“She’s going to tell us about the angel’s share next.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see the smallest, most subtle wry smile creep across Steph’s face as our guide tells the group about the one to two percent of whisky which evaporates from the cask during each year of maturation – what distillers call the angel’s share.
Talisker is the sixth distillery which we have toured, the others being Royal Lochnagar, Fettercairn, Aberlour, GlenDronach and GlenGarioch. We have also visited and not toured (yet) Glenfiddich, Strathisla and Glen Ord. By this point even Steph – who can’t stand the smell or taste of whisky – knows the ins and outs of the whole whisky making process, at least superficially.
“If she had dropped dead I could have stepped in and finished the tour. She was really good, but I could have done it.”
“That’s a pretty twisted thing to say. Damn I love you!”
It’s a struggle – and I mean a mighty, mighty struggle – but we leave Talisker behind without having purchased a bottle. Steph and I have an informal agreement of sorts, whereby I agree to only buy whisky when we visit a distillery, and then only distillery exclusive editions. Or, like, standard expressions if there is a discount with the tour. Oh, and I can buy stuff from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of course, cause she’s the one who signed me up for that in the first place. Booze of any sort purchased from our local whisky shop is cool. I mean, it’s local, and we both like supporting that kind of thing. I think if Sainsbury’s has stuff marked down around the holidays I can buy it, but I would have to check the T’s and C’s of our agreement.
Anyway, I already have an unopened bottle of the standard 10 year old Talisker at home, and we’re pinching the pennies a bit at the moment.
I can sense a bit of sadness in both of us as we drive across the Skye Bridge and back onto the mainland, but we’ve decided to take our time and make the best of the trip home. In that spirit Steph pulls the Polo over and we walk back across the bridge, properly taking in the view. A group of kayakers I spotted in the far distance as we drove across the bridge have paddled in closer and are fast approaching the shores around Kyleakin Lighthouse. I cross the road and run a ways to get into position for the photo, already knowing what it’s going to look like well before I even bring the camera to my eye. It’s one of those serendipitous moments which many folk would just chalk up to chance or dumb luck – which in part it is of course – but I’m going to give us some credit here for having pulled over in the first place.
Hardly ten minutes drive from the bridge and we’re back at Eilean Donan Castle, only this time we’ve plunked down the £6.50 each to have a look inside. Even knowing that the current structure is a 20th century recreation based on less than accurate survey drawings, the place is still damn impressive. Better still, it’s not overrun by tourons at the moment, allowing us to have a proper look at the nice interpretive displays and explore the island.
Unfortunately, our luck in avoiding hoards of tourons doesn’t hold up. Little more than an hours drive from Eilean Donan and we’ve pulled into the car park at Urquhart Castle, right on the shores of Loch Ness. Unlike on the drive over to Skye, we manage to find a vacant spot for the Polo and pull in. Actually, we find the only vacant spot.
£14.80 poorer and we’re in the Visitor’s Centre, which is the only way to access the ruined castle. Urquhart Castle is run by Historic Scotland, described on their website as “an executive agency of the Scottish Government” which is “charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment and promoting its understanding and enjoyment on behalf of Scottish Ministers.” Apparently Historic Scotland also have an unspoken mission to support the indentured servitude factories of Asia, based on the overwhelming volume of cheap tartan tat available in the shop. But hey, the toilets were nice and clean.
We’ve loitered about in the sun for a half hour or so, reading interpretive signs, looking at the ruins and admiring the views of Loch Ness, but we’re both ready to go. Even outside the sheer volume of ill-mannered people is frustrating. Maybe I have personal space issues, but I think it’s more the case that so many other people have common courtesy – or lack thereof – issues.
“Aw shit, we have to go out through the Visitor’s Centre, don’t we?”
At some point I hit preset #5 on the radio and the signal is strong and clear. It’s Original 106, a local northeast Scotland station based in Aberdeen. We’ve still got 30 or 40 minutes of drive time left but the terrain and scenery are all familiar – we’re home, a thought that is at once comforting and yet bitterly disappointing.
“What ya doing Bobby?”
“I need to get all these pics loaded onto the computer and start writing my blog post, while all this is still fresh in my head.”
It’s been six months now since our travels out west and I’m just now finishing writing about it (too much work, a holiday to the states and a healthy dash of procrastination, in case you are wondering why). And while I have a few notes and my photos as a reference, I don’t need to rely on them. It’s all still in there, in my head, like it just happened yesterday.
Forget about fairies, ghosts and sea monsters; the real magic of western Scotland is that once you’ve been there you’re always there, which – depending on one’s current level of fulfillment in life – can either be a welcome blessing or a dreaded curse.
“Steph, baby, when can we go back?”
“How about next weekend?!”