Whisky Magazine Issue 63
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Robin Laing packs his bags and heads out to Campbeltown to find whisky production is thriving again
Back in 1098, the Treaty of Tarbert granted to the King of Norway, Magnus Bareleg, “all the western isles round which a ship could sail”. The Viking warlord immediately had his longships dragged across the one-mile neck of land at Tarbert to prove that the Kintyre peninsula was an island too. He made his point but these days he would simply have to sail through the Crinan Canal. A tourist sign at Tarbert announces that you are now crossing over to ‘the Mainland Island'.
Kintyre is a magical land of forests, misty headlands and surf-battered beaches. It has a wrap-around, shipwreck coast with panoramic views of Arran, Ailsa Craig, Islay and Northern Ireland. It offers a shadow show of historic figures from Fergus the first King of Scotland, who had his parliament here, to St Columba, whose footprints can still be seen nearby, from the Vikings to Robert the Bruce and later on, to the fanatical Covenanters.
It might as well be an island, such is the journey required to get there, but from the time of the earliest saints in their coracles through the age of Magnus and his longships to the long rule of the Lords of the Isles and on to the great age of steam ships, the sea was the main highway of the world and Campbeltown was an important crossroads.
In the glory days, about a hundred years ago, Campbeltown could claim to be the richest town in Scotland. That wealth came from shipping and fishing, and from coalmining.
It also came from the whisky industry, and at one time...