Because three weeks of touring through Scotland is quite a bit to digest in one read, we decided to gather our notes and split the trip in three more edible parts. Mind you, this second part is just a resume of what we have been doing and all distillery visits will be getting their own detailed post on a later date.
LEG TWO OF THREE
Well, that was one eventful first part of our trip. From the start we were flooded with numerous highlights. After covering great distances on the winding roads between the several new Scottish distilleries that we had just added to our bag, we ended our Friday evening on the Tesco parking lot, waiting for the tow truck to come and get us, drop us off at the cottage and disappear into the darkness with our little black car.
Waking up on the Saturday without seeing her on her usual spot in front of the bedroom was a bit odd, to say it mildly. Most of all, the weekend was to be extended with the Monday for a British bank holiday, so most garages, if not all, would be closed. Not our typical way to describe a relaxed atmosphere in the midst of the Spirit of Speyside #Dram18 festival, where most of the venues we had booked were best reached by car.
To be a little closer to the garage, the owners of the cottage offered a ride into Elgin, which we gladly accepted. The town square was scene of the local pipe band accompanying a Spirit of Speyside public tasting – no escaping from the hundreds of activities, and with a cup of American coffee in hand, a phone call came in with the relieving words: “you can come pick up your car”. Magic had happened in the earliest hours of the Saturday. A replacement ignition-coil was hand-couriered from Inverness to Elgin. Time, energy and a massive amount of elbow-grease was found and put into the right places, just to get us mobile again!
Our next stop: Craigellachie distillery. One of the distilleries we had passed so very often, wondering if we would ever get to see the bowels of the beast. Today, this would be happening, but not before we would grab lunch in Aberlour and meet up with a couple of fellow Dutchmen, busy with a whisky and BBQ competition at the Alice Littler Memorial Park.
Funny enough, we had lost some sleep worrying about the car and the remaining programme we had scheduled, so after the Craigellachie tour and another visit to the local Tesco, the car purred drove us back to the cottage. We made ourselves a simple dinner, enjoyed one of the driver’s drams and turned in a little too early.
The Sunday would be a resting day for us. Not a single distillery visit was in our itinerary, save from eating a late carvery lunch at the Glenfiddich Malt Barn Coffee Shop & bar. Late, because in the morning we had been invited to enjoy an early brunch with the Spirit of Speyside organisation and a select company of festival guests at the Station Hotel. For some reason, we had lettuce for dinner that evening…
On the last day of the festival, we repacked the car with our belongings, had a great time at the Dufftown and Glendullan distilleries, facing the fact we had still not met their wicked little sister in the middle of them, to add to our bag. Some day, Mortlach, but not today… For today, it was time to leave the Speyside region and head towards our next “home”, a week across Loch Ness, in the town of Drumnadrochit.
Another distillery-free day was on our calendar for the Tuesday, and with the weather looking a bit “dreigh”, we decided to do another road-trip within our road-trip, and set foot pedal towards Glen Ord. A distillery we had visited on our maiden trip to Scotland and had therefore become a bit fuzzy in memory. Not five minutes on the road, the famous Loch had disappeared in the rear-view mirror, the windows were rolled down to enjoy the scenery which was now dominated by purple mountains and heather. Sunglasses came out, the threatening clouds nowhere to be found – gotta love the Scottish weather.
On our trip back “home”, we decided to do the logical thing and take a short detour of about an hour and a half to pick up a bottle of the hand bottled ex-Bourbon casks the Tomatin distillery visitor centre offers to their guests, one of our favourite drams of the region. From there, we followed a gorgeous route along the river Findhorn down towards Coignafearn, only to find out the single track road was closed for that day, added about an hour extra to our trip filled with hills, lochs, rivers, mountains, woodlands and barren fields. Lovely.
Another obligatory short drive on the A9 later, we took the beautiful B-roads from Daviot to Fort Augustus filled with busloads of greying tourists on their way to the Caledonian Canal and… no, that’s about what Fort Augustus has to offer, so we swiftly went up the A82 again, to have a sturdy meal at Fiddler’s Highland restaurant.
Drumnadrochit was not only chosen for its scenic location in the midst of Nessie madness, for us, it was an excellent central point to use as a base to drive to the more remote locations in the midwest of Scotland, and the availability of Jon’s bar had only made our choice easier when selecting our accommodations.
A drizzly Wednesday was chosen to host our trip to Torabhaig distillery on the Isle of Skye following the A82 and A87, making a sharp turn onto the A851 towards the Armadale-Mallaig ferry. Not many different road choices to make here, so they are easy enough to find, have a tour and enjoy a great soup at the cafe. Despite the drizzly weather, the route and the visit were worth our time and effort.
The Thursday gave us another reason to leave the 117 km Great Glen Way for what is was, lock-up our hiking shoes and drive north along as many side-roads as we could find, where we had made an appointment at the community-owned GlenWyvis distillery, shy north of the picturesque Dingwall. There is no official visitor’s centre (yet?), and when driving the very steep road to reach it, we can understand why. It is a shame, really, because the small, as green as possible distillery is an inviting place.
From this high up, having enjoyed the beautiful vista the distillery has to offer, we rolled down to sea-level again and did another unavoidable part of the A9 to recharge our batteries at the Dornoch Castle hotel bar. For lunch, mind you. A slight misfortune was with us, because the brothers were having Her Majesty’s representatives over, and, let’s face it, some people are more important than a crazy distillery-bagging couple from the Netherlands. No problems there, just have to come back there someday and visit the distillery, spend the best part of our savings in the bar and sleep like babies in the tower once again.
On 58° North, on par with Mandal, the southernmost municipal in Norway, we find the industrial village of Brora in the Highlands of Scotland. Amongst us whisky enthusiasts a well known whisky distillery, about to lose its mythical status due to its own production restart somewhere in 2019. Next door, another distillery is vested, with an almost as famous name, and one of our favorite drams north of Inverness; Clynelish. Somehow, even though this was our third visit to the location, we had never been inside the distillery, so while we were in this area, it was about time to add it to our continuously growing list.
On our way back, we decided to make a short stop and say “Hi!” to Gabrielle at the Balblair distillery in Everton and found out the A9 isn’t as obligatory as we thought. Testing the speed-limits on some of the unnamed roads through Alness (where another of the distilleries-still-to-be-visited-from-Diageo is located), Dingwall and the Muir of Ord again, we sat down at our table at Fiddler’s – again.
Time flies when you’re having fun, so we must be having a lot of it, because all of a sudden, it was Friday. The last day of our second leg, reserved to drive back to Skye, once more along the A82 and A87, to board the ferry in Sconser which would bring us to the island of Raasay. Another newly built distillery had popped up on the shores close to the ferry terminal in Clachan, so we decided to abandon the car in Sconser and walk the short distance from the ferry to the distillery.
For now, this distillery is at least tied for the “most beautiful vista from a still-house” award with GlenWyvis, Caol ila and the soon to be opened Ardnahoe distillery, but we will stay undecided until we have seen all Scottish distilleries. There was no doubt for the “least exciting, lack of service and greasiest food” award to be handed to the neighbours at Raasay House where we had lunch. Hopefully this will change in the future when the distillery might attract more visitors to the island, which is just a short ferry crossing away from Skye.
Another whole week passed in a flash. The car trouble had become a vague memory, making place for new experiences, distilleries, new roads and vistas we had never observed before. From these new discoveries, we have created a short video to tease all of you into finally making the step to visit the country that has stolen our hearts in these last couple of years.
Thomas & Ansgar