"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Glenside Distillery, Campbeltown

You may wish to pour yourself a small dram before embarking on this particular voyage and may I ask you to raise your glass to some characters we will meet along the way.

Perhaps from having less to narrate on the smaller distilleries in town Barnard offers more thoughts on the local area and also reveals a little more of his dry sense of humour in doing so.  Before visiting the next distillery his party were offered a drive to Saddell Castle by the landlord of the White Hart Hotel, an offer that leads Barnard to narrate a story or two.

Saddell is a small village about ten miles north of Campbeltown along a coast line frequented by smugglers in the past.  Barnard describes one owner of the castle by the name of McDonald who was apparently a despot and “tradition says that he knew the use of gunpowder, and for sport, to keep himself in practice, would shoot people with his long gun”!

McDonald is also described as a very strong man who once, after entertaining some guests from Ireland, went to them in the morning “and wishing to test his strength of arm he drew his sword and cut off their heads”.  Barnard wryly describes this as “such playful conduct that would hardly be tolerated these days”.  Eloquently understated there by the old fellow. (To days gone by...)

Barnard then quotes a few lines of Burns’ poetry and notes that the ‘Highland Mary’ remembered in some of his poems and songs once lived in Campbeltown “in a little cottage facing the bay” near to where the Glenside distillery was later built.  Those of you who have followed this story for a while will know my passion for Burn’s poetry so please forgive me while I dally again, this time with one of the saddest episodes in Burns’ life but one which, as was oft the case, led to the most beautiful poetry and song.

Mary Campbell was one of Burns’ lovers and they may well have been betrothed after exchanging bibles in Ayrshire.  She appears to have been ready to emigrate to the West Indies with Burns in 1786 as she travelled from Campbeltown to Greenock to meet him there before he was due to sail.  Soon after arriving in Greenock she died either from a fever or, some reports suggest, from childbirth.  This episode so grieved Burns that he wrote songs, poems and letters about her over the six years following.

Barnard records just two lines from the 1792 song ‘Highland Mary’:

“For dear to me as light and life,
Was my sweet Highland Mary.”

and the whole composition is quite the most sorrowful song of loss and grieving.  This lass certainly held Burns’ heart and after falling for her he wrote some of his most emotive lines in the 1786 song ‘My Highland Lassie, O’:

“She has my heart, she has my hand,
By secret troth and honour's band!
Till the mortal stroke shall lay me low,
I'm thine, my Highland lassie, O.”

How desperately sad then for Burns that just six months later that ‘mortal stroke’ came to take her first.  He never made the voyage to the West Indies and his journey hastened on to Edinburgh to publish a second volume of his poems, but he never forgot and her memory lives on through his works. (To Mary...)

Glenside distillery was actually the first site I visited in Campbeltown, it being the closest to the Dellwood Hotel.  It was built in 1830 off Dalaruan Street on the north side of town and received water “by a conduit direct from the Aucholochie Loch at the back of the Distillery” and a well in the grounds.  Ha, the Aucholochie Loch indeed!  Okay, I’m not getting into that again, suffice to say it’s actually called the ‘Aucha Lochy’, it is right beside Knockruan Loch, and further discussion on naming conventions can be found in my report on Lochruan, unless you have already bored yourselves with that. Onward.

Barnard describes “an irregular section of buildings, which are all enclosed and entered by an arched gateway”.  If this sounds familiar to his last report on Rieclachan then there is more to follow.  Despite many recent improvements “nothing short of pulling the place down, and rebuilding it, could ever give it the appearance of a modern Distillery” which is the same sentiment as he expressed there.  The wily distillery manager noted of this suggestion that “any such alterations would not improve the Whisky or increase the sale”.

The details of the distillery are again fairly standard although with three Barley Lofts, four Malt Barns and three kilns it suggests that these were all relatively smaller than other distilleries in town given the annual output of just 70,000 gallons (318,000 litres).  The barley was mainly brought in from Stirlingshire in central Scotland, the first time I have heard of this region as a supplier to the whisky trade.

The distillery experienced mixed fortunes during its near century lifespan although it never succumbed to one of the large consolidations that took place elsewhere in town.  Nevertheless, it still became one of the 1920s casualties and the company went into liquidation in December 1930 (Stirk, 2005), the distillery demolished soon after.  The 1931 obituary of Duncan MacCallum (Glen Nevis, Kinloch, Scotia) states that he and other trade friends had recently acquired the distillery but it never appears to have got going again.  The liquidation meeting took place just five days before he drowned in Crosshill Loch.  (To Duncan...)

The site is now mid 1930s housing in a block named Glenside, the new housing on the other side of the street for some reason named Glenburn Court instead.  Only the old south-west retaining wall remains.

Glenside drying green behind housing block
When I first encountered Glenside as a drying green behind 1930s housing little did I know I would be inspired to write a report as long as this.  Barnard and Burns are indeed my muses and I hope I continue to find words of interest and sentiment as my journey continues. (To Barnard and Burns...).  Not long to go now with Campbeltown, after which I will begin to narrate my journey to Islay last week.  I hope you will stay with me on the trail as every day on that magical whisky island brought new adventures and pleasant surprises.  SlĂ inte, to you!