The haar came down as we wound up the road to Strathcanaird, and soon the glorious clarity of a West Coast summer had dulled into an opaque grey porridge. I switched on the headlights, pulled into the first passing place, and switched off the engine.
I heard something. Bagpipes, The Flowers of the Forest. Then, in the depths of the enclosing water vapour, a flicker. A light. I got out of the car and walked towards what now appeared to be, oddly in such a remote part of Scotland, a neon sign. As I approached, the sound of the pipes grew louder. The sign buzzed almost as loudly, though, and soon I could read it: Glen Brigadoon Distillery Visitor Centre.
I turned into what was evidently the car park. It was empty. A Portakabin loomed from the blur. I pushed open the door marked ‘reception’ and went inside.
The music grew ear splitting, as a heavily amplified voice boomed: “Kimilyfalcher! One hundred thousand welcomes to the home of ooskybather!” I understood this to be an attempt at the Gaelic ‘cead mille failte’ and ‘uisge beatha’, but the Cockney accent was disconcerting.
I looked around. Ancient Douglas tartan wallpaper adorned the walls, with a Royal Stewart carpet. Racks of kilts and tweed jackets were ranged against one wall, with shelves of apparently identical deerstalker hats above. A dark oak bar took up the other wall, and various bottles of Glen Brigadoon whisky were displayed, from a120-year-old bottling priced at £250,000 to a three-year-old for £75. Aged in real oak said a label.
Suddenly, the floor began to move. I was on some kind of conveyor belt and as I was whisked through a curtain, the evidently piped pipe music was replaced with the sound of a Welsh harp.
The same Cockney voice declaimed: “Honoured guest! You have been electronically screened and your credit card automatically billed for the prestige Glen Brigadoon tour. To stop payment and withdraw from the tour, please raise your right hand to your chin and stroke it thoughtfully. Thank you for agreeing to our terms and conditions. Camera How!”
The floor fell away and I was on a chute or flume. After a few seconds, I was deposited on a soft, cinema-style seat, and as the sound of the Welsh harp swelled, a tape-slide presentation began. “Waterbarley,” said a new voice, this time in guttural Glaswegian. “Damp, germinatesugarsmoke, peat, wateryeaststeep.” Pictures accompanied every word, “Beery stuff, boilstillcopperpipes, spirit, oak barrels, add colouring and tap water, bottle, sell.”
The last picture faded and my seat tipped forward. Again. I was on a moving belt, this time on my stomach, and going uphill. At length, I was deposited back in the main room of the visitors’ centre. I picked myself up and strode to the bar, which was now manned by a large white-bearded figure in a dress Buchanan kilt.
“Here’s your free dram, sir,” said the man, his voice muffled by a false beard. “It’s our special Glen Brigadoon cream whisky liqueur, made with organic condensed milk and a rare Scottish substance known as Iron Brew.”
“It’s not free,” I said sternly, “I understand you have extracted money from my credit card using evil and illegal electrical techniques! I demand a refund.”
“Ah, you’re driving,” said the man. “That is unfortunate. Well, thank you again for visiting the Glen Brigadoon Experience.” He was now nursing a baseball bat to which someone had glued some heather. I headed for the door, and opened it on the swirling mist.
“But…but… where’s the distillery? Where are the washbacks, the mash tuns, the stills, the warehouses?” A hard hand pushed me in the small of the back and I tumbled out. The sound of pipes blared once again from hidden speakers, not quite drowning the scornful Cockney voice: “What distillery?” it said. “This is a visitor experience.”
The haar began to lift as I reached the roadway. In the distance, I could see my car, When I turned around to look at Glen Brigadoon, there was nothing there, not even the neon sign. All was silent. There was just a battered notice: ‘Haste Ye Back,’ it said. ‘By Order’.