If there’s one thing that Scotland does right, it’s whisky.
I’m not a massive fan of the drink – I prefer pretty cocktails with five different fruits in the name and a pink and blue umbrella poking out the top.
So when I was invited to go on a tour of the Isle of Arran Distillery, I was a wee bit sceptical. I was walking at the back of a group of six – four Polish students and a Scottish father-and-son duo – and was already feeling a bit out of place.
But oh how that changed.
The tour guide, a jolly man with a broad smile named Jim, lead us into a small room where we were each presented with a tiny glass of Single Arran Malt Whisky. I had tasted this particular brew before, but in a dark kitchen when my parents had gone to bed and my brother and I were having our first forbidden sip of alcohol. It ended up spewed across the counter – 15-year-old Elle did not expect whisky to be so strong.
And yet in the dimly lit room with stone walls and a makeshift wooden bar, the dram in my hand seemed very, very different. It was sweet in smell, which caused a slight tingle at the back of my nostril when I lifted the glass for a sniff. Jim was telling us that the water used in the drink is from the purest waterfalls on the island – a purity that had caused many island-wide battles over 150 years ago.
He talked us through the whisky, describing to us the tastes that we would experience in just a few short moments. It would be fruity, he said. Slightly peppery when it hits the back of your throat, but the tastes would come together to form the distinct Arran taste. And that is exactly what happened.
Jim’s knowledge of the drink was absolutely astounding – after taking a few tentative sips, I soon found that his explanation opened my taste-buds and allowed me to enjoy the drink even more. And when he added just the right amount of water to the already perfect dram, the taste completely changed into something even more amazing.
Our first tasting session was followed by a tour of the distillery, packed with some brilliant history and impressive machinery that you just couldn’t tear your eyes away from. Another tasting session followed, this time with one of my favourite drinks – Arran Gold. A creamy liqueur that pulls together hints of coffee, caramel and a milky texture that is just perfect for an after dinner drink.
An optional tasting session for less than £20 was offered at the end of the hour-long tour, but I had a ferry to catch in a few hours – I didn’t want to take any chances. Instead, I headed into the gift shop, where the wonderful clerk wouldn’t let you buy a single thing without having a taste to make sure it suited your pallette.
I took a trip upstairs to the seating area, where thankfully the cafe was still open. The sun was beaming in the bay windows, and I took a seat at the far end, tablet in hand ready to do some writing. But I found that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t concentrate on the words in front of me – the view outside was too beautiful to ignore.
So after a beautiful plate of spicy carrot and sweet potato soup (which definitely got rid of my cold, I have to say) and a coronation chicken sandwich, I grabbed my camera and set out to explore the surrounding area.
I was in the north of the island in a beautiful village called Lochranza just 30 minutes and 14 miles away from the ferry terminal by car. The journey itself was breathtaking – riding over spiralling roads and towering hills, only to stop several times to let the resident sheep make their slow way across the tiny strip of gravel. I journeyed in the early morning, and the sun had just decided to poke its head over the mountains, illuminating the snow-capped tops and cascading fields.
But unfortunately, I had yet to see the animal I had wanted to spot since the day began – a stag.
As a village-turned-city girl, my experience of the countryside has been limited. I grew up directly on the shore front before moving into the landlocked county of Lanarkshire, before then moving to an inland village where I travel daily into the big bad city of Glasgow, meaning I rarely get to see any form of wildlife except for the gulls shitting on my neighbour’s car and the tiny indistinct animals at the side of the road.
So when I turned into an unsuspecting field and came across a herd of around 16, I was absolutely speechless.
The older animals were laying down, keeping an eye on their children who were a little more curious. I didn’t want to get too close – those antlers looked like they could hurt. A lot. So I kept my distance, taking my time with each step so as not to disturb the beautiful scene in front of me. My camera was poised in my hands, snapping away until my SD card took a fault and only saved three of my pictures, which was disappointing.
I stayed there for half an hour, maybe longer. Some locals walked past, bidding me a good afternoon and marvelling at the animals that looked so peaceful in such an open plain. When my knees began to tire from my crouched position, I decided to venture further north, and see where the spindly road took me.
Not 15 minutes later, the greenery I had been admiring was replaced with a calm bay, with twinkling blues and a few rickety boats perched on the rocks. In the distance was a castle – Lochranza castle, to be exact, which dates back to the 1300s. It’s ruined now but is still an absolute beauty.
So that’s it. An amazing day out visiting the Isle of Arran Distillery in Lochranza – fabulous whisky, amazing staff, and a meal with the most fantastic view. I would definitely recommend heading along – although affordable, you don’t need to splash the cash to enjoy the day.