Nan Shepherd can’t really be described as a neglected, forgotten, or underrated writer. Her image is on the Bank of Scotland’s five pound note, there’s a newly inaugurated literary prize named after her, and The Living Mountain is rightly considered both a Scottish, and nature writing classic that’s been championed far and wide.
Despite that I’m not sure how widely known her novels are. When I read ‘The Weatherhouse’ earlier this year and tried searching out other reviews for it there really weren’t many. Which is a shame because it’s a remarkable novel that would be worth reading just for the description of the Aberdeenshire countryside alone. As it is, there’s much more to it than that. The drama also starts to unfold over a Christmas season, and there’s always something satisfying about the seasons inside and out of a book matching up. If you like Virago Modern Classics this book is basically exactly your cup of tea.
The book is set during the First World War, and whisky features both as a signifier of more prosperous pre war hospitality, and is the catalyst for near disaster. It’s Aberdeenshire setting is also a rich one in terms of whisky heritage. Head west from Aberdeen and you’re soon into Speyside (and Nan’s beloved Cairngorms). This gives you a serious concentration of distilleries. Aberlour, Balvenie, Glen Rothes, Glenfiddich, or Macallan are the ones I’d recommend as being both easy to find on the high street or in supermarkets, and excellent quality, but that’s not even all my favourites from the area.
I have a really soft spot for Douglas Laing’s blended malts (more Here) Scallywag is the Speyside, Timorous Beastie is made up of Highland Malts. Both have excellent all round appeal (nothing to peaty). I’m also a fan of the Famous Grouse, which has Macallan in its blend, the Naked Grouse is an absolute bargain in terms of what you get for your money. Blends like Grouse are what most people would have trusted in back in the day.
Closer to Aberdeen, Royal Lochnagar is another favourite whisky (it’s all soft smoke, gingerbread spice, and Demerara sugar - delicious) and Ardmore is particularly good for the money, as well as being easy to find.
When I was first discovering whisky for myself 20 years ago blends were very much out of favour, and single malt was a lot cheaper than it is now. Currently if I’m looking for something interesting/different my first choice would be the premium blends and blended malts between £20 - £40. There’s still a bit of snobbishness around them, but seriously, ditch it.