From: Tain to Dornoch
Distance: 9m / 14.4km
Cumulated distance: 1110m / 1786km
Percentage completed: 93.4
The little we saw of Tain as we left was very pretty. The town was granted its first royal charter in 1066, making it Scotland’s oldest Royal Burgh. When King Malcolm III granted the charter it confirmed Tain as a sanctuary, where people could claim the protection of the church. Robert the Bruce for example, sent his both his wife and his daughter there for safety, during the first Scottish War of Independence. (Although, sadly in their case, the protection was a woeful failure). The town also offered immunity for resident merchant and traders, who were given exemption from certain taxes. As a result the town boomed and became prosperous.
Tain won the charter largely because of its big celebrity resident, Duthac. He was an early Christian figure who was honoured with a shrine at Tain. It was a shrine that was much visited by pilgrims, especially after Duthac became an official saint in 1419. King James IV would come at least once a year throughout his reign to worship. There were street names, community centres and buildings all over the place bearing the Duthac name .. superb branding with extraordinary longevity.
Gus was wonderful in finding two terrific remedies for my foot today. He started by taking his scissors … and strapping my foot with his sports tape. There was an undoubted improvement as I walked.
And the second remedy .. well, I’ll leave him to explain.
I think Mum has passed over the responsibility of writing about our time at Glenmorangie not because I’m more knowledgeable about whisky or because she felt I should pull my weight on the blog writing side of things. I suspect it’s more likely because the time during and shortly after our visit, passed in a pleasantly fuzzy haze for her. After having passed Dalmore Distillery yesterday, I was determined that we make a stop at one of the most famous distilleries in the world.
The distillery is situated overlooking the coastline which for most of the year affects a moody, brooding air. However, today the sun was up and shining as we made our way past a coach tour of happy pensioners and into the tasting room. Being a new-comer to whisky and never having tried the Glenmorangie 10, I thought Mum should taste that along with the honeyed tones of the Nectar d’Or and the refined and decidedly sumptuous Signet.
As Mum found out, to her detriment and to my amusement, three ‘wee drams’ was a little more than she had bargained for. We were joined in our tasting room by the group of Scottish oldies. Half an hour later we left them enjoying their whiskies, singing Celtic football club songs, all with gusto. This brought a smile to both of our faces, although the guide was rather grumpy as he told me that he was a Rangers fan.
As we tottered away, a little worse for wear after our wee drams, Mum mused to me, ‘my foot feels a lot better .. I wonder if there’s a distillery in the next town to start the day off’.
Well, thanks Gus. I will just say in my defence, that my son promised me there would be coffee and cake at Glenmorangie to soak up any excess whisky. There was not a cafe in sight.
William Mathson was the chap who founded the Glenmorangie Distillery in 1843, employing ‘The Men of Tain’ to produce a ‘complex and exceptionally smooth’ single malt whisky. To be a single malt scotch, whisky must have been distilled at a single distillery using a pot still distillation process and must be made from a mash of malted barley. It must be distilled in Scotland and matured in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years and one day. Not a mili-second less!
The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland occurred as long ago as 1494. By the early 1700s, increasing taxes on whisky were ruffling the kilts of Scottish distillers, who outwardly rebelled or went underground – literally. ‘Clandestine stills were hidden in the heather-clad hills, and smugglers organised signalling systems from one hilltop to another whenever excise officers were seen,’ says the Scotch Whisky Association. Smuggling became the mother of invention as all manner of creative ruses were conceived. Ministers of the kirk made storage space available under the pulpit, and the illicit spirit was occasionally even transported by coffin!
After following a little B road we had no choice but cross the Dornoch Firth using the A9 Bridge. Looking inland we could see the golf course of Skibo Castle and if we squinted we could just about make out the grey stone of the castle. It’s a splendid place which I’ve had the great fortune to stay at a couple of times with dear friends. Behind the castle is the delightfully named Struie Hill. We walked to the top a few years ago.
Once across the bridge the expansive Cuthill and Dornoch Sands come into view to the south, looking spectacular. Despite their beauty today it’s easy to imagine just how bleak they would appear on a less sunny day. The gorse created great clouds of yellow and their heady scent of honey was reminiscent of the whisky we’d tasted earlier in the day.
Getting closer to Dornoch we kept an eagle eye out for the ‘standing stone’ in a field which marks the spot where St Gilbert, Bishop of Caithness slew the Dornoch dragon with a bow and arrow, way back in the 13th century. The dragon apparently, ‘had a penchant for plump little girls; he was a lengthy brute, with a long neck, and as he lumbered along the street he would put his head in at a window, and gobble up a fair maiden. No one dared to attack the beast, for he could spout flames’.
But then along came Gilbert with a cunning plan. He had a long shallow tunnel dug in the dragon’s path. It had several peep-holes at regular intervals. As the ravenous beast approached, Gilbert took up his post at the first hole and shot his first arrow into the chest of the animal. Then he quickly scuttled to hole number two, swiftly blocking his way behind him. From the hole he could see the dragon spouting flames into the first hole. Gilbert followed this procedure up to the end of the tunnel .. shooting then blocking, shooting then blocking .. until the dragon was no more. Job done.
Dornoch has a cathedral and a castle. The original cathedral was built on St Gilbert’s watch, in fact. Sadly, fire created another link to Gilbert when the cathedral was burnt down in the 15th century. It took a couple of hundred years before it was renovated. Elon Musk of Tesla fame and much besides, was married in the cathedral in 2010.
I mentioned that Dornoch also had a castle .. and that is exactly where we are sleeping tonight! Lucky us.
Black Dog Tails
Velvet may well have saved the lives of 3 stranded mountaineers on Mount Hood, when she took it turns to lie across their bodies and keep them from the onset of hyperthermia.