as they're cleaned and tidied. The short drive from Lybster to Wick is pleasant and re-
laxed, not quick, with lots of long settlements and little farms dotted along the way.
Wick is where mainland Scotland just about runs out. Poised on the fringe of the long
flat Flow Country facing the often not so flat sea, near the corner where the North At-
lantic Ocean and the North Sea bump into each other and tend to kick up a fuss about it,
it's way out of the way from almost everywhere apart from Thurso, which is a place you
could say exactly the same things about except substituting 'Thurso' for 'Wick' and vice
versa. I like both places; there's a clean airiness about both, plus what at least from the
outside looks like old fashioned civic pride about these limpetly extraneous, independent-
feeling communities. Wick still has a mixture of fishing and agriculture to work with and
Thurso, while worryingly close to Dounreay in every sense, feels like a miniature Norse
capital of this remote corner of the British Isles; a preparation for the sheer difference that
The distillery at Wick is out towards the sea from the relative shelter of the town
centre, through a quiet grid of streets and a tree-shaded square. Old Pulteney - ah, that
questionable 'Old' again - is a small distillery, neatly slotted into the edge of the town,
drawing its water from Loch Hempriggs. It's not the only distillery that used to be some
sort of mill - a meal mill in this case, where oats were ground to a powder - but it does
have the longest lade in Scotland (a lade is just the old technical term for a channel bring-
ing water to a mill).
It feels like the sort of place that doesn't get that many visitors and perhaps because
of that the welcome is relaxed and genuine. The distillery has a slightly compressed,
higglety-pigglety air about it, largely as a result of being based on a conversion - the
washback is in the still house and the squeezed-in-looking underback looks like a giant
brass shell case. The stills are just plain weird; the wash still has a giant boiling ball above
the main bowl, a squat neck which looks like an only slightly elongated copper bucket
and a Lyne arm that emerges, pointing slightly downward, from barely more than halfway
up this sawn-off looking structure (and it did have to be truncated when it was installed,
to fit in under the low roof). The spirit still has a bizarre up-and-over piece of plumbing
connecting it to a dustbin-sized copper purifier that essentially means the whisky is dis-
tilled two and a half times, then the pipes exit to an old-fashioned outside worm tub set
up, sitting steaming gently at one end of that extremely long lade.
A dark feline slinks round a piece of pipe work just ahead of me as I'm shown round
by Gordon, one of the managers. 'Distillery cat?' I ask.
'Aye, that's it.'
'What's it called?'
'Oh, just The Cat,' he says, nodding.