Whiskey before breakfast? Not quite. But our day did start with a tour of the Benromach Distillery in Forres. This is the smallest distillery on the Malt Whiskey trail. Benromach produces single malt whiskeys. That means it is produced from a single grain, barley in the case of Benromach, and comes from one distillery. Blended whiskey is a blend of single malts from many different distilleries and a number of different grains.
The tour lead us through the entire process from the fermentation of the grain, to the storehouse where the magic happens in the aging process. Whiskey is stored in 3 different sizes of containers during the aging process, barrels, hogsheads and butts. They age the whisky in both American oak barrels that previously held bourbon and also in French sherry barrels. Benromach single malt has a very slight peaty taste and it quite light in colour. Nothing like a dram of whisky to clear the sinuses at 11 a.m. in the morning! www.benromach.com
This was our longest travel day so far of the trip and the weather again cooperated giving us splendid views and the intermittent rain showers brought with them rainbow after rainbow. We started in Insch in the shadow of Bennachie, the tallest hill in Aberdeenshire, drove through the Speyside region to Inverness. From there the A9 winds north along the North Sea. Numerous oil rigs are visible off shore. A short stop at the Duke of Sutherland’s Dunrobin Castle allowed us to walk around the beautiful gardens that butt up to the sea. The early spring blooms gave evidence to a grand floral show once full summer hits.
Our final destination on the mainland was the Pentland Ferry at Gills Bay. www.pentlandferries.co.uk
Just a short hop from John O Groats, this is the shortest ferry crossing to Orkney at this time of year. Prepared with motion sickness drugs, patches, shock watches, and pressure point bracelets, the travelers boarded the ferry for the 1 hour 15 minute crossing which proved not so rough. Half the group found the best way to sail to St. Margaret’s Hope is with the wind in your face on the open deck bundled in all the clothes I suggested they bring but to this day hadn’t needed!
St. Margaret’s Hope is on the island of South Ronaldsay. A quiet, sleepy little town, it is a great place to spend the first night on Orkney. Many visitors to Scotland don’t travel to Orkney, and even many mainlanders have never been here. I discovered the barren, enchanting pull of these islands on my first trip to Scotland. Orkney and the Shetland Islands lie between mainland Scotland and Norway. The islands once belonged to Denmark, and the Nordic influence in the place names (St. Ola, Stenness, Brodgar) is especially strong. Orcadians pride themselves in their heritage and not being mainlanders. Of 65 islands in Orkney, 17 are inhabited with a total of 20,000 residents. However, more and more folks are discovering this magical place. This summer 61 cruise ships will dock in Kirkwall. One more reason I like to to tour off-peak.