Monday, October 14, 2019

MENU's UK Adventure 6, From Speyside to the west coast. Mallaig and Skye

No one deserves to get ill while on holiday; sadly we find that we invariably pick up something on the plane and the flu that John caught early on made us both rather ill. So ill that we both spent a Sunday in bed while at the Inn at Rothes, such a waste
Dinner downstairs that night when we emerged was a simple pea and barley noodle soup, all Lynne could manage
John was on the mend, although his cough still lingers, and he managed this respectable beef and ale pie
with chips, broad beans, sweet corn and cabbage
We both agreed that Stout would be a very good supplement, as it contains magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, and is chock full of B vitamins, and we can thoroughly recommend the Spey Stout, an excellent rich, dark Scottish beer
We were feeling a little better the next day and headed to the famous Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie, which we had on our list of things to see. The craft of cooperage goes back more than 5 000 years. Should you visit the area, it is really worth going there. Each year they make and repair over 100 000 casks – barrels, hogsheads, butts and puncheons

The work is very, very skilled and the coopers spend their days shaping, shaving and charring casks. These coopers are currently not making new barrels, but enlarging and reconditioning some of the older sherry barrels. The whisky industry prefers to use barrels which have been used previously in the wine and sherry industries; they add complexity to the ageing whisky which spends at least three years and often longer in them

The barrels have to be examined and repaired. To watch the coopers is absolutely fascinating. They work in complete silence (except for the hammering!), and complete concentration, they do not even talk to each other, as they get paid piece work. There are machines that could help, but they prefer not to use them. You can see one on the left sealing his barrel with reed. David Mackenzie, whom we saw here, holds the Guinness World record for making a 190 litre barrel in 3.30 minutes. He can remake more than 50 barrels in a day – good money
Each has his own mark and this is the pile of barrels they have completed
Sad to leave beautiful Speyside, we headed off to our next destination, which was Mallaig. We travelled via Inverness, where we stopped at one of our favourite supermarkets, Aldi, to stock up on food, as we would be self catering for the next few days. And then down the side of bonnie Loch Ness via Fort William. It is such beautiful countryside

Cawdor Castle was on our way, but we only caught a glimpse as the entry fee of £12.50 (R230) each was a bit too rich for us and we couldn’t spend long enough there to justify the cost. If you know the Scottish play, Shakespeare's MacBeth, you will know about this ancient castle. It is still occupied by the Cawdor family

Loch Ness is very long and narrow and there are many tourist boats plying the loch
Not a single sight of the monster could be seen

John found a patch of ripe brambles and picked some to add to our breakfast fruit

The countryside is astoundingly beautiful, so green with ancient forests and steep slopes
covered in pine trees which give an income to the landowner. The Earl of Argyle seems to have many pine plantations

Mallaig is the old ferry port where, in years past, you took the ferry if you wanted to visit. There is now a bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh, much further up the coast. We had wanted to stay on Skye, but could not find affordable accommodation at this time of the year and Mallaig sounded lovely. We found this Fisherman's cottage on AirBnB and it was a gem

It has been completely renovated to a very high standard inside with two double bedrooms, and is fitted out with everything you could need. There is a washing machine and dishwasher in the kitchen, central heating for those chilly Scottish nights and lots of indoor and outside space to relax in
Zoe and Matthew were our lovely hosts. They are both at Glasgow University and run this as a business
What is very special is that the house was Matthew’s Grandfather’s and he was a fisherman

From the front windows, you can see the ferries coming and going between the isles
One day we saw this traditional lugger in full sail in the distance across the bay
The town of Mallaig is a short walk or drive from the cottage; you can see it on the hill behind the lamp post on the right
We headed there for a walk and to get supper on the first night as we had been travelling all day
Our hosts had recommended The Cabin
We didn’t feel like sitting in a restaurant and they have a take away door around the side
Magnificent fresh Cod and chips for about £8.50 each
The evening view from our cottage, looking across the Skye and the other islands with Mallaig town and harbour on the left
The next day, we headed off to the Ferry terminal to take the boat crossing to Skye. It is very good value; cost for the car and us, return, was £30. Driving north to the bridge would have been a very long 6 hour roundabout trip and the fuel cost would have been more than the return fare. The crossing took less than an hour

This ferry, which left at 10 am, is large and modern, but be aware that they are not all large

