Barrels of tradition

6th February 1998 at 00:00
Although only six years old, the Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, three miles along the road from the Glenfiddich Distillery, fits in with local building traditions. Decorated with all manner of recycled barrels, from a mini steam train to ornamental tubs and gardenfurniture, the forecourt gives a flavour of the highly-skilled craftsmanship at work inside.

A field of Highland cattle next door proves an added attraction to school parties from urban areas.

The only working cooperage in Britain to have a visitor centre, and the winner of 11 tourism and quality awards, Speyside Cooperage is a valuable resource for schools. Visitors see the craftsmen and their apprentices at work, repairing around 100,000 casks a year for the whisky industry, and learn the remarkable history of the 5,000-year-old trade through a colourful exhibition featuring life-size characters.

They can even have a go at cooper-ing, with a full-size fibre-glass model, like the Craigellachie Primary School pupils pictured right. Head-teacher Barbara O'Brien says the cooperage is an excellent focal point for local and workplace studies. "The children find the life-size figures in the historical exhibition fascinating. Also, seeing the men at work from a safe viewing point gives them a good opportunity to experience the bustle and range of skills involved in a busy workplace, which is part of their own heritage."

Joannie Fowlie, head of the junior department at St Margaret's School for Girls, Aberdeen, is very familiar with the cooperage, and uses visits to enhance projects on tourism and history. "I think the girls wonder what to expect before they arrive, but when they see what's involved, they all become extremely enthusiastic and we have some very interesting discussions in the classroom afterwards," she says.

Speyside Cooperage, Dufftown Road, Craigellachie. Tel: 01340 871108. Open June to September. School groups Pounds 1 per child, teachers free. Education pack

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