Castles, Shortbread, Local Hero & Whisky


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’.

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.