The Last Day
Yes today is the final day of the 2017 Whisky Tour.
We headed south to the southern end of South Ronaldsay, just about as far south as one could get in Orkney. The Neolithic clans of this area identified themselves with animals and birds. We were off to see the Tomb of the Eagles. This chamber cairn-burial mound was discovered in the 1950’s and has artifacts dating back 5 thousand years. Along with human bones were those of white tailed sea eagles. It is clear the sea eagle was this tribe’s totem, it is also speculated they may have used the eagles for ‘air burials’. There is a small visitor centre, with an array of artifacts and ticket sales. We moved on pretty quickly as the sky was closing in.
The mound is close to the impressive cliffs and ocean, an area of strong natural beauty. Access to the tomb is, like Maeshowe, is via a low tunnel, in this case access is made easier by a low trolley on a piece of rope, which visitors lie on and pull themselves along.
We had lunch at a modern café called Skerries Bistro adjacent to the Tomb of the Otters. One felt you were at the end of the earth, but the fare was very cosmopolitan. Of course we had Cullen Skink, what else on one’s last day? After lunch we headed back towards Kirkwall and stopped off at the Italian Chapel.This chapel was established in a Nissen hut, the interior was all hand painted by Italian Prisoners of war. They were billeted at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, and constructed the causeway between Orkney mainland, Lamb Holm and Glims Holm, this causeway was known as the Churchill Barriers. It would have been a hard cold life for Mediterranean Italians.
We walked to our last distillery, which was located on the outskirts on Kirkwall, and was of course Highland Park. A very fitting end to our trip. Welcome to the north-most distillery not in Scotland welcomed our guide. A reference to Orkney not considering itself as merely Scottish, but also having a strong Viking heritage. Booking the last trip of the day paid off yet again, we were the only people on the tour and got a very personalised narration. Like other distilleries, Highland Park buys in malted barley, but they also run a malting floor heated by local Orcadian peat. This differs from peat used in other distilleries as it is derived from moss and heather as opposed to trees. The result is a more fragrant smoke, added to the 100% sherry cask maturation and the result is a lighter, fruity, spicy dram.
As we tasted through the age profile the character and structure was present at every level. We were given plenty of time and attention in the tasting room and my opinion was that I liked them all! The one bottle of malt I bought duty free on my return home was of course Highland Park.We had a brilliant trip, a great blend of whisky, tourism and history, but all good things must come to an end.