The Waters

Firstly may I say that it was a favoured haunt of Ronnie Corbett so if I “(digress)” from time to time I apologise, stay with  me though.

Where else would you go to chat about a one thousand billion pound a year industry, Afghanistan and the world at large? Well Scotland of course, Gleneagles, in particular because it is parked in the middle of one of the world’s two biggest industries: leisure and hospitality. Recently hard hit but nonetheless one for which the Scots are renowned. Once owned {Gleneagles not Scotland} by Diageo who as well as their interests in the hotel, also owned Whyte and Mackays, who owned the former one time Gleneagles brewery, now owned by Picard. Diageo of course owns many more brands, but the boutique end ‘Uisge Alain’ as no one ever said because they can’t pronounce it, relates to Allen water being that which formed the very broad valley which runs from Stirling up to Auchterarder.  The river runs from White Muir ponds, next to Gleneagles, to the Forth and is better known as Strathallen. The Danny Burn runs into the Allen Water from whence it also goes ‘Forth’ and forms the setting for my story and all because of a green Rolls Royce on the driveway.

The Ambassador of Many

The connections between Gleneagles, Chatham House, the Bilderberg group and the whisky industry unfold in an unlikely but interesting collection of events starting with Chatham House, whose rules apply to the Bilderberg Group and who have met at Gleneagles on occasions to discuss migration, growth, reform, visions and unity amongst other things with the intention of a trickle down effect on world peace. Bilderberg speakers and participants read like the opening scene of a 007 movie and you could be forgiven for thinking there is a plot hatching to take over the world and you might be right.  Of course there is always the conspiracy theorists, (where would we be without them). If that doesn’t get you conjuring up images of “Kingsmen” in pin stripe suits with umbrellas, nothing will. Indeed Colin Firth  himself has graced its revolving doorway and indeed the hotel shops’ decor might remind you of 11 Savile Row, London W1S 3PS. But you would be more likely to come across a world leader in industry, fashion icons, Royalty, politicians and their security people rather than a real life actual 007 on any other sort of a mission beyond the next round of drinks. Sean Connery excepted, so Never say Never.  But what of the other stuff of the Black Ford of the Strath?

The Aston Martin Beetle

If you are a car spotter then the car park is home to Aston Martins, Lagondas, Rolls Royces, Range Rovers are as common as muck (after all that’s why they build them), Porches, BMW’s (the occasional M4 Coupé) and of course the obligatory Ferrari (the mascot of which {Cavallino Rampante} World War I pilot Francesco Baracca used on his Bi-plane a Spad XIII)  all intermingled with the odd recovery vehicle, proof that no matter how great you are, you need engineering for the nasty things in life too. The 14 Aston Martins on parade looked like they were a special event, but then that is exactly what Gleneagles does best. Why can’t I look at cars without finding strange histories in there somewhere. Aston Martin,  for example, their badge was inspired by the scavenging Scarab beetle, they don’t have a 0-60mph rating, their top speed is 7mph with a following wind. Despite that, wings seem to be a much used emblem in the industry. Perhaps they know something of the future which the rest of us can only guess and marvel, maybe VW will take the lead with a new version of their Beetle, hopefully it will really fly, manage more than 7 mph,  sustainable for more than a 15 minute flight time and not use LI batteries. There is a new helicopter on the way that is going to surprise in the LI battery industry and it doesn’t use any current technology. I see the rare metal reserves value estimate for Afghanistan has increased from 3 trillion to 6 trillion in one week. I think there needs to be some haggling there before that too gets up in the air, more than it is now of course, but let’s not start droning on about that!

The Lobster Career Summit

It may not be Scotland’s only 5 star hotel these days but it does currently house the only 2 star Michelin Restaurant. Andrew Fairlie created his signature dish here, a locally sourced lobster (Loch Fyne would be my choice, Road to the Isles then straight over the Rest and Be Thankful on an RGS 1250 { that would challenge your M4 Coupé } with a decent top box equipped with  eutectic isothermal bags, couriered back, calling into the Cairndow Loch Fyne ale production house, just for a  wee blether ye ken and then hame te Gleneagles)…so locally sourced lobster smoked over whisky barrel chips and then he (Andrew Fairlie)  began growing rare fruits and vegetables for use in his dishes.

In 2005, Andrew catered for the 31st G8 summit. The restaurant was awarded a second Michelin star, his work carries on with his partner to the continued approval of Michelin. They are keen on the Krug brand of Champagne, another interesting connection which seems to fit well in the general direction of who owns what and why, which takes me on neatly to the rest of the estate’s celebrated artifacts and trivia, which although it may win you the odd pub quiz, is still significant in how it connects to who and what we all are through engineering if nothing else.

