A treasure in beautiful Banffshire, the Ballindalloch Estate is home to a captivating castle and gardens, a pioneering distillery and a superb golf course designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie.
The holes closest to the Avon, the lovely par-3 7th and the testing par-4 8th are perhaps the best on the course. On the short hole, the tee shot is over a water hazard to a green surrounded by pines while, on the next, the drive must be threaded through the trees to find a narrow fairway.
What strikes you on this course is a feeling of serenity. It’s quiet and you’re surrounded by heather-clad hills, the river bubbles past and you can truly distance yourself from reality. My golf was fairly distant for most of the round but it didn’t matter, Ballindalloch is a course on which to enjoy the sense of place and simply to appreciate the beauty of the layout and its surrounds. I don’t like using the phrase “hidden gem” so I’ll stick with the historic tag-line attributed to the castle – “the pearl of the north;” this is a wee pearl.
The castle is extremely impressive and is open to visitors, as are the gardens and grounds. Dating from the 16th century, the building is full of history and some incredible works of art, including pieces by Allan Ramsay and a fine selection of 17th century Spanish paintings. The castle has a feel of being lived in and a section of it still is, by Guy and the girls. This is a home as well as a place of historic and cultural importance and that’s lovely to see.
Find more about Ballindalloch castle by clicking here.
Following a hearty bowl of soup and tasty beef sandwich (the estate is home to the oldest herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle in the world,) Jessie and I went to meet with Brian Robinson who looks after the Ballindalloch Single Estate Distillery for short tour of the property.
It’s important to note in the title of the distillery – “Single Estate.” This is the first of its kind in Scotland, the Ballindalloch distillery uses barley grown on the estate and water from the natural springs on the hill. The whisky is distilled and matured on the estate and the draff left over from mashing feeds the Aberdeen Angus cattle. It’s all wonderfully self-sustaining.
The distillery itself has been constructed in a converted steading just alongside the golf course. It has been done to the very highest level. To fit into the slightly awkward spaces of the steading, the equipment has been custom-made; almost everything bespoke. I’ve been to quite a few distilleries and have seen nothing quite like this. Guy and Brian have no qualms in saying that they are trying to produce something very high end here and the quality of the building work, the distilling equipment and the décor of the reception rooms provides evidence of this.
Touring round Jessie and I couldn’t hold in the oohs and aahs as we saw the striking copper stills, the amazing old, but beautifully restored, spirit safe, the satisfying stacks of barrels full of maturing spirit and the opulent “club room” where those who have enjoyed a tour can relax in leather armchairs to contemplate the precision and attractiveness of the whole process.
Production began at the distillery in September 2014 so it will be some time before we can taste a Ballindalloch single malt (another 8 years at least) but it should be worth the wait. The distillery is fully manually operated and the casks for maturation hand selected – some ex bourbon, others ex sherry – I’d be quietly confident that what is being produced here will be very good indeed.
That seems a key philosophy at Ballindalloch: if you’re going to do something then do it properly. The castle and grounds are meticulously maintained, the farming and forestry are sympathetically managed, the distillery is of the highest spec and the golf course is by two of the most eminent golf architects of recent times. On the drive home I felt I’d been let in on an amazing secret. I advise you to be let in on it too.
For more information on the Ballindalloch Single Estate Distillery click here.