In 1766, while America was still a British colony, a cellar was being dug out of the sandy soil near Ayr harbour, on the west coast of Scotland, for the fledgling business of Alexander Oliphant, wine merchant.
This September marks the 250th anniversary of trading from those cellars, which continue to function as bonded storage, protecting some of the finest wines from around the world. So where might you find these marvels of engineering? Rather serendipitously beneath Corney & Barrow’s only Scottish shop.
To celebrate this historic milestone, Corney & Barrow have joined forces with a Baltic trader named Williams II, a tall ship similar to those which would have left Ayr harbour all those centuries ago, destined for ports in France and Spain. It will sail from Blyth, Northumberland and be moored a five minute walk from the cellars during the first week of September, where it will form the centre piece of a programme of wine tastings and historical discovery.
Blyth Tall Ship, the owners of Williams II, is a lottery funded charity that offers NVQ Engineering courses in boat-building for local young people. The charity procured the ship, built in 1914, from Denmark. Twelve volunteers will undertake this voyage of over 400 nautical miles and even if you can’t make the trip, you can follow all the action, including where to see Williams II on its voyage from Blyth to Ayr on Corney & Barrow’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds.
Bryce Fraser, Managing Director of Corney & Barrow Scotland said, “the longevity of the cellars and shop at Academy Street is, I believe, down to good old fashioned customer service. Though we might not sail our own ship to Bordeaux anymore, we still pride ourselves in discovering wines which represent the best in quality and sense of place.”
In the 18th century the historic port of Ayr was a bustling hub for transatlantic and European trade. These days the racecourse is more likely to be the reason a gentleman visits, but the week-long appearance of Williams II will bring the history of the area alive and give a rare opportunity to see a restored ship in action.
Clive Gray, Chief Executive of Blyth Tall Ship, was looking forward to the voyage and remarked that the apprentices had done a fine job of restoring the vessel. He said, “Williams II is one of the vehicles to achieve our aim of giving people a chance to learn new skills.” And his advice for any gentleman wishing to sail a tall ship? He says the three most important skills are, “a good sense of humour, determination and professionalism even under pressure.”
Once the ship leaves Ayr it will return to Blyth to prepare for its journey to Antarctica in honour of the original Williams expedition in 1818. All being well, Gray expects the voyage to begin on the 200th anniversary of that great event, in 2018. Would be mariners, watch this space.
This article was written in association with Corney & Barrow.
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