Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye.
AT Oban we put up again at the Craigard, decidedly a well-appointed hotel in every respect, and started the next morning for Skye by the steamship “Glencoe,” which leaves the pier at 7 a.m., our route for the first part of the journey being the same as that to Tobermory. For weeks we had anticipated our voyage to Skye, and consequently were anxious about the weather; fortunately the sea was smooth and although the atmosphere was hazy, it showed promise of a brilliant day.
After a hearty breakfast, which we partook of as soon as the boat left her moorings, we clambered to the upper deck, and found that the “Glencoe” was just passing Lismore Lighthouse, and was steaming amid mountain scenery of the grandest description in Scotland. As the mist dispersed, a picture presented itself to our view which we shall never forget. Whilst we gazed at the calm sweet blue of the Sky out came the sun pouring down its golden light over the scene, bringing out crag after crag in bold relief, and casting every kind of fantastic shadow.
Leaving the Island of Mull, we soon found ourselves on the waters of the Atlantic, and passing the Islands of Muck, Eigg, and Rum. As we approached the Skye Coast, the Cuchullin Hills appeared to view; and then our course for a brief time became less prosperous, in the shape of a summer shower, which sent everybody below; however, it lasted but half an hour, and by that time we were nearing the Bay of Scavaig, into which Loch Coruisk discharges itself: It was to visit this famous lake that our steamer had left its usual course, delaying the journey to Portree some two hours.
On entering Loch Scavaig, a scene of unexampled grandeur disclosed itself, and from the rocky shore there suddenly appeared a couple of large boats, manned by a sturdy set of Skyemen, dressed in handsome uniforms with Mr. McBrayne’s badge on their caps and jerseys, who took us from the steamer to a projecting rock, which formed a natural landing stage. A five minutes’ climb brought us to the margin of Coruisk, when a sight presented itself to our view that we shall never forget, and whose awful grandeur it would be impossible to describe.
It is a fresh-water lake nearly two miles long, from the sides of which rise naked and precipitous mountains, and for sterile desolation no spot in Europe can compare with this silent wilderness.
“A scene so wild, so rude as this,Yet so sublime in barrenness,Ne’er did my wandering footsteps press"Where’er they happ’d to roam.” - Scott.
Re-embarking on the “Glencoe,” we continued our voyage, and after rounding the point of Sleat we sailed along for many hours amid scenery which on either side was as beautifully diversified as one could wish. With the exception of a couple of showers, we had a magnificent sail, although the wind and tide were both against us, and somewhat impeded our progress; but this we did not mind, as there was so much in the surroundings to delight the eye and occupy our attention. We were much indebted to Captain Baxter for his kind attention and interesting descriptions of the scenery through which we passed. After leaving the Island of Raasay, the steamer shot rapidly round a rocky point, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in the harbour of Portree, and were soon landed on the quay. A short walk up a steep hill overlooking the sea brought us to the Portree hotel, kept by Mr. D. McInnes, to which we had been recommended by our friends.
Early the next morning we started on our journey of discovery, and during the whole drive of nineteen miles from Portree to Carbost, we did not pass a single village. It would be difficult to describe this romantic, wild and mountainous island; the road for the first few miles being somewhat bleak, but afterwards becoming more interesting. Unfortunately the rain came down in torrents, and we had to don our waterproofs; when it ceased the Cuchullin Mountains appeared to our view, and the sight of their grandeur called forth our admiration, and fascinated us for the best part of our journey. This island is famous for rainy days, even in summer, and from experience we must confess that it comes down sometimes with a heaviness that washes away every particle of dust from your clothes, and pierces your mackintosh like duck-shot through a boat’s sail.
The sun was shining again when we reached the Sligachan Hotel, and for the rest of the day the weather was brilliant. We put up our horse, and after resting him for an hour and fortifying ourselves with a substantial meal, proceeded on our way. This hotel stands at the head of the loch from which it takes it name, and is a favourite resort of tourists who wish to ascend the Cuchullin Hills. The hotel is the starting point for climbing Scuir-nan-Gillean the highest of the Cuchullin range, and is in the very midst of an assemblage of mountains, red and grey, and all of them bare from base to summit.
On leaving Sligachan we ascended a hill, and the road thereafter lay through a desolate valley of some six miles in extent, without any signs of habitation, except one or two shepherd’s huts and a small shooting lodge. Our drive next took us round a considerable stretch of the noble Loch Harport, and views alternately occurred of hill and sea, which strongly appealed to our imagination. We had to ford two swift flowing streams. These rivulets after heavy rains become mountain torrents, and are sometimes not fordable for days together. At this point of the road we obtained a good view of the Distillery, about three miles distant, and the country began to assume a more cultivated and cheerful aspect; we soon passed a church and several cottages after that, and for the rest of the drive, everything looked more flourishing, and the fields exhibited fine raps of potatoes and turnips.
