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Issue 48 - Walk on the wild side (Highland Park)

Whisky Magazine Issue 48
June 2005

 

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Walk on the wild side (Highland Park)

Producing whisky in the middle of the North Sea is one long struggle but the results make it worthwhile. Dominic Roskrow visited Highland Park

Cutting peat in late April on the undulating hills high above Scapa Flow on Orkney isn't for the faint-hearted.

You have to make your way to the heart of the 2,000 acre estate that Highland Park owns, navigate bumpy lanes and walk along a pathway littered with muddy pools and then, as the sharp winds whip through you, prise the coveted fuel away from a reluctant earth.

Winter doesn't give up easily in these parts, and even now, with a watery sun reflecting off the brooding waters of Scapa Flow, you're constantly aware of the bitter chill in the air, and the hazy mist that is turning darker by the second and will soon engulf the bay below.

But even this early in the season the clock's ticking, and the small team of diggers know that they have to push on when they can. At this time of the year a heavy rainfall will mock their efforts, dragging the peat cuttings back in to the earth so that they have to start again. Six months from now and the first squalls of winter will make retrieving the cut and dried peat all but impossible. And it's hard, physical graft and not without its dangers.

“I got a phone call from the team cutting the peat saying they had had to stop work because they'd found a bomb,” distillery production manager Russell Anderson will say later. “I thought they were mucking about. But it turns out that the plate cutting the peat had turned up something shiny which thankfully they spotted.

“It was an unexploded wartime bomb and the whole area had to ...

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