The North Atlantic Arc


From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway





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Wednesday 28 September 2005

Lost In Knockando


The public library in Aberlour is open for exactly two hours on Wednesday, and I use it all to catch up on business online. Then I drive up to the Glenfarclas distillery for the 1:00pm tour.

It's a good, basic tour, no surprises, and a good refresher for what's coming tomorrow. There are half a dozen other folks taking the tour, and at least half of them are what you might call casuals--not real enthusiasts. This is my first tour in Speyside, and it occurs to me that one of the great things about Islay is that there are not likely to be many such people wandering through. Anyway, the guide is very knowledgeable and clear, and does a good job of explaining the basics to those who know little of the process, while answering the more arcane questions that come up (there aren't many) without hesitation. At the end, we are all given a dram of the 10-year-old. I discreetly produce the voucher I printed off the Glenfarclas website, which entitles me to a dram of the 25, as well. For some reason, both drams taste bitter to me; there's something enjoyable under there, but I can't pull it out. Just one of those things, I guess.

I've decided to go up to Elgin this afternoon to pay my respects to Mr Gordon and Mr MacPhail, but a map-reading error on an attempted shortcut leaves me wandering around forestry roads on the Knockando Estate. I don't mind at first--I quite enjoy getting lost sometimes--but after a bit I realize I'm going nowhere fast. Finally I descend to a point within sight of paved road, only to find a locked gate. I have no choice but to turn around, which is what I really hate to do. Eventually I make it back to the critical junction and go the other way. I watch as the little dotted lines on the GPS screen describe a wide loop and bring me to within yards of the other side of the gate. I've lost about an hour; had I taken the main roads, I'd have been in Elgin in twenty or thirty minutes.

I pass two distilleries: Dailuaine, charmingly nestled in a hollow on the south side of the Spey, and Imperial, a charmless and inactive factory on the north side. The latter is up for sale, for redevelopment.

Elgin itself is another matter. It's not a big city, and I've been there a few times before, but I am approaching from a new direction, and the access roads are a maddening maze of roundabouts. Eventually I find myself next to the ruined cathedral, which is in the care of Historic Scotland. I've become a Friend of Historic Scotland this year, so I can get free entry by showing my card. This I do, and spend an hour wandering around this splendid ruin, parts of which date to the early 13th century. Well worthwhile, and some good photos, too, I think.

Alas, it is now quite late in the day, and the Gordon & MacPhail shop is closed. I return to Craigellachie empty-handed.

I have a salmon double-header at the Highlander--smoked for starters, poached for the main course--and decide it's time to visit the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel, which is but a couple hundred feet away. I'm surprised at how small the bar is, and how much whisky is wedged into it--over 700 bottles on shelves lining every wall. I sit in a leather chair and spend fifteen or twenty minutes perusing the list. I settle on an Old Malt Cask Brora, and it turns out to be a fine choice--a profound dram, similar in character to the current Clynelish 14 but ten times as intense. Tiny rivulets trickle over my tongue for the following forty-five minutes in the quiet of the bar. Several other patrons are equally lost in their own experiences; a pair whisper their thoughts to one another, but otherwise there is no conversation. I'm sure it is not always like this--during the Speyside Festival last week, it must have been quite a different scene. But just now it feels absolutely right--a house of worship.

More than an hour has passed when I return to the Highlander, and they close early on weekdays--11:00pm. I have time for two pints and a dram, a Flora & Fauna Ben Rinnes, which is quite dark but very dry. I fall into conversation with Tom, an oilman from Houston who came to Aberdeen on a temporary assignment fifteen years ago and is still here. Shades of MacIntyre! He is friendly and generous, but Scotland, however much he loves it, has not changed his basic personal style. You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the boy. A real good guy.

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The stillhouse at Glenfarclas.


One of the warehouses at Glenfarclas.


Another warehouse at Glenfarclas.


The carpet in the Glenfarclas hospitality room. It's a beautiful room, with paneling salvaged from the first class
smoking lounge of the Empress of Australia. And I took a photo of the carpet.


Obviously not my best day for choosing subjects. On my way from Glenfarclas to Elgin, I passed the charmingly photogenic Dailuaine,
nestled in a hollow near the Spey. Alas, I took no pictures of it. Instead, on the other side of the river, I took this of the charmlessly
industrial Imperial distillery, which has been closed for some time. The site is being sold for redevelopment.


The magnificent ruin of Elgin Cathedral. Whisky hunters making a pilgrimage
to the Gordon & MacPhail shop in Elgin should set aside an hour to visit this.


A view from the tower.


A view through the front door (left) and a peculiar carved stone in the interior (right).


A tomb inside the cathedral.


Last look at Elgin Cathedral.

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