortWood 21, and the Thirty, in Glencairn glasses. He confirms that the 10 has not sold well since the introduction of the 12, and is scheduled to be phased out. He puts his hand over the top of a glass and gives it a vigorous shake; I follow suit and note the exponential intensification of the nose (after licking the excess from my palm). He does not rush me, talks me through each dram, and gives me plenty of time to enjoy every last millilitre. I experiment a bit with water, but I’ve never really liked using it, and when it comes to the Thirty, I add not a drop. It is intense, deep, complex; Balvenie cubed. I linger over it for some time, and when I lament that I cannot afford a bottle of this sublime malt, Tom produces a 3cl mini of it for me to take home.
The tour started at 10:00, and it is well after 1:00 when Tom drops me at the distillery shop. I buy a few things, including a 3 x 20cl box of 10, 12, and 25. Buzzing warmly and wearing a wide grin, I walk ten minutes up the hill to Dufftown, where I have lunch, spend some time online at the library, and browse a few shops. Late in the afternoon, I catch the bus back to Craigellachie.
Dinner is at the Highlander. The Connoisseur’s Choice dram of Brora I have after seems watery and weak. Over at the Quaich Bar, I decide, perhaps unwisely, to have another dram of the OMC Brora I’d had the night before. It’s very nice, but doesn’t strike me as well as it did the first time. Back at the Highlander, I enjoy my last pints and drams in Craigellachie.
Oh, one other thing–for some reason, no one at Balvenie ever asked me for my £20, automatically making it my favorite distillery tour of all time! Well, you know, it was by far the best, anyway.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday
30 September, 1 & 2 October 2005
Spent a few minutes this morning photographing Thomas Telford’s bridge over the Spey near Craigellachie, and then lit out for Elgin and the Gordon & MacPhail shop. They’d been in the process of expanding when I visited last year, and I was keen to see the result. It’s marvelous, a real candy store for us oversized kids (but then, it always was). My budget is a little tight this year, so I reluctantly pass over the £120 Port Ellens and such, and settle for an Ardbeg Very Young and a handful of minis, including a 3 x 10cl set of Glenrothes ‘79, ‘89, and ‘92. Okay, two handfuls. Then I am off to Plockton, on the west coast, not far from the bridge to Skye.
When I first started coming to Scotland, I never booked anything in advance, preferring to let chance guide my travels. Four or five years ago, in midtrip, I found myself feeling a bit lost, and I called my good friend Elaine in Dunfermline. “Why don’t you go to Plockton?” she said, and I did. It’s a pretty little town on a picturesque crescent bay, a planned herring port from the 18th century now full of B&B’s and holiday cottages. I knocked on the door of a B&B along the main street, but was turned away. Down at the pier, I eyed a large stone house with a B&B sign out front, and immediately pegged it as too expensive. Up on the back street, I knocked on another door.
“No, I’m booked up, I’m sorry,” said the lady who answered, “but come in, I’ll make a phone call for you.” The call bore fruit, and she sent me back down to the house by the pier! And that is how it is that I have spent a few days every year since with Richard and Teresa Peach at Tigh-an-Fhaing. They are wonderful people, their house is lovely, and the prices, it turned out, are very reasonable. You may take that as an unqualified recommendation.
There are two good hotels with restaurants and bars along the main street, the Plockton Hotel looking over the bay, and the Plockton Inn a little up the hill. There is also an excellent restaurant up at the old train station (the Kyle of Lochalsh line itself is alive and well) called Off The Rails. Somehow, it has always seemed to be closed for a holiday when I visit, but I have a fine meal there tonight. Back in town, I pop into the Inn.
My preference for the Inn or the Hotel varies from year to year, and even from night to night. The Inn has a more pub-like atmosphere, and a good selection of a couple dozen or so malts–all basic distillery bottlings, but certainly something for everyone. Tonight, alas, is Quiz Night. Last year, I fell in with some gray-bearded locals on Quiz Night, and we did quite well, but I’m not up for it tonight; so down to the Hotel. Only a handful of malts here, but there is Deuchars IPA in the cask, one of my favorites. The Inn, for some reason, favors London Pride and other southern beers. I have a nice evening chatting with a young English couple who are on their way to Waternish; no doubt I will see them in the Stein Inn Monday night.
