Friday, Saturday, Sunday; 30 September, 1 & 2 October 2005|
I spend a few minutes Friday morning photographing Thomas Telfordís bridge over the Spey near Craigellachie, and then light out for Elgin and the Gordon & MacPhail shop. In former times, Scottish grocers often held whisky in bulk, and many became bottlers and blenders in their own right. The more successful of these usually dropped the grocery business eventually. G&M has maintained their shop, even as they have become the largest independent bottler of Scotch whisky. Their maturation warehouses stand on the edge of Elgin, and the tiny grocery is dominated by the bottled product. Theyíd been in the process of expanding when I visited last year, doubling the floor space, and I have been keen to see the result. It is more than ever the proverbial candy store for us oversized kids. My budget is a little tight this year, so I reluctantly pass over the £120 Port Ellens and such, and settle for an Ardbeg Very Young and a handful of minis, including a 3 x 10cl set of Glenrothes Ď79, Ď89, and Ď92. Okay, two handfuls. Then I am off to Plockton, on the west coast, not far from the bridge to Skye.
When I first started coming to Scotland, I never booked anything in advance, preferring to let whim guide my travels. Four or five years ago, in midtrip, I found myself feeling a bit lost, and I called my good friend Elaine in Dunfermline. ďWhy donít you go to Plockton?Ē she said, and I did. Itís a pretty little town on a picturesque crescent bay, a planned herring port from the 18th century now full of B&Bs and holiday cottages. I knocked on the door of a B&B along the main street, but was turned away. Down at the old stone pier, I eyed a large stone house with a B&B sign out front, and immediately pegged it as too expensive. Up on the back street, I knocked on another door.
ďNo, Iím booked up, Iím sorry,Ē said the lady who answered, ďbut come in, Iíll make a phone call for you.Ē The call bore fruit, and she sent me back down to the house by the pier! And that is how it is that I have spent a few days every year since with Richard and Teresa in Plockton. They are wonderful people, their house is lovely, and the prices, it turned out, are very reasonable. You may take that as an unqualified recommendation.
There are two good hotels with restaurants and bars along the main street, the Plockton Hotel looking over the bay, and the Plockton Inn a little up the hill. There is also an excellent restaurant up at the old train station (the Kyle of Lochalsh line itself is alive and well) called Off The Rails. Somehow, it has always seemed to be closed for a holiday when I visit, but I have a fine meal there tonight. Back in town, I pop into the Inn.
My preference for the Inn or the Hotel varies from year to year, and even from night to night. The Inn has a more pub-like atmosphere, and a good selection of a couple dozen or so maltsĖall basic distillery bottlings, but certainly something for everyone. Tonight, unfortunately, is Quiz Night. Last year, I fell in with some gray-bearded locals on Quiz Night, and we did quite well, but Iím not up for it tonight; so down to the Hotel. Only a handful of malts here, but there is Deuchars IPA in the cask, one of my favorites. The Inn, for some reason, favors London Pride and other southern beers. I have a nice evening chatting with a young English couple who are on their way to Waternish; no doubt I will see them in the Stein Inn Monday night.
I take a total down day on Saturday, letting the car sit. In the afternoon I sit in the B&B's very comfortable sitting room and nibble on cheese and crackers, sip on Glenrothes Ď92, peruse Whisky Magazine #50, and donít watch golf. Dinner is at the Hotel, but later a wedding party spills into the bar. One of the happy couple is Dutch, and there are several very pretty Dutch women. Well, you know Iíve had quite enough of pretty Dutch women. Ha ha! Just kidding. But I donít feel comfortable with the tuxedoed mob, and I retreat to the Inn. There, I fall in with another young English couple, architects named Claire and Murray, and have a grand time playing pool and socializing. I walk a crooked route home.
Sunday I drive to Glenelg, where stand two excellent brochs. Iíve been here before, of course, but I enjoy investigating them anew, and looking for different ways to photograph them. The weather doesnít much cooperate, and indeed it has been fairly miserable on the west coast for some weeks. I do some noodling around in the car before returning to Plockton.
Back at the B&B, I ask Richard and Teresa if I might spend some time online, and they leave me to it while they go out to dinner at Off The Rails. Some time later, the phone rings, and I listen, idly at first, as the answering machine kicks on. The voice on the line is my brotherís, and immediately I know that I must go home to bury my father.