Whisky snobs look away now: Black Grouse

Black Grouse

I may like malt whisky, but I can’t always afford it, particularly some of the ‘gourmet’ bottlings that distilleries are keen on tempting us all with.

Consequently, I’ve dabbled with a few blends and now have a couple of favourites. If you can get it, I can heartily recommend Bailie Nicol Jarvie.

More readily available is Black Grouse, a variant of Famous Grouse, which combines Islay Malts with the usual blend.

The bottle promises that characteristic Islay smokiness and, while present on the nose and hefty for a blend, it’s subdued. Certainly not one for the salivating smoke and peat heads out there. Continue reading

The Singleton of Dufftown

Thought I’d give my unrefined palette a work out with something a bit more straightforward this week.

Hailing from the malt epicentre that is Speyside , the Singleton of Dufftown has always raised an eyebow while perusing the spirit shelves of supermarkets, not least due to its distinctive, hipflask bottle. Connoisseurs sniff at it, dubbing a ‘designer whisky’… all brand and no trousers. Continue reading

Review: Gore Bike Wear Contest II Windstopper Jacket, £90-100

Save for cycling shorts with purpose-designed pads, I re-use much of my lightweight backpacking clothing for cycling.

My Icebreaker merino base layers become decent cycle jerseys, while various gilets and lightweight waterproofs serve double roles admirably.

In winter weather, though (and we’ve had plenty of that lately) I’ve found my trusted layering system is too bulky for cycling in comfort. Consequently, I though it time I invested in a dedicated winter jacket and opted for the Gore Bike Wear Contest II Windstopper. Continue reading

More festive malty goodness: Caol Ila

Caol Ila selection box reviewI’ve been very well served so far this festive season with the excellent Jura Prophecy – it serves me now as I write this.

I did receive another rather special whisky, though ( from someone rather special, God bless ‘em). This time, it’s an Islay malt, the rather milder Caol Ila in a selection box: the standard 12 year old, the richer 18 year and the potentially explosive cask strength. Continue reading

Not another manic Monday

Singing loudly and tunelessly to the car stereo as I drove over the Snake Pass this morning, I had the tiniest feeling of unease, bordering on guilt, as I made best of a day off work. While others were getting to grips with the working week, I was off to Alport Castles.

The Castles, a huge landslip high above the Snake Road, is a bashful cousin to the loud-and-proud Mam Tor, the ‘shivering mountain’ that presides over the Hope Valley and the Vale of Edale to the west.

Invisible to motorists on the main Manchester to Sheffield Road, the Alport Dale landslip is likewise protected to the easy by high moorland and the steep sides of the Upper Derwent Valley.

To appreciate it, therefore, you can climb the peaceful dale from below or, better still, approach from the moor by climbing out of the Upper Derwent and trotting across the bog. Alport Castles reveals itself at the very last minute, just before you plunge into its depths.

I’d never visited this area before, only seeing the Castles in glossy National Trust brochures. I felt it needed a special day weather-wise, and I was pretty sure I had one.

Cresting the Snake Pass and the Woodlands Valley was cloaked in mist: conifers were ghostly apparitions appearing out of the gloom. The car thermometer recorded a sudden drop in temperature, from high single figures in the sunshine to barely above freezing. If I didn’t dawdle, I could be at the rim of Alport Dale with the sun in my face and mist hugging the valley – perfect.

I parked above Fairholmes and set off along the reservoir. The mist sighed in the bows of the trees and I could smell the dampness of the forest floor.

Reaching Ouzelden Clough, the fog lifted awhile and Derwent’s waters were glassy, the faintest breeze giving the reflections an impressionists’ stipple.

A couple of hundred yards later, and the chill had closed in again along with the view. One tower of Howden Dam was visible but little else.

I left the road through Ditch Clough Plantation and bore left climbing the path to the moor. I followed a well-used track southwest, weaving between grouse butts. The sun was now high and warm, bringing me to a halt to remove a layer to two.

I soon reached the western fringes of the moor and, as promised, Alport Castles revealed itself at the last moment. Precipitous cliffs were perched above a chaotic ampitheatre of boulders and hummocks crowned by the Tower, a ragged pinnacle of debris.

It was indeed impressive, but the cloud choking the upper reaches of Alport Dale and the Woodlands Valley beyond added drama to the scene. I sat on the edge of the Castles, as close as I dared, and munched on some off-season Christmas Cake and watched the mist’s wraith-like retreat.

I pressed on along the edge of Rowlee Pasture and to the border of Hagg Side plantation. Skirting the conifers, I had the option of dropping down to shores of Ladybower early, but stayed high over Bridge-end Pasture only dropping to the valley floor at Crookhill Farm, where two excitable Border Collies gave chase.

