Heading North

Tuesday

Bags packed, breakfast eaten then we headed north from the Highlander inn towards Cawdor Castle. This is a truly magnificent castle and home of the Cawdor family for 600 years. The Castle was immortalised as the fictional home of the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and understandably so because the tower house castle has such gravitas and standing in its location, which includes very large beautiful gardens. The section visitors enjoy is furnished with period furniture and some excellent art works. I found this castle one of the highlights of our trip to Scotland. We ended our trip, of course with a visit to the castle café for coffee and scones!

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From Cawdor we visited the battlefield site of Culloden fought in April 1746. This was a horrific battle with great cruelty and death. There is nothing to be celebrated about war; the monument manages to leave that lasting impression.

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We left in a very different mood to when we arrived. We went from Culloden to a nearby Clootie Well. These are wells or springs, almost always with a tree growing beside them, where strips of cloth or rags have been left, usually tied to the branches of the tree as part of a healing ritual. I suspect some of the clooties would tell pretty sad stories.

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We visited only one distillery today, but it was one of the best. Glenmorangie started life in 1730 as a brewery, but in 1843 Bill Matheson bought it and converted it to a distillery. In 1977 development pressures put the security of the Tarlogie Spring under threat resulting in Glenmorangie acquiring 600 acres to protect their water rights. In 2009 they increased their Still numbers to 12, this gives them a large production capacity, in modest sized buildings. The Stills are the tallest ones in Scotland, which Glenmorangie claim allows only the lightest and purest spirit to reach the condensers. Good quality whisky distilleries are valuable assets; in 2004 Glenmorangie was sold to French company Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton for a staggering 300 million pounds.

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Their whiskies are very light displaying the cask character more-so than any other distillery I can think of. The first one we tasted was the well named Nectar D’Or, finished in a Sauternes Cask and the sweet grapy character of the wine was very prominent. The nose was jammed full of citrus, and yes orange characters. It was the most interesting, if not best light sweet whisky I have tasted. The next we tasted was the 10YO, which exhibited similar characters to the Nectar D’Or, but the Sauterne characters were replaced with rich vanilla. A really fine 10YO. Last we tasted the 12YO, finished in Oloroso Sherry Butts. Again the backbone was light but high quality, the sherry characters of sultana and cinnamon came to the front. If my desert island had only one distillery’s whisky washed ashore I would probably pick Glenmorangie. Their marketing relies heavily on Celtic runes which gives their top line range a real hint of class.

Tonight we stayed in the Golspie Hotel. The unseasonal warm weather was giving them problems and the place was like a sauna. We walked into Golspie for a beer in an otherwise abandoned pub then went back to our hotel for dinner. The serves were huge, so after dinner we went for a walk. We were well north and were able to sit and watch the sunset despite it being late in the evening.

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Castles, Shortbread, Local Hero & Whisky

Monday

The day started grey and wet as we headed to Huntly Castle, or should I say 3 castles. Huntly started its life as a Motte and Bailey Castle built for Duncan, the Earl of Fife in 1190. In the 1400’s the first Earl of Huntley replaced this with a Tower House Castle. Finally in the 1640’s the second Marquis expanded it to become, according to Heritage Scotland, a Scottish Chateau. The Marquis’s inspiration came from his trips to Europe. His lifestyle and home became so extravagant he earned the nickname ‘Cock O’ The North’.

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The property is famed for the fine heraldic sculpture and inscribed stone friezes and includes two impressive heraldic fireplaces in the Marchioness’s lodging.
We seemed to have got into the habit of coffee and scones, so it came as no surprise when we pulled up outside Dean’s Shortbread factory and visitor centre. We watched the factory at work while we waited for our morning coffee to be delivered. Most of the work seemed to be done by people, but at the back there were these long multi-jointed arms flaying around like a mad robot. No idea what they were doing, probably making boxes or something equally mundane. We ran back to the car, as the rain was getting very hard, it was set in for the day.
Bill Forsyth has produced some wonderfully understated film; his pinnacle in collaboration with David Putnam was Local Hero, released in 1983. Part of the brilliance of the film was the shoot location, Pennan, and that was our next destination for lunch at the Pennan Inn.

