10 October 2011--Filling a bottle of whisky at the Aberlour distillery has become an annual ritual, and that is our first order
of business this morning. We are greeted at the shop shortly after 9:00 by Julian and his cohort, Boa. Julian is justly chuffed; the
distillery, already rated five stars by VisitScotland, has just been named the whisky attraction of the year by Whisky Magazine. It's
not a surprise to me--I often recommend the tour to whisky lovers, and made a point of bringing Scott and Win here last year.
Boa (who has a bit of a Rowan Atkinson thing going on) takes us down to the tasting room, where he allows us a small sample from each of the two casks on offer. I am here to tell you that there is nothing on this earth that quite compares to a wee dram shortly after breakfast. Ron and I each fill a bottle from the bourbon cask, as we usually do. I've decided this year to fill one from the sherry cask, as well. We cork and cap our bottles, fill out and apply labels, and log our numbered purchases in the book.
Back in the shop, we are forced to spend fifteen minutes perusing the various goods for sale, killing time. Boa can give us a dram at 9:30, but Scottish law forbids a bottle being rung up at the till before 10:00.
Off we go for a look at a previously unvisited stretch of the Moray coast. We cross the Spey at Carron, passing Dailuaine and the derelict Imperial distilleries, heading northwest through Knockando, Dallas, and Kinloss. Our first stop is Findhorn, at the mouth of the large enclosed bay of the same name. We glance at the village itself, then park in the lot behind the dunes overlooking the broad Burghead Bay. The beach here is a narrow strip of shingle, and we do not linger. On to Burghead, built on a promontory at the other end of the curving beach, five miles or so distant. There was a large Pictish fort on the headland, dating to the 4th century, and rebuilt in the 9th century by the Viking earl of Orkney. A considerable ruin stood up until the early 19th century, when Burghead was rebuilt as a planned town. Much of the site was simply built over, and most of the stone taken for reuse in the new harbor, built by Thomas Telford. That's one mark against you, Tommy. Some meager earthworks on the point are all that remains of the fort. There's a visitors' center, adapted from a former coast guard lookout, that would no doubt tell us much more, but it's closed for the season. We can take the stair to the top of it, anyway, to admire the view over the town and down the long beach toward Findhorn.
On our way down to view Telford's handiwork, we pass by the Burghead Well, which was originally within the fort, but now seems to be in someone's back garden. The key for entry is available at a local house, but we decide to pass--it looks to us like visiting someone's flooded basement. Maybe we are a little short of curiosity today. That might explain why our following visit to Lossiemouth ends up being little more than a drive-through. Or perhaps it's because it's lunchtime, and we choose to head down to Elgin, having spotted nothing in Lossiemouth that takes our fancy.
In Elgin, we settle on the Muckle Cross, a Wetherspoon's pub. I've had more than enough of dinner in that chain, but lunch turns out to be quite nice. We are pleased to see none other than Tatsuya Minegawa a couple of tables over, with a friend and four small children between them. I stop by to say hello.
"We're stalking you," I tell him, and he laughs. "Where are you going next?" He tells me earnestly that they're taking the kids to the park. My sense of humor doesn't always fully get across.
After lunch, rather than following Tatsuya and the kids to the park, Ron and I visit Spynie Palace and Duffus Castle. Spynie was the residence of the bishops of Moray, beginning in the 13th century, although the ruins we see now mostly date from a rebuild in the 15th. The little loch below, now barely visible through the trees, was open to the firth back in the day, allowing sea access. The northwest tower is in pretty good shape, but we can't get in, as Historic Scotland has stopped manning the site for the season, and the door is locked.
Duffus Castle stands in open land a few miles to the west. Here is a classic early medieval motte and bailey, which would have been enclosed originally by a timber palisade. The stone castle was built atop the motte some time in the 14th century, and it's obvious today that it was a mistake--the edifice was too massive for the artificial mound, and at some point the north wall slumped off, forcing relocation of the main lodgings down into the bailey. In other old motte-and-bailey sites I've seen, either the motte was abandoned when the later castle was built (as at Huntley), or only minor structures were built on them (as at Lincoln).
Ian Logan meets us in the Highlander for dinner and pints this evening. I'm happy to have the chance to repay the two pints I've owed him for two years now. In fact, Ron and I pick up his dinner tab--I don't think we'll ever repay him for the drams of '64 Cellar Collection he served us (among other things) at Glenlivet a few years back. I hope Chivas Brothers know what a fine ambassador they have in Ian.
Tatsuya is not in tonight...taking evasive action, no doubt. We'll see him next year. It would be nice to stay four or five nights here, rather than two or three...well, that's why we keep coming back.