Highland Adventure: Applecross to Skye

2 May

How peaceful it must be to be a Highland cow munching away on a cliff top with no realisation of just how deadly a slip off the edge would be. Although the photo does not illustrate this, behind them is not a gentle rolling hill but a vertical plunge to the Loch. Unfortunately, I am not like the Highland cow – instead, I am horrendously fearful of horrendously edged drops.

This was highlighted wholeheartedly as the boy and I made our way around the Applecross Road, which runs around the Applecross Peninsula. Seen as one of the most dramatic roads in Scotland, the single-track route takes drivers 2000 feet up the side of a mountain. Complete with “passing points” every few dozen metres, the road is winding, narrow and terrifying to those (like me) who are petrified of cliffs.

As such, I spent most of the 45 minutes as we inched along the route clenching desperately to the car’s seat, heart palpitating, palms sweaty. Oh, to be an unaware Highland cow.

Despite this, the route is incredible. After you climb to the top through the ever-increasing mist and fog, you snake your way back down and glimpse the spreading loch in front…it’s hard not to be mesmerised.

Through the mist and rain, the loch appears below the snaking roads.

When finally we emerged from the mountain’s grip, we continued on our way to the Isle of Skye. We had a distillery to visit!

As we drove through the small town Kyle of Lochalsh I saw the Skye Bridge illuminated in the crisp sunlight. Finally the fog had cleared and the arcing structure gleamed enticingly. Crossing over Loch Alsh, we could see for miles into the picturesque distance: mountains, shimmering azure water and gently moving boats. At the top of the bridge’s arc, the whole of the windscreen was filled with this image, eliminating any of the bridge’s structure so it almost felt like we were floating. I’ve never become quite so worked up over a bridge. But maybe it was just the final release of emotion after the terrifying drive.

Entering onto Skye is like finding yourself in the middle of an alien planet. Mars-like red earth contrasts with sharp-edged grey stones. The winding roads seem almost out of place, as if they’ve been rudely carved into this beast of a landscape.

An hour of driving later and we reached our destination: Talisker distillery at Carbost. There we were meeting Mark Lochhead, the distillery manager.

Mark has worked for Talisker for just over three years and been in the industry for 25. After a quick cuppa and chat, he took us around the distillery, showing us the whole process in detail, from mashing, to fermentation and distillation in the beautiful, copper stills.

The distillery brings in its barley pre-malted from Glen Ord, just north of Inverness. From there, everything is done on site. During our visit, the mashing and fermentation tubs weren’t in use, due to a water shortage from the springs at Hock Hill.

“I’ve got everyone doing rain-dances,” said Mark.

In the distillation room, we saw the oddly shaped stills, which are the only ones in Scotland to have a U-bend at the top, which increases the amount of copper contact the liquid has during distillation, and creates a lighter flavour in the whisky.

Finally, we stopped off at the cask warehouse, in which a proportion of the Talisker stock is housed for aging.

It was the boy’s first visit to a distillery and learning about the process from one end to the other was eye-opening, he said – a fact which I recommend anyone curious about whisky to take on board. Once you know about the process, it’s easier to become fascinated with the final product. The distillery, which is owned by Diageo, gets an astounding 55,000 visitors a year and will soon be expanding its visitors centre to keep up with demand so definitely check it out if you get the chance.

After the tour, we headed back up to Mark’s office to taste some Talisker drams – well, let me correct that. I tasted some stellar drams – the boy had a wee sip of a couple because he was driving.

We started with the new make spirit (the natural spirit before it is aged in oak barrels). It was briney, with hints of olives and fleshy fruit on the nose, and cigarettes, sweat and rubber on the palate.

Next was the creamy butterscotch smelling 10 year old. In the mouth was a delicious lemony and Werther’s Original flavour.

Then came the 18-year old: a long-time favourite of many whisky drinkers and a dram that is often sold out everywhere. This was slightly thicker on the nose, with deeper scents of caramel and fudge, while on the palate was an earthy, oily sweet taste with a hint of candied orange. Stunning!

The final dram was the 25-year old, which was much sharper: lemon and peat on the nose, and salt, sea, brine, almonds and smoke on the palate. One of my favourites.

The boy tried the 18-year old and, to my great joy, said he “finally got whisky” when he tasted it.

With a triumphant finish to the day, we said our goodbyes and headed back from where we came to the east side of the Isle of Skye, finally arriving at our next luxurious hotel: Duisdale House. But more on that later…

In part 4, the boy and I drown our tiredness in a four course meal and the luxuriousness of Duisdale House and navigate our way back to Inverness in the snow.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: