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Scottish Highland Scenery, Castles and Whisky

Another article in our OBT series.

Rough Start in Scotland

We had a bit of a hiccup in Scotland. on arrival in Edinburgh, we had an appointment to meet up with a blogger that Mike has been following. We had a great conversation with him and decided to walk back to our hotel. It was fun to see the city on foot and feel the vibe, which Mike really liked, but I was feeling pretty sick, so we went to a restaurant for Mike to eat and me to rest.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before Mike was done with his dinner and I spent the next 36 hours in bed. These things happen when you travel. We had both picked up something in Nepal. As a result, we changed our plans and changed hotels. When I was coherent again, we decided we needed a few more days in Edinburgh since all I had seen was the inside of an Ibis Hotel, which Mike said was like a coffin. But, I will say that the bed was comfortable and spent enough time on it to know.

We moved to the Hilton half a block away and restarted our visit to Edinburgh two days later than planned. I guess the timing for getting sick was good because we had 10 free days in Scotland. We just adjusted our expectations for the rest of our time there.

Overall we had a great time in Scotland and would highly recommend a visit.

The Castle

Of course, I mean Edinburgh castle. What can I say, the place is so filled with history that you can just feel it. But I’ll just show you some pictures. Edinburgh has tremendous energy and a young vibe that is infectious. You will all just have to visit to see what I mean.

Holyrood Palace and an Underground Tour

The next day, when I was almost back to normal, we tried to get in everything we had missed over the previous few days. First stop, Holyrood Palace, which isn’t quite as old at Edinburgh Castle but grand just the same, with its own ruined abbey attached. There is also a bench in the back garden that must be a favorite of  Her Majesty The Queen because there is a guard box right next to it and her name on it.

While we were there, Mike stood in a guard box and I took a picture that I posted on Facebook. I’ll tell you why this matters in a little bit.

Mike at Holyrood

There are ghost tours aplenty offered in Edinburgh. We decided to see Mary King’s Close, which is an abandoned part of four small alleyways (an alleyway is called a close) that runs from the High Street, down to the bottom of the hill. The buildings were originally about seven stories high with the top few at the level of the High Street. Around 1750, the government decided to build a new City Hall at the High Street level, so they appropriated the buildings in the way, used the original stone as a foundation for the new building, and just abandoned the parts of the buildings below. The bottom of the buildings became time capsules. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect was how all 7 stories of inhabitants threw the contents of their chamber pots twice a day into the street below. No one was responsible for what happened to the contents after they were on the road if you catch my drift.

St. Andrews

Our original driving itinerary took us to St. Andrews, the place where golf started, at The Old Course. Much to our surprise, there was a tournament going on, the Alfred Dunhill Classic. As we were driving in, we kept looking for the usual parking attendants and payment, but none was required. Getting on the course and watching the players were free also, even on the 18th green. We love stumbling into special events, it would have been different on Sunday during the final round, i.e. much more crowded, but we were there on a rainy Friday.

We also visited the St Andrews Castle ruins and climbed through a siege tunnel.

Whisky Country

Before we left Edinburgh, we booked two nights at the Station Hotel in Aberlour because we needed to taste whisky in Speyside and visit the Culloden battlefield, which ended the final Jacobite uprising. We knew of the battle from the TV show Outlander and because Mike’s dad, who is very interested in history, lamented about not being able to visit Culloden on his trip to Scotland. So, we had to go. In fact, I had picked up a Scotland tour brochure and found that there were Harry Potter tours and Outlander tours, so I picked out some places to visit, including Culloden and Doune Castle.

On the way to Aberlour, we stopped at Dalwhinnie Distillery and we talked our way into tasting not only Dalwhinnie but other scotch packaged for Game of Thrones. As a marketing promotion, Diageo brands created a bottle of whisky for each of the Seven houses in Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch and Johnnie Walker White Walker.

It was lots of fun tasting the different scotch, but House Stark, the Dalwhinnie, is sold out. We also tasted Cardhu, which I knew was a component in Johnny Walker Blue. So, our next stop was Cardhu for a more thorough study and we bought a small bottle of Clynelish for when we just needed “a wee dram.” Then, on our way to our hotel, we passed Macallan and we just had to go see their new multimillion-dollar building with the living roof. Of course, you can’t visit without tasting a dram, so we obliged. Then we were off to our hotel.

Whisky Discovery

A note about whisky: we learned one really important thing during our distillery visits, a single drop of water dramatically changes the taste of the scotch, especially the stronger single malts. We noticed small beakers of water with pipettes at each of the tasting rooms and asked about it, then we tried it. I recommend you try it yourself, I bet you’ll be surprised. Only try one or two drops though and swirl it around. The water actually releases some of the alcohol so you can taste the scotch better.

