By Gillian McKenzie
IN a fast-paced world in which consumers book tables via the click of a button on their smartphones and pubs and bars use Twitter and Facebook as a main means of communication, the Fiddichside Inn on Speyside is refreshingly different.
There’s no website or social media profile; instead, the only traces of the Craigellachie pub online are references from the people who have visited it over the years – the consensus being that no trip to Speyside is complete without a visit to the Fiddichside.
When SLTN stopped by on a cold winter’s night earlier this year, the fire was roaring, the drams were flowing and the pub’s 88 year old owner Joe Brandie was in his element, regaling customers with all manner of stories.
He has plenty to choose from.
In 2019 the pub will have been in the same family ownership for 100 years and Joe himself will have notched up 60 years behind the bar.
Since his wife Dorothy passed away six years ago, Joe has run the pub single-handedly seven days a week – including putting in 11 or 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays.
But the workload doesn’t faze him.
“I don’t think anything of it,” Joe told SLTN.
“I love talking to different people. I know a lot of the fishermen who come back every year and we get a lot of tourists in and the locals too. The hotels and B&Bs send people here; it does well.
“I love it or I wouldn’t still be doing it.”
It was through his late wife Dorothy that Joe’s love for life behind the bar began.
Dorothy’s family bought the Fiddichside Inn in November 1919 and relocated from Dufftown, with the then six-week old Dorothy carried by her mother on the five-mile walk from Dufftown to Craigellachie.
Perched on the banks of the River Fiddich, which flows into the Spey, the Fiddichside was built in 1840 for workers constructing the railway, and had been converted into a house with a pub taking up one of the rooms before the Smiths’ arrival in 1919.
While Dorothy’s parents ran the pub, she joined the Post Office and worked as a telephonist before enlisting for the army, following the outbreak of the Second World War, and serving in the middle east; returning to Craigellachie, Dorothy went back to her job in the Post Office while helping her mother, who had been widowed in 1940, run the bar in the evenings.
Joe’s route to the Fiddichside Inn was slightly different.
After two years’ national service, he too returned to Speyside and a job at The Macallan distillery, where he spent seven years and served his time as a cooper before a back injury forced him to pursue a different career.
Work as a ghillie on the River Spey followed – a job Joe said he loved and which he held for 27 years; and it was during this time that he started working at the Fiddichside in the evenings with Dorothy, whom he had married in 1959.
Since then, Joe said little at the pub has changed, save for an extension in 1960 to add indoor toilets.
Given the Fiddichside’s location – surrounded by distilleries – whisky dominates the gantry. Of the 40 or so malts stocked, the majority are Speyside; there was Macallan 12, Aberlour 10 and Glenfiddich 12 on optic when SLTN visited and a raft of other local malts on the shelves alongside a few from Islay.
There are further references throughout the pub to Speyside’s whisky credentials – present and past – including a picture of one particular ancestor.
“That’s my wife’s grandfather, who was a gamekeeper and an illicit distiller,” said Joe.
“The people from customs tried to catch him and turned up at his door dressed in rags and asked if he could give them something to warm them up, thinking he would give them a whisky but he gave them a bowl of soup.
“Then his boss, the laird, was at a dinner in London and was sitting next to the head of customs and excise, which he didn’t know at the time; he took a drink and said ‘I could get a better dram from my gamekeeper’.
“They caught him and fined him ten pounds.”
It’s just one example of the raft of stories and anecdotes that raconteur Joe has entertained his guests with over the years, and which make the Fiddichside Inn such a special place.
So with the pub’s 100th year in the same family ownership just two years away, what does Joe have planned to mark the milestone?
“I’m sure I will have a party,” he said.
“I’ll be 90 that year and I probably will retire; I should probably pack it in.
“I will miss it, though, if I do.”