with Steve McCarthy
For our first full day in the Highlands, we did it up right. I found the perfect way to tour distilleries and get to properly enjoy them. Since the DUI limit in Scotland is 0.06, even a pint of beer will put you over, so, as I said before, just don’t. Here was our solution: http://www.bygonedrives.co.uk . This was an ideal way to privately tour in something other than a minibus or, worse, a big tour coach with 40 other people. Yes, a 1959 Bentley, driven by a wonderful man, called Andrew. He was a gem. Knowledgable not only of the distilleries, but of the local history. He took a few diversions to show us a variety of off the beaten path sites, such as the bridge in Cartridge that just celebrated 300 years.
As part of the tour, we hit Cragganmore, Dallas Dhu, and Benromach, whiskies that you can’t really get in the States. We also had a tutored tasting from whisky expert Penny Ellis at her Knockomie Hotel ( www.knockomie.co.uk ) where we also had a fabulous lunch. The tasting consisted of a variety of 6 very different whiskies, from Balvennie finished in rum casks, to Benromach Peat. One, Aberlour is best kept in the freezer (!!!) and as it warms, one tastes how the character changes. She did not insist, as many do, that we slightly water the whisky. I appreciate this. To me, if one has to do that to lessen the bite, then the whisky isn’t as good. She also had some great comments on the current fad of Fancy Gin. “If you normally have to add a strong mix, like Tonic, then you are trying to hide something.” To her, it's a money grab. "Distill it today, sell it tomorrow."
For Lunch, Marianne had the tomato soup and salmon sandwiches, I had the Chicken Liver and Madeira Parfait, Red Onion Marmalade and Peppered Oatcakes. It was all fantastic, but I could have used a nice sharp cheese to go along with it. Dessert was one of the best we’d ever had! Sticky Toffee Pudding, Butterscotch Sauce, Date and Whisky Compote, Vanilla Ice Cream.
It was quite a day, giving the occasional Royal Wave from an elegant motorcar, seeing the varied scenery (from forests to glens, to vast moorlands), and having a great chat with Andrew.
The next day became a bit more local. Near Grantown on Spey, is a steam heritage railway. Now, constant reader will know we are both suckers for steam trains. This one runs 3 times a day (except Tuesdays and Thursdays) and is called the Speyside Steam Railway. We opted to not ride (we’re slated to do the Jacobite-aka Hogwarts Express) next week. This one, we wanted to just watch as it chuffed on past. We pulled off the road at Broomhill where the line terminates, and in the tradition of rail fans, waited. Turns out we’d timed it well, and into the station she came. A short wait while the engine ran around the cars, and the bus loads of passengers were off and on loaded, and off she went, pulling and smoking and whistling. Such fun.
Then it was time for lunch, and some locals we were chatting with recommended The Boat Country Inn, in Boat of Garten
(https://www.boathotel.co.uk ). This turned out to be a great choice. Now the town gets its name from the chained ferry that was positioned there to cross the River Spey. Eventually, a bridge was built in the 1800s, but the name remained. The inn was the old station hotel and has been completely redone. It would be a great place to base oneself in for touring the area.
The food was exceptional! As we found on our last trip, food in The Isles has moved far beyond the dismal reputation it once “enjoyed.” Marianne had a steak pie with a crust flakey enough to gain the approval of Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood (look them up if you must) and I had seared scallops on black pudding with streaky bacon, all on a smear of “Scottish Guacamole.” Marianne gets FULL credit for this one—aka mushy peas. Even that part was good!
For dinner, we walked to the Craig Bar in Grantown on Spey ( http://www.thecraigbar.co.uk ). This is off the High Street and has become one of THE best places in town to eat. They only have meat pies, but what an assortment. These are NOT the much maligned cat food pies of yore. These run from the “usual” steak pie, to the traditional steak and kidney pie to chicken and even vegetarian selections, all given great names. I had the “Deer Stalker” (venison, bacon, lentils) and Marianne had the Chicken of Aragon (chicken, asparagus, tarragon). The highlight is the wonderfully abusive barman, Robbie. He’s a well known local character, whose humor is wicked. We loved him and entered ourselves by giving back what he dished out. Our server, called Darla, I think, was much put upon by Robbie, but handled him with aplomb. She’s good people.
The bar has a huge selection of whiskies and only a few draught beers, ranging from local to “Nigerian Lager” (aka Guinness-Robbie was gobsmacked that I knew the reference-Nigerians drink more Guinness than the Irish!). Best of all, it’s a short stagger from the Ben Mohr. I highly recommend reservations or showing up early if you want a table.
So, not sure what Friday will bring, we’ll let you know!