The End of a Long Drive

The End of a Long Drive

Despite the distance, a trip to west coast can be very rewarding

Travel | 25 Oct 2013 | Issue 115 | By Joel Harrison

  • Share to:
If you want to visit the heart of whisky making in Scotland, a short trip to Speyside will see you right: you'll trip over distilleries around every corner with famous names such as Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich side-by-side with lesser known names such as the wonderfully tongue-twisting Allt-A-Bhainne. Visiting Speyside is like going to Glastonbury. There are some seriously big headline acts, but you'll more-often-than-not stumble across a gem which will be new to you, either on a distillery tour, or purely by virtue of a dram in the Highlander bar. Either way, the wealth of talent on show is astonishing, even if some of the names may seem a little obscure at first.

If you're heading to Scotland and want pure headliners, a mini-festival akin to a one day event in Hyde Park which would see major names all the way from the first act on, to the big headliner, then you're best staying south of the Highland line and heading west.

As you head north of Glasgow, up the side of Loch Lomond and start to turn west, heading along the aptly named 'Rest And Be Thankful' pass (often closed, even these days, due to landslides) you start to feel the remoteness of the destination begin to dawn, for at the end of this long drive (literally) is Campbeltown, home to the famous Springbank distillery.

Once the setting for a multitude of distilleries and an appellation in its own right, Campbeltown's shining jewel is now Springbank, which produces three main styles of single malt Scotch: Hazelburn, which is triple distilled; Longrow, a peated version of their double distilled hooch and the traditional malt named after the distillery itself, Springbank.

Campbeltown is right at the end of the A83 and is accessible by ferry from Arran or plane from Glasgow, but the drive can't be beaten. A beautiful journey which will take you about three hours from Scotland's second city, it is as picturesque as it comes, with rolling hillsides, tall fir trees and lochs-a-plenty to keep both driver and passenger pleased for the long ride.

Now very much an emerging area of production once more with Glengyle and Glen Scotia operating out of Campbeltown, alongside Springbank, it is the latter which provides the regions key distillery tour. An excellent 'warts-and-all' guided journey through traditional whisky making, with not a computer in sight. Tours of Springbank will give any whisky fan, new or old, an experience to remember as the stripped back nature of their venue is almost a working museum.

It is worth taking the time to visit Campbeltown, not just for the once-in-lifetime experience that a visit to Springbank gives (I defy anyone to go there and not come away with huge respect for owners J&A Mitchell and Co Ltd, their indie spirit and love of single malts), but also to stay in the delightful Ardshiel hotel which offers a fantastic array of whiskies, both locally and from across Scotland.

If you haven't flown from Glasgow to Campbeltown, then a quick drive back up the A83 will find you at Kennacraig, where the ferry to Islay departs. These days there are two destination ports on Scotland's self-confessed 'whisky isle'; Port Ellen, famed for the now long-lost distillery of the same name, and Port Askaig, around the corner from Caol Ila distillery and the same port where the ferry shuttles to-and-from Jura. Of course, one could choose to fly to Islay, a journey which is quick and easy, if not that cheap. The 25 minute flight is one of the greats in the UK, departing Glasgow and turning west, flying over the Mull of Kintyre, the Paps of Jura and down to Islay Airport. Be warned though: fog can often delay or even cancel flights and if you're planning on stocking up on rare and unique bottles of whisky on your journey, then you might find a car very useful indeed.

It isn't just the 'mobile suitcase' for which a car on Islay is useful. Save for the three 'Kildalton' distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg on the Eastern shore (all of which are in easy walk of each other and fairly easy walk of Port Ellen, depending on the state of your joints), if you're planning on visiting all eight (and soon to be nine) of the island's distilleries, a car is highly recommended. Just don't drink and drive, as the police often make sneaky visits to the island!

Each of the island's distilleries offer tours (check for their seasons and times) which are friendly and well organised. In the many visits I have made to Islay in both a personal and professional capacity, I have found the distillery visitor centres to be some of the most open and informative in the whole of Scotland. And don't worry- each distillery has very much a unique offering, from barley to bottle.

Islay offers some first class accommodation, with the recently opened Port Ellen hotel and the excellent (and I mean excellent) Sea View cottage at Ardbeg providing some much needed verve to the eastern edge of the Island. Sea View, opened in 2013, is a self catering cottage at Ardbeg distillery, next door to Distillery Manager Mickey Head's own house. With fantastic views from the upstairs living room and sumptuous bedrooms downstairs, this has rocketed itself right to the top of any list of accommodation for the serious whisky fanatic visiting Islay. And you don't fancy cooking lunch, you can always pop in to Ardbeg's fantastic Old Kiln Cafe for smokies or soup.

One final tip for visiting the Cambpeltown/Islay region: do not forget to take a trip to Jura. One ferry, one shop, one road, one pub, one hotel and one distillery, it is often easy to be caught up in the array of offerings on Islay and omit Jura from any journey. A big mistake. A wonderful distillery (with the biggest stills of any island whisky) and an enchanting island, the newly refurbished Jura Hotel will welcome you with open arms as you discover the delights of this wee island. Simply a must for any whisky fan, Cambpeltown, Islay and Jura provide you with a distilled look at Scotland's whisky history.
Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One