The Whisky Trail: a 'Dramping' Guide
Sorry, I can't seem to start off a blog about whisky without channelling Father Jack, although in all accuracy he'd probably be extolling the virtues of Toilet Duck and not the finest single malt. Probably due to the weather, drink is of course a very British tradition, much to the despair of government health types who think we're all bingeing knickerless on a park bench somewhere, rather than being trustworthy and sensible enough to imbibe the stuff in moderation. Hic.
Ale from Oxford, cider from Somerset and even tonic wine from Buckfast Abbey are all traditional in England, drawing visitors from around the world as well as from within the country. But north of the border, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the tradition seems to tend towards the harder stuff, specifically whisky. Again, it's probably the weather. Here's how to do the whisky trail:
- The only malt whisky tour available in the world is the aptly named Malt Whisky Trail, based in the Scottish Highlands. The trail takes in eight working distilleries all around Speyside, which is the centre of Scotland's whisky industry and where half of all Scottish malt distilleries are based. Camping in the area is as plentiful as the whisky – there are almost 100 campsites in the Highlands and Islands area listed on Pitchup.com, with two directly at Speyside. Stay for a week or so to get the full effect of the Highlands (and the whisky) – you can climb or hike Glencoe or Glen Nevis, spot golden eagles at the Cairngorms or try and ensure your lasting fame by spotting the Loch Ness Monster.
- Move from the Highlands to the Hebrides and the next stop is the island of Islay, also with eight distilleries. All of them offer guided tours, from the large distilleries such as Ardbeg to the small farm of Kilchoman which malts, distils and bottles its whisky onsite. (There’s also a brewery on the island producing seven different types of real ale.) As with the Highlands, the Hebrides are a good place to stay for a week to take in all the distilleries as well as everything else in the area – try birdwatching on the Isle of Colonsay or sailing around the Isle of Mull. The Isle of Barra was host to the first Whisky Galore festival, named after the book and film of the 1940s and based on the real event of a shipwrecked WWII cargo vessel loaded with whisky...which quickly disappeared on the island. There's a choice of over 30 sites in the Hebrides on Pitchup.com, and two on Islay itself.
- Next up is Edradour, the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland and with a staff of just three, who distil the whisky in the same way it's been done since Edradour opened in 1828. There are only 12 casks distilled a week, meaning the whisky is rare and a perfect present for connoisseurs back home (yes, you keep telling yourself that as you load all 12 into your campervan). Edradour is in a glen above Pitlochry in Perthshire, where we have five sites, with 40 available in Perthshire overall. Take a break from the whisky to stay for a while and explore Perthshire – the Cairngorms National Park is nearby, and Perthshire is known for its outdoor activities if you're feeling brave, such as canyoning, cliff jumping and microlighting.
- Finally, take your campervan on the ferry or get a cheap flight with your backpack across the Irish Sea to check out the Bushmills Distillery in Co. Antrim, the oldest working distillery in Ireland and producing whisky since 1608. There are two caravan parks in the Bushmills area, and 25 campsites in Co. Antrim, an area popular with visitors from all over the world – check out the Giant's Causeway or the coastal towns of Portrush and Portstewart and the villages of Cushendun and Cushendall, or just take in the Causeway coast or the Glens of Antrim.
My final suggestion is to print out this blog (minus these sentences) and leave it lying casually around the house where your other half will find it and perhaps book you a 'surprise' whisky trail tour. Hope is a many-splendoured thing.