The Highlands are a bit like science fiction; you generally know with some certainty
when you're in the relevant area, but as soon as you start trying to define it you end up
getting into all sorts of messes. There are places where I feel I can pin the start of the
Highlands down to a matter of a few yards, like when taking the road north out of Gilmer-
ton, near Crieff, where the country suddenly changes as you pull away from underneath
the trees, opening out as the road rises towards the heathered hills like something uncoil-
ing after a long confinement.
On the other hand, there are whole areas of Scotland where the Highlands seem to sort
of fade in. That entire corner between Aberdeen and Inverness; I have no real idea where
that fertile, well-cultivated, gently buxom farm land ends and the Highlands start. Plus I
have my doubts about the Flow Country, and a lot of that south-east-facing coast between
Inverness and Wick. Sometimes it feels like we should scrap the idea of the Highlands
altogether, but that only ever seems to make sense in moments of frustration at deciding
what is and isn't part of the region in the first place.
I suppose to some extent the definition of the Highlands has anyway changed over
the years, moving north from places as far south as Stirling as land was improved and
fields spread, the clan system withered and - probably most to the point - as the Gaelic
Glengoyne isn't the closest distillery to Glasgow - that would be Auchentoshan - but it is
easily accessible from the city, it has a pleasant setting at the southern foot of the Camp-
sie Fells and it does welcome visitors. We pull up on another warm day, brave the main
road that divides the car park and most of the warehouses from the distillery proper and
walk up the little glen at the back of the distillery by the cooling pond where there's a
dinky little Visitor Centre and shop, where I buy a bottle of the 17-year-old. We're kind of
toured out and so avoid the formal guided thing, though I take a photograph of the stills
from the courtyard outside.
The whisky itself, at least in the 17-year-old edition, is big and fruity, unpeated,
quite fresh, and sweetly oaked. It's matured in a different type of sherry cask from most
whiskies; palo cortado (I'm quite a fan of sherries - well, dry sherries - but I confess this
is one I hadn't heard of). The palo cortado probably has a lot to do with its orangey colour
and citrus flavour. So, another healthily flowering branch on the great burgeoning tree of
Different Whiskies; the more I taste all these novel expressions the more I get the sense
that single-malt whisky is developing in a deeply interesting way, pulling in and making
convincing use of barrels which have contained all sorts of different kinds of drinks.
The Ferry. We overnight at our house and the four of us head for the Omar Khayyam.
This is a lazy choice, in a way; Edinburgh is full of deeply wonderful restaurants, but Ann
and I have settled into a routine that involves - if we're looking to lunch - going to Viva