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Everything you need to know about the humble Highland coo!

A visit to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without catching a glimpse of the ginger-fringed and friendly Highland coo! These lovable and docile creatures are a famous picture-postcard icon of our country, but they’re more than just a pretty face. Being the nature enthusiasts that we are and regularly having the chance to see these beauties roaming freely, we thought we’d answer some regular coo FAQs!

Why do Highland cows look so different to regular cows? 

They’re a far cry from the short-haired black and white dairy cow, and that’s because these hardy souls evolved to put up with the wind, rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures that come with living outdoors through a Scottish winter. Though the classic ginger fringed cow is the star of many selfies, they actually come in a variety of colours – blonde, black, brown and a mixture! They have two coats, one longer outer coat to protect them from the elements, and a downy undercoat to keep them cosy. While most cattle would take warm shelter in harsh weather conditions, our highland coos are comfortable setting up for a night in an open shelter (called a fold). Their famous fringe (called a dossan) and long eyelashes protect their eyes from the weather and pesky midges. 

Check out VisitScotland’s Coo Cam and say hello to Thelma, Louise, Cairistiona, Breagh and Janima from Kitchen Coos and Ewes in Dumfries and Galloway and Swanston Farm in Edinburgh.

Why do they have horns?

Both male and female highland cows have horns. Although they look intimidating, they’re used to forage for food or to dig through the snow in winter – so a very tough look for a far more innocent use! You can tell a male and female coo apart by their horns. Male horns will generally come out parallel to the ground and turn up or forward slightly at the ends. Females have longer, thinner horns which have much more of an obvious curve. 

Where can I meet a Highland Cow?

First recorded in the Scottish Highlands (as early at the sixth century!) – they were named after their origins. Nowadays you can find the Highland Coo dotted all over Scotland, including the islands! VisitScotland have created a handy guide of all the places you might spot a Highland coo as and when COVID restrictions allow, from the northern tip to the borders of the country. Your safest bet would be the Highlands, and for the true rural Scottish wildlife experience we highly recommend setting up base in the Cairngorms and taking a few days to explore. Our Highland Wilderness Trips are famous for sights of deer, rare birds, badgers and of course the gorgeous Highland coo too!

If you’re keen to see a coo our recommendations would be to join us on a visit to Lynbreck Croft (to be included on the Highland Family Adventure and Cairngorm Discovery tours) or check in with Rothiemurchus estate on their coo tours for your rest day activity. There are also coo viewing opportunities when we do to Harris (Western Isles Wilderness), Skye (Superlative Skye), Knoydart (Wild Knoydart) and Torridon (Classic Torridon) – so  almost everywhere we go!

highland coo

One of the local residents observes the tourists disdainfully from his/her comfy abode.

 

If you love the Highland Coo/Cow we highly recommend following Lynbreck Croft on Facebook.

 

Scotland, famous for … bagpipes and haggis

Is there a link? The shape seems somewhat familiar. When you look at the instrument which is the bag of the bagpipes: Scotland, famous for both of these. You will find the 2 together without trying that hard, particularly if you are in Scotland in January. Burns night is now celebrated the world over and you may have heard of the “Ode to the haggis”. It is traditional for the haggis to be piped into the hall for everyone to feast on it on Burns night. One of his most famous poems is the Ode to the Haggis (if you don’t count the words to Auld Lang Syne).

Don’t fear the haggis! 

Also, don’t believe it’s a real animal.   The infamous Scottish dish is made with the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep, traditionally ground/minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt.  Boiled in the animal’s stomach.  At first you may balk at the thought but what is a traditional sausage made from?  Or meatloaf?  Haggis is a delicious unusual flavour and you must try before you decide.  A soft texture, a hint of spices, a peppery kick without being ‘hot’ and rustic. 

No records share the original conception, but a similar dish was mentioned in Greece 2,500 years ago.   Your haggis should be accompanied with heaps and tatties, this translates to a Scots yellow turnip and potatoes.  Both served separately on your plate and mashed. 

That’s the authentic Scottish taste, a winter warmer!  I’ve enjoyed multiple times with a whisky cream sauce or red berry sauce and, of course, British household favourite, Heinz ketchup.

We have 2 favourite haggis dinners here at Fraoch Lodge:

  1. Baked haggis with a wild mushroom cream sauce and neep and tattie garlic and juniper-flavoured gratin
  2. Haggis stacks with a whisky cream sauce

 

eilean donan piper

 

The haggis is not connected to the bagpipe

 I’ve heard of a joke but in no way is the bagpipe an animal either!  The bagpipe is a musical instrument that somehow uses reeds, pipes, and a bag full of air to create a sound that is distinctly Scottish.  I say ‘somehow’, I’ve found a photo that shows the internal dynamics, hope this helps your understanding of how the magic happens. 

 The bagpipe is at its most impressive heard and seen at the Edinburgh Royal Tattoo by the military marching bands.  Alternatively, a Highland Games will always have the local bagpipers performing, accompanied with traditional dancers. 

highland Games

Abernethy Highland Games

 The original version of the instrument can be traced back as far as the 2nd century and not in Scotland!  After many centuries and ‘tweaks’, the bagpipe as we know it came into use sometime around the 1700s.  It was said that the penetrating sound worked well above the roar of battle and the drones could be heard up to 10 miles away. 

 The bagpipe is credited to have had a genuine patriotic influence at the time of the Highland uprisings.  Following the defeat at the Battle of Culloden, the London government attempted to rid Scotland of its clan system by passing a Parliamentary Act which made “the carrying of weapons, such as those vicious bagpipes” a penal offence.  Needless to say, the Act didn’t last very long. 

by Rowan Lingard

Scotland, famous for ... bagpipes and haggis

Traditional Scottish kilts are worn by all Scottish massed pipe bands.

