Langholm … the muckle whisky toon.
May 25, 2011 § 10 Comments
Having hills, bikes and whisky as my hobbies sometimes allows me to combine all three on an adventure. On Friday 30th April, when the Royalists amongst us were glued to their TVs watching events in London, I headed up Ben Chonzie (pronounced Ben Honzee) with my fellow Republican Ian who works at Exxon Mobil in Aberdeen but lives in Tillicoultry with the lady I introduced him to many years ago. His dog, Sol, a Republican Dalmatian, also came with us. The weather was wonderful as the entire country basked in unseasonal warmth. It was a long haul, made worse by a constant headwind that was blowing in from the east.
We took the route up from Invergeldie north of Comrie which is more direct than the last time I had been up this Munro (931m/3056ft) in the 1980s when I bumped into Tom Weir who must have been into his 70s then. That ascent was from north of Glenturret Distillery to the east and was much longer but more scenic. Glenturret boasts that it is Scotland’s oldest distillery (1775) but this is a spurious claim which has no foundation in fact (a bit like Bushmills’ claim) and dates from the 1820s. Later that weekend I would be looking at a lost distillery that predates the Glenturret claimed date by 10 years and is still largely standing. There is little to remark about Ben Chonzie, it is a big lump of a hill but the views on the summit north-west to Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas, both of which I had climbed last summer, over Loch Tay were stunning. The descent was by the same route and were were back at the car having spent just over four hours on the trek.
The next day I was off to Langholm via Moffat where I switched over to my father’s 650 Kawasaki ER6-f to do some runs over the lesser known roads in Dumfriesshire that I used to bike over back in the 70s. I also wanted to see if I could take some pictures of two distillery sites for research and archive and drop in to see old friends in Canonbie. I took the old Carlisle road out of Moffat and turned off at Pumplaburn Farm to head over the Windshiel Hills to Boreland where I headed over the moors to Eskdalemuir and thence on to Langholm. These roads require a bit of care (and knowledge) but are brilliant, nonetheless. On the way over the Windsheils I stopped to reminisce beside an old Second World War army tank training ground where I first learnt clutch control on the concrete roads that has been laid in the fields.
Once at Langholm I spent some time taking pictures of the distillery that stands on the west side of Skipper’s Bridge at the bottom of the town.
The distillery is certainly one of the best in terms of its state of preservation, largely due to the fact that it has always been in one use or another since 1765. In 1825 the business was closed but restarted soon and when Alfred Barnard visited in 1886 it was producing 46,000 gallons of malt annually. Distilling continued until 1915 when it finally closed for good. After that the premises were converted into a motor garage and petrol station until that business closed and the premises converted to residential use.
After taking some pictures I went on to Canonbie to visit my friends Kenny and Barbara. While Barbara plied me with good tea and home-baked scones, Kenny announced he had something for me and produced a picture of what he thought was Glen Tarras Distillery (Langholm’s other distillery). It was dated 1830 and after further inspection it became clear that it was of Langholm Distillery. The date intrigued me and I struggled to recall an older picture in existence. After my return to Glasgow I asked Christine McCafferty at the Diageo Archive if there were older, verified images of distilleries in the Menstrie collection. The answer, it seemed, was probably not, although there was one of Cameronbridge but it was undated and in terms of style, looked mid- to late-Victorian. So here’s the challenge … can anyone out there come up with anything older?