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May 23, 2010

The Long Road to a Whisky (Blog’s) Maturity

I have returned to verdant, glorious Northumberland, folks. Everything has just exploded into life and I feel I have missed out on a key transformation. I was, after all, chasing winter as I headed north along the east side of the country.

I have begun the long process of uploading my photos and inserting them into their appropriate posts. I’m beginning at the beginning, so that is where all of my pictorial evidence is now. I have already updated my first four posts: Glenkinchie; the journey to it and Stirling; Tullibardine, and Glenturret. Please check them out. There aren’t many, sadly. As I said in Braemar, I deleted many thinking it might ease uploading. There should be enough to be going along with, though.

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April 18, 2010


This isn't the prettiest of distilleries but within it I had one of my best experiences on tour. It is the oldest brewing and distilling site in Scotland.

This isn't the prettiest of distilleries but within it I had one of my best experiences on tour. It is the oldest brewing and distilling site in Scotland.

Blackford, Perthshire, PH4 1QG, 01764 682252. Tullibardine Distillery Ltd. www.tullibardine.com

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      **      The hills and glens around Blackford are all stunning and the Highland Spring bottling plant is only a little way along the road. The distillery, however, is situated in a retail park directly off the A9.


‘Standard Tour’: £5. See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Tutored Tastings Tour’: £7.50. There is no tour in this option, just a guided tasting of three expressions of Tullibardine in their special tasting room off the warehouse.

‘Bonded Tour’: £15. All of the qualities of the standard tour, only you can actually walk in the warehouse, a rare privilege. There is also a free Tullibardine-branded tasting glass and a miniature as well as the three expressions to enjoy.

‘Connoisseur Tour’: £25. Again, the merits of the standard tour, only here you get to dram three samples straight from the sleeping casks in the warehouse. Three expressions of Tullibardine.


My Tour – 13/04/2010



Notes:      Designed by the renowned distillery architect William Delme-Evans (also responsible for Jura and Glenallachie), this is a very functional distilling enterprise.

GENEROSITY:     ** (2 drams.)


SCORE:      8/10 *s

COMMENT:      Gavin Cunningham, our South African guide, was the star of the show. The distillery was silent at the time of touring for maintenance and the Easter break but Gavin held the attention marvellously: entertaining, authoritative and with a unique turn of phrase and means of explanation, he deserves those three stars. They bill themselves as the most easily-accessed distillery in Scotland and as you can see the distillery in its little shopping complex from the northbound A9, it is hard to disagree. It is also the oldest brewing and distilling site in Scotland and 1488 whisky ale is sold in the visitor’s centre. The on-site cafe serves a little of what you’d expect and does it very well. This tour exceeded all expectations and you are allowed to take pictures inside. I should think this would make a very pain-free day out.

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April 15, 2010

Stirling to Pitlochry

I beg patience of you, readers. Whilst I would love to satisfy my own needs and my journalistic responsibilities at the same time, I’m quickly appreciating that this is not always possible. Time, just at the moment, is money, and with an hour’s worth of internet access at my hostels costing me £3, I have to condense. A lot!

Regarding the pictures, I had hoped to post some yesterday but unfortunately the IT at Comrie Croft was not in a cooperative mood. Hopefully tonight, as I’m satying with my aunt, I should be able to bring you some of the stunning photos that have practically taken themselves. The whole country is one astonishing photograph!


Stirling to Comrie: 34 miles.

I awoke with far too much anxiety. I won’t lie to you, had the first two days of my trip entertained even a smattering of rain, I would probably be writing this from home. Three hours of sleep, I felt was insufficient to embark on my second day of my whisky odyssey. Just at that moment, however, it felt like the whole 1300 miles were waiting for me that day. Mentally, I was not in good shape at all. Despite the nausea of panic, I managed to eat some muesli and some toast. Washed down with a hot cup of tea, I felt a little better.

I collared the staff at Stewart Lawson Cycles, Barnton Street, just as they were lifting the shutters. Pedal system fixed, I returned to the hostel feeling infintely better.

I set off in what the Scots would call ‘driech’ weather. It was grey and cold, in other words, although how expressive a dialect it is. Blackford, here I come.

The turn off signalled by the map suggested a small road. It said nothing about a corkscrew of a passage. I had to get off and walk, for the first time as a cyclist since I took it up seriously in my early teens, I had to walk. In cleats, though, and with the weight of the bike added to the insane gradient, pushing was more challenging.

