Taking advantage of a trip to England for a family wedding and some extra vacation time, Christine and I took the opportunity to drive north and visit Scotland. While we could have easily spent several weeks exploring this beautiful country, we made the most of the week we had and visited Glasgow, Loch Ness, Aberlour, and Edinburgh.
We spent our day in Glasgow walking downtown and shopping in the West End. Getting around was easy as the city is accessible through its subway system (that even I felt confident riding as it runs in one circular route, so there’s no chance of getting on the wrong line). A little Internet research prior to our trip led us to the Ubiquitous Chip in the West End for a lovely dinner as well as to our ultra-modern accommodations at Citizen M.
Our next stop was Fort Augustus at the southern tip of Loch Ness. We stayed at the Caledonian Hotel, a family owned establishment whose bar not only had an amazing selection of malt whiskies, but a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic owner/bartender who was more than happy to help us explore his inventory. While we never saw Nessie, we did manage to experience several rare (to us, at least) whisky labels, including Ian Macleod “As We Get It,” Poit Dhubh, Jura Superstition, and Ardbeg 10 yr. old.
While our next stop in Aberlour was primarily to visit malt whisky distilleries, we were pleasantly surprised to find the Walkers Shortbread factory as we pulled into town, greeted by its sweet aroma. Christine (as always) did an amazing job finding lodgings, this time at The Mash Tun, a cozy little pub with accommodations upstairs and located on the banks of the River Spey.
Our first tour was the Speyside Cooperage, where casks (we learned the difference between “barrels” and “hogsheads,” the latter being larger than the former) are made from oak imported from America. The life-cycle of casks, we discovered, takes them back to America where they’re used to age Bourbon, then returned to Scotland where they are reused to age malt whisky (malt whisky can also be aged in Spanish sherry casks). The highlight of the tour was the chance to watch the coopers perform their craft.
Next up was the distillery at The Macallan. While production had temporarily stopped for annual maintenance, we were still able to take the tour (a bit on the “touristy” side as most of the production facilities were off-limits, substituted instead with mock-ups in an informational room) and visit the warehouse that contained casks of aging whisky. The tour ended (of course) in the gift shop with a “wee dram” of their 10 yr. old whisky.
Feeling that a smaller distillery might offer a more intimate tour, we ventured up the road to Cardhu. Claiming to be the only malt distillery pioneered by a woman, Cardhu’s tour was much more comprehensive, allowing us to see the actual production rooms in operation. (Photography, however, was now allowed.) The tour concluded with a tasting of three whiskies: Cardhu 12 yr. old, Cardhu Special Cask Reserve, and a competing brand, for comparison. Cardhu is now owned by the parent company to Johnnie Walker and produces whisky both for the Johnnie Walker blends as well as for their own label.
Our whirlwind tour of Scotland concluded in Edinburgh. Much to Christine’s delight, we visited the Surgeons’ Hall Museum. Containing samples of old surgical instruments as well as hundreds of specimens ranging from tumors to gangrenous appendages, this museum is not for the faint-hearted. While Christine had no problem taking in the medical curiosities, I admit I started feeling a bit queasy by the time we got to the collection of war-related wounds. To make matters worse, our next stop was the Camera Obscura attraction, which included (in addition to the camera obscura located on the top floor) several optical illusion exhibits which played havoc with my fragile equilibrium. A walk through The Meadows (beautiful park) helped allay my nausea and prepared us for the perfect end to our first visit to Scotland: the Taste of Edinburgh food festival. (For a more detailed look at the food we tried, click here.)