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 and Irish 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 Oxfordshire, 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 in 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. Stay for a week or two in the Highlands to get the full effect of the area (and the whisky) – you can climb or hike Glencoe or Glen Nevis, spot golden eagles at the Cairngorms National Park or try and ensure your lasting fame by spotting the Loch Ness Monster: Riverside Caravan Park has hiking, biking and fishing on the doorstep and is within easy driving distance of Nessie. The family park Grannie's Heilan' Hame Holiday Park is only six and a half miles from another whisky distillery, Glenmorangie, and the name of the park is immense fun to try and say after a few drams.
- 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 or two to take in all the distilleries as well as everything else in the area – try birdwatching on the Isle of Colonsay, sailing around the Isle of Mull or diving around St Kilda. The Isle of Barra hosted the 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. Book a Barra pitch at Croft 183 Caravan and Camping Site and take in some fishing on the Barra Challenge, or stay at Rubha Phoil Eco Camping on the Isle of Skye for boat trips, walks and more fishing.
- 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 twelve 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 twleve into your campervan). Edradour is in a glen above Pitlochry in Perthshire, where you can pick a pitch deep in the wildlife haven of Tay Forest Park at Tummel Valley Holiday Park or stay just down the road at Blairgowrie's Corriefoldy Holiday Park with two-bedroom holiday homes for hire as well as hardstanding electric pitches. Then take a break from the whisky to explore Perthshire – Perthshire is known for its outdoor activities if you're feeling brave, such as canyoning, cliff jumping and microlighting.
- From Scotland, 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 whiskey since 1608. Stay at nearby Glenmore Caravan and Camping Park to belt out tunes with the traditional singers in the campsite bar, then take to the Antrim coast by day to check out the Giant's Causeway or the coastal towns of Portrush and Portstewart and the villages of Cushendun and Cushendall.
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.