The road in is perilously steep, with some very tight corners as you turn onto the small road along the sea front. The place seemed deserted, so we donned raincoats and walked the length of the village and harbor. One of the film’s aspects is the activities in a red phone box, which is still there. We had to have a photo, but there was more, someone had left a copy of the Mark Knopfler theme music record in the phone box. We dashed to the Inn, but disaster, it was closed. We headed onto the village of Knock and the Knockdhu Distillery.
Knockdhu make whisky sold under the anCnoc label. We were the only people taking the tour and the lady conducting it tailored it to our level of understanding. She allowed photography, which was a pleasant change from most distilleries. Their stills were quite small with high necks which would increase the copper contact. We tasted 3 malts, the 2002, the 12YO and the 16YO, they were all impressive drams, and the wall full of awards told us whisky judges felt the same.

The 2002 set the scene with extravagant fruit and spicy flavours, this was an extravagant whisky. The 12YO had a complex nose also driven by fruit and spice flavours, no smoke here. The pallet carried those characters, is quite light and showed some sweetness. The 18YO was similar, but more balanced, excellent. We did not buy bottles when we were travelling as we were all flying, but for anCnoc we made an exception because we enjoyed it so much. I also picked up a CD from the Elusive Highland Beauty called The Elephant Sessions. We walked out of Knockdhu feeling blessed, and the sun was peeping thorough the clouds.
We went a short distance down the road to visit the very scenic Strathisla Distillery. They produce a respectable 12YO, but would be known to most for their production of the popular Chivas Regal. Their stills are dumpy with a large bulge, intended to give a ‘clean’ characteristic to the spirit. We tried the Strathisla 12YO, and two whisky’s from their Chivas Regal range, the Extra and the 18YO. I enjoyed the tasting, but did not feel the urge to buy any.

On our return to the Highlander we took a brisk walk to the Fiddichside for a beer, only one as the clouds were rolling in, so we made a dash back to the Highlander for dinner, arriving just a little damp.

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Tesla Model X

Today, along with 4 friends I enjoyed test-driving a Tesla Model X around Fremantle. This car is a game changer in auto technology. For some of us the technology was of greatest interest, for me the sheer performance that had me hooked. Statistics like 0 to 100kmph in 2.4 seconds look good on paper, but to experience that acceleration was another thing completely.

The Model X was described by the Tesla man as a SUV, and that put me off from the start, as did the SUV body shape, albeit with rear gull wing doors, this is not a car out of an Italian design studio. Maybe in the future we will get to try the Model S, but Tesla chose the Model X due to it having to accommodate 4 big blokes and the Tesla rep.

Brad was first to drive, his regular car is a Volt, so he is familiar with electric cars.  He was very impressed with the performance and quality of finish.

The technology was extensive, but not overpowering, for me it ran in the background, without interfering with the driving pleasure. I was there for the performance, which the Model X had in spades. Not only straight-line acceleration, but also the cornering, which was stunning. All done without fanfare, no roaring of engine or squealing tyres, jut out right performance, oh and G force! I’d so love to get a Tesla on a track somewhere. I had most of the techno turned off; one thing switched on was regenerative braking, which cuts in when you take your foot of the throttle. It took some getting used to, but for a regular driver it would become a useful feature. The car also adjusted the suspension height and stiffness as well as the steering feedback to match your driving style.

Mark took the wheel got to play with the voice commands. The car comes with permanent Internet connection and Spotify. Click a lever and ask for a song or album and in seconds it’s playing. The voice activation also worked on the GPS, Mark asked for directions to the Round House and up it comes on the giant screen, which of course incorporated the best reversing camera I’ve seen. Next was Josh, and this is where it gets interesting. Flick another switch and the car goes into cruise control. It goes at the predetermined speed, until the car in front slows down. We pulled up in a queue at traffic lights on High Street and took off as the car in front pulled away, all using the cruise control. Pull the switch twice and the car goes into auto steer. The diver can take their hand off the wheel and the car navigates itself, as long as there is a white line and curb for it to orientate itself to. The driver came into Freo from Palmyra without having to do a thing except monitor the situation. As we went up Ord Street we arrived at the new very large speed humps and the car raised its suspension automatically, controlled by Tesla central that had picked up from another Tesla that it had encountered speed humps on that section of the road. As the Tesla fleet increases and information is gathered more and more info will be transmitted to the car about the driving conditions you are facing.

Behind the 3 rear seats are 2 more child seats, just push a button and the rear seats move forward and fold.  All doors and boot open and close at the touch of a button.  The test car was extensively optioned, one of which was the ‘Vegan Friendly Leather Seats’, work that one out if you can.

The 2 hours flew by, and all of us were a little dazed about what we had experienced. I do hope Tesla can arrange for us to drive a sports sedan.

