Friday, June 7 – Time for a “Wee Dram”

The ship rocked and rolled last night as we made our way through the North Sea. I was happy that I slept through most of it. As poor as the weather was yesterday, it was a beautiful day today – sunny, breezy, and in the mid-50’s. Our tour today was a Holland America tour called “End of the Road: The Old Pulteney Distillery and John O’Groats.” I was up at 6:00 and breakfast was delivered at 7:00. Our tour was to meet in the Showroom at 8:45 with a departure at 9:00. The process went smoothly and we were on the coach bus a little after 9:00.

We docked at the port of Scrabster which is a harbor, ferry and fishing port and industrial business center near the town of Thurso in the far north of Scotland. Technically, we were still in the Highlands but the land much flatter than yesterday. As we drove toward the town of Wick, we could see large plots of land with thousands of sheep on them. The farmers have to mark their flock with a color as the sheep tend to wander away into other herds. Looks like a blotch of spray paint on them.

James was our driver and Donald was our tour guide. We had a representative from Holland America along to be sure we didn’t have any issues on the tour. It wouldn’t be Scotland if we could not see how Scotch Whisky is made. We were not allowed to take pictures in the facility but they did have a nice visitor center for pictures. We were divided into 2 groups and Chuck and I were in the group that would tour first and then have a “wee dram” to taste. The other group would taste first and then tour. Given the narrow steps and high places we walked, I was glad we were in the first group.

The distillery was established in 1826 in the name of Sir William Pulteney (who died in 1805). The distillery was the most northerly on the Scottish mainland and was quite inaccessible, except by sea, when established. Barley was brought in by sea, and the whisky was shipped out the same way. Characteristics of the whisky are attributed to exposure to sea air during maturation.

The distillery closed in 1930 due to declining trade after the local parish enforced prohibition laws but re-opened in 1951 when the vote was rescinded after the law was abolished. It is now owned by Inver House Distillers.

We saw the process from the grains used to make the whisky to the barrels where they age the whisky. The smells and heat from some of the areas could make you light-headed. I thought it was interesting that they get some of their used barrels from Kentucky distilleries. They don’t make a lot of whisky but the ones they make have won national and international awards. Its 21-year-old single malt was named World Whisky of the Year in 2012. I didn’t even know there was such a competition.

I did not care for their regular whisky but they had a sweeter version that I liked better. Erin was our tour guide through the plant. Her husband works there as an assistant manager. They have a small production staff but it functions with 3 shifts. One of their perks for working there is a bottle of whisky per month. And I thought having vision insurance was a nice perk. They tend not to lose employees – the one with the least number of years had 17 and the one with the most had 35.

We were told that in Scotland “whisky” does not have an “e” while in Ireland it does have an “e”. This difference in the spelling comes from the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms (they even pronounce Gaelic differently – Scotland – “Gal-ick”; – Ireland – “Gale-ick”). Whiskey with the extra ‘e’ is also used when referring to American whiskies. This ‘e’ was taken to the United States by the Irish immigrants in the 1700s and has been used ever since.

Erin was a talker and there were lots of questions so the tour lasted longer than our allotted time. We got back on the bus and our next stop was “John o’Groats.”

John o’ Groats is a village in the far north of Scotland. John o’ Groats lies on Great Britain’s northeastern tip and is popular with tourists as one end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on the mainland, with Land’s End in Cornwall lying 876 miles to the southwest. Our tour guide said many people hike, bike, run, etc. the entire trail. Our guide did tell us that it is not really the most northerly point on the island of Britain as that distinction belongs to nearby Dunnet Head but Dunnet Head is not inhabited.

We got our picture by the obligatory signpost and enjoyed the unusual sculptures in the area. The big white building in the background of some of the pictures is The Inn at John o’Groats which was described as the reincarnation of the iconic former John O’Groats Hotel, originally built in 1875. Also watched the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea meet in the Pentland Firth – lots of wave action.

We ate lunch at Sea View hotel there. It was described as a light lunch which I think of as soup or salad and a sandwich. What we got was a big plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. I was dismayed because we had scheduled our Pinnacle Grill meal for tonight and I wanted to be really hungry for it. I ate about half of it. We were seated across from a very nice Dutch couple who both worked for the Dutch government in Rotterdam. They only had an hour drive to the port (jealous). I was seated next to Miss Emily, a very nice lady who is Chuck’s three card poker buddy on this trip. Her husband was not feeling well so he did not come on the tour.

We made a quick stop at a small Church of Scotland so we could see where the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth (Charles’s Grandmother) attended church when she was visiting Castle Mey, her home when in Scotland. The graveyard also held plots for pirates. They normally were not given a church burial.

Our next stop was the town of Thurso. It was a nice small village and we were given time to walk around and shop. We wanted to check out a store called Tesco which had been described to us as the European Wal-mart. The one we went in was more like a Wal-mart Neighborhood Market as it had mostly food. All the prices were in Pounds but Chuck said that the prices seemed good. It was a crowded store so I guess people like it. I understand that in the larger towns and cities that the Tesco’s are bigger with more of a variety of items.

On our way back to the ship, Donald gave us a list of Scottish/Gaelic Expressions that we practiced. Some that I particularly liked –

“Stooshie” – a big disagreement

“Guddle” – a disorganized mess

“Scunnered” – fed up with something

“Slainte Mhath” – good health

“Pure, dead, brilliant” – awesome

We got back to the ship around 4:00 and changed clothes to be ready for our Pinnacle Dinner at 6:30. We went to the Ocean’s Bar first and as we were getting ready to sailaway, we hear bagpipes. I went outside on the deck and watched a bagpipe band and dancers perform for us. They were all children and teens. It was sweet but I felt bad for them as it was cold and windy.

At 6:30, we went to the restaurant. I had the Shrimp Cocktail and the special “filet mignon and lobster ravioli.” I was disappointed that they were not offering the king crab legs. They were not on the menu so I am wondering if they have been discontinued because they got too pricey. My steak and lobster ravioli (two) were good. The Pinnacle is now charging extra for lobster tail. Chuck had the crab cakes and the rib eye. He was disappointed in his steak this time as it was fattier than the rib eye we had last time. He said he should have stayed with the cedar planked halibut. We shared the mushrooms and skipped dessert. The service at the Pinnacle is always very good.

The show tonight was the Chapman Twins – two singers from England. I was too tired and too full to go to the 9:00 show and Chuck wanted to go to the Casino so we skipped it.

Got back to the room to find a letter regarding our visit to Ireland. The ship has to collect the passports of all non-European guests and they will present the passports to the local immigration officials when we arrive. We are scheduled to bring our passports to Guest Services tomorrow from 5:00 – 5:20. I sure hate giving up the passports. Glad I have a paper copy.

Tomorrow is another early day. Tonight’s towel animal is a turkey.

Scrabster Trivia –

Surfing is a popular pastime among the locals. Competitions held at Thurso East, one of the beaches in the region, have attracted some of the best surfers in the world.

The town of Wick holds the claim to fame of once being the busiest herring port in Europe in the 19th century.

So many sheep

Author: mmmtravelmemories

A retired college administrator who loves to travel. I write to remember the experiences and, I hope, to inspire others to make their own travel memories.

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