The North Atlantic Arc


From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway





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Tuesday 27 September 2005

The Heartland


Land in Aberdeen and pick up my hire car. I usually get something on the order of a Renault Clio, but I have friends joining me in a couple weeks, so I have moved up to the "compact" class--a VW Golf Plus, and I love it. It's spacious enough for the three of us without being too big to drive on the narrow roads, and best of all, it has a reasonably glute-bootin' cd player. I am carrying mostly neotraditional music from Scotland, Ireland, England, Brittany, and Scandinavia--Battlefield Band, Old Blind Dogs, Alan Stivell, Annbjorg Lien–but I cannot resist blasting one of the late Martyn Bennett's bizarre works as I roll out into Aberdeenshire. Bennett was well-grounded in traditional music-making, but his setting of "found" vocals to squonking, throbbing techno beats is hair-raising stuff. Not something I want to listen to every day, but this morning it puts me in the proper mood for a jaunt through the Scottish countryside.

I've scouted out some ancient monuments to see along the way, but am disappointed to realize that I have seen three of the four of them in past visits, and the fourth is essentially a pile of dirt. However, the Tomnaverie Stone Circle is worth a revisit, as it was fenced off for restoration when I last saw it. It had nearly been destroyed by an adjacent quarrying operation.

Roll into Craigellachie in late afternoon. Settle into the B&B and step into the Highlander for dinner. I've never been here before, but there is a lot of talk about how the new management, in place for a few months, are doing good things. It's a nice pub, good pints of Cairngorm Trade Winds, lots of whisky-oriented folks to talk to. There are Germans, French, Japanese, and even a Scot or two (you can tell them because they ask for Bell's or Teacher's or Grouse). The malt selection is excellent, if not the largest, and I have quite a few this evening--a Craigellachie and a couple different Glenrothes for starters. I try the BenRiach Curiositas, which I find mildly smoky, but utterly lacking in any kind of body; it's like smoky water floating over my tongue. Then it's a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Wow! Not sure I like it; it tastes of raw wood and salty prosciutto. It'll get another chance, though.

I stumble back to the B&B, glancing at the Craigellachie Hotel down the street. It's the Craig's Quaich Bar that has drawn me here--a mecca for the whisky lover. Tomorrow.

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Recumbent stone circles are common in Aberdeenshire. I visited this one at Tomnaverie on my way from Aberdeen airport to Craigellachie.


Beautiful downtown Craigellachie. The Highlander is in the white building to the right; the Craigellachie Hotel (and Quaich Bar)
is the large white building at the end of the street. The Craig made me want to visit, but the Highlander made me want to return.

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