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The Last Supper

Wednesday

There were no commitments this morning, so we slept in and took coffee on our balcony, the day was starting to warm up and some long overdue laundry hung out to dry. It was a good time to enjoy our apartment and its location. There had been talk of taking a trip to Trani, but we were a little unsure if it was for the social and cultural benefits, or because it was reputed to have good fashion shops. Given we were flying on budget airlines and had accrues several books along the way we frankly had no space for more cloths. In fact we left a bag of warm cloths used in Orkney and Shetland in Edinburgh to go to a charity shop as we would not need them in Italy, and did not have the weight allowance to take them with us.

I turned on the laptop to check out the bus timetable and do some research on Trani when a flag came up saying ‘Going to Rome Tomorrow.’ That’s a mistake; we were going to Rome on Friday, weren’t we? Probably a glitch with the time zone changes, Australia being 7 hour ahead of Italy. Just to be sure I checked the rail tickets, and it was true we were going to Rome on Thursday, not Friday. We felt like someone had stolen a day from us. Our airbnb host had recommended two restaurants to us; we had thoroughly enjoyed the first, and planned to take the people who had been so generous to us to the other on our last night. Now tonight is our last night, so I set about inviting people and booking a table. I got onto Facebook to confess my mistake and invite people for dinner and sent an email to the restaurant, but was a little uneasy they would accept a booking from an email address ending in au. Not to worry, San Domenico replied and at least the venue was sorted. Facebook messages came in and we were all on track for dinner.

We took a walk around the waterfront and watched a fisherman tending to nets on his boat. We walked further along and I took a picture of some graffiti on an ancient wall, I had seen it earlier but chose to try and ignore it, but eventually I could not.

We had a coffee and granita and then we went back to the apartment to consider how to pack our bags. Cathy went off looking for a hairdresser for us both while I packed and unpacked three times. I took a video of the apartment that is unfortunately in a format not supported by WordPress. By 7:30pm bags were packed, we were both sporting new hair styles and had Prosecco in hand.

We took a diverted walk to San Domenico so we could enjoy the failing light over the harbour, and got there in time to order water, wine and the First Course as our guests arrived. We had good food, wine, conversations and company. They all then returned to the apartment to have a look around and seemed well impressed.

We had intended to walk the couple of kilometers to the train station in the morning, but Roberto would hear nothing of it, he would return tomorrow to take us to Bari for our train to Rome.

The next morning Roberto arrived in time to get us to Bari and gave us a quick guided tour. It’s a large provincial city with extended waterfront and cruise ship in the bay. Roberto also contacted a friend in Rome who he thought may be able to help us, her name was Daniela. We had farewells over coffee at the station cafeteria, then onto the platform to catch our train for Rome.

Franco, Roberto, Angela and Maria made us more welcome than we could ever have dreamed of. I agreed to do some things on my return to Fremantle and they are now coming together. I only hope I get a chance to repay the hospitality I received in Molfetta. I will remember it forever.

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A Sunday Drive In Speyside

Sunday

Many distilleries do not open on Sunday’s but we did have two on the day’s itinerary, and some interesting ancient sites. I was early for breakfast (a first for me) which did not start until 9:30am on a Sunday, so filled the time with a coffee and beginning the long task of downloading emails, and trying to get an idea of what was happening on Council during my absence. When the kitchen opened we had breakfast ‘the lot’, with extra toast and marmalade!
Today was my first turn to drive, something I was looking forward to. The car was a BMW 540i, with an M pack suspension upgrade. The 4.4 litre V8 had torque a plenty and when new boasted 210kw of power. The first impressions were that the car was quite heavy on the steering, brought about no doubt by the very wide tyres, tight suspension and heavy motor. It was however a comfy well behaved car. Most of the time we were touring, with 4 passengers, hard driving made for an uncomfortable ride in the back, so hard acceleration, braking and cornering tended to be avoided. However when circumstanced required it had stunning acceleration for overtaking, the steering lightened and the car really came together and loved the undulating windy roads of Speyside.
Entering Glenlivet was a confusing issue due to the distillery being a large construction site. They are building a new distillery and visitor centre substantially underground. I have to say the existing visitor centre is excellent for the task, and we passed more bonded warehouses than at any other distillery.

