Tag Archives: Scotland

The Angel’s Share (F)

Cheryl’s last memory of Karl was mingled with the sound of squealing tires, a thump, and the faint smell of butterscotch.  Striding ahead of her, he’d looked the wrong way when he’d crossed the road to the car park.

She had wanted to see the prehistoric burial mound located nearby.  According to her guide book, the finely carved stone chamber was infused with sunlight for a few precious minutes on winter solstice eve.  The sun’s rays were thought to carry off the souls of the dead.  Even in the middle of summer, it had sounded much more interesting than a visit to another distillery, but it was Karl’s birthday so she relented.

She heard the tour guide tell them about the importance of using peat fires to imbue the amber liquid with its musty single malt signature.  It was a taste that Cheryl had yet to acquire.  The gas that escaped the confines of the huge copper distilling vessels smelled like butterscotch but with an acrid twist that irritated her nose.  The aroma was almost gone when they reached the barrel room, even though they were told that up to two percent of the alcohol evaporated from a cask each year that the scotch was aged.  They called it the angel’s share.  For an exorbitant price, forty-year-old scotch was purchased by those who didn’t mind paying a premium for lost fumes. Cheryl amused herself by working out how long it would take until all the alcohol had gone from the cask: a little more than fifty years, exactly Karl’s age. That morning, he had told her that she was responsible for the best years of his life, and it amused her to think that she had received his angel’s share.

He turned and smiled at her, as if reading her thoughts. “This is the last distillery visit. I promise.”

“But not the last bottle of single malt scotch,” Cheryl teased.

“The liver is evil and must be punished,” he said, smoothing his hands over the same words printed on his T-shirt.

In the tasting room, they were served samples of twelve-year-old scotch in thimble-sized glasses.  Karl purchased a bottle and was given a postcard that he passed to Cheryl.

“What do I do with a postcard of a distillery?” she asked.

“You could start a collection,” he shouted back at her as he crossed the road.



Standing Stone (F)

Last September, we rented a car in Inverness and headed north. We were stopped twice by orange Highland cattle with shaggy coats and huge horns. They roam the narrow back roads in search of tourists struggling with right hand drives. Surviving them, we caught the ferry at a village with a wonderful name, John O’Groats. The sea was atypically calm for our passage to the Orkney Islands.

Long before the Vikings arrived in Scotland to first plunder and then settle here, impressive circles of stones were erected. The Ring of Brodgar, about 4500 years old, is magnificent and mysterious. We can only guess why the stones were erected and the function they served. Their age shows on a surface etched and colored by lichens, like mottling on old skin.

I took a picture of my husband’s shadow next to the shadow of a standing stone. It was leaning towards him, and a nose-like feature on the stone suggested that it might be watching or listening. I remember wondering what we might have to say that would interest it, but perhaps it was offering advice in a language long forgotten.



This story and the Angel’s Share were written on a memorable trip to Scotland in 2009.