Scotch Whisky – The region of the Highlands

« I love to sing, and I love to drink scotch. Most people would rather hear me drink scotch” (George Burns)

Régions d'Ecosse

With their landscapes, high mountains, abundant lakes and all the islands off the coast, the Highlands are one of the most varied and spectacular regions in Scotland. 

Western Highlands 

West Highlands give onto Atlantic to the west. In front of the coast are the Inner Hebrides. To the south, the Highlands are separated from Lowlands by one of the two geological faults that divide Scotland in three parts. Just north of the dividing line with the Lowland, are the Grampian Mountains, a chain of hills which tops peak at a bit more than 500 meters.

ecosse-highlandsThe two most important localities of the region are Fort William and Oban. Near Fort William is the highest mountain in the British Isles, the Ben Nevis. Standing at 1344 meters above sea level, the mountain doesn’t seem very spectacular but the ascent requires good equipment. Weather is very changeable and often foggy in this area.

Most of the visitors climb the mountain along the west side because the long stony road goes up quite softly. Conversely, the north east side is steep and only recommended for experienced mountaineers. Just west of Fort William is GlenFinnan, where we find the Jacobite monument. This monument is located at the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie met the Clan Cameron in 1745, in order to launch the rebellion against English government’s troops. Nearby is also the Loch Shiel, which is one of the most beautiful lakes in Scotland. Harry Potter’s fans also know Glennfinnan because a railway overpass of the locality was used as scenery for one of the movies. 

Firth-of-lorn

La petite ville d’Oban rur le Firth of Lorn

The other principal locality of the region is Oban, which has an idyllic location and is one of the biggest touristic resorts in Scotland. Despite only 8000 inhabitants, the town has many things to offer. In summer, Oban is the starting point to cross over the sea and go to the Hebrides. There is a reason why the small town located on the Firth of Lorn is called “Gateway to the Isles”. The emblem of the city, the McCaig’s Tower, is a little bit strange. It is inspired by a Roman colossus and was ordered by John McCaig, a rich banker. McCaig wanted to erect a monument for him and his family. Moreover, by constructing an expense tower, he wanted to struggle against the high level of unemployment of the region at that time. Yet, he died before the construction was achieved. Many shops and fish restaurants all around the harbor tempt the passer-by to stroll and to have something to eat. Next to the harbor is the distillery Oban, very appreciated by the tourists. 

Wick-l-ancienne-capitale-du-hareng

L’ancienne capitale du hareng Wick

The famous Lomond Lake is one of the many excursions close to the city. In reality, the distillery Loch Lomond is not directly located near the lake eponymous, but it is a bit remote, in the small industrial town of Alexandrin. 

Northern Highlands 

To the north of Inverness start the North Highlands. A bit outside of the city is the peninsula of Black Isle, whose name comes from black soil which allows rye to grow well. That’s why some distilleries settled there (Glen Ord and Teaninich). Barley, one of their essential raw materials, comes from that region. The most important port town of Black Isle is Cromary, and was commercial town and a thriving industrial centre during the 17th century. Riggings were produced there. 

If we continue along the east coast, we go through the arid and uninhabited landscape of Sutherland, where people had most of the time been moved to the east coast against their will in order to make place for sheep farming. Thus, many people also emigrated to Australia, America and Canada. If we continue the journey along the coast following the A9, we pass in front of almost all the distilleries of the region as well as in front of one of the most visited castles in the country, the Dunrobin Castle. From the 15th century, it belongs to the Earl of Sutherland. The castle is a in the middle of a splendid park with many nice gardens and today, a large part of it accessible to visitors. 

Highlands-falaises

In the very north of Scotland is the small town of John O’Groats, the most northeasterly point of the British continent. Its name comes from the Dutchman Jan de Groot, who bought here crossing fees to the Orkney Islands in the 15th century. From John O’Groats, if we continue south, we arrive to Wick, a small fisherman’s town. In this locality, not very open to tourism, is the Old Pulteney distillery which is the northerner distillery in the region.

Wick used to be a fishing center and transforme every year during 6 weeks in the European capital of herring. By 1840, there were sometimes more than 1000 fishing boats and many people from all Highlands would find work in the fishing industry and in the processing plants. In order to quench the thirst for whisky of the workers, a distillery was built in the village. Yet, during the World War I, the activity stopped suddenly when the navy requisitioned the small fishing fleet. Given that the boats were never given back to their holders, unemployment was very important after the war. In order to contain alcohol misuse by the unemployed, sale of alcohol was forbidden. This law remained in force until 1939 but today, it is once again possible to savour the excellent whisky of the region in bars. 

It is the largest region in Scotland and the most productive region concerning whisky. Apart from Speyside, it is geographically divided in four areas of activity (Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Highlands). 

Highlands’s whisky style

Whiskies from the Highlands are generally more sustained and stronger than those from Speyside. They have very varied tastes according to the place of production. Lightly peated and coastal flavours in the north, malty and fruity in the south.