They were on of the many distilleries we visited that did not allow photography during the tour, a tour with more participants than any other. We were lucky enough to be the only people on many tours we took and that allowed the guide to miss out the basic stuff and focus on what they felt was their unique point of difference. As driver I limited my tasting, but can still say the 3 drams we tried were all driven by fruit flavours. The no age statement Founders Reserve and 12YO which were both appreciated by the group, however the tour guide seemed less than enthusiastic about the 15YO and pushed the group for their opinion. Unlike most I stuck to support the 15YO as the spicy character appealed to me more than the heavy fruit of the other two.

Glenlivet made much of their marketing coup at the end of Prohibition in USA. At the time Glenlivet was the only Malt available in miniatures, which Captain Bill Smith Grant sold to the Pulman Company who ran luxury train travel across the USA. Quickly Glenlivet became synonymous with whisky for well to do Americans. Glenlivet was, and still is the malt of choice in Middle America, borne out by sales figures, more Glenlivet is sold in America than any where else.
A little down the road is an old Packhorse bridge that’s a popular picnic spot and used on some of Glenlivet’s marketing material. There are in fact two spans with quite steep curves, across the Livet River.


Drumin Castle took some finding as the original access is now in private hands with signage that leaves one in no doubt about their lack of enthusiasm for people using it. The ‘official’ access is now from the valley floor. Drumin Castle is strategically located high above the junction of the Livet and Avon rivers; it estimated it was built in the 1370’s. It was hard to get the feel of presence due to the amount of privatised land, and the level of deterioration took away from the castle’s majesty, but clearly in its day it was a fine castle in a stunning location.


On our way to Glen Grant we dropped into Inveravon Church to inspect some Pictish standing stones displayed in the church verandah. These carved stones date back to before Roman times. This is an area possessing several stands of stones, most carved with similar runes. These are the same people who halted the Romans move north choosing the alternative of building Hadrian’s Wall.


Glen Grant is a very scenic distillery. The lady who took the four of us around was very well informed and tailored the tour to suit our knowledge level of whisky making. As can be seen in the picture, 8 large stills makes Glen Grant a very large operation.  We then went to the tasting room and tried The Major’s Reserve and the 10YO, both aged 100% in bourbon casks. The 10YO was a fine approachable whisky with slight nuttiness, apples and vanilla. The Major’s Reserve had been married to give a broad mouth feel.

Glen Grant has extensive well maintained gardens; they employ 5 gardeners, more than the entire workforce of smaller distilleries. A path up along the stream was a favorite walk for the James The Major Grant. A distance along the path is a secure cave with a locked gate, containing The Major’s private cask of whisky for his personal consumption, known as the Major’s Reserve.
The overcast weather was clearing so we took an evening stroll to the Fiddichside Inn for a pre dinner beer. It had been under the same landlord for many years and he was now well mature. There was a sign that informed visitors that; ‘The quality of service will depend on your attitude and my mood!’


I think the hospitality offered by the Highlander Inn was not up to our experience four years ago and I was getting weary of ‘chips with everything’. Our nightcap was a dram of Tomatin 12YO, a smooth dram finished in Sherry casks, exhibiting the years in American oak overlaid with the fruity Sherry character.

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Day Two In Molfetta

Tuesday

The weather in Molfetta was beautifully mild, in the mid to high 20’s during the day and a little cool at night. We had coffee and then took the short walk from our apartment to the square where Roberto was already waiting to take us back to the Molfetta Cathedral. He commented how the short section of coast between the two cities was looking run down and how he wanted to see some resort hotels there to lift the local economy and capitalise on the beautiful deep blue Adriatic Sea. 
We entered the Cathedral and went to a small side chapel that was already quite full. We moved to the front to seats that had obviously being left for us. As Bishop S.E. Mons Domenico Cornacchia arrived he greeted us with ‘welcome to you, the Australians’. A lady behind said, ‘we are also from Australia!’ The Bishop was a charismatic man and with the help of the Priest began the service. By this point it must have been obvious I do not know my way around a Catholic Church or service, but everyone was very gracious. At the end of the service the Bishop left, and we had a chat with the Australian’s behind us, they had come from Adelaide. Roberto came and asked if we wished to take coffee with the Bishop, which we did after a ride in a lift and access through security doors. We had short black coffees, almond biscuits and a polite chat. We were then shown some of the relics and statues in that same section of the Church. We then fare-welled the Bishop and went to inspect the street signs for via Freemantle and via Molfetta d’Australia. They were in a new residential area that seemed a little bleak. We were later sent a clipping from the local newspaper outlining our meeting with the Bishop.

