Bishops Visit – They don’t Just Distill Whisky

Travelling back to the Stage coach Inn, we notice a sign to Fyne Ales Brewery. The rain is slowing.  A left turn onto a farm road, and we pass slopes with grazing Highland Cattle and then Black Angus then some large farm sheds then a large”Titan”, some barrels and finally the visitors centre for Fyne Ales Brewery. Its exterior is deceiving. Inside is a warm bar and show room of all their ales and beers and they serve some interesting food made on site. Lunch, a warm lounge room and a pint of ale – what more could a soul want?


The Tallest Tree in Britain

Whilst the temptation was to stay at Fyne Ales, we finally moved on. The rain clouds were breaking up and the rain had ceased but the wind had lifted and the temperature had dropped. Still there was the gardens at Ardkinglas and Britain’s tallest tree to visit.

Our hotel is on a side road and we find that it is on the road to Ardkinglas estate the seat of the Laird of Clan Campbell. We learn this by visiting a small kirk on the way to the gardens. The church is in the Scottish church style of a circular nave and a steeple at the entrance. We stepped inside to be greeted by Mr Callander – a member of the Campbell/Erskine/Callander clan. He is decorating a small Christmas tree and stops to chat with us about the clan and the church. On the wall is a plaque giving some of the clan history and then there is the gravestones in the church yard. The church has been recently renovated and they have an Australian benefactor who has donated money over the years to maintain the church.


We left Mr Callander to finish the tree and went to find our own tree – Britain’s tallest tree.

Within 100 metres of the church we enter the Arkinglas estate and are greeted or should I say not greeted by an empty reception box. There is an antibacterial wash for your shoes and literature for the taking but no sign of our quarry. The wind is now cold and chilling, the gardens are dark as the sun struggles weakly to warm the world, and we feel more like a hot chocolate and a fireside seat to tramping through a colourless forest looking for the tallest tree. So we call it quits for the day and 200 metres back down the road pull into the hotel.

Although it is only 4.00pm it is now dark the rain has returned and soon it will be pitch black. The days can be very short. In the lounge the Inn Keeper has started the fire and the room is aglow with its warmth. The girls settle in with their knitting and a Khalua whilst I have a wee dram of Glengoyne single malt and pull out the IPad for some more blogging. Before settling in a browse the various paintings and bric a brac on the walls. Lo and behold, Queen Victoria has visited Cairnow and saw the Campbell children playing, John Keats got lost somewhere near here and Dorothy Wordsworth visited twice. Who cares! It is beautifully isolated and that is its charm.


We leave for Islay tomorrow. This will be an early start so we arrange a picnic basket and settle our bill for a running start tomorrow.

Bishops Visit – Cairnow, Inveraray and the Stagecoach Inn

We left Oban at 4.30pm to travel to Cairnow on Loch Fynes but the weather had turned against us and the sun was now hidden behind a bruised sky. Our next hotel was over 90 minutes away and the conditions for driving got worse the more we travelled. The west coast is deeply indented with fjord type waterways called Firths and sometimes called Lochs (I don’t know why, it is too technical I am told). So I went to Wikipedia to find out and it says:

“Firth is a Lowland Scots word for a large sea bay or sometimes a strait whereas a Loch is an Irish and Scottish gaelic word for a lake or sea inlet.”

To get to Cairnow we had to travel around Loch Fyne so we encountered rain mist and dense darkness with very few villages to give the driver a break from the darkness. However our arrival at the Stagecoach Inn was a pleasant surprise. Like our hotel at Wall this is an old style hotel full of character and charm.

The hotel started life as a stage coach inn in the 18th century and still looks as though a stage is due any minute. Inside it has a low beamed ceiling, fireplaces aglow, and a bar which when filled holds about 9 or 10 people. Warm and romantic!

Our room was in the hotel itself and was very comfortable (once the bar had closed and the noise of the tap pumps had ceased). The bishops had one of the modern Loch view rooms with a balcony overlooking the Loch. After dining in front of the fire we retired and forgot the tense drive to the Loch.

The next morning our plans had been to return to Oban for the day but the trip the previous night showed this would not be sensible. However on the way to Cairnow we had passed through Inverrary and it had seemed a beacon in the darkness. So after a full breakfast, we decided to see what we could see in Inverrary.


A short drive along the edge of Loch Fyne and we arrived at Inverrary. The signboards of the Scottish Tourist Authority announced that we could visit the jail and the ship museum. The sun had decided to join us so the day held a lot of promise. Parking the car we noticed all the parking ticket machines to be covered and signed “Free parking November to March”. the day was getting better.

Inverrary has grown up based on fishing upon the marine Loch Fyne but today it is sustained by tourism. It is uniformly white wash with black trim so it looks very attractive. In the centre of town is a roundabout on which sits a large square building. Whilst it looked like a council building it in fact is the local parish church for the Church of Scotland. We were to learn that the Church of Scotland had different ideas around thee layout of its churches.