Know your Scotch Whisky- become a Malt Whisky Connoisseur

NB It’s rare to find a Scot who will talk about “Scotch whisky”. For Scots in Scotland, there is no such thing as Scotch whisky. We have whisky or malt whisky or single malt.

The Speyside Whisky Festival is just around the corner again. We thought we’d dust off this old blog of ours and give you some insider knowledge of what to look for if you’re coming up for if you want to take home a really special bottle of Malt whisky – a really special bottle of Scotch whisky.

We live on the edge of the whisky trail and can’t help but acquire pointers from the experts about how to choose a special Scotch whisky. Andy has paid close attention to Mike Drury of the Whisky Castle in Tomintoul who is a leading light in the whisky world. Mike retired from running the Whisky Castle a few years ago. He now enjoys a totally different relaxed lifestyle on the Isle of Mull. However, the new owners have been just as helpful to our guests (and Andy).

Here Andy shares the benefit of his many visits to whisky country so you too can go home with a unique bottle of whisky. There’s nothing like living in Scotland to develop your appreciation for “the water of life”, as whisky is known in Gallic.

What to look for when choosing a really special scotch whisky to buy

When it comes to choosing fine malt whisky there are 4 things you need to know. In order of importance they are:

  1.  the quality of the cask in which the whisky has been matured
  2. whether the whisky has been chill filtered
  3. the age of the whisky
  4. whether additives have been added

 Too much emphasis is often placed on the age of the whisky and the distillery in it was produced. Every distillery has the potential to produce fine and not so fine malt whisky.

Scotch whisky

What to look for on a whisky label if you’re looking for a really special bottle – but don’t expect it to be “cheap”.

 

Cask Wood Quality for malt whisky (Scotch whisky)

There are 2 aspects to this:

a)     The number of times the cask has been used previously to mature Scotch Malt whisky

b)     Whether the whisky is the product of single or multiple casks

To be classified as Scotch Malt Whisky it has to have been matured for a minimum of 3 years in the cask. Many distillers though will mature their whisky for a lot longer, usually around 10 years before they’re satisfied with the quality to release it for sale.

During the maturation period there is a complex interaction between the oak wood and the alcohol with the alcohol drawing out many of the oils and other components of the wood to create Scotch Malt Whisky. Up to 60% of theses vital ingredients can be drawn out after the first maturation of scotch malt whisky. During the life of a cask it’s easy to see that the wood can become quickly exhausted with the whisky produced from subsequent maturations being of a lower standard.  If a tired cask is being used to mature whisky in it doesn’t matter how long the spirit is left in it to mature, the resultant whisky will lack quality/flavour. There are things that can be done to help rejuvenate the cask but the original qualities are never fully achieved.

The majority of malt whisky sold is the product of a number of casks ‘married’ together (up to 100), some good first refill/generation and some not so good 3rd or 4th refill/generation.

On the bottle label you should be looking for the whisky being single cask and 1st or 2nd refill/generation.

Un-chillfiltered

The spirit is matured in the cask at around 60%ABV. This results in an equilibrium being established between the strength of the spirit and it’s ability to draw out and “carry” the various oils, etc of the wood. Most scotch malt whisky is diluted with water and sold at around 40%ABV.

This dilution in itself results in the whisky becoming cloudy as there is no longer the concentration of alcohol to support the oils i.e. an emulsion is starting to form. There is nothing wrong with the whisky at this point other than it maybe appearing less appealing. To get around this problem much of the malt whisky sold is chill-filtered. Cooling the whisky makes the heavier oils more viscous allowing them to be removed by a5 to 3micro filter. The issue is that these heavier oils, etc are what give a good malt whisky it’s depth of character and flavour

You should be looking on the label for the words “unchillfiltered” or “non chill filtered” and the ABV should be 46% or more. If the whisky is below 46%ABV it’s a sure sign it has been chill filtered.

(One issue here is that some countries do not allow the importation of alcohol for re-sale with an ABV above 40%.)

 

Scotch whisky

Whisky tasting under the expert guidance of Mike Drury when he was in control at the Whisky Castle

 

Age

Whisky is stored in wooden casks, usually made of white oak. Presuming the spirit is being matured in a quality cask, there is complex interaction between the wood and the spirit. This interaction is a slow. The harsher flavours of the whisky are softened over time. The age of the malt whisky is an important factor in the quality of the final product though whisky doesn’t necessarily always continue to improve with age.

Generally you will be looking for a minimum of 10 year old whisky.

Caramel Additive

It’s tempting but don’t ever judge a malt whisky by its colour. A lot of malt whisky has caramel added to make it darker. It also of course alters the flavour. This is the only additive that is allowed to be added to Scotch Malt Whisky

You should also be looking for words like “natural colour” on the bottle

Scotch whisky

Exclusive whisky from Gordon & Macphail

 

Where to Purchase Scotch whisky

Generally its independent bottlers who deal in high end malt whisky and available through specialist whisky shops.

Independent Bottlers:

……. to name a few.

Specialist Whisky Shops:

Recommended links for Scotch whisky

The Whisky Castle, Tomintoul is an independent whisky store with 500 malt whiskies listed online. They specialise in independently bottled, non-chillfiltered, non-caramalised, single cask, single malt whiskies.

Whisky month  – join Scotland in a month-long celebration of our national drink. Whether you’re a whisky novice or a whisky connoisseur, there’s something for everyone to do, including our Mountains and Malts trip.

The Speyside Whisky Festival – discover the passion behind the world’s finest whiskies

Whisky trail – Follow the world-famous Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside to seven working distilleries, including a fascinating cooperage and a historic distillery.

Looking for something to do while your partner explores a distillery and whisky related stuff – try Three Bags Wool in Aberlour

 

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