The Journey Back ~ Gairloch To Aberdeen With a Visit to Speyside Cooperage

mapIt’s about a 160-mile trek across northern Scotland from one coast to the other, so it’s easily driveable in one day. We had all day long to get home so we leisurely took our time starting out on the morning of May 24th. We stopped soon after leaving Gairloch because there is a very pretty small loch right next to the road called ‘Loch Bad an Sgalaig’ with what looks like to me like an old stone abandoned croft house on the opposite bank. Very picturesque!IMG_4577

IMG_4578About a mile or two further we came to the best part of the early morning drive – Loch Maree. Sitting on its banks in the crisp May morning air is delightful and magical.IMG_4588



IMG_4594Once you leave the shores of Loch Maree heading east, the road meanders through the Docherty Glen and gradually rises to the pass in the mountains above it. Near the top,  a viewpoint with a parking lot is conveniently placed which serves up some fantastic views and where you can look back the way you came. It’s a beautiful view and definitely worth the stop. (see below)IMG_4597

IMG_4602I zoomed in a bit so you can see Loch Maree down at the end of Docherty Glen (below).IMG_4598After enjoying that view for a spell we got back in the car and continued driving non-stop for about 40 miles or so until we reached Tomnahurich Cemetery in Inverness.  The cemetery encompasses the whole hill and has graves all over it, right up to the very top. It’s easy to find, just start following the road from Inverness to Loch Ness and you’ll pass it on the right just as you’re leaving town. Tomnahurich Cemetery2This was yet another place in Scotland Lindsay had never been to that I had the pleasure of personally sharing with him. I visited this cemetery on my first trip to Scotland years ago and recalled seeing one of our family names, Naughten, engraved on a gravestone on the top of the hill somewhere.Tomnahurich CemeteryWe were both curious about the headstone and wondered if we could find it again, so we drove up to the top of the hill to see if we could find it and determine if it actually belongs to anyone in our own family tree.

After searching around for a little bit, I found it! It was a small headstone kind of tucked in the back.

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After searching our family tree for the name, we discovered this little 1-month-old infant was indeed a relative of ours!

Our 3rd great grandmother, May Naughten, had an older brother named Robert and who was a well-known Silversmith jeweler in Inverness. He had a son (also named Robert and also a jeweler). The little month-old infant buried here was Robert II’s youngest son. That makes him our 2nd cousin 3x removed.

The spot where he’s buried appears to be the only upright headstone in what looks like possibly a family plot. Grass has overgrown them but we could detect kerbstones around the perimeter of an area about 8 foot wide and 10 foot long.


Using the metal tip on Lindsay’s old umbrella, I probed into the ground in front of the stone and around what looked like the plot area. Sure enough, there were the tell-tale sounds of solid stone clinking under the grass about 3 inches or so in a rectangular shape. There are probably more relatives of ours buried here too. Wish we had permission to remove the grass and uncover the buried stones to discover whose graves are there. But, we don’t have permission like we do when we’re working with the Moray Burial Group recording a cemetery in Morayshire, so we just let it be.

There were great views from the top of Tomnahurich. We could see the Caledonia Canal to the south and Kessock Narrows bridge to the north and of course 360-degree views of  Inverness all around the base of the hill.


We drove back down the hill and into the center of the city a short distance away, to visit another gravesite in a different cemetery – our 3rd great grandmother, May Naughten, in Chapel Yard.


We also scouted around for more family graves nearby. Near the back wall of the cemetery, there was a fallen stone lying on its back in the grass. We noticed the name, Naughten, hiding under the moss. So we employed plastic cards from our wallets to scrap back the lichen and moss enough to read it.

Turns out, that guy, Robert Naughten II, the jeweler, whose kids’ gravestone we found on Tomnahurich, also had a sister named Mary. He erected this stone in memory of her. That would make her my 1st cousin 4x removed.  (She, and her brother Robert, are basically the niece and nephew of our 3rd great grandmother, May; that’s easier for me to relate to than “4x removed.”)


Well, that was fun discovering some new headstones belonging to people we share DNA with!

Soon we were back in the car and heading further east toward Granton-on-Spey and following the “Malt Whisky Trail” toward Dufftown. We stopped in Granton-on-Spey and enjoyed some fish & chips in the park until we realized how late in the afternoon it was getting. We still wanted to visit one more place that day and take a tour so we drove the back roads on the north side of the River Spey to Craigellachie and the home of the Speyside Cooperage.


It took us longer to get there than we had anticipated. Luckily, we got there just in the nick of time. The last tour of the day had 2 slots left and was just about to commence!  Phew!

This is the only remaining working Cooperage in the UK. They offer a really good tour for a very reasonable price.  The tour begins with a really nice cinematic presentation that takes you through a brief history of the ancient art of Coopering, followed by a visit to the viewing gallery situated on an elevated platform above the action where you watch first-hand the Coopers below at work building, shaping, shaving, and charring casks. The quality and flavor of good whisky totally depends upon a few key items: water, barley, distillation, and of course – the cask in which it matures for a minimum of 3 years.

It is quite noisy standing on the overhead platform and it was kind of hard to hear what the tour guide was saying but oh-so-fascinating to watch!


The origins of the Cooper’s craft go back to prehistoric times over 5000 years ago. These highly-skilled Coopers still use many of the traditional age-old skills to restore and repair tired and damaged casks. They are simply amazing to watch. They move so quickly and maneuver the barrels easily!

To explain the history of,  and the process and various steps the men below are doing they also had very good interpretive panels with pictures and explanations.



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Like most visitor centers, at the end of the tour, there was a nice gift shop to also tour and a chance to sample a product of some sort made out of malt whisky.  That’s always nice.


They also had some adorable stoneware sculptures on display of local animal favorites. They remind me of two similar sculptures I made in high school ceramics class of my sister’s shaggy dogs.  (hmm, that would be fun to do again!)


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On the way back to the car park, we admired all sorts of imaginative uses of casks.


We climbed back into the car to drive the rest of the way home to Aberdeen, catching a few final glimpses of interesting sights as we left the village of Craigellachie.


That concludes the 4-day adventure to the west coast and back. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed re-living the memories while sharing them with you!

Stay tuned for more adventures in the near future.  I still had three more weeks of my trip left and there’s still a lot more to share!

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am grateful for platforms such as WordPress where stories can be shared and spread worldwide. In the not-so-distant past, I only had the opportunity to share my adventures with a small group of people that I know. Now I can share with a much broader audience worldwide and can find like-minded folks without even leaving home! I am grateful to the people who follow my blog and seem to enjoy it. Thank you!





Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

One thought on “The Journey Back ~ Gairloch To Aberdeen With a Visit to Speyside Cooperage”

  1. Aw, I still have my precious likenesses of Porkchop and Applesauce! The visit to the graveyard and seeing some Naughten graves gave me a real feeling of kinship. And its always nice to hear you and Lindsay talk and joke in the background of a video. I remember you telling me about watching the men make the casks at the Cooperage and now I’ve seen it too! I felt like I was on the journey with you. Wonderful photos of a magical land – home.


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