History

Hope springs eternal

Malcolm Greenwood samples the other 'water of life', pure mineral water, in Scotland.
By Malcolm Greenwood
The small village of Blackford, at the base of the Ochil Hills in Perthshire, Scotland, is the headquarters and location of the UK’s largest producer and exporter of natural mineral water. It is water sourced from a protected watershed and catchment area in the unspoilt, natural environment of the adjacent Kinpauch Hill. This is the home of Highland Spring Water.It is an early July morning and I am experiencing a natural and wild environment where the processes of nature are left free and where carpets of wild flowers, heathers and lichens fill the nostrils with intoxicating fragrances. The only sound is from a hovering lark high above, well out of range of the spiralling buzzards and lone sparrowhawk which seems captured motionless in time. However there is a warning from our guide and driver, David Webber, on reaching the summit to be vigilant for basking Adders. From upon the cairn one is afforded a magnificent vista of Perthshire. Far below the silent sights of Tullibartine Distillery and its recent neighbour, Highland Spring Water, is the famous Gleneagles Hotel and golf course to the north-east. Sweeping north-west across the fertile plain is an ocean of barley which seems to rise towards the Highland Line, while, to the south, heath moors extend to Alloa. The area beneath my feet is surely a conservation area par excellence.The day is dry (not the norm for this area), yet it is on these heather clad slopes that rain falls, is gently filtered through the fractured basalt and red sandstone below and trapped. This can take as long as thirty years and reminds me of that other ‘water of life’ where the journey and process through time plays a crucial role.These hills are the remnants of ancient mountains of deposition - formed from Devonian lava flows which spewed from volcanic vents to form, over millions of years, layer upon layer of basalts which solidified. Later these rises were modified by glacial erosion and soil deposition, thus creating what they are today. The ancient vents from which these lavas flowed are in evidence throughout the Forth Valley, the most notable being the volcanic plugs on which Edinburgh and Stirling Castles stand.This is the heart of Highland Spring - a location of rare beauty where the pure water flows through the ancient landscape taking only a small imprint. The owners have chosen well, of that there is no doubt.Within this natural environment of 3,000 acres several bunker-style outposts can be seen, each an artesian bore hole penetrating 35 meters into the depths below. Each well can produce 11,000 litres of water an hour that are pumped to the bottling plant below.Natural mineral water from the Ochil Hills has maintained an important role in the rural economy of Strathallan for centuries. It became a centre for brewing in 1503 when King James IV of Scotland issued a Royal Charter sanctioning the brewing of Blackford beer. More recently, but sadly not in production at present, is the Tullibardine Distillery - home of a delightfully soft and earthy malt whisky.In 1979 the Highland Spring Company was formed to harvest these historic spring waters and is now the largest producer of natural mineral water in Britain. The company employs nearly 200 staff and the expansion of warehousing is very evident while I walk through their premises - there is a welcome buzz of industry around the place. This is hardly surprising with Highland Spring being exported to fifty countries around the world. It is the sole supplier to British Airways worldwide: their passengers consume more than a million bottles every year.Highland Spring has achieved the qualification and status of ‘natural spring water’, as governed by EU Directive 80/777/EEC and the Natural Mineral Water Regulations 1985. Natural water status is only granted to waters which demonstrate consistent analysis over a two year recognition period, without treatment other than filtering. The water must be from a registered source where it must be bottled, ensuring it remains in a safe, wholesome and natural state until it reaches the consumer. Only carbon dioxide is added to make it sparkling.The value of drinking pure, wholesome water is becoming more widely recognised and many believe Scottish water to be the best in the world. This is, however, debatable particularly when we apply this to public tap water. I know of many a dram completely wrecked by the addition of poor quality water.Tap water is essentially a ‘cocktail’ of waters including ground, surface and recycled waters that must be chemically treated and disinfected. While it is true that there is still exceptionally good tap waters around, they all require treatment of sorts. Some will gladly accompany a dram while others make a very poor partner indeed. A good bottled water will be consistent - Highland Spring is especially so.
Highland Spring is available in two styles, still and sparkling, as well as in a wide range of packs and sizes to meet consumers’ needs. Tiger Woods was recently caught on camera enjoying water from the new sport range, a convenient sized 500ml bottle created for the youth market and people ‘on the move’.Highland Spring is the official supplier to The Scotch Whisky Association and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society -an endorsement in itself. Pure Highland Spring Water is an ideal accompaniment to fine food, refreshing the palate. It is a light fresh water, with a clean taste and low in mineral content. For the malt whisky connoisseur, there is nothing better or simpler than a fine malt whisky gently coaxed along to its full bouquet by the addition of natural spring water. Highland Spring Water comes from a land that shares exactly the same traits - beautiful and unspoilt. One only hopes that this water continues to flow, gracing our whiskies for many years to come.