Trails and trials of the writer who walks
If I were living in a remote Scottish peninsula (dream on) I would pickle organic eggs in my out-house and employ Phoebe to turn it into a thriving tourist industry.
The Scottish Highlands, as the name suggests, (and I’ll come back to Phoebe in a minute), are a soul-wrenching canvas of mountains, lochs, rivers, glens, beaches and islands. It’s scenery. It’s isolation. While many tourists like the idea of all that grandeur and remoteness, they also prefer to experience it from the coach window, during a soporific couple of hours between the distillery and the haggis factory. With human activity and habitation being so sparse, every little thing becomes an ‘attraction’. One of the official brown tourist signs on the main road through Black Isle directs visitors to a garden centre, which is about as exciting as a car wash, in my opinion. I went to take a look and it was easily as exciting as a car wash but you got a better cup of tea.
I’m not saying that the Black Isle Brewery isn’t a cut above average, simply that I know towns in more densely populated areas where breweries are as common as pie shops. Here though, they make entirely organic beer on their own farm. The (black) sheep snack on leftover grain mash and you can buy a brewery sweater of undyed (black) wool harvested from said sheep. Oh, and the beer’s great too. The best treasure within the brewery, though, is Phoebe, who meets and greets tidal surges of international visitors, conducting them on free brewery tours, handing out tasters and sending them on their way with memories of a jolly good time. Nearer to closing time, when it all quietens down, Phoebe tells me she is studying to be a primary school teaching assistant. I can’t think of anyone better suited. Her welcome is warm but unobtrusive, her control is subtle – as any parent knows, a child is more likely to do what you want if you pretend you don’t really want it. She gets her multi-national visitors interacting and taking group photos within minutes of arrival; bolder characters are donning the bottle-shaped fancy dress outfit for selfies. With faultless timing (and what a skill that is for the classroom), she judges when she has enough people to take on the tour, keeps an eye out for late arrivals and still manages to shout me a cheery ‘You okay there? Help yourself from the chiller,’ understanding intuitively that I’m only here for the beer. I do pay for it all, but she gives me my own bottle-opener and clearly trusts me not to hide any of the empties.
At 6 pm, closing time, Phoebe invites me to keep the bottle-opener and camp near the car park where there’s a water supply and some comfy grass, so I am able to choose a couple of smaller, stronger ales for a nightcap after my supper. Thank you, and goodnight, Fabulous Phoebe!