Celebrate Life, Pick a Winner

Diageo group, (a brand name invented by Michael Wolff (Olins) for the amalgamation of  Guinness Brewery and Grand Metropolitan) who may have said {Michael Wolff that is} “The mass market is a myth. Brands reach each of us before they reach all of us”. More on that here https://wolff.eu.com/), if you want a new name. They also said “I can get to the heart of your business and create a name that’s distinctively yours. A name that rings true”, and they did too. “Diageo” was that outcome and it means loosely what is said in the title of the paragraph : Celebrate life. They of course were previous owners of Gleneagles for a time before selling it on to Ennismore, headed up by Sharan Pasricha, and so you celebrate life, much the same way as you did before, especially if you have a spare 50p or so to spend. The price paid for Gleneagles was undisclosed by Ennismore but some say it was about £200m, they [Ennismore] have gone on to spend significant sums on the rooms, but this is a big old place, in fact it is a category B listed building where a million pounds is not a vast sum. 

At all events if you want to take your favourite tipple in 5 star comfort in a part of the world, that until quite recently in modern times, would have you drowned, frozen or starved, then it is not cheap to create it and it is unlikely you could create the same comfort levels fully staffed at G.E menu prices, even in a Yurt, if you had to buy the ground to put it on and a means of access. I would recommend you don’t turn up with anything less than thirty 50ps if you want a drink.

Diageo was an amalgamation of some of the biggest players in the “hospitality” industry, whose powers and influences have a very long reach. Gleneagles is not really the sort of place you pop into when you might be passing, so it has that certain attraction as a quiet, out of the way place excellently stocked, staffed and serviced, especially for high powered events and you can see why it is such a great choice. Not your average boutique hotel, but when you are an industry star, such as Sharan Pasricha you get to be that successful by picking winners and there are no shortage of those in, around or invested in this remarkable estate. Ennismore keeps making the best better, it’s just what they do. They really are doing a great job in these troubled times.

Rolls Royce Angel

Death of an Angel

In an unlikely turn of events my story takes another twist, for on the driveway at Gleneagles there sits a Rolls Royce Silver shadow (I think), it is an olive green colour similar to a bathroom suite of which I was pleased to be relieved.  Eleanor Thornton, was the living model for this sculpture of the The Spirit of Ecstasy, sculpted by Charles Sykes, a northerner who studied in Newcastle Upon The Canny Tyne, my second home after Wylam, the birth place of modern engineering and me too.

You should know that targeting civilian ships was unacceptable in 1915 at the very least a warning had to be given to save lives. It is not acceptable at all today making modern pirates singularly despised.

Carl Scmidt  was formerly a U boat commander WW1, in 1915,  He escaped a war crimes court after sinking a P&O liner in the Mediterranean. The SS Persia, from his command position in U-38 was sunk by Smidt killing 343 people of the 519 on board in a cowardly act without warning the SS Persia which was indeed a civilian ship  on route to India. Eleanor Thornton was on board and died in the disaster. Schmit took out another 138 ships including his killing spree of the 30th of December 1915 ending up with a total disaster bag of 150 ships  for which he received the order of The Blue Max and the new identity of Smidt to avoid the hangman’s noose he should have been awarded had he ever stood trial. Nobody knows how many people this U Boat commander despatched. His real name was Max Valentiner. He went on to work for Dräger and Gerling as Scmidt once retired out of the German navy. Dräger specialises to this day in breathing systems and contributed much to the COVID 19 pandemic saving many lives. He (Valentiner) died of lung disease brought about from toxic fumes inhaled whilst carrying out his lethal skills below the water during which he killed Eleanor, the Rolls Royce Angel, so it is sort of a symbol to me that represents an enduring icon of all that is good about engineering, but reminds me at the same time that everything in life has a minimum of a double edge and comes at a price, and it depends who you are and how you use it, right now that has never been a more important issue.  Max Valentiner did not have the right to launch the torpedo on that fateful night, when he took matters into his own hands. When the torpedo struck, the ship’s boilers exploded and the SS Persia went down in 10 minutes. It is ironic that the same issues that dogged the Persian empire over 2000 years ago appear to be more or less the same today. Money and control.

John 2nd Baron Montagu, who commissioned the Spirit of Ecstasy for which Eleanor modelled was with her on the voyage, he survived a few days adrift in a life boat and was eventually rescued. He never forgot the event of that fateful night.

Tullibardine Barrel

The Sweet Tale of Tullibardine

Diageo bought Whyte and McKays who owned the Tullibardine Distillery(the link to the Tullibardine website was not secure at the time of writing this article, so it has been connected to the  “Hard to find Whisky” site in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham, lovely people also with a boutique business you will love to deal with, a collector/investor’s paradise) which borders the Gleneagles grounds in Blackford now owned by Picard Vins & Spiritueux S.A.,  originally bought and redesigned in or around 1949 when renowned distillery designer William Delme-Evans bought the former Gleneagles Brewery site. He constructed the Tullibardine gravity feed whisky process there, he had been looking for just such a site and had big plans for it. The Danny Burn waters were absolutely perfect. If you are passing, the tour is great!