I take a total down day on Saturday, letting the car sit. In the afternoon I sit in Tigh-an-Fhaing’s most comfortable sitting room and nibble on cheese and crackers, sip on Glenrothes ‘92, peruse Whisky Magazine #50, and don’t watch golf. Dinner is at the Hotel, but later a wedding party spills into the bar. One of the happy couple is Dutch, and there are several very pretty Dutch women. Well, you know I’ve had quite enough of pretty Dutch women. Ha ha! Just kidding. But I don’t feel comfortable with the tuxedoed mob, and I repair to the Inn. There, I fall in with another young English couple, architects named Claire and Murray, and have a grand time playing pool and socializing. I walk a crooked route home.
Sunday I drive to Glenelg, where stand two excellent brochs. I’ve been here before, of course, but I enjoy investigating them anew, and looking for different ways to photograph them. The weather doesn’t much cooperate, and indeed it has been fairly miserable on the west coast for some weeks. I do some noodling around in the car before returning to Plockton.
Back at the B&B, I ask the Peaches if I might spend some time online, and they leave me to it while they go out to dinner at Off The Rails. Thus it is that I hear the phone ring some time later, and the answering machine kick on. It is my brother’s voice I hear, and immediately I know that I must go home to bury my father.
Monday 3 October 2005
The Peaches are wonderful, letting me use the computer for hours to try to sort out flights and such, and offering whatever other support they can. I leave Plockton at about noon and drive five hours straight to Edinburgh, up beautiful and empty Glen Shiel, and then up achingly poignant Glencoe, veiled by sun-tinged mist. I gobble the last of my cheese and crackers as I pass over desolate Rannoch Moor, and am not hungry when I get to Edinburgh, so I skip dinner. I want very badly to go to the Bow Bar, especially since I don’t know if I’ll be back. I spend a quiet few hours there with pints of Landlord and a couple of stellar Cadenheads drams: a Clynelish that reminds me of the OMC Brora I’d had at the Quaich, taking just a few drops of water, delivering a hint of bubblegum; and an absolute killer Ardbeg that forces a smile to my lips. My flight is in the morning, at 10:20, and a long and sad journey is ahead; but tonight, just for a little while, I can sit in a familiar place and take some small comfort in a good dram.
4–8 October 2005
The trip home went exceptionally smoothly. Were I inclined to think that way, I’d say that God, or Fate, or Something, was watching over me. The events of the next several days are not an appropriate topic for a whisky forum. Let me say only that what left us this past Sunday was but the last remnant of the man who was my father; we have mourned all through this past summer as he declined, and now feel mostly relief.
I will be returning to Scotland to meet Bob and Ron, whom I have been begging for years to join me on a trip. I am very glad not to have to leave them on their own; I’m supposed to be the guide! But I will only spend the eight days that they will be there before returning home again to help my mother get things in order. I’ve missed my scheduled visits to Skye, Knoydart, and Stirling, and will miss Bladnoch and the Mull of Galloway. There’s always next year.
As my trip was approaching this year, I gave a lot of thought to canceling, as my father was obviously failing. My mother said go, so I said goodbye to Dad and went. Not long ago, Bob told me of being in the same situation some years back–he took a trip to Germany with some misgivings, as his father was in poor health. In some town or other over there, he wandered into a shop full of beer steins, and decided to buy one for himself. He chose one he thought particularly handsome, and as the shopkeeper handed it to him for inspection, he noticed an inscription in German on it. “What does this say?” Bob asked, and the shopkeeper translated:
Live life while the lamp glows, and pluck the flower as it blooms.
Thank-you for sharing word of your travels Tattie. It currently serves as food for thought as I'm now considering doing some travelling in Scotland. Will be a couple of years in the planning if I can go. For me, travel is about meeting people as well as the culture, and how these relate to the physical surroundings. You certainly incorperated all these elements masterfully.
I hope you're finding ways to cope with your father passing. I'm not much of a grief councellor, but I'm concerned for how you're doing! One minute you're enjoying the variety of what life has to offer, the next you're dealing with all of that taken away from someone in your inner circle.
Here's hoping this post finds you able to take comfort from friends and familly. Our thoughts and prayers are with you!
In one of your former posts quite a while ago - if I remember correctly - you spoke of your father and that you once shared a dram of Lagavulin DE with him, one of the very few whiskies that impressed him. Alas, I know what I should do while my thoughts are with you...
My sincere condolences on your family's loss. Thank you for sharing your journal on this trip. I was envious all along the way - and found myself dreaming of being in your shoes - until the impact of reality hit with your sad news. I lost my father this spring - after a year of post-stroke deterioration. A fading so drawn out that - as you said - closure is a relief - for us, at least...
Beyond that...words pale.
Thinking of you... Cheers, Dave.
I love the quotation from your friend's beer stein...let us all pluck the flowers while we can!
