Olly Wehring

Postcard from Orkney, with Highland Park

By: Olly Wehring - 15 October 2010 01:13

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I've just got home from a memorable two days on the northern Scottish island of Orkney, as a guest of Edrington Group's Highland Park single malt brand. Not only was it my first trip to the islands – located seven miles north of the Scottish mainland - it was also the furthest north I've been in the British Isles.

The journey up was certainly part of the adventure – I can heartily recommend the Caledonian Sleeper train, which leaves London at 2350 and arrives at Edinburgh Waverley at 0730 the next morning. I slept like a baby in my cabin as the train headed north, and was woken by breakfast and the morning's Scotsman (it's a newspaper, potty-mind).

An hour-long flight from Edinburgh took us to Kirkwall, the main town on the island of Orkney, population: 20,000. From the airport, our local guide, Jim, took us on a tour of the Scapa Flow area of the island – one for the World War I and II buffs. A quick lunch was followed by the obligatory distillery tour, which took in the malting rooms and peat-fired burners for Highland Park. Orkney is home to two distilleries, the other being Pernod Ricard's Scapa, barely a stone's-throw from Highland Park.

In the evening, we boarded a boat and sped across the Bay of Kirkwall to the island of Shapinsay – a white-water trip of 30 minutes in the dark, which raised the proximity of the elements to concern-creating levels. An informal, rustic dinner in a locally-run restaurant included seafood, steak, darts and Highland Park. Time was called at gone midnight, and we headed back to the main island with a bottle of cask strength being passed around on deck.

Not responsible drinking, I concede.

The next day, we continued with the tour of the island – lochs, seals, curlews, neolithic stones, St Magnus' Cathedral and the rocky coast of Yesnaby (next stop, Canada). And, of course, a dram to ward off the wind.

And, of course, a dram to ward off the wind

With thanks to Susie Davidson, Matt Turner, Gerry Tosh, Ken Grier and the Orcadians of Highland Park. I'll be back.

NB: The trip was made all the more evocative by the 71st anniversary of the sinking of the Royal Oak, with the loss of 833 souls, at Scapa Flow by a German U-boat.

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