Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Whisky Tour Part 2

On our second day, I slept late and forwent breakfast in order to better enjoy the lovely bed and read a couple more chapters of The Seventh Gate by Richard Zimler. Brave Bird lent it to me, and I was finding it a captivating read up until this morning. It ends poorly, and takes a long time to do so. It's set in Berlin, from 1933 to the end of the war, and follows the story of a young Christian girl as she becomes involved with Jews struggling against the political changes, and fights to protect her 'distant' brother from the fate the handicapped suffered under Nazi law. It's also a love story, a mystery, and an attempt at shedding light on just how a society can become so twisted with so little resistance. Unfortunately I think it ends up being neither fish nor fowl. The mystery fails to grip, the love story fails to touch, and no new light is shed. Its highlights are definitely the relationship between Sophie and her probably autistic brother Hansi, and Zimler's easy writing style which is fully absorbing, even when there seems little justification for it to be so. I think it's his skill as a writer which has left me feeling so cheated at the end. He's managed to keep me hooked almost all the way through, and now I'm just left with a sense of frustration that my attention appears to have been captured without purpose. But perhaps I'm too harsh. I only finished it this morning, so I'll wait and see if time brings more meaning.

Aaaanyhoo - at the time it was a very pleasant way to ease into a new morning, despite the cheerless subject matter, and by the time we were all ready for the off I was feeling chipper as a chopped potato. Hm. That doesn't really work. 'Chippy' as a chopped potato, maybe, but I'd have to say 'chipper as a man chopping potatoes' to be proper accurate, like, and that's cumbersome. Not, however, as cumbersome as this post is rapidly becoming.

Onward!

Our first stop was in Aberfeldy, where we discovered the tour to take about an hour and a half, which ruled it out of our schedule. However, when I fluttered my eyelashes at the young man behind the till (who had the most remarkably dark eyebrows I've ever seen, and put me in mind of Herman Munster), he offered to let us try their standard malt 'under the table' as it were.

Arrow and I were delighted to accept, and found the 12 year old (I think) to be a very pleasant nip indeed. It was fruity and full bodied, if I remember correctly, and responded well to a drop of water. However, I'll have to check with Arrow because my memory is shot to shite, and I may have just made that up. I do recall it was very honeyed in colour, and smelled great.

After that brief stop we were off to Speyside for our next distillery adventure, and in utterly vile weather we set off. Alas, the weather failed to improve throughout the day, and driving through such a grey landscape was a strain on the eyes. Even so, the scenery was striking as we headed deep into the eastern Highlands, and found our second distillery of the day.

I'd chosen it specifically because I thought Lubentina and Fisher might enjoy having a look at Balmoral while Arrow and I sampled Royal Lochnagar's offerings. Seeing as neither of them are whisky drinkers, I was trying to plan the route so there'd be options for their escape. However, because the drive took longer than expected (now to be referred to as DLTE), we didn't arrive until around 4 in the afternoon. We did stop for a surprisingly good lunch at a hotel we found off the road. Unfortunately I can't remember its name, but it was up a long, winding and car-bottom-crunching road, and had a very pretty golf course which the dogs were glad to despoil. (We did pick up after them, promise). It was a welcome break, but did delay our Speyside arrival.

Not to worry. While Lu and Fisher turned up their noses at Balmoral, they were actually keen on coming to the distillery with us - so it was a merry band who bought tour tickets and set out to see what Lochnagar could offer.

It's a pretty enough wee place - yet another small producer at 400,000 litres a year - and sits beneath Lochnagar itself (which is a mountain, not a loch). Owner John Begg, in 1848, wrote to his new neighbours inviting them to come and have a look round the distillery. It was with some surprise that he then saw, not just the man of the house, but wife and children drawing up outside as well, all hoping to have a tour of the distillery. Seeing as these new neighbours were Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and various royal brats, John Begg gladly obliged. Because of this, he was given the right to call his place of work Royal Lochnagar, and so it remains.

The tour was very good - well explained (still got lost in the piping, though) and a little more colourful than Edradour's. Claire the guide encouraged us to taste two different types of malted barley - one from an Islay and one from Lochnagar - in order to see just how much of the taste is actually in the barley itself. Like Edradour, they use very, very little peat - only 2 parts per million, which equates only to the peat used to heat the barley during malting. Therefore, their barley tasted like rich tea biscuits, while the Islay tasted like rich tea dipped in Lapsang Souchong. It was also interesting to hear that they fermented the mash for either 4 or 5 days, I forget which - but a couple more than Edradour.

