Heather Gems – what stunning pieces of art! I was totally fascinated by the whole process of how this company turns heather stems into fabulous pieces of jewellery. How they manage to get such beautiful rainbows of colour in the finished pieces really got my attention.
It was Sunday and the weather had turned. It was now raining and much darker compared to the bright sunshine of the day before. A perfect time for indoor pursuits! Heather Gems Visitor Centre and Factory Shop is based in Pitlochry. At the Visitor Centre the whole jewellery-making process is explained and in the viewing gallery you can see how the craftspeople handcraft the stems into earrings, kilt pins bracelets and giftware etc.
The heather is collected from the Perthshire Hills. It is then cut into small bundles and the bark is removed by shotblasting the stems in a machine. It’s then dyed various colours. Stems of different colours are mixed and approximately eighty tons of pressure is used to compress the stems into a block. The block is then cut into slices and individual pieces are cut, shaped, filled and sanded, before being lacquered to give the final finish. Some of the pieces are fitted onto cast silver or gold rings or quaichs: Scottish drinking bowls that the clan chieftains used when welcoming visitors.
I was very tempted to buy a piece of jewellery as they were quite affordable. Some of the pendants were £27.50. They also sell the end pieces, which are sections cut from the top of the heather block. I liked these actually because they’re all different and I think each one is like a work of art. So I bought one for £4.00. For me it was one of the most interesting ways to make something beautiful out of an unusual but natural form of nature.
Moving from heather stems to malted barley, my next stop was at The Blair Athol Distillery. This Distillery is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland. In 1825 Arthur Bell began trading in whiskey from a small shop in Perth. The end of American prohibition saw Arthur Bell and his sons take over three more distilleries including Blair Athol. He discovered that blending together several fine whiskies was more pleasing to the palate than one whiskey unmixed. So all Bell’s whiskies are made from a select blend of fine malt and grain whiskies.
I booked to go on a whiskey tour at the Blair Athol Distillery at 4pm and it was
interesting. It lasted about forty five minutes and cost £7.00, with a free dram of Blair Athol single malt whiskey to taste at the end of the tour. Our guide was a Spanish lady and very good, I thought. That week was the start of the distillery’s cleaning week, so they weren’t producing any whiskey at the time. This didn’t distract from the tour because we still got to see all the stages of the whiskey making.
The last part of the tour brought us to the warehouse where all the casks of whiskey are stored. There were casks in there dating back to 1968. These whiskies which have been maturing for the last forty seven years will be used in special blends of Johnny Walker whiskies, so we were told. I’m not a whiskey drinker but I really liked the Blair Athol single malt that we tasted at the end of the tour.