“Nice work if you can get it” – that was most people’s reaction when I told them I was pathfinding for Mac’s new Whisky and Walking tour in the Cairngorms. Whisky and walking sounded an excitingly dangerous combination, as though you might lurch from distillery to distillery and well, do a bit of walking round snow-capped mountains in between.
But there I was in Grantown-on-Spey, a lot of walking and not so much as a dram. I have a confession to make though and I’d better come clean right now: I don’t actually drink the stuff. It’s heresy in these parts, but one gulp makes me shudder as if I’m having a seizure and gasp for air like a diver who’s stayed down too long.
Maybe I just haven’t tried the right whisky. It’s a drink I’ve always associated with tweedy old colonels or chain-smoking journalists propping up the bar. It seems to be a ‘love it or hate it’ drink. You don’t get people who quite like whisky. In the Craig pub in Grantown, a man nursing his pint said no, he definitely didn’t like whisky. He shook his head vehemently: “Had a bad experience with it when I was 14 years old…” His eyes glazed over and he would say no more. I didn’t like to probe.
Robbie the barman was a whisky man and had some twenty or thirty descriptions of local whiskies chalked on the board. I’d heard of Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s and Black and White, but none of those were there. No, this was the world of the Speyside single malt, and, I was to learn, quite different from Island single malts. “Mouthwash! Medicinal mouthwash!” said Robbie disparagingly. His personal favourite was Glenfarclas 105 – ‘cask strength’. I wasn’t quite sure what that was but it sounded like it would make you keel over and send you to hospital.
“Lovely nose” said Robbie.
“Thanks”. I was flattered. Still got it….
“No, no – smell it”, he said, opening the bottle
I sniffed. “ Quite nice”.
“Quite nice!” He fished below the bar and thumped down a great tome. ‘The Whisky Companion’, I read on the spine, by ….. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson! Was there no end to his talents – music, moonwalking and malt whisky?
“No, not that one”, Robbie explained, “Michael Jackson the greatest modern writer on whisky. Very influential. Dead now.”
He held the bottle out and flicked through the pages of ‘the Bible’ till he found the Glenfarclas 105.
Yes! I could smell it! Or was it the power of suggestion? If he had said ‘ old bus tickets’ would I have agreed?
Anyway, this trip doesn’t need to preach to the already converted so I’m off and walking in the spirit(!) of educational research.
How can I walk the hills and the heather without knowing about something so intimately connected with Scotland that you could never sever it?
Will I have a Damascene conversion as I summit Cairnacay and look down on Glenlivet?
Watch this space……