To make good Scottish casks, ready to be filled with whisky, you need good Scottish oak from good Scottish forests . . . or so you may think.
In truth, the vast majority of casks are made abroad and sent to Scotland to be refashioned into our whisky vessels. This is done, and can only be done, by the highly trained artisans – nae, wood wizards! – known as coopers.
The reason for all of this cask travel is a lack of dense forestry in Scotland. Most of our green spaces are made up of open fields, designed to hold cattle and sheep. Last year we visited Gus from Trees4Scotland to talk to him about Scotland’s forestry situation and ask what hope there might be for Scottish Oak casks in the future. In this video (here) Gus explains how agriculture has historically taken priority over forestry, leading to devastated biodiversity in Scotland and overall a real lack of trees. We wanted to help, so we arranged for a tree to be planted at Auld Mill Wood for every cask that we sold.
Visit The Trees
There is another way in which we can help and that is by spreading the joy of trees. A lot of what Gus does is raise awareness of the Scottish forest situation and we are keen to join him in that mission. We encourage you not only to have a look at trees4scotland.com but also to get out and see the forests of Scotland. What better way of helping Scotland than by visiting its existing tree-filled realms? When was the last time you properly hugged a tree? They’re very nice, and Covid safe too.
And so I have compiled a list of 3 lesser-known forests for you to visit this autumn and, being a cheeky whisky fan, included the must-see distilleries that are nearby.
Starting simple; if you want to keep things close to Scotland’s capital, then may I recommend Roslin Glen Country Park? These are the woods that surround the famous Rosslyn Chapel, from Da Vinci Code lore. The Chapel itself has its own long history outwith Dan Brown’s imagination and as such is worth a visit. It is a beautiful and storied building with a history going back to the 15th century and many details to uncover for yourself.
The woods below the chapel take some walking; there are rolling hills, a steep valley and plenty of mud in the autumn but this all makes for a full on forest experience and some picturesque scenes. You will even find remnants of a castle that once lived among the tall trees; stand on the parapet and admire all below. This photo has been taken from beneath that parapet by @roanlavery – check out more of their shots of the area here.
It really is very convenient too, with ample parking down in the country park – which is only thirty minutes drive from Edinburgh.
Don’t forget to bring a little collecting bucket with you – the woods are heaving with blackberries at this time of year.
A New Take, A New Serve
If the sight of all these trees and ancient religious artefacts make you keen for a whisky you can pop back in your car and drive another half hour to the new and improved Glenkinchie Distillery.
Glenkinchie is one of Diageo’s distilleries and it has just been revamped to look shiny and new. There are beautiful modern visual displays as well as a model distillery from 1924. There are three whiskies and a cocktail available though if you have driven you may be able to ask for a take-away one, most distilleries do this. If you wanted to read more about the distillery then I would recommend Swedish Whisky Girl’s blog, which is available here,
Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park is in the South-West of Scotland. It is a dark-sky area and is also home to one of the best named towns in Scotland, Clatteringshaws. It is about an hour and a half from Glasgow and you must add another hour if you are coming from Edinburgh. The views are worth it when you get there! This photo from @tj_ashford_photography is but a glimpse!
It is a large area with plenty to do and see. Some highlights include:
- The Merrick, the highest hill in the southern uplands
- The renowned mountain biking trails
- Loch Ken – where there is an activity centre for learning watersports, archery or for a bit of laser tag.
If you are interested in Scotland’s natural larder then Galloway is also a great place to learn about foraging. Being far from big cities and their pollution the foods you find are extra lush and extra tasty. Galloway is also home to one of Scotland’s leading Foraging educators, Mark Williams. He is Scotland’s answer to Indiana Jones; go on one of his foraging courses this autumn and learn all about collecting mushrooms!
(I feel it is important to note that we are in no way sponsored by Mark, we are just really big fans who swoon at the sight of his large rimmed hat)
The Most Southernly Scotch Distillery
But, of course, you will need a dram to wash down all of that natural splendour! Luckily, there is Bladnoch distillery. To get there you must travel to the very south of the area, using some exciting single track roads. Definitely no drams before you start this journey. This is a real adventure. Once you have come to appreciate the value of your life in quite an intense manner you will have found yourself at the door of this fine establishment. Bladnoch distillery is over 200 years old but has recently been tastefully renovated. It feels very clean but also colourful and intriguing; their motto is ‘still, in flow.’ Deep.
The tour runs four times a day and a lovely, modern, fair-sized cafe for you to enjoy before and/or after. If you have big plans to enjoy the whisky in situ then I would recommend staying in nearby Wigtown for the night, the national book town of Scotland.
(@explorerfloyd, who kindly let us use this picture, has more pictures of Galloway including the Otter Pools)
King’s Cave Trail, Arran
A quarter of the Isle of Arran is forested. Imagine if that were true for the mainland – we might be able to make some whisky casks of our own!
In my experience, the forests of Arran offer the best peace and quiet. There is no greater solitude than being by yourself on an island. The forests here are quite well developed; any outside noise very easily dampened by thick foliage underground and well adorned trees. This particular route takes you through tranquil forest and crashing, stoney beaches. The cave itself has a very haunting aura; during the return walk you will think to yourself: ‘I am a true adventurer’.
Island inhabitants have a bit of a reputation for being stoic and standoffish – on Arran, this has never been less true. Arranachs are always keen for a chat, to tell you about their work on the island and to make sure you have an excellent time. In fact it was at Lagg distillery on Arran that I was introduced to the concept of a brookie – half cookie, half brownie. An invention of all that is glorious, fresh from the minds of those who live among nature.
Two For The Price of One!
They say that Arran is Scotland in miniature. With the mountains of the Highlands to the north of the island and the rolling hills of the Lowlands to the South. The Highland line does in fact run through Arran meaning that the geology of the north is very different to that of the south. You can also try a distillery from each region while you are there – so convenient! In the North is Arran’s Lochranza distillery, a medium sized set of buildings with two good stills and many lovely people working around them. Every visit to Lochranza that I have ever made has involved very generous tastings of a startling number of different bottlings. Then if you want to go to a Lowland distillery you can drive all the way down to Lagg distillery, a shiny and modern distillery that produces an exciting smokey new make (no whisky so far) as well as the aforementioned Brookie.
This is the most challenging forest of the season – you will need to book the hour long ferry crossing from Ardrossan on the west coast of Scotland, which is itself about 40 minutes from Glasgow.
Who Can Help To Navigate These Exciting Treescapes?
Well, if you are interested in a cask but want to get to know us and Scotland a little better first then you can always get in contact. You can do so by clicking here.
We have plenty of experience with the distilleries of Scotland as well as our own warehouse to visit. We also are pretty well versed in the flora AND fauna of Scotland, with our own director Patrick Costello an award winning master marksman.
If you are looking for a little extra on your tour of Scotland then I would still say to get in touch and we can point you in the direction of some of our best partners.