September 2017. A camper van, a toddler and a month of freedom. Heading north to the remote Applecross peninsula with a plan to follow the North Coast 500, little did we know, as we picked up a bottle of Badachro gin on our travels, how pivotal the trip would be to the next chapter in our lives – the chapter we’re writing every day, as we develop our bespoke gin distillery here in West Wales.
By September 2017, we’d been back in West Wales for about 5 years, developing a food business at Plas y Wern where we were living, serving coffees and foods for guests in the holiday cottages on site. Our son had turned two earlier in what turned out to be a hectic summer, and we were ready for a break. Alex had been busy baking artisan bread for retail but it was no longer feasible to continue this aspect of our business activity – the irony of ironies to discover that he had a gluten intolerance was not lost on us!! With the baking equipment sold to another local business starting out in Cardigan, a month in hand, and with no thought other than adventure, we hit the road and arrived in the tiny village of Plockton on the west coast of Scotland ready to recuperate. The decision to set out from there and follow the North Coast 500 gave us a structure to our time off and immediately calmed us down. We knew what we were doing – so we did it.
The North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 is a route that covers the very northern most tip of the UK mainland. The ‘official’ start of the route is Inverness castle. Traditionally, the route starts in Inverness, and the route covers the distance up to John O’Groats, and back down the west coast via Thurso, Durness, Ullapool, Gairloch, Applecross and Kyle of Lochalsh and back to Inverness. Breath-taking scenery, remote beaches, clean air – and space. Not that we don’t have this in abundance in West Wales but getting away is always invigorating. With time to breathe, we got on with the business of unwinding and enjoying everything this far tip of Scotland has to offer. Just as we tackled our walk around Wales the opposite direction to the guidebooks, so we launched off on the North Coast 500 from Applecross and went clockwise!
Buying local…Badachro gin
It may come as a surprise to learn that neither of us were particularly big gin drinkers – even as recently as 2017. While we were travelling around Scotland, provisioning as we went and looking out for local produce. The Green Goddess, our camper van which we bought in 2016 and fitted out ourselves, is many wonderful things, but equipped with a shower it is not. While we were in Gairloch, we borrowed the keys for the yacht club to use the showers and wash up. Alex returned the key to the local shop where his eyes fell upon a bottle of Badachro gin in the ‘local’ section. We didn’t know it then, but our gin journey had begun. That purchase tipped us on to the path of bespoke distilling that we find ourselves on today.
The gin was a revelation to our relatively untutored palates. Eager to find out more, we got in touch with the Badachro distillery via Instagram and found ourselves with an invitation to visit. At this point we were on the other side of the country, but keen for knowledge – and more time on the incredible west coast of Scotland, we travelled back to Badachro near Gairloch, in Wester Ross.
While for many, Scotland can only mean whisky, it turns out that there’s a vibrant craft gin scene across the country. In fact, over 70% of the gin drunk in the UK comes from Scotland, and some Scottish gins are amongst the biggest global gin brands around – The Botanist, produced on Islay is the 4th best-selling gin in the world.
Badachro, overlooking a bay on the west coast of Scotland was everything you might expect an artisan producer of something so delicious to be: A home grown family operation built on a dream of a life away from offices, corporate bosses, and hellish commutes. A hand-beaten copper still named Delilah. Botanicals foraged in the countryside around the distillery, lending the gin a real taste of Wester Ross. Talk of ‘terroir’, so important in the wine industry, can apply equally to gin that is so rooted in the place where it is produced.
We could do this!
It was our first experience of craft distilling – and it proved to be a pivotal moment. As we drove away, we were both thinking the same thing: “We could do this!”. A couple of days later while driving, we both turned to one another at the same time (clearly having been individually thinking about the idea of distilling) and at the same time said “I think we could do that!”
A journey that was about rest and reinvigoration suddenly turned into something more focused, more vital. We visited other distilleries, tasted gin and began to research whenever the internet connection allowed.
Having never really considered the question, gin suddenly became the answer and we were wholeheartedly driving it forward, even as we journeyed back to West Wales.