Hands down one of the best bits of my job is attending the biannual distillery visitor centre managers’ meeting which The Scotch Whisky Experience chairs. Each distillery in Scotland takes a turn at hosting, and our pre-season venue was a collaborative affair between Scapa and Highland Park – the two most northerly Scotch whisky distilleries in the UK. Scapa distillery opened its doors to the public relatively recently in April 2015 and this trip offered a chance to visit and bag my 53rd Scottish distillery.
The last time I travelled to Orkney was in 2011. We drove six hours from Edinburgh to Scrabster, then had a rough ferry crossing to Stromness, so I was thrilled to hop on the Logan Air “mini” plane for this trip and, with a flight time of less than an hour, there was more time for exploring the island of Orkney.
Kirkwall, the largest town on the mainland, is the perfect base for visiting both distilleries. Highland Park sits just outside the town, and a 25 minute stroll from St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall town centre will see you arrive at the beautiful gates of the most northerly distillery in Scotland. A selection of Viking inspired whisky distillery tours await, ranging from the introductory Viking Soul Tour at £10 per person, which includes a dram of the Highland Park 12 year old Viking Soul single malt whisky, plus another from their Hero range. Other distillery tour experiences range through to the £1,000 ‘1798 Experience’, where visitors can spend the day working at the distillery, wearing their own personalised boiler suit.
Less than a mile down the road, nestled by the white sandy bay, you find Scapa Distillery. With spectacular views over Scapa Flow, the distillery has long been a hidden gem and the team are obviously delighted to finally share their story. Tours start at £10 and run from March to November – check their website link below for more details.
Scapa distillery has one of the most beautiful Porteous mills I have ever seen and the unusual Lomond Still is a stand-out in the still house – if you can take your eyes off the beautiful views long enough to admire its flat top, and listen to your guide’s explanation of its unique inner workings.
Our distillery tour included samples of both the smooth and fruity Scapa Skiren and Scapa Glasna single malt Scotch whiskies – the Glasna offering a slightly smokier dram thanks to its maturation in ex-peated whisky casks.
If you can drag yourself away from the whisky tastings, a visit to the famous Skara Brae, a Neolithic village uncovered by a storm in 1850, should be high on your itinerary for visiting Orkney. Be sure to pop in to Skail House while you are there, to learn how a dinner set from Captain Cook’s ship ended up in their dresser, amongst other great tales.
We stayed in the Orkney Hotel and the bar had a fantastic selection of Scotch whiskies which surprised and delighted our party – and they’re a tough crowd to please!
All images copyright: The Scotch Whisky Experience / Angela Dineen