Wednesday, 22 October 2008 It's backwards day. I'll see a non-working distillery in the care of Historic Scotland, and a real
live abbey, presumably with real live monks in it. What a peculiar juxtaposition.
I leave Fortrose after breakfast and skirt Inverness. I was wrong about petrol prices--I pay £1.019 outside of Inverness, and see £.999 and then £.989 in Forres. (The difference of three pence per liter amounts to about eighteen cents per US gallon.) I think it's a matter of falling prices, though. It wasn't so long ago that I was shocked to be paying that much in remote Orkney...now it seems a bargain. I stop in Forres and take a few photos for the benefit of a friend who traces his ancestry there. Handsome stone-built town, like a mini-Aberdeen. Less Aberdeen is good. Pretty gardens at the edge of town.
Outside Forres is the Dallas Dhu distillery [Undiscovered Scotland], closed in the '80's and now in the care of Historic Scotland. I've dismissed it previously--why see a defunct distillery when you can see a working one? But I get free entry as a member of HS, so why not. It turns out to be pretty interesting-- no substitute for visiting a live one, but a good complement. You don't usually get a chance to stick your head inside a still, or twist the knobs on the spirit safe. One does miss the heat and the smells, though. I'm the only visitor; the shop attendant and I are badly outnumbered by the half-dozen blue-coveralled Historic Scotland staff doing maintenance, including the quadruplets painting the warehouses.
Looking at the model of the distillery, I'm struck by its resemblance to the abbeys I've been visiting. Inhabited by the Holy Spirit, no doubt. All it needs is cloisters.
Not far outside Forres stand the remnants of the Cistercian Kinloss Abbey [Kinloss Abbey Trust]. Not a lot to see here--the main church is almost entirely gone. Like most abbeys, this one has been turned into a burial ground, and my attention is caught by several rows of military markers. There is a major air base nearby, and these were all airmen who died in 1942 and 1943. Most of them were between the ages of 19 and 23. Kids..they'd have been in their eighties now, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I glance over the rows; another gentleman present stops and reads every stone. Most of these men were in the RAF, but some were in Canadian or Australian forces, and at least one in New Zealand forces. What happened at Kinloss? The RAF website says there were many accidents on training flights, due to the weather, the inexperience of the crews, and the urgency of the war. Were all of these servicemen killed in training exercises?
Young men joining up... As I approach Pluscarden Abbey, I try to compare those joining the military to those entering a monastery. Service to a higher power...the mind boggles. Pluscarden was a medieval priory of the Valliscaulian order, reconstructed in the twentieth century and elevated to the status of an abbey, now Benedictine. It is apparently the only medieval monastery in the UK currently fulfilling its original purpose. New construction is ongoing, and probably will be for many years. It's open to the public, but as a living monastic community, it's not too open--only a small area is available to see. As well, there seems to have been a vow of silence, at least for this afternoon. There is no one around to explain the abbey or answer questions. (The abbey's website, however, provides some excellent insights into modern monastic life, and into the history of the site and of monasticism generally.) There's a small shop, but it's unmanned--there's an honesty box, and a notebook in which to log your purchases. I buy a postcard and make a note of the 35p I drop in the box.
Make my way to Craigellachie, check into the B&B, and have dinner and pints and drams at the Highlander. Mr Duncan Elphick takes note of my Tan Hill Inn t-shirt and The Anderson postcards, and we have a nice chat. Rain predicted for tomorrow; good distillery weather.