Britain at its best: Drinks by the dram and crumbling cathedrals in Scotland’s whisky heartland
- The Daily Mail’s Hugo Brown visited Moray, an hour-and-a-half west of Aberdeen
- He stayed at Dalvey East Lodge, a cottage which sleeps six, in Forres
- Pubs here have menus of whisky longer than their wine lists here, says Hugo
As anyone with a connection to Scotland knows, history is important here. And it seems the future will be, too, considering Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes for another independence referendum.
My great-grandfather was from Aberdeen, where his family owned a menswear shop. During World War I he fought with the Gordon Highlanders.
So my own father is always quick to remind me that the England rugby team is ‘they’ not ‘we’.
Remains of the day: The crumbling 13th-century ruins of Elgin Cathedral
An hour-and-a-half west of Aberdeen is Moray (pronounced ‘Murr-ee’). And the history here is seen in bottles of ten, 12 and 18-year-old single malt whisky and the density of cathedrals, castles and battlefields.
I’m staying with my girlfriend Eleanor at Dalvey East Lodge, a cottage which sleeps six, in Forres (pronounced ‘fo-res’, not ‘fors’ as I discover, to the delight of all at the airport Avis desk), an hour east of Inverness.
It’s a charming place — we arrive to Border biscuits and a stocked wood basket — on the 17-acre grounds of 18th-century Dalvey House, which can also be rented.
This is whisky country; pubs here have menus of the spirit longer than their wine lists.
There are 50 Speyside distilleries and particularly spectacular is the glass-sided, grass-topped Macallan visitor centre which launched in the summer of 2018 and was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Award.
But perhaps a better starting point is the red chimney of Benromach in Forres. Founded in 1898, production ceased in 1983 before a re-opening by the Urquhart family, owners of bottlers Gordon & MacPhail, in 1998. Speyside’s smallest distillery, it produces 200,000 litres a year, casks are hand-filled (tracked on a chalkboard) and the spirit is developed using only sight, sound and touch.
On our way out of town we pass Forres Mechanics FC stadium and head for Moray’s sunshine coast. Yes, this is officially Scotland’s sunniest area — perhaps not much of an achievement, but even on a dark day the dusty blues of Roseisle beach are cheering.
Locally produced Benromach whisky
It’s a dramatic stretch of sand with jagged pine trees finishing almost at a water’s edge scattered with World War II pillboxes and battlements. We also visit the Kimberley Inn at Findhorn, where the 62-mile river deposits itself into the North Sea.
Slabs of steaming battered haddock arrive, as they should, on a mound of chips and peas with homemade tartare sauce. No half measures here.
The pub is full of plate-watching Labradors as young staff call out orders and stoke the fire. When we add a tip to our bill the barmaid asks if we want the cash back.
In the county’s capital, Elgin, we walk the crumbling 13th-century cathedral ruins in the disappearing light before seeking safety from the rain in Johnstons cashmere mill, founded in 1797. There’s a free mill tour — and for good reason, because the prices of its wares might have you spluttering into your tea (thankfully at the cafe a pot is only £1.80).
On our final evening we stop in at the Boath House in Nairn, a Georgian house hotel with nine rooms, which handed back its Michelin star in 2017.
The food is delicate and inventive — I have a plum, blue cheese and brown bread pudding — but not insubstantial.
Much of the produce on the three-course set menu (£45) comes from the garden and surrounding area.
Driving to the airport the next morning, passing some sights we missed — Brodie Castle, Cawdor Castle and Culloden Moor — heavy highland fog sets in. And as talk of flight cancellations begins, we start to make contingency plans.