There is nothing quite like hitting the road and seeing the whisky world, I can totally see why Alfred Barnard did it. I honestly cannot think of another industry that is on the whole as welcoming and open as the whisky one.
For those of you that might not know, the BBC’s Tom Morton and I have just completed another epic bike trip, this time following in the footsteps of the great Barnard. Although you spend months planning and plotting, scanning maps, trying to predict the weather and wondering what to pack, there is a sense of relief when it is all over. Two weeks of travelling, in total, more than 3,700 miles on the road around the United Kingdom and Ireland and clocking up nine distilleries. We collected seven bottles to add to the 50 or so collected by David Hayman and Vladimir MacTavish, and all are set to be auctioned for David’s Spirit Air charity in November. Ok so not quite up to Barnard’s standard but an achievement in anyone’s book I think.
These long trips are odd. Normally I ride my bike between two points, usually the office and home, but even if I am on a longer journey, I always come back to the same point, home. But this time it was riding and never staying in the same place twice. Never going back, just travelling through.
There have been plenty of highlights from the trip, but also some moments of wondering why. Who knew that you could organise a trip during the turn of July and August and only have one sunny day. The weather...well not worth talking about. At one point the pair of us stopped at Ralia, the Highland cafe on the A9, at about 11.45pm. Pitch dark and bone chillingly cold. Tom had to even shove his notebook and papers inside his jacket in a bid to quell the icy drafts. This was a low point.
The highpoints thankfully were numerous, including the sight of some serious home baking at the Bushmills cafe.
One thing that struck me, especially at Jamesons in Midleton, was how much of the industry Barnard would still recognise. Most of the distilleries we visited had buildings going back to Barnard’s visits, and a few technological advances aside, I think he would still find the processes easy to follow.
I would like to take the time here to thank everyone involved in the Barnard Challenge. The FairPley gang who hung everything together, Vlad and David who covered plenty of miles round Scotland picking up the rest of the distilleries, and my Paragraph colleagues for not noticing the Editor had disappeared.
Triumph Motorbikes, especially Paul, Wendy and Andrea, for looking after us again and helping out in a moment of crisis. The Street Triples we borrowed were seriously awesome bikes.
Everyone at the distilleries who put up with two damp and bedraggled lunatics coming for a poke around during the silent season. Special mention must to go the Coton Morris men and my guide at Clynelish – good luck in the Armed Forces.
To Jim at the Anderson and John at the Fiddlers for the hospitality.
Of course my thanks goes to Tom Morton, an affable and great travel companion, not one mile was a chore.
Finally my deepest thanks goes to my wife and daughter for putting up with these hair brained schemes.
At Parkers Whisky Shop, Banff, Scotland
What whisky have you bought to keep?
Port Ellen Maltings 21 Years Old. Anniversary bottlings make good investments.
What whisky will you sell or open soon?
Possibly my Port Ellen Feis Ile 2008 to buy something else.