5 years ago my brother in law gave me some grapes he had grown which I pricked and covered in (cheap, if there is such a thing) whisky, Vanilla pods, orange zest, and some sugar, I think I got a tot of it, everyone loved it. Since Picard has acquired the brand they have started to use wine barrels and despite the woe of mixing grain and grape you can enjoy a dram through which the sweetness of the Sauternes grape pervades to produce a flavour of distinction you won’t find anywhere else. Their topping and tailing expertise, of which they are justly proud, guarantees unlimited pleasure completely free of a hangover. The taste makes a pleasant change from the more TCP (sorry, peaty) blends of the west coast and islands, some say the sweet, honey, light caramel notes and floral aromas of the east coast whiskies are the thing, but really I struggle to abstract those notes through the strength of the alcohol, but Sauternes? Is unmistakable and it gives a gentleness to it I have not yet found in any other malt or blend.

Porteus Badge

What they don’t make like that anymore

George Porteus and Sons Ltd, {pride of place in Tullibardine} assist(ed) the process of whisky production with some amazing engineering designed to condition the raw materials for the mash tanks. Their millers are the ‘go to choice’ of many of the distilling companies today, even although they are no longer made, they are of such excellent quality that they don’t wear out and arguably have never been bettered, a fact that actually put them out of business. That they are still  going and giving  great services today is testimony to a few good folk and companies including Walden Sizer kept alive by Hull based CTS, Briggs of Burton and Euro Mechanical Engineering of Caldicot to name a few good industry engineers without whose skills it would still be a cottage industry and we would have a lot more customs officers sniffing about.

Copper Distilling Tanks

It’s all about the Brass

The thought of a construction site in such a remote place dating back to 1400 and something, maybe 88 or even Roman times or before, all the manual procedures such as handling kegs, rocks or timber is enough to stretch the imagination of the most liberal of thinkers, yet this industry and Tullibardine in particular with its block stacking, that once served the crown is now served by a Crown forklift truck. Today they have their own bottling hall and cooperage, one state of the art, the other steeped in tradition. Calling a plumber out (by runner) 600 years ago on a perishing cold winter’s night who had a 25 mile round journey with tools, fills me with love and admiration for my Ford 4×4 Ranger, (since I am allergic to horses) my job 600 years ago would have been pretty hard going as an engineer, in those days it would have been a blacksmith and probably in residence, if I had wanted metals I would have had to make them. Even Gretna only goes back to 1754 and this site has 300 years on that.

Lead, zinc, copper, barites, iron, silver, (tonnes of it) all came out of the Ochills and surrounding area, bog iron ore, manganese, shale oil and even gold feature in a long list of metals found in the area and Scotland in particular. When you think what we need today it makes you think of the  real values which undoubtedly attracted the best and worst in human beings and yes it was fought over, although nobody ever said that was what it was about. The Battle of Newburn for example 28.08.1640 (381 years ago at Newcastle upon Tyne) spectacularly won by the Scots resulted in a payoff where England was forced to buy back the mineral rights at a significant sum. It was never about religion or principles, only ever about the money.

Earthquakes and Bracken

I have heard the name Nellie used for both Helen and Eleanor. Steeped in history around the Black Ford which claimed the life of Queen Helen yet another watery grave one wild night.  Her horse stumbled and tipped her into the dark waters of the Allen at a fording point, which became known as the “Black”  Ford  in mourning for her loss.  Her burial mound is said to be Deaf Knowe which can be seen to this day so called because a cry for help on one side of the hill cannot be heard from the other. 

The Earn and the Allen are two sides of the water shed created by the Auchterarder, not so far from there is  Braco (Roman settlement) named after the hillside cleared of bracken, unsurprisingly because it was used by the Romans as bedding oblivious to its carcinogenic properties, never mind the ticks!

Today the thought of passing a night or two in safety and cosiness, whilst walking my little spaniel last thing at night in the grounds of the beautifully lit and hospitable Gleneagles grounds, doesn’t worry me at all at the price, because the value is much greater, Here at Auchterarder earthquakes have measured 2.5 on the Richter scale. So if you want to feel the earth move under your feet and the sky to come tumbling down over the mountains Gleneagles provided a ringside seat.  No wonder they come from afar to discuss matters of the world and business.  Comfort and safety here has been won at a high price. It is only fitting that it is marked by the Spirit of Ecstasy, a testimony to what can be achieved by engineers and what working together achieves  to protect our future based on the lessons learned from the past.  Bilderberg, its Charter house rule and G8 are on hallowed ground made so by engineers.