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Issue 1 - The ghost in the machine

Whisky Magazine Issue 1
January 1999

 

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The ghost in the machine

Charles Maclean takes a midnight tour of spectural distillery dogs ghostly maltmen and spirit footsteps that are silenced by the burning of boots. So draw the curtains and gather round the fire

Soon after the 1978 centenary of Glenrothes the stillman on duty noticed a silent presence in the stillhouse. He recognized the visitor by his dark complexion and long white hair – it was ‘Bye-way', who had been a well known figure around Rothes in former times. He was a friendly presence; the stillman was not alarmed.

Bye-way – Biawa Makalanga, to give him his proper name – had been found in Africa in 1894 by Major James Grant, proprietor of Glen Grant Distillery, while he was on a hunting trip. He was a small Matabele boy who had been abandoned by the wayside in Makalanga province (hence his name), and when all attempts to find his family failed – it was believed they had been massacred in a tribal feud – the Major adopted him and brought him back to Rothes.

He attended the village school and became Major Grant's butler, and when the Major died in 1931 he left provision for him in his will, with a room at Glen Grant House, coal from the distillery and meals at the local hotel. Biawa was a well-loved local character: ‘he spoke with a broad Rothes accent, was gentle, kind, and a quiet soul who won the affection of the whole community'. There is a charming photograph of him at Glen Grant's visitor centre. He died in Aberlour Hospital in January 1972 after a short illness, aged 84 or 85, and was buried in Rothes cemetery.

The story of the apparition at Glenrothes came to the attention of the late Cedric Wilson, Professor of Pharmacology at University College Du...

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