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Traveling together, Clan Maitland spent the most time in the Scottish Borders. This area borders Edinburgh and extends south and east to the English counties of Cumbria and Northumberland. We were Maitlands in the Borders, exploring. Our roots sunk deep here, in the hilly rural countryside. Centuries ago, our family settled in the beautiful lowlands, grew and expanded outward into the world.
After touring St. Mary’s Church and Lauderdale Aisle in Haddington, and lunching together, our day trip took us to one of the former Maitland houses, Lennoxlove. We concluded our outing with a fascinating tour at Glenkinchie Distillery.
Come along and join the Maitlands in the Borders and share our discoveries.
Lennoxlove House History
After lunch we explored Lennoxlove House, south of Haddington in East Lothian. The house includes a 15th century tower, known as Lethington Tower, and experienced several building expansions. Currently the seat of the Duke of Hamilton, this property began as a house of Maitland.
Robert Maitland of Thirlestane purchased the lands of Lethington in 1345. He built the L-shaped tower that now forms the southwest corner of the house. Mary of Guise, mother to Mary Queen of Scots, stayed at the house on her visit to Haddington in 1548.
Lethington House remained in the Maitland family until the death of John Maitland, the Duke of Lauderdale, in 1682. The trustees of Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, purchased the property after her death in 1702. She stipulated that the house should pass to her “neare and deare kinsman, the said Walter Stuart”. Walter Stuart, eldest son of the 5th Lord Blantyre, became the 6th Lord Blantyre upon his father’s death.
The Duchess requested that the house be renamed “Lennox’s Love to Blantyre” which eventually shortened to Lennoxlove. The property remained in the Blantyre family until purchased in 1960 by the 14th Duke of Hamilton. During the summer the house is open to the public and available for special events.
Maitlands in the Borders at Lennoxlove House
Our large group divided in two to tour Lennoxlove House. My group benefited from our Clan Chief Ian being with us. He is a historian and an excellent storyteller. I loved hearing the stories connected to this grand old estate. We moved from the newer part of the house, with its extensive collections of art, furniture, porcelain and artifacts, through hallways and rooms to the older tower.
Many extraordinary portraits hang on the walls throughout the house, including a couple of the Duke of Lauderdale. On display too is a silver jewelry box belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, and her death mask.
I especially enjoyed the older section of the house, including the great hall and the rooms beneath it. I’m sensitive to energy and the flow of it. The past pools and eddies in this ancient part of Lennoxlove, swirling and spilling over into the present. I felt tingles of energy several times and delighted in the discovery of a narrow passageway in the chapel that led to a small dungeon. The secrets and stories, joys and sorrows, lives lived and lost in Lennoxlove give fresh meaning to the phrase, “if walls could talk”. As I wandered through this beautiful place, I listened.
Maitlands in the Borders at Glenkinchie Distillery
We finished our long day together with a tour of Glenkinchie Distillery. I am not a whisky drinker, however I am always open to a learning opportunity. And a learning experience it was, at Glenkinchie, and so much more!
Glenkinchie Distillery began in 1825 under the name Milton Distillery. From 1837 on it has operated under its current name.
Making Single Malt Whisky
Whisky making is an ancient process that’s been refined over the centuries. The first thing I learned, from our amazing tour guide Brian, is this: good whisky requires four ingredients…water, barley, yeast and time.
Because of its importance, it’s not surprising that distillery locations are often determined by a pure source of water such as a spring or stream. Water encourages the barley to germinate during the malting process and it is added at the mashing stage to extract the sugars and make wort. Cold water is used to condense the vapors back into liquid as well.
Grains are essential to whisky making. They provide the starch that becomes alcohol. Scotch can be made from a variety of grains, however Single Malt Scotch Whisky is created from barley only.
Yeast is a mirco-organism. Its purpose is to convert sugar into alcohol through the process of fermentation. Only a few strains of yeast are suitable for fermenting malted barley and these can influence the flavor.
To classify as Scotch whisky, the newly made spirit must mature in an oak cask, in Scotland, for at least three years. Single malts can mature for up to 70 years. At Glenkinchie, the usual maturation period is 12 years. Oak is the wood of choice for the casks. Rather than using new oak, which negatively influences the flavor of the whisky, American oak casks are used that previously held bourbon, wine or sherry .
Walking Through the Process of Single Malt Whisky Making
During the distillery tour, we walked through rooms where each step of the process was underway. Malting, the process of rapidly germinating the barley, is actually the first step in turning barley into whisky. It’s no longer done at the distillery, however Brian explained the malting process to us and then led us on to the next room.
In the milling room the dried malted barley is ground into a coarse flour called grist. Next the grist is fed into the mash tun and hot water is added to dissolve the sugars. The resulting wort is drained off and cooled.
In the fermentation room, the cooled wort goes into large tubs called wash backs, made from pine wood. Yeast is added and fermentation begins. The mixture is now called wash. The next step is distillation. This process involves heating the liquid in large copper stills. And finally the alcohol goes into casks to mature for up to 70 years.
This is a very simplified explanation of the whisky making process! Please visit the Glenkinchie Distillery website for a much more in depth look at the fine art of making single malt whisky.
The End of the Day for Maitlands in the Borders
At the end of the tour…and the end of the day…we sampled whisky at Glenkinchie. I did not intend to have a dram…or four…of whisky. However, Brian conducted our tour with great knowledge and great humor. He explained the whisky making process in such an informative and fun way that my curiosity kicked in. After hearing about the incredible amount of work that goes into creating whisky…who figured all this stuff out anyway??…I HAD to sample the whisky. Could I taste the subtle flavors imparted by an oak cask that once held bourbon?
Brian poured out a round of drinks for our group and we followed his instructions, swirling the golden liquid, sniffing it and then tasting it. My initial reaction was “WOW”. The alcohol taste seemed so strong. Then Brian walked among us and added a small amount of water to each glass. “Taste it again,” he suggested. What an amazing difference that tiny bit of water made! Now I could taste the flavors. We sampled four different whiskies. I’ll never be a whisky connoisseur. However, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how whisky is made and tasting the resulting “water of life”.
What a full day! Perhaps because of the wee sips of whisky, we were quite jolly on the coach ride back to Edinburgh. Maitlands in the Borders certainly know how to make the most of experiences. The bonding as a family increased that day and my heart felt very enlarged by our shared adventures.
The next day’s activities kept us in Edinburgh. However Friday promised a return to the Borders, to visit Rosslyn Chapel and our ancestral home, Thirlestane Castle. I couldn’t wait!
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