Well, here we are in Wick. It is a small town in the northeast part of Scotland. Population 7,300. It was at one time a thriving town that was the busiest port in Europe, with more than 1000 boats and 7000 people out catching herring. It has definitely seen better days, and is not one of the places where a whole lot of tourists come, except maybe to see the distillery.
We set out this morning after breakfast to procure a rental car from Alistair Richard. He owns a garage in town and has a car renting business associated with it. Brad contacted him yesterday and confirmed that he would have something for us. It is a nice, relatively new, Citroen. He was very helpful and gave us some tips about places we could visit with the car.
So off we went. Heading left, which was going south a bit. The road wasn’t very busy, so I got a chance to get used to driving on the left and shifting with my left hand. I got too close to the curb a few times for Brad’s comfort, but didn’t actually hit anything.
First stop was Whaligoe steps. This is a set of 360 or so steps built out of rock into a cliff down to a small harbor. It was built likely in the late 1700’s as a way for the locals to bring the herring up from the sea. The area is very bleak and beautiful. We walked all the way down and spent a little time enjoying the view and looking at the remnants of past activity. While we were down there, we saw a pod of dolphins swimming by, some of them breaching. What a nice surprise!
Then we drove a little more south to Lybster. We were hoping there might be a cafe there to grab some lunch. We had our first experience with a single track road heading down to the Lybster harbor. Fortunately, no other cars were coming while we were driving down! No luck on the cafe though, so we headed back to the apartment, where Brad made some toasted ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.
Then we walked over to the Old Pulteney Distillery. It was built in 1826 at the height of the herring boom, when the town was only accessible by sea. It is the most northerly distillery on the mainland. They produce whiskeys that are made with malt that is not smoked with peat, unlike many other whiskeys in this area. One interesting bit of fact is that the distillery continued to operate from 1922 through 1947 when the town of Wick was under prohibition.
Kathy took us around to show us the production areas. They are just in the process of replacing some of their equipment, parts of which have been in operation since 1926, so they lasted nearly 100 years. The “wash” is unique in that it doesn’t have the typical “swan neck” shape. The thought is that it was too tall when it was installed, so the manager simply cut the top of the still off. It has worked just fine like that for nearly 200 years.
They have one barrel of scotch from 1968. They are holding it in order to produce a 50 year scotch. Last year they produced a 40 year scotch, which sold for about $2,000 per bottle. They made 426 bottles. I can only imagine what the 50 year scotch will be sold for. There will be less in the barrel by the time 50 years rolls around, so they may only get 100-150 bottles. Needless to say, we didn’t leave our name and contact information for when it is ready.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to taste several of their products. We tried the 12, 17 and 21 year scotches, along with Stroma, which is a whiskey liqueur. We agreed that the 21 year was the nicest. The 17 year was a bit strong and peppery for us. We are drinking the 12 year, since it is nice and affordable.
We decided to have an early dinner out, rather than cooking at home. Options for restaurants are limited. We selected a Weatherspoon’s restaurant in the Alexander Bain house. It is kind of like McMenamin’s in Oregon, but the food was tasteless. Not sure if there are any better options for eating out in Wick. 😦
On our walk back, it started to rain and the wind picked up a bit. We are still expecting high winds up to 75 MPH tonight, and into tomorrow. As a result, we rescheduled our tour to the Orkney Islands to Friday. Fingers crossed we make it there at some point. In the mean time, we are catching up on old episodes of Ironsides. :-). More howling wind all night long, and screaming seagulls that lulled us to sleep.
Here I am updating the blog in the train station, since they have free wifi and the connection in our apartment has been out for a couple of days.