Toasting the Ghost of the Glenrothes
We all have our own special relationship with the ‘uisge beatha’. For some, it’s all about the flavour. For others, it’s the people they share their dram with. Nothing at all wrong with either. But for us, knowing a little of the history behind the bottle, somehow enhances the flavour – and transforms the dram sharing experience for all.
You don’t need to dig too deep to unearth the many strange tales that seem to go hand in glass with almost any good bottle you crack. The Glenrothes tradition of ‘Toasting the Ghost’ is a particular favourite – and an utterly amazing tale.
From Famine Torn Africa - to Whisky Rich Rothes
The highest concentration of whisky distilleries anywhere in the world is in Speyside. It’s a place where the word ‘spirit’ meant only one thing until a new still house was opened at the Glenrothes distillery in 1980.
Ever since, the spirit of ‘Biawa (Byeway) Makalanga’ receives a toast before each tasting in the most haunted distillery in Speyside. And the story of how Byeway came to be in the small Moray village of Rothes in the first place is equally compelling.
First, let’s get to know the star of the story a little …
Byeway’s connection with Speyside whisky began with another distillery altogether. The Glen Grant.
Major James Grant, the eccentric owner of the distillery was a modernist and a real forward thinker. His was the first distillery to utilise electric lighting - the patented ‘draff-drying’ machine – and one of the first to use drum maltings. He also designed the innovative tall and slender stills that continue to produce that unique Glen Grant malty flavour.
In 1898, Grant was on one of his many hunting expeditions in famine ravaged Zimbabwe. He and his party stumbled across an elderly couple herding cattle with the help of two orphaned young boys who they’d taken into their care.
After realising these highly undernourished boys would almost certainly perish if left unaided, a hunter in the party offered to bring the youngest child home with him as his servant. Major Grant took the other and the young Biawa would soon be an ocean away from Bulawayo in the Speyside village of Rothes.
Byeway began his new life as the Major’s pageboy and studied hard at school between duties to learn the English language. He soon had the local Rothes accent nailed on.
He eventually became the Major’s footman and ‘general butler’ before conscription into the army at the start of WW1. A British War Medal and Victory Medal came back with him to Rothes, and he happily took up his duties at Glen Grant once more.
If you’re a football fanatic like us, you’ll love this next part …
Local side Rothes Victoria signed Byeway on as a goalie and it’s thought he was the only African butler to ever play for a Scottish side. He eventually hung up his boots but continued to support his beloved team (renamed Rothes FC) home and away for many years.
Major James Grant died in 1931. His will stated, ‘any heir occupying Glen Grant House shall maintain Biawa as a servant so long as he is willing to remain’ and he stayed on to work for the Major’s daughter, Mary, until Glen Grant House was requisitioned during World War II.
He reluctantly took employment as a servant in Lossiemouth. However, he missed his life in Rothes and immediately went back after the war.
By this time, Glen Grant House had been turned into flats to house the still workers. Byeway moved into one of the apartments and daily meals were provided for him by the Seafield Arms.
Biawa Makalanga passed away in 1972. His ‘exact’ age was never known, even to him.
His will gave an insight to the true measure of the fondly adopted Rothesian. He left his life savings and any money raised from the sale of his wood saw, fishing rod and gun to his adored Rothes FC. The club received £36.11s.
But, that wasn’t the last Rothes village would see of Byeway.
The Strange Appearance of the Glenrothes Ghost
Image: Google Maps
Although the Glen Grant Distillery would be the obvious place for Byeway’s spirit to show up, people began to report his apparition further on in the village at Glenrothes.
One reason could be the Glenrothes Distillery overlooking the cemetery where Byeway was laid to rest, but up until 1980, the only spirits seen there were of the finest liquid gold.
That year, Glenrothes opened a brand new still house. Still #3 was problematic and vastly underperforming. Also that year, Byeway started appearing at the still on a regular basis.
Something had clearly disturbed the soul of this legendary African/Rothesian man. Enter Professor Cedric Wilson – master of the paranormal.
Laying Byeway to Rest – Again!
Cedric Wilson, Professor of Pharmacology, was highly knowledgeable on all things paranormal and a well-known authority on the power of ley-lines. When he heard about the reported appearances of Byeway, he approached Glenrothes and offered to help. The management eventually agreed, and he was invited to the site in August of 1981.
On arrival, Wilson stopped silently outside the opposite cemetery for a moment, then walked directly over to the gravestone of Byeway. The locals say he looked like he was having a conversation with nobody.
A few moments later he came back and told the management that their problems would be solved by realigning the new stills. When asked ‘how he knew this’? the Professor said Byeway was aware of the issue and worried for the future quality of the whisky should the stills remain unchecked.
After a site investigation, it was discovered that the stills were indeed misaligned – and the new building had also interrupted the flow of a lay-line energy that passed through Rothes Castle, the distillery, Rothes Cemetery - to the Coleburn Stone - and the Pictish Fort at Burghead.
Iron rods were inserted below the faults to correct the ley-line energy flow.
Byeway hasn’t been seen since and to this day is remembered in a toast before each tasting at Glenrothes.