Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas from Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey

Following a hectic week juggling work & social in the lead up to Christmas  I am now sitting relaxed on the train en route to Edinburgh for what will be a great night, with around a dozen friends, at the most excellent, now annual, Phil Cunningham Christmas concert. Appearing with Phil will be the wonderful Eddy Reader and impish, hugely  talented  John McCusker.

With daytime temperatures being well above freezing, the snow of last week had taken a shift. Travelling through Drummochter Pass we pass the steep slopes of the hill known as The Boar of Badenoch, its southern neighbour  in Tayside  being the Sow of Atholl. The all too often dry-bedded River Gary is presently very swollen, carrying its snow-melt waters from Highland  into Perthshire.

There is a virtual raging torrent through the gorge at Killiecrankie. And, oh my goodness, I have just see someone plummeting towards the turbulent waters, bungee-jumping from beneath a bridge! Oh well each to their own. I think I might just have a wee snooze now.

Have a Lovely Christmas.

Dave C. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Consider Own Safety In Icy Conditions

Regrettably we have here yet another very distressing case of a 'rescuer' becoming a 'victim'. As highlighted in all practical HSE accredited First Aid training the 'first responder' ~ in this case the dog owner, hard as it may be, must always, always, carefully CONSIDER THEIR OWN SAFETY before moving to help any casualty. 
Tragic news item -
For details of practical First Aid Training ~
Next course in Newtonmore ~ 19th & 20th January 2012

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Balvenie Distillery - one of Scotland's Treasures.

On Monday I accompanied a small group of invited guests on a very enjoyable Balvenie Day of Discovery led by Dr. Andrew Forrester (UK Brand Ambassador). Our day began with a tasty bar-lunch in the quaint village of Dufftown. It has been said that Rome was built on 7 hills and Dufftown on 7 stills. Certainly some of the finest Speyside malts have for centuries now been crafted in and around this small township. Names include The Glenfiddich, The Dufftown, Pittyvaich, Convalmore, Mortlach and our focus of yesterday The (most-excellent) Balvenie ~ some may say the quieter, perhaps more attractive sister of the Wm. Grant family's extrovert, world-renowned Glenfiddich.

There is a warm, welcoming atmosphere awaiting visitors arriving at The Balvenie distillery. From beneath the picturesque but still 'active' pagoda-roof, guided by Andrew, our group set off on a thoroughly enlightening tour of this historic distillery. The Balvenie naturally offers one of the industry's most complete and comprehensive tours. From the very start of their journey through The Balvenie handcrafted process, guests are introduced to the first of the '5 Rare Crafts'.

Not only does Balvenie Home Farm (i) produce barley for the whisky production but this is now the only mainland distillery with its own full-time (ii) malting-floor, where 4 men, working shifts, carefully monitor the progress and turning of the germinating barley. Then at the appropriate moment, decided by these malting experts, the barley is kiln-dried to add flavour and arrest the germinating process. 

Visitors can witness and even try their hand at the turning of the growing grains that will constitute 10% of the cereal used in the production of the golden elixir that is The Balvenie. Balvenie has its own (iii) in-house cooperage ~ where trained coopers (a 7 year apprenticeship) check, repair and refurbish the all-important flavour and colour imparting oak-casks ~ ranging from American Oak/Bourbon barrels; European Oak/Oloroso sherry butts and Port Pipes.

Balvenie is the old distillery with its very own (iv) resident coppersmith, Dennis, who started at the distillery in the late 1950's. (v) Scotland's longest serving Malt Master, David Stewart, with over thirty years service with Wm Grant & Sons is responsible for expert nosing and careful choosing of the maturing malts prior to bottling.

Following on from our wonderful distillery visit with Andrew Forrester, Inshriach House ~ a spacious, well-appointed Edwardian villa just outside Aviemore ~ was the venue for our exclusive whisky-tasting evening. Around 16 guests from the spirits trade and malt-whisky enthusiasts from Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the local Badenoch area were treated to a very special tasting session led be Andrew and Balvenie's Global Ambassador Sam Simmons.