Sunday 9 October 2005
I walk into the arrival lounge at Glasgow Airport to find Ron and Bob waiting for me. Bob is holding a small, neatly printed sign that reads “MR TATTIE HEID”. They landed two hours ahead of me, and have spent much of that time trying to locate Ron’s luggage, which has declined to arrive. We have two nights in Edinburgh, and presume that will be plenty of time for the airline to find the errant bag and deliver it.
We set out for Falkirk to see the Falkirk Wheel, a modern engineering marvel. It replaces a flight of locks connecting two canals separated by an escarpment, not unlike the Niagara Escarpment, albeit considerably milder. These canals, like any other ones built in Europe or North America in the early nineteenth century, were a vital means of transport before the advent of railroads, but are now used for pleasure boating. The flight of locks took the better part of a day to traverse, and the Wheel takes fifteen minutes to make the same transit. I’ve seen the lift locks at Peterborough, Ontario, on the Trent-Severn Canal, and it’s an interesting comparison; the two achieve the same goal in different ways.
Photo by Mr Tattie Heid, 2004
After inspecting this very recent work of man, designed to ease transport over a geographic obstacle, we visit a nearby site known as Rough Castle, which is actually a remnant of the 1,800-year-old Antonine Wall and an attendant Roman fort, which were built to impede, or at least regulate, traffic over the same territory. The wall was built and maintained for only about twenty years in the mid 2nd century, and again very briefly at the start of the 3rd. There is nothing left here but a good length of ditch and bits of earthworks, and the wall was built mainly of turf, anyway; so it is not as dramatic a site as Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria. But I am actually pleasantly surprised by what there is to see, and the impression it gives.
We next intend to visit the Abbey and Palace at Dunfermline. We are forced to detour via Stirling and Alloa by roadworks in the vicinity of Kincardine Bridge. We stop for lunch at a small hotel along the A907, at which point we hit the jetlag wall. We decide to skip Dunfermline and get to our hotel in Edinburgh as soon as possible. At least, by coming this way, we get to cross the Forth Road Bridge and view the 19th century engineering marvel of the Forth Rail Bridge.
We arrive in due time at our hotel in the Georgian New Town, on the north side of Calton Hill, and promptly crash.
We get up in time to have dinner at the Standing Order, a Wetherspoon’s pub in a marvelous old bank building on George Street. They pour a decent pint of Deuchar’s IPA here, and serve passable food fairly quickly. We don’t want to waste time; we are headed for the Bow Bar.
The Bow sits just to the south of the Royal Mile, just above the Grassmarket. It’s a small but handsome room, without the distractions of television, music, or fruit machines, and pretty much embodies everything I think a pub ought to be. Nothing fancy, just the necessities. There are eight real ales on, but I must admit that the only one I care about is Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, a Yorkshire bitter that is quite possibly my favorite beer in the whole world. And there are about 125 bottles of malts, not the largest selection in town, certainly, but enough to keep one busy. Over the next two evenings, I will sample an OB Clynelish, a 14-year-old Glenrothes Provenance from a sherry cask, a Scapa 12, an Ardbeg Very Young, and fabulous Cadenheads bottlings of Clynelish, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig.
Alas, we have gotten out a bit late, and the Bow closes at 11:00. But the Standing Order is open until 1:00, and we take full advantage! We’ll be sorry tomorrow.
Monday 10 October 2005
We are indeed sorry this morning, and after breakfast, we decide, perhaps as a form of penance, to drag our sorry selves up to Arthur’s Seat, the pinnacle of a rugged volcanic formation that overlooks all of Edinburgh. Remarkably, after a little exertion, we all feel pretty good. Ron is twelve years younger than I, and Bob is older, but he skis all winter and bikes all summer; I have been meaning to ride the stationary bike at home all summer, but it has been too damn hot.... Well, that’s my excuse for lagging behind. Slow and steady. Slow, anyway.
The summit is only 825 feet above sea level, but the view is great. It’s also very windy, just as it had been at Herma Ness, Esha Ness, and the pass above the Great Glen. Maybe I should dub this the Mighty Wind tour. I find Ron and Bob huddled in the lee of a rock just a few feet from a crag atop which is perched an Ordnance Survey marker set in a small concrete obelisk. We take turns virtually crawling up the little crag in the stiff wind and hugging the obelisk for dear life, in fear of being blown off like Mallory on Everest.
Mr Tattie Heid at Arthur's Seat, 2004
Back on the low ground, we marvel at the hideous new Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile. Reputedly the interior is marvelous, beautiful and functional both, but the exterior is just formless and ugly. As well, it is pasted all over with a cryptic motif that looks to me like a Black & Decker cordless drill. We probably ought to go inside to see for ourselves the worthiness of the building, but we decide to catch a bus tour of the city instead. We peek briefly into the Cadenheads shop on the lower Mile before getting on the bus.