The Talisker Distillery stands at the foot of a beautiful hill, in the centre of the smiling village of Carbost, which, after the bare and rugged track we had passed through, was an agreeable change, and seemed quite a lively place. On the broad slopes of the hill, which were covered with crofters holdings, husbandmen were busy tilling the soil; whilst at the Distillery below and the village which surrounds it, all was life and motion. Driving along we were struck with the picturesque situation of the Distillery, which stands on the very shore of Loch Harport, one of the most beautiful sea-lochs on this side of the island. To reach the works we crossed the bridge over the Carbost Burn which supplies all the water used in the Distillery. This stream runs down the face of Stockveil Hill, a gentle slope six to seven hundred feet high, and which descends to the shore of Loch Harport; and like the opposite hill is of a delicious green, and quite refreshing after the barren mountains we had passed on our way. But to return to the Carbost Burn; this rivulet, like all the others in the Island, falls over a rocky bed and many small waterfalls before it reaches the sea. About 100 yards above the Distillery it is tapped, and a “Lade” carried therefrom along the Distillery property into the works, where it is used for distilling purposes, and for driving the machinery when steam power is not used. The farm and house of Talisker, from which the Distillery takes its name, is about six miles distant, and is situated in the parish of Bracadale on the other side of the hill.
The Distillery, which was erected in 1830, is beautifully situated, and covers two and a half acres of ground. The old part of the work is built in the form of a quadrangle, but such important additions have been made to it from time to time during the past nine years that the Distillery has almost lost its identity, and two-thirds of the whole property are of modern construction, and contain all the newest appliances and vessels known in the art of distilling. The new part consists of the Kiln, a Warehouse, Still House, and one of the Granaries. The old part is the Mash House, Spirit Store, and two of the Warehouses. Small steamers, or as they are here called “puffers,” come up the loch to within fifty yards of the Granaries. These bring the barley and stores used in the works; and besides this, the “Hebridean” from Glasgow, a deep sea steamer, calls once a week. The barley is carted up to the Granaries from the boats, which are accessible at low tide, and is lifted to the various floors by old-fashioned hoists. Mr. Alexander Green, the Manager, received us, and directed us over the establishment.
We were admitted through a covered gateway into the quadrangle, and proceeded at once to the Granaries and Malt Barns, which are situated at the right hand corner. They are two in number, and, like the rest of the buildings, are constructed of stone.
One of them, the old building triangular in form, is 100 feet long, 40 wide, and two stories high, each floor being divided in the centre. No. 2 is a new building, and is 126 feet long by 31 broad; the top floors on both are used for storing grain, and each possesses a Steep. That in the new Granary is constructed with cement, 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and will wet 400 bushels of barley at one time.
The two Kilns adjoin each other, and are both connected with the Maltings. The old one is 24 feet by 20 feet; and the new one, which is of handsome elevation, is 28 feet by 25 feet. They are both floored with wire cloth, and heated by peat in open furnaces. The peats are brought from a moor about a mile distant from the Distillery.
We saw a number of hardy women busy digging and bringing home this fuel, where they stacked it in an open shed, 104 feet long, roofed with corrugated Iron. But to return to the Kilns; both of them communicate with the Malt Deposit, which is one of the oldest buildings in the Distillery, and is connected with the Mill building by a hopper, which is on the same level as the Malt floor.
The Mill underneath contains a pair of Malt-rollers and the usual grinding machinery, driven by steam power. The pulverized malt is carried in sacks to the Mash-tun, which vessel is placed in the next building, a little old-fashioned place, now being newly roofed. This Tun is 14 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep, containing the usual stirring rakes, which are driven by steam. From this dish the Draff is shovelled out through an aperture in the wall to the Draff House outside, and from thence it is carted away by the farmers.
The Underback is in the basement of the next building; and passing along we noticed two timber Brewing Tanks, which supply hot water to the Mash-tun just described.
Our guide now conducted us to the Tun Room, which forms the south corner of the quadrangle, and adjoins the Mash House, wherein are six Washbacks. Descending from the staging of this house, we noticed one of Henderson’s large-sized Refrigerators, and then passed through a doorway into a passage, where are situated the Excise offices and the mashman’s rooms, both reached by an outside stone staircase, which leads into the court yard.
Passing these apartments we descended a ladder, and found ourselves in the Still House, which occupies the left hand side of the court, and races the bridge over the Burn, which we crossed to reach the Distillery. The Still House contains three Pot Stills; the Chargers, both of them timber vessels, are placed on a platform, which runs across the Still House. There are two Worm Tubs in connection with the Stills, both of them fed by running water direct from the Burn. In the receiving room besides the Safe, there are three Receivers, a Low Wines 355 gallons, Feints 450 gallons, and Spirit 526 gallons. Retracing our steps we now came to the Spirit Store, which opens into the public road and contains a Vat capable of holding 1,766 gallons. On the opposite side of the way, facing the sea, are two large newly built Warehouses, capable of holding 1,000 casks. There are three other warehouses on the premises of a similar capacity. On the same side of the road as the new Warehouses referred to there is a Manager’s and Clerk’s office, also a neat Cooperage.
Inside the Distillery proper there is an Engine House, which contains a splendid horizontal engine of ten-horse power; a steam boiler, 20 feet long and 6 in diameter, also various pumps and other appliances.
Part of the employees live in houses on the property and there is a fine newly built house occupied by the manager. The Chief Excise Officer, Mr. W. O. Brien, also lives in a neat house close by the Distillery.
The make is Highland Malt, and the average annual output for the three years ending April 1886, was a trifle over 40,000 gallons.