As arranged the previous evening Roberto took us to Molfetta Institute (High School) where we were reacquainted with English teacher Anna Amarto and introduced to the Director, Prof Maria Rosaria Pugliese, along with other staff and students. One of the students made us coffee and we chatted about sustainability and the possibility of student exchange between Molfetta and Fremantle.   Something I will follow up on once back in Fremantle.  Maria then said the school was putting on a small performance and would we like to stay. It was a stunning performance of modern dance, accompanied by students singing or playing instruments.  Once the performance was over I was asked to address the class.

School

Then more pics!  We were so pleased we decided to stay and attend. There were more photographs and Roberto told us we were late for our next appointment.
That was at the Diocese Museum of Molfetta. In the courtyard was an impressive bronze sculpture by Giulio Cozzoli.

DSCN1217The people welcomed us in and we quickly saw this was a very well appointed Museum with some very important exhibits, all expertly curated over several floors. Of particular beauty is the library housing many old manuscripts.  In a nearby room students were using the books as a reference.

DSCN1220

Roberto advised us he had work as a DJ at night and really needed to get back to organise his equipment and get a siesta; and it would be a late night so he would see us later the next day. However as we drove towards Giovinazzo he pulled into La Playa Del Sol Restaurant where he had booked lunch for a friend and us. She was trying to get a visa to the USA and took the opportunity to practice her English with us. Our table was right on the water’s edge as we ate seafood course after seafood course. When we thought the meal was coming to an end the waiter brought each of us a half lobster on spaghetti. We were also given a graphic pinafore to protect our cloths. What a stunning meal, with stunning company.


Once back in Gioviazzo we took the opportunity to do some shopping and catch up on social media and have a nap.
At night we fancied a light meal, thinking we might get a pizza, but decided instead to get a meal at a restaurant at the waterfront called Romanazzis. The crisp table linen, good service, fine food and fine wine made it the perfect end to a great day.

 

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Back to Speyside

Saturday

I woke to a grey morning in the grey city. We packed the car and headed north east towards the night’s destination of Craigellachie. Our route took us close to the village of Strachan, but not through it, so I had a quick photo stop at a nearby street sign then on for coffee and bacon sandwiches at the Tease coffee bar, Banchory.

Once fortified, we visited the well-preserved tower house Castle of Craigievar. As you come around the corner on the footpath from the carpark you can be mistaken for believing you stepped into a fairytale, it’s just that cute. The NT of Scotland say: “Begun in the Scottish Baronial style around 1576 and completed by c1626, this iconic tower house is amongst the best preserved and the most loved in Scotland. Craigievar was a family home until the 1960s, creating a quirky blend of modern comforts and rare antiquities within the ancient walls.”  Visitors climb the castle on spiral stairs leading up from the drawing room. Once at the uppermost bedroom we descended via the staff staircase returning to the drawing room through a door that had appeared to be a cupboard when we were first there. The Castle is full of fine artworks and furniture. A great start to the cultural side of our trip.

Next stop was the Grampian Transport Museum, passing the Police Box (or was it a TARDIS?) on the path to the front door. The museum was set up by a motorcycle champion and had an excellent collection of motorcycles. There are two storeys of vehicles of all age and types, from an 1897 steam tricycle to Pinkie & Perky, two 1960’s Hillman Imp police cars, complete with lifebelts for their work at Lock Lomand-side.

The first distillery of the trip was The Macallan, so there was a bit of pressure on them to start our trip on a high note. The presentation of the Distillery was very high quality, they based the tour on what they called 6 Pillars of quality. Yes, questions were asked to check if we were paying attention. Their main point of difference is undoubtedly their small stills with long necks. They claim the increased copper contact helps: ‘to concentrate the ‘new make’ spirit and provide the rich, fruity, full-bodied flavours characteristic of The Macallan.’ We tasted the new make spirit, the 12YO and 15YO. The 12YO was matured in American Oak that had been seasoned with sherry in Spain, before being used for the whisky, whilst the 15YO was matured in a more conventional way using European and American oak for the major aging and then finished in old Sherry Butts. They were fine examples and did exhibit a fruity full-bodied flavor as promised by the small stills. All-in-all a good start to the whisky trip, and the hope of more to come.

Our 2011 Whisky Trip ended in The Highlander Inn, this time we are starting there. After dinner we had a dram of Glen Dronach 12 YO as a nightcap. We were back in familiar territory for the next three nights, but with all new distilleries to visit.

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