A pleasant hour’s flight with British Airways from London Heathrow to Aberdeen transports you from the hustle and bustle of city life to a wild and scenic countryside. Aberdeenshire really does have it all. From Bennachie Mountain, which I’m told is a “pleasantly tough” climb, to an untouched coast, the North East of Scotland genuinely does cater to all.
We started our trip with a little over an hour’s drive to the beautiful town of Portsoy. As the endless stretch of sea and picturesque harbour is waiting to be explored the community board insists that the roughly 1,700 habitants of Portsoy are keen to let everyone know that the coastal area is a “town”, not a “village” or otherwise.
Although small, the pretty seaside town is most definitely on the rise. A plucky community bunch are working tirelessly day after to day to bring tourists into their beautiful area. The Salmon Bothy appears to be the unofficial community centre of the town. A nearly untouched building, the old fishing hub has now become a space to congregate; the residents meet for Whisky Galore! Screenings, Pilates and knitting groups. Sitting underneath the quaint space is a charming museum, full of the town’s artefacts and instructions on how the residents made their money fishing up until 1990.
A small walk around the corner and you’re greeted by the charming harbour. Still in use, the tiny port is the main setting of Whisky Galore!. A town’s resident, who was also one of the film’s extras, tells me that the harbour place especially became alive during production, as the residents flocked to see the likes of Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher strut their stuff on the pier.
Eddie Izzard stars in the adaptation of Whisky Galore!
Portsoy is the home of Whisky Galore!
The harbour was a key location in the film
The pub, (The Shore Inn), and the local cafe, (Beggars Belief Coffee Cove), naturally see the benefits of the film’s production and release and even have some of the props housed inside their charming residencies.
Also on the harbour, the community is working hard to regenerate the local area’s fortunes by creating and operating the Boatshed. The scheme aims to initially help local youths, who may not be engaged with school, to take them out of the classroom, teach them some boat-building skills as well as improve their chances when they leave education. Pupil, Elliot, tells me that he loves coming to the Boatshed once a week and has found a real talent for constructing the small sea vessels. What’s more the team are keen to explain that the teens are not only learning a practical skill, but are also using the likes of geometry in order to perfect the boats.
This is just one part of the story. The Boatshed now has a tourist initiate for creative families or teams where they can build a flat pack boat designed by one of the residents in a week and then take their creations away with them at the end of their stay. Teamed with the local hostel, groups can get a package and enjoy the charming town of Portsoy in one go. The newly refurbished Sail Loft now contains 24 beds and was recently voted one of the “coolest” hostels in the world by American Express. It’s something that the town is incredibly proud of, and quite rightly so. Kitted out with all the mod-cons, the accommodation houses beautiful views of the North Sea and on a sunny day it’s not a cliche to say that you can really see for miles. What’s more, the hostel’s most surprising features is a generous-sized hot tub in the landscaped garden. I’m informed that on a clear night, those fond of star-gazing can get their fill.
Away from the port and up a slight incline, Portsoy’s Main Street is home to convenience stores and the usual sights of a town centre. A true highlight however, is Portsoy Ice Creams, which is home to genuinely one of the best vanilla offerings in the country. Owner, Alex Murray, has a flair for the creative and not only serves your typical flavours, but experimental ones too. Blue raspberry, Parma Violets and condensed milk are among some of the very many tastes to sample.
The relatively untouched town was the perfect setting for the period film
Meldrum House is the perfect location for a whisky-themed getaway
New Aberdour beach is a must-see, especially during sunset
If it’s Aberdeenshire you want to explore in general, Meldrum House is the place to stay. The absolutely stunning 12th century home is striking on first appearance, as its turrets and crest laden bricks greet you. The hotel and golf course is owned by “three wealthy businessmen” who see it as a project, and as a result, it really is fantastic. Luxury is not spared in any element of the house and it is staffed by a team of enthusiastic and cheerful Aberdeenshire residents who take real pride in their work.
Each room is kitted out with an enormous kingsize, a huge stand-in shower, and stunning views of the golf-course. Downstairs, guests can dine in a choice of cutesy rooms with armchairs and leather a-plenty. The menu boasts locally sourced beef and game, which is all the tastier for it. Scottish delicacies make the restaurant a real pleasure to dine like royalty in. What’s more, the joined on “cave bar” is host to a whisky bounty. Guests can try pretty much any scotch they like and if they are that much of a fan – and get in fast enough – they can even purchase one of the Whisky cabinets, where they can keep a bottle in permanently. Renters will get a key to the little cove, and can pop in for a “wee dram” of their chosen drink at any time. You’d be in good company too, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s name on one of the cabinets.
One trip that is an absolute must is to New Aberdour beach. The untouched cove is home to naturally formed caves and arches. The scene really comes alive at sunset, with packs of birds flying around the silhouetted cliffs. Wrap up warm and get an added bit of heat from your whisky of choice. As our tour guide, Alistair Brodie, told us while sipping a wee dram on the beach, whisky is not what flavour you like, it’s the company you drink it with and the setting you’re in. As I sampled a 40-year-old number which certainly burned the throat, I found it hard to think otherwise. Somehow, by magic, the sublime setting sweetened the drink and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed whisky for the first ever time.
For more information on visiting Scotland and locations featured in Whisky Galore! visit: www.visitscotland.com/films
Whisky Galore! is out to buy on DVD now.