Stromness Whisky Distillery

By Nick Morrison


My kind neighbour lent me Alfred Barnard’s book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom knowing my liking for the wine of the country. It really is a most fascinating read and am after a copy.

In 1886 Alfred made a most remarkable pilgrimage, by Train, horse, carriage and steamer in recording all the distilleries of England , Ireland and Scotland. He was meticulous in recording not only the details of the distillery but of its surroundings, the journey and the people. His book has been likened to the works of Martin Martin, Thomas Pennant and Samuel Johnson.

Scanning the index some familiar names leapt out at me like Ardbeg, Abelour, Talisker, then I came to Highland Park, and Scapa but Stromness?

Scapa Distillery B Bell

Photo credit: B Bell

His travel notes make interesting reading to one who has traveled the same routes in modern times.

” We took train from London to Thurso, a tedious journey occupying a day and a half. “{plus la change !} “We hastened to embark on the mail steamer St Olaf which leaves Scrabster pier soon after seven”

It would appear that in his day there was a connection between Steamer and Rail time tables unlike what we have now.

“The passage across the Pentland Firth is one of the roughest and usually most unpleasant in the British Isles”

And he traveled in summer!

“On reaching the Castle Hotel (Kirkwall) the buxom landlady was waiting to receive us with a nip of whisky and ginger cake according to custom”

highland parkAlfred devotes 3 pages to Highland Park, 2 pages to Scapa, the newest distillery having only been completed in 1885, and a further 2 pages to Stromness.

He described it as having been built in the shape of a parallelogram into the side of the hillside so no pumps were required. Peat was the only fuel used. The mash tun was 10′ in diameter and 5′ deep. There were 2

“sma old pot stills of 300 gallons each one of these a veritable smugglers still of peculiar shape” which was formerly owned by a noted Law evader. He described the still house as being the oldest part of the work”

being cut out of the solid rock and formerly used by smugglers as their Still and mashing house.

You can find out more about the Stromness Distillery here: Stromness Distillery Orkney 

Stromness may 2018 A

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  1. This reminds me of ‘The Longest Crawl’ by Ian Marchant. It’s not about whisky, and it’s not about Orkney, but it is a good read.
    I’ll quote from the blurb…..
    “Ian and Perry set off from the Turk’s Head on the Isles of Scilly, the most south-westerly pub in Britain, and by way of Plymouth, Glastonbury, Winchester, Kensal Green, Wild Wales, Walsall, Burton, Skegness, Lancaster, Gretna Green, Glasgow, Jura and Duff Gardens, ended up in the most north-easterly place you can go for a drink, the Baa Bar at RAF Saxa Vord on Unst in the Shetlands, where they breached National Security.”

    Presumably leaving their livers behind, somewhere along the way.

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