Distillery Focus

Bladnoch is a strong South Westerly

It takes some getting to but Scotland's most southern distillery is worth the effort. Even when it's silenced
By Mystery Visitor
After driving for some hours, I decided that the quickest way to get to Bladnoch is probably to fly to Belfast, hire a car, take the ferry back to Stranraer and potter along to the distillery – from which you’ll deduce that Bladnoch isn’t the sort of place you find by accident.Yet that’s what owner Raymond Armstrong will have you believe happened to him. Looking for a holiday house, so the story goes, he stumbled across the distillery and, finding it closed, snapped it up. Now, given that Raymond hails from the Emerald Isle, there might just be a touch of the blarney in there – though the guide will point out his holiday home as you tour round this most traditional of Lowland distilleries, so the story must be true.So, where is this remarkable place exactly? Well, Bladnoch is Scotland’s most southerly distillery, just a mile or so outside Wigtown, Scotland’s answer to Hay-on-Wye. Find Dumfries on the map, go west, and if you hit the Irish Sea you’ve gone too far. This is a largely overlooked part of Scotland, a jumping off point for travellers heading for the Stranraer ferry, despite its considerable charms and ancient history.Irish monks brought Christianity here, through the monastery at nearby Whithorn, so it’s not too fanciful to imagine that distilling came with them. However, Bladnoch traces its history back only as far as 1818, when it was owned by the McClellands, a local farming family. By 1911, it was an Irish concern though it continued to change hands right through the last century.Latterly operated by Arthur Bell & Sons of Perth, it was acquired by UDV (later Diageo) who mothballed the distillery in 1993. A little later Raymond Armstrong took a wrong turn on his motoring holiday and Bladnoch was assured of a new lease of life.However, Diageo has imposed some demanding conditions on the new owners.Though Bladnoch is operational once again, they are severely restricted in the amount of new spirit they can produce and have had to scour the market to find mature casks for sale. In fact, the original sale limited Bladnoch to operation as a visitor centre and distillery museum, dependent on the tourist trade for a precarious hold on life.Thankfully, Diageo was persuaded to let the stills run for a few weeks each year and a former stillman was coaxed out of retirement.It’s a fascinating spot to visit. There’s a graceful courtyard, a proper pagoda, a Boby mill (rather than the usual Porteus model) and some unusually pedagogic signs remaining in the old cooper’s yard.Entry is a nominal £3 (though they forgot to charge me), for which you get a personalised tour, a dram and a chance to linger in the well-stocked shop and bar. My guide was fresh-faced and enthusiastic, genuinely revelling in being part of Bladnoch’s revival. Being a local, she intuitively understood the importance of the distillery in the local community and the ragged gap that a silent distillery tears opens in the fragile fabric of rural life.And, be quite clear, Bladnoch is enjoying nothing short of a renaissance. Though restricted, the stills run again; there are innovative and exciting introductions such as the Distillery School (you pay to go and help them make whisky – how clever is that?) and new packaging is bringing this largely forgotten malt to new markets. With the old cask filling store converted to a ceilidh space the distillery is once again at the heart of the community. Some folks even came over from Holland to get married there. It’s that kind of magical place.So even though the distillery was silent when I dropped by, I detected an air of industry and purpose about the place. In fact, all in all, we can be grateful Mr Armstrong didn’t decide on a timeshare. Contact
Bladnoch Distillery
Bladnoch. Wigtown.
http://www.bladnoch.co.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1988 402 605