Heading out, following a fishing boat into what looked like a typical rainy day
Off to make sure there will be fish and chips this evening. It stayed dry most of the day....
but we did have a few downpours
The rivers on Skye were in compete spate, with white water tumbling over the rocks to fill the lochs below

It is so beautiful, with the hillsides covered in heather

High mountains and lovely houses, many of them offer accommodation for tourists
This is the self-catering Sligachan Lodge
River Sligachan with its ancient three arched bridge
In the background, the mountains are nearly as high some of ours in the Cape
We headed to the Talisker Distillery in Carbost, about half way up Skye on the Western side
Talisker was, until recently, the only distillery on Skye and they still claim that they are;
the two newcomers, Torabhaig and Isle of Skye Distillers, are ignored by the old firm which is owned by Diageo

A tasting glass for the very thirsty, holds about 2 litres. Inside the tasting room, John could not taste the whisky, but bought a dram (£7) to put into his small bottle, which he enjoyed when we returned to our cottage. It is far too peaty a whisky for Lynne, so she just had a nose and a tiny sip of this classic. Prices start at £65 per bottle and rise quite rapidly
Some of the bays are an attraction for yachtsmen and women
We did have one amusing occurrence on Skye, but it didn't start out amusing. Lynne was still quite ill with bronchitis and flu and at one point found her asthma puffers were not working at all and she was struggling to breathe. “We need a chemist”, she told John and we found one in Broadford, a small village. To get there John had to turn up a side road and Lynne noticed that we passed first a crematorium, then a hospice, then an old age home and finally a medical practice. Wow, do they have things well organised!
We went into the medical practice and saw a doctor who examined Lynne and prescribed some cortisone
that really helped to get Lynne better quickly. The sun came out and, suddenly, a flock of sea birds was flying in thermals

There is an attraction on Skye called the Fairy Pools and, as we were quite near, we decided to go and see them
We parked in this magical forest to have some lunch which we had pre-packed

Moss on the trees shows how wet the climate is on the islands
And the ground is so damp and the soil so shallow that trees fall over and some of them continue to grow
Shaggy sheep
The Fairy Pools are on a river which flows down from the high mountains. Sadly you need to take a very long walk to get to them and, without waders or Wellington boots, it is not possible as you have to wade across some streams
Lush green hills and valleys with winding rivers and burns
Kinloch Bay is on the way back to Armadale, the Ferry port on Skye
You can look across at the mainland and we were told that on a good day you can see Ben Nevis,
the highest mountain in the British isles, 1 345 metres above sea level
We did see it later on our way to Oban via Fort William

The dark areas are all purple heather, you can see it quite distinctly on this headland
This looks like a lovely place to spend a holiday on Skye
More brambles; we picked some to go with the breakfast muesli
A new addition to Skye's distilleries. Torabhaig's stills were commissioned in 2016
We arrived just too late for a visit to the distillery, but met the manager who told us that the product is heavily peated
These sheep were hilarious. Fat and almost all dark brown,
they have white tails and they don't seem to be in control of them at all
We laughed so much at them as they spin around on the back of the sheep like whirligigs
Àird a' Bhàsair pub, where we stopped for a pint and a snack before we it was time to get the ferry back
Very friendly staff and some good local beer. We insist on only drinking local where possible

John had a pint of the Caledonia Best Bitter
It had a good head and was excellent; good texture and flavour
The menu is on the wall and the prices were reasonable
It was early, so we had to wait until 5 before they could serve us
Licensing laws in Scotland are different from those in the rest of Britain
John had the House Terrine served with a fruit chutney and oat cakes
Lynne had a very generous Prawn cocktail which was superb
Large pink prawns in a good dressing with some apple and lettuce below and served with fresh bread
She had some comforting tea which helped with her fever
At Armadale, the ferry port, watching our ferry coming in
Rush hour traffic. They don’t tie the cars down and they are packed very well
We sat up on deck for the 45 minute trip back to Mallaig and watched a few rainbows coming and going as we travelled across. There is an indoor passenger cabin below, but it is small and the views are so fantastic that we wanted to just soak them in, despite the chilly wind and a few drops of rain
And a lovely sunset behind us that evening as we sailed across
The cliffside houses of Mallaig. Our cottage is in the lowest row
The sand-coloured left half of the two-toned semi
The Fisherman and Child sculpture by Mark Rogers at the entrance to Mallaig harbour
Busy Mallaig harbour. You can catch ferries to several islands from here. We loved our stay and wished it had been longer
All content ©  John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus

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