Once we'd seen round, the tasting was upon us - and what a disappointment! We all tried it, and we all found it far less impressive than either Edradour or Aberfeldy. Its grassy notes were thin on the tongue, and while Claire described it as 'clean', I'd say it was more 'medicinal.' Not good. However, the tour itself had been fun and all in all it was a success.

On we went to seek out the B&B I'd blindly booked. On trying to find a place to stay I discovered absolutely no room at the inns, and ended up taking a recommendation from a woman in a nearby hotel, who was blatantly chucking business the way of a newly set up neighbour. Still, beggars and choosers and all that, and I was just glad to get a roof over our heads.

It turned out very well indeed. Alison, the owner, was an elderly-ish, gravel voiced bon vivante who made us very welcome. The place was in a state of slight disarray owing to her doing up the third bedroom, but made no difference at all to our own rooms, which were light, airy and modern. Fisher was ecstatic, saying it was just the sort of B&B she'd always hoped for. No bric-a-brac, no crazy landladies who just don't really want people 'touching their stuff' (although Alison did have a touch of the crazies about her - in a good way), just comfortable beds and an overwhelming sense of cleanliness. Just up Fisher's street!

After dumping our bags, we decided we ought to get out in the fresh air. With the help of a tourist map, we saw a couple of places of interest - a circle of standing stones, a 'turf house', and a few other such things, which made us all eager to be out. Unfortunately, the weather was still absolutely filthy. The rain teemed down and the wind, though not strong, was extremely cold. Nevertheless, we made a good stab at playing tourists. The standing stones were picturesque, with the line of the altar-like stone echoing the ridge of hills behind, and while they were hardly Stonehenge they were at least recognisable as a place of neolithic significance rather than just a bunch of rocks. The view was pretty good, too, despite the low lying cloud, and I saw a church that might be worth a visit - so we all hopped back into the car and tried to find it.

No such luck. Instead we sought out the turf house, which we found on a tiny patch of grass beside a well-used road. At first we thought it was nothing more than a slight bump in the grass, but then we discovered it wasn't actually a house - it was a storage cellar. Lubentina, with a modern historian's mind, was entertained by the board which read:

"This turf house was not lived in, but was used only for storing food ... No evidence of storage has been found."

Her point, vociferously made, was that if no evidence exists, how can they make such determined claims? Perhaps it was used for something else entirely! To imprison Hobbits, for example. Fair point, I ceded, but there speaks a historian with reams and reams of sources and physical evidence at her fingertips. Medieval historians such as myself feel history is more an art than a science. We look at one musty old document with most of the words oblitterated and, with our great powers of deduction, determine the course of several hundred years of history. And by 'great powers of deduction' I basically mean 'make it up as we go along. In an educated sort of a way.' This is why modern history isn't really history at all. It's a science. Medieval history is an art!

And yes, I'm well aware that all that is bollocks.

So where was I? Oh yes, having my arse photographed by Arrow as I poked my head into the turf house. Nice.

Back in the car we climbed, wet and far from miserable, and decided it was time to seek out supper. This we did back in Aboyne, at a little place called The Boat Inn, which was exactly the sort of pub I was after! While there was no roaring fire before which to roast my cold toes, it was old and full of character, with a real ale on tap called Ossian, which I thought delicious. The kitchens were backed up so we were warned about a long wait, but we couldn't have cared less. We sat, drank, chatted, and enjoyed the warmth. When the food came it was very good. Fisher and Lu both had lasagne, which they rated highly, while I had a rabbit casserole. It was gamier than I expected, but excellent. I think Arrow had fish and chips, with which he was well pleased. I'd definitely go back there if we found ourselves in that neck of the woods again.

The second day was over, and instead of going straight to bed we managed to wind down with a game of cribbage in the B&B's lounge. Crazy Alison poked her head round to see if we were all right and commented that cribbage was 'the brainy stuff'. I suppose you could say that, if you have trouble counting up to 15, but I don't think - considering how swiftly she totted up the bill next morning - you could claim Ailson was mathematically deficient. Or shy with her prices, either. But while I begrudge her overcharging, I do think she has a pleasant B&B. The beds were comfy, I slept like a log, and her breakfast was efficient and tasty, without being heavily fried. So hurrah for Aboyne!

Thus ended the second day. As I lay in bed, listening to the dogged drizzle outside, I could only hope that the trip continued to be entertaining, and the bloody weather cleared up!

1 comments:

Rodrigo said...

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