Although it didn’t flatten, the incline wasn’t quite so steep. I cleared the trees and there was the Highlands. And lots of it. Only the photos, when they eventually are transferred, can communicate the desolate beauty of the landscape.

Congestion was possible, even on these single track roads. A farmer was driving his sheep to new pasture, the two

There was no safe overtaking opportunity on this occasion.

There was no safe overtaking opportunity on this occasion.

 collies on the back of the quadbike with him eyeing this strange, fluorescent thing wheezing behind them.

After a nerve-shredding 500m on the A9, I made Blackford and there was Tullibardine. They claim to be the most accessible distillery in Scotland and I can’t disagree. It is odd having a traditional distilliung complex in a retail park but stepping into the excellent visitors’ centre, I didn’t notice. More about the tour later.

Getting to Crieff was more of a challenge. The roads got busier, faster and, on one awful stretch, dustier. I had already phoned Glenturret to put my tour back by an hour and arrived with 10 minutes to spare. More on this tour in a future post.

Now deeply concerned about where my dinner was coming from and riding on empty already, I sought my accommodation. Comrie Croft is unique in my experience. Camping, hostelling, hen rearing. It was a little earth-lover’s utopia. I could not enjoy the idiosyncratic nature of it all, however, for the doubts were returning. I had washing to do, buses to catch (and living in Northumberland I know how sparsely distributed services can be) and sleep to hoard. Despite there being no plug in the basin, I improvised with a ball of saturated toilet roll. I shall know better for next time, for now everything I washed has little white flakes of paper all over them! And they don’t smell particularly clean…

I was given a lift to Comrie, as it happened, by a total stranger. We talked about the weather, the surrounding area and the ospreys which were nesting just across from the hostel and had been for the last seven years.

I demolished some fish and chips, found an apple, caught to the bus back to the hostel, and had a great night’s sleep.


Comrie to Pitlochry: 49 miles.

I woke up feeling not a great deal better. The idea of cycling to Aberfeldy and then on to a busy Pitlochry did not appeal. A party of teenagers whom I had not failed to register the night before from their loud music and loud conversation had assumed total dominion of the kitchen. I managed a bowl of cereal and some toast. I decided to forget about scrambled some of the Croft’s free range eggs.

The road north out of Crieff starts to look very Highland, very quickly.

The road north out of Crieff starts to look very Highland, very quickly.

The road from Gilmerton to Aberfeldy, 10 miles into my journey after going back into Comrie for supplies, was indescribable. Immediately the glens began. Cycling between these monoliths, like the knees of the earth thrust up under the duvet of the land made me feel very tiny indeed. Again, the pictures can say a thousand of the words of which I am only vaguely aware.

It was hot. Heat haze was making me feel more disorientated than I really felt. I ate some lunch in what shade I could find, with the cars whooshing past intermittently. Just when I thought this empty moorland would never end, I noticed the sign for Griffon Forest, where I had walked with my family last autumn. A little further on was a viewpoint for the surrounding Munros. There, shark-toothed and with a mantle of snow was Schiehallion, my first Munro. I didn’t have long to appreciate the view. It was after 1PM and I still had to tour Aberfeldy.

I was suitably stirred having seen this. Schiehallion is my first and only bagged Munro to date, and spying it on the horizon was evocative of last autumn when I was hear with my parents.

I was suitably stirred having seen this. Schiehallion is my first and only bagged Munro to date, and spying it on the horizon was evocative of last autumn when I was hear with my parents.

The descent into the town was a worry for the brakes. I’ve been riding with them for more than 600 miles already and I suspect they will need replacing soon.

Aberfeldy was busier than I remember it, but the distillery was a focus of calmness. Locking the bike and changing, the smell of the washbacks had been in raptures. More on the tour next time.

The road to Pitlochry was both familiar and familiarly hectic. The sun was a concern of sorts with my burn and water consumption. It’s very difficult to judge all these things in addition to sun cream application when you have more than 40 miles in your legs already. I couldn’t take the A9 so I followed the minor roads. Minor, I hasten to add, in size; not, incredibly, in traffic.

A few close calls later, I was in Pitlochry, and in fact passed Blair Athol. The smell was again, deeply promising.

