Over the sea to Campbeltown?

Visitor Experience Manager Jim Allan walks us through a trip to the famed whisky region of Campbeltown.

“Having travelled extensively across Scotland visiting many distilleries, the one region I’ve neglected is Campbeltown, which although only having three working distilleries, is unique in terms of its history and location. Known until the 1600s as Kinlochkilkerran, the region of Campbeltown was once regarded as the “whisky capital of the world”, boasting nearly 30 distilleries in its heyday.

Although Campbeltown, also known as the “Wee Toon” is only 81 miles from my home, as the crow flies, it is some 164 miles by road which would take almost 4 hours, admittedly through spectacular scenery either via the Trossachs or Loch Lomond National Park.

Having travelled the various road routes regularly en-route to Islay there is a less obvious but more relaxing alternative: travel part way by sea.

During the summer months it is possible, using the Isle of Arran as a stepping stone, to use Cal Mac Ferries to travel from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to Claonaig at the top of the Kintyre Peninsula, leaving only a 37 mile road journey on roads giving spectacular views to either the east or west side depending on the route chosen, the B842 via Grogport or my favoured choice being via the main A83 via Tayinloan with its views towards Gigha, Jura and Islay.

A long weekend in August saw the journey on first ferry trip from Ardrossan to Brodick on Arran undertaken in sea conditions which, although ‘lumpy’, didn’t detract from the stunning views of both the mainland and Arran.

Ferry view
The view from the ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig

 

The Isle of Arran is often described as Scotland in miniature, and indeed it is: with the flatter rural south of the island giving way to the mountainous area of Goatfell and the more rugged north where you can easily visit Lochranza Castle and the picturesque Isle of Arran Distillery.

With the first spirit flowing from the stills in 1995, this distillery has continued to develop, offering excellent tours, a well-stocked shop with some exclusive cask finished single malts and a cafe offering a welcoming refreshment stop before the short 30 minute ferry trip from Lochranza to Claonaig. This ferry operates during the summer months only (usually April to October) and offers unique views both of Arran and Kintyre. The winter route (between October and March) goes from Claonaig to East Tarbert and is longer and more exposed!

When visiting Campbeltown it’s difficult not to be reminded of its whisky history, be it Campbeltown Loch, itself made famous in the Alan Campbell song repopularised by Andy Stewart, the three currently producing distilleries, the visible remains of the distilleries long since closed or simply the selection of whiskies in the local hostelries.

Choosing but one distillery to visit is always a difficult choice but leaving Springbank and Glengyle aside for another occasion, Glen Scotia was the choice, and what a great choice it was.

Glen Scotia distillery
Glen Scotia distillery

Founded in 1832 Glen Scotia, or Lochhead as it was previously known, has undoubtedly undergone resurgence under the Loch Lomond Group and a visit there provided a tour showcasing some great whiskies. Among them was an unusual peated Glen Scotia which Archie the tour guide explained was produced using woodland peat, thus offering a softer and sweeter smoke than that of the Islay malts, despite having very similar PPM. This is a whisky that you won’t find in most Scotch whisky shops, so it’s worth visiting the distillery for that alone!

 

 

 

 

What is unusual and fascinating about Glen Scotia is that from within this distillery site, the remains or sites of three other closed/demolished distilleries could be seen, showcasing Campbeltown’s historic reputation as the whisky capital of the world in days gone by: Lochruan (now demolished), Lochhead (now the site of a supermarket) and Ben More (now a bus depot).

Lochruan distillery
The wall of Lochruan distillery, now the boundary wall of Glen Scotia
Ben More Distillery
What was once Ben More Distillery

Campbeltown has so much to offer that it’s too much for a weekend, so I will definitely be back. Next time a walk up to Crosshill Loch – the water source for all three Campbeltown distilleries – may well be appropriate.”

Campbeltown is just one of the regions showcased during a whisky tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. A Gold Tour is the perfect way to try whiskies from the different regions of Scotland, compare flavours and find your perfect dram.

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