Day 2 & 3: The boat trip, Old Pulteney, and the rock pools at John O'Groats
Day 2 began with a relatively early morning start, a taxi ride through heavy rain to Edinburgh airport, and a short flight to Wick. Connections and re connections were being made at all points North. At the airport, a reconnection with Jamie Milne (@DramblerJm), a reconnection with some sample drams (e.g. Balblair 04) and new connections were forged - there was a video production team present, tasked with putting together a promo for the Whisky Shop (reference supplied later), it was great to meet Andy Gemmell (@andydrink) & Niall Webster (@MrWebsterFilm). There was also a chance and all too brief meeting with Rachel Barrie (@theladyblender) who was en route to London. An uneventful flight, some interesting whisky related conversation, a reconnection with Steve Prentice (@steveprentice) who was joining us for the day, and a short drive to Old Pulteney distillery.
Before the tour and tasting we were privileged to experience another connection, that between the land, the sea, history and whisky. Having been squeezed, prodded and poked into suitable waterproof gear, we sat, two by two, on a high powered speedboat (a 10m RIB - Rigid Inflatable Boat), and were taken out to sea as part of the Caithness Seacoast experience (if you get the chance.....do it!).
@samanthapeter @WhiskyCast @andydrink @alembic_tweets @whiskydiscovery Pete Powell @DramblerJM @whiskyrepublic @chrishoban @MrWebsterFilm @steveprentice
This wasn't a random time filler but was an opportunity to make a connection between some of the whiskies we would be tasting and the elemental/human forces that both influence and drive whisky production at Old Pulteney, past, present ...and future. The swaggering sea and crafty currents, the sheer cliff faces, an undercurrent of sly rocks ready to ambush, salt spray, the coastal architecture, echoes of history, punctuated by the calls of herring gull, cormorant, kitiwake, and gannet, all served to create a sense that we were cruising in the cradle of Pulteney.
...and so to the whisky! We were in the privileged company of Malcolm Waring, the distillery manager, genial, passionate and knowledgeable about not only the liquid, but the bricks and mortar, the copper and oak, the very bones of Old Pulteney. There is something very special about the connections between time, place and dram. Tasting a selection of quality Old Pulteney drams in the place where they were created, with sea salt in our clothes, with their creator on hand to guide us, was one of those special moments.
We were treated to 5 single malts, the 12, 17, 21, 35yo, and the peated cask1990. On occasions such as this, it's not my inclination to take notes, my inclination is to "savour the experience". Having said that, the core Old Pulteney elements were all present to a greater or lesser degree, the intoxicating marriage of salt and sweet, the floral, nutty, vanilla notes of the 12, added hints of menthol and oak in the 17, the "boom" of the 21 with its explosion in a confectionary shop notes, all "cakes in the oven, jams on the boil, and salted caramels", the subtle, undeniable beauty of the 35 (think - relaxing in a worn, wingback chair in front of a blazing log fire, the air infused with exotic fruit, pine and menthol, offering extended moments of reflection), and finally the subtle peat notes of the 1990, hints of last night's fire as you indulge in an early morning chocolate. What a range! These were "dangerous" whiskies, if left to my own devices I would have spent more time with them, gradually curling up and drowning in a pool of my own reflections....
The video shot over the few days at Old Pulteney can be seen here: Old Pulteney distillery visit
After a quality meal in Wick, we were driven to our overnight accommodation. In the dark, there was little one could make of the surroundings suffice to say that the noise of wave on rock betrayed our proximity to the sea. As you might expect after another day immersed in all things whisky, our spirits were high, conversation flowed, whisky flowed, anecdotes were shared, stories slipped from eager mouths, and laughter became the music of the evening....that was until one of our group recalled a tweet exchange from a few weeks back in which I shared my amusement at the fact that an ex band member had posted video footage of my band from 20+ years ago on YouTube. What happened next was no surprise, a frantic fumbling for remotes, an assessment of the TV's wifi credibility, and lo, the surreal moment when a 50 something man is coerced (good humouredly it must be said) to sit next to a large screen TV whilst his much younger self ponces about on stage (if you're wondering, I'm the singer with the plait!). A younger version of me!
But that wasn't the only connection to past musical adventure. A quietly whispered, off the cuff comment from Andy Gemmell about the fact that he too was once in a music vid in the eighties brought out the feverish vulture in our by now bonhomie blessed group. More fumblings, more Youtubing and there it was. But which one was Andy? I'm not going to give it away that easily but here's a hint; if you cross Charlie Carole with Barry McGuigan you'll be on the right track. The Unsinkable Boxer
The following morning, 06.45, a solitary beach stroll in the clear, morning air, one of those meditative experiences that, unless some clumsy attempt is made to capture it, will fade over time until it is lost forever, a very personal and meaningful connection for me....the rock pool.
Day 3: The rock pool at John O' Groats.
The slap and shush of murmuring seas, sure as lighthouse clocks, tick tocking on rocks festooned with discarded film reel kelp fronds. An orchestra of gulls, fleet and flocking, wearing their velocity like plumed morning dress, diving, inflicting transient holes into the whaleback swell. All rush, counterpoint, and whirlwind around the silent, pale silent, cathedral silent, deep silent rock pools. I am drawn to the limpet lined, limpid, morning light pools. Each step on the unpredictable rock and sea draws years from my bones and I become more sure-footed, angling my feet to accomodate the clint and gryke, crag and shear of the ancient rock. I'm losing my present, being usurped by the child, and I kneel before the pool, peering into the kalaidoscope clear, miniature, mirafiori cosmos, seeing in that mirror not the ageing man, but a boy....still....wide eyed in the spirit level water, a reflection of childhood long passed but now thrust into the present, as powerful as mischief, as excited as wrapping paper, and as innocent as a lion cub.
Thrusting my hands into that telling water, cold as a baptism, turning rocks in that feverish search for crab and claw, an exquisite mingling of fear and excitement is fixed through my veins. The very act of connecting flesh and water serves to complete some magical temporal circuitry and I am sensing my childhood, "summer holiday" self, all short trousers and shrieks, smiles and sun lotion, bruises and discoveries, my childhood self, all shortness of breath, running and eagerness, fish & chips, my childhood self, fragile and reckless, all love and hate, all or nothing, all or nothing, all....or nothing, my childhood...... cut me and I will bleed innocence.
(c) Alcock 2015