The tour is not the best I've been on (I've been on a lot!), but it gives us a chance to see a fair bit of the core city while sitting down. As we repass the parliament building, the guide notes the peculiar motif, saying that it resembles a hand-held hair dryer, and no one knows what it is supposed to represent. The architect died before the building was completed, and the secret died with him. This, I suspect, is a bit of tour guide hyperbole.
We get off near the top of the mile and visit the Castle. I take the audio guide, but Bob and Ron are content just to look around. The last time I visited here, some years ago, the audio guide was obviously a sealed CD player; now it’s more of an iPod thingy. At every point of interest, there is a small number marker. Punch the number into the audio guide, and you hear all about the site. Usually there is an option to hear more in-depth information after that, sometimes three or four more units’ worth. We only stay an hour, but I’ll bet that, if you listened to everything on the guide, you’d be there all day.
In the gift shop, we are offered a taste of a G&M Mortlach 15. It’s a fine heavily-sherried dram, as good as any Macallan in my limited experience.
We have a very nice lunch in a little Italian café tucked into one of the many closes leading off the Mile, and shop idly along the street. There are tartan and tweed shops, and Royal Mile Whiskies, of course. I drag the lads down to the Coda music shop, a tiny place just crammed full of great folk music. I pick up four or five CD’s.
It’s not too late in the afternoon when we decide we’ve had enough, and retire to the Bow for a pre-dinner pint or two. We are just beginning to consider our evening meal when a gentleman in suit and tie leans over our table and says, “Are you Mr Tattie Heid?” To my delight, it is none other than the estimable Mr Nick Brown. He promptly buys us a round; we are sticking to pints before dinner, but Nick has a dram. When it is my turn to reciprocate, I ask him what he wants, and he answers, “Surprise me.” I fiercely resist the temptation to get him a Bruichladdich–there isn’t a really good one here, anyway–and get him a Clynelish instead, which he professes to quite enjoy, never having had one before. We have a nice blether about Edinburgh, and whisky, and the forum, before shaking hands and parting ways. I am extremely pleased to have met Nick, and doubt I shall ever be able to direct a cross word at him again.
The Black Bull in the Grassmarket provides us with a decent pub meal, along with a pint of Deuchars, and it isn’t long before we are settled back in at the Bow. We have barely sat down with our pints when another fellow leans over the table and says, “Are you Tattie Heid?” This time it is Crieftan. Now, Nick is from Kent, is slender, and has a refined and gentle manner; by contrast, Crieftan is a true Scot, robustly built, and a real salt-of-the-earth type. He stays the rest of the evening with us, and we have a wonderful time with lots of laughter.
Cheers to Nick and Kenny both. Is this a cool forum or what?
Above from http://www.scottish.parliament.uk --and this from the FAQ page:
What are the unusual shapes on the outside of the building?
Enric Miralles designed many features for the building which are open to a range of interpretations. Some people have suggested that the decorative panels which are fixed to the facades of many of the buildings look like hammers, Scalextric controllers, hairdryers etc. Benedetta Tagliabue once described them as curtains.
Oh, and by the way, whisky is good (obligatory on-topic comment).
Edit: The article also says "He also based the solidity of the surrounding buildings on potatoes, which he regarded as particularly Scottish...."
Tuesday 11 October 2005
Ron calls the airport this morning to see if his bag has turned up; we could conceivably run back to Glasgow, if necessary, before going on our way. But it isn’t there, and he is given a number for the airline’s missing luggage tracker. We are astonished to learn that it is only available from noon to 5:00pm. How’s that for service? That’s USAirways, folks.
We drive northwest, past Falkirk and Stirling, and stop in Doune to see Doune Castle. In the parking lot, I inform the lads for the first time that the reason I have chosen to visit this particular castle is that it was the location for nearly all of the castle scenes in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. I am uncertain whether the Historic Scotland staff on site will be particularly cheerful about acknowledging this part of the castle’s history, but as it turns out, they are pretty used to it. The interpretive signs around the property are straightforward historical stuff, but in amongst the usual sort of souvenirs and books in the shop are books about the movie and ersatz coconut shells. The woman on duty cheerfully tells us where much of the taunting took place. We spend the better part of an hour trying to work out which parts of the building served as Camelot, Swamp Castle, and Castle Anthrax (while still appreciating the actual historical context of the place, of course). Then we go away before they taunt us a second time.
