Old Pulteney whisky in Wick and the first “gala”.

On Tuesday, August 6th 2019, we arrived in Wick, Scotland for our very first port of call. Wick does not appear to be the most exciting place to the uninitiated. I noticed the waters around the port were brown and kind of sludgy looking. But we stopped there, not because it’s a beautiful town, but because the Old Pulteney distillery is there.

This cruise was called Westering Home and Whisky Galore. It focused mostly on whisky distilleries, but there were alternatives for those who didn’t want to try whisky. I had not heard of Old Pulteney before we visited the distillery. Truth be told, Bill is more of a whisky fan than I am. I’d rather drink beer and wine. And thanks to our Spirit of Scotland cruise in 2016, I know very well how whisky is made. Still, it’s interesting to visit the distilleries because each one seems to have slightly different methods to their madness.

Our visit to Old Pulteney’s distillery required a brief ride on the tender and a short walk. I was really happy to see that this year Hebridean Princess has new life jackets. On previous cruises, we were forced to wear these huge, uncomfortable monstrosities that were kind of suffocating. This year, they had devices that were much smaller and easier to wear. Basically, they were like little inflatable stoles rather than jackets. The only thing I didn’t like about them was the crotch strap, which was kind of awkward. However, it was much easier to get in and out of them and they’re way more comfortable.

The area where the distillery is in Wick appears to be solidly working class. I didn’t see a lot of industry there, save for a casino and bar and the distillery. There’s also a museum, which Bill visited on his own while I took a nap. Here are a few photos from the distillery tour. It didn’t amount to much, since August is part of the “silent season” for Old Pulteney. This is the time of year when the distillery takes a six week break for maintenance and staff vacations. This year, Old Pultaney’s silent season ends on August 19th.

In every distillery tour I’ve ever been on, we’ve heard about the “Angel’s Share”, which is the 2% of alcohol that evaporates per year. Near every distillery, a black fungus grows on trees and buildings. It’s due to the evaporating alcohol. Old Pulteney is no exception. Looking around the distillery, I could see the blackness from the whisky production. I have to admit, though, the whisky is good… and they were generous with their pours. A lot of the ladies on the cruise particularly enjoyed Stroma, a sweet whisky based liqueur made by Old Pulteney. One passenger liked it so much that one of the guides went back to the distillery to purchase a couple of bottles for the bar. They were quickly consumed before the cruise ended!

After the tour ended, Bill and I walked back to the ship. I took a moment to take a few photos of the area. Again… Wick isn’t necessarily a city I’d visit on my own, but I’m glad we got to visit the distillery. I missed the museum, but Bill said it was very interesting, as Wick played a very important role in Britain’s defense during World War II. In 1940, it came under fire after the defeat of the Netherlands and Denmark and the occupation of Norway by German forces. Supposedly, 222 high intensity explosives were dropped on Caithness during that period. On July 1, 1940, the most serious bombing occurred during daylight hours. Children were outside playing. Fifteen people were killed; eight were children. Bill said that while he was in the museum, there was a lady there who was actually present when the bomb fell.

I kind of wish I’d made the effort to visit Wick’s museum, but after lunch, I was really needing a nap. I also didn’t feel like riding the tender again. I probably needed to rest up for the first “gala”, in which the captain welcomes everyone. While guests are encouraged to “come as they are” to dinner on the first night of each Hebridean cruise, the second night is for dressing up in your glad rags. On previous cruises, Bill has worn his dress blues. This time, he wore the beautiful kilt he had custom made in Glasgow in 2017. Bill always looks prettier on the cruises than I do…

Although guests are encouraged to dress up for the gala, and most do just that, officially it’s just the crew that absolutely must dress up. I’ve seen some guests dress as if they’re going to church, though most people choose formal wear. One man wore jeans and made a hasty retreat to change into a suit when he saw all of the ladies in their finery. I myself chose my trusty black dress, crystal statement necklace and earrings, and a bright red cashmere and wool wrap.

I think the kilt came off very well, although Bill needs a few more lessons on sitting properly while wearing a skirt. I have to admit to missing seeing him in his dress blues, although I think the kilt was more comfortable for him. Maybe it’s time to get a pair of matching trousers.

Here are some photos of the food from the first gala… which did not involve any dancing, just lots of food and after dinner cocktails.

I mentioned before that Hebridean Island Cruises is an all inclusive experience, which means that virtually everything is included… including all the booze you want, excursions, Internet access, and entry fees. You don’t even have to present a credit card when you board, nor do they make you an ID card. Instead, you have a brass tag that you take with you when you’re off the ship. Slip it on the lanyard you’ll receive when you board. It’s refreshingly low tech.

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