North Coast Slow
Photo: Clynelish Distillery
The finest whisky in the land should never be drunk from the bottle or drowned in cola and knocked back quickly, it should instead be savoured, sipped slowly so as to appreciate its intensity and complexity. You could argue that the roads around the north coast of Scotland are much the same. You could speed round the North Coast 500 in a day if you were so inclined but it would be such a waste when there are so many reasons why you should take your time. One of the most compelling reasons to journey slower is so you can enjoy a dram or two of Scotland’s finest on the way. The area does not get the same amount of attention as Speyside but for aficionados willing to make the effort to go the extra mile there is much to appreciate.
Dornoch makes for a fantastic detour when driving the North Coast 500. It is just off the official route and has a wealth of attractions for the visitor. One of the most anticipated events of the year is the annual Dornoch Whisky Festival which takes place on 28th- 30th October and will feature gala dinners, tasting masterclasses and even an archaeological tour of a ruined 18th century distillery at Ferintosh. Another highlight is the rare opportunity for a tour of the Teaninich Distillery which is not normally open to the public. Farthingworth lies just outside of the town and makes a great base if you are a golfer, beach lover or whisky historian. The highlight of any holiday here would be the view over Loch Fleet with a dram of some local malt.
Migdale Water Mill is situated in perhaps the most central location for exploring the most popular of the far north distilleries. With a short hop you can visit Balblair, Dalmore, and Clynelish all of whom offer tours and tastings throughout the summer. Off the beaten track but well worth seeking out, each of these historical names in whisky offer something unique for the visitor. Connoisseurs can seek out rare and vintage bottlings only available in the distillery shops but for whisky this good it’s often too much of a temptation to wait till you get back from holiday. Instead, savour some in the surroundings of the Highlands, either sitting outside watching the sun set or beside a log fire. It’s whisky in its natural environment.
Glenmorangie is probably one of the most internationally renowned names in whisky and it often comes as a surprise to visitors that it is located so far from the more famous producing regions of Speyside. This iconic whisky owes its unique flavour to the Tarlogie Springs, Glenmorangie's own water source and most prized asset. Heritage tours of the distillery offer the chance to visit the springs as well as the extraordinary Hilton of Cadboll Stone. A hand carved recreation of one of Scotland's most revered Pictish treasures that, with its intricate design, has become the symbol of the brand. After loading up at the incredibly well stocked shop then follow the coast road for a while to get to Portmahomack and the Old Salmon Bothy. Location is key here, remote, and with sea views from the deck. A single malt with the only sound to be heard the waves on the nearby shoreline and the splash of playing dolphinswhat could be better?
Culkein Lodge is another great whisky drinking location on the North Coast 500. It has sea views as well as a wood burning stove to get cosy in front of should you visit in winter. Remote and romantic it would go hand in hand with a bottle of Old Pulteney Navigator. This vintage single malt is distilled in mainland Scotland’s most northerly distillery in Wick and is known as the Maritime Malt due to the long seafaring heritage in the area. It just never tastes the same anywhere else.
Part of the appeal of whisky is its tradition but it would be wrong to assume it is for everyone, fortunately then the north of Scotland also caters for those with more modern tastes. Rock Rose Gin is produced by Dunnet Bay Distillers and is a thoroughly contemporary take on an old recipe. Also one of Scotland’s newest breweries has recently been established at the old fire station at John o’ Groats. Two more great reasons for you to stop a while on the north coast.