With rain forecast for the morning we headed out with the idea of visiting the Loch of the Lowes visitors centre via a walking trail from the village of Dunkeld but as we drove out towards our intended destination the prospect of hiking in the wet and cold was not especially attractive and we made a quick adjustment to our plans.
We instead drove to the Loch of the Lowes and spent a while there checking out the information on the ospreys for which the loch is famous. We had missed seeing the male by just a few a few days as he had only left the nest on Monday for the long migratory flight to Africa.
We were, however, entertained by the antics of the birds and a red squirrel at the feeding station at the Visitors Centre. We checked out the hides and watched the ducks and a pair of swans but did not spy anything unusual and definitely no sign of the beaver who has made a home at Loch of the Lowes. I'm curious as to where a beaver suddenly appeared from! Apparently he/she arrived last year from out of the blue and has been frequently seen around the loch. Alex suggested it might be an escapee from the Highland Wildlife Park as we have never managed to see one there!
Faced with gloomy skies and intermittent rain we had a quick rethink of the day's schedule and drove into Dunkeld to check out the Tourist Information centre there. Armed with half a dozen brochures we decided that a visit to a distillery might be in order. In all the years we have been touring around Scotland we have never done the obvious and taken a tour of a whisky distillery. Today that was about to change.
Edradour in Pitlochry is the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland. It is also the only one that still makes whiskey the "old-fashioned" way. it is completely non-automated with no computers in sight, and the entire process is performed by just three staff. The major distilleries produce in a week what Edradour produces in a year.
With perfect timing we arrived just a few minutes before the next guided tour and tasting was due to start and so we joined Ian, our guide, for an interesting an entertaining hour, to be educated in the ancient art of whiskey distillation.
With 16 to 20 in our party from as far afield as the US, Germany, Holland and Switzerland (as well as a few Sassanachs from south of the border) our tour began with a whisky tasting. We had the opportunity to try two different whiskys; the first was a choice between either the 10 year old whiskey or the cream liqueur. No hesitation for me - I opted for the liqueur! (So did many others as Ian had to go and get more while a number of the whisky glasses remained untouched). The cream liqueur was more than acceptable - and definitely a better drop than Bailey's. We then watched a DVD showing the distillation process in action. The pièce de résistance was the tasting of the second offering - an 8 year old whisky aged in a port barrel. I only needed one sniff to know that this was going to be a painful experience; it had that smoky eye-watering aroma that did not bode well. (You can tell I'm not a whisky drinker, can't you?) Even with Ian's helpful advice on how to drink and savour the flavour properly without burning your gullet, I was unable to appreciate the nuances of the "wee dram". It was a case of "down the hatch" and a good swallow of water after. The Edradour plan is indeed a cunning one; the whisky is served in a presentation glass that you get to keep. Of course you can only transport it home if you drink the whisky!
Alex drank hers first and I could see the tears spring to her eyes. Taking a deep breath I drank mine. Sorry to all the dedicated whisky drinkers in the world (and to the artisan distillers at Edradour) but I have to say it was not a pleasant experience although it was memorable.
Having undergone trial by whisky, we started the tour. What a delight the distillary is. I have not visited one of the huge commercial distillaries but I have a picture in my mind of clinical stainless steel, computers and a ceaseless production line. By comparison Edradour is the "hand-made" alternative and this, I like. This is the smallest legal still in the country and one can only hope that it continues to be a success and is not ultimately swallowed by the commercial giants of the whisky industry.
The filling store where the spirit is kept, gently aging into whisky as it takes on the flavour and colour imparted by the particular barrel into which it has been placed, is unprepossessing. The dollar value of the contents, however, is impressive. One barrel from 1969 is valued currently at a quarter of a million pounds. The single row of barrels where this liquid gold was stored, had an estimated value of £4,500,000.
Of course we completed the tour in the shop and after such an interesting and informative experience there was little more to do than buy some of the distillery's product! So, armed with a bottle of Edradour Cream Liqueur, a bottle of Edradour 10 year old Distillery Edition scotch whisky and some whiskey-filled chocolates we departed.
Once again luck was with us. As we approached the car park a dreaded tour bus was just disgorging its passengers ready to make a tour of the distillery. Close one!
Pitlochry was busy as it always is, and discovering that we had no coins for the Pay and Display parking, we decided to move on and find somewhere to have a spot of late lunch.
Consulting our swag of brochures we decided on a short trip to Grandtully and the Scottish Chocolate Centre (which incorporates the shop of Iain Burnett The Highland Chocolatier); and as there was a cafe attached it seemed the perfect choice.
We had driven past this so many times in the past but, as it is tucked inconspicuously away in the main throughfare through town, had always overshot the mark and never made a concerted effort to visit. Being mid-week and after 2pm it was fairly quiet, so we parked and headed for the cafe. What a delightful little place it proved to be; cosy and welcoming, the cafe was filled with antiques and knick-knacks, and offered plain but tasty food with good service and - better yet - a huge selection of hot chocolate varieties.
A baguette for me loaded with cheese, cucumber and pickles; a toasted pannini for Alex, and suitably fuelled with hot chocolate we were finally ready for our visit to the chocolate shop.
The displays of gourmet artisan chocolates were incredibly tempting and I'm glad that I hadn't visited the shop on an empty stomach otherwise I may have been inclined to try and fill it with chocolate goodies. As it was I was relatively restrained but felt obliged to sample at least some of the delicious offerings. In the end I opted for a bag of 6 chocolate-covered turkish delights and a bar of single origin Sao Tome dark chocolate with crystallised mint leaves. At just over £11 for the two I stopped at that.
The weather had improved throughout the day and by the time we left Grandtully it was still partially cloudy but relatively bright but it was time to head for home and a cosy evening in front of the wood-burning fire.