Dunstaffnage Castle from the East
My wife and I blundered upon this lovely little castle pretty much by chance. This was our longest driving day of our trip, and we had to make a long haul and on time – from Fort William, just south of the Loch country, all the way down to Kennacraig to catch the six-o’clock ferry to Islay. Not so many miles, you say, but look at those roads! Single lane each way and sinuous as a hibernating ball of earthworms. So we were careful not to dally too much anywhere along the way. We got out of Ft. William at a decent time, planning to be in Oban for lunch. Dunstaffnage at that point was merely a note in my list of things to see in nearby Oban, and the photos we found online did not impress. Just a little pocket castle. Continue reading
The Paps of Jura. Click for hi-res.
I laid eyes on the Isle of Jura for the first time last year on my trip to Islay. From the Bunnahabhain distillery, our driver, Uncle Charlie, pointed out ‘the Paps of Jura,’ two mountains rearing up from the southern lobe of that island. (The shot at left is from Caol Isla distillery, just to the south of Bunnahabhain.) We did not make it to the island, nor try the whisky while we were there, but we bought a couple tasters in a whisky shop in Edinburgh. And they are what you see below.
Jura Superstition (NAS) left, and Origin 10
This review will be a microcosm of the NAS vs. ‘standard’ 10 or 12-year old debate — whether the Non-age-statement whiskies represent a good value and experience for the whisky taster. (Note, both of these whiskies are listed as limited release.)
A dram of the good stuff.
Oban distillery is a petite operation by Scottish standards. Comprising only two stills, their output is listed on Wikipedia at 670,000 barrels a year. That’s about half the rate of Ardbeg, itself a distillery of modest output. With such limited production, Oban concentrate on their 14-year old, though there is a Distiller’s edition and some older releases.
Oban distillery is located in the seaside town of Oban. That’s a good place to stop and spend some time if you are working your way to the islands. Oban is a port of call for Caledonian MacBrayne, the ferry service. (You can get to Jura and Islay from there, though it’s a much longer trip than from Kennacraig.) The town has a lively main street, with lots of shops, hotels, and restaurants. There’s even a really nice bookshop, Waterstones. The distillery, shop and visitor’s center are right off the main drag. The visitor’s center is nice and spiffy but not lavish like the LVMH joints like Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. The Oban distillery is owned by Diageo, which is foremost a spirits company, not a luxury brand like LVMH. It is interesting to note that the other Diageo facilities we visited — Caol Isla and Lagavulin — were similarly nice and modern, but not lavish and marketing-forward like LVMH.
Single volume abridgment
I am reading history lately. This is so I can better foresee if my country is heading towards political dissolution. That’s all I’ll say about my motivations.
TL;DR: The book succeeds due to Churchill’s strong narrative, accessible style and intense focus on political development.
This is not a new book, of course. Originally written in the mid-1950s, after Churchill’s time in politics, his four volumes represented a well-researched, comprehensive review of history from pre-Christian Roman times to the eve of the First World War. This version is a single-volume abridgment by Christopher Lee, originally released in 1958.
Given this history was written by a man who was a Anlgo chauvinist and full-throttle behind Britain’s ambition on the world stage, the tale stops short of any self-criticism regarding Britain’s colonial ambitions. Thus, this book’s narrative needs to be taken in context with other works. For instance, there is no reflection on the rightness of what Great Britain’s leaders did to grasp control in South Africa and India, for instance. He includes brief histories of Canada and Australia as well, and his glossing over the treatment of both lands’ original inhabitants is callous to the extreme. He does say, on page 556, that of the Tazmanian aborigines: “Their defeat was inevitable; their end was tragic.” He never addresses, why was their end inevitable? They are assumed to have had no rights. “The Black Drive of 1830 was a failure.” It was an attempt at genocide. His complicit tone cannot be ignored.
If traveling round Scotland with an eye to visit its castles and distilleries, you will face at one point the stretch from Inverness to Fort William, about two hour’s drive on the (two-lane) A82 with no traffic – but expect traffic along here in the summer. One can press on to Oban, perhaps another hour south. So what do you do on the way? Well, you are driving along Loch Ness, and halfway down is Urquhart Castle, just south of Drumnadrochit.
Drumnadrochit was the only place in we stumbled upon during our Scotland trip that brought to mind the term ‘tourist trap.’ At heart it is a pretty little Scottish town, but overlaid with a lot of Loch Ness themed stores, visitor center, crowds of people, etc.
Urquhart. What lies beyond those walls?
The busy nature of Drumnadrochit foreshadowed our visit to Urquhart. The castle looks stately and a little lonely out on its promontory in many promo shots, not unlike my photo at left. But that’s misleading.
I expected the usual experience for Scottish castles: a modest booth at the car park (mostly empty), a small castle shop, perhaps with a few food items or coffee and biscuits. We would tour the stones with a few other folks and enjoy a pleasant walk around ruins and grassy knolls. Even at the big-name spots like Scone we never felt crowded. Sterling was a bit busy but then it is at the edge of a largish town.
My suspicions about Urquhart were raised by the signs to ‘park in town and ride’ to the castle, and as we entered the Urquhart car park they had traffic wardens directing us. That was new! The park there is long and narrow and traffic is one way. There were a number of buses and groups of people speaking various languages wandering about. Inside the visitors center we saw an operation of unprecedented size. The center is a multi level building with a rather plain entrance above and a cinema, gift shop and cafe below. And that place was packed!
This is the final post in the NAS series for now. I’ll write up a wrap-up article in a week or two.
Ardbeg, pretty spiff place.
I read about Ardbeg long before I had a chance to taste it. A distillery raised from the dead, so to speak, it had been shuttered for eight years in the 1980s. Production resumed slowly under a caretaker administration by Hiram Walker in the early 1990s. Glenmorangie bought it in ’97 and resurrected Ardbeg to full production. Blessed with great stocks of old whisky aging in the warehouse, they released notoriously good (and peaty) whiskies throughout the early 2000s. They presented Ardbeg in a craft style – no coloring, non-chill-filtered, higher ABV. Their 10-year is released at 46%, and it is a damn good whisky, as I reviewed here. Despite relatively low production, about 1.25 million liters a year, they have a number of expressions.
Craigievar Castle. Heartbreakingly gorgeous, and she knows it. Click for hi-res.
Craigievar Castle is hard to find, but a gem. Only about 15 miles west of Aberddon, it is located in idyllic countryside. This country in high summer exactly matched the ideal I developed as a child reading Kenneth Grahame and Pyles’s Robin Hood — the greens are lush, the trees uniform and well-tended, the roads narrow and curvy. When I was planing our distillery tour I presented the wife with a selection of attractions along the route. When she saw that there was a pink castle, it became a must-see.
It was almost a have-to-miss. Using GPS, we ended up literally in the middle of nowhere, a lane bordering a broad barley field a few miles off the A980. We blundered around a bit, found our way off the Old Military Road and back on the A980 and spotted a sign for Craigievar. From there it was a matter of spotting the place peeking through the trees, a pink edifice, like a wedding cake decoration for a princess.