After quite the hiatus, I’m back! I have been setting aside the fact doing this is one of my best “happy places,” now or anytime really. So, I’m going to “love me” and get back into this.
Tuesday, our third day kind of seemed more like our second, since the first day we had been flying as well. We could've easily stayed longer at the Muthu Newton and explored Nairn, I have since learned is a well-known seaside resort. However, day three was already jam packed. The bus headed out on A96 back to Inverness and then got on A9 our route southeast through the Eastern Highlands and the Cairngorms National Forest. We experienced sunrise and clouds that that would thicken and then disperse throughout the drive. Between the comfort of the bus and the beautiful surroundings, I think I was dozy and missed chunks of the fascinating stories and facts Kevin, our guide was sharing as we drove.
The first stop was not until Pitlochry where the Blair Athol Distillery is located. We were scheduled to arrive somewhere around 9 o'clock as my sister commented, "We're going to taste whisky at nine in the morning?!" However, we hit some road situations putting us at a standstill for a while making our arrival closer to 10. Since our group was large, it was divided for the tour. By the time it was our group's turn (about 30+ minutes) after arrival, we hit the tasting room close to 11. Which was still early for most of us to do whisky shots!
Reading the literature we received before the trip I was intrigued by the idea of visiting a distillery. I'm not a big alcohol person and up to that point had never tasted whiskey straight or neat as one would order. I knew we would be doing a tasting, couldn't imagine what it would be like, but I was game.
The distillery was founded in 1798 making it one of the oldest legal (ahem) whisky making sites in Scotland. When we arrived at Blair Athol I was immediately enamored with the beautiful aged stone buildings scattered throughout the compound. Many are covered with ivy and in October the shiny green leaves were interspersed with those already turned fall red. Wonderful for photos.
Our Tour Guide, the ever smiling handsome, Miki, was as interesting and knowledgeable as he was cute. To this day I can't see pictures of Miki without thinking of one of my favorite Hallmark leading men, Carlo Marks, as they have very similar physical characteristics. Check it out for yourself. Hallmark needs a new movie filmed on location in Scotland and a distillery certainly should be one of the “characters!”
When we entered the distillery building, the air was thick with the smell of fermentation. One of the old buildings, it has modernized areas mixed with wood floors and what looked to be original windows. We went up one flight to reach the high ceiling-ed room containing the large beautifully polished copper distillers. The air was very warm and the source of the pungent aroma filling the building.
Back outside again, the tour meandered through the compound, crossing a bridge over what looks like a canal with water from the Allt Dour Burn, the ancient water source coming down out of the Grampian mountains located south of Pitlochry. This water is why their whisky has such a mellow quality and smooth finish. It's also loved by otters, who live in the stream and are mascots of Blair Athol. We didn’t happen to see any while we were there (other than the surprise stuffed ones in the barrel room) but Miki said visitors often do.
Last stop on the tour was the tasting room located on the upper floor of the building with a bar and gift shop. We had already been learning about single malt and blended whiskys, now it was time to try! Of course what they gave us was some of the best single malt and I was surprised how much I did like it. I had been aware that serious whisky people favor single malt and after that taste, I understood a lot more why.
Being behind schedule, we didn't get much time in the gift shop but plenty of our group was able to take home products, including some bottles only sold there at the location.
Very soon we were back on the bus headed southwest through the lowlands to our next destination, St. Andrews. We were on many roads to get there, arriving via A91. We crossed the River Tay in Dundee along the way and saw the beautiful RRS Discovery, the ship that took Scott and Shackelton to Antarctica in 1901. It sits next to what Kevin described as the ugliest building in Scotland, the V & A Museum of Design. He did allow that many people love it, didn't hear anyone on the bus say they did.
The drive was under 2 hours and I can say coming into St. Andrews really is stunning but that's for the next blog!