Dinner with Friends

Back to the Facebook photo. While we were in St. Andrews, Mike got a text with a picture of his friend Joe in the exact same guard box at Holyrood that I had posted to Facebook the day before. First, he thought our friends were joking and they had an old photo taken in the same guard box, but it turned out they were actually at Holyrood that day, had seen our Facebook photo, and decided to take the same picture and send it.

Joe at Holyrood

Being the connected folks we are, we called them on Whatsapp and found out they were actually in Edinburgh and were headed to whisky country the next day. It turned out we were all staying at the same hotel, go figure. Only a few days before, I told Mike he was behind on his “quota”. See “Hitting My Quota” in Melbourne.

We had dinner with them the following night and had a great time catching up. The next day we all took the tour at Glen Grant Distillery, tasted a few drams, and then waved goodbye. So, Mike’s quota is fulfilled for another month or so.

All of us at GlenGrant Distillery

Culloden

As promised, we visited Culloden and learned the history of the final major battle between the Jacobites, who supported “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and the English. The field has stones marking the clans who lost members during the battle, in which 1500 Jacobites died and only 50 English. Even after the fight, the red coats chased down and killed the Jacobite soldiers and their supporters. Of course, since we were still in whisky country, we stopped at Cragganmore for a tasting and had a look at Glenfiddich (they were closed) and Balvenie Castle, another ruin.

The Isle of Skye

We then headed through Inverness, past Loch Ness and Loch Oich to our hotel near Invergarry. The next day, we wanted to visit Eilean Donan castle because it overlooks the joining of three lochs and was described as being like a Disney castle. Since it overlooks the Isle of Skye and we had time, we drove onto Skye itself and continued for about 20 miles. While very beautiful, like the rest of the Scottish Highlands, we weren’t overly impressed. The drive to Eilean Donan was more impressive and very much what we expected the Scottish Highlands to look like.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

As part of what Mike called the Nerd TV and movie tour, we had to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous by the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films.

Harry Potter Hogwart’s Express Enthusiasts

We decided that it would take too much time to ride the train, but we would go to the viewpoint instead. Based on the train schedule, we figured the train would come by the viaduct at about 10:45. Arriving at 10:20, we found no parking and a 1/2 mile walk to the actual viewpoint. So, we parked the car in a sketchy spot and started walking. We made it to the viewpoint above the viaduct with plenty of time to spare because the train was late, but I must say it was really cool watching the steam train go across the viaduct, even if we were out there with 150 other Harry Potter movie nerds.

Glencoe

Some people we met along the way told us to go and see Glencoe. The area of Glencoe reminded us of Yosemite because the mountains, while not very high, are quite dramatic and were formed by glaciation of granite, just like Yosemite. We went for a hike and then drove out to a spot shown on Maps.me as the site of Hagrid’s Hut. More nerd movie stuff, but Mike really enjoyed it.

Doune Castle and the William Wallace Monument

On our last full day in Scotland, we decided to visit Doane Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyll and the castle used as Leoch in Season 1 of Outlander and Winterfell from Season 1 of Game of Thrones. The castle is quite well preserved and the living quarters of the Dukes of Argyll are well restored.

This castle was also used in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Mike was thrilled to see some people in the castle courtyard with coconut shells acting out the horses from the movie. (You’ll just have to watch the movie if you don’t understand my reference.) Later, I told him that they had a box of coconut shells for just such a purpose under the cash register in the gift shop. Terry Gilliam voiced the audio program and they’ve added Outlander commentary.

Doune Castle

Our final stop was Stirling, where we opted to skip the castle and go to the William Wallace memorial instead. I guess we were castled-out. The William Wallace monument turned out to be a very tall tower on top of a hill with lots of steps up a narrow two-way circular stairway. A bit challenging, but they did have what they think is William Wallace’s 5-foot broadsword. There was also more history about the early Scottish uprisings against the English.

We will definitely be going back to Scotland, what sounds good to you?

7 Comments

  1. Once again, good to hear your experiences. Great photos from Scotland, looks like you have been to different distilleries, including the one that makes my favorite, Glenfiddich.

    • Glenfiddich is Diana’s favorite. Even though the tasting room was closed, we could see the grounds, which were quite nice.

  2. Marilyn and I were thrilled to see you. Scotland is so beautiful. We are looking forward to returning. Best of luck with your continued travels.

  3. Well I’m not a Harry Potter fan, nor do I drink whiskey, but you’ve given us a lot of other ideas for when we make it to Scotland next year. Thanks again for your pictures and travel ideas! Mike, you continue to amaze me to find people traveling at the exact same spot as you!

  4. Did get a kick out of attending some of Edinburgh Fringe Festival when I was there in 2000. Thanks for sharing all your pics, looks like its going great despite cold/flu.

    • Thanks, I’m thinking about checking out Fringe sometime. I need to learn more about it.

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