Lochnagar is a fine whisky and a really neat, smart, manicured little distillery, sitting
in the grounds of Balmoral Castle like a model of a distillery put there for the royals to
play with, a bit like Marie Antoinette had a pretend farm built in the ground of Versailles.
I mean, it's not; it's a perfectly serious and professionally run distillery producing a fine
whisky, but there's a still a sense of it bearing the same relationship to real distilleries as
show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show do to real gardens. It doesn't actually smell of
new paint - you know that thing about the Queen thinking the whole world smells like
that - but it's almost too tidy and well formed. A lovely place, though, unless you abhor
things being just-so. It lies resplendent under a bright spring sun when we arrive there,
and we see some butterflies jolting their unsteady way around the well-kept shrubs, the
first of the year.
For some bizarre reason which I realised at the time I was not fully aware, or indeed
in control of, we had, over the past few days, started to critique the toilets of the distil-
leries we visited. Something to do with being in critical mode, I suppose, and this rub-
bing off on the people I was doing the touring with (a week later my pal Dave would de-
mand a separate critical category for distilleries' car parking spaces. Car parking spaces?
I mean, really). I'd even drawn up a special table in my rapidly filling notebook for this
purpose (under 'T', obviously), with columns for Roominess, Nice Pong, Decor, Cleanli-
ness, Worth Leaving a Comment in the Visitors' Book For and Just Generally Brill, and
so I can report that the facilities at Royal Lochnagar came out with a cut-to-the-chase Just
Generally Brill commendation.
The whisky (ah yes, finally we return to the whisky) is - at least in the 12-year-old
version we chose - very redolent of the second-fill sherry casks it spends its time in, while
showing malty and slightly smoky notes, with touches of honey. If I lived in Balmoral I
think I'd be quite happy to have it piped the mile or so into the castle, to appear from a
third tap in every bathroom. Well, maybe not for every guest.
Apparently Queen Victoria used to mix Lochnagar whisky with her claret.
While we're wandering the grounds, enjoying the sunlight and breathing in the won-
derful scents of the gardens and surrounding countryside, Les and I spot a weird-looking
pyramid-like structure poking up from the trees on a nearby hill. We never did ask about
it, but having now looked at my OS map I strongly suspect it's a personalised royal cairn.
There's Princess Beatrice's Cairn (it's probably that one), Princess Helena's Cairn, Prin-
cess Alice's Cairn, Prince Albert's Cairn … the hill is littered with them. Some family
tradition, perhaps. Anyway, so now we know.
Highway the Hard Way: a Road Bore writes .