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, the first, second and third parts are 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 THREE OF THREE
The final part of our trip started with a day of absolutely nothing. Sleeping in until at least 8am (which is rather late for us), crossing the road to get us some breakfast at Fiddler’s and do some writing back in the room. At some point, we felt it was about time to get ourselves in motion and cross that road once more, for lunch. Back in time for the Spanish F1 race at the room, some more writing and browsing through the Gin & Tonic menu at the terrace of Fiddler’s, before we would enjoy another great meal at their restaurant with a dram or two of something nice.
The break on the Saturday was a much needed one, although we may have had a tad too much to eat at some point. We recon the week at Drumnadrochit gained us 4 kilos. Each. Ach well, life is good, why not enjoy the friendly Highland hospitality and live a little. We needed the break anyway, because – on this same Saturday, we had decided to book an impromptu tour at the Ardnamurchan distillery, which is only about three hours drive, largely on a selection of single track roads.
Getting familiar with the bends and twists the A82 offers alongside the misty Loch Ness, we passed Fort Augustus and a foggy Loch Lochy towards Fort William, where we made a quick stop at the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge to enjoy the scenery. Here, we decided to abandon the A82 for what it was and follow the meandering B8004 towards Banavie and Neptune’s Staircase. Unclenching the driver’s buttocks from driving on this single track road whilst turning onto the A830, we followed the train tracks towards the Glenfinnan viaduct, our planned lunch spot.
Jeez, we could start a food blog if we continue telling you about our eating disorder…
Nevertheless, the Glenfinnan viaduct and the monument across the road from the parking lot are worth your while to snap a picture and rest your legs, but be sure to pack your own lunch. The viaduct has become a hotspot for Harry Potter-train spotters and the parking fee must be the most expensive we have encountered on all of our trips through Scotland. The food was as soggy and lukewarm as the carpet in the shop that was probably put there when Harry Potter was still just a story J.K. Rowling told her kids in the 1990’s. The patterns the molds had painted on the restroom walls were best described as monsters from the Harry Potter books that…
Well, let’s not go down that rabbit hole, but continue our trip.
The viaduct itself and the look over Loch Eil were stunning, and with that in mind, we set towards Lochailort, from where we would shift our focus between the bendy, largely single track A861 and the stunning vistas we saw at both sides of the car. We were treated to blue skies with small patches of fluffy clouds, a familiar turquoise hue in the water of the countless lochs and green, flowing hillsides. The scenery in this corner of Scotland alone is reason enough to take this route again someday.
We have learned in the past few years that, in the UK, a higher road-number with a B normally means the bends gets small enough to make us doubt our car would fit between the trees*. Cruising the B8007 from Salen only confirmed this once more. The upper side of the speed limit is only an idea in this part of the country – although we are sure we have (briefly) met some of the locals who were trying to reach it, making the route a wooden rollercoaster ride with passing places. Perfectly safe.
After these nine miles, we had a lovely tour at one of the most remote distilleries on the Scottish mainland that added to our growing “distilleries with the most stunning view” list. Remote as it is, there are at least two roads leading from Salen, so we decided not to retrace our own tracks back to Glenfinnan, but follow the remainder of the A861 until we reached the ferry at Ardgour. With just a £10,- note in our wallet and no internet to check the timetable or cost, we rolled onto the cash only ferry, received a £2,- coin and a ‘ave a lovely trip in return.
At the other side, in Corran, we familiarised ourselves with the A82 some more and headed towards Drumnadrochit for one last time. As these thing seem to be going, we had our traffic-delay-whilst-en-route-to-Fiddler’s-after-an-already-long-day-on-the-road, but once we were there, we reached our target of completing the menu within the week, enjoy another great dram and say goodbye to Jon and the staff, who had been taking great care of us for the last couple of days.
Monday Morning. Time to hit the A82 one last time, which by now we could do blindfolded but, for health and safety reasons, didn’t. After a quick tour at the Ben Nevis distillery, which we somehow always had missed to tick off before, we tried to stop at the Oban distillery but decided not to when – literally – busloads of tourists poured through the streets towards the distillery… let’s just continue south for a little longer and revisit Oban on another trip.
Following the A816, we stopped at the Loch Melfort hotel in Arduaine where we stretched our legs and ate some lunch, looking outside over the Slate Islands. The Hebrides have stolen our heart for sure, but this trip was not the trip we would catch a ferry and visit all of them. We just got to look at some of them this time.
Replenished, we continued the road after it turned back into the A83 at Lochgilphead, until we reached familiar terrain at Tarbert, where we stopped at the COOP to do our own groceries for dinner again, after a week of spoiling ourselves with luscious, multi coursed restaurant cooked meals. Our little black car automatically turned into the ferry terminal at Kennacraig, where she must have felt she was on her way home, but alas, we continued another 15 minutes to our self-catering cottage ar Tayinloan, halfway the Kintyre Peninsula; Scotland’s flaccid penis.
The next day would be the day we would revisit our first distillery. Having visited 118 different distilleries over the past few years, we were curious to see the distillery that had started our passion; Springbank. We had been looking forward to re-evaluate our first impressions and learned our memories weren’t all that bad after all and nothing had changed at the distillery – which most likely counts for the past 188 years. Needless to say, we enjoyed every second of the tour, revisited the Glengyle distillery as well and ended up in the Cadenhead shop afterwards sheltering from the starting rain outside.
Ouch. That shop hurt our wallet… Let’s quickly go out into the drizzle and head back to the cottage where, when we arrived, the sun was out. Sitting in the yard, we had a relaxing dram, put our feet up and enjoyed the sunset over the Isles of Gigha and – with little imagination, Islay in the back.
The last day on our planning started with a visit to the Glen Scotia distillery. Fashionably early for our appointment we walked around the distillery snapping a handful of pictures, watching the busy construction workers and painters on scaffolding and cherry pickers making everything ready for the upcoming festival one week later. We had a chat with a lovely barrel-rolling gentleman, who turned into our tour guide for the morning. With another distillery in the pocket, we got the crazy idea to see if we could squeeze in a visit to Islay.
Almost at the ferry terminal we learned the ferry was fully booked, so we turned right onto the recently re-paved, still smoking hot road towards the Claonaig ferry and do a spontaneous revisit of the Arran distillery in Lochranza. They had doubled their capacity since we first visited, and with the building of the Lagg distillery on the southside of the island, we will have reason enough to return again and do a proper Island tour. As if we would need a reason to return to Arran…
With that, it was time for us to slowly pack our suitcases again, stuff our little black car with more luggage than we came with (mostly books, honest!), added many memories making us smile, filled a booklet with wobbly pencil strokes and flash drives full of countless (moving) pictures. On the road again, to the ferry in Newcastle and then – home. We added another 4000 km to the mileage of the car, which – after a slight bump in the middle, had brought us there, and back again.
Along the way of the past couple of weeks, we had visited a massive 27 distilleries. Some of them were very much worth our while and the detour we had to take to get there, others were disappointing or simply were not interested in visitors. During this trip, we learned a lot more about distilleries, the brands they represent and the treatment a corporation gives to their guests, albeit a massive conglomerate or a small, privately owned one, it does not make a huge difference most of the times. But it all was fun and part of a beautiful journey that we are making together.
Whichever the case, we have gathered enough to tell you about, and now that life seems to be back at a normal pace again, we shall inform you regularly about what we did, said, heard, experienced and remembered, focussed on an event, a distillery, a book, or a bottle we particularly liked.
On y va!
Thomas & Ansgar
* not really, the trucks to and from Ardnamurchan have to pass here too, so we were quite safe