Up the A84, we stop in Callander, Gateway to the Trossachs, for lunch. Ron calls the airline about his luggage, and the fellow who answers is cheerful and chummy, until he does a bit of checking on the computer, at which point he clams up. No news, or nothing he wants to relay, anyway. I suggest to Ron that his bag left Seattle, not for Philadelphia, where he changed planes, but for the Philippines. The airline authorizes some expense money for Ron to buy necessities, so we go shopping. Alas, there are umpty outdoor clothing stores in Callander, but nowhere, apparently, to buy underwear.
There is an outlet of The Whisky Shop in town; they seem to have sprung up everywhere in the past few years. I browse for a bit, and buy a set of two Penderyn miniatures with a Glencairn glass. I also pop into a candy shop for a bit of World Famous Scottish Tablet.
Up the road we go, into the Highlands, through Crianlarich and on to the head of Loch Awe, where we plan to visit Kilchurn Castle. This is the stronghold of the Argyll Campbells. Ron and I both have Campbell ancestry, although we have no idea whether we are related to this branch of the clan. We rather hope not, as you will understand in a minute.
There are, or have been, two ways to visit Kilchurn, which sits on what used to be an island, now in the middle of a marsh. The first is a seasonally-operated boat that approaches from across the loch. We check on this to find, as we suspected, that it is done for the year. The second approach is a footpath through the marsh. This, alas, crosses a railtrack, and the railway operator has recently locked the gate permanently, citing liability issues. The Ramblers’ Association contends that the railroad has illegally blocked a longstanding public right-of-way. (The issue is covered in some depth on Undiscovered Scotland’s page on Kilchurn.) We quite naturally side with the Ramblers’ Association, and are planning to hop the gates. We lose our nerve, however, when we read a sign warning of £1,000 fines, and have to settle for a long-range view of the castle.
Kilchurn Castle. Photo by Mr Tattie Heid, 1999.
We drive up the minor road through Glen Orchy, which ends at the A82. There is a hotel near the junction, and we stop so that Ron can make another fruitless phone call to the airline. Then we are off across desolate Rannoch Moor, and soon enough into Glen Coe. I have in mind a short walk near the top of the glen, but the weather is not very good, and it’s getting rather late in the afternoon, anyway. Bob, an avid skier, asks to have a look at the ski lodge sitting not far off the main road, and has a short blether with someone there who tells him that last season was a bit of a washout.
We descend the glen, which is awesome in any weather. The Three Sisters loom over us. History looms large here, as well, and the centuries-long feud between the Glen Coe MacDonalds and the Argyll Campbells. This seemed to have come to a close in 1692, when the MacDonald finally swore fealty to the Crown. The oath was taken five days after the deadline, however, and the king was looking for someone to make an example of. He sent troops into Glen Coe under the command of a Campbell, and for ten days they were amicably billeted with the MacDonalds. Then the command was given early in the morning to slaughter every MacDonald under the age of 70. Many escaped the sword to the hills, only to die of starvation or exposure. This is certainly the most notorious incident in Scottish history, and it is the breach of hospitality that has long been considered the most heinous and treacherous aspect of the massacre. After all, murder and mayhem were pretty much routine in the clan warfare of that era. It is perhaps not relevant to note that the cattle-thieving MacDonalds were not particularly nice people themselves. In any case, the name Campbell has been mud in these parts ever since.
All of this took place within sight of the Clachaig Inn, our home for the evening, a few miles above Glencoe village at the mouth of the glen. As we check in, we notice a sign (common in Glen Coe) by the front desk reading “No hawkers or Campbells”. Ron and I take this as a light-hearted jest; on the other hand, they are probably serious about the hawkers, so we decide it best to keep our mouths shut.
There are two bars at the Clachaig, the larger of which, called the Boots Bar, obviously caters to the many walkers and climbers who come to the area. It’s the party bar, but it’s quiet tonight. We have a good pub meal and pints of cask ale, and peruse the 120 or so malts on the wall. During the evening, the latter part of which is spent in the more comfortable Bidean Lounge, we sample several of these. I have a G&M Cask Old Pulteney, which is heavily sherried with subdued smoke; a Dallas Dhu, which tastes of popsicle stick and, very late, cake icing; and two Benromachs, the younger light and smoky, the 21 tasting of molasses, but dry and slightly sulphurous.
We are all feeling a bit draggy and so retire relatively early. We make sure to lock the door before going to bed.
http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/l ... ccess.html
http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Sho ... encoe.html
http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/g ... index.html
Scottish history is very interesting. The fact that it evokes strong feelings today is somewhat surprising to me as noone cares about the bloody mess some 200 years after the french revolution. Myth carries strong feelings I guess.
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