east cairngorms

Visitor Attractions

The Jacobite Whisky Trail a hidden secret of the East Cairngorms

The East Cairngorms, of Ballater and Braemar, is steeped in a rich whisky history and has inspired many tales of trials, tribulations, celebrations and commiserations revolving around the angel nectar…

Local historian Maureen Kelly shares here her 5 favourite whisky-related stories that occurred during the area’s most tumultuous years.

  1. Braemar Castle

In 1748, Braemar Castle was taken over by the government and rebuilt by the military, then garrisoned for over 80 years. This followed the collapse of the last Jacobite Rising, when Charles Edward Stewart’s (better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) tried in vain to regain the British throne.

The garrison task was to prevent any future Jacobite activity, to control cattle thieving and, towards the end of the 18th century, to prevent illicit whisky distilling. Ironically, the garrison were actually the principal customers!

  1. Braemar Graveyard (near Braemar Castle carpark)

This is the site of 1824 grave of 110 year old Peter Grant (Auld Dubrach), the last surviving Jacobite Soldier who fought in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army at Culloden in 1746. This being the iconic battle which famously ended the last Jacobite Rising.

Around 300 people attended Auld Dubrach’s funeral and were reported to have drunk 4 gallons of whisky! 

3. River Quoich Punchbowl (2nd Rising, 1715)

This is the site of the gathering of clan leaders on 5 September 1715, ostensibly for a great stag hunt, but in reality, to plan and drink to the success of the Rising. 

Traditionally, a large hollow in the flat rocks just above the Linn of Quoich was filled with whisky and honey with which the Clansmen toasted “The King over the Water” (ie the Old Pretender, James III). The rim of the Punch Bowl can still be seen but its base now has a hole eroded by the action of the river.

4. Lochnagar Distillery

Lochnagar Distillery, dating back to 1823, was the earliest legal distillery in the area. It signifies the ‘cross-over’ between illicit whisky distilling of the Jacobite times and the legal distilling of the 19th century. 

In 1848, the distillery was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, apparently great fans of the tipple themselves. Twice before then the distillery had been burned down by vengeful whisky smugglers!

5. Tullich, or Milton of Tullich (c1748)

In 1748, Tullich, the oldest inhabited centre on Upper Deeside, was part of Balmoral estate, the home of James Farquharson of Balmoral (ie Balmoral the Brave). 

After the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746, James was in hiding some miles east of Tullich. A ‘friend’ betrayed his hiding place to the Braemar Garrison Captain in return for a reward. 

Appalled at the treachery of the ‘friend’, the Captain had no option but to set off to arrest James. He did not hurry, allowing his men to refresh themselves en route, no doubt their favourite drink of choice being a local whisky at the Tullich inn (no longer to be seen). 

There, in the hearing of the innkeeper’s wife he deliberately made their target known. She immediately sent a warning to James. As a result, and much to the satisfaction of the Captain, Balmoral had escaped before the arrival of the Garrison! 

If this blog has made you thirsty for a whisky, or more history, then why not head to Braemar and Ballater to enjoy the numerous bars and restaurants serving a range of whisky delights? There’s the Balmoral Bar, in Ballater, for instance. Or The Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar, which has a dedicated whisky bar – Bertie’s bar – serving 365 different whiskies. 

You can also purchase bottles in several local outlets including Strachans on Golf Road, Ballater and in The Highlander and the Co-operative Store in Braemar.

Or, you could head to Queen Victoria’s distillery, Royal Lochnagar, itself. 

Alternatively, there’s always the option to buy hand-made whisky-flavoured chocolates at the Braemar Chocolate Shop. 

If it’s your history appetite that needs whetted, then you can purchase the booklet ‘Jacobites and Upper Deeside’ and other guide booklets and leaflets of the area in most village outlets.

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