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news from scotland winter 2015

Scots Set Alpine Record

Two Scottish climbers have become the youngest team to ever conquer the menacing north face of the Eiger in Switzerland. Last August, Robbie Phillips, 25, from Burdiehouse in the southeast of Edinburgh and Willis Morris, 20, from Glasgow conquered the Paciencia (Patience) route, a steep and exposed line up a nearly flat wall of 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) that changes to a final section that is even more dangerous because of falling rocks and ice. "We were close to doing it on our first attempt...then we got hit by a freak thunderstorm and it was very dangerous and lots of rock fell -- huge boulders the size of cars -- and we had to escape off the wall, pretty much for our lives," said Phillips. Three weeks later the pair returned and made a second, this time successful, attempt. "It's technically hard, but it's also consistently hard -- that's why this route is regarded as the hardest Alpine route in Europe. It's cool to be doing a piece of history." The Scots are only the fourth team to ever complete the climb.

Most Scots Now Back Independence

A recent poll by TNS Scotland, a leading market research firm, indicates that 53% of Scots now back independence from Britain, while 47% want to maintain the union (11% are undecided). Younger voters are the most committed to independence, with 59% of 16-34 year olds supporting a Yes vote versus 28% for a No vote. Among those 35-54, the margin tightens slightly, with 53% Yes and 39% No, while those over 55 prefer to maintain the status quo, with 58% No versus 31% Yes. Although First Minister Alex Salmond pledged ahead of the 2014 independence referendum that there would not be a second independence referendum for another "generation" if the initiative lost, the current First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has recently said she believes a second vote is "inevitable" and her Scottish National Party will lay out the conditions for a new referendum in its 2016 election manifesto.

Space Travel Enhances Whisky Flavor

In 2011, vials containing newly distilled Ardbeg spirit and oak shards of Ardbeg casks were sent to the U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station 200 miles above the earth. Once in space, a wall separating the spirit and oak shards was removed and the spirit was allowed to "age" while orbiting around the planet. The experiment was designed to see how micro-gravity would affect the behavior of terpenes, the compounds that give flavor to many foods, wines and spirits, and when the Ardbeg returned to Earth earlier this year, the answer was "a lot." Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling, said, "The space samples were noticeably different...a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before. Ardbeg already has a complex character, but the results show that there is potentially even more complexity that we can uncover, to reveal a different side to the whisky."

The full text of this section is available in the Winter 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Orkney's Heart Of Stone by Jim Gilchrist.

Click here to preview our feature article on the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula by Ben Williams.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Hollow Mountain by Keith Aitken.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photo © Robbie Phillips; Photo © Hemedia; Photo © Famous Grouse Experience