A Speyside State Of Mind

This year I managed the change to GMT from BST well. I happened to be awake and while everybody else in the house slept, I decided to manually adjust the clocks that needed it. I hope that my wife was impressed, but in reality I missed the one in my daughters bedroom but I’m sure we will manage for a couple of days.

This article isn’t going to be the easiest to read, but to be honest won’t be the easiest to write, as I am going to attempt to write it in one go without modifying a draft. While I try to base everything I write on this page about whisky, there are somethings that need discussed whether or not we drink whisky or not. So bear with me and pour a dram, then read.

The Friday before the clocks changed, I had the privilege of driving through a very autumnal Speyside. The A95 whisky road has some spectacular views on its winding path from Aviemore to Craigellachie, where it branches off towards Keith, away from the River Spey. If you have any sense, you can continue north from Craigellachie towards Elgin and still get entertained by a riot of colour as the trees begin to give into the approaching winter and prepare to shed their leaves. If you haven’t driven it yet, I recommend you do, as I’ve been treated to some really spectacular sights. Just keep out of my f***ing way and pull into the side of the road if you see anything you want to photo, as I’ve enough to contend with given the amount of whisky HGV traffic I can’t overtake, let alone a dawdling tourist.

Winter is coming. View from the A95 towards Cairngorm, Bynack More and Broomhill Railway Station, current terminus of Strathspey Steam Railway.

The Spey valley does give some amazing sights and while I have not been able to catch them as effectively as I have hoped to have, you’ll have to make do with the description of driving just after the start of dawn, heading from Aviemore to Grantown on Spey, with the mist just sitting over the River Spey and the first vestiges of pink light rising in the east. As you head north, you’ll pass the Cairn Distillery, Tormore and Ballindalloch at the road side. Descending from Tormore, you get your first good view of Ben Rinnes looking over the lower valley of the River Avon. A couple of steep climbs and it takes you to Glenfarclas, and the start of another descent towards Aberlour.

Benrinnes from above Cragganmore looking across Lower Avon Valley.

It is on this road you can get almost a drivers whisky heaven. At dawn, if you strike your timing right, looking towards Ben Aigan further down the Spey Valley, you can often see the steam rising from Dalmunach, Dailuaine, Aberlour, Macallan and Craigellachie distilleries as they start a mash. Sometimes on this stretch of road you can smell mash. Look right as you drive towards Aberlour and you may see similar from Benrinnes and Glenallachie distilleries. It’s even better on a crisp, frosty day. Winter has its advantages, even if it is for those whisky geeks who know that Daftmill will be producing again once the harvest has been gathered.

River Avon at Ballindalloch/ Ballindalloch Castle gate house.

But winter also has its drawbacks. Daylight savings time doesn’t suit all, and suddenly our afternoons get cut short in the rapidly approaching darkness. The arrival of autumn also lets us know that the year is coming to an end and we think back of what has happened over the year. I’ve had a busy year with work, family illness and a persistent cold, but one thing I can’t get totally out of my head was the suicide of a distant acquaintance, and these thoughts motivated me to write this.

Benrinnes from Dufftown / Huntly road. There’s a multitude of distilleries on the other side.

I don’t want to name the guy, as I do not want to cause his family any more distress should they read this, but I knew this guy since at least the mid 90’s. I remember him from the youth groups in the Aberdeen suburb we both grew up in, although I was some 8 years older. This guy always seemed happy to help, participate and just get on with things. He was a talented guy, but once I moved away from that Aberdeen suburb, my contact with him dwindled. It wasn’t until I saw mutal friends on facebook post requests for information on his whereabouts that I thought about this guy again. People drift apart as we move and life takes us in different directions. When the tragic news of the discovery of his body was announced, it hit me hard a little bit, as you never think that the person you had in your mind would do such a thing. But that theory doesn’t hold water. Just mention the name of Robin Williams and we know that the shadow of depression can fall on any one of us, yet we never know when or even how we will react. I’ve been in that situation where I was depressed enough to seek professional help and was under the care of a psychiatrist for nearly a year, but for some even that’s not enough.

View from the A95 just past Glenfarclas looking down towards Marypark. Steam coming from Cragganmore.

So why I am I mentioning this topic on a whisky blog? Well, while the changes of the season are quite noticeable and often beautiful, for some they won’t be so spectacular as they dread the long nights of the months ahead. Some people may seek solace in drink and this is not the best course of action. This weekend, Catherine, The Princess of Wales stated that nobody chooses to be an addict. Despite my long ago past experience of depression, it’s easy to see how people can seek crutches to help them through the day, and alcohol is an easily available and legal drug. We eventually get used to the effect it has, and we then need to take more to get more effect.

Social media often offers the anonymity where we can interact with people yet not show our true selves. People don’t want to admit weakness and just want to belong, appear normal and yet not manage what is dragging them down. While the majority of us won’t have this issue, you never know who will. Who would have guessed Robin Williams would be as sad as to kill himself?

You don’t have to be as miserable as this bugger to suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Just noticed the rapid advancement of grey hair. Clippers here we come!

If nothing else, its worth remembering behind every winter comes a spring. Few things we do in our lives is truly permanent, and everything can also take a turn for the better if you feel you need to make a positive change. One of my fellow bloggers recently posted an article entitled “It’s Good To Talk” and while this sort of talk may be different, it still holds true. Nobody needs struggle. Everybody has a burden they will find hard to bear at some point in their lives, so you are not unique if you are struggling. It’s OK not to be OK.

Don’t be like my acquaintance. A guy who hadn’t even reached middle age and left behind a young family. Talk to somebody, even me if it has to be but I’d recommend professionals like the samaritans who may be able to point you to the right direction to resolve your issues. Their website can be found at samaritans.org or phone 116 123.

Tormore.

For those of us not struggling, be aware that some are. Be ready to be that post that someone may need to lean on. Tough times are coming for many this winter with the cost of living rising rapidly. Keep an eye out for people; keep in touch with those you know.

We’ve seen many examples of people talking about the ‘Dram Fam’. Let’s make sure we are just that for those who may need us.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

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