I found the hostel and for the first time felt genuinely contented. I’d travelled far, and was beginning to feel like a traveller. The sun was still shining, dinner was within walking distance, and I was rooming with fellow cyclists.

The night’s sleep was a good one, and the breakfast was superb. Bring it on, as they say.

By the by, if you have toured any of the distilleries I will be visiting, please comment under the relevant post with your own experiences. Mine is only one opinion, after all. I hope to speak soon.

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April 12, 2010

Home to Stirling

I’ve begun at last. I must admit that I awoke far too anxious to do very much at all. My obscure mentality was soon

Here is the team photo, just prior to pedalling away from home for six long weeks of whisky and roads.

Here is the team photo, just prior to pedalling away from home for six long weeks of whisky and roads.

demonstrated beyond reproof when I thought it would be a good idea to wash out my new bidons with boiling water and washing up liquid. I put the cap on, shook, and it exploded in my face! Like a startled rabbit I fled to the bathroom, doused my face in cold water but it wasn’t enough to prevent a burn on my forehead. Branded by stupidity. I have oils and creams to treat it but it will just have to heal in its own time. D’oh!

Stress began even earlier than the exploding boiling bidon. I switched on the news and there was the headline I was dreading: strike action on the trains in Scotland. A quick, fervent glance at the Network Rail site allayed my fears, for it seemed that none of my connections were affected. In fact, the guys at the station hadn’t heard word of any industrial action whatsoever!

Copying my routine of a fortnight ago, I skulked around in the luggage bay with my bike on the train up. I could sense Edinburgh nearing and became more and more agitated. It hit home that I was on my own, in unfamiliar territory fully responsible for every decision made. How odd that a control freak should suddenly baulk at assuming total control.

After hauling the bike about Waverley station (agony), and getting dressed (incongruously and embarrassing), I ploughed on into Edinburgh. The journey was very straightforward, and true enough I was awesomely grateful for having previewed the route.  It was, in marked contrast to last month, positively balmy. The sun was incredibly strong and for the first time this year I was minus overshoes and at one with the wind, my relfective jacket in the rucksack. I made good time getting to Glenkinchie, devoured my lunch and took my tour (see next post).

The journey back was equally benign, although I did as much watching of the clock as looking out for buses, red lights and glass on the road. I had set a target of 4pm to be back in the station and I achieved it with six minutes to spare. I hoarded some sugary snacks and waited for the train to Stirling and the point at which I truly ventured into the unknown.

East Coast trains operate a different policy to CrossCountry and there was a guards van to find. This was at the front of the train which wouldn’t have been quite so uncomfortable had my starting position on the platform not been closer to the other end of the train. The bike was installed, however, but I wasn’t. Getting to Coach G from B felt as if I was walking back to Edinburgh, the train having already pulled away. I eventually found my seat, and allowed myself a pat on the back. I had made the train. The rest was up to me.

Stirling in the evening light. What a location for a town, eh? Can you see the wee patches of snow?

Stirling in the evening light. What a location for a town, eh? Can you see the wee patches of snow?

Stirling appeared very speedily indeed. I retrieved the bike (after an ungainly sprint. It wouldn’t do to have my bike end up in Inverness without me) and went in search of my lodgings. It was whilst in the hunt that the latest bad thing happened. As I attempted to rejoin the main road on the hill up to the hostel, I over balanced onto my right side: the one securely fixed to the pedal. Given the choice now between falling over and what actually happened, I’d toppled to the tarmac every time. I succeeded in extracting foot from pedal, but the force with which my foot regained the ground snapped off the fron section of the cleat on the bottom of my shoe. I couldn’t clip back in. Tired, hot and very very smelly, this almost did for me. I soldiered on to the hostel, however, so I could better assess my options.

With the bike locked away and the helpful receptionist giving me an education in hostel stays every time he opened his mouth, I asked about a bike shop. Stowing my panniers away in a locker, I found the one he suggested. I shall be back very early tomorrow morning.

The crowning glory, the cleanser of the day, was my shower. It was gorgeous. I felt instantly better and went in search of food. I despatched a burger and chips in a nearly deserted bar/bistro. The staff were excellent, though, and despite the official chef having gone home ill and so the kitchen being technically closed, they rustled up my meal all the same, the bar man full of enthusiasm for my whisky travels. More on those tomorrow.

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