From the roundabout we spotted the jail (interestingly not spelt correctly as goal). On entering the jail you are greeted by two guards men – silent types. Then you go up stars  and one of the locals is coming down the other way with his dog. He has been to court (the jail houses the court as well) to listen to the proceedings involving an arson of farm buildings by its owner. We pat the dog and pass on into the building where we have an encounter with a barrister waiting outside the court with a pleading client. Pathetic!


As we wind our way around to the courtroom there are storyboards on punishments meted out by the courts over the centuries. It a good thing that punishment has become more humane or so we think.


We enter the court room, the prisoner seated between two policemen looks nervous, the witness in the box testifying, the jury not looking persuaded, the crowd of on lookers, the bar table and the bench – all very realistic.  Then the verdict – guilty! The sentence – 20 years in Inverrary jail. Whew all very tense – lets move on.


Outside in the yard we find the exercise cells and two vagrants trying to sweet talk the warder. He knows their type and they are there for thirty days; there is no escape.


Beside the exercise cells is the cells prior to the Prison Reform Act of 1839. Overcrowded, no sanitation, no light, poor food, all types – women, children, murders, the insane, all in together. One of the cells is home to the Warder  – his conditions were hardly any better than the prisoners.


On the next floor is the reformed prison showing the changes brought about after the Act. “Unfortunately” says the Warder, “Scotland got it wrong – 2/3rds of prisoners reoffended to get back into the prison”

We stroll around to the newer block showing the changes later in the 19th century to bring things into balance. There is also a horse drawn Black Maria and the story of how it got its name – it appears there was a boarding house in the American colonies that was run by a negro woman called Maria and she was not prepared to cop any antics by her guests so she readily called the constabulary to come in the black paddy wagon and accost the trouble maker. The visits become so regular that the wagon was called the Black Maria.


This was one of the best presentations of a gruesome subject – informative, sometimes humorous but always clear on how it touched the lives of people in the community.

II could not wait to see the ships museum. I was anticipating the same standard of presentation but not to be. There are two ships tied up against the wharf. The entrance is fenced off and litter abounds; there is a clear sense of decay and abandonment. Its closed and derelict. We had to visit the Apocothary and they informed us that the museum had closed years ago. Sad that no one has thought to change the signage around town.


Rain starts to fall. We decide to talk a walk through the town back to the car while the Bishops go directly to the car. We meet about the same time with the rain now tumbling down quite heavily. We decide that the warm fire back at the hotel is the place to be.

Bishops Visit – Oban Distillery and Oban

Our trip from Inverness ended in Oban on the west side of Scotland (once again travelling from East to West). Oban is famous for the whisky of the same name. I had signed Doug and I up for a tour of the distillery. The girls were going to see the sights of Oban.

It seems an obvious question which came first the town or the distillery. Here I have to rely on Wikipedia which says:

“The site where Oban now stands has been used by humans since at least Mesolithic times, as evidenced by archaeological remains of cave dwellers found in the town.” But then it reports that the distillery was built in 1794 and the modern town formed around it.

Oban distillery is owned by Diageo. It has only two pot stills, making it one of the smallest in Scotland, producing a whisky that they describe as having a “West Highland” flavour that falls between the dry, smoky style of the Scottish islands and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. On the taste chart it falls almost smack in the middle.

Because it is winter (well almost) very few tourists were present. Our group of 7 was made up of us, a young French couple and three Italians two of whom now live in Glasgow and one of whom worked for the Malting council (so she was there on work – or so she said). The Oban Distillery is primarily known for its 14-year-old malt, which is marketed as part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection” range, and a “Distiller’s Edition” bottling, which is finished in a Montilla Fino sherry cask before bottling. There is also an 18-year-old limited edition and a rare 32-year-old edition.

Once we entered the tour NO PHOTOS ALLOWED. The tour commenced with a video presentation on the malting process (all of which is done off site due to space), then we  went to the mixing vats to observe the result of adding water to the malted and roasted and crushed barley and then brewers yeast. This is refined in the wash back to remove any remaining grain and sediment before passing through the liquor cabinet for the mid cut of the alcohol is taken off to be distilled. Then the brew is taken off site to be pumped into American white oak bourbon barrels where it is matured for 14 years. 99% of the whisky produced is bottled as a single malt with 1% going into sherry casks for a further 6 months to create the Distiller’s Edition.

On the tour we stopped to test the brew age 11 years and 58.2% alcohol by volume. Very nice and we got to keep our tasting glass. Then we passed through to the tasting room where we tried the finished product.

A nice ending to the tour. However our hotel was not as close as we had expected and our trip through the dark foggy late afternoon along narrow highland roads proved trying.