Providing practical insight into the full-process of malt-whisky production, The Balvenie distillery tour is a must for all whisky enthusiasts. All in all a most excellent, enlightening, extremely enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Snow covers the splendid hills in Perth.

En route via train to Perth for a conference organised by Wild Scotland.  The journey is magnificent with clear blue skies. The hills and moorland are covered by a soft blanket of pure white snow, tinged with orange and pinks where kissed by the low, winter morning sunlight.

The Wild Scotland conference ( is specifically for the nature-based & adventure tourism sector and offers a unique opportunity for the industry to come together, network and discuss current issues/developments.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Splendour of St Andrews Festival Weekend in Scotland 2011

We have just returned home to Speyside from a wonderful weekend of street entertainment and almost non-stop live music ~ all part of the now annual St. Andrew's Festival weekend.

St Andrew's is such a bonnie, welcoming town at any time, with it's quaint historic buildings, cobbles, archways and wee closes producing a wonderful Olde-Worlde feel. It's lovely town centre, unsullied by massive, fluorescent supermarkets or plastic shop-fronts, is made particularly attractive to locals and tourists alike by the tasteful plethora of lovely eating places and independent, well appointed, pretty shops of quality ~ well stocked, offering something for everyone.

However, the town's-folks certainly let their hair down in celebration of its patron Saint during the weekend leading up to St Andrew's Day ~ 30th November. As well as daytime entertainment, on the Friday and Saturday evenings there was fantastic entertainment for all in a large marquee erected on the lawn of St Andrews very own Hogwarts School ~ Madras College. (I hear tell the present headteacher comes complete with beard; dark, flowing robes and, at his castle in Strathkinness, has several cats ~including at least one black one!)

The Friday evening musical line-up included the local 'Black Sheep Band', followed by the very energetic red hot Chilly Pipers ~ complete with their line-up of world class pipers and drummers. On Saturday evening, following the 6pm switching on of the Christmas lights, the parade round the town centre was led by the excellent Madras College pipe band. Thereafter, the wonderful three piece Sandy Smith Ceilidh band had the temporary tent-flooring flexing with hordes of energetic dancers dashing as white sergeants and stripping willows. 

Great to see so many young people, especially students ~ many from abroad ~ keen to take part. Some were doing 'their own thing', whilst others, keen to learn, were being gently coached by fellow dancers. The marquee was to capacity for the grand finale ~ a massive 'Orcadian Strip the Willow'. A very entertaining blue grass band comprising 5 enthusiastic University lecturers and professors then paved the way for the famous Skye-based 'Scot-Rock' group the Peat-Bog Faeries. 

All in all a great weekend, including two nights of wonderful live entertainment. The St. Andrews Festival weekend is well worth putting in your diary for next year ~ by all accounts this festival will be even bigger and better in 2012.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Magnificence of Creag Dhubh in Scotland.

Following an overnight frost and early morning valley-mist, it has been yet other magnificent autumn day in Badenoch ~ the upper Strathspey flood plain of the majestic River Spey. Our local hill, Creag Dhubh serves to shelter picturesque Newtonmore from any strong westerly's bringing adverse weather. However, today the mighty form of Creag Dhubh looked magnificent in the morning sunshine ~ its dark, autumn-coloured summit standing out against the clear-blue, cloudless sky. In and around the village it was wonderful to witness so many folks ~ incl. bikers, walkers, joggers getting out into the beautiful sunshine and cool, clean air in this part of the picturesque Cairngorms National Park.

Creag Dhubh (black crag/hill) is the venue for the ever-popular Newtonmore Hill Race, organised annually as an integral part of the historic Newtonmore Highland Games. For many years, patient Highland Ponies and their riders were strategically placed along the route to ensure the hardy runners found their way to the stone cairn which marks for the athletes the turn-around point on the Creag Dubh ridge back down to the Games-field, The Eilan ~ Newtonmore's hallowed shinty ground ~ where the Games have been held annually since 1950. The tradition of Highland Games can be traced back 1000 years. It is said that the Celtic king Malcolm Canmore called for young men to partake in competition involving strength, speed and agility ~ the best to then be recruited to serve the crown. Now purely for recreation, the Newtonmore Highland Games are always held on the first Saturday in August.