The day had started well enough, as I find that the other residents of the B&B I’m staying at for the last day of my trip are a young Canadian couple Catherine and David (? – I really must start writing names down, or find a better way to remember them), who are touring Scotland’s distilleries. She’s got a good deal – she’s too young to be a driver for a hire car, so he has to be designated driver! Makes for a more interesting breakfast conversation than many – they’ve missed the Festival, but I’m able to supply plenty of information, though not the time Glenfiddich opens, as I can’t get a signal in the breakfast room. Catherine is also on a mission to get an expensive bottle of single malt for her father (on his money) – so I point them firmly in the direction of Mike and The Whisky Shop Dufftown, after suggesting my current favourite in that price range – Talisker 35.
Early breakfast – have to be in Aberlour for 9.30 to get the bus to Knockando for a Manager’s Choice tasting. Head up the hill again – I think it is quicker than the Speyside Way, particularly in this direction. As it’s Aberlour, go for the Bluehill Quarry turn off, and then decide to be innovative – looks like there’s a way through upper Aberlour from the Caravan Park turn off.
There is though it takes me uphill again, and I think it links to the public path from Dufftown. I have plenty of time – had thought of cycling all the way, but I said I’d be on the bus. Eventually find the right bus – there are only three others who get on, one looks like Ronnie Routledge from Glenglassaugh, and indeed is – he says he’s got a day off so he’s seeing things from a different angle!
We wait in case anyone else turns up, but the driver eventually concludes that they must be making their own way there. The driver is a local, but with a very strong accent – really hard work to understand. We head out through Craigellachie and past Macallan, by which time I’ve been checking which tastings I have tickets for this afternoon, and I discover I haven’t a ticket for the Diageo tasting, and find a spot with a signal to book it.
We get to Knockando, and I have a Google Streets moment – I recognise the distillery but am not sure whether I’ve been there before or just virtually courtesy of Google Streets photography – it’s very disconcerting.
We’re greeted with coffee and biscuits, but I need a cold drink – fortunately they have orange juice – must have been something I drunk the night before. We set off around the distillery – photography allowed except flash use in the still house. Knockando has an ancient malt screen and weigher. The mash tun also turns out to be in the still house – fortunately it’s very bright so no flash required. May of the rest on the tour are Canadians who are very impressed to see the Maple Leaf flag flying at the distillery – unlike some previous days explanations of distillery operations outside are perfectly acceptable in today’s weather.
Tasting in Whisky Shop, Dufftown with Peter Mackay from Carn Mor, who has apparently been dubbed the New Mark Watt after a party last night; and Mike Lord exhibiting his own WSD (Whisky Shop Dufftown) bottlings, including the 1971 Glenlivet Family Cask special bottling, and the 41yo Glenrothes, finished in an octave - for me the stand out of these whiskies.
Whisky Fair starts at 12noon today, so it's a short walk down the road - no bike today everything's close enough for walking.
I have my hip flask with me today - I've not cracked open last night's winnings, but felt I could at least share some of the 59.43 Caramel Swirl Ice Cream the SMWS 30th Anniversary 29yo Teaninich - it seems to meet with approval. A detailed tour of all the stalls is called for today, with a quick diversion to St James' Hall for the Independent Bottlers' Challenge tasting.
My successful Dutch team-mates have arrived in the hall by the time I'm back after the tasting - and they too enjoy the 59.43. Bill and Mary from Newcastle are at the Fair - it's good to see Mary about again, as she's not been too well, but she's in good form today and ends up helping out on the Adelphi stall when Antonia's taking a break or doing a tasting.
I didn't let this rainy Friday get me down - not that it started well. Looking out the door of the hotel at 8am it didn't appear promising - Ben Aigan barley visible through the rain and mist. By 9am, it was a little better, Ben Aigan was in sight, and the rain had just about stopped. So I decided not to become Whisky Bus Passenger for the day and head for Elgin by bike.
In case it started raining again, I'd decided to go via the Speyside Way (tree cover) and the Telford Bridge. It didn't rain and the Speyside Way was fine as far as Craigellachie - shoulda hit the road then, instead I got very muddy - clearly drainage not good on this bit.
Made good time through Rothes to Speyburn - I'd never gone this way before, I guess I'd assumed it was just a road to the distillery. I now think it must have been the original road, but a search for old maps still shows what is now the A941 as the main road in 1856, so either I've got that wrong or not been able to go back far enough.
Whatever, it's a nicer road to ride than the A941 - as far as it goes, which is not all that far along Rothes Glen. Even allowing for a stop for some pics of Speyburn, I'd underestimated the length of the section to Coleburn and it was soon clear that I wouldn't make it to Elgin in 90 minutes - good job I'd allowed 2 hours. Cresting the hill past Coleburn it's clear that the Moray Firth is sunny - and a lighthouse gleams in the distance. A quick look at the map shows thay my initial thought of Chanonry Point is entirely the wrong direction, but surely Tarbat Ness (near Portmahomack) is too far? The sun actually shines on me, briefly, near BenRiach, but I'm soon in not so sunny Elgin and heading for the first tasting of the day and Gordon and MacPhail.
Although there were a couple of events on Wednesday, the festival got going properly today. I took the opportunity to visit Strathmill Distillery which is not normally open to the public - by train. So not too much cycling today - in fact it's almost a freewheel all the way down to Dufftown Station.
The Keith & Dufftown Railway were running today and trips to Strathisla and Strathmill were being offered. The guard informed passengers that they sometimes have encounters with deer on the tracks, or even cows, but none were to be seen today - though there was a sheep grazing line-side on the wrong side of the fence on the return journey.
Complimentary whisky was handed out (Strathisla on the outward journey, Glenfiddich on the way back) with whisky cake or shortbread, as the train made its slow progress towards Keith. apparently preserved railways have a speed limit of 25mph, though the train seldom got above 20 according to my Sat Nav.