Dropping down from the road, I followed the pleasant path along the shores of Ladybower back to the car. A straightforward, dare I say ‘easy’, walk, but one of the finer trips I’ve had in the Dark Peak.

High above Alport Dale
Alport Castles
Alport Castles looking towards the Woodlands Valley
The path across Rowlee Pasture
Ladybower Reservoir

(Day) Dream Rides

When I’m not on my bike, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about them. It’s a pretty sad admission to make, but there you have it… I’ve come out of the closet.

Normally, I’ll be thinking of new components to add or composing a new ‘high end’ wheelset for my Audax. Then there are new tools I can acquire so I can do more jobs in my garage rather than resorting to my LBS.

The best daydreaming (or worst, if you ask my other half) focuses on new bikes to add to the stable. I’ve already ‘fessed up to my love affair with Mercian frames and one day I may own one. The other target of my desire is the Moulton.

I had the great pleasure of riding a ‘Bradford-on-Avon’ machine a few years ago. It was stunning, as was the price.

The ingenious suspension provided deliciously smooth ride despite the frame being incredibly stiff and strong. The stainless steel tubing and brazing were astonishing. I can understand why travel writer and Moutltoneer Eric Newby once said these machines are the work of Faberge.

They are quirky, admittedly, but this only adds to their appeal.

Many frown at the hoops, but small wheels have never bothered me. I cycled daily across London for five years on a Bike Friday Pocket Llama and I like the quick acceleration and incredible strength of the 406 wheelset.

I note now that the Double Pylon New Series Moulton is £5,500, which is more than my car cost. This I will never afford unless the Camelot gods smile upon my other half (I don’t play) and feels I deserve a present.

There is another option, though. Stratford-upon-Avon manufacturer Pashley make a Moulton under licence, the TSR. The ‘touring’ version is bedecked with Campagnolo bits and might just fit me with some fettling.

I don’t need another bike, I know, but there’s no room for rational thinking here. As long as I have garage, it’s my ambition to fill it. If the worst happens, I can always sell them.

Climbing a ‘Col’, Pennine style

Being a fine Autumnal day yesterday, I had a another crack at Holme Moss, or ‘Le Col de Moss’ as it is optimistically known.

The day started with my now regular trundle over the pass to Holmfirth. The views down the Dovestones reservoir were stunning and I made good time.

Turning right at Compo’s Café, I made sedate progress to Holmbridge, past Brownhill Reservoir and onto Holme, the gradients now hinting at what was to come.

Past Holme, and the switchback route was clear to see snaking up the brown hillside.

At the first or maybe second turn, I’m sad to say that I weakened and engaged the granny gear. In my defence, I was trying to reach the top without exhausting myself… to see if I could make the ascent in relative comfort. The wide range block and triple made this possible.

There are markers on the climb at quarter mile increments which let you know how much misery or bliss, depending on your point of view, is left.

I reached the car park happy and, strangely, keen to go again.

Instead, I tumbled down the other side of the climb to the Woodhead Road, brakes squealing and hands freezing in the frigid air.

Two fingers from the Lairig Ghru

Before our blissful decompression at Kylesmorar, we spend a few days in the Rothiemurchus in the shadow of the Cairngorms.

As some ferocious weather battered much of Scotland, and curtains of rain turned some of Perthshire’s streets to rivers, the maelstrom didn’t really hit the northwestern Cairngorms. When things did take a turn for the worst, the Caledonian woods protected the tent.
Checking the week’s forecast, I picked the best day of a bad bunch to climb up into the Lairig Ghru and, perhaps, ‘top out’ on Braeriarch or, failing that, Sron na Lairige.

I’ve never been to the Lairig before, but had read plenty about it. The declivity slicing through the Cairngorm range offers bleak but beautiful passage for backpackers who’ve solved the logistical conundrum of car sharing or public transport and got to Braemar for the start of the walk to Aviemore (or vice versa).
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The Kylesmorar effect

I’ve delayed writing about our stay in a cottage on Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis, since our return at the weekend. I’ve needed time to reflect.

Many will identify with that feeling of isolation when they make tracks to the hills, but our week on this Kyeslmorar offered more. Yes, the ‘Kyles’ are remote, but they’re not devoid of people.

Staying on a on a working estate, our lodgings were free from the paraphernalia of modern living (mobiles, radio, television).

Here, the passage of time is marked by other events: the evening grazing of a stag, the early morning call of a buzzard, the solitary hoot of hello from the Western Isles ferry as she steams the eastern end of the loch, the comings and goings of the estate staff, their conversations over vhf radio.
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