Thursday, July 5, 2018

Scotland - June 2018

A Journey Around Scotland

We flew from Amsterdam to Edinburgh in a little over an hour. All went smoothly until we tried to find our Airbnb - it was more like one of those geo-cache games in which you have to look for a landmark, then find a lockbox, open it to find a key, then find the right door to open. We wouldn’t have won a race, but in the end we did manage to find our place.

The weather was a bit on the cool side with a little drizzle - we figured “What else do you expect - this is Scotland!”

The Edinburgh Castle is the dominant feature of Edinburgh. Although few of the buildings one sees on Castle Hill are older than the 16th century, people have been living on the hill since the 2nd century.

I was quite intrigued by how they blended the castle’s structure to the hill’s rock, an old volcano.

Standing in front of main gate to the castle.

Just outside of the castle’s gates is a shop in which the basement floor is a place where they make tartans, the criss-crossed woven fabric they make the kilts out of and lots of other garments. The machines looked fairly intricate and not simple to run.

David Hume, best known for his “A Treatise of Human Nature” was born in the early 1700’s and was one of the most influential British philosophers. 

I suppose every bronze statue with toes showing will have one its toes shiny. It seems irresistible to tourists. Hume’s statue was not spared the tradition.

We had a pint at the Tolbooth Tavern, one of the oldest buildings in the area. At one time (a few hundred years ago) it really was a toll booth.

Edinburgh is full of these alley ways that they call “close”. They’re intriguing to go through - you never know what you’ll find. Near the flat we stayed at, a close led to the writer’s museum. In the concrete blocks were names of well known writers with a quote from them.

Above is the quintessential Scottish meal of haggis, neeps and tattles. Haggis is minced sheep heart, liver and lung mixed with oatmeal and spices. Neeps are mashed turnips. Tatties are of course potatoes.

Located in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat, is the highest hill in Edinburgh. It is an extinct volcano and yields great views. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for our hike. 

Victoria Street was one of the most aesthetically pleasing streets in Edinburgh, with a little more color than one finds in most streets.

After three days of Edinburgh, we rented a VW Golf and began our road trip north, known as the Highlands. Unbeknownst to me, I picked a rental car that provided additional challenges to driving on the left hand side of the road - a six speed manual transmission.

Our first stop was the coastal village of St. Andrews, known for its historic golf course. Although we stopped by to see the “link”, we were more impressed with what remains of St. Andrews Cathedral, a remarkable site. If nothing else, its sheer size is daunting. It must have made quite an impression on those attending a service at the cathedral in medieval times. The nave was 20 meters high and 50 meters long!

Diane spotted this mini version of a VW van. She wanted to take home.

Although not too vibrant, the village of Lossiemouth had a nice waterfront boardwalk. Nearby, the town of Elgin is home to the Glen Moray distillery where we had a fun and informative tour/tasting. 

This is where it all starts - with barley and the peat, if the scotch is to be peaty. 

The mash is then put in these giant stainless steel containers to which water and yeast is added. After about sixty hours of fermentation, the resulting liquid called mash is pumped into the vats to the right. From there it goes to the stills (below) where the mash is distilled resulting in nearly pure alcohol. 

Water is then added to the alcohol before its placed into various types of barrels. Distilleries use barrels that were used to make other spirits such as port, sherry and bourbon. The alcohol sits in these barrels for many years. Each year, 3-4% of the alcohol evaporates (or as they say, the angels take their share). This is one reason older whiskeys cost more - it’s not just the cost of the aging process.

The “Dipping Dog” was used by workers to steal whisky out of barrels. They’d hand it in their pants to avoid getting caught. It was called a dipping dog because it was a man’s best friend.

We also toured the Strathisla distillery in Keith, one of the oldest and part of the Chivas Brothers dozen or so distilleries. We had a posh setting for the tasting. If you didn’t want to drink all of your tasting (because you were driving), the distilleries all sold “driver packs”, a set of plastic or glass bottles to keep the tastings in. The alcohol threshold for drivers was .01%, so a good whiff of a barrel would likely put you over it, much less a couple of tastings.

Upon the recommendation of friends (the Nielsens), we visited the Mash Tun pub in Aberlour. Great place - as long as you want to either have scotch, scotch or, yes, scotch. They did serve some wine and beer. They had an entire glass display devoted only to Glenfarclas scotch from 1952 on up. From their “menu” one could choose from over 300 whiskeys. 

Outside of the Mash Tun we encountered some of the regular village people - after they had enjoyed a bit of juice. Very friendly. 

The typical Scottish breakfast is far from my everyday oatmeal routine but easy to get used to. The round paddy on the left is black pudding, a combination of pork blood, fat, oatmeal and spices - pretty tasty.

On our last day in the Highlands, we took a drive along the shoreline stopping at Macduff, Banff, Portsoy, Cullen, Portnockie, Findochty, Portessie, Beckie and Portgordon. I list these mostly for their unique sounding names. And no, I did not recall them from memory. 

The rock above is known as “Fiddler’s Bow”. Quite striking. It was then time to leave our wonderful B&B - the Crooksmill. Elizabeth, the hostess, treated us royally. The B&B was adjacent to the River Isla. (Photo below) 

After our stay in Keith, we drove west through Inverness then south through Loch Ness, Fort Augustus and Loch Lochy ending up in Fort William, where we spent one night. 

In spite of no sign of the Loch Ness monster, we still enjoyed our tour of the Urquhart Castle. The castle was a fortress from the 16th century, the site of many bloody sieges and battles. It was around these areas that the “clans” were very powerful and would battle the kingdom.

The following day we drove eastward through Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. We found the drive around Glencoe to be the most beautiful part of the drive. Of volcanic origin, with lots of help from past glaciers and erosion, today the area consists of lush green valleys with streams, lakes and waterfalls.

The Highland cow is a unique looking cow, with a long hairy coat and horns. 

Going counter-clockwise, the red line denotes our driving route. The next time we visit Scotland we will have to visit the west coast.