Saturday, September 20, 2008

Working in a lead mine, going down down

From the list of alternative careers, I can emphatically strike miner.

On a day trip from Durham we visited Killhope, which was a working lead mine in the 19th century. We took the tour, which included going down into the mine in hard hats and galoshes.

I was cold and claustrophobic after an hour, with proper gear and an electric light.

The miners had neither. The 19th century version of a hard hat was a felt hat covered in mud and left to dry overnight. However, the walls of the mine drip freezing cold water, so that felt hat can't have been hard for long.

And the all that water collected ankle deep on the ground. Wading through it in galoshes was unpleasant enough.

Oh yeah, and about the lights? The miners used tallow candles, which burned very quickly. So for the 45 minutes to an hour that it took them to get to their job site for the day, they went without light entirely, slogging through the frigid water, stooping to avoid hitting their heads in absolute blackness.

Back into the light!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Before we return to our meanderings across England, here is a list of the new whiskies we tried while in Edinburgh and our tasting notes.

This was our third time in Edinburgh, and on every trip we have ended each day by stopping by the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center at the top of the Royal Mile to taste some new whisky. The tastes are quite reasonable--usually between £2-£4. They don't have every expression of every distiller, but they have probably 300 single malts including some that are quite rare. The bartenders are friendly and very knowledgeable and, while they seem to spend most of their time saying the same thing over and over while serving up the 4 part tasting that comes with the cheesy barrel tour upstairs, when we express an interest and some basic knowledge they have always been happy to teach us more and point us to personal favorites. It's a fine tradition that I look forward to carrying on when next we visit.

The * denotes a favorite. "Flora & Fauna" are, as near as I can tell, select bottlings from small distilleries that are not much exported. I am trying to find a better definition but in a rare moment, the internet has completely failed me, as has Michael Jackson (no, not him, silly. Him.) In any event, in our now rather broad experience they are always exceptionally interesting and usually quite delicious malts.

Edradour 1995, Bordeaux Wood Finish
Rough finish, medicinal.

*Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition, finished in Oloroso casks
Toffeeish with vanilla and honey. Light peatiness.

Caol Ila Distiller's Edition, Muscatel cask
Fresh sea air aromas and a sweet, fruity finish. A little smoky. Rich intensity.

Bowmore 16 y.o. Limited Edition 1990
Medicinal, not very pleasant. Very aggressive.

Smokehead (blended, a share from another patron)
Lisa says: Nondescript
Theresa says: Slightly peaty, alright.

Dufftown 15 y.o. Flora & Fauna
A little fruity, not too sweet, light and very smooth.

Glendullan 12 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Light and very smooth with a creamy, lingering finish.

*Mortlach 16 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Lots of character, smooth with a little smoke, a little fruit and a little sherry.

*Glenlivet Archive 21 y.o.
Creamy, smooth, sweet.

Auchentoshan Triple Wood
T says "Meh. Light and not very complex."
L says "A little sharp, but not in a bad way. Grassy."

*Benriach 15 y.o. Dark Rum Finish
Smooth, definitely taste the sweetness of the rum. Caramel nose.

Benriach 16 y.o.
A little smoky, fruity, hints of toffee. Honey nose.

Benriach 15 y.o. Tawny Port
Seemed sharp sometimes and smooth others. Caramel.

>>>Tangent: There were maybe 10 different expressions of Benriach, a Speyside, at the Scotch Heritage Whisky Center. For the first few days, we avoided them completely because, although located on the top shelf, they have a distinctly bottom-shelf-at-7-11 look to them; loud, garish colors and maybe even a little sparkly gold to kick up the cheesy sunset behind the mountain on the label. But one day, chatting up the bartender, we asked for his favorites and he pointed us to Benriach. These people need some new marketing, is all I have to say. Good whisky, ungodly bad labels.

*Balblair 1989 Vintage
Banana nose, long smooth finish. Really good for sipping.

Clynelish Distiller's Edition
Grassy finish, fruity nose

*Glenmorangie Lasanta
Very sweet, full taste. Raisiny. Velvet finish.

**Glenmorangie 15 y.o. Sauternes Finish
Well-rounded, marzipan, but can definitely taste the Sauternes. Amazing.
>>>Note: not to be confused with,

Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or (also finished in Sauternes casks)
Very light, fruity nose. A bit sharp. Very good, but nothin' compared to the Sauternes finish.

*Ardbeg Renaissance (Yes, the namesake of the cow)
Very smoky, but not overpowering. Citrus finish. Best with a splash of water.
>>>Note: this is a fine example of the bartenders at the Center providing great guidance. I have always avoided Ardbeg because I have always heard it described as "The peatiest of the Islay malts," followed by the answer to my question, "Yes, peatier than Laphroig." Peaty is usually used synonymously with "smoky" and Laphroig tastes like chewing on coal to me, so I ruled Ardbeg right out. But one day our bartender was waxing so rhapsodic about Ardbeg in general and this expression in particular that I figured what the hay. What a lovely surprise. It is quite smoky, but not so ashy as Laphroig, and the citrus and high notes make an effective balance.

Old Pulteney 21 y.o.
Very caramel nose. Slight pear finish. Slightly harsh.

Auchroisk 10 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Nose is strong and slightly fruity. Very smooth taste, lingering finish of apple, hint of butterscotch.

Glenrothes 1994

Longmorn 16 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Cherry and almond overtones. Smooth.

Inchgower 14 y.o. Flora & Fauna

*Mannochmore 12 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Hint of peat. Smooth and mellow.

Peaty tang, lingering pleasant smoky flavor.

*Tomintoul 12 y.o. Oloroso Finish
Very smooth and caramelly.

*Dailuaine 16 y.o. Flora & Fauna
Fruity with a smoky finish and a full body.

Rosebank Flora & Fauna
(we tried this at The Hind's Head before dinner at the Fat Duck, but forgot to make notes. I know I liked it, but I'm afraid the memory was overshadowed by the amazing dinner.)

Good point

We interrupt this travelogue for a trenchant political observation from Fred:

At the Republican National Convention, John McCain said,
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's . . . I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."

So by that measure GITMO is an opportunity for foreigners to learn an object lesson in
fanatical love of Home-Sweet-Home.


Monday, September 08, 2008


Annie is the house dog at 66 Claypath, our B&B. She and Theresa had a little thing going on. Much to everyone's surprise, I'm sure.

Long Meg and her daughters

On our day trip to the Pennines, to the West of Durham, we wandered off the beaten path quite a ways to find Long Meg and her daughters, an ancient stone circle.

Long Meg

And her daughters

Meet Ardbeg

While in Edinburgh, we acquired a mascot. We named him after one of our favorite new whiskies that we tasted at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center, Ardbeg Renaissance. Plus it just seemed like a good name for a felt cow. Look for him in our upcoming travels.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


On our first full day in Durham, we were both feeling a little beat from the craziness of the day before, so we decided to stay put. We walked into the very tiny center of town and then up to the cathedral and the castle.

The river

View of the town from the cathedral

The castle

The cathedral

The knocker on the front door of the cathedral. Who's that good looking cow?

The cross

A couple of details from the cross

In the center courtyard of the cathedral

Closeup of the cool sandstone that the cathedral and castle are built from

Headstone from the graveyard just outside the cathedral

This is our tourguide at the castle. He is a second year law student at Durham University and as such gets to live in the castle. How cool is that? The students also get to take their meals in a giant Harry Potteresque dining hall, and on Tuesday and Thursday nights they have formal meals.

Here is a photo of the library in the castle. We were forbidden to take any photos inside, though no one explained why. And being the obstinate cuss that I am I couldn't resist.

This is a statue in the town square. I vote him Gayest Neptune Ever.

After all that touristing, we stopped for a beer in town.

Pretty doors of Durham

Northern England: Day One

Or, Lisa tries to remember how to drive a stick shift, Lisa and Theresa nearly get stranded on Holy Island, and finally drag their sorry asses into Durham.

Tom and Tristan left early Saturday morning to catch their flight to the Orkneys, while we lounged about a bit in hopes of catching the farmer's market (which we totally missed--guess we'll have to go back) before heading to the airport to pick up our rental car. Though we requested an automatic, this is the UK we're talking about and we had no such luck. I grew up driving a standard, though, and it's a bit like riding a bike. In this one, however, not only was everything on the wrong side, but 1st and reverse were next to each other, and I kept putting it in 3rd for fear of hitting reverse by accident, and then stalling, and stalling, and stalling. Often in the middle of yet another roundabout.

Eventually we managed to get out of Edinburgh and on our way to England, chanting all the while, "Stay on the left, stay on the left . . . ." Our first stop was the Scottish Sea Bird Center in Berwick. I couldn't figure out why all the place names were sounding so familiar at first: Berwick Law, Isle of May, Culross. Ahh . . . the beautiful song about St. Thaney by Karine Polwart, that's it!

Historically Berwick made its living on fishing. Now it seems mostly to be a tourist town, but there are references to its fishing past all over the place

The Sea Bird Center had live cameras on the Isle of May and some other smaller rocks out in the ocean just offshore. There were huge screens and controls to manipulate the cameras, so we got to see some amazing views of gannets with their chicks. There were about 100,000 of them on the rock when we were there!

The tide pools outside the Center

After the Center, we picnicked in a very cute garden in the town of Berwick.

Setting up the shot

From Berwick we continued down the East coast of Southern Scotland and into England. Theresa had done some research and really wanted to visit Holy Island, where St. Cuthbert lived and died. To get there, one drives over a couple of miles of mud flats.

There are signs suggesting that tide charts should be consulted before crossing the mudflats to the island, but no tide charts in evidence. Seeing miles of relatively dry land between the causeway and the water, we figured we were safe. When we arrived on the island, we found a parking lot where you have to leave your car and be shuttled by bus the rest of the way to see the castle and village.

Theresa went to buy a parking sticker and I spied a sign entitled "tide chart," so I thought I'd take a look. Said the sign: "Safe times to cross over to Holy Island" followed by rows of dates and times. For our date, the safe times were from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 6:45 p.m. until midnight. It was 3:30 as I read the sign. Hollering, cursing and fast driving ensued.

When we arrived at the causeway, the water had reached the edges of the road. We hightailed it over the low point, parked the car a couple hundred feet away, and walked back to watch the ocean devour the road we had just crossed in under 10 minutes.

Some other things we did in Edinburgh

Theresa and I took a leisurely stroll down the East end of the Royal Mile, where things are much less crowded, and discovered a beautiful hidden garden.

What's the Mushroom Trust and how do I become the beneficiary?

We visited Greyfriars Kirkyard, which was appropriately cool in a creepy sort of way.

There's a kitty in that window.

Theresa, Tom and Tristan visited the National Museum (while I lay in bed trying to get unsick). Here is one of my favorite Andy Goldsworthy installations. All the bones from a beached whale, formed into a perfect sphere.

I visited a store called DemiJohn, where they sell all sorts of infused liquors, small batch vinegars, olive oils, and some single malt scotch, all in refillable glass containers. Why don't we have one of these in Ferry Building? How do I go about opening one of my own?

Also, as a special treat, we got to hang out a bit with Ronn and Brendan, who were coincidentally also in Edinburgh enjoying the festival!