Tag Archives: drive

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.

Highland Adventure: Monster Hunting

26 Apr

“Don’t go onto the moors,” quipped the boy in hysterical voice as we drove through a particularly craggy area of northwest Scotland.

Rolling my eyes to look confident, I quickly looked out the car window to see if there were any boogeymen following us.

“We’re not in Yorkshire m’dear,” I responded once clear we were not being tracked.

You see, northern Scotland has this effect. It’s misty and rocky, slightly desolate and, in our experience, often grey. But, like Ireland, it has a certain appeal in its darkness.

We’d arrived in the Highlands the night before having stopped off in Inverness after a very long train journey up from London. The town was lovely – quaint and proudly Scottish, with a compact castle sitting atop the hill and the crystal clear River Ness running through.

The view of Inverness Castle from our room at the Columba Hotel

But, being keen to get into the countryside, we headed off early the next day to see just what this part of Britain had to offer.

Driving south along the B852 we took the less-touristy way around Loch Ness, determined as we were to find some monsters. If you’re in this area, skip the west side of the Loch (with its wider road and hoards of traffic) and opt for the thin, winding road along the east side of the Loch. It’s quieter and the road rises into the hills, allowing a dramatic views from up high.

A grey day over Loch Ness

After driving back up the west side of the Loch (which one must do to connect to the direct route west) we were taken through more beige and rusty red landscapes, along slim roads where one must pull into small passing points constantly. For those not raised in the UK and who are used to wide highways for most of your driving, this will probably raise a few hairs on the back of your neck – more so even than the thought of a monster wandering by. I’ll never get used to having to reverse on a roadway when another car comes careening around a corner and there isn’t enough room for both vehicles!

But, even with the fear, it was beautiful. Loch after shimmering loch appeared from out of nowhere, wedged between rolling hills and mountains still topped with fresh snow. Even looking at the scenes made me chilly and I suddenly understood better why the Scots love their whisky so much.

Mizzle was the order of the day in the Highlands.

And so, what better way to finish off a chilly drive, than to arrive at a hidden lochside turreted villa that rises out of seemingly nowhere? Surely, nothing…

Next time, the boy and I pet our dinner, squelch in the mud